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April 25, 2007

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A Bad Rifle Is (Almost) Always a Bad Rifle

Two colleagues and I just completed our testing of five rifles for Best of the Best, and once more, a great truth was confirmed: A good rifle shoots well immediately. A bad rifle will gross you out right away. Ugly ducklings do not turn into swans, or vice-versa. Two of the rifles we tested had excellent pedigrees. One was a .22 LR; the other a .223. The three of us shot them with all sorts of ammo, and the ghastly results left us muttering to ourselves. They should have done well, but they didn’t. And they were not going to do well.

The other half of this topic is: How much testing do you have to do? Kenny Jarrett, in working up a load for one of his rifles, looks for three good groups in a row. I think that’s adequate, but it’s also the minimum. I like four or five. On the other hand, if you go beyond five, you are either compulsive or you have a lot of money to spend on bullets.

Once in a great while I’ve had a rifle that should have shot well but didn’t, but because I had a lot of money in the thing I was willing to test it at great length. One such gun was a gorgeous .270 made by Joe Balickie. I shot it until my trigger finger blistered, and was about to send it back for another barrel when I found that it liked H205 powder (now discontinued). If I fed it H205 it would burp and fart and shoot wonderful groups.

Another gun that I shot to the point of exhaustion was a custom left-hand-Mauser-action .338. I shot every 250-grain Nosler Partition that Bob Nosler made that year, and it wouldn’t shoot. I had a new barrel put on, and it still wouldn’t shoot. When you do that and nothing good happens, it’s time to say good-bye, so down the road it went.

But these are the rare exceptions. Ninety-nine percent of the time you get the good news or the bad news on the first trip to the range.


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A while back you were helping me decide between the .340WBY and .338Win and .338RUM. Federal makes a 250gr. Nosler in .338WIn so I think that is what I am going with. My question now is I am looking at used rifles on-line (gunsamerica.com, and auctionarms.com) where else should I be looking (besides gun shops), and secondly is it unrealistic to pick up a .338 win Mag for under $400 used?

Dave Petzal

To Gable: Not at all. Most people who trade in .338s do so because they discover they can't take the kick. $400 for one in good to very good condition seems realistic.

Troy Stirman

Dave- the next time you decide to toss a custom Mauser, let me know will you? I will gladly take it off your hands, and I bet I can get it to shoot!

Seriously, you tried everything?

Ralph the Rifleman

Dave-I know we have discussed this issue before, but please tell us what you consider a gun that will "not shoot" acceptable groups for you?

Dave Petzal

To Troy Stirman: Believe me, you wouldn't want this gun. Pure heartache. I didn't try everything. At the time, I considered the 250-grain Nosler Partition to be the absolute apogee of .338 bullets, and I tried only those bullets, but with about six different powders, three magnum primers, and God knows how many different powder charges.

To Ralph: If a big-game rifle will put three shots in under 1.5 inches, it's fine by me. But this particular rifle threw shots. You'd get a group that was fine, and take two more for the second group, and the last shot would take off toward the planet Mongo. Throwing shots is unacceptable, as is shifting point of impact a lot. I don't require super small groups, but I do like them to head in the same general direction.

Mike Diehl


Dumb question coming from me I suppose, but -- if you get one good group and 2/3 of another, how do you know the flier wasn't, "operator error?"

I shoot alot but when I go five shots well placed and one off I always assume I screwed up. Even if I am shooting from a rest.

Dave Petzal

To Mike Diehl: There are no dumb questions. I knew it wasn't operator error because the rifle would do the same thing over and over. Every fourth or fifth or sixth shot would go wild, time after time. Also, if you shoot enough, you will know when you flinch or pull one off. Also, the wind at the range where I shoot blows in very predictable patterns, so I can rule that out.

Jeff W.

I know this is some what off the subject but there seems to be alot of untapped knowledge here (kissing up).I have a problem with a new scope (Barska SWAT). While zeroing with the bolt removed and viewing the 50yd. target through the bore the cross hairs are at the 10:00 postion. I want to move the cross hairs to the 50yd target dead center.Which means I need to drop my elevation and move my windage to the right. My instructions on the scope are to raise the point of impact turn elevation CCW.Windage left CW.When I make my adjustments as instructed by the arrows and watch the cross hairs move, they go in the opposite direction of the direction the scope is telling me to go to get dead center at 50 yds.I'm use to redfield and weaver scopes move the dials with the arrow direction means that is where the bullet impact will go. I'm sure it is me and not the scope.I've called the company and they could not give me an answer to what I'm seeing through the scope while making adjustment. Scope was retured and a new one sent. Same thing happened the second time around.Can someone please tell me what I'm doing wrong or what I'm not understanding. Confused in Wisconsin


When bore sighting you would move your cross hairs to the target, just the opposite of moving the point of impact. If you centered the crosshairs then looked through the bore then you would see the POI at 4:00 position. move bullet impact up and left.


