I write this piece with military formations in mind, but the capability applies to all shooters- whether hunters, competitive shooters, or armed professionals. Most of you likely read the title and said, “of course shot group size matters”, but many out there probably don’t know why. This is for them.

There has been quite a bit on zeroing to hit the net again lately. Everyone is all up in arms over what zero is best. I’m already on record in multiple places saying it depends, so there’s that. But that’s not what this is about. This post is about printing good groups because your zero won’t much matter if you can’t print well enough to get quality hits at X distance (or even get a solid zero) anyway.  

Shot Grouping Standards

I came up in the Army with a 4 cm group at 25 meters being the standard. This equates to “minute of man” at 300 meters. That standard is also why the M4-series carbine has a published maximum effective range (MER) (point target) of 500 meters- the distance at which an average trained Soldier is expected to have a 50% probability of hit. The MER has little or nothing to do with the mechanical accuracy of the weapon or its ammunition. MER encompasses the combination of shooter, weapon, and ammunition. This is telling since many of us have taken shots well beyond 500 meters with AR-pattern carbines and know the weapon is fully capable of producing hits at greater ranges. Terminal effects at extended ranges may be in question, but the capability to get hits is not.

25m MOA Multipurpose Target
Rite in the Rain 9129, photo courtesy Rite in the Rain.

In designing the current target, national stock number (NSN) 6920-01-660-9191 (and an updated/improved variant now designated NSN 6920-01-660-0348), the 4 cm ring remained because of the standard (and resistance to changing the standard- people said going to 4 MOA would be too diffictult), but I added a smaller dotted ring to put a 4 MOA goal into play. Training Circular (TC) 3-20.40 published in 2019, using the legacy ring (now designated 6 MOA) as the “threshold” standard and 4 MOA as the “objective” or goal. The objective is certainly a step in the right direction. However, I firmly believe 4 MOA should be the baseline standard any time a grouping exercise or rifle qualification (from supported positions) is conducted. Why? The reason is lethality. A not-so-obvious but still important consideration is the fact that greater precision serves to somewhat mitigate concerns of collateral damage.

US Army grouping standards, TC 3-22.40, 2019
Table E-14, US Army TC 3-20.40
Example of 25m Shot Groups
Example of decent (left)and marginally acceptable (right) shot groups at 25 meters using the 4 MOA standard. Note the group on the left is 10 rounds and has had a 300m ballistic offset applied. The 5 round group on the right is on the Rite in the Rain 9130 target which was designed for mil-based optics.

So What?

Many articles have published describing the Army’s search for a next gen service weapon. They have publicly stated the goal is a 600-meter capability for all Soldiers, seeking overmatch capability. The Army is also seeking next gen fire control (optics). Some optics under development range the target and present an articulated reticle with the ideal point of aim projected. Some will even lock on and not release the shot until the shooter attains the aiming solution. The desired technologies may not even be fully mature by the time units begin receiving their new weapons. The Army is in fact seeking a solution in the near term as well, focusing on a variable power optic; the Marine Corps is also fielding a similar solution

What does this mean? It’s going to be a software solution (the computer being between the operator’s ears) at least in the near term. A 600m MER is easily attainable now but requires improved training and standards. American warfighters can leverage current technology to easily build that 600m capability. They can better leverage the technological solutions when they arrive by already being capable and having the technology to aid them in finding holds. They still won’t get the desired hits if they can’t repeatedly produce the necessary precision before the technology provides the aiming solution. That is, unless the fire control system waits for the proper aiming solution to release the shot, which under certain circumstances can be can be detrimental of course. So, where does 4 MOA come into this equation? It enters right here. Many may think it’s just a matter of just having better fidelity in the zero or being able to show who is a better shooter. However, the shot group size matters and translates to quality hits downrange and at greater distances. Maintaining a 4 MOA shot group standard gets us to 600m.



Hit Probability Comparison at Distance
Hit Probability Comparison at Distance

Let’s use the dimensions of the E-type silhouette and the A zone of IDPA or USPSA targets as reference points. A 4 MOA standard results in a cone that covers vital zones to 200m and torso hits to 425m. At 600m, the same 4 MOA cone produces a 70% probability of hit if the shooter uses the correct holds for complex engagements (considering winds and distance- movers are another challenge). The average trained individual who maintains a 4 MOA shot group has a 50% probability of hit to 850m if using proper holds. Teaching holds is admittedly a deeper level of training and education than is common today, but it’s far from impossible. Add the technological aids listed in the capabilities requirements for the next gen optic and the effective range stretches to 141% of the requirement simply by requiring shooters to consistently produce better shot groups.

