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How unskilled shooters with poor rifles get hits when marksmen can’t. Login/Join 
Freethinker
Picture of sigfreund
posted
This is a general discussion about the topic and not about any particular incident, so please keep the discussion to that. In specific incidents there are usually factors that influence the outcome besides what this thread is about, but I’m not addressing those. This thread is about ballistics and shooter skill.

Something that often comes up in discussions about shootings is “How could he have done that? He was a poor shot using a crappy gun, and even skilled marksmen have never been able to duplicate his feat.” It’s a question that’s been asked over and over for decades, and I read the same statement just recently in a book by a former military sniper who was convinced that his inability to accomplish the same thing meant that the official explanation of an assassination must be incorrect.

How are such things possible? Glad you asked:

For this discussion, assume we have two rifles, one that’s extremely precise and accurate*, and is capable of delivering 0.2 minute of angle shot groups centered on the point of aim every time it’s used. The other rifle is a much less precise 3 MOA rifle. We also have two shooters, one (the marksman) who is highly skilled and aims the gun at exactly the same place every time, and the other who doesn’t. Finally, we have our target which is a 4 inch circle located 100 yards from the shooters.

* (Precision is the ability to shoot small groups; accuracy is hitting the target.)

The below illustration shows the hits that might be achieved by the skilled marksman using the two rifles (the illustrations are not exactly to scale; they are to demonstrate the points, not be used for precise measurements). Each × represents a bullet hit. The black dot is the point of aim for each shot. The five shot group on the left that’s aimed at the center of the target is with the 0.2 MOA rifle; the one on the right is a possible group fired with the 3 MOA rifle. Note that all shots with either rifle hit the 4 inch target, and therefore although only the first rifle is precise, both are accurate by my definition.





The next illustration shows a couple of possible groups fired with the same two rifles but when the rifles are fired with the point of aim outside the targets, or about 2.5 inches from their centers.





Now all the shots with the precise rifle will miss. The reasons for the point of aim to be outside the target could be that the shooter was not skilled; the circumstances of the shot made precise aiming impossible, such as with a moving, partially obscured target; or there was some combination of the two. On the other hand, shots with the imprecise rifle and the same offset point of aim might hit the target due to chance and the larger dispersion of its shots.

Another possibility that is seldom, if ever, discussed is that the rifle involved is relatively precise—let’s say it and the ammunition are a 2 MOA combination, but that the sight is really poorly zeroed and the center of that 2-inch group at 100 yards is 8 inches from the point of aim. A skilled marksman who kept aiming perfectly at the center of a 4 inch target for every shot would never hit closer than 5 inches from the target. A poor shooter, however, whose point of aim was wandering over a large circle might get a hit by chance. In one famous incident the shooter’s first (or possibly second) point of aim was so bad that the shot missed an entire car at less than 100 yards, and yet two other shots hit his target.

Scoring hits by chance is something that virtually every shooter has experienced, but not all of us recognize the fact. A man I knew once described the tiny three-shot cloverleaf group he achieved with a 243 Winchester rifle, and after drawing the group on a piece of paper he announced that he had never fired the rifle again. So, what did that one group demonstrate about the precision of the rifle or the skill of the shooter? If you answered, “Nothing,” congratulations for getting the right answer. We have no way of knowing what his previous groups were like, what groups consisting of more shots would have been like, or what his groups would have been like if he had continued to shoot the rifle.

The inability of highly skilled shooters using an atrocious rifle and sight to achieve a killing hit on a moving head at 80 to 100 yards does not prove that a moderately skilled assassin could not have accomplished the feat by simple chance—good luck for him, and bad luck for the victim.




“The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
— Bertrand Russell
 
Posts: 42079 | Location: 10,150 Feet Above Sea Level in Colorado | Registered: April 04, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I'm not sure I fully understand what you're trying to say. I will however, take exception to your characterization of a rifle as both precise and accurate. A rifle, ammo, and sight combination can be very precise, but it has nothing to do with accuracy. The accuracy come from the rifle SYSTEM, which also includes the shooter, the most imprecise item in the system.

When you started with two rifles and then talked about two shooters, I was expecting you to show groups from the second shooter, the poor one. When I saw the second illustration showing a tight group outside the target, I first thought that you would be attributing these groups to the poor shooter. I was ready to pounce and say that a precise rifle shot by a poor shooter would be hard pressed to be described as precise. Indeed it would be difficult to decide which rifle produced which groups when shot by a poor shooter.

But you didn't bring in the second shooter, so never mind.
 
