The Great Sighting-In Debate, Part 1

The Great Sighting-In Debate, Part 1:
Five Reasons Your Deer Rifle Needs MOA Accuracy
By Steve Sorensen

My dad and uncle were both clustering their bullet holes into tiny groups on a paper target at 100 yards. Half their holes touched each other. For me, it was sheer random luck when one bullet punched a hole within an inch of another.

We were at my uncle’s picnic table sighting in our deer rifles on Thanksgiving weekend many years ago. Dad had an old Winchester Model 54 in .30-06. Uncle Ken also had a .30-06. I had a Savage Model 340 in .222 Remington. We were all shooting bullets my uncle handloaded. We were all shooting at the same distance, with the same sandbags supporting our shooting irons. I wasn’t measuring up to the shooting ability my elders demonstrated. Although I was only 12 or 13, I was embarrassed, especially since everyone told me the .222 was well known to be an accurate cartridge. But my dad said, “Don’t worry about it. All you need to kill a deer is to put your shots into a paper plate. That’s about the same size as the boiler room on a buck.”

And that was my first exposure to the debate:
Do you need minute-of-angle accuracy
in the deer woods? Or are 4-inch groups sufficient
to place a bullet in the deer’s vitals?

What Is a Minute-of-Angle?
Here’s a non-technical definition. A minute-of-angle (MOA) is a mathematical term. A circle is a 360 degree circle, and each degree has 60 minutes, so there are 21,600 minutes in a circle. One of those 21,600 sections of the arc of a circle is a minute-of-angle. If the perimeter of that circle is 100 yards from the center, the distance of one minute on that arc is 1.047 inches. (A minute-of-angle at 50 yards is half that, and at 200 yards is twice that.)

For convenience, shooters usually round a minute-of-angle at 100 yards down to one inch. Although “one-inch groups” and “MOA” are not exactly the same, this article uses them interchangeably.

Hunters still argue over this. In a way, both sides are right. I’ve learned since I sat at that picnic table that there are reasons you need MOA accuracy, and reasons you don’t.

Five Reasons You Need MOA Accuracy
1. Tiny groups give you confidence in you and your rifle.
Some hunters just like to squeeze all the accuracy possible from their deer rifles, or any rifle. When a hunter maximizes accuracy, he gains confidence in his ability as a shooter. After all, a tiny group of five bullets in the target is the result not only of the rifle, but the shooter maximizing the rifle’s capability. For a shooter to prove himself, he needs an accurate rifle.

2. Tiny groups give you a sense of accomplishment.
When you get a minute-of-angle group of five bullets (what we usually call a one-inch group), you know you have quality ammunition, and achieved the accuracy your rifle is capable of. That’s worth something when you head into the woods.

This is what most hunters strive for. If you can cluster your bullets into groups like this, it won’t be the rifle’s fault if you miss a deer. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

3. The more accurate the rifle, the fewer deer you’ll miss or wound.
Shooting one-inch groups from a stable bench rest isn’t anything like shooting from a tree limb or shooting offhand. In the field, your groups will be significantly larger. If you’re shooting MOA groups from the bench, but offhand you shoot 8-inch groups, that’s still good enough to hit a deer in the vitals at a reasonable range. But if you’re shooting 4-inch groups from the bench, and they enlarge to 12 inches in field conditions, that’s not good enough. At the margins of a 12-inch group, you’re likely to miss or wound the deer.

4. The more accurate the rifle, the greater your margin for error.
This is a corollary of the third point. Think of the paper target as having an infinite margin for error—if you miss it, so what? However, the deer has a very limited margin for error—his chest. If you miss that 12-inch target, you fail to fill your tag. Or worse, you spend the rest of your hunt trailing a wounded, suffering deer. The smaller your groups in the target, the less likely either of those things will happen.

5. If you miss a deer you know it’s you, not the rifle.
I’ll let you in in a little secret—if you can shoot one-inch groups from a bench, and you miss a deer, it’s most likely your fault. It’s not the rifle. It’s not the scope. It’s not anything else. Some hunters are so cock-sure of their shooting ability that it could never, ever be their fault—so it must be the rifle’s fault. It couldn’t be the scope. It couldn’t be the wind or the rain. It couldn’t be the shooter! But they miss a deer and blame the rifle. They can’t pawn that rifle off on some unsuspecting nimrod fast enough.

There you are—now you know why you need an accurate rifle, one that can thread a bullet between two hairs on a deer’s shoulder. Or do you? What about using a less accurate rifle, maybe a pump like the deer trackers of New England carry? Or a lever gun like a few of those oldtimers who still roam the eastern woodlands? Their guns aren’t known for pinpoint accuracy, so are they at a disadvantage? Stay tuned.


A quick high-shoulder shot from the author’s minute-of-angle rifle dropped this buck in his tracks at 140 yards,. (Steve Sorensen photo.)




Steve Sorensen has published articles in top magazines across the USA, and won the 2015 “Pinnacle” Award for magazine writing. He also writes an award-winning newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter®, and frequently contributes to the Havalon website. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at


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