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Targets For Load Testing

Targets For Load Testing
Make sure the feedback from your handloads is right on.

It doesn’t really do us much good to build a bunch of precise handloads for our new rifle or handgun, and then shoot at targets poorly suited to the scope or sights. Probably the worst target for testing handload accuracy is the traditional bull’s-eye, a black circle with scoring rings, but they still appear at ranges all the time.

Why doesn’t a round, black bull’s-eye work very well? For one thing, it doesn’t provide a really precise aiming point, either with a scope or iron sights. You can attempt to quarter it with a crosshair reticle, but quartering a circle precisely is difficult, as anybody who’s cut up a pie knows. You can put the tip of a front sight at the bottom of the circle, but there’s no place to really center the sight. Plus, with a black circle it’s difficult if not impossible to see bullet holes in certain kinds of light.

A bull’s-eye with multicolored rings provides more precision with crosshairs, but not with a front sight. A square provides even more precision, especially if the middle of the square is left white or a paler color, but with a scope’s crosshair we’re actually better off with a square turned 90 degrees—a diamond with 90-degree corners and a white center. The corners provide precise elevation and windage control, since we can bisect each corner with the crosshairs.

Anything other than black can work for the color, but human vision varies from individual to individual. Some people have a hard time focusing on blaze orange, especially on a warm day with heat-mirage in the air, and a lot of commercial rifle targets are printed in blaze orange, perhaps because it’s considered a “hunter color.”

Back in the 1970s, when writers still used typewriters and I was just getting a slippery hold on my profession, there was a super-abundance of used typing paper around my office. The normal method of writing back then was to rip an unsatisfactory paragraph from the typewriter and start over again, and several drafts were usually typed before the final version. Between my limited budget and all this “waste” I started drawing my own targets with Magic Markers on the back of first drafts and rejected paragraphs. I came to the diamond shape pretty quickly, but it took a few years to realize that red or blue worked better for the diamond than pure black. Eventually a couple of big, dark blue Magic Markers ended up in my range bag.

After using a bunch of different scopes, it also became obvious that the size of the diamond needed to vary, depending on the scope’s magnification and thickness of the reticle. Some scopes even had post reticles, and some still do, since some woods hunters favor them. Post reticles could be aimed more precisely by drawing a square about the same apparent width of the tip of the post at 100 yards, and the same technique worked for front sights, whether on handguns or rifles.

Even with a traditional bead front sight and a “6 o’clock” hold a square provided a more precise aiming point than a circle, since the human eye can more easily bisect it. Some shooters, however, put the bead right on what they want to hit. In that instance, the traditional black bull’s-eye works pretty well, especially if we file the face of the bead flat to provide a consistent aiming point, or use a fiber optic bead. A red fiber optic bead looks pretty nifty in the center of a black circle.

Some iron-sight rifle shooters, however, prefer the traditional ivory bead—these days, unfortunately, usually made of white plastic rather than real ivory. The translucence of a genuine ivory bead is able to pick up a little extra light, the reason some beads are still made from abundant warthog ivory, but a white bead really presents problems when aiming at a white target, no matter what the color of the aiming point. The same thing can happen on a bright day with really pale gold beads.

The traditional solution was to darken the bead temporarily with the smoke from a match. The smoke could then be wiped off after sighting-in. The shadow under a sight hood also darkens a light bead, but not all front sights come with hoods anymore, partly because the darkened bead is an abomination when hunting, unless you’re after polar bears. A temporary hood, however, can be made of masking tape, and many of us carry masking tape in our range bags.
The veteran (and very fine) gunsmith Dennis Olsen suggested a nifty target for pale front beads a few years ago. Olsen tacks a small, white paper plate on black paper. It works very well!

I kept drawing my own targets even after the 1980s, when switching to a computer from a typewriter nearly eliminated the stacks of waste paper that had been flying from my desk, because I still couldn’t find the right commercial targets. Then one day a sample pack of various targets came from a company named Mountain Plains, with a cover letter from the owner. He’d noticed my homemade blue targets and thought his might work just as well. They did, since a shooter has evidently designed them. There’s even a special version for iron sights. I use Mountain-Plains targets for most of my range work anymore, but also occasionally use some of the new-age targets that show a ring of bright color around each bullet hole. They’re particularly handy for small-bore rifles, especially .17s!

Many hunters firmly believe more magnification or finer reticles automatically result in smaller groups, perhaps due to the influence of benchrest shooting. Bench shooters do use very high-magnification, fine reticle scopes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a 3-9X scope turned all the way up will result in much smaller groups than those shot with a 4X scope.

During the 1990s I started writing quite a bit about hunting optics, and eventually realized why small groups could be shot even with low-magnification scopes. An average 20/20 human eye can resolve (a technical term meaning see) about 1″ at 100 yards. If we use a good 4X scope, we can resolve about 1/4″ (0.250), and with 9X we can resolve 1/9″ (0.111). The difference in resolution, then, between a 4X scope and a 9X scope is 0.139″.

Most big game hunters feel pretty good about shooting 1″ groups. Let’s say our rifle (and the shooter behind it) will average 1″ groups with a 4X scope. The extra resolution of a 9X scope will shrink a 1″ group to about 7/8″. You’d have to shoot dozens of groups to have that measly difference show up—and unless you’re really good at reading wind, it probably wouldn’t anyway.

Also, just because a scope has a bigger reticle doesn’t mean it’s not capable of producing small groups. No, we’re not going to shoot any benchrest records with a post reticle, but if we use the right target we can sure beat an inch, even with a 2-1/2X scope.

