What does "accurate rifle" mean to you?


May 16, 2016
I know we have a good collection of excellent hunters and shooters here, so I want to throw out a completely subjective question for discussion. I'm curious to see what everyone has to say.

In your mind, and with your shooting skills, what qualifies as an "accurate rifle" vs. an "average rifle" vs "unacceptable rifle?" Where do you draw the line between these categories?

Based on what I've read from the various gun writers, it would seem that acceptable accuracy is something in the 1-2 MOA range, and perhaps a little bigger than that if the distances are short. Back in the day, it was a big deal if a rifle could shoot consistent MOA groups, but I think that's a more common thing these days, with some manufacturers giving an "MOA guarantee."

For purpose of the discussion, I'm limiting this to off-the-shelf production-grade hunting rifles. No custom builds or target/match rifles.

For me personally, I would consider any production rifle that I can consistently shoot down into the .5-1 MOA range to be an accurate rifle. Acceptable (but not great) accuracy would be in the 1-1.5 MOA range. Above that, I probably won't keep it. I bought a used 7-08 a while back. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get that rifle to group much less than 2 MOA, so it went down the road again.

Exceptions made, of course, for things like pistol-caliber lever guns. Although my Henry rifles have shown some surprising accuracy in that regard, once I found what loads they like.

So there you have it. What are your thoughts/experience?

IMHO, MOA is my standard. .5 MOA is accurate. If over MOA, I ll figure out a load to get sub MOA. Mt exception ea Marlin 1894 44 Mag that is a 2 MOA rifle, sometimes a little less. I'm ok with that as it's a 75 yard swamp rifle.

I believe you nailed the issues, Brian. Most of my off-the-shelf rifles will deliver 0.5 to 1.0 MOA with ammunition it likes. With tweaking of the load, most will deliver better than 0.5 MOA. That is accurate for the purpose I use my rifles. As stated by JD338, for a rifle that will be used at moderate ranges, 2 MOA is more than adequate, though if it was in one of my other rifles, it would be time to trade. Even my lever guns deliver sub-MOA accuracy with loads they like, but for hunting I could live with less accuracy. Like everyone, I enjoy groups that allow me to brag, but hunting is a combination of accuracy and terminal performance, all of which must be taken into consideration.
I'm tempted to ask, "Accuracy for what? Off the bench? Out in the field where it's makeshift rests if you have time to find one or you have to shoot from an unsupported field position like a quick kneeling or offhand due to time restraints.

Bragging groups are nice. I have a Kimber in .223 Rem. that'll put ten shots under a dime if and when I do my part and it's not too windy. I also have a Ruger M77RSI in .308 Win. that will group from 1.25" to 1.5" if I do my part andd that is bet that rifle will do. Anything small is just a fluke. I've taken about 18 deer with that rifle at ranges running from about 35 feet to 250 yards, the latter laser measured. It's one of my all time keeper favorites. Long story on that one.

It makes no difference to me whether a rile shoots .375" groups or 1.5" groups, my acceptance limit BTW as I realize that there are no bench rests out in the field.
Paul B.
I've always considered MOA as an accurate rifle for my hunting. As I'm starting to learn "Long Range" the "MOA" should be cut in half for consistent grouping. I had a 338 Fed that was a 1.5 MOA and I took Whitetail and Elk with that gun out to 200 yds with confidence. Now that being said I HAD a 243W that I could not get to maintain a group. It would walk up the vertical line as it warmed up shot after shot until it went off the paper. That gun went bye bye. So to make a quick reply - Short range guns - up to 2 moa is ok. My hunting rifles up to 1 MOA ish if I really like the gun, the long range shooters need to be .5 moa if I can get there.
Every gun I've ever shot is more than adequate for any scenario I would have to use it in. I usually want any general purpose medium/big game rifle to shoot 1 MOA, mostly just because I know there are plenty off the shelf guns that can, so if one is not, then I can probably get something that will do better. Really "accurate" in my head is totally relative to what I need it to do, even if you take out competition rifles as you said, you still have certain classes of off the shelf rifle that are designed to be much more accurate, such as some predator and many varmint rifles. If I had a .223 for shooting prairie dogs, it would absolutely have to shoot at least 1 MOA, and would definitely prefer better, so I really have a different idea of what "accurate" is for a varmint rifle.

