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Old December 16, 2009, 02:17 AM   #1
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How to shoot measurable groups with handgun

Hi everyone, I've caught the reloading bug in a bad way. I bought Richard Lee's Modern Reloading and devoured it, and then I ordered a Lee Classic Turret press, with all the accessories and a set of 9mm dies. I've got just about everything I need to start loading, except primers of course. I don't know when I'll manage to get my hands on some, but in the meantime I've got a question for you folks.

I'm anxious to see if my reloads are more accurate, but I know my own shooting freehand from a standing position is not consistent enough. I'll be working on my marksmanship, but until then, I'm wondering what a good way is to shoot measurable groups that will show me the difference between factory ammo and my own. Obviously with a rifle you can set it on a bench with sandbags and all, but I'm shooting a Taurus PT92 9mm. The indoor range I go to doesn't have a bench, just some booths where you stand. Is it acceptable to stoop down and rest your hands on the shelf in front of the booth? How do you guys shoot measurable groups consistently? Is it just a matter of reaching that "skill level"?

By the way, I've been lurking on this forum for a little while, and I'm impressed with the maturity and friendliness here... not a lot of "flame wars" going on. Everyone seems to be very helpful.
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Old December 16, 2009, 02:52 AM   #2
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The more you can steady the gun, the better. I use a rest and put the butt of the gun on sand bags to make it as steady as possible. Do what ever you can to steady the gun and your groups will be better.
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Old December 16, 2009, 08:04 AM   #3
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I sometimes use an inexpensive pistol rest that I bought from MidwayUSA.
I have also used, many times, a piece of rolled up carpet or blanket. The technique there is to extend the gun past the rest and let your wrists rest on the roll. The gun/hands do not rest on anything. This may be a bit less steady but allows freer recoil of the gun - that affects the point of impact.
At an indoor range where most shooting is done standing, it may be helpful to bring a folding chair with you. Way more effective than bending over.
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Old December 16, 2009, 08:34 AM   #4
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The gold standard of handgun testing is a "machine rest" that screws to the bench and the gun, so that every shot starts in the same direction. Hardly any of us have one or a place to use one.

One thing to avoid doing is resting the barrel on something. With a short auto-loader, that isn't much of a temptation, but people with long revolver barrels or single-shot pistols are more tempted until they find that the recoil/vibrations mess-up the accuracy when the barrel touches something.

I use two methods, depending on where I am shooting and which gun I am shooting. One is to sit (or kneel) behind a bench and rest just the butt of the gun on a bean bag on the bench. That is the easiest thing to do. It helps if you can also rest your lower arms on the bench. But, that requires being able to build-up the relative height of the surfaces for the gun butt and your arms so that they fit the specific combination of your body and the gun. The idea is to get your body into a well supported postion so that the gun is naturally pointed at the bullseye and there is no muscle tension required to hold it there. For some guns, it may be even better to rest some part of the frame on a bag or folded cloth surface instead of resting the butt. I use an adjustable rest with a bean bag that I raise enough to fit my gun and arms to the bench.

Remember the muzzle blast and any gases expelled from the cylinder gap on a revolver or the ejection port of an auto-loader. It can quickly mark your rest, or even the bench for those real fire-breathing rounds. I use an old piece of leather under the gun as a shield. A thick piece of cloth, folded a few times, would probably do as well, but paper towels get shredded pretty quickly.

Also, remember to check where your bullets will go after they pass through the target. When you lower your gun position to rest it on the bench, you will probably be shooting more upward unless you can lower your target as well, to compensate. I lower the target when possible, but I always check that the bullet will hit some suitable backstop.

Another part of shooting accurately is to use a target that allows a precise sight picture. For circular targets, use a good, dark, round circle, not a hand-drawn blob that is out-of-round and not fully filled-in. It helps me if I adjust the width of the dark part of the target (or the distance to the target) so that it appears to be the same width as the front blade when I look through the sights from the shooting position. I like to use a "6-o'clock hold" so that the round bullseye seems to just touch the top of the front blade. Don't worry if that sight picture doesn't center the group in the bullseye. For this type of shooting, you just want the group to be on the paper so that you can measure it. Some folks like other dark shapes on their targets, including squares and Vs. The idea is to use whatever YOUR brain and eyes find to give the most repeatable alignment. If you have one of those 3-dot sights with the European convention of putting the front dot centered in the group, do NOT try to put that front dot in the center of yor bullseye -- it just isn't a precisely repeatable sight picture.

I hope this is enough to get you started. Each of us eventually finds what works best for us as individuals, and it isn't the same for everybody.

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Old December 16, 2009, 09:00 AM   #5
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In a nut shell, what the guys have said above is to have a steady, supported, shooting platform. (I use a bean bag and a piece of carpet.)

The only way to measure your groups and ammo consistently is to make sure you shoot from the same supported position each time you shoot.

Support for other people may mean something different to them. My brother's support for pistols is holding the heel of the pistol in a cupped hand.

When I started reloading, it was about cost, not accuracy. I reloaded my ammo to what I found was a comfortable recoil level and then went on from there to practice with what I had. Is it the best recipe for my gun? I do not know. Is it the best recipe for me? Yes. I can shoot it all day, or until I run out of reloads, and then still be able to function at something else later. It does not beat me up, I hit the target and most importantly I have fun.

