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The Top 5 Rifle Myths

Testing the M14S Rifle Myths

There are commonly quoted statements that just aren’t true. They may have once been true, but aren’t anymore.

It might have been granddad’s truism that little Johnny bought as gospel, or it might have been like the wrist-clamp grip for magnum-revolver shooting.

At one time, it was how things were done, but evidence has proven the fallacy of the idea.

Here are the top five rifle myths that have perpetrated the firearms world:

Myth #1: You need a magnum rifle to hunt big game.

This could not be further from the truth. If you want to buy a .300 Win Mag, 7mm Remington Magnum or a .243 WSSM, be my guest. However, they are far from required to be successful in the deer woods.

The very slow rainbow trajectory (comparatively speaking) .30-30 Winchester is a very effective deer slayer as long as you stay within its practical kill zone, roughly 150 yards.

I am not saying you can’t take deer at 200 yards with your Marlin 336, just the drop chart starts becoming vertical.

If you are hunting at extended ranges (past 500 yards), the flatter-shooting magnum cartridges might have a distinct advantage. This is similar to taking the .30-30 past 150 yards.

With a much flatter-shooting cartridge, the odds of hitting are better for the average hunter. Unfortunately, the cost to shoot goes up, as does the recoil penalty.

Both of these make it less likely that enough rounds have gone downrange to stay in practice for that shot distance.

Not to mention most U.S. hunters do not have shots beyond 200 yards, making this one of the more outlandish rifle myths.

three rifle cartridges increasing in size

Myth #2: A longer barrel is more accurate than a shorter barrel.

All things being equal, the opposite is true. Let’s assume a straight-contour barrel for a 6.5 Creedmoor with a barrel diameter of 0.800”.

I know you have never seen, nor will you see, such a barrel, but work with my illustration. My hunting rifles typically have a 24” barrel.

If we lock that barrel in a vice and hang a 50-pound weight from the muzzle end, we will see a certain amount of deflection caused by the weight. We will assume it is three inches.

If we take the exact same barrel and chop it down to 16.5”, we will in effect, reduce the leverage of the weight. This means the barrel is stiffer and the flex drops to 1.5 inches.

The increased effective stiffness decreases recoil-induced barrel whip. Less barrel whip means an increase in precision, so the bullets are more likely to hit where aimed.

The thing most people notice is, with the 24” barrel, the bullet velocity is 300+ fps faster. The increased speed makes for a flatter trajectory, which means distance matters less and so does shooter error in range estimation.

The bullet may be more likely to hit a distant target from a longer barrel, but it is mostly due to the effects of range miscalculation, not the precision of the barrel.

A longer barrel can be made as precise as the shorter barrel. The method of doing so is to increase the width of the contour and thus the weight of the barrel. This increases the stiffness.

I did this with a factory Remington 700. The factory barrel is a very light contour with the muzzle tapered to 0.600”.  The barrel shot horribly. Groups at 100 yards were just over two inches.

The group size grew to almost ten inches at 300 yards. Simply replacing the factory barrel (0.600” at the muzzle) with a heavy, hunting (0.830” at the muzzle) Shilen barrel, decreased group sizes to 0.60” and a bit under three inches respectively.

In fairness, part of the equation is the higher-quality machining from the Shilen barrel. The extra 0.115” added to the radius of the barrel adds a significant amount of stiffness, as well as weight.

For comparison, the factory barrel weighs roughly 2.5 pounds, the Shilen replacement weighs five pounds. This is one of the more complex rifle myths.

rifle barrels

Myth #3: There is no such thing as too much gun.

For most people, this means shooting a fatter bullet at faster speeds is always better. Let me start by telling you, I am a fan of recoil, but it has its limits.

Even those who like recoil and utilize a proper shooting stance, at a certain point it wears on you. For those who are recoil (or muzzle blast) sensitive, it can cause flinching and a large percentage of misses.

