How Many Shots Make A Valid Group?

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Group diagram: image Berger Bullets
Group diagram: image Berger Bullets

I have noticed that when reviewing firearms you often use 3-shot groups as a measure of accuracy, but sometimes you use 5-shot groups. Why is this?
– Andrew McAllister

Often the deciding factor is the number of factory rounds the distributor sends with a rifle for testing. The more parsimonious ones send only 20 rounds while the majority send 80 or more. Another factor is the type of rifle. If it is an ultralight with soda straw barrel, I figure about eight 3-shot groups spaced apart is plenty. In the field only seldom is the light gun fired three times fairly fast, whereas with a standard sporter I like to use four 5-shot groups as its measure of accuracy. If the groups are round without any fliers, I believe this to give a fair indication of a rifle’s accuracy. Modern rifles are much more accurate than those of yesteryear and factory ammo is hard to better with handloads and one inch 3-shot groups at 100 yards may not achieve the absolute potential of a rifle and load, but they give a good enough indication of their ability to land a bullet in the chest of a deer-size animal out to 400 yards. With my own hunting rifles, I check the bullet’s impact at 200 yards and adjust it if necessary. I always try and stalk within sure hitting distance. In my opinion, only an experienced marksman should take a shot at game 400 yards away, but I’m old school.

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