Having accuracy issues? Start here!

23-07-2019

As any experienced rifle owner knows, one of the most enjoyable part of buying a new rifle is getting it to shoot as accurately as possible.

Sako and Tikka rifles are tested to shoot under 1MOA at 100m (50m for rimfire) with either 3 or 5 shot groups, so when you own one, you can feel confident that you have one of the most accurate, out of the box production rifles available.

However, each individual rifle can have different characteristics, so it’s important that when you buy a new rifle, you always buy a variety of different ammunition for your intended purpose to see which one shoots best out of YOUR rifle.

Remember, accurate groups is only one requirement of a rifle, it must also perform to its intended purpose, so make sure you are always using the right projectiles for the right target.

If your rifle isn’t shooting to factory standards, there are a few things you can do to troubleshoot.

Wrong ammunition specifications

There a lot of different calibres out on the market – and there a lot of different “twist rates” for each calibre that are manufactured.

A twist rate is measured as a ratio of 1:X and can usually be found either stamped on your barrel or on the manufacturer’s website. If you can’t get a hold of this information, there is a simple test you can do to determine your twist rate.

The twist rate is vitally important for stabilizing your projectile. The twist rate of your rifle will determine how fast (or slow) your projectile will spin as it travels through the barrel and will determine its ballistics performance on exiting the barrel.  Depending on your bullet length and weight, there will be a particular twist rate that suits best.

There are many resources online that can guide you to the right specification for your calibre and twist rate.  A misaligned twist rate to projectile can have extreme impacts to your accuracy and sometimes you will even be able to notice it via the irregular hole left behind in the target (this is called “Keyholing”).

As ballistics knowledge and innovation continue to develop, manufacturers will continue to change twist rates on calibres so it will always be up to you, the shooter, to choose the right ammunition that best suits your rifle.

Check your action and mount screws

One of the most overlooked and often the most important aspect to getting a good group is to check your screws are torqued appropriately and are not too loose or too tight.  When you shoot a rifle, there are enormous pressures exerted and if the rifle or scope is not mounted correctly, you will see your point of impact will shift with every shot.

Sako and Tikka have torque guidelines in the owner’s manual for all screws, which may differ depending on the model you have.  If you don’t have a torque wrench, a good guideline is always to make sure they are tight but don’t overdo it. Also remember when mounting a scope to cross torque your ring screws so they are not tighter on one side vs the other.

Clean and inspect your rifle

This may sound obvious but sometimes all you need is a good clean.  Most rifles that are test fired for accuracy at factory are lightly cleaned, greased and put in the box ready to purchase.

When your get your rifle home, you should take the time to inspect and clean it. Some fouling of the barrel is normal and expected.  As strange as this sounds, you may also need to fire several rounds through the rifle before trying to shoot tight groups as some barrels benefit from “warming up”. In most cases, at least the first shot is always regarded as a “cold bore shot” and dismissed from any actual grouping results.

Sako and Tikka rifles do not need “running in” from factory due to a superior barrel manufacturing technique, however many other rifles require running in or lapping to smooth out burrs and imperfections left in the barrel after manufacture.

All Sako and Tikka rifles are of a free floating design. This means that there should be nothing touching the barrel past the front of the chamber, which guarantees consistent and repeatable performance.  Sometimes, if a rifle has been disassembled and reassembled, the action screws may have been tightened incorrectly, which could cause the stock to be assembled off-centre and be touching your barrel.  You can usually see this closer to the fore-end.

Get a piece of paper and make sure that it can slide all the way from the muzzle to the chamber of the barrel without interruption.  If the paper doesn’t slide, loosen the action screws, re-align the stock, tighten the screws and try again.

De-accessorise

When you buy a rifle, the manufacturer has guaranteed accuracy with that rifle, however it cannot guarantee that the rifle will perform to that level with any and all accessories.  A rifle is a delicate precision tool and is very sensitive to any changes in the natural balance or “harmonics” of the rifle.

Accessories are anything that is attached to the rifle that did not come in the box with the rifle. This includes:

  • Muzzle brakes & suppressors
  • Aftermarket stocks
  • Bipods & slings
  • Barrel bands

When troubleshooting accuracy, please make sure to remove all accessories and test with the “bare rifle”. If it shoots well, put one accessory back on at a time and re-test. This will allow you to see which component is causing the issues.

