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Rifle Skills: Tighter shot groupings

If you’ve been following the series and trying the techniques we’ve described, you should by now have some shots in your targets. We’ve gone through setting up your rifle for success, zeroing and finding the right ammunition, and the various ways in which you can improve your shooting skills.

So if you would like to see tighter shot groupings, how can you see what might be affecting them? It can be as simple as having a bad day, but equally there may be a particular aspect of your position, breathing or technique that is causing you a problem.

Shot groups, and how to analyse them

A group is defined by no fewer than two shots fired at the same point of aim — and it is best if you use five shots for your groups, as this will give you a more even average to work with. Of course, we all know that your groups should be as tight as possible. It’s easy to assume from internet forums that you should be achieving 1in groups at long ranges but while this is possible, 
for most rifle users, a 1in group at 100m from the prone position is a good standard to look for. If you are getting 1in groups at 100m, you can expect 2in groups at 200m; 5in groups at 500m and so on.

Vertical String

This is most frequently caused by the shot being released at different points in your breathing cycle. The rifle will inevitably move up and down as you breathe, so try training yourself to release the shot at the same point, at about two-thirds of the exhalation of breath.

Horizontal String

A horizontal string is usually caused by poor natural alignment and body position. This can have two effects — you will be using muscle strength to hold the rifle on the point of aim, resulting in pulled shots. The other effect is that during recoil, the rifle “jumps” to one side to align itself with your body.


A flyer is when most of your group is forming nicely, but one shot lands further apart. This can be happening for two reasons. The most common is that you lose concentration and focus, often during the final shot. Don’t try to analyse how you have done until the end of the group, as this causes a loss of concentration. Maintain your focus until you have shot your entire group, then look at the results. It can also simply be a pulled shot — you may have used the tip of your finger, for example.

Split Groups

A split group is when a number of your shots have landed well, close together, but the rest have formed a separate group. This happens when you’ve fired several shots, then shifted your position, even minutely. Either you have done this because the initial position wasn’t comfortable, or you were using too much muscle strength to maintain that position.

A large group

If your groups have a nice formation, but you are having trouble getting them to a neater, tighter size, what should you do? Repeat the zeroing process, so that you are removing yourself from the group size — if a nice, tight group is not achieved, go back to the basics — refine and practise the marksmanship principles, the seven elements and the three.