Tuesday, February 6, 2024

I’m new to rifle shooting – where do I start?

Like most avid shooters, I subscribe to a number of different Facebook Groups regarding firearms. This post deals mostly with the more advanced elements of shooting – precision shooting, use of Scout Rifles and precision rifles and the use of the 22LR rifle. It’s not unusual to see brand new shooters joining these groups a couple times a week. Their posts usually revolve around the rifle they purchased, and it’s associated “furniture” – bipod, scope, muzzle break, whether they need to change their stock to get better precision and accuracy . . . along with a host of other typical “beginner” questions. And many times, I respond to their questions coming from my experience in introducing new and inexperienced shooters to rifle shooting – everyone from kids with a new BB Gun, to Scouts working on their Rifle Merit badge, to adults learning to shoot a rifle for the first time, to patrol officers working to get better with their patrol rifle. But . . . it takes a lot of words to fully explain the things that I believe are important. It occurred to me, while my wife and I are traveling on a winter vacation, perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to simply post a comprehensive post for a new and inexperienced shooter to lend them a hand to get started. And that is the purpose of this post . . . where to start and how to start. Grab a sandwich, this could get to be a long puppy!!

Let’s start out with expectations. If you’re a new shooter and have been watching YouTube videos of shooters nailing steel plates out to 500 to 1000 yards easy-peasy . . . you might be in for a bit of a wakeup call. The same holds for the shooter who went to the range for the day and posts a single photo of a target with a 5-round group all occupying approximately the same hole. Let’s be frank here – they’re only showing a single photo for a single reason – the rest of their groups just “may” be a bit more open – just sayin’. So, what is reality? We’ll over the past 50 years of shooting my experience is that most rifles are capable of a 1-MOA or less group – once in a while. Hence – their manufacturer will call them 1-MOA guns. That does NOT mean that they will shoot such a group every time you send 5-rounds downrange – but, if YOU DO EVERYTHING PROPERLY, if you use good ammunition, if you shoot when the wind is calm and if you purchase a reasonably good rifle – you too can shoot a 1-MOA group once in a while.

Let’s also define a couple of other terms here. Accuracy – the rounds go where you are aiming. And, Precision – all the rounds go to the same place. My goal is to have all my rounds to land in a 1-inch group within a 2-inch circle at 50 yards. Moving out to 100 yards, I want all my rounds to land in a 2-inch group within a 3-inch circle. Honestly, this is where I spend most of my time – at 50 and 100 yards. It is where you can work on all your fundamentals, your shooting positions and learn about the need to do all the little things correctly. It is where you will learn to run your rifle. Where you will learn the discipline to do all the fundamentals exactly correctly each and every round to achieve your overall goals of Accuracy and Precision.

So, let’s chat a bit about “DA RIFLE” . . . what to buy, what to buy. The reality of things is that you CAN buy precision by the rifle and ammunition that you purchase. You CAN NOT buy accuracy – that is squarely on the shoulders of the person you look at every morning as you brush your teeth. I usually recommend buying a “klunker” – an older, used, single shot, bolt action with iron sights only. Mine is shown in the photo of me behind the gun. It is a Stevens 53B 22LR. I have about a half dozen similar rifles that I use for firearms training for new shooters and Scouts. I’ve had hundreds of Scouts shoot their 5 qualification targets with such rifle and earn their Rifle Merit Badge. This is where I encourage you to begin. Your goal is to shoot a 1-inch group, within a 3-inch circle at 50 feet. My argument is that if you cannot do this on demand – with a 80% success rate – why spend money on a larger caliber gun? You learn the fundamentals while shooting ammunition that costs $.10 per round rather than $2.00+ a round. That just makes sense to me.

Your first step will be to zero your rifle. All rifles and aiming systems have their own quirks. You will need to learn each and become proficient in zeroing each rifle. For the Stevens 53B there is a screw on the rear sight that you can loosen and then move the sight left or right in the same direction you wish to adjust the “windage” on the rifle. If you want the bullet to hit 1-inch to the left, you move the rear sight notch slightly to the left. And visa-versa to adjust to the right. The movement is slight, even at just 50 feet. It’s even less at 50-yards. For elevation there is a movable, stepped bar that moves forward and backward under the rear sight. This is what you will move forward or back to elevate your point of impact or lower it. Zeroing is typically only done once, and seldom needs adjustment unless your hardware is loose or there is a drastic change in the performance of your ammunition.

