One-hole groups

A rifle sight-in session with my surrogate niece Heather was a humbling experience. She shot a one-hole group with her new deer rifle. Zen, she says, is the key.

A sight-in session with Heather was a humbling experience. She shot a one-hole group with her new deer rifle. Zen, she says, is the key.

One-inch groups (let alone one-hole groups) are pretty, but the hunting rifle does not really need that degree of accuracy. As a hunting companion once said, “If your rifle can shoot a three-inch group at 100 yards, any deer you miss can be attributed to operator error.”

One-hole groups

A “one-hole group” of bullet strikes on a paper target is the ne plus ultra of a preseason sighting-in session for a rifle hunter. I have shot only two in my life, so it was a humbling experience to watch my surrogate niece Heather place three consecutive shots from her new 7mm-08 rifle in the exact same hole on the grid-and-bullseye target on the backyard shooting range last week.

I was in awe. She was nonplussed. Target shooting, she explained, is Zen. You focus, erase everything else from your conscious mind, merge with the rifle, see the target, acquire the target, become the target, let your unconscious fire the shot in one smooth transition from thought to action. Slowing one’s heart rate so that the trigger trips between beats is advisable, she suggests.


Although I understand her explanation I do not pretend I can replicate it. My own target shooting technique, laboriously developed through experience over several decades, is quite different. I horse the rifle around, clutch the pistol grip as tightly as possible to minimize recoil, put the crosshairs of the scope on the bobbing red dot, flinch, jerk the trigger, blow my nose, look through the spotting scope, and mutter “Damn!”

My groups are invariably ragged because of my aversion to recoil. A shooting coach once called it ‘involuntary reflex,’ but there’s nothing involuntary about it; I intentionally tighten every muscle in my body in anticipation of muzzle blast and recoil. The result is that the bullseye dances around in the scope, and I snap off a shot as it passes by the intersection of the horizontal and vertical reticles.

IMG_1718Heather does not seem to notice recoil. Over the course of the past three years she has shot targets from the bench on our range with rifles in calibers that include .22 Long Rifle, .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, .30-06 Government, 7mm Remington Magnum, and a .50 caliber muzzle-loader. The muzzle blast and recoil from those rifles run the gamut from miniscule to gargantuan, but even though she weighs a mere 110 pounds the battering never seems to faze her. She does not even seem to notice.

Hence the one-hole, three-shot group. That is a rarity. I attribute it partly to the quality of the rifle, partly to the suitability and consistency of the hand-loaded ammunition, but mostly to Heather’s shooting skill. I hinted to her that I used to be able to shoot like that when I was younger, but that is wishful memory and revisionist history. With my favorite deer rifle, the number of one-hole groups I have shot in 25 years of preseason sight-in sessions can be counted on one hand. In fact, they can be counted on my two thumbs. And both can be attributed to luck.

Yes, customized target rifles can routinely put 10 rounds into one hole in the bullseye on our shooting range’s 25-yard target stand, but the typical rifle used to hunt big game (deer, elk, moose, caribou, bear) cannot, even shooting from a solid bench, using a rifle rest and sand bags. One-hole accuracy is not the top item on the list of requirements for a field rifle. It is more important that the rifle be absolutely dependable in function, durable, light weight, fast-handling, and quick-pointing. The rifle’s caliber and the ammunition you choose must also be appropriate for the game animal.

One-inch groups (let alone one-hole groups) are pretty, but the hunting rifle does not really need that degree of accuracy. As a hunting companion once said, “If your rifle can shoot a three-inch group at 100 yards, any deer you miss can be attributed to operator error.”

Heather’s one-hole group was shot on a blistering hot day that forced us to wait five to 10 minutes between groups to allow the rifle barrel to cool. We tested eight different custom loads of 7mm-08 ammunition to determine which shot best in her new rifle. We also tested one load of commercial ammunition for comparison with the handloads; fortunately the “factory loads” produced the worst group of the lot, so my reputation as a rifle guru was enhanced. It may be years before she discovers that some other commercial load could very well match the performance of my custom stuff.

For the record, the load was R-P case, CCI 200 primer, 40.0 grains of IMR 4064 powder, 139 grain Hornady soft-point boat-tail bullet. Her rifle is a Ruger Model 77. I do not say this load will shoot equally well in another 7mm-08 rifle, even one of the same make and model; every rifle is has its own likes, dislikes, quirks, and peculiarities.

We loaded 20 rounds of that best load, and now we are ready for our whitetail deer hunt in the Nebraska Sandhills in November. Her top goal for that hunt, she says, is to learn how to field dress a deer. My top goal is to see her take a bragging deer at 200 yards. If that happens, do not expect me to maintain my Zen-like composure.


More stories about bird dogs, bird guns, and bird hunting are published in my books Crazy Old Coot, Old Coots Never Forget, and Hunting Birds, available in paperback and Kindle editions at

About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer; indifferent wing shot. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Novelist and short story writer. Freeholder: 50-acre farm with 130-year-old log house. Husband, father, grandfather. Retired teacher, coach, mentor. Vicious editor. Blogger.
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5 Responses to One-hole groups

  1. Ronni Schacht says:

    Thanks for the story! I hadn’t heard the Zen rendition, only “I aim and shoot”.

    • Jerry says:

      Ancient Zen Buddhist saying: “To shoot accurately, one must have great peace of mind.” I have also found that shooting a whitetail deer is easier if one does not confuse the safety toggle with the bolt-release, but that is another story.

  2. Heather says:

    I don’t know about serving Jerry humble pie, but he is being humble about the role of his handloads. As he wrote, I shot 9 different loads. His all shot better than the manufacture load and the one load was perfect. I’ll have to say it felt pretty good to shoot perfect, but the white-tail deer at 200 yards will feel amazing.

    As for the role of Zen, on my first white-tail deer hunting trip, I asked my dad, “Should I tell Uncle Mike it is yoga?” Hunting takes all kinds. I’m glad my grandpa, dad, and all my uncles are an inclusive bunch.

    Just hope Zen helps with field dressing a deer.

  3. Duane says:

    From my buddy Kirk. “The best way I have found to shoot a one hole group is discipline…take the first shot. Admire the shot and then have the discipline to pack the gun and quit shooting. One hole group.”

  4. Jerry says:

    Duane – an excellent (if not admirable) protocol. I’m trying to work out a way to use it in skeet shooting, too.

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