The Great Sighting-In Debate, Part 2

The Great Sighting-In Debate, Part 2:
Five Reasons Shooting Ability Is More Important Than MOA Accuracy
By Steve Sorensen

The view that you don’t need minute-of-angle (MOA) accuracy from a deer rifle does not mean accuracy is not at all important. Don’t bother hunting with a rifle that throws lead in a pattern that looks like it came from a shotgun. A deer rifle must have a reasonable amount of consistency—defined as reliability and repeatability. That question is, “What is that reasonable amount?” For generations hunters filled their larders with meat using flintlock and caplock rifles that weren’t nearly as accurate as the modern, high velocity bottleneck cartridges our rifles shoot today. How did they do that?

“If I do my part!”
Shooters say it all the time—“My rifle will shoot one-inch groups all day, if I do my part!” What, exactly, does “if I do my part” mean? It means two things. First, as hunters we value equipment that won’t let us down, so we’re assuming the rifle does its part. Second, as humans we know we don’t always measure up, so it’s a way of saying the rifle is more reliable than the shooter. In other words, a machine can perform almost flawlessly; we humans can’t. A running back might zig when he should zag and get pushed away from the goal line when he should have crossed into the end zone. Likewise, a hunter might make any number of mistakes, even if his rifle can shoot MOA groups in a paper target. That’s especially true when the hunter is carrying a rifle he hasn’t picked up since last deer season.

That fact is, you can’t achieve MOA accuracy without doing your part. But even if your rifle can’t perform at MOA accuracy, you can still hit a deer if your bullets land comfortably inside a 6″ paper dessert plate every time at 100 yards. That’s enough accuracy because most shots at deer will be well under 100 yards. It never hurts to strive for tighter groups, but you must take advantage of the rifle’s built-in accuracyf. So shoot a lot. Shoot enough to make shooting become second nature.


In the 1950s few rifles had telescopic sights and most couldn’t shoot one-inch groups, yet those old timers who carried them didn’t have much trouble hitting deer. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

Here are five things that must happen for you to “do my part.”
1. Sighting in—Know where the bullet hits.
You need to know your rifle, and that includes knowing where your bullets go when you pull the trigger. If you have no idea where your bullets are going, you can’t shoot with confidence. And if they are splattering all over the target, something is probably loose—the stock screws, the scope mount, maybe even the crosshairs inside the scope. Find it and fix it, because some kind of consistent group is necessary if you expect to hit the deer.

2. Target acquisition—Get the gun on the game.
Can you find the deer in your scope? If you can’t, maybe your magnification is too high. Maybe you are left-eye dominant and you’re looking through the scope with your right eye. Maybe you tend to point the gun to the right or the left as you bring it up. You won’t get many shots at deer if you take three or four seconds to find him in the scope. Practice acquiring the target by picking out different objects, maybe a rock, a stump, and a knot on a tree trunk. Make sure your rifle is unloaded, then raise and lower it to practice finding them instantly in the scope, one after the other. Practice at different distances until finding the target in your scope becomes automatic.

Breaking Down a Shot at a Buck
1. You spot antlers—immediately those glands sitting atop your kidneys dump adrenaline directly into your bloodstream.
2. You sighted your rifle in while wearing light clothing and ear protection. Now you’re wearing heavy clothing.
3. At the bench, you had all the time you needed to squeeze each shot off. Now, you have only a second or two, and your anxiety is heightened.
4. You’re not concentrating on keeping your eye in the center of the scope.
5. You forget that the wind is blowing.
6. Other unpredictables come into play. Maybe fog on your glasses or raindrops on your scope. Maybe you’re wearing a glove and you don’t feel the trigger. Maybe you have a nagging feeling that your camp buddies will tease you if you miss again. Maybe you’re looking at buck big enough to turn your legs to jelly.

3. Gun stability—Hold still.
If you’re middle-age or older, you’re probably not as strong as you once were. If you’re out of breath, you can’t hold the rifle still even if you’re young and strong. If the deer is way out yonder, but you’re only comfortable with shorter distances, you’ll have a problem. You will never hit a deer if you’re waving your rifle around like it’s a flag on a windy day. Gun stability is critical. So find a shooting rest, maybe a tree limb, or invest in a good set of shooting sticks.

4. Trigger squeeze—Easy does it, no jerking.
Many, many rifles have very heavy triggers. As you put pressure on a heavy trigger the business end of the rifle begins to move. A bad trigger—whether it’s heavy, or has some serious creep, or breaks unpredictably—has an enormous negative impact on accuracy. If pulling your trigger causes a quarter inch of movement at the end of the barrel, that’s more than enough to miss the whole deer at 100 yards. Knowing your rifle means knowing your trigger. If you think you have problems with your trigger, take it to a competent gunsmith and have him check it. Ask to feel other triggers with various pull weights to find out what you’re comfortable with. And if you need to spend a little money to get a smooth trigger with a clean break, you’ll never be sorry. Most often it’s the first thing you can do to improve a rifle’s accuracy.


Whether your rifle is capable of shooting minute-of-angle or not, sighting in from a steady rest will tell you how accurate your rifle is. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

5. Breath control—Inhale, exhale, but don’t move.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. When will you pull the trigger? After you’ve breathed in, let just a little air out, hold it, and put pressure on the trigger. That’s what you should have been doing at the bench rest when you sighted in, but it’s easy to forget. While dry-firing, imagine a deer in your scope—repetition and visualization helps with the mental aspect of shooting.

Making these five practices into habits is more critical than miniscule groups on a paper target, because if you don’t do your part, you can’t shoot the most accurate rifle well. If you do all of these things without thinking about them, whether you shoot a MOA rifle, or one that groups five shots in a four-inch circle, you’re odds of rendering the boiler room of any whitetail suddenly and permanently out of order go way up.

So it’s not either/or—either an accurate rifle or a good shooter. It’s both/and, two sides of one coin. Although you don’t need MOA accuracy in the deer woods, you do need reliability and repeatability so you have a reasonable expectation of where your bullets go. And you need to do your part—and your part is all the habits and practices that maximize whatever accuracy level your rifle can reach.


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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