Dave (or anybody):
where besides auctionarms.com and gunsamerica.com and local gun shops should I be looking for a used .338 Win Mag? The stuff I have found on the two above web sites are all way over $400--not to mention you can buy one of these rifles NEW (WBY Vangard,Ruger M77, and I think even Browning) for btw. 500-600.

Jeff W.

To justrtofgangus posted April 26 @10:59. Thank You for your response to my question. What you said makes sense.This the first time I bore sighted this way.I felt that this was what was going on but could not get anyone (even the company) to confirm it. Once again many thanks.


Gable,you might try Gunbroker.com.


Just picked up a Stalker A-Bolt with BOSS for $450 and it does not look like it has been shot except for testing and the bore looks pristine. It now has a happy home is having the barrel cut to 22" for the scabbard!

Been there-Done that

Dave: I plan to purchase a haul-around rifle in my pickp and on my 4 wheeler to shoot groundhogs, deer(whenin season) and want a cheaper gun than my 700's.I want a syn stock and matt bbl with a 3 x 9x 40 scope, prefer a detachable magazie, but not a must. I have looked at the Stevens by Savage and the new Remington model 715( which is the model 770 without the scope, as per the rep at Remington. Which of these firearsms do you suggest. There is only $20,00 difference in my cost. Not sure the new model 715 is in all the dealers yet, as its the Premier line and not available at Wally-World, thank goodness. i saw it by chance looking on teh Rem webb site. Please give me your opinion. As stated, this gun is not my primary hunting gun,700's are, this will be just a knock-about-job. But do want a accurate shooting firearm, as don;t care to just wound a animal, I want him to fall at the shot. I trust your judgement, and look forward to your reply. Roger PS; I am a pretty good shooter, killed a Lope in Wy at 325yds, and a 4 x 4 deer at 345 yds in Mt, each one shot, fell at the shot, no trailing, as i;m disabled/handicapped and can;t follow a blood-trail.will keep tabs on the blog for your answer. Thanks a lot. Love your article as long as politics don;t enter the discussing. This site to me is about guns and hunting.

Been there-Done that

I;m no expert on anything, just know what works for me. I use a Rem 700CDL in 30-06 and a 700 Classic in 25-o6 for all my big out west hunting. In the 06 I use the new Rem Bonded Scricco l80 gr and in the 25-06 I use the ll5 gr. Winchester Ballastic tip. When hunting season is over and I clean my guns up for storage thru the non-hunting season, I use a light coating of Rem oil. Upon beginning out to pratice for my next out west trip, I always shot one shot into the dirt bank befor I begin my serious shooting. I use Nikon scopes(3 x 9 x 40) and Leupold dual dove tail mounts and they never loose 0.All my hunting rifles are zeroed at 200 yds. With the above mentioned ammo, each rifle ( from the bench) will shoot 3 shots that a l/2 dollar will cover. Then I stop shooting that gun and use others i;m trying out. I never use more than the 3 shot's at a session. After a rifle ( any make) has had 3(I use a plain old Corelokt) for the wild shot of these new bonded shells run thr it, the bbl will be hot and not be as accurate as on a cold bbl.I;ve owned many rifles in my 72( yep 72) yrs,with 50+ hunting, and never had but one gun could not 0 and it was a custom built on a Mauser action. I had the gun-smith do everything in his power( re-turned the bbl to 06) to make it group even 2-3 " at 200 yds and would not.So found it a new home and licked my wounds all way to the Rem dealer and bought some new 700's Some guns will never pattermn well, but do think after 3-4 shots if not pattering well, best to find it a new home.My new CDL, I bought 4 boxes of new Bonded shells of different brands, and none worked like the Remington l80's. Snce then have shot nothing but those thru it and don;t plan to. I had a 700 once that would not shoot a l80 gr bullet at all, but did perfect on l50 grs. Still have it, and its one of my at home use for w-tails. good-hunting, if you find a gun that patterns to your style of shooting, better hang on to it, as few do.Roger


Been there done that:
you probably didn't want an anwer from me, but I was in your situation about a year ago and would offer my opinion. I was looking for a similar knockaround- type rifle for varmints/coyotes, and bought a Steven 200 (Savage) in .223, and it is perfect in its role. The trigger's not so great, but even with that being said its an accurate rifle, and it doesn't matter if it gets wet, dirty, etc. For me, it was one of the best values I've ever discovered.


i have an older ruger 10/22 that i just put a adams&bennett targetbarrel & fajen syn. stock on.i have tried about 10 different ammos in it.it will only fire on two.i tried eley semiauto and it fired 1 out 10 rounds.wolf match fired 10 out of 10.before putting on the new barrel it worked fine on all ammo.

