My Rifle isn’t Shooting Right: What to do?

Sometimes rifles don’t perform as they should. Shooting may become inconsistent, groupings may be larger than usual, or the rifle may simply behave in ways that you are unfamiliar with. So what do you do if your rifle isn’t shooting right?

When a rifle isn’t shooting the way that is should, and the shooter is confident that he understands his rifle and is following the correct fundamentals of marksmanship, we can follow a poor shooting checklist. A poor shooting checklist is designed to assist you in determining what the problem may be by a process of elimination.

Although accuracy and precision are two different things, when achieved they both work together to produce outstanding results in long range marksmanship.

Accuracy is defined as the rifle’s ability to hit its aiming marker, while precision is defined as the rifle’s ability to group well.

Precision Rifle A to Z – The Ultimate Guide to Rifle Marksmanship

If you have followed the marksmanship fundamentals correctly, but are having an issue achieving precision or accuracy with a rifle that is known to shoot well, go through the checklist below and make sure that none of the following are interfering with shot placement.


The Poor Shooting Checklist

We have created our very own poor shooting checklist which has a proven success record in determining issues in either precision or accuracy (or both) in rifles known to shoot well. The poor shooting checklist has been published in our book – Precision Rifle A to Z, The Ultimate Guide to Rifle Marksmanship – since our first version release in 2018.

When using the poor shooting checklist, simply start at the top and work your way down, ensuring that you can confidently tick each box before moving to the next. It is recommended to complete the full list before test firing your rifle to see if the problem has been resolved.

So without further-ado, the list:

Altitude and PressureHave you accounted for changes in station pressure or current altitude?
AmmunitionAre your cartridge loads consistent, and have you changed or accidentally mixed ammunition?
AngleAre you shooting from a high or low angle that may alter the bullet’s point of impact?
AttachmentsHave any attachments been added, removed, or altered since the rifle’s zero, and are they all secure and correctly tightened? Also, is the stock or chassis secured correctly to the action?
CantIs your scope level? Check that the bubble level screws are tight and that the bubble hasn’t moved since the rifle setup process.
CoriolisAre you firing at an extreme range, and if so, have you considered the effects of Coriolis drift?
Firing PositionHave you changed firing positions, and if so, have you adjusted your scope to account for the bullet shift as a result of the new jump angle?
Inefficient ZeroHave you conducted a check zero before setting out for the day?
LightAre you using holdovers or aiming off for bullet drop, and if so, consider the amount of light present.
ParallaxHave you adjusted parallax for your new range?
Positional SupportIs your positional support adequate and stable, and are you following the hard against soft rule? If a bipod is used, are you correctly loading the bipod legs before shooting, and is the bipod secure and level?
Rifle MaintenanceIs the rifle cleaned regularly, and is cleaning consistent?
Spin DriftHave you compensated for spin drift?
TemperatureAre you keeping an eye on temperature, and adjusting where necessary?
Turrets & TrajectoryHave you correctly adjusted your turrets to account for the bullet’s trajectory. Has the turret accidentally doubled up on its rotation?
Wet/ Oily Ammo or ChamberIs the chamber and ammunition clean and dry, and is the barrel free from oil?
WindAre you making the right wind calls, and adjusting where necessary?
EXPERT OPINIONIf the above checklist does not help, the rifle may need further inspection by an expert gunsmith or armourer.

Poor Shooting Checklist in Detail

A more detailed description on each of the poor shooting list’s points can be found below.

It is important to note that this article is not intended to teach you how to correct these effects; that would take too much time. It is rather intended to provide you with a descriptive list on what may be wrong, so that you are then able to diagnose the problem and find a solution.

If you would like some advice on how to correct an issue found through the poor shooting checklist, leave a comment below.


Altitude and Pressure Effects on Your Trajectory

  • If altitude and pressure are incorrectly accounted for, your medium to long range trajectory will be incorrect and accuracy will be lost.

While a change in altitude or barometric pressure won’t have any noticeable effect on the rifle’s zero, the change in trajectory will be significant as distance increases.