If I don't feel I can confidently get one shot kills within my yardage envelope for the given type of hunt, then it isn't accurate enough. If I do have confidence I can do the former, then I'm good, but if I know I can get much better accuracy from another rifle, the more accurate one will probably be the one that get used for a hunt.
It's a fair question, Paul. I'm stating the obvious by saying that my expectations are based on ideal conditions, ie. from a bench, no wind, etc. Shooting under field conditions is almost always less than ideal, so caveats apply. On the flip side, the relative size of the target comes into play, as well. If your primary use for a particular rifle is moose at 100 yards, it doesn't need to shoot like a laser to be acceptable. So, I completely understand what you're saying here.

This is a highly subjective question, and I expect some variation in the answers.

I'll gladly hunt with my Marlin 336. In fact, one of the longest shots I've taken in the past 5 years was with it (170 yards) and I'd do it again, but it's a 2 MOA gun most of the time. I haven't worked up a load for it, though.

With my bolt actions it's a different story though. If I can't get 1 MOA or less, I'm hesitant to take it hunting. I don't know why that is, but it's how my brain works.
I think I was spoiled when I bought my first new off-the-shelf hunting rifle. It was a Tikka 695 continental hunter in 25-06 and shot factory Remington 120gr greenbox ammo at .5MOA. Every gun I've had since then had been compared to it. I'm simple, if the group is covered by a quarter its accurate(+/- .7 moa) dime is really good :), depending on the setup 2MOA may be acceptable, anything that shoots over 2 MOA gets me frustrated
Depends on the catagory of rifle. A levergun or close range/large caliber rifle isn’t held to the same standard as scoped bolt action. I’m with dr mike, .5” is accurate and 1” is adequate. Anything I can’t get moa out if I probably won’t keep, or have it rebarreled.
Huh- at this point, Ive learned what is accurate in a given rifle depends on ME and the day. :) Yup, Ive had rifles that will shoot as well or close to most of the standards outlined above. But the question is can I make it happen? For example, my 12 ga Mosberg 500 slug gun, got checked for zero last fall. Off the bags, I put one slug through thru the 6:00 mark of a 2in dot at 100 yds. Accurate? D@ng right... could I do it with two more slugs? I didnt try and find out. I know from many hundreds of slugs through that gun over the years that this is indicative of "its still where I left it". In 20 years I havent shot a genuine cloverleaf with that thing, but its still accurate. And a 6 inch group, mostly off hand is accurate. Hittin' a paper plate on a deer at that range w/ that gun is "accurate".
I love shooting genuine "clover leafs". I did a couple weeks ago with my 22 Mag, off the bags. I expect that, it can do it, so can I some times, but some days a 2in group is as accurate as I can do......
For me, 1 MOA is acceptable accuracy in my bolt rifles, and .5 MOA or better is "accurate". And like Cloverleaf, I have to be doing my part to produce those groups, and there are days when I can consistently, but have the odd day where I cannot, even though most are more accurate than that.
Anything in my lever guns in 1-1.5MOA range is acceptable accuracy, and sub-MOA is "Accurate". But when the short range lever is a joy to shoot , carry, and hunt with and can still keep all shots inside 2 MOA, it is still "acceptable" to me. And luckily, I only have one that is in this latter group. The rest are more accurate than that!
In my rimfires, I prefer a rifle that will produce 1 hole groups with 10 shots @ 25 yards (average range for grouse and hares).
Good stuff guys!
I posted this on TNBillyEarl's post, and thought I would post this here as well, as it has to do with not only my guns capability, but alo my ability to find the ammo that works best for it, whether loading or factory, and then my bench capability, versus my field shooting capability, and then adding all of the other factors that can make us feel like a hero or a zero.

