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January 09, 2008

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What Makes a Good Shot - the Shooter or the Gun?

I'm indebted to one of you for giving me this idea but I can't remember who it is. In any event thanks, and don't expect a small-frame 28-gauge in the mail.
Mostly, it's the shooter. If you'd like an illustration of this, go to a benchrest match where everyone's rifle can send five shots into .12245-inch (or something of that size) under ideal conditions. Yet if one of these  guns is put in the hands of a non-benchrest competitor, you'll get half-inch or one-inch groups. The reason? Tiny groups come not only from the rifle, but from a shooter's ability to dope wind and mirage at a supernatural level.
A bad rifle in the hands of a good shooter will produce bad groups, but a good rifle fired by a poor shot will also turn in poor groups.
For shotguns, it's somewhat different. A really skillful hand can shoot just about anything well, but to turn in his best shooting, he has to have a gun that fits him perfectly and whose balance works for him.  Uncle Robert Brister, who was the best I ever saw with a scattergun, could take anything and outshoot anyone (almost), but if he had his druthers, he would always go to a gun that particularly suited him.
A fellow named Dave Crosby, who worked for various gun publications and was a wonderful shotgunner, never used anything but a 30-inch-barreled Parker (I think) for everything. Skeet, trap, birds, it didn't matter. How he would have done with something else I do not know, but he was a wizard with that old side-by-side.


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All I can add are these nuggets which might apply:
"It's not the arrow, it's the Indian." Numerous sages
"A poor worker blames his tools." My old Man
"A man has got to know his limitations." Dirty Harry

One great thing about this blog is that the readers make good suggestions for topics from time to time and Dave follows up on them. The consideration of passing on a small frame 28 gauge is very nice but I would settle for two boxes of 410 shotshells. Non-toxic of course.

WA Mtnhunter

I agree totally, Dave. I use one shotgun for turkey, ducks, and geese. It suits me and it fits well. What you ask? A Remington 870 Super Mag with 25" tube.

Rifles that I can't shoot very well, I get rid of.


Dave you are correct sir.

It's amazing how guys will blame a rifle for bad shooting, then someone else picks it up and shots moa groups.

It's the rifle, the trigger, the scope, the bullets, the rest, the wind, the sun, the heat, the cold, anything but..but...but... ME!!!!


Brian T

Nobody thinks twice about adjusting sights or scopes. Shotguns, you adjust the stock instead. It's fussy but it's that simple. Nothing like a router with a 3/4" bit. Amazing results. Then it's up to the shooter.

tom warner

Yeah, this question is rather a "no brainer". Anyone who has ever watched a truly gifted shooter in action, especially on game, with even a poor rifle, shotgun or pistol, knows it's the shooter. Tom


A poor workman blames his tools.......but how often does one see a craftsman without good tools?

Blue Ox

As long as you know your gun, you shouldn't have much of a problem.


Reminds me of when I was younger and went squirrel hunting with a young kid (maybe 13).

I was carrying a ruger 77/22 with a nice scope and he was carrying his dad's old bolt action marlin with open sights.

He truly took me to school on marksmanship that day. We snuck up on a squirrel and he told me that he was gonna shoot the hickory nut out of the squirrels hand, and did it.

Later that day, we set up some 50 yard targets and he flat just out shot me and my fancy .22 that day. It was a lesson in humility I've never forgotten. It's not the tool, it's the man.



When my brother picked up a Savage 110 in 30-06 last year the guy said it wouldnt group under six inches at a hundred yards. With this guy watching my brother put 5 shots into about a inch and a half group. The guy honestly couldnt shoot and said if he had know the rifel would group like that he wouldnt have sold it. It just takes a little know how and being able to shoot.


Tommy S.


This will probably be the only topic that will produce no arguments. A Field and Stream first. Of course it's the shooter.

Dave, I thought you were tired of all the civility? This sure ain't gonna cause a riot.

Can't belive Coop ain't hollering about the indian and the arrow yet.

Clay Cooper

O'MY! Here we go again!


Are we talking a "Good" shot or a "Great" shot. The benchrest targets I see are "Great" shots. Placing one of those custom rifles in the hands of someone with basic marksman skills could make "Good" shots, within 6 inches at 100 yards.


One thing that has amazed me as I sometimes work as a range officer, is that regularly there are guys (sometimes older guys who should know better) who haven't ever been taught how to benchrest shoot or how to sight in their rifles and they will get defensive and offended if you offer a suggestion. I've watched guys burn up a couple of boxes of ammo; crank the scope adjusments back and forth; move the target up and back, then finally say something like "Well, it'll hit a pie plate at 100 yards -- that's good enough for me!" Their guns are probably close to moa guns but their attitudes are several moa OFF!

On the other hand there are some guys (often younger) who come in with one box of shells. I watch as they start to get nervous after about nine bullets. They're thinking, "Man it just cost me $15 to get in here, $30 for ammo, I'm almost halfway through the box, I can't even find the paper! If I don't get this right, I'm going to be out another $45 next Saturday and if I keep this up, I'm not even going to be able to afford gas to get to work next week...!" These guys are more than excited to have you give them a quick drill in the rudiments of benchrest shooting and rifle sighting. And by the 20th round their pawn shop fire stick is grouping as good as it can with the ammo they've got.