A station pressure reading should be taken before shooting, and throughout the day, accounting for any changes that take place. It is important to understand that a barometric or corrected pressure reading will not work, you need an absolute or station pressure reading.

For more information on altitude and pressure, click here to read our article: The Effects of Altitude and Barometric Pressure on a Bullet During Flight.


Changes to Ammunition

  • Any changes made to your ammunition will cause changes to both precision and accuracy.

Changes to the rifle’s ammunition or cartridge in any way will produce a different muzzle velocity and alter the trajectory altogether. Existing data cards will no longer remain effective, as a change to your bullet or ammo of any kind will require new data collection, and may require new barrel tuning so that the rifle can find its node once again.

It is also important to ensure that ammunition is of good quality. In extreme cases of poor quality ammo, or ammo that is unsuitable towards the rifle’s rate of twist, bullet’s can start to tumble as early as 25 meters from the firing point.


Shooting from a High or Low Angle

  • Shooting from a high or low angle will effect accuracy, often resulting in a high impact.

Whether shooting from an upward or downward angle, the rounds will always hit high. If you are firing from a high or low angle and cannot find your point of impact, aim lower and look for your fall of shot.

For a greater study into high and low angled shots I recommend purchasing our eBook on Amazon Kindle: Precision Rifle A to Z – The Ultimate Guide to Rifle Marksmanship


How Rifle Attachments can Alter Harmonics

  • Adding or removing attachments may effect both accuracy and precision. Accuracy is related to jump angle changes, while precision may degrade as barrel harmonics are altered.

Any attachment added to or removed from your rifle’s forend will alter the jump angle, and therefore alter the placement of the bullet group. This includes a suppressor, bipod, flashlight, and so on.

Data collection is required for each attachment, and then adjustments must be made to the scope accordingly. Also ensure that the scope and butt spacers are tightly secured.

It is advisable to occasionally check that the stock or chassis remains secured to the action; check these screws after every 500 rounds fired.


The Effects of Scope Cant on your Bullet

  • This error reduces accuracy, causing a horizontal displacement of the bullet which worsens as distance increases.

Cant must be removed before each shot by checking the bubble level, and occasionally using a second verified bubble level to ensure that the scope bubble is correctly calibrated and providing an accurate reading.

For more information on scope cant, read the following article: Do I Need a Bubble Level on my Rifle Scope?


The Coriolis Effect

  • This effects accuracy in various ways depending on your distance and azimuth (direction) of fire.

It is recommended to start accounting for Coriolis Drift when engaging targets beyond 1000 meters.

Coriolis Effect: the drifting of a projectile over extended ranges as a result of the spin-nature of the Earth.

Use a ballistics calculator and ensure that you provide the correct latitude and angle (cardinal direction) at which you are firing into, otherwise the negative effects of Coriolis can double.


Changes to Your Firing Position

  • Alters jump angle, causing slight loss of accuracy if not correctly accounted for.

A change in your firing position from when the weapon was zeroed will result in a change of position of your new grouping. This is mostly due to the rifle’s new jump angle. So ensure that you discover where this new grouping will fall from each firing position on completion of your zero, and then record these details in your data book.

Building a good, consistent position during this phase will reduce these effects. The use of a rifle sling for support can help to keep your jump angle more consistent when firing from different positions.


Inefficient Zero

  • An inefficient zero produces a loss in accuracy.

You need to fully understand how to zero your rifle as best as possible, and ensure the most accurate zero possible. Once a good zero is achieved, regular check zero’s must be confirmed to ensure the zero is maintained.

Check Zero: a process which involves firing a single shot at a known distance, with the turrets set so that the point of aim equals the point of impact. The goal is to confirm that the rifle has maintained its zero.


The Effects of Light on Shooting

  • Exceptionally bright or low light affects distance perception, and may lead to accuracy errors.

The amount of daylight present when observing a target will affect how the firer perceives the image of the target.

Bright Light – in bright light the target will be clearer, making the target appear closer. With a clearer image, the shooter will typically tend to aim lower.

Low Light – in poor light conditions, the shooter may aim higher, as the target appears to be further away.