Next is mounting the rifle to your shoulder. I suggest you start shooting from a bench rest position until you have all the little things down like – mounting the rifle into the pocket of your shoulder, finding a good cheek weld on the comb of the stock, having a grip that does not affect the point of aim while you smoothly press the trigger straight to the rear. It is the place to learn sight alignment – the front blade is in the middle of the rear notch and the top of the front blade is even with the top of the rear notch. Finally, you can learn sight picture” – the above mentioned “sight alignment” is placed on the target in such a way that the top of the front blade lays just below the center dot of your target. If you do everything correctly, you point of impact will be in the center of the black dot on your target. Your goal should be that for 50-rounds, that is 10 targets at 50-feet with 5-rounds per target, your groups should be 1-inch in diameter or less and they should all lay within a 3-inch target. Your goal should be to be able to accomplish this 80% of the time. Again, if you cannot accomplish this, why spend money on an expensive rifle with expensive ammunition to learn and become proficient with the fundamentals.

Once you’re proficient with your “klunker”, think about “moving up”. I have two bolt action 22LR rifles that I purchased new. One is the Ruger American 22LR with a bipod and Vortex 2-7x Scout Rifle. And, I have a Ruger Precision Rifle in 22LR with bipod a Vortex Crossfire II Scope. Periodically, I will return to the Stevens 53B for a couple boxes of 22LR, but most of the range work, both at 50-yards and 100-yards is done with the Ruger Rifles.

I believe that many shooters believe that if they spend lots of money on the rifle and the scope and associated gear, they will shoot better. Honestly, again, most issues do not lie with the gun, but the shooter.

I suggest you begin each session at 50-yards with a single box of 22LR. Each rifle will “like” a certain 22LR ammunition. Most of mine like Eley Club that runs about $10 per box. You can spend much more – and gain little in precision. But you can spend much less – and simply fail to come close to your precision goals. Eley Club is a good middle ground for me.

My target is a 2-inch circle for 50-yards. I expect to shoot a 1-inch group that is within the 2-inch circle. And, I expect to do this for a minimum of 8 of the 10 targets I will shoot at 50-yards. This is typically my starting exercise for my range trip.

Next, I’ll move to the 100-yard range. My target will change to a 3-inch circle for 100-yards. Here, I expect to shoot a 2-inch group that is within the 3-inch circle. I expect to do this for a minimum of 8 of the 10 targets I will shoot at 100-yards.

I use the same targets with the same expectations with my Ruger Precision Rifle in 22LR for both 50-yards and 100-yards.

I realize that everyone likes to shoot the big rifles - .308, .338 or maybe the lowly .223 but, but – the mechanics are exactly the same for each rifle (fully acknowledging the recoil mitigation is significantly between 22LRs and the larger calibers). Mounting the rifle, getting a good cheek weld, acquiring your sight alignment and sight picture, loading the bipod, using the rear bag, a smooth trigger press straight to the rear, running the bolt, reacquiring the target, and reengaging the target. If you successfully do all those things with the 22LR, you are wiring your neural pathways that will function exactly the same with your larger caliber rifles.

For larger caliber rifles, I have a Ruger Precision Rifle in .308 with a Vortex Viper scope and bipod, a Savage 110 Scout in .308 with a Vortex Scout Scope and bipod, and a Ruger American Predator in .223 with a Vortex Crossfire II and a bipod. My experience is that if I do my work with the 22LR rifles, the transition to the larger caliber rifles is straight forward and I can consistently meet my shooting goals.

One thing with the larger caliber rifles that I learned was to reduce my group sizes to 3-round groups with 5 minutes between each target. This is due to barrel heating. When I shot 5-round groups, by the time I got to the 4th target on up, the groups would open up because the barrel heated affecting the precision of the rifle.

That pretty much wraps it up . . . if you are starting down the path of rifle shooting, I’d offer that you should begin “small”, work on and polish your fundamentals – then work your way up to the larger caliber rifle of your choice.

Enjoy the journey . . . hit the range . . . and be safe!!