How to Shoot Sub-MOA

By Mark Butler

There are a few rules for basic firearms handling and safety:

  • Keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction
  • Keep your firearm unloaded until ready to fire
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire
  • Wear appropriate eye and ear protection
  • Always be certain of your target before firing
  • Never operate a firearm under the influence of drugs or alcohol

However, the rule that is the most difficult to follow, and most frequently broken, involves accuracy:

  • Shoot safely and ethically
An ethical ‘kill’ shot while hunting will pierce the heart or brain, avoiding unnecessary suffering for the prey animal

This last rule might sound weird. Ethics are just for politicians and bankers, right? Wrong – shooting ethically means being responsible for wherever your bullets go. In the bush, ethical shots are lethal, and they put prey animals down immediately and humanely. Unethical shots hit the gut, or a limb, and cause the prey animal to suffer unnecessarily. On the range, ethical shooting means safe shooting, and it means complying with range etiquette. Shooting without sights, or missing your target entirely, is unsafe and unethical.

So how can this issue be solved? The answer is obvious – shoot as accurately as possible, and for that, it means trying to shoot sub-MOA, the gold standard of precision shooting. But what is MOA? And what is sub-MOA? Let’s discuss:

    MOA – Minute of Angle, or less commonly, Minute of Arc

    Sub-MOA – Shooting within the confines of 1 MOA in multiple groupings  

A shooter using a Sightmark Latitude to achieve Sub-MOA accuracy

If you’re shooting at a target from 100 yards away, and you consistently shoot within 1 inch of the bullseye, you’re Sub-MOA. If you’re shooting at a target 200 yards away, and you consistently shoot within 2 inches of the bullseye, you’re Sub-MOA.

You’re not Sub-MOA if you achieve this accuracy with 1 shot, however. To truly be Sub-MOA, a shooter needs to average 1 MOA or less in several groups.

This may sound simple, but achieving this feat requires a good deal of focus, education and energy. Rifles and scopes are not automatically ‘zeroed’ upon purchase, so a precision-minded shooter must do it for themselves. But how? What are the steps from purchasing a new rifle or scope to shooting Sub-MOA, and consequently, shooting ethically?

  1. Take your new (or used) rifle to a range
  2. Use an in-chamber boresight to get your rifle as close to zero as possible before using live ammunition (Sightmark offers a huge variety of in-chamber boresights)
  3. Boresight your weapon at 25 yards. If you’re not sure how, consult an expert or read this blog
  4. Fire at the target. Adjust your windage and elevation turrets as needed. Employ a friend with a spotting scope as needed (for accuracy-feedback without needing to pull in the target)
  5. Move the target back to 50 yards, repeat step 4
  6. Move the target back to 100 yards. At this distance, an in-chamber boresight won’t help very much because the red dot will be difficult to see, especially in daylight. Now, you’ll have to rely on live ammunition and a spotting scope
  7. Continue to adjust until you are shooting within a 1-inch grouping at 100 yards
  8. Achieve that same degree of accuracy over multiple shooting sessions
Laser boresights can help you shoot accurately and ethically

Firearm accuracy is an ongoing science. Different experts have different methodologies for achieving that elusive Sub-MOA score. Conditions like wind, precipitation, barrel quality, ammo quality and reticle all affect where a bullet goes.  Some firearms, like handguns, are nearly impossible to shoot Sub-MOA. For shooting purists, 1 MOA is not 1 inch at 100 yards – it is 1.047 inches at 100 yards. For simplicity sake, and assuming this blog is consumed by entry-level and moderately experienced shooters, we used the 1 MOA, 1 inch at 100 yards metric. For someone who is more interested in the physics than the general application, AmericanHunter has a great article on Sub-MOA.

Ethical, safe shooting is the goal. Responsible firearms users want their bullets to go exactly where they are aiming. It is not enough to merely ‘graze the animal’ or ‘hit near the target’. In inexperienced, impulsive hands, firearms can be exceptionally dangerous. For most people who want to enjoy their guns and shoot ethically, attempting to shoot Sub-MOA is a worthy goal. This means that not only do you want to be a better shooter, but you want to be among the best and never endanger innocent people with bad shots. Shooting Sub-MOA is like studying to get an ‘A’ in college – even if you don’t get the ‘A’, your efforts and concentration should earn a ‘B’ or ‘C’, and over time, you’ll eventually get those high marks on every single attempt.