Be aware of this when judging or estimating distance to a target. If your bullets are impacting high or low, think about the amount of light present. A general rule of thumb in this regard is – lights up, sights up (when estimating distance).


Parallax Setting

  • An incorrectly set parallax will result in a loss of accuracy.

Parallax needs to be correctly set each time distance is changed. When ever you are about to fire a shot, check that parallax is set correctly and that you have clarity when looking through the scope.

Incorrect parallax can result in a slight displacement of your grouping on target, as this will affect sight alignment in relation to sight picture.


Positional Support

  • Any change to rifle support may alter jump angle, therefore affecting accuracy.

The type of ground beneath you will often affect the jump angle of your shot. Harder ground will result in a harsher jump angle, while softer ground will result in a reduced jump angle. This again ties into having data collected for each type of support and surface that you may encounter, remaining aware of any changes and accounting for them before you shoot.

If you are using a bipod, make sure that you are loading the bipod legs (applying forward pressure) before each shot. This may sound obvious, but also ensure that the bipod is fitting the right way; the legs should not be able to fold rearwards without unlocking them. If this is not possible, orientate the bipod so that the legs fold forwards.

Also make sure that nothing is touching the barrel at any point, as this will alter the rifle’s harmonics.


Rifle Cleaning and Maintenance

  • If cleaning and maintenance is neglected, muzzle velocity and consistency may change affecting both accuracy and precision.

While there are many different opinions as to how often a rifle should be cleaned, and after how many rounds accuracy will degrade, one thing we do know is that a dirty barrel affects the bullet in a different way to a clean barrel. It is therefore important that however you chose to maintain your rifle, it is kept consistent and done the same way wherever possible.


Always Account for Spin Drift

  • If neglected, you may notice a horizontal displacement of your bullet on target. This error grows with range.
Applied Ballistics – Spin Drift

Temperature Effects on Your Bullet

  • If neglected, trajectory will change and a huge loss in accuracy may result.

The temperature of the ammunition and chamber, and the temperature of the atmosphere both have an effect on the bullet’s trajectory.

  • Internal temperatures affect muzzle velocity.
  • External temperatures affect air density.

Always monitor the temperature to account for these changes, and keep ammo in containers or dry bags rather than laying it out in the sun.

For more information on temperature effects, read the following article: The Effects of Temperature on Bullet Flight.


Turret Settings & Trajectory

  • Causes accuracy errors if incorrectly set or predicted.

It is quite common for beginners to accidentally forget their turret adjustments when changing distances. It is even more common for a turret to be accidentally adjusted a full rotation ahead of where it should be. It is therefore good practice to always return turrets to their zero after shooting, as this will often prevent over-rotation from taking place.


A Wet or Oily Ammunition or Chamber

  • This may affect both accuracy and precision, depending on the state of the chamber, barrel or ammunition.

If the ammunition you are using is wet, dirty, or oily, this may be affecting the chamber pressure, producing inconsistent velocities which could result in a miss at longer distances. Likewise, if the breach contains foreign objects (dirt, vegetation, etc) this may also affect the chamber pressure.

If your shooting is consistent, but not producing the results that you expect, check that your rifle and ammunition is clean and as dry as possible. Also check that the barrel is free from excess oil, as this will result in displacement of the first few shots.


Wind Drift on Your Projectile

  • Causes large errors in horizontal drift, resulting in a loss of accuracy.

Wind is often the biggest affecting factor that will move your grouping, as wind constantly changes in direction and strength. If unaccounted for, crosswinds can easily cause misses from around 300m and beyond.

Wind direction and strength must be known and fully understood in order to accurately shoot at long ranges.


If All Else Fails, You May Need an Expert Opinion

If you have followed all of the steps listed above, and you are confident in your ability to shoot accurately with precision, but cannot resolve the poor performance of the rifle, you may require an expert opinion. A gunsmith or armourer will be able to determine whether the rifle has a structural fault or not.

And finally, if you are a little uncertain about the poor shooting list above, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll try my best to provide some guidance.

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