Why 3 Shot Groups Are Dumb

All too often, firearm accuracy and precision are described in terms which are intended to inflate the owner’s sense of self worth or help a reviewer sell a firearm to the reader instead of accurately describing the true capabilities of the weapon and/or ammunition. Case in point: three shot groups.

Put simply, three shots are not enough to determine if a firearm is shooting at any particular level of accuracy or precision. The next three shots might go in between the first three, or they might go in different places. However, shot groups rarely grow past the ten shot mark, which is why military standards require ten shot groups for ammunition and firearm acceptance tests. For hunting or self defense purposes, ten shot groups are an excellent idea, because they give the shooter a better picture of the real world performance of their rifle and ammo combination.

Take a look at these two photos. First, three shots, with one of the staples used as a point of aim to ensure consistency.

3 Shot Group

Certainly, this would be described as a “sub-MOA” three shot group. Technically, it is. But it isn’t a true depiction of where the next shots will go. Therefore, seven more shots are taken.

10 Shot Group

As you can see, the next shots went way outside where the first three landed. The sad thing is, even though this is an excellent group for a semi-auto rifle without an optic or free-float handguards, many people would rather lie about their rifle’s capabilities just so they can belong to a meaningless “sub-MOA” club. This is how the internet is rife with claims of sub-MOA AKs, sub-MOA anythings shooting cheap imported ammunition, and so on.

The next time you sit down at a bench to see how accurate your rifle is, be honest with yourself and fire ten shots.

This guest post was written by Andrew Tuohy, who writes at the Vuurwapen Blog.

6 thoughts on “Why 3 Shot Groups Are Dumb

  1. Completely agree with ten shot groups.

    Above that, taking the human variable out of the equation and use a solid rifle clamp. After each shot, adjust the aim if needed and fire again.

  2. my daughter while going thru basic training would put 4 of the 5 shots in a tight group at center mass and the fifth on the forehead/ good sense of humor. lol/ will tell her about this.

  3. Andrew,

    In your opinion, how fast does one have to fire these shots to meet the ten shot criteria? I have a medium-heavy barrel rifle, and I notice a distinct decrease in accuracy when firing more than 8 shots quickly. With my pencil thin hunting rifles, it’s more like 3 shots, or 5. When I space out five to ten rounds over a longer span of time, it seems to stay fairly consistent. You’ve piqued my interest: further testing upcoming.

  4. Russell makes a good point that goes to the point of the article I believe. If your in a situation with say an AR or AK for defensive purposes it is good to know the effects of multiple shots/heat on your barrel compared to what effect its doing to your group/shot placement. Also agree with Russell, further testing to come. Great article.
    Columbus MS

  5. In my opinion & experience a 3 shot group is all I’ve ever needed for my hunting rifles. My hunting rifles include 308/223 AR’s,bolts & lever guns. A 10 shot group would be ideal for shooting targets & prairie dogs. My prairie dog weapon is a RRA coyote rifle that shoots 3/4″ 5 shot groups but @ 10 fast fired shots opens up to about 1.5″.

  6. Hey hey, for anyone who cares, performed an informal test this weekend. Savage .308 carbine.

    3 shot group, 1 total minute to complete string, just under 3/4 MOA.
    10 shot group, 4 minutes to complete string, just over 1.2 MOA.
    10 shot group, 10 minutes to complete string, just at 1 MOA.

    Barrel was properly cleaned with boresnake before testing, and then shot with 3 fouling rounds to verify zero. Rifle was allowed plenty of time to cool (20 minutes) after fouling and between strings.

    Don’t really know what it all means, though. No pictures, thermometer, chrony, micrometer, just a rifle, clock, and a ruler. I am a fairly consistent shooter, but I didn’t have anyone else shoot the rifle, now that I think about it, I wish I would have. What if I just pulled a few of those shots, and I’ve thrown off the data? Dang, I’ll have to go out next weekend and shoot some more. This is why I’m not getting paid to make gun videos for the internet.

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