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Can’t Get a Good Group with Your Rifle? Try a Thorough Cleaning

By: Tom Claycomb

Are you having a tough time getting good groups with your rifle? Before you give up and plop down $3,000 for a custom-made gun, let’s try a few less expensive solutions.

Before you do anything, ask yourself:

  1. Are the scope mounts tight?
  2. Is the scope tightened properly? I highly recommend Brownell’s Magna-Tip Adjustable Torque Wrench when mounting a scope. Without such a tool, you risk over-tightening and bending the tube.
  3. Is your action tightly secured to the stock?

Of course, there are a million little factors that can affect your accuracy, but the aforementioned are a few basic things you should always check.

A Simple Solution
Recently, Bill Olson, editor of Texas Outdoor Journal, and I had a hog hunt lined up with Slow Glow out of Texas. I was set to use a Mossberg 30-06 Patriot Revere rifle.

I’ve always had good luck with Mossbergs but noticed on this one something a little different. After shooting it for a while, my groups started widening out. I switched ammo to test some other manufacturers and loads, but they all widened out, too. I went from 5/8s and 1¼-inch groups to 2¼ and 2½-inch groups. Wow!

My ballistic guru buddy, Ron Spomer, suggested I give my gun a really good cleaning. I did so, and suddenly was getting a 5/8-inch group with some Barnes 168 GR. Tipped TSX BT ammo and two 15/16-inch groups.

I shot a while longer, and the groups again started widening out. When Ron and I went out shooting, I took my 30-06 and shot a few groups with a dirty barrel and got a 2 and a 2¼-inch group.

I then threw my rifle on my Otis Gun Maintenance cleaning station and cleaned it really well. Ron had an ammonia base solvent to remove the copper fouling, and I used it too. I cleaned the gun thoroughly until I was able to pull through a clean patch.

Though I didn’t get down to the original best of a 5/8-inch group, I did get a 1¼-inch and a 1-5/8s-inch group, which is respectable for a factory, untouched rifle. After doing some comparison shooting between a dirty barrel and a clean barrel, it was obvious that this rifle likes a clean barrel more so than any of my other rifles.

A Few Helpful Hints
The first shot after cleaning will be a flier, so don’t count it in your group. In fact, you might as well shoot a cheapo bullet the first round.

Ron taught me another little trick: Don’t shoot ammo like Barnes after Hornady (which is a gilding bullet), since it will foul the barrel differently and affect the accuracy of your non-gilding bullet.

It’s wise to get in the habit of gripping your rifle the exact same way for every shot. This is a habit I’ve become a stickler for since shooting a lot of air guns.

Experimentation is Key
You’re going to have to conduct a few tests to learn about your individual rifle. Your rifle’s accuracy may start going south after 10-15 rounds, or it may be able to shoot 50 and retain its accuracy. Every gun is different. You may be able to get by just cleaning out the fouling, or you may have to do a deep cleaning and remove the copper. It’s up to you to experiment.

Ammo is another huge factor in determining accuracy, so you should test a lot of different manufacturers and grains of ammo. I shot 13 different flavors to conduct this test.

As you can see, there are many, many variables that influence your groups. There certainly isn’t a singular, one-size-fits-all formula that will work every time, but the good news is, most cures for subpar groups aren’t very expensive. It may be as simple as giving your gun a good cleaning.

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.