Five's a Crowd

posted on April 1, 2015
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I have been masquerading as Shooting Illustrated's Rifle Editor for slightly more than five years now, and it is time for a change. Before I get right to the point, let me say gunwriting is a bit like being married: You do your best to state your case in the kindest, gentlest words possible, and usually get yelled at anyway. Admonishments like "ask for directions" or "you never listen to me" fly off editors' keyboards faster than fans line up for R. Lee Ermey autographs at a trade show. What does this have to do with rifles? Very little, beyond the fact I have been filling this column's space with a lot of nonsense (except right now) for the past five years. That ties into my greater point: It is time to move away from the accepted use of five-round groups when shooting for accuracy. I know, I know, many of you could not care one lick about slow-fire, accuracy stuff. It is not tactical and never wins 3-gun matches. Hear me out, though, because you have a dog in this fight, too. If we can convince NRA Publications to adopt my new accuracy protocol, I will have more time to write about the highly secretive "floating independent support-hand yoke" technique presently being perfected by future world-class shooters.

I say it is high time we use four-shot groups for accuracy. Why? Simple. The number "four" is intricately woven throughout the fabric of our lives. Five? Not so much. Here are just a few reasons why dropping one round from the group count makes sense:

Four-shot groups save ammo and money. Consider that a typical rifle accuracy test uses between 75 and 125 rounds. Eliminating one-fifth saves 15 to 25 rounds per rifle, per test. If I had nothing else to do, I could evaluate at least five rifles per day, every day. If I kept up that pace all year I would shave approximately 45,000 rounds off my annual ammunition requirements. This would save me more money than I currently spend on ammo each year, making it a net-gain-win-place-show. Never mind if that makes no sense. As Army staff officers are fond of saying, "It briefs well."

We teach four fundamentals of marksmanship (position, sighting, breathing, trigger manipulation). If there were a fifth, it would be to shoot a tight four-shot group.

You were likely taught there are four cardinal rules of gun safety. Or that there are three or seven or 12. No matter, four is the first number I mentioned.

More Better Reasons:

Four is a lower number, therefore you reach it sooner when counting, saving time and energy.

We have four fingers on each hand (thumbs are not fingers).

Four-leaf clovers are good luck. Five-leaf clovers indicate the presence of nuclear contamination.

In days of yore, naughty people got drawn and quartered as an effective means of dissuading bad behavior. Ever hear someone brag of being drawn and quintered? What does that even mean?

Still not convinced? Prepare to change your mind: Football has four quarters.

Each field has four sides. Each series has four downs. Each football player has four limbs…

The compass has four cardinal directions (unless you are a second lieutenant in the Infantry).

I've mentioned the word "cardinal" twice, which is a form of two, which is the square root of four.

Ever try to divide something into fifths without alcohol being involved?

Ever heard of a Quinter horse winning a race? No, because they do not exist. Quarter horses do exist.

Even the U.S. Mint agrees, which is why we have quarters and not quinters.

The number "five" only has four letters.

How many horsemen does the Book of Revelation tell us are coming with the Apocalypse? One less than five.

OK, so I wandered a little. I'll try to get back on course (which almost rhymes with "four"). Most importantly, a four-shot group accuracy standard will make me a much better shooter. I do not mean it will actually affect how well or poorly I shoot rifles—that would be silly. I mean my title as the reigning King of Blown Five-Shot Groups could be shortened to King of Groups because invariably, shot number five is the one I throw when I am really onto a scorcher. The closer the first four shots are together, the farther shot number five will be. I have tried every trick in the book to ignore the fact I am about to fire a personal best group. I have refused to look at the tiny cluster of shots. I have imagined the target is sitting there in its underwear. I have closed my eyes for the fifth shot (do not do this). I have sung myself a lullaby, and yet once I woke up I still blew the fifth shot. Therefore, we should get rid of shot number five so I will look better. On paper.

The only potential flaw is occasionally—like every three or four groups—I blow shot number four instead of five. I am currently working on a new product called "Shot-B-Gone" that will erase any bad shot(s) on a target. In the unlikely event Shot-B-Gone never makes it to production, I will promptly make the case for three-shot accuracy groups. I will update you on my progress on April 1, 2016, assuming I have not been fired for the fifth time.


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