The American Partisan folks and I seem to be thinking a lot alike lately. American Partisan wrote a good post on practical carbine accuracy. Their points about practical field shooting being different from a nice day on the range with a rest being different are totally valid but that isn’t where I am going.
I am reminded of the old construction saying that there is fast, good and cheap but you only get to pick two. (So you can have fast and good but it won’t be cheap, or cheap and good but it won’t be fast, etc) In this context we would have accurate, reliable and affordable. Admittedly that is an over simplification. With rifles we also have the variable of weight but then we are getting pretty far down into the weeds with concept of use and such.
The important question at hand is how much accuracy do we need. I suppose we would have to categorize rifles into a couple concepts of use. Categories need to be defined.
Fighting rifle. A magazine fed semi automatic rifle used for personal combat. Ranges will vary but in a non military context 3-50 meters are most common with occasional shots closer to 100m.
(Seriously cases where a civilian or cop is shooting past100m or so are at best rare. Off hand I can not think of any though admittedly I haven’t proactively looked. If you know of any please shoot me breakdowns of the stories.)
Precision rifle. Scoped rifle used for shooting at longer distances or situations where a high degree of accuracy is needed. Call it a sniper rifle or a hunting rifle, whatever.
Fighting rifle- 4 MOA
Precision rifle- 2 MOA
Fighting rifle- 4 MOA. Why 4 MOA? That is a solid head shot at 100 meters. At 300 meters its a 12 inch circle which is a very good chest shot. At 600 meters it is a 24 inch circle which probably puts the round in someone’s torso.
4 MOA is also, if I recall, the contract standard for the Colt M4 rifles we carry at work. Someone probably did the same kind of thinking I did in the previous paragraph.
I would argue that a 4 MOA rifle will do anything you can reasonably expect out of a fighting rifle.
Pretty much any serviceable rifle will shoot this. If an AR can’t shoot 4 MOA something is wrong with it. (though typically AR issues manifest themselves more in reliability than accuracy). Most AK’s can shoot under 4 MOA. Every AK I have personally fired can meet or exceed this.
Precision rifle: What just 2 MOA? That is a shot on a partially concealed head at 100 meters or a full head at 200. That keeps you in good torso shots (12″ is a pretty vital circle when centered on the sternum) out to 600. Honestly unless you are a legitimate military sniper or some sort of championship high power guy an honest 2 MOA rifle will out shoot you.
Reliability- For fighting weapons reliability is obviously important. Nothing is absolute and mechanical devices sometimes fail. However if your gun is failing regularly then you need to address the issue.
In firearms (at least in the modern era, I can’t speak to before that) there is traditionally an inverse relationship between reliability and accuracy. To make a gun more reliable you increase clearances between parts to allow for dirt/ sand/ carbon build up/ etc. Bigger clearances mean movement between parts which ultimately means less predictability in where the bullet goes AKA wider shot group. Think about say an AKM. On the other hand especially with precision machining capabilities now available it is easy to make for really tight clearances which means less movement and more accuracy. However the gun is less reliable because those tight spaces between parts offer little room for dirt/ sand/ carbon build up.
1911’s are a good case for this. A mil spec 1911, even a new one, has some play between parts, that in part makes them reasonably reliable. I probably make fun of 1911’s sometimes but a Colt or Springfield will work fine if you have reasonable expectations. Even those shot out WWII guns will typically run. However accuracy is nothing to write home about. On the other hand a target model 1911will be a lot more accurate. The modern ability to make parts accurate to a tiny fraction of an inch allows this. However the same super tight build that makes the gun accurate means it is a lot less reliable. This brings us back to the good fast and cheap. You can have accurate, reliable and affordable but you only get to pick 2. A $700 1911 can be accurate or reliable. Now a $3,000 super fancy boutique production Ed Brown/ Nighthawk/ Wilson Combat will be accurate and reliable but cheap is out the window.
It is easy to exceed both of these numbers. Finding standard production AR’s that shoot 2 MOA is easy. These days really accurate bolt action rifles are out there also. There is a pretty good chance that the Hunters Special Rem/ Sav/ Moss package with a scope on sale at Wally World is a 1 MOA rifle. There are a lot of reliable options at a variety of different price points.
The point I am striving for here is that the odds are high whatever guns you have are accurate enough so quit worrying about that. Put the time/ energy/ money into worrying if the meatsack behind the gun can do its part.