That’s a very broad question that invites multiple answers, depending on what is intended by the question and the perspective of those who might attempt an answer.
First of importance is what is intended by the question. It might be interpreted by some as: “Inherent accuracy” of the rifle employing factory ammo. On the other hand, is it asking about the best handloads regardless of muzzle velocity – as in what many reloading manuals cite as the most accurate load for a particular bullet even though it might be 150 fps slower than the best in muzzle velocity. Then, to others they might be thinking 3″ – 4″ groups at 100 yards because they never shoot beyond that! So their answer might be: “As long as it kills deer at a hundred, I don’t care what the MOA is!”
And so on…
In my view it does matter for the following reasons, and this will likely be the opinion of at least a majority:
1) The accuracy of rifle loads – factory or handloads – that are intended for game from small to large, at ranges to 400 yards or so, must be consistently accurate enough to hit within the vitals of the intended game with the rifle zeroed appropriately.
> This whitetail buck was shot by our son, Brent, last fall (Brent is 6′ tall without boots). The .356 Winchester was zeroed at 100 yards and he shot it at 70 yards. The load was a 220gr Speer that I handloaded and zeroed for the Winchester M94 XTR. The bullet went through both shoulders and made exit. They were shooting MOA, so that part of the hunt was without angst.
< Zeroing the rifle at 100 yards.
If the rifle load chosen can only make 3 to 5 shots within a 2″ circle at 100 yards from a bench rest, then at 400 yards that would be approximately an 8″ circle. Given the possibility of some difficulty in having or finding a solid/stable rest, a wounding shot or miss is highly probable. On the other hand, 3 to 5 shots into a 1″ circle or less, has a much higher potential, under field conditions, of hitting vitals at 400 yards – depending, of course, on the class of animal. On a mature moose, for example, the vital area is at least a 12″ circle. On a 200 lb whitetail it might only be 6-inches.
In other words, using a rifle load that’s incapable of MOA for long-range shooting of game becomes a wild-guessing game. In Toronto there was a particular gun shop that I and a son used to visit on a semi-regular basis. The owner did his moose hunt annually in Northern Ontario. At the end of one such hunt, my son and I paid a visit, and I asked about his hunt – was it successful? He told us in his own Italian way ,with gestures and humour, that he took a very long shot on a moose with his “300 magume”, and it disappeared into some timber. “Did you hit it?”, I asked…. “Don’t know!”, was the reply. “Did you go after it?” – “No, it was too far!”. “How far?” “Far, far away!” was the only answer we got! Then: “My 300 is very good for long shots, you know.”. End of that discussion – except on the way home we had a good laugh, but also pondered the matter of irresponsible shooting at game animals.
To my way of thinking, not knowing the ballistics of my rifle, including its accuracy, is tantamount to criminal behaviour if I go afield to kill game.
2) Good accuracy – or the best possible – breeds confidence in the field so that becomes a matter of NO concern! I can then focus on making the shot!
3) There’s a real sense of satisfaction in owning an inherently accurate rifle, and in making handloads that complement its accuracy.
I’ve owned several of that nature, and there was real joy in producing ammo that brought the best from them. One was a single-shot NEF in .45-70 with a very stout barrel. It would shoot almost any load into MOA or better. That gave real confidence in sitting in a tree stand and firing a single 465gr semi-hardcast into the frontal chest of a trophy black bear at seventy yards. DRT! It never moved so much as an inch!
Another is my Tikka T3 in 9.3 x 62. All loads shoot sub-MOA. And the best is the 250gr AB into sub- 1/2 MOA at +2700 fps.
Still another was a .300 Win Mag… and so on.
And these were not loads tuned for accuracy, but for performance on game… like that 465gr at 1900 fps from a “cheap” rifle that would be despised by the “elite”.
Another rifle that was extremely accurate – more than I was – a Rem M673 in .350 Rem Mag, and that was after my gunsmith resolved some serious issues. It would shoot 3 of the 250gr Speer GS’s into a tiny cloverleaf of .375″ at a hundred – at OVER 2700 fps from it’s very stiff 22″ barrel.
4) Usually I like to settle on one load for hunting purposes from each rifle. It doesn’t always work out that way because I like to fiddle with different components, but in the case of my new .35 Whelen that’s exactly what I’ve been doing – one accurate load for “come what may” in a light-‘n-handy rifle. In the past, that was generally a .300 Win Mag but I sold or traded them all in favor of “mediums”. A .300 Win is very versatile, something like a .30-06, only more so in my view. A good 180gr is all one really needs in either of those two.
