How On Earth Did I Miss That Shot?

Written by Sierra Bullets Chief Ballistician Tommy Todd

Over the years I have been on a hunting trip or possibly even just out shooting and enjoying the outdoors with a fine rifle, and have experienced a flat-out miss when shooting at either a target of opportunity or an animal. Of course, the first thing that crosses my mind is “How on Earth did I miss that shot!?!

I’m notorious for saying after an unbelievable miss “I’d sell you that sight picture!” By which I mean that the crosshairs of the scope or the appearance of the sights were such that I would take the same shot again and again and expect perfect bullet impact and yet the dreaded MISS occurred.

An example of this scenario occurred a few years ago while my wife and I were antelope hunting in the great state of Wyoming. We have some friends that have a ranch up in the mountains and they allow us the privilege of hunting with them occasionally. This particular trip we had a foot of snowfall overnight. They were really excited as they seldom get the chance to hunt antelope in the snow and we were really excited as we seldom get to hunt antelope period.

We spotted a small herd of “goats” and executed a stalk on them and despite having to crawl for about a hundred yards, we got into a shooting position up on a knoll about 150 yards from the herd. I had a doe/fawn tag and after quietly watching the herd for awhile and a whispered discussion as to hopefully picking a doe out that did not have yearlings hanging with her still. A particular antelope was picked out and while the other three peeked over the sagebrush I steadied the gun for a shot on some shooting sticks. I was shooting a recently built 358 Winchester and was shooting Sierra’s 225 gr. Spitzer boattail bullets (#2850).

At the crack of the rifle the last thing I saw in the scope was perfect crosshair alignment and the rifle tracking straight back towards me. I expected excitement and high fives after the shot, instead my buddy said “I can’t believe you missed that doe that far!”  He watched the bullet hit WAY OVER her back. Now I’m not the best shot in the world, but I KNOW when I shoot a good sight picture and execute follow through. Immediately my mind started churning and the best we could come up with was possibly snow in the barrel. Remember the foot of new snow and the crawl to get into shooting position?

Upon returning to work I thought up a test to verify/or crush the theory that snow/water had gotten into the muzzle of my rifle and caused a wild shot. I did not have anything covering the muzzle and as you know a 35 caliber bore diameter is fairly large and could easily have gotten contaminated.

To test my theory, I loaded nine rounds of 308 Winchester ammunition. I utilized the 165 grain SBT bullet (#2145) and enough Accurate 2495 powder to shoot well (approximately 38 grains).* I then utilized a fouled 308 Winchester barreled action in one of our return-to-battery machine rests for the evaluation. This testing was conducted at 200 yards.

I fired three shots and documented the velocity at 2378 fps. I then fired three more shots but before each shot I placed a piece of electricians tape over the muzzle, this would effectively keep any water out of the barrel if placed properly. There was no accuracy or velocity change with the electricians tape in use as you can see.

DSCN1606 DSCN1611

Dipping_Barrel_in_WaterI had my right hand man in all things bullet related, Tony, dip the muzzle of the test rifle into a bucket of water before each of the next three shots.**

Shooting with the last eight inches or so of bore wet reduced the velocity of this load by 47 fps. As you can see from the target results below, you don’t want any water in your barrel if you intend to hit what you’re aiming at. I believe I found the reason that antelope doe escaped my efforts to transform her into table-fare.

2SpreadsLuckily for me, an hour after missing the first doe, I got another chance and made a very good shot on another antelope at approximately double the distance of the first attempt and the bullet hit precisely as intended. I’m betting that the barrel interior was wet the first time and dry on the second attempt. I have often heard the saying “keep your powder dry,” from my experience and this test, one could add “and your barrel!”

*Please note: While this load was safe in the rifle used in this article, it may not be safe in your specific firearm.

**If you think there might be any obstruction in your barrel, unload your gun and check.  Do not fire any firearm with the barrel obstructed in any way.

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48 Responses to How On Earth Did I Miss That Shot?

  1. Christopher Kuna says:

    GREAT story !!!! Would explain some of MY OWN misses !!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Randy Hillyer says:

    Very interesting! I am getting ready to go to Colorado in October for my first and maybe last Elk Hunt. I am considering it a Hunt of a lifetime. I have put in the work and made the best bullet that I know how to make, of course using a Sierra Gameking 150 grain, in a 270. I know I would rather be lucky than good but don’t want to leave anything to chance. Great story, as I have always wondered about moisture in a barrel and the effects it would have on a shot. I will be hunting from a wheelchair but just don’t tell me I am handicapped, cause it won’t set well! Ask Pilant!

    Like

    • E Libra says:

      As a Colorado resident and a avid elk hunter. I would suggest a larger bore rifle. Don’t get me wrong, you can kill an elk with a .270. But you better hit him perfect. I have seen them walk after being tagged with a 30.06 in the lungs for about 50 to 75 yards. I use a .308 and am told it is too small for elk. Most hunters here like .300 Winchester mags, .338’s or 7 mm mags.
      That being said best of luck to you.

