by Hubert Townsend
What with the cost of ammunition escalating and my rather frugal nature, I am happy with the advice I was given long ago. When new members of the Wyoming Guard shooting team were first issued their M14 rifles (.308 caliber) we were told to plot and write down every shot that came out of the barrel.
Info in our shooting data books included ammunition lot, date, time, place, light conditions, wind velocity and direction, temperature, sight settings and shot locations. We were wisely instructed to study our results and look for trends. And see them we did; such things as how light intensity and direction affected our aim and group location. Going from Wyoming’s high altitude down to Arkansas’ necessitated a sight change up to compensate for the thicker air down south. And now that my blurry eyes have forced a change to using scopes, the discipline of data booking continues to pay monetary dividends. But sometimes this shooting business is just plain voodoo to me.
Last year I thought I had a gnat’s ass zero on my Reserve team’s M16 rifle with its four power scope. I had consistently pounded the center ring at 300 yards. The next day I came out bright and early at the exact same time (to avoid the wind and mirage issues), fired from the exact same spot wearing the exact same equipment along with a consistent position, trigger pull and all those other pesky consistent marksmanship fundamentals. And, of course, the same lot of ammo. But my group was a minute off to the side!
Note: a minute of angle, MOA, translates into a change of an inch at 100 yds, two inches at 200 yards etc.
I complained to an experienced marksman out at the range who has been doing this stuff since his Corps days during WWII. He just told me that we are different people every day, see things slightly differently and showed me something very similar with some of his old target data. But how can change in impact happen when I thought I had taken care of all the ballistic variables? Was this knowledgeable gentleman on to something?
Well, yesterday I went to the range to confirm my civilian rifle’s zero prior to varmint hunting. Previously, at 64 degrees F at 0900 at that shooting range, it would shoot a three shot group at 100yds that could be covered with a dime (1/2 MOA) and it was exactly in the center. But now it was shooting 1 MOA high, at 100,200 and 300 yards. But all the variables were the same, including the temperature. “What gives here?” I angrily said to myself, along with some unprintable exclamations.
I later took my wife, Leta, to a sporting goods store to buy some reloading stuff and was replaying my voodoo story to the counterman whose explanation I was hoping for, as he is very experienced. After hearing the tale of woe and waiting for some kind of logical explanation, Leta, who isn’t lost in the forest for the trees when it comes to shooting, just looked at us both with that “wise woman” look and said “It’s the gun gremlins.” Doggone it! That is the best explanation I have ever heard for such things and goes a long way to explain all kinds of weird stuff that happens in spite of our very best efforts to control and account for the myriad of variables that effect where a bullet goes. Simple as that. Oh, the wisdom that comes from raising four children.
The lesson of this gremlin story is that if you have accounted for all the variables you can and your small shot groups move a wee bit off center then don’t fret; it’s just the “gun gremlins.” But if your groups look like how we instructors poetically describe as “rat shit in a dresser drawer,” then that isn’t the gremlins fault. It is a failure of one or more of the four marksmanship fundamentals. Keeping a data book can go a long way toward improving your group size and placement, along with your pocketbook.
Originally published in the Casper Tribune