My 9.3 x 62 was intended to replace all mediums and sub-mediums. Replacing all mediums it has admirably succeeded in doing. But as an “all-purpose” rifle, quality lighter bullets are lacking. The lightest bullet I use in that rifle is the 250gr AccuBond – and it’s superbly accurate at 2600 – 2700 fps, but that doesn’t make it as versatile as a .35 Whelen on the “low end” where bullets of relatively high BCs and modest weight exist. The main problem with lighter bullets in 9.3 is relatively blunt shapes that come out of Europe. What is needed for the 9.3 x 62 is an American made 200gr “premium” with a sharp, polycarbonate tip, something like a 200gr in .358. Alas, that doesn’t appear to be on the horizon. GS did make a 195 bonded-core with a BT and pointed nose but they’ve moved to another continent.
So, a light-‘n-handy .35 Whelen appeared “out of nowhere” in a single-shot at a decent price, and it has taken a month of concentrated work to come up with a single, all-purpose load in a walkabout rifle for “come what may”.
The load: a 225gr AccuBond at 2850 fps that shoots three into .65″ at a hundred yards. That’s good enough for anything I might encounter that’s in season and for which I’m licensed to shoot, from 5 yards to 400 yards. That’s about as versatile as a .300 Win or .338 Win, with recoil in the same ballpark.
An inherently accurate rifle firing a consistently accurate load gives confidence and pleasure, but effectively using all that potential accuracy in harvesting game is the greater challenge that involves the shooter and his/her use of other support systems:
Shooting offhand (either standing or kneeling): Usually, this is less than 100 yards, but from a steady, standing position may be much longer, assuming the shooter is confident based on practice. I shot my moose from a standing-offhand position at 165 yards and both bullets went where aimed. On a more uneven ground I would have knelt or found a tree to lean against.
Another “trick” is using the sling as a support over the elbow of the offside – the one away from the shooting side. Go online and you can find the details if uninformed.
In kneeling, depending on whether the shooter is left-handed or right-handed, one knee is on the ground and the other is bent with the foot on the ground. The bent knee becomes the rest for the elbow of the hand that grips the forearm of the rifle, and the other becomes the arm and hand that controls the fire mechanism. Armies have used this style of rest in long-range exchanges of fire in open areas where cover or trenches were not available in an extreme and immediate situation.
Also, shooting offhand often involves close quarters and brush where an animal appears suddenly, jumps up or even charges within a few yards. The hunter’s only option is to instinctively “shoot now!” without any concerns other than hitting the animal “in the big middle”. In brush hunting where dangerous game might appear suddenly at relatively short range, I won’t be carrying less than a medium to big bore that can deal death and destruction with a single-shot, because that’s all I’ll get, one way or another! Either the animal’s dead, crippled or fled! Or I am!
Shooting prone: The support for accuracy is the shoulder, elbows and hands. There are various nuances to this, but open and flat terrain is assumed. But, I’ll not be shooting my .458 from prone, but maybe from:
A Sitting position: Again, there are a few nuances to this, but the deal is to find as much balance and comfort as possible. This position is often used with the back against a solid support, like a large boulder or stout tree. Often, this style is used in lieu of a tree stand or blind in areas of known wildlife activity.
African type sticks, bipods, tripods and permanent rests: No doubt we’ve all used various means for resting the forearm of a rifle for steadiness in shooting game. Even for relatively short range shooting. The reason isn’t complicated. If unsteadiness is removed, we can then focus the reticle on the spot we want to hit, knowing our next job will be field dressing the animal. A solid rest can practically eliminate shakiness and the effects of extreme emotion from excitement or nervousness.
< There’s a bear bait setup on the far side of this field. The range is 135 yards. The rifle is my Tikka T3 in 9.3 x 62. It’s accuracy gave calm assurance, but it’s also resting on an inherent rest of the ladder stand.
I’ve found solid rests to be very important in hunting bear, whether at relatively close ranges or longer ones. There is (for me at least) the excitement factor, and I don’t want to misplace a bullet as the result may become a tracking job in nasty places to find a bear that’s still alive seeking revenge – and that’s neither myth nor hype. And, very likely darkness has settled in! Tracking down a wounded dangerous black creature with sharp fangs and long claws that may outweigh me by a hundred pounds or more, and that extra poundage in the form of muscles, certainly can cause excitement that’s not of the pleasant kind! So I use rifle rests in blinds and tree stands when bruins with coats as black as coal is the pursuit.
Accurate rifles deserve accurate shooting! Otherwise, it’s a waste!
Til the next… Single-Shot Big Bore Rifles for Dangerous Game?
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“Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,
Yet the scaffold sways the future,
and behind the dim unknown
Stands God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own”
James Russel Lowell 1844
“the Present Crisis”