Back in September of ’13 (yeah, we have a lot of tabs to clear, don’t we?) Shawn had a really interesting post at LooseRounds.com. Not like that’s unusual or anything. But he wondered why so many people over-buy accuracy and precision for the kind of shooting that they really do.
That leads us to a parable of sorts. A few years ago, a guy asked if we wanted to buy his rifle. What sort of rifle? A Blaser, he told us, in .300 Winchester Magnum. It was accurate to 1,200 yards, he said.
And where, we asked, in the state of New Hampshire, could you fire 1,200 yards? There are some private ranges, but we do not know of one in the Seacoast region.
That, he explained, is why he was trying to sell it.
Not every gun is fit for every purpose, and people frequently buy more gun than they need. Shawn’s point is that this is very common with respect to accuracy.
Time after time I look through the popular gun boards and see users with Larue OBR, PredatARs and Noveske rifles doing rapid fire mag dumps at targets no further away then 50 yards. Most the time it is on man sized targets and they have mounted the popular T-1 or eotech or something there about. Why do they need a gun that shoots 1/4 MOA to hit a man sized target across the room? Some of them do not even take the gun off of a benchrest and restrict their shooting to 25 yards incredibly. I have even seen some shooting these match rifles using military surplus ball ammo. They do not even bother with the match ammo it takes to achieve the precious level of accuracy they so badly wanted and paid for. The biggest mind boggler to me is the mag dumps. Sure the rifles can handle it, but that accuracy level of the barrel will only last so long and after a certain number of rounds fired, it will go from 1/4 or 1/2 to 1 MOA or 2 or even larger depending on what goes bad or wears first.
Howard: -The first time I saw a LaRue Stealth Upper, it was being used to bump fire. All of the 5.56 OBR rifles I have seen have had either an Aimpoint or Eotech on it. Similar for Noveske rifles. Often they were just used for offhand rapid fire. The sort of shooting I witness these precision rifles used for could be achieved with any quality standard carbine barrel. While it is very nice to have a match barrel, why spend the money one one unless you actually require that accuracy.-
Shawn and Howard are right. If you are plinking, then you do not need tack-driving accuracy, and there’s more than a little suspicion that you can’t put it to use. The percentage of shooters that can outshoot their firearms is incredibly small. Shawn has made a habit of demonstrating the practical long-range accuracy of a rack-grade service rifle is considerably better than the specifications demand, or the average operator (in the sense of “one who operates a rifle” not “wannabe SWAT assclown”) can deliver.
The same is true of pistols. Mounted in a Ransom Rest, many mass-produced pistols can deliver accuracy that puts their owners to shame. Yet the desire to own the newest and flashiest, and to have accuracy bragging rights, seems unstoppable.
The waste of excessive accuracy is not the only problem with high-precision weaponry. Yes, precision costs money — any gunsmith, machinist, hell, any biologist sequencing a bacterial genome will tell you that. Costs rise asymptotically as you approach the goal of perfection. And yes, all this is bad. Because money is fungible, at the defense ministry or service finance level, a dollar spent on excess accuracy is a dollar than can’t buy training ammo, tank fuel, medical supplies or new radios (or anything else).
But the things that make for optimum accuracy alone may not be suitable for a general purpose weapon. Have you ever wondered why all M1 Garands or M14s weren’t National Match rifles? It’s not just because Uncle Same Numba Ten Cheap Charlie. It’s because some of the NM “improvements” are only improvements for the express purpose of match competition. Tighter parts fit? Hand-lapped locking lugs? A “blueprinted” or tight chamber? A smaller rear-sight aperture? All of these things are wonderful when your target is a bullseye at 500 yards, but they’re no help when your target’s the 10,000 screaming Norks or Chinamen who are coming to take your position or die trying. Indeed, since history tells us that you’ll be facing that human wave in bitter cold, blowing sleet, enervating heat or jungle monsoons, accuracy for a service rifle is defined as practical accuracy that a real-world rifleman (who is not NRA Distinguished or the owner of a Presidents Hundred tab) can employ in real-world combat.
Engineers have a saying for this. “The best is the enemy of the good.” Excess performance over practical specs has uncertain benefits but very real costs.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been unusual in their generous provision of long-shot targets. Had The Big One ever happened in Europe, a typical sniper shot would probably have been around 300-350 meters. You just don’t have anything but a fleeting target in the rolling, forested and built-up terrain.
This is why the Soviet Army issued a so-so sniper rifle — the SVD — on a very broad basis. The squad designated marksman who carried that rifle wasn’t going to be plinking NATO generals at their field desks two thousand meters away; they were there to provide a precision engagement capability that extended the area of influence of their rifle squads beyond what an AK or RPK can dominate.