Rests, sand bags and any other shooting prop can also sometimes affect accuracy, so make sure your equipment is not touching the barrel and if possible, baseline your results against a firmly mounted mechanical shooting rest (commonly referred to as lead sled).  You must ensure that both the sled and the table are firmly bolted and does not move in between shots.

Please also make sure you do not modify the rifle in any way that can be considered permanent (aftermarket bedding, recrowning the barrel) as you will be run the risk of voiding your warranty.

Check your scope

Aiming devices on your rifle add another dimension of complexity when troubleshooting accuracy issues. This is due to the need for the scope to be mounted perfectly, aimed correctly and even then, the scope itself could have a fault.  If a scope has its elevation or windage turret at or near its maximum travel, you could be overcompressing the erector springs in the scope. This leads to reticles “jumping” within the scope and causing your POI to shift significantly. If you have a collimator or zeroing tool, you can check for this by tapping the scope and seeing if the POI has shifted.

Other issues are related to mounting. If the rings are too tight or placed incorrectly on the scope body, it could present in a variety of issues and in some extreme cases, crushing of the scope tube itself due to overtightening.  At other times, if the rings are not of the same height or not mounted correctly, the scope body can become twisted and cause similar issues.

If you can, have a professional mount your scope or if you are confident that the mounts are not the issue, mount a different scope to your rifle and try again.

Worn out?

A lot of people don’t realise this but rifle barrels do wear out and lose accuracy over time.

The rifle will never be as accurate as the moment it left the factory, but don’t fret as you likely won’t notice an issue for many hundreds or thousands of rounds.  Some people will never shoot enough to notice a decrease in performance in their entire lifetime (poor them!).

There is no exact shot number after which your barrel is considered worn out as there are many factors that affect this, including the calibre, what type of ammunition was used, cleaning and maintenance regime, temperature of the barrel between shots, etc.   All rifles will wear out depending on their rate of use.

For this reason, it’s also important to note that although Sako and Tikka rifles have an accuracy guarantee, it is a guarantee that the rifle HAS performed to the specified accuracy (before it left the factory) and not that it will continue to do so indefinitely. For obvious reasons, Sako cannot guarantee accuracy with every condition and every ammunition.

Beretta Australia goes one step beyond and offers a replacement rifle if yours is deemed to be inaccurate, however this is reliant on identifying and making a claim relatively quickly (typically within 3 months of registering the rifle) and not related to the overall warranty period of the rifle.

We have seen 10 year old rifles that have never been shot and inversely we have seen a 2 week old rifle that was completely worn out, so for this reason we cannot guarantee a replacement due to accuracy issues.

Shooter error?

It’s hard to blame ourselves but sometimes we need to swallow our pride and ask someone else to shoot the rifle.  If all of the above steps have failed to identify the cause of poor accuracy, you have probably invested a lot of time and stress in troubleshooting and you are most likely not in the right mindset to be shooting accurate groups.  Let a friend or good shooter at the range try as well and compare your results.

Ensure that your optics are adjusted properly. If parallax is not set correctly for the distance you are shooting, this can cause accuracy issues.  Adjust your scope to your target, and make sure you are using to the appropriate magnification. If your cross hair is completely covering your point of aim or you cannot properly see your point of aim, you cannot be sure you are aiming at the exact same spot every time you take a shot, which can result in unnecessarily large groupings.

Make sure you are using an appropriate target. If you cannot aim at the exact same spot for every shot in a group, then you will get inconsistent groups that do not properly reflect the accuracy of the rifle. Generally, it is best to shoot at fine square points of aim or a circle that gives you the ability to reference the placement of your crosshair every time you take a shot to ensure you’re actually testing the true potential of your rifle.

Environmental factors

Especially in Australia, make sure you are not testing for accuracy through mirage or refracted light. These two factors can decrease the consistency in your point of aim between shots in ways that we cannot control or necessarily predict. These two factors will generally alter how you see the target and prevent you from aiming at the same spot for every shot you take.

Don’t lose hope

If you still can’t find the cause of the issue (or you don’t feel confident in your ability to troubleshoot), don’t give up!  Beretta Australia is available to assist with accuracy testing of rifles.

But please note that if the rifle performs to factory standards there will be a testing fee of $150.00 + GST.  Remember, please do not modify the rifle in any permanent way before being tested by Beretta Australia as any accuracy claim with a modified rifle will be voided.

To make a warranty claim, please speak with a Beretta Australia dealer and they will take it from there.

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