The more you practice at distance, the more comfortable you will get with it.
I encourage you after you get good at hits in calm or great conditions, intentionally go out and practice in gusty winds or have someone put you under time or shoot against someone for speed and accuracy.
Difficult atmospheric conditions, and the stress of competition and or intentionally getting your heart rate up by running or racing someone for 25 yards, and then back to the gun and then set-up to shoot, will always make you a better shooter, and it helps you figure out we all have different levels of ability, depending on our state of mind, pressure to shoot on demand, trying to beat someone else, and physical weariness.
Case in point. For the comp I attended, myself and one other shooter were way ahead of the rest of the field. My guess is it would only be a couple of points one way or the other. What I didn't count on, was getting something like heat exhaustion, and on the last stage, which was demanding physically, I couldn't stop shaking and did horrid. I figured that one stage would take me all of the way out of the top 5. At the awards ceremony, I still came in second-I was shocked, but still happy. I was cleaning or almost cleaning the stages, and typically with the first shot per target, which was 2-points for 1st shot attempt. Second attempt hit was 1 point. On the last stage of day 2, I only hit 1 or two targets.
On top of everything else, some days we just shoot better than on other days, then just add the luck factor to it as well.
My cold bore 1K+ prairie dog (little yearling pd) kill last week was a combination of skill, a great specialty pistol, a chambering/bullet up to the task, great atmospheric conditions, and luck.
Glenn and I went out on Monday, and I tried to kill a dog with at 1K+ with my center-grip 15" 223 Remington HSP. I hit one, but his buddy ended up dragging him into the hole (he was still barely alive) at 1058 yards. I shot 92 rounds that morning, with no dead dog topside. If I had been shooting a different chambering with better performance, my odds would have been better, but it also could have ended up being a dry hole.
Our bread and butter roe deer is rather small.
I guess close to your coyotes?
For them, I definitely want sub moa and I don't let anyone go out with ammo I load if it doesn't meet that. I do it with a 6,5 Creedmoor Savage
On the other hand, my Tikka in 30-06 was able to produce fantastic accuracy.
But it seems the throat eroded.
I still get moa'ish. But not that consinstant.
BUT currently I use it only for driven hunts.
That means: 150 y on standing game, 50ish on moving game. So with that one, I don't care if it is still sub moa or a bit above.
I could probably tune it back to sub moa with adjusted oal, but there is no need for that application.
I know we have a good collection of excellent hunters and shooters here,
Well, I don't think I'm either an excellent hunter or shooter, but I'll give you a few thoughts.

First, I find that almost every rifle I've ever fired, let alone owned, was much more accurate than I, no matter the task at hand. Second, and forgive me if anyone else already pointed this out, is that the accuracy of a rifle is very much dependent on the ammunition running through it. Shooting slightly abused Bulgarian surplus 7.62x54r tends to not to develop the same groups as PPU, and certainly not the same as my hand loads (Brown Bear 203 gr did surprisingly well, though). Likewise, my Marlin 1894 in 44RM absolutely refuses to give me less than 16 MOA at 50 yards -- unless I'm running Hornady XTP through it; then it turns in 2-3 MOA. Lastly, I think I must concur with the "accurate enough" crowd, or at least as far as "accurate enough for the intended purpose", being a combination of rifle, ammunition, shooter, and task. I know that there are some Marines on this board, and I know that Marines shoot 500 meters with their service rifle; in the previous generation, that was an M-16A2 (or sometimes A4, I understand), with green tip (I beleive I read somewhere that M855 pass/ fail spec was 3 MOA). I personally have shot green tip out to 400 with irons and found that while I was not always up to the task at hand, the rifle and ammo were.

Ugh - just realized this reads like some sort of lecture. Sorry, everybody, that was not my intent.
It kinda depends on several factors. My 300WSM is generally good for 1 MOA most days at the bench...more like 1.5MOA from prone. It's killed a ton of meat at this point so I'd have to say it's more than adequate at the task. I've had a few more accurate big game rifles, and several significantly less so. Just didn't like hunting with any of them.

The only true 1/2MOA gun I've had was a Barrett Fieldcraft, great for printing tiny little bragging rights groups.

Since accurate rifles grow on trees these days, I tend to look at other factors like rifle fit and machine quality when I'm buying.
I want all my rifles to shoot 1/2 or less at 100yds with 5shot groups. My favorite Brush rifle is my .257 Roberts because it will put 5shots into 3/8ths inches, I like to shoot threw small holes in the brush not threw the brush.
I have a M70 300 Win that hasn't yet showed me what I want to see but there could be several reasons why and I haven't quite figured it out yet so it's still a work in progress.
I am the odd man out, so to speak ( or woman ) My husband does check the 275 H & H and I squeeze off a few rounds before we head south each year for goats and sheep. But shooting the 348 at anything but an animal is far and few between. I am serious when I answer people about the accuracy of it with, "when the animal I am shooting dies, when I shoot him, then it is accurate enough for me" I honestly believe the two rifles I use are both better than I am in the accuracy dept. I am not discounting or criticizing target shooting, as many people enjoy doing so, I dont.
While an accurate rifle may be interesting...
A rifle that always puts meat on the table is a reliable investment, and a dependable tool that will regularly get called for duty, developing many adventures and wonderful memories. This builds sentiment that will be passed on to future generations of hunters.