Thoughts On Testing: Why Not 200 Yards?

A few readers have questioned why Rifle Shooter magazine doesn't use 200 yards as our standard distance for accuracy tests. It's a legitimate question. Here's my short answer: Because it doesn't accomplish our goal, which is to give the widest range of readers some kind of measuring stick they can use to decide whether a particular rifle might be of interest to them.

In my opinion (and since I'm the editor, this is the one instance where my opinion actually matters), 100 yards is a sensible testing distance. It's far enough to gauge a rifle's accuracy potential or lack thereof, it's a distance available to the largest number of shooters (nearly every outdoor facility has a 100-yard range, but not all have the capability to shoot farther), and it's a distance that measures the gun and not the shooter.

It is true that accuracy at 200 can be markedly different than at 100 for the same load. I know I've worked with rifles that shot tiny little groups with a given load at 100, but when compared side by side at 200 with a load that didn't shoot as well, the better load at 100 didn't always win. What does that tell me? Not much about the accuracy of the rifle overall but a lot about how well it shoots a particular load.

Further, at 200 yards you're testing the shooter just as much as you are the rifle. Errors in natural point of aim, sight alignment, breath control and trigger squeeze are greatly magnified at 200 yards.

Further, depending on the caliber, one's wind-reading skills become pretty crucial. Sure, if I'm shooting a .300 Win. Mag. at 200 yards, I don't worry too much about small changes in velocity and even direction if the winds are light. But with a .223 Rem., for example, missing small changes is going to make groups bigger. At 100 yards, conditions aren't an issue for the vast majority of centerfire cartridges.

I do shoot at 200 yards, a lot. Every gun and load I take on a hunt get a serious workout at 200 because I always want to be able to shoot that distance — and often beyond — and I want to know what load is most accurate at that yardage. And I encourage everyone to shoot their chosen loads at longer ranges for a true picture not only of accuracy but of zero. I don't zero "X" inches high at 100 and then assume I'll be on 200. I zero at 200 and then see where it's hitting at 100 — and at 300, if necessary.

But what I do in preparation for a hunt or shoot is not the same as giving a potential buyer a picture of what level of accuracy he or she can expect from a newly introduced rifle. And that's a big part of Rifle Shooter's mission.

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