Why You Don’t Need One-Inch Groups

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In the 1950s few rifles had telescopic sights and most couldn’t shoot one-inch groups, yet the old timers who carried them killed plenty of deer. The two in the front are my uncle and my father. This snapshot, by the way, may not be a good example of gun safety. Photo Courtesy of Steve Sorensen
In the 1950s few rifles had telescopic sights and most couldn’t shoot one-inch groups, yet the old timers who carried them killed plenty of deer. The two in the front are my uncle and my father. This snapshot, by the way, may not be a good example of gun safety. Photo Courtesy of Steve Sorensen
In the 1950s few rifles had telescopic sights and most couldn’t shoot one-inch groups, yet the old timers who carried them killed plenty of deer. The two in the front are my uncle and my father. This snapshot, by the way, may not be a good example of gun safety. Photo Courtesy of Steve Sorensen

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

Shooting from a dead-solid rest does not demonstrate your shooting ability at a live target.

I was 12 or 13, and we were at my uncle’s picnic table sighting in our deer rifles on Thanksgiving weekend. 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 caliber.

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. My bullets hit the paper in a Swiss cheese pattern. It was sheer random luck when one bullet punched through near another. I was embarrassed. We were all shooting bullets my uncle hand loaded. We were all shooting at the same distance, with the same sandbags supporting our shooting irons.

I learned something at that picnic table, something that wasn’t true. I thought it was important – no, nearly essential – to shoot tiny groups of roughly one inch when sighting in for deer, so I thought my chances of hitting a deer were slim compared to theirs. My dad told me that was nonsense, but I thought he was simply trying to redeem my self-confidence.

Dad was right. Many people today think if a deer rifle doesn’t shoot one-inch groups, you might as well dump it on some unsuspecting nimrod. Rifle manufacturers sometimes capitalize on hunters’ insecurity by advertising dramatic accuracy claims. “Minute-of-angle,” they say. Maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t really matter for deer. (Mathematically, a minute-of-angle, or MOA, is exactly 1.047 inches at 100 yards. Most shooters round it down to one inch.)

You don’t need a deer rifle (or a shotgun) that delivers every bullet to a 1-inch dot at 100 yards. Why not? The biggest target on a deer is his chest cavity. We sometimes call it his “boiler room” because it contains his heart and lungs. A conservative estimate of its size is ten inches in diameter. It’s actually a little larger. You’ll deliver a one-shot kill by hitting a little higher (the high shoulder) or a couple of inches farther back (his liver). A rifle that shoots three-inch groups, or even four-inch groups, will certainly deliver a bullet there.

The truth is any rifle with sufficient power to kill a deer fired by any shooter who can put shots from that rifle into a paper dessert plate has all the ability he needs to hit a deer in the vitals. You don’t need one-inch groups. Yes, that’s heresy, but almost no one gets one-inch groups because only one shot counts. Besides, shooting conditions vary when shooting at a deer.

They vary a lot. Shooting from a dead-solid rest does not demonstrate your shooting ability when you’re resting the gun on your knee, or against the side of a tree, or on a limb. Or maybe you’ll be shooting offhand. And the deer may be moving.

It gets worse. As soon as you spot antlers those glands sitting atop your kidneys will mainline adrenaline directly into your bloodstream. That stimulant will cause you to forget the conscious steps you took at the rifle range. Add wind, temperature, heavy clothing, and the fact that you may have only a second or two to get your shot off. Other unpredictables can come into play. That’s why you won’t place the bullet into the deer as perfectly as you did the paper target.

I suggest a better way. If your bullets hit comfortably inside a 6″ paper dessert plate every time at 100 yards, that’s OK. Most shots at deer will be well under 100 yards. Strive for tighter groups, but realize you need to make shooting become second nature, so shoot a lot. Target acquisition, gun stability, breath control, trigger squeeze – all are more critical than miniscule groups on a paper target. If you do all of these things without thinking about them, you’re doing your part, and you’ll render the boiler room of any whitetail suddenly and permanently inoperative.

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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at www.jamestowngazette.com.

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Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning outdoor writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, and insights on how to think about hunting. His byline has appeared in the nation’s top hunting magazines including Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Deer & Deer Hunting, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur-Fish-Game, North American Whitetail, Bear Hunting Magazine and more. He contributes regular website content to Legendary Whitetails and Havalon Knives and is a field editor for Deer Hunters Online. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsmen’s dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).