I used to hunt with a guy who upgraded his hunting rifle every year or two when a new uber-thumper caliber came out. He always had the “coolest” gun in hunting camp.

Unfortunately, he almost never came back with a deer. On one hunting trip, he packed last year’s ammo for this year’s rifle.

Needless to say, that wasn’t going to work, and finding ammo for his .243 WSSM wasn’t going to happen in very rural Georgia.

I had a spare .270 Winchester with me. We took it over to the zero range and confirmed zero at 100 yards and drop at 200 yards. His first comment was that the rifle shot so smooth.

Within ten rounds he was comfortably hitting at 200 yards. That weekend he shot a buck and a doe. His normal weekend was two or three missed deer.

He didn’t learn the lesson until his next trip using the .25 WSSM. He shot at two deer and missed both of them.

He now hunts with a .270 or a .308, both because ammo is easy to find and he realized great ballistic numbers don’t help if you flinch each time you pull the trigger.

This is one of those rifle myths some shooters choose to ignore.

woman holding large AR rifle

Myth #4: Increased power means increased recoil.

For each action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is very true, but there are ways to mitigate that opposite reaction off your shoulder.

The simplest method of taming recoil is to add an effective muzzle brake. I use the word effective because all brakes are not created equally.

A good brake can remove 30% or more from the recoil impulse. The problem is that energy goes somewhere, and that is into a huge side blast and greatly increased report.

If I shoot a .308 without a muzzle brake, I can set a can of soda a few inches to the side of the muzzle and it doesn’t really affect the can.

Do the exact same thing with a very effective brake and you might pop the can open. You will definitely knock it off the table. This effect only increases with a more powerful caliber.

Another way to reduce the felt recoil is to use a suppressor. This is very effective in spreading out the recoil impulse on very high-velocity rounds.

It certainly will not make them quiet, but it will almost eliminate muzzle blast and will not increase the report. The downside is, the suppressor is usually fairly long and heavy for uber-thumper calibers.

This may require an adjustment in zero, as it may affect the whip of the barrel. Many states allow hunting with suppressors, but confirm before you do.

This is one of those rifle myths some people just don’t seem to understand.

muzzle break

Myth #5: At distance, a light bullet is more accurate than a heavy one.

First, we have to define distance. If long-distance for you is 300 yards, you may well be “right.” For the rest of us shooting well past 500 yards, that is definitely not true.

The premise is that a lighter projectile can be pushed faster. Faster is flatter, so it is easier to be precise.

This is true until the point where the lighter bullet’s energy drops, and heavier bullets are better at resisting wind changes. This is one of the rifle myths with many factors to consider.

Each caliber is different, as are the weight choices, but there is a reason people who take 5.56 to 800 yards single-chamber 85+ grain bullets instead of 35-grain options.

At 100 yards, the 35-grain choice might be the same or better. Past 300-400 yards, the velocity is going to level out. Thus, you have a very light bullet traveling at the same velocity as a bullet that weighs three times as much.

Very simple math indicates the lighter bullet is going to dance in any wind compared to the heavier one. It also loses speed faster, so its drop chart is much more rapid.

Bolt action rifle on camo mat
Both of these make for much less fidelity between point of aim and point of impact.

Some numbers using 5.56 Nosler bullets, assuming a 15-mph crosswind:

  • A 35-grain Ballistic tip with a BC of 0.201 at 3,890 fps
  • An 85-grain BTHP with a BC of 0.498 at 2,475 fps

At 350 yards, the 35-grain bullet is down to 2190 fps with 12.9” of drop and 24” of wind drift. The 85-grain projectile has a velocity of 2183 fps with 23.9” of drop and has 7.3” of wind drift.

At 800 yards, the numbers for the 35-grain bullet are 995 fps with 209.7” of drop and wind drift of 189”. The 85-grain option has a velocity of 1835 fps with 188.7” of drop and 41.4” of wind drift.

