June 05, 2012
By Brad Fitzpatrick
Want to turn your old deer gun into a tackdriver? Consider these five steps that are guaranteed to increase the accuracy of your rifle.
BEDDING THE ACTION
When the action is mated to the stock of a rifle small gaps occur which allow the action to move slightly under recoil. This may not seem like a big deal, but that shifting of the action ruins accuracy. The best fix is to bed the action, which usually involves using a form of hard-drying epoxy to seal the gaps between the action and stock, preventing any shifting of the action under recoil. This also protects wooden stocks, particularly in hard-hitting, heavy-recoiling magnums. Rifle bedding is usually relatively inexpensive, and if you have the knowledge to bed your own action it is a fairly simple fix. Otherwise find a competent gunsmith.
Over the last decade the quality of triggers in production rifles has improved tremendously. However, older guns sometimes have creepy, heavy triggers that kill any hopes of turning them into tackdrivers. Triggers initiate the firing process, which means a good trigger is the first step to better accuracy, and to be an accurate shooter you must be able to focus on hitting your target and not struggling to pull the trigger. Signs of a trigger that needs adjusted or replaced are a hard pull, trigger creep and overtravel. A good gunsmith can oftentimes fix these problems on an existing trigger or can replace the factory trigger with an aftermarket model by companies such as Jewell or Timney. One thing is for certain: once you shoot a rifle with a good trigger you'll hate shooting a rifle with a bad one.
CLEANING THE ACTION AND THE BARREL
Neglecting your rifle is certain to result in poor accuracy. Each time you fire your rifle a cloud of lead, carbon, nitrogen and copper foul four barrel and action. Over time this can compromise the accuracy of your rifle, particularly when the barrel is fouled with excessive copper buildup or rust. A proper cleanup can be done at home, but be sure that you know how to clean your rifle first. Protect the crown (more on that later) by cleaning from the action to the muzzle and use quality solvents specifically formulated to remove copper and carbon fouling, which are the most common causes of dirty barrels. Afterwards, check the barrel with a bore light to insure the rifling is clean and bright. Don't neglect the action, either. If you don't feel comfortable disassembling the rifle then find a qualified gunsmith. The charges for a thorough cleaning are usually pretty minimal.
CROWNING THE MUZZLE
The terminal portion of the rifling at the muzzle of your rifle is vulnerable to damage that can ruin accuracy. Damage to the end of the muzzle, or crown, can alter the rifling and will result in a shift in point of impact. Crown damage can be the result of poor cleaning practices (ie jamming a cleaning rod into the crown) or contact between the muzzle of the rifle and rocks, dirt, tree branches, and the like. The easiest way to prevent this is to have the muzzle crowned, wherein the rifling is recessed by grinding so that the end of the rifling is protected by an elevated layer of metal. If your crown is currently damaged (use a magnifying glass to examine the crown for rough spots and irregularities) then you need a crowning job ASAP. Image courtesy Tikka.
There are a variety of reasons to handload including saving money, insuring consistent velocities and developing loads that shoot well in your rifle. If you are serious about accuracy, though, handloading is essential. It is important to experiment with different bullets, powders and velocities to develop your 'pet ' loads. Because different rifles shoot better with different bullet/powder combos it takes some time to find the right combination for your gun, but when you do find a great load it can greatly improve accuracy. When you purchase your reloading equipment buy a chronograph as well and maintain detailed records regarding the velocity and accuracy of the loads you test. This will allow you to compare dozens of different loads to determine which one works best in your rifle.