100-500 Meter
100-500 meter <4MOA performance illustrated using IDPA targets. Aiming errors are primarily in elevation due to observations of most shooters' errors. (Author's note: I attempted to do this multiple times at distance using different positions, firing cadences, and ammunition. I couldn't de-tune my performance to 4MOA without completely throwing my entire shot process in the trash, which gave me greater than 4 MOA. These targets were marked with pasters and the pasters shot at 25 meters for illustrative purposes. Shot group sizes for distance were measured with the Ballistic-X app and rounded to the nearest .1 MOA.)

How does a ~1M strong organization get there?

How do we achieve the 4 MOA goal across so large an organization, with resource constraints considered? Many will say it’s a bridge too far, and many others will scream for more KD ranges, more ammunition, and all manner of other things. The answer is much, much simpler. The Army already has multiple programs of record that can assist without any new expenditures. These include the Soldier and Squad Virtual Trainer (S/SVT), Engagement Skills Trainer (EST) and other less common solutions such as the Gunfighter Gym. Simply holding shooters to a better standard before going live increases their capability. Leaders and/or trainers accomplish this by holding shooters to a 3 or even 2 MOA standard in the S/SVT or EST. Enforcing a 3 MOA standard in the S/SVT or EST is reasonable as these use lasers and are independent of ammunition or weapon tolerances.  

Dry fire is free as is having leaders teach things like ballistics and holds; dry fire also requires no range or simulations suite resources. MantisX is already a known quantity for diagnosing the shot process, all but aim. Add their new product for the AR-pattern rifle and you can get that as well using a laser in conjunction with dry fire targets to work the entire shot process. If the Mantis isn’t a doable solution, the AN/PEM-1 is already in arms rooms and can be collimated to the optic for dry fire practice with downrange feedback using the pulse setting. All we need now is trainers who understand the concepts and can articulate them to their subordinates.

Producing 4 MOA shooters isn’t difficult. It does require trainers who understand how to teach the shot process and pull performance out of their people. I spent a few days with a group of Army shooters last year. They began in the EST averaging about 5 MOA shot groups with one who was struggling at about 7 MOA; at the end of two days, one being on a range, every one of them was holding consistent sub- 4MOA shot groups (5 rounds) at 300m from the prone unsupported position. Being a 4 MOA shooter with a rifle or carbine isn’t that difficult either. It’s easy. Kids get training and do it all the time at events like those conducted by Project Appleseed. There is no reason Soldiers who must remain proficient with their weapons shouldn’t be able to. There is no reason leaders shouldn’t enforce it. Doing so only enhances overmatch, the dictionary definition being, “to be larger in number, stronger, better, etc. than someone or something”. To neglect doing so only marginalizes material solutions under development and continues to place our warfighters in more danger than necessary by failing to provide superior capability.

Text and graphics Copyright © Canebrake Consulting Services, LLC. Non-profit use is authorized with proper attribution.
Mike Lewis on Email
Mike Lewis
Mike Lewis is a trainer and consultant focusing on education and skill development with small arms weapons systems and lethality. He served as an Infantryman in the United States Army for 20 years, seeing overseas duty in the Republic of Korea and deployments to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. His last assignment in uniform was serving as the 82nd Airborne Division Small Arms Master Gunner (SAMG). As the 82nd Airborne Division SAMG, Mike developed and improved training strategies for the Division and consulted with the Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, GA, on improvements to training, doctrine, and small arms weapons systems. He has continued to collaborate on training and doctrine with the Maneuver Center of Excellence, and has presented training and education programs to military formations several times since retiring from the Army in 2015, focused on leader development and individual/ small unit lethality. In addition to working in training and education, he works with industry to leverage technology against capability and training gaps, with the goal of enhancing individual and small unit lethality in American military formations. Mike holds a graduate certificate in adult education and is pursuing a Master's of Education with a concentration in adult learning and talent development.
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