With another winter behind us and the weather getting better, it is time to get the rifles out and get ready for spring bear or, maybe, you just want to continue the never-ending search for the most accurate load possible.
After firearms have sat in a safe for a while, this is often when accuracy issues may appear. Trying to figure out what causes these accuracy dilemmas can be challenging at times.
If you were confident that your rifle was perfectly zeroed when you put it away last fall and are now finding it very far off the mark and it’s requiring a lot of scope adjustments, here are some tips that may help you. Several year ago, I assisted a gentleman who had a rifle that lost its zero. He was adamant that his scope simply defaulted back to factory settings while sitting in his safe from lack of use. Simply put, the elevation and windage adjustments on a scope are controlled by a nut and bolt, very precise nuts and bolts, but nut and bolt nonetheless.
They simply don’t move on their own while sitting in a safe. Any major shifts in point of impact are usually from a physical failure, usually in the wood stock and bedding or lack thereof. The stock may have warped and it is now putting pressure on different areas of the barreled action, causing the change in impact. This can be solved by proper sealing and bedding of the stock. Once you get this fixed, it shouldn’t occur again if properly maintained.
I find as soon as a rifle loses accuracy, the first component blamed is the scope on the rifle. While it is possible that the scope can fail, there are lot of other things to check too.
If the rifle has still maintained its point of impact but the groups have greatly increased, there are several conditions that could cause that. The first thing to confirm is that there were no changes in the products that you are using. If you are shooting factory ammunition, is it the same brand and lot number? If you are shooting handloads, is it from the same lot you shot last year? Any changes in the ammunition could be the cause.
How is the barrel? Did you clean it thoroughly prior to putting it away last year, or did you clean it thoroughly prior to heading out to the range? If it was cleaned prior to the range trip, does it just need a few rounds through it to season the bore? If it wasn’t cleaned, has some of the fouling in the barrel oxidized and is causing the accuracy issues now? These conditions are easy to fix, a few rounds through the rifle to season the bore or get the cleaning equipment and get the fouling out and start from scratch. The possibility of damaging the barrel from incorrect cleaning methods does also exist, so clean it carefully and correctly.
Circling back to the scope, it is very important that rings and bases are securely torqued down. Any movement at all in the rings and bases during recoil can have catastrophic effects on accuracy. If the base screws can’t be accessed with the scope in place, then the scope must be removed to verify the bases are solidly mounted. When I am in this situation, I remove the bases completely, clean everything and remount them as I would if the rifle was being set up for the first time. If you find one of the components is loose, you have probably found the issue. While working on the scope and mounts, you can verify that stock screws are still correctly torqued. If you had your stock sealed and bedded by a competent gunsmith, this should have been done. Make note of what torque specs were used and they can be easily verified in the future.
For accuracy, an important part of the barrel is the crown. It allows the bullet to cleanly exit the muzzle without any undue drag or upset. If the crown has gotten damaged either in the field or was damaged due to incorrect cleaning, it must be fixed. It is possible to touch up the crown with specialized hand tools, but it may be best to get it done by the local gunsmith. If the rifle is going to make a trip to gunsmith anyways, perhaps a complete accurizing service may be in order. That way all the issues, apparent or not, are corrected.
Finally, after all that, if the rifle still isn’t performing like it has in the past, perhaps it is time to look at the biggest variable of them all. Who is behind the trigger? It’s easy to have a bad day on the bench.