VARIATIONS ON SIGHTING-IN
From what can be gleaned from the Campfire, most members sight-in their hunting rifles by putting up a paper target100 yards from a benchrest, then shooting the rifle and adjusting the scope until the rifle puts groups where they want them to go. However, there are plenty of variations, and over the decades I've seen quite a few, due to visiting a lot of ranges and hunting camps.
Among the most frustrating showed up one morning at a friend's 100-yard range, where I have permission to shoot anytime. (Well, unless he's just gotten a new bird puppy and wants to be sure it's properly accustomed to the sound of gunfire.) However, a few years ago another of his friends told a few of his buddies at work that they could use the range too.
This resulted in people my friend had never seen before showing up to shoot. On one of those occasions I needed to do some shooting for an article, and arrived at the range to find a guy around 40 and his teenage son sighting-in three rifles for the upcoming big game season. After introducing ourselves, I told them to go ahead and finish up. There was plenty of evidence they'd already been shooting a while, so I figured it wouldn't take long. Boy, was I wrong....
It turned out the father's method of sighting-in was to fire one shot, take a look through his spotting scope at where it landed, then adjust the riflescope and fire another shot. He kept doing this, switching rifles now and then as the barrels got hot. Eventually I realized the point was to have one bullet land on the 1/4-inch dots in the center of the bullseyes of the targets they'd taped to a cardboard box.
Now, they were using "affordable" factory ammo and scopes, and while both can be capable of good accuracy, scopes retailing for under $100 aren't known for super-consistent clicks. Plus, from the looks of things, they didn't shoot much either, so hitting the magic dot often required more than a box of ammo.
Eventually they got done, picked up their rifles and a PILE of empty ammo boxes and brass, and left. I went to put up a couple of targets for my shooting, discovering they'd placed their cardboard box right in front of one of the steel fenceposts on my friend's boundary fence. The post was shot in two, along with a couple strands of wire.
I have also seen many interesting ways of resting a rifle on a bench. Several have involved the shooter placing the barrel of his rifle on the front rest. On one of these occasions the front rest was a loose stack of scrap 2x4's, though the pair of shooters did have enough sense to place their target (another cardboard box) only 25 yards away. Their groups looked like buckshot patterns.
Another was a Pennsylvanian who, like me, had traveled to Alabama to hunt whitetails at White Oak Plantation near Muskegee. He was attempting to check the zero on his lever-action Marlin .30-30, which had a pretty big variable in see-through mounts.. He did use the range's sandbag rests, but placed the barrel of the Marlin on the front bag, maybe four inches behind the muzzle. After watching him for a while, and noting the piles of empty ammo boxes and brass, I decided to go back to the lodge until he got zeroed--or ran out of ammo.
At least the White Oak bench set-up was pretty good. I have run into some really strange arrangements on various hunts around the world, perhaps the worst a card table too tall for the kitchen chair behind it. However, there was also a Lead Sled on top of the table. The sled was too high to sit behind, and too low to stand behind, so most shooters knelt one knee on the chair. I eventually decided to bypass the sled entirely, sitting down and resting the rifle's forend (not the barrel) over my folded-up soft rifle case.
I also have a good friend who actually knows how to use a rest, but does not believe in shooting groups on paper. He's not really interested in consistent accuracy, but in cranking out LOTS of ammo on progressive presses.
I also suspect he doesn't own a chronograph--or if he does, it's buried in some dark corner of his garage--but do know that instead of looking up handloads in manuals, he tends to call me for suggestions about cartridges he' s never loaded for. He usually calls his human loading manual at least once a year, because he buys and sells a lot of rifles.
Like many long-time handloaders, he keeps adding powder until the rifle shows signs of distress, then reduces the charge a little. I've never actually see him work up a load, and don't particularly care to, but during the process he apparently shoots at dirt clods and rocks, and his rifle ends up sighted-in for hunting.
This actually works pretty well, even on small animals like prairie dogs, because unlike the father-son duo my friend buys very good rifles and scopes. With good equipment, some handloads are bound to shoot well enough to hit at least some prairie dogs out to 300 yards, about as far as most people can hit them consistently in typical prairie winds. And of course big game is by definition big, and super-fine accuracy doesn't matter all that much when shooting out to 300-400 yards, despite what many hunters believe these days.