      Like

      • Austin says:

        Antelope=/=elk.

        Like

      • Tim Mulgrew says:

        My friend has taken over 30 bulls with a .308 lever action Browning. My son took 2 bull elk and a large bull moose with a. 270. As long as the range is reasonable and MOST important -shot placement- I believe these calibers can be used successfully.

        Like

    • Tim says:

      Randy, I have been saving points for my favorite area in Colorado for 5 years and I should draw a bull tag for next season. Please don’t shoot my bull! hehehe.
      I am excited for your hunt. I imagine that you are a fantastic shot and I think that you will have a wonderful hunt with your custom bullet.
      By the way your 270 is plenty of rifle for elk… Nail ’em in the boiler room Buddy!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Paul Albert says:

      Randy, how did you make out last year with your 270? My step son is an Elk Guide in Colorado and almost exclusively has used a 270 for 35 years. I would suggest a good 130 grain bullet rather than the 150 because you will be able to shoot a flatter trajectory and possibly hit the mark better. I have heard many stories of folks out here killing Elk with 243’s and 6 mm’s with properly placed shots. There is no amount of extra caliber or bullet weight that is going to make up for poor shooting.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. DAVID RUPPEL says:

    Good test, I have missed easy shots at game and wondered how I missed. It was in typical Western Oregon Weather. RAIN rain and more rain. I am now wondering if my barrel had some water in it from the rain and wet brush. Hum? Finally an excuse for that miss! lol
    Rupe

    Liked by 1 person

  4. R.J. Burleson says:

    Guess you never watched the old military training films where the troops placed a “condom” over their muzzles to keep out the elements prior to engaging the enemy.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Larry Anderson says:

    Tommy I have always wondered if looking at the target through the scope could be like looking at a ram with open sights ? We both know what happens with pistols.

    Like

  6. Eric Rumpel says:

    Good story & good point-I have been making muzzle covers for 20 yrs. in an advertising form for gunshops & gunsmiths to hand out with purchases or sell inexpensively w/ their logo name & address silk screenes or printed on them-any how I was taught this 45 yrs. ago & yes that’s how important it is to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steve Hay says:

      I used to find little muzzle covers at the local black powder shop. We called them “Gundoms”. I think you can still find finger cots at office supply stores,they are latex and pretty much the same thing. But I always keep electrical tape in my hunting bag for this and other uses.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. larry gordon says:

    I have not had this issue as we always, regardless of weather “tape the barrel” with a high quality electrical tape. While this may cause some of you to cringe (it did me at first) we have shot every rifle we own with and without the tape and found no discrepancies as note by the author. The better quality of tape, of course, means little to any adhesive left on the barrel end, and the confidence that your weapon won’t be fouled. I have seen barrels packed with snow (once) explode when discharged. The results, while not deadly, were pretty ugly. Hope this helps…

    Like

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  9. Russ Clagett says:

    Excellent article…this mirrors my experience too…at first I didn’t like the thought of taping my muzzle..but if you think about it there is a column of air present in the barrel between the bullet and the muzzle so when you fire the column of air actually blast through the tape so the bullet never touches anything but crown….and in the meantime it does keep water out….

    Thanks for a great article…

    Like

  10. joe weber says:

    a balloon work great too

    Like

  11. Rachel says:

    What a great story, I can only imagine how confusing that must have been at first. I never knew that getting water in the barrel could have that much of an impact on a shot. I’ll have to keep that in mind next time, and keep my barrel dry. Thanks for the tip!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. My last Elk hunting trip (2015) in B.C. Canada, the guide (Logan) put black electrical tape over the end of my barrel and I thought he was NUTS. But I trusted the expert… He’s a very smart man!! That was the first time I’d ever seen or heard of that trick.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Bob Wright says:

    Was unaware of this problem. I believed the gas blowing past the lead in the barrel before rifling engagement of the bullet would have cleared moisture (in this case) before the bullet entered this section of the barrel.
    Good info!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Scott Lake says:

    You stated that the water in the barrel slowed the bullet down by 47 fps yet your partner said that you shot high over the back. Wouldn’t a decrease in velocity cause your bullet to go low as in the picture or did I miss something in the story?