On a side note, the 35-grain bullet went through the transonic zone at roughly 700 yards. The transonic zone tends to create odd trajectory effects, which tends to increase the dispersion of groups.

Another potential consideration, at 800 yards, the retained energy of the 35-grain bullet (assuming it hasn’t started tumbling) is 77 ft/lbs. The 85-grain bullet has 636 ft/lbs.

As a comparison, a 4.5” barrel 9mm Luger puts out roughly 400-450 ft/lbs of energy with a 124-grain bullet.

This may be one of the most contested rifle myths.

Do you have any common rifle myths that you know are wrong? Tell us about them in the comments section below!

About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (20)

  1. “Joe” 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 Grendel are two different cartridges the Grendel is designed to fit in an AR15 and uses a .223 case . The Creedmoor is based on a .308 case. they are not interchangeable even in bolt guns.
    I hope this helps.

  2. Why are you comparing an arbitrary 35 gr 5.56mm (which isn’t commonly used as 55gr or 62gr)?

    Sure the 85gr will range better, but it seems silly and artificial to use a hyper-light round in the comparison – when most people say “light”, they mean light compared to higher caliber rounds like .308s, not mouse loads

  3. As far as weight is concerned, light weight isn’t as important to me as balanced weight. Most off-the-shelf ARs I shoulder feel front heavy. And that’s before you factor in all the handguard accessories people stick on them. I want enough ballast in the back that the rifle’s CoG is somewhere over the shooting hand, so the support hand only needs to keep the foreend balanced and doesn’t fatigue from having to actively hold it up.

    That said, I still wouldn’t take my 15-pound AR-10 mountain hunting. 🙂

  4. Hey Joe,

    The Grendel cartridge is meant for an AR-15, the Creedmoor for the bigger magwell of an AR-10. They’re in no way interchangeable, even though they use the same caliber of bullet.

  5. Everything is myth until the person understands what his/her/its rifle and paired ammo can and will do. My hunting rifle is a Ruger model 77 in 30-06. I started with 150 gr ammo but moved on to my favorite, 165 gr. I studied the ballistics and practiced with this ammo out to comfortable distance of 200 yards. Of the deer I took with this round, all but one were under 50 yards. The farthest one was at a walked off distance of ~ 300 yards. Wind blowing 15 mph, and gusting. I assumed the hold horizontally and vertically over the target using my knowledge of the ammo ballistics, and hit the deer right behind the front shoulder. Knowledge is power. Everything else is myth.

  6. Your barrel discussion is imperfect. Accuracy is primarily a barrel’s vibration characteristic matching the the round. People tuning hand loads are primarily matching the round to the barrel vibration. A factory rifle sent back for inaccuracy will sometimes be returned shortened slightly to match vibration to factory ammo. Older military rifles quite often have a damaged or worn out crown which will always screw up accuracy. Backboring creates a new internal crown. Barrel heat always affects point of aim, but since hunting is usually cold barrel first shot, hot barrel accuracy is not a consideration. Military guns, especially tank guns, have a full cover creating a thermal shroud, so heat soak is evenly distributed in continuous firing. A heavy barrel just deflects less on the second and third shot because it heats slower than a thin one, along with lower vibration amplitude, but those will also change point of aim as they heat. That leaves material characteristics, design, clearances, heat dissipation and other stuff for the next discussion.

  7. In Colorado, another aspect of choosing a rifle is weight; most definitely if you are hunting elk in the mountains. There is a lot of terrain where you will be hunting in excess of 9000 feet and sometimes 10000 feet.
    At almost 2 miles above sea level your ability to haul a heavy weapon, pack, equipment etc diminishes greatly. You need a weapon you can effectively carry and operate in those conditions.
    Also, as was the case when I was in the Army, train as you fight.
    If you are in the mountains, try to practice in the mountains. Depression shots, wind, swirling wind, variable temperature etc.

  8. The ‘standard’ setup for conventional bench rest has been a thick 20 inch barrel for decades. Longer barrels have been tried, but lost out.