As evidence of how well his method works, he points out his full freezers and the hundreds of burrowing rodents he slays each year. (Of course, he doesn't keep track of rodent hits and misses, though does use a clicker to keep track of his total hits for the day.) Sometimes he does "refine" the sight-in on a prairie dog town, which I've done myself on a number of occasions.
However, over the years I have noticed that rodent rifles sighted-in while shooting at rodents often aren't exactly zeroed when later bench-tested on paper. This is because almost all shots at Western burrowing rodents involve some wind, often far more than persnickety paper-shooters tolerate when sighting-in on an actual range. As a result, field-zeroed rifles often end up an inch or so off at 100 yards, since the shooter kept tweaking the scope until it worked in that particular wind.
Sometimes prairie dog rifles zeroed in the field end up being off an inch or more when rested on a paper target in calm conditions.
My friend tends to poke fun at people who actually shoot groups, whether in paper or on painted gongs. This obviously includes me, whereupon I point out that most magazine editors and readers would not be satisfied with an article listing "shoots flat" and "hits rocks most of the time" rather than actual velocity and accuracy data.
Of course, when working up rodent loads I experiment quite a bit to find the finest accuracy, checking each test round for bullet concentricity, and tweaking both powder charges and bullet-seating depths. After that, I often test several primers, to see if one particular brand results in measurably smaller groups, in the process often shooting 10-shot groups, to see if they keep making holes in the same basic place after the barrel gets hot.
I did this most recently with a brand-new bullet in my 6XC, a rifle put together in 2017 by gunsmith Charlie Sisk. He screwed a #7 contour, 1-8 twist Lilja barrel into one of a few "700 footprint" bolt-action he made a few years ago, then bolted the barreled action an adjustable Sisk Tactical Adaptive Rifle (STAR) stock.
I mostly shoot prairie dogs at ranges under 350 yards, because the landowners who grant permission want as many prairie dogs killed as possible--but sometimes stretch the range considerably, especially when wind conditions cooperate. For longer ranges really high-BC bullets work far better than the typical prairie dog outfit, a .204, .222 or .223 loaded with relatively light plastic-tipped bullets.
For this longer-range work I've used rifles chambered in various cartridges over the decades, from a fast-twist .223 WSSM to a custom 6.5-06 with a medium-heavy barrel. The 6XC is the latest, and so far I've liked it the most, partly because with a typical "dialing" scope it weighs around 13 pounds, which dampens recoil sufficiently to spot long-range hits and misses even through a high-magnification scope.
Recently I was assigned to test some new super high-BC bullets, among a 110-grain 6mm. I already knew what powders the 6XC liked with bullets in that weight range, and the best load ended up consistently grouping five shots (not just three) well under half an inch at 100 yards.
Along with accuracy, I also needed to test the factory-listed ballistic coefficient as much as possible. To determine the G7 BC, the company had clocked rounds with Doppler radar ay out there, but I would not be much of a journalist if I didn't do some longer-range shooting and see how the trajectory worked out using their number. So I loaded up a bunch of ammo and headed to the local 1000-yard range. However, instead of shooting the 6-inch gongs scattered across the range, I decided to be more precise.
Small chunks of limestone are common in the range's earthen berms, which come from the local bedrock. (In fact the range sits on the slightly sloping plain at the foot of the local mountains, close to a factory which dynamite-blasts limestone cliffs and grinds the rock into powder.) The pale-gray limestone chunks show up easily against the dirt berms. I'd already calculated how many elevation-clicks were required for various ranges out to 600 yards, and the numbers indicated that at any range beyond 500 the bullet would under-shoot small rocks if the BC wasn't quite as high as advertised.
I peered through my spotting scope to find appropriate rocks, around two inches in diameter, then started dialing and shooting. (The scope had previously been tested in several ways, and its 1/4 MOA clicks had proven very accurate and consistent.) Luckily, a thunderstorm had just blown through, and the rain had not only darkened the dirt on the berms, allowing any limestone to show up better, but the air was as close to dead-calm as it ever gets around here. This meant the BC-check would be about the bullet, not my wind-compensation.
I started at around 250 yards, and kept working out to longer ranges, checking through a spotting scope to find just the right rocks. On my final, longest shot the rock went flying through the air--in two pieces. Obviously the listed BC was accurate enough, but just as obviously I'd sighted-in on rocks, and it worked!