    Liked by 1 person

    • The addition of moisture in the barrel affected velocity and accuracy, lower velocity should make the bullet impact low, the bullet impact due to inaccuracy overcame the physics of the lower velocity and caused a high shot. – Tommy Todd, Chief Ballistician

      Liked by 2 people

    • firstriverbend says:

      As Tommy Todd stated and you asked one would think it would be a low shot, however, something that many forget about is barrel harmonics. When you have a minor obstruction in the barrel, it really messes with the harmonics of the rifle. Depending on the distance one can experience a very low strike or a very high strike, because the barrel harmonic can go nuts, whipping around all over the place!
      Those barrels look tough and strong, but when the rifle, pistol, cannon or whatever, is fired, if you see it in very slow motion, it will look like it is made of jello! Very cool to see, kind of scary when you think about it as you pull the trigger.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Gary says:

    Good article, but did you know that there is an ad at the bottom that says”I am voting for Hillary” and has a place to input your name. ??? almost threw up. You probably don’t have control over the ads that show up on my computer, but I just thought you should know.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Any liquid in the bore when a rifle is fired constitutes a barrel obstruction. This includes cleaning solvents and “gun oil.” Liquids are essentially incompressible fluids. Not only will you miss your shot, but the barrel will very likely be damaged or destroyed. I have seen many old .22LR barrels that have been “ringed.” Before buying any old 22 rifle, I always check for that problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. DAVID RUPPEL says:

    What is “ringed” I haven’t heard of that before?

    Rupe

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim Boatright says:

      If you fire a round through an obstructed barrel, especially if that obstruction is air tight as with another bullet, the air column between the fired bullet and the plug reaches extreme pressures just before the two collide. This pressure far exceeds peak chamber pressure and can easily expand a region of the barrel permanently.

      Liked by 1 person

    • firstriverbend says:

      It looks just as it sounds, like a small ring or circle area, part way down the barrel. Does not always show on the outside of the barrel either. A common one to see is a bulged barrel on a shotgun. That is the same thing, but shows up more readily on the outside with the thinner barrel wall, like a shotgun has.
      Have one shotgun with a very small ring a couple of inches from the muzzle end on a double. Does not show on the outside though, as it has pretty thick walls. It is safe to shoot and I do not know if it effects the pattern, as it was purchased to use for Cowboy Action Shooting, where patterns have little merit.
      Many people have ringed barrels, just don’t know it or don’t care. It can be an issue but not always when it comes to safety of the firearm for further shooting.
      Hope this helps a bit.

      Like

  18. It happens with water and cleaning fluids also if you have a scope with tactical-type turrets (external adjusting with no caps) as the drums can catch in the gun slip or even in heavy cover as you push through and rotate off zero. It happened to me with my 6.5 Grendel, my Leupold VX 2 has M1 turrets and after pushing through some brush I set up to shoot and looked down at the windage drum and it had rotated 5-clicks off zero point, lucky I checked, but it’s all to easy to forget in the heat of the moment. I always tape my muzzle winter or summer as the air pressure in the bore blows the tape away before bullet contact.
    Pete Moore England

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Tape over the barrel has an unintended consequence, trapped condensation ! Taking a barrel from the cold outside into a warm damp hut causes condensation in the bore. When the same is taken outside it freezes until its shot . The second issue is if the barrel has been shot and condensation occurs on naked steel rust follows very quickly . I’ve see this here in NZ where taped muzzles are common . Best advice, do NOT cover the muzzle .

    Like

    • firstriverbend says:

      You are correct, it can cause its own set of problems. However, if a person chooses to tape the barrel, or place a balloon, condom, finger cot, etc… to prevent water, dirt or mud from entering the barrel. Then it is simply a matter of continuing to pay attention and take it off when going back inside or putting the firearm away for the day. It is really just about firearms maintenance, nothing more. I have done it when needed for decades and never had any issues, but I always took good care of what I was using, one of the reasons we have shotguns, rifles and pistol we use which are over a century old now. 🙂
      Someone else took care of them, as I continue to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. DAVID RUPPEL says:

    Thanks Jim B. for the info. on the ringed bore.

    Rupe

    Like

  21. John E Evans says:

    When water turns to steam it expands by a factor of 1600. I would assume this expansion would disrupt the bullets accuracy.

    Like

  22. Joe says:

    Tony was there with you while hunting…..
    Lol

    Like

  23. nathan says:

    That is very interesting. My grandfather always told me to put masking tape on the muzzle before walking through the bush to stop debris/snow from falling in while hunting this really shows the benefit and that he was right.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. fzbw9br says:

    I have had tape over my barrels for a LONG time.

    by the time I am done the season, my barrel has a big wad of tape on the end.

    it has never affected accuracy, ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Bill Shrimplin says:

    Good story good to know

    Like

  26. Heiner Freye says:

    Good article.
    This is the first we learn in hunters safety course in Germany.
    Its not only question of precision, its a question of safety.
    Parts in the barrel, even snow can occure a barrel blast with all known consquences.
    Stay safe.
    Regards from Germanistan
    😀

    Like

  27. Robert Hembrook says:

    I keep several strips of electrician’s tape on the stock of my hunting rifles, and change them regularly. I put tape over the barrel before I head out, and the spares are on the stock in case I get lucky enough to need to replace it after taking a shot.

    Thanks for the test showing the tape has no effect on velocity or accuracy.

    Like

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