The moral of this story is that if you are poor and humble, your rifle has a much better chance of being moa than if you're a proud and foolish know it all!


Hey Pbhead!!

Long time no hear!
A poor worker blames his tools? C'mon, man!
The best tools in the world can't make a skilled craftsman. A skilled craftsman can mostly make do with some real junk for tools! Been there, "seen" that!
Mostly, I suppose I'm just a worker rather than a "skilled craftsman" when it comes to shooting a rifle! I seldom miss a deer (if I see one at all!) within 250 yards. I seldom hunt a spot with over a 100 yard shot! Mostly one shot kills! Haven't wounded one in years, thank you very much. Have missed probably 3 or 4 in the last 10 years!
Here's my hint:
Know your limitations!
Take advantage of anything that makes you as good a shooter as possible. Rests, bags, wadded up clothing.
I have a box blind that I hunt from occasionally. There's a set of "shooting bags" and a bench that I shoot from because shots of 200-300 yards sometimes present themselves.
The last deer I missed was about 100 yards and I couldn't find a rest. Yep, I zigged when I should'a zagged!!
My hunting rifles will shoot MOA. Just not for me without a "good" rest!


Scott in Ohio

I'll make an obvious comment that DP alludes to in his remark about Dave Crosby only because no one else had made it yet. “Beware the man with one gun”.

Clay Cooper

I don’t know folks? There are times if you hand a poor shooter the world’s most accurate rifle, hand built and tailored just for them? They still can’t hit the ground with both feet! I had one of the guys from the Base at a NBPRP Leg Match and we used the same rifle. Of course it’s not allowed, but they allowed us anyway. My buddy complained with every shot that the gun was off. “B”B”B”B”B”B” all I heard! Funny thing? I placed first in that match with that old worn out Air Force issue M1 Garand that day against brand spanking new ultra match M1A’s from Springfield etc that day! How did my buddy place? LAST! O’yes, I forgot to say, that was one of the most miserable days I’ve ever known! Wind and rain mixed with volcanic ash from the ground creating all kinds of havoc with the other shooters. So much fun! My secret? I was in my hunting environment and I loved it knowing it was destroying them psychologically!!!

Clay Cooper

Hey Bubba!
You forgot to mention the town’s best mechanic drives the worst truck and it’s the only moving vehicle in the worst condition!


Well we're not argueing but telling stories so here comes a couple more boring ones. Beyond the poor shooters and more approaching the proud and foolish group that Carney spoke of are those who are extremely well educated, knowledgeable on numerous matters, and quick with the tongue to inform you of such. Two people that I know who fall into this category include a couple physician friends of mine. One bought a new Weatherby .270 complete with a Swarovski, etc. At the range his groups were reasonable but low and to the left. His face demonstrated frustration as he looked at the new Mark V. I noted that we simply needed to make a few adjustments and he would be ready to go. His comment was something to the effect of "But the scope is properly sighted in, I personally saw the gunsmith put it on and look through it". A few turns of the knobs and a few shots later the good rifle and the good shooter became partners. Unfortunately almost the same thing happened to another physician friend of mine who had new Kahles mounted on his rifles immediately prior to a trip to Africa. This lack of effort was not discovered until his PH figured it out and loaded the doc one of his well worn rifles with a beat up old Leupold on it.
These are just stories but I agree it's the shooter that makes the great shots unless you are just lucky like Billy Dixon said he was.
Dave I already have a very much loved small frame 28 gauge which I have mentioned before (the old SKB O/U with the pixx elm grade sap wood), don't bother sending another.


Correction: the PH loaned the doc a rifle, not loaded

How does that go? proof read then post, proof read then post, I'll try to remember...


Maybe "THAR HE BLOWS" but you have negative barometric pressure!


PbHead's post says it well, Dave.

My old Company Gunny (Gunnery Sergeant Reuben H. Massey, USMC, originally of Tallahassee, FL, God bless him) said it equally well when we were struggling to qualify on the range, and tempted to blame the rifle for our bad scores--"It's the dope behind the buttplate that counts!"

As you can imagine, Gunny Massey also had some other pungent sayings that we won't mention here.

Dr. Ralph

It always amazes me to see people at the range with a newly mounted scope shooting at 100 yards off a 4X4 post trying to sight in... give me that gun, bring it over here to 50 yards first and drop it on these two sandbags. Most people who hunt just want to hunt and don't spend near the time they need on the range. Many people who hunt just like to shoot and don't spend near the time they need in the woods.

Sub minute of angle guns are still few and far between and if you find a gun that will shoot different weight bullets in the same group keep it and shoot it sparingly. Another thing, if the gun goes bang and doesn't scare you because you knew it was going off you are doing it wrong... squeeze with as little pressure as possible and when it goes bang you should be surprised.

Clay Cooper

Chuckb and Doc you’re right on! With so much technology, one must think that shooting and hitting the target must be a given factor. NOT! Yes that 67 yard shot I made, I must confess I have a Bushnell laser range finder mounted on my bow to give me the yardage. Even so, marksmanship isn’t any deferent either yesterday or today!

Clay Cooper

Hey Doc, that new 700 CDL 25-06 shoots 100, 117 and 120’s practically at the same point of aim at 100 yards. Talk about a keeper!

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