Posts: 3126 | Location: Texas | Registered: June 20, 2012Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Freethinker
Picture of sigfreund
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When Townsend Whelen said that only “accurate” rifles were interesting, he was obviously referring to their ability to produce small groups—if, of course, they were loaded with the proper ammunition. In recent times, however, some ballisticians such as Bryan Litz and other precision rifle shooters have decided to clearly differentiate between small groups, which they now refer to as “precision,” and the ability to hit the target, which is “accuracy.” A shot group can be precise, accurate, both, or neither in the new lexicon—and which I have adopted.

In the above illustrations, the upper left is precise and accurate. The upper right is imprecise (relatively) but accurate. The lower left is precise but inaccurate. The lower right is imprecise and inaccurate. If I understand you correctly, I agree that a rifle cannot be accurate by itself any more than it can fire itself. Although I may have been careless with the usage, by “accurate” I am referring to where the groups are in relation to the target; if they are centered on the target, then it is an accurate group. On the other hand, a rifle and its sight and ammunition can be inaccurate for a shooter if they are not capable of hitting the shooter’s intended target. For example, as I recall the rifle Kennedy’s killer used was not zeroed, could not be zeroed, and had a poor scope in a flimsy mount. Even though the rifle required a shooter to operate, it was generally characterized as being “inaccurate” in the sense I’m now using the word by the investigators who examined and tested it, as well as not being very precise.

Although I may not have expressed myself as well as I’d like, my point is to illustrate how chance can sometimes produce accurate results: i.e., hitting the target, and why that is so. To reiterate, depending upon the shooter, a rifle that produces large shot groups (is “imprecise”) can hit the target due to large bullet dispersion even if the point of aim is off whereas a highly precise rifle wouldn’t do that because all the shots would hit close to the point of aim.

As for the second shooters, I referred to them in discussing the second illustration as someone whose point of aim was off the target (“the shooter was not skilled”), and in the next paragraph as a shooter who was not controlling his rifle properly (“A poor shooter”) and who therefore might score a hit by chance even with a very badly zeroed gun.

I did not discuss precise rifles much more than to compare their theoretical groups because the focus of my post was on how imprecise rifles and unskilled shooters can sometimes achieve results by chance that a good shot with a precise rifle wouldn’t—which is something that was reportedly true of efforts to replicate the results of the shooter in the Kennedy assassination.

Sorry if some of that is confusing; I try but don’t always succeed.




“The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
— Bertrand Russell
 
Posts: 42079 | Location: 10,150 Feet Above Sea Level in Colorado | Registered: April 04, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
fugitive from reality
Picture of SgtGold
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Without going into a lot of math I can tell you that even a poor shooter will shoot that one group or make that one shot. The fact that it's statistically possible means it will happen given enough attempts. But it's also not repeatable, so they will shoot many many many more crap groups attempting to replicate their one big shot or tight group. I've seen it happen and I've done it myself.


_____________________________
'I'm pretty fly for a white guy'.

 
Posts: 6641 | Location: Newyorkistan | Registered: March 28, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Picture of YellowJacket
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That's a lot of words to just say "luck."

Sometimes when I play golf, I misread a putt and think it's going to break left more than it does. But then maybe I pull the putt and it goes in anyways. Or I don't play enough break but then I hit it too hard.

With anything that has multiple variables (rifle, sight, shooter, conditions) it is very possible for 2 wrongs to actually make a right.



"The frost on the ground probably envies the frost on the trees."
 
Posts: 9086 | Location: Marietta, GA | Registered: February 10, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Freethinker
Picture of sigfreund
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quote:
Originally posted by YellowJacket:
That's a lot of words to just say "luck."


Yes, but very often that’s what’s required to get the message across. And what I am attempting is to not only say it was luck, but to explain how luck can manifest itself.

I have read many accounts of various shootings like the Kennedy assassination and I have literally never seen that factor offered as even partial explanation for what the killers accomplished. Various accounts challenging the obvious truths of the matters have focused on every other imaginable factor from the supposed low skill level of the shooters to their grossly imprecise weapons, but not one that I’ve read has acknowledged that sometimes even a blind hog finds a nut. For some strange reason many people can’t recognize the effects of chance, or actively refuse to accept how it affects everything we do.

And that’s true not only of the original conspiracists who are mostly dead now, but as I mentioned, very recently a former military sniper made the same claim all over again: Well, I couldn’t have made that shot, so obviously no one else could have either.

