Once upon a time owning a rifle that was capable of MOA accuracy was rare, but new manufacturing processes and improved triggers and optics have helped make the dream of honest 1-inch groups a reality.
Better yet, competition among rifle makers to develop ultra-accurate guns at reasonable prices has been a boon for customers. Today it’s possible to buy a budget rifle that shoots extremely well.
That doesn’t mean, however, you need to give up on your old gun. In fact, there are a number of ways to improve that existing rifle to eke out every bit of accuracy possible. If you have an old, familiar rifle that you love to use, then why not give it an upgrade? Chances are you know the gun well, and with a little tweaking you might turn that so-so rifle into a tack-driving classic.
Besides, if you know your rifle well and have shot it often there’s a good chance it fits you and you have practiced with it enough to feel comfortable. Simply going out and buying a new gun isn’t always the best answer for accuracy problems, and it’s usually cheaper to take steps to improve the rifle you are currently using.
Here are eight ways you can revamp your favorite deer rifle to improve accuracy.
NO. 1: REPLACE THE STOCK
A good stock is fundamental for accuracy, and your old gun might or might not have what it takes. Barrels vibrate after a shot, and these barrel harmonics can be altered when the stock interferes with movement, reducing overall accuracy. Sometimes the key to increasing the accuracy potential of your rifle is to replace that old factory stock. A number of aftermarket synthetic stocks available today are inexpensive and easy to install.
But if you prefer wood, you’re covered there as well. Accurate Innovations (www. AccurateInnovations.com) offers drop-in wooden stocks with a full-length aluminum chassis for optimum accuracy. The barrel is already free-floated and bedded and pillared, so there is usually no need to do anything else once it is installed but go shoot better groups.
NO. 2: FIND THE RIGHT AMMUNITION
Rifles react differently to various types of ammunition, so simply playing with a variety of loads can go a long way toward shrinking groups. How a particular rifle responds to a certain load is based upon the barrel’s twist rate, overall barrel length, and in many cases there are simply some factory loads that a gun shoots more accurately than others. Spend the time and money to try a half-dozen different loads. Odds are good you’ll find that one performs better than the others.
If you’re a handloader it’s wise to work up different loads, using different powders and bullets, to see which perform best in your gun. And also be aware that many rifles respond better to specific bullet weights. If you don’t handload there’s still hope. Superior Ammunition (www.SuperiorAmmo.com) offers Sample Paks, which the company loads with different bullets so you can buy one box of ammunition and try several different loads to determine which works best in your gun before spending a lot of money on the wrong ammo.
NO. 3: UPGRADE YOUR OPTICS
The simple truth about optics is that you oftentimes get what you pay for. A number of companies that offer budget-priced scopes that work well. Buy the best you can afford.
Make sure your scope is properly and securely mounted, using high-quality bases and rings so they fit tightly and securely to the rifle.
If you don’t know how to properly mount a scope, take the gun to someone with experience. Poorly mounted scopes often will lose their zero, and the abuse of years of shooting can take a heavy toll on mounts and bases. If your scope is of poor quality, or it’s improperly mounted to your rifle, there’s no hope of achieving superior accuracy.
WATCH: Get the Most From Your Riflescope
NO. 4: BED THE ACTION
Bedding a stock is the process of using an epoxy resin to insure a proper fit between the barreled action and the stock itself, and it was rarely done to older over-the-counter rifles. As the rifle moves after each shot, the barrel harmonics can be affected by pressure exerted from the stock on the barreled action or, in some cases, movement within the stock.
Proper bedding eliminates these problems, and your overall accuracy will improve as a result. By creating a bed, the action stays where it is supposed to and has a perfect fit in
the stock, which eliminates movement and increases consistency and, as a result, accuracy. There are kits with bedding compounds and instructional videos that teach the basics of bedding, but the best rifle smiths know how to properly bed and inlet a rifle for optimum accuracy. The results can be spectacular, and bedding is one of the best ways to breathe new life into an old rifle.
NO. 5: BUY A BETTER TRIGGER
Today’s factory rifles come with pretty good triggers, but that’s a somewhat recent development. A
20-year-old gun might still have a heavy, gritty, creepy trigger that makes superior accuracy next to impossible. If your gun has a bad trigger, one of the fastest ways to shrink your group size is having an aftermarket trigger installed.
Companies such as Rifle Basix and Timney Triggers offer excellent aftermarket options, and these triggers are specifically designed to improve trigger pull. Once you’ve shot a rifle with a really good trigger nothing else will suffice. Installation processes vary, and a qualified gunsmith should be able to add a high-quality trigger at a relatively low price. You can select from a single-stage unit with a clean, crisp, light break or a two-stage unit that has a slight take-up before firing. Either way, you’ll be much better equipped to shoot well.
NO. 6: ACCURIZE YOUR RIFLE
A competent gunsmith can accurize your existing rifle and, if done correctly, will result in a gun that shoots much better. Rifle smithing packages vary, but most accurizing packages include checking headspace, bedding the rifle and free-floating the barrel, trigger adjustments and a check of the scope/bases/rings to ensure maximum stability.
Costs vary, but oftentimes this can be accomplished for well below the price of a new gun. The rifle will be tested by the gunsmith to verify that accuracy has improved. The amount of improvement that you’ll see varies with the quality of your rifle and barrel and the skill of the gunsmith, but by and large you can expect to see accuracy below 11⁄2 inches with this kind of treatment. Accurizing is one of the simplest and most effective means to improve the potential of your rifle.
NO. 7: IMPROVED CLEANING
Years of disuse and abuse can leave your rifle chronically inaccurate, but there’s something you can do about that. In years past, proper clean- ing meant the use of toxic chemicals that produced
noxious fumes, a relatively unpleasant experience. Today, however, there are companies that are producing cleaning products that are environmentally friendly and easy to use. One such company is Modern Spartan Systems (www. ModernSpartanSystems.com). Its new Accuracy Oil restores surface imperfections and increases barrel life, and that can lead to tighter groups and more consistent velocities.
If you have a really gunked-up gun, check out its Copper/Lead Destroyer, which helps remove copper and lead deposits in your rifle’s barrel that lead to poor accuracy and a reduced barrel life. Deposits and fouling in the barrel can, over time, lead to diminished accuracy, so if you haven’t given your gun a good scrubbing in a while it’s worth a try. It’s one of the least expensive accuracy boosters available.
NO.8: NEW BARREL
Like everything else, barrels have a life expectancy, and if you’ve been driving bullets down your rifle’s tube for many years you will begin to see the results in larger groups at the range. This is compounded if your rifle’s barrel isn’t properly maintained. Factory barrels vary greatly in quality, and it’s hard to know just how good your barrel is until you compare it to a premium tube.
Oftentimes, a high-quality aftermarket barrel will provide superior results in a hurry, and you’ll be amazed what can be accomplished with a new pipe. Companies such as E.R. Shaw (www.ErshawBarrels.com) offer premium, precision-manufactured barrels that are built to a higher standard than most factory barrels. It’s a relatively inexpensive fix, and you’ll oftentimes see dramatic improvements immediately.
“We gauge every barrel to make sure that the lands and grooves (bore dimensions) have the same dimensions throughout the length of the bore,” said Chris Murray of E.R. Shaw barrels. “This way the bullet travels down the bore with the same effort, there are no tighter areas that can lead to increased pressure, and no loose areas that can cause a falloff in pressure for the entire bore length.”
So don’t be too quick to give up your old rifle. Maybe a little TLC is all it needs to get it back in top working order.
— Brad Fitzpatrick is a whitetail hunter and outdoors writer from Ohio.