Test & Tinker

By Jace Bauserman

terminal ascent packages in front of a rifle

My three-shot group from 100 yards was bad—about the diameter of a small cantaloupe—and frustration was setting in. My buddy, who happened to be the best rifle shot I’d ever seen, was closely monitoring my practice session. At first, he thought it was a case of the jitters—jerking the trigger or raising my eye above the scope as I pulled the trigger. It was neither. Then, he calmly said, “Go to your truck and grab some different ammunition. It may be your rifle just doesn’t like these rounds.”

The experience, now long ago, was an eye-opener. The notion that a different bullet style or weight could shoot completely differently than another was hard to grasp. While we the barrel cool, my buddy took me to ammo school, and I’ve seen his lessons played out countless times since. Here’s what you need to know.

School Begins

First, whether you’re sighting in a new rifle or just building your skills, the time to do it is now—not in the weeks or days before hunting season. So, don’t consider spring and summer the off-season. Use them to build rock-solid accuracy with time at the range. The more accurate you become, the more your confidence grows and the greater the chance you’ll put a bullet on the mark when the moment of truth arrives.

Before you hit the range, line up several bullet types appropriate to your target animal in various weights. If you need help choosing one, check out this guide. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to even the most enlightened ballisticians, an individual rifle will shoot a particular load better than most others. Put that same load through a different rifle, and the results might be entirely different. You need to find the bullet and weight combo your rifle likes best.

This is part of why many serious hunters reload. They tinker with bullet types, weights and powder measurements until they find their most accurate and lethal combo. The same can be done with factory ammunition, although without as much customization.

Twist & Velocity

As I mentioned earlier, much of the reason one load shoots well in a certain rifle and poorly in another remains mysterious, but there are some variables that are easier to wrap your arms around. Consider rifling. If you have a rifle with a twist rate of 1:10, this means the rifling grooves inside the barrel make one complete turn over a span of 10 inches. General ballistic rules note the faster the twist rate for a given caliber, the longer/heavier bullet your rifle can stabilize.

man aiming rifle while outside in the snow

Velocity is another big one. Relatively small differences in speed can have big effects on accuracy—and the velocity data published on the box isn’t necessarily what your rifle will produce in the real world. Your elevation, the temperature, your barrel length and other factors will all conspire to make your velocity truly unique. To that end, I highly recommend purchasing a chronograph and taking it along to the range. Knowing which velocities produce the best accuracy will help home in on your ideal load.

The Time Is Now

If this seems daunting, don’t sweat it. Entire books have been written on ballistics. You don’t need to know it all—or even understand why it works. You’re just looking to find a specific load your rifle likes. Finding it just takes is time, a few greenbacks and the willingness to test. Enjoy the process, and the results.

Terminal Ascent

Bonded construction penetrates deep on close targets, while the patented Slipstream polymer tip initiates expansion at velocities 200 fps lower than comparable designs.

Buy Now

Terminal Ascent box and shotshells