    The advantages of a long barrel are higher velocity, and a longer sight radius if you are using iron sights. Neither of these matters for most hunting rifles.

  9. I live in Montana. I have tried some magnum rounds but didn’t like them. I use my trusty Remington 700 in . 270. I have killed deer at 400 yards and elk at 350 yards. Dropping them where they stood.

  10. Never considered deer big game. Moose or buffalo, yes. For the later a 300 wing works just fine. Caribou are often a long shot. Watched a guy with a 45-70, and a great deal of skill, hit them just fine at 500yd. It was an honor to see him shoot.

  11. Seems to me that more barrel twist rate should be considered for .223 or 5.56 bullets that weigh as much as 85 grains, but I didn’t see that mentioned. Also, Don Hayward’s comment on matching the rifle to topography was well-stated.

  12. Another myth mention—-That Mosin Nagant rifle I was talking about, so accurate. It had a 1” backbored muzzle, which was performed by a Russian armory AFTER the barrel had been shot out…guessing. You always here the surplus guys saying “Don’t buy a backbored surplus rifle.”
    Properly done, a lot of things just work.

  13. I’ve seen newer Remington 700’s that didn’t group well, but the one’s made in the 1970’s have always grouped great—-3 bullet holes touching at 100 yards. But then again, I’ve also seen an original China made 1966 Norinco Paratrooper SKS 16” Carbine do the same group….as well as a modern year 2000 FEG AK47, and one Mosin Nagant rifle, in particular. Simply because a rifle is of a battle configuration, never just assume it isn’t accurate. I love my 1976 Remington 700 7mm Magnum,all original, very accurate—— but I’ve also seen some unbelievable groups from rifles that REALLY should not be able to group like that. I’m sure you have too..

  14. I’m new to the 6.5. The ammo I received with it is 6.5 Grendel. I can order ammo online however locally we are out but we have plenty of 6.5 creedmoor ammo. Can I use both anmo’s in my 6.5.

  15. MYTH- Flat shooting means the bullet doesn’t drop.
    30 years ago when we were barely 20 years old, my hunting companion showed up on opening day with a brand new 7mm magnum. He had sited it dead on at 100 yards and told me he could hold the crosshairs “on” out to 1000 yards because it was “flat shooting”. Lol. Well, needless to say, he was a little confused when he missed a buck at 300 yards that morning.

  16. Articles such as this are greatly appreciated by this seventy-seven year old guy.
    With so many changes in firearms (and everything else) over the 68 years I’ve been shooting and/or or owning firearms, it was good to be reading comfortably at my kitchen table while nudging my knowledge towards current technology and equipment!
    Thank you for sharing your expertise, experience and training.

  17. #2, #4, #5 “myths” may turn out to be absolutely true depending on the rifles and the loads used.
    #2: Did you let the fly-rod barrel cool to ambient between shots when shooting the huge groups? Heat is a significant factor with a low-mass barrel, more so than mass and/or stiffness on some rifles.
    #4: The simplest method of taming recoil is a recoil pad which upsets or affects none of the shooting characteristics of the rifle or the load used.

  18. I have seen, and own, such a barrel. The 22″ creedmoor on my AR-10 is straight contour and 0.920″ at the muzzle. At 8 lbs, the barrel alone weighs more than many complete rifles. 🙂

  19. Not a “myth” but some comment on topography and actual field conditions might be useful when considering a rifle choice. Typically in the woods of the northeast and many other areas of the country the over 200 yard trajectory ballistics are close to irrelevant for the rifle choice. The shotgun season for residents in MA prohibits rifle use and as a practical matter has little to no effect on the deer harvest at all.
    It does seem to me that topography and field conditions should be the primary factors in selecting rifle choice and in fact the addition of a slug barrel to any gauge shotgun may well be a better choice from an economic perspective as well. A 4/10 being the exception.

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