I certainly hope you enjoy the reloading and have fun with it and the shooting.
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Old December 16, 2009, 09:21 AM   #6
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I use a rest and put the butt of the gun on sand bags to make it as steady as possible
You'll get better groups if you rest your frame on the bag (like with a rifle).
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Old December 16, 2009, 09:24 AM   #7
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Our handgun ranges have benches and most folks sit and use sandbags for a rest to test their loads.

My preference is a "rabbit-eared" sandbag rest. Mine cost fifty cents at the thrift store for a pair of little kid's jeans. Cut off most of the legs, sewed up the ends, stuffed zip-lock backs with sand and then inserted them into the legs and butt area. Sewed up the belt area and use them with the legs pointing up.

I rest the handgun frame in the crotch of the upside-down jeans. This gives both vertical and horizontal stability. I hold the gun with both hands and rest my hands (and sometimes my arms) on sandbags.

I shoot at a measured 25 yards to test accuracy for target shooting --- if the load is for hunting, I start at 25 yards and go out to 100 yards.

For a target load, I am satisfied if the load groups under 2" at 25 yards --- but I am not talking about a single 6-shot group --- but rather an 18- or 24-shot group.

I believe that an occasional group of less than 1" does not mean the load shoots less than 1". For example, on 11/23/09 I was experimenting with a new load and shot four, six-shot groups --- each group was shot on a new target. Afterwards, I picked one of the targets to be the "master," and carefully placed each of the other three targets, one at a time, on the master, then drew in the bullet holes so that all 24 shots were seen on the master target.

The four, individual 6-shot groups for that load measured 1.72", 1.42", 1.04", and .662" --- all within my "standard" of less than 2", but more importantly to me is that the aggregate --- when overlaid --- went into less than 2".

A chronograph used to measure shot-to-shot velocity variations will really save time and money. While a load with small variations does not always group the best, small velocity variations indicates good potential for a load.

Muzzle blast will eventually eat through the legs of a rabbit-eared rest made from jeans, so you may want to patch them or add some leather to the "blast" areas.

Now the bad news....

Just because you find a load that groups great one day, does not mean that same load will group well with a drastic temperature change.

In the 1970's, the "rage" was Bluedot powder. It worked great for my .41 Mag loads when the temperature was in the 70's --- but when I tried it in sub-freezing temperatures (getting ready for a handgun deer hunt), the velocity variations went crazy and the load did not group well.

I eventually figured out that my velocity variations with H-4227 powder did not change much from "cool" to below freezing temperatures and that became my power-of-choice for hunting (but H-4227 does not do as well on a hot day --- H110 and 296 seem to be the most stable).

There ain't no end to this mess once you start....

Good Luck!


Last edited by Snobal; December 16, 2009 at 09:39 AM.
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Old December 16, 2009, 09:35 AM   #8
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Doyle hit the nail on the head.Resting the butt on anything will really open up the groups.Rest the frame or your hands and let the butt move during recoil.The handgun must be able to recoil freely the same way after each shot.And watch the front sight and make it the clearest object of the sight picture.
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Old December 16, 2009, 10:44 AM   #9
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I'm wondering what a good way is to shoot measurable groups that will show me the difference between factory ammo and my own. Obviously with a rifle you can set it on a bench with sandbags and all,
Sounds like a good reason to get another firearm. Outside of a machine rest, what works the best for me testing pistol rounds for accuracy (in order) are optics on the pistol, a carbine, a carbine with optics.
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Old December 16, 2009, 11:21 AM   #10
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You simply cannot get predictable, repeatable results without shooting from the bench. What I use is a pile of leather sandbags I made myself. Denim will simply not hold up if you shoot revolvers over them. The sixgun should rest on the bags at the crook where the barrel meets the frame. The butt should never be allowed to contact anything. It's best to also rest your forearms against the bench. With an auto, rest the frame forward of the triggerguard. No contact other than those three points. It will take some time to develop your bench technique but all things are possible with practice. Shooting to a handgun's potential with open sights is not something learned overnight so don't be discouraged if it doesn't go so well the first few outings.

If your range will allow it, take a folding chair with you.

Brian Pearce has done some very good articles on the subject in Handloader magazine. I'd suggest you subscribe and acquire backissues with pertinent information.
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Old December 16, 2009, 01:33 PM   #11
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I should probably clarify something.

When I wrote that the easiest thing to do is to rest the butt of the gun on a bag on the bench, what I SHOULD have said was to rest your HANDS holding the gun on the bag on the bench under the butt. If you try to hold the butt down against a hard surface, it will screw-up the accuracy. But my point is that the simplest improvement over a free-hand hold is to rest the gripping part of the gun/hand assembly against something that is stable, so that your body doesn't have to hold your hands out there unaided. Nestling the gun's frame and your arms into a series of supports is better, but requires more preparation to make the supports fit the gun and your body to the available bench. When you do that, your hands may or may not be touching the supports. For my long-barreled Contender, the supports touch the stock and my forearms from my elbows to my wrists, but not my hands. With a scope, that allows me to shoot groups under 1" at 100 yards. With my short barreled Sig auto-loader, I support the frame just ahead of the trigger guard and my hands under the butt, and that allows me to shoot groups under 2" at 25 yards (while I slowly shred the old blue-jeans legs that protect my bags on the rest).

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Old December 16, 2009, 05:55 PM   #12
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I use an old black rolled up towel.

10 shot groups of minimum charge going up 20% for each set of 10.

My indoor range has several chairs available.

AND 10-4 for sure on allowing for natural recoil and cycling on a semi.
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group , measure , repeatable

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