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Why you missed that shot

November 9, 2020

Three reasons why you missed that shot, and how to get back on target

We’ve all been there.

You’re at the range or in the field. Shooting a gun, optic, and load you know. You squeeze the trigger, break what feels like a decent shot, and then … nothing. No ringing steel, no hole in the paper, or, even worse, a spooked animal running to safety as fast as the echo of your missed shot. You hang your head and wonder, “How the heck did I miss?”

While it seems like a simple question, figuring out why you missed can drive even seasoned shooters crazy. And, while there can be issues with your gun and your optic, it usually boils down to user error. Here are three reasons you missed, and some ideas on how to get back on target.

Hunter