Congratulations to you for understanding the point of my post; I strongly suspect that many will skim through it and say, “Huh?” That’s very common, but perhaps a few will find something to actually think about that they never considered before.




“The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
— Bertrand Russell
 
Posts: 42079 | Location: 10,150 Feet Above Sea Level in Colorado | Registered: April 04, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Yeah, that M14 video guy...
Picture of benny6
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Great post! The point is, the average shooter may be better off with an average, and fairly accurate rifle.

When your skill outperforms the rifle, then it's time to upgrade. Most want the upgraded equipment before the upgraded skill.

Tony.


Owner, TonyBen, LLC, Type-01 FFL
www.tonybenm14.com (Site under construction).
e-mail: tonyben@tonybenm14.com
 
Posts: 3845 | Location: USA | Registered: February 13, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Web Clavin Extraordinaire
Picture of Oat_Action_Man
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What you're saying is similar to the example from the Blackhawk Down incident where, IIRC, Earl Fillmore was killed. As described in the book, he just caught a round in the head. The likelihood of some random Somali with an AK deliberately picking him out and executing a headshot on a moving target is nonexistent. It was just "luck" that he and the round were in the same place at the same time that day and it was an instantly fatal hit.


----------------------------

Chuck Norris put the laughter in "manslaughter"

Educating the youth of America, one declension at a time.
 
Posts: 18698 | Location: SE PA | Registered: January 12, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Gracie Allen is my
personal savior!
posted Hide Post
quote:
For some strange reason many people can’t recognize the effects of chance, or actively refuse to accept how it affects everything we do.

Big Grin IMHO, you'll see the same thing in several fields. Engineers proudly claim to eliminate all reliance on luck, archaeologists have no idea how to quantify luck in statistical regression analysis, and doctors invariably mutter about "science we haven't figured out yet".

Perhaps the bit about not being able to quantify it is the reason why. We have no way of predicting the impact of luck and may have no way of objectively proving it's role in any given event. Since admitting that doesn't make anyone look good and can be frustrating for the analyst, perhaps we all just tacitly agreed to ignore it somewhere back around the dawn of the Age of Reason.

Then again, the impulse to attribute improbable events to dark but unknown causative forces also seems to have a lot of fans among members of the human species.
 
Posts: 24375 | Location: Deep in the heart of the brush country, and closing on that #&*%!?! roadrunner. Really. | Registered: February 05, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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never discount 'the X Factor'. When I trained MMA we called it the 'Punchers Chance'...

I used to sit through intense Airborne Brigade level planning sessions.

I remember always thinking -- the actual operation will not go down like this. And it never did.

Be skilled in the fundamentals and the overall commander's intent / concept of the operation. Unit Battles Drills should be second nature.

But I respect the difference between 'accuracy' and 'precision'.

Personally -- I want accuracy. The purists can strive for precision. Good for them.

--------------------------------------------------


Proverbs 27:17 - As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
 
Posts: 7941 | Location: Florida | Registered: September 20, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I once shot a very small group with a really common rifle. The much older shooter i was talking with said. “Just remember, that you can throw a shot into a group just as well as you can thow one out. “
 
Posts: 422 | Location: Dothan, Alabama | Registered: August 27, 2000Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Freethinker
Picture of sigfreund
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quote:
Originally posted by elmer:
“Just remember, that you can throw a shot into a group just as well as you can throw one out.”


In 21 words you just summed up what it took me over 1500 to express.
(So far). Wink
Thank you.




“The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
— Bertrand Russell
 
Posts: 42079 | Location: 10,150 Feet Above Sea Level in Colorado | Registered: April 04, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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When shooting team, the wind coach provides the accuracy and the shooters provide the precision.

If the wind coach is accurate and the shooters are precise, they can medal.
 
Posts: 3126 | Location: Texas | Registered: June 20, 2012Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I recall an article from maybe 20 years ago where they were testing a semi auto M60 from Rock Island Armory (the old sister company to Springfield Armory, not the P.I. 1911 maker) and they were confused that it short something like 2 ft groups. The manufacturer said that this was deliberate and mg's shoot a cone of fire. This allows a weapon locked in a tripod to cover a zone, otherwise a target would need to wander through the same exact spot to get hit.

As far as an unskilled shooter with a poor rifle being superior, it mostly matters if the precise shooter has the appropriate variables controlled, ie is also accurate. Then it is a discussion of snipers vs volley fire. Of course you can cover your bets, which is why we started putting designated marksmen in rifle squads.
 
Posts: 267 | Registered: May 03, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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