Joe: Thanks for the reply on a haul-around rifle. I need another gun like HOLE IN MY HEAD, but us gun nus never have enough. Had decided on the Stevens 200 with blind magazine until I heard about the neww Remington 715. Did some investigating today, and do believe this 715 is only Rem's old 710 just dressed up with a black syn stock. I detested the 710, as was a hunk of junk. I can understand why it never sold well. Have looked the Stevens over and did like ok, other than the grey stock, but maybe I need a change of colors for stocks. Got wood stocked guns, but a 4 wheeler thru the woods is death on nice Walnut. Maybe the Grey stock would not scratch or bang up as mch as even a black syn job. . I have not seen the 715 in person, only by a picture and learned long ago never buy till seen. Thank you for taking your time to answer my request. Am glad this blog finally got back to guns and hunting and leave the politics in DC.

Been there done that

Has anyone seen and bought the new Ruger Vanquero? if so what is your opinion. I;m dying for a 45 LC in one, but not sure about the new style grips. Was informed, that for many years all Colt's grips were black and of simular material.If you have seen one or bought one of the new models, what is your opinion? Answer by all, please. Roger PS;anyone see the new Remington 770 or 715 also.

Max Boewe

Where can I find info on reloading 303 Savage?

Dr. Ralph

Alright Dave here's one for you. How about a rifle that was great and is now bad? My 1963 Remington 700 30-06 shot sub minute of angle groups for over forty years! I took it elk hunting out west and broke the original stock. Bought a Remington factory replacement plastic camo stock and it shoots 3.5" groups... What's up? My lack of ability in placing the action in the stock or what...

Been there-Done that

Dr Ralph;no gun expert, but may shed some light on your probem.First, the new bbl is much lighter than the orig.2nd. you may have tightened the screws to tight that holds the stock to the action. Try backing of l/4 " turn and see if the groups improve. ALSO, TRY THE OLD TRICK OF SLIDING A DOLLAR BILL between the bbl and forearm? if bill will not go all way down to forward screw then its too tight. A gun you have shot that many years is like a new gun now with the different stock, so you got to start from scratch as if a different gun, and it is now. Guns are finky these days. Can shoot 10 of exact same and will get ll different groups,. Buy some cheap ammo and play with the screws somewhat, plus after 3 shots let that bbl cool down while you shoot other guns. In to days world, light wt guns appear to be the norm. Too me, if it don;t weigh near 9 or 10 lbs its too light.( and I'm 72 yrs old and go West every year) Cannot take a 5 lb gun and make it stable. O' it's nice to carry up the mtn, but when that 20K $$$ shot comes, you need a heavy wt firearm for that steady shot. If I buy a syn stock firearm, I usually add old wheel wts to hollow stock( wts wrapped in foam rubber) to get the wt near the 9-10lb range. Rather have the wt at my shoulder than on fore-arm. I have both Syn and wood stocked hunting guns and any gun larger than a 223 has a wood stock. Now you have a good excuse to head to the range and try different loads. PS; try severeal different brands of ammo. I have a 30-06 in wood that will not pattern l80 gr bullets period, reagrdless of who the mfg is. But, it will shoot MOA all day with l50 grs. I never shoot more than 3 shots before I allow the bbl to cool down. Have a friend who carries a 2 gallon can of water with him to the bench. Afters 3 shots, he pours water over the bbl to coold down. To me he;s asking for trouble sooner or later, as the bbl needs to cool on its on . Maybe this will help, can;t hurt to try. Good hunting. Roger from NC

Kurt White

So with the previous comments what is the concluesion on the rem 710 our sporting goods store (Helena Montana) is haveing a sale on them with a no name brand 3-9 scope for $289 avilable in 7 different cal. are they junk or should I give it a try.

Jim in Mo.

Dr. R,
Reading Kurt Whites post caused me to go read that particular blog which had escaped me. Saw your post and was wondering if you still had that rifle and did you correct the problem? The first thing that came to mind in searching for a solution would be to remove the barreled action and paint the underside with machinist ink and put it back in the stock and torque it down (I can never get a straight answer 40 or 60 in. lbs). Remove it again and you'll see where there is to much pressure by the ink marks on the stock channel.

Dr. Ralph

No I gave it to a professional and had it bedded and the barrel floated and a trigger job and killed an eight pointer opening day last year... see Dave's rules on how to trash your gun this month. Semi-pro gunsmith at large.

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