Why doesn’t a round, black bull’s-eye work very well? For one thing, it doesn’t provide a really precise aiming point, either with a scope or iron sights. You can attempt to quarter it with a crosshair reticle, but quartering a circle precisely is difficult, as anybody who’s cut up a pie knows. You can put the tip of a front sight at the bottom of the circle, but there’s no place to really center the sight. Plus, with a black circle it’s difficult if not impossible to see bullet holes in certain kinds of light.

A bull’s-eye with multicolored rings provides more precision with crosshairs, but not with a front sight. A square provides even more precision, especially if the middle of the square is left white or a paler color, but with a scope’s crosshair we’re actually better off with a square turned 90 degrees—a diamond with 90-degree corners and a white center. The corners provide precise elevation and windage control, since we can bisect each corner with the crosshairs.

Anything other than black can work for the color, but human vision varies from individual to individual. Some people have a hard time focusing on blaze orange, especially on a warm day with heat-mirage in the air, and a lot of commercial rifle targets are printed in blaze orange, perhaps because it’s considered a “hunter color.”

Back in the 1970s, when writers still used typewriters and I was just getting a slippery hold on my profession, there was a super-abundance of used typing paper around my office. The normal method of writing back then was to rip an unsatisfactory paragraph from the typewriter and start over again, and several drafts were usually typed before the final version. Between my limited budget and all this “waste” I started drawing my own targets with Magic Markers on the back of first drafts and rejected paragraphs. I came to the diamond shape pretty quickly, but it took a few years to realize that red or blue worked better for the diamond than pure black. Eventually a couple of big, dark blue Magic Markers ended up in my range bag.

After using a bunch of different scopes, it also became obvious that the size of the diamond needed to vary, depending on the scope’s magnification and thickness of the reticle. Some scopes even had post reticles, and some still do, since some woods hunters favor them. Post reticles could be aimed more precisely by drawing a square about the same apparent width of the tip of the post at 100 yards, and the same technique worked for front sights, whether on handguns or rifles.

Even with a traditional bead front sight and a “6 o’clock” hold a square provided a more precise aiming point than a circle, since the human eye can more easily bisect it. Some shooters, however, put the bead right on what they want to hit. In that instance, the traditional black bull’s-eye works pretty well, especially if we file the face of the bead flat to provide a consistent aiming point, or use a fiber optic bead. A red fiber optic bead looks pretty nifty in the center of a black circle.

Some iron-sight rifle shooters, however, prefer the traditional ivory bead—these days, unfortunately, usually made of white plastic rather than real ivory. The translucence of a genuine ivory bead is able to pick up a little extra light, the reason some beads are still made from abundant warthog ivory, but a white bead really presents problems when aiming at a white target, no matter what the color of the aiming point. The same thing can happen on a bright day with really pale gold beads.

The traditional solution was to darken the bead temporarily with the smoke from a match. The smoke could then be wiped off after sighting-in. The shadow under a sight hood also darkens a light bead, but not all front sights come with hoods anymore, partly because the darkened bead is an abomination when hunting, unless you’re after polar bears. A temporary hood, however, can be made of masking tape, and many of us carry masking tape in our range bags.
The veteran (and very fine) gunsmith Dennis Olsen suggested a nifty target for pale front beads a few years ago. Olsen tacks a small, white paper plate on black paper. It works very well!

I kept drawing my own targets even after the 1980s, when switching to a computer from a typewriter nearly eliminated the stacks of waste paper that had been flying from my desk, because I still couldn’t find the right commercial targets. Then one day a sample pack of various targets came from a company named Mountain Plains, with a cover letter from the owner. He’d noticed my homemade blue targets and thought his might work just as well. They did, since a shooter has evidently designed them. There’s even a special version for iron sights. I use Mountain-Plains targets for most of my range work anymore, but also occasionally use some of the new-age targets that show a ring of bright color around each bullet hole. They’re particularly handy for small-bore rifles, especially .17s!

Many hunters firmly believe more magnification or finer reticles automatically result in smaller groups, perhaps due to the influence of benchrest shooting. Bench shooters do use very high-magnification, fine reticle scopes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a 3-9X scope turned all the way up will result in much smaller groups than those shot with a 4X scope.

During the 1990s I started writing quite a bit about hunting optics, and eventually realized why small groups could be shot even with low-magnification scopes. An average 20/20 human eye can resolve (a technical term meaning see) about 1″ at 100 yards. If we use a good 4X scope, we can resolve about 1/4″ (0.250), and with 9X we can resolve 1/9″ (0.111). The difference in resolution, then, between a 4X scope and a 9X scope is 0.139″.

Most big game hunters feel pretty good about shooting 1″ groups. Let’s say our rifle (and the shooter behind it) will average 1″ groups with a 4X scope. The extra resolution of a 9X scope will shrink a 1″ group to about 7/8″. You’d have to shoot dozens of groups to have that measly difference show up—and unless you’re really good at reading wind, it probably wouldn’t anyway.

Also, just because a scope has a bigger reticle doesn’t mean it’s not capable of producing small groups. No, we’re not going to shoot any benchrest records with a post reticle, but if we use the right target we can sure beat an inch, even with a 2-1/2X scope.
By John Barsness

Birchwood Casey
7900 Fuller Rd., Eden Prairie, MN 55344
(952) 937-7933
www.gunsmagazine.com/birchwood-casey-laboratories

Champion Traps & Targets
1 ATK Way, Anoka, MN 55303
(800) 635-7656
www.gunsmagazine.com/champion-traps-targets

Mountain Plains Industries
3720 Otter Pl., Lynchburg, VA 24503
(800) 687-3000
www.gunsmagazine.com/precisionplustargets

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