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The Ultimate Reloading Manual
Wolfe Publishing Group
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The Ultimate Reloading Manual
hornady superperformance

Evaluating Hunting Handload Accuracy

Author: Richard Mann / Wolfe Publishing Co.
Date: Apr 01 2010

When assembling handloads for hunting, we hope to achieve the best external and terminal ballistics we can. Hunters like loads that shoot flat and damage enough tissue at a deep enough depth to bring about a quick, clean kill. Hunters also like accurate loads because misses or bad hits make for empty plates and bare walls. Savvy handloaders have a test protocol for evaluating the accuracy or precision of the loads they assemble. A survey would probably find that every handloader takes a different approach. 

Hunters need accurate ammunition to make quick, clean kills.
How should a handloader evaluate theaccuracy of the ammunition he loads?

Most gun magazines and gun writers will evaluate ammunition by firing several three- or five-shot groups at 100 yards. Some magazines have a set protocol. Most often, three or five groups consisting of three or five shots are fired for a total of 9 or 25 rounds. To an extent I believe the more rounds fired the better idea you will have about the accuracy potential of a certain load. But, I also believe that every time you pull a trigger you risk the chance of inducing human error. The more shots and groups fired, the greater that risk becomes.

On good days I believe most shooters are probably capable of firing 8 or 9 good shots out of 10 when shooting from a bench. The thing about shots that fly off the mark due to human error is that they can make a group larger or smaller. Sometimes we err to the good. You can’t always be sure if you made an error or if the error increased or decreased group size.

I also believe that when trying to determine the accuracy potential of a certain load, the load should be evaluated based on how you intend to employ it. For example, if you’re testing a handload for shooting prairie dogs, basing that load’s performance on one or more 10-shot groups seems logical since when shooting prairie dogs, high-volume stings are the norm.

When testing the accuracy of a big game load, the same logic applies. This means 10-shot groups don’t, unless you routinely shoot at every pronghorn or elk you hunt 10 times each. Most hunts come to an end after one, sometimes two and rarely three shots. Based on real world requirements, it makes sense to evaluate hunting loads in a manner similar to the way in which they will be employed. In keeping with that mindset, two-shot groups make sense.

Now, before you start crowing about how two-shot groups are not a predictable means of measuring accuracy, ask yourself why you think this is so. Is it just because the age-old standard has been three- or five-shot groups? Keep in mind, if you use three, three-shot groups as a test, you only fire a total of 9 shots. If your standard is three, five-shot groups then you fire 15 shots. If you think 15 is the minimal acceptable number of shots for determining accuracy, fire 8, two-shot groups. We could go on and on, but you get the point.

When measuring group size, measure the distance between the centers of the two shots that impacted the farthest apart. In a threeshot group, you ignore one shot, and in a five-shot group you ignore three shots. If you fire three, fiveshot groups, you discount the impact of 9 or 60 percent of the shots you fired. Also, if you fire a five-shot group and four of the shots land within .25 inch of each other and the fifth shot lands 1.5 inches from the most distant of the other four shots, you measure the maximum spread and ignore the fact that you put four shots into less than .5 inch. Does this make any sense? Especially when it’s likely the flyer was induced by shooter error!

Shooters and handloaders all agree you need to
shoot multiple groups to determine accuracy potential.
What they will not agree on is how many
groups and how many shots per group.

For big game ammunition, 10 shots should be enough to establish if a load is accurate or not. If you fire five, two-shot groups and are not satisfied with the level of accuracy, what’s the point of continuing to test that load. If you’re confident 90 percent of your shots from a bench are good, then with five, two-shot groups you will only have one group influenced by human error. If your standard is five, five-shot groups, then you have to assume that at least two or 40 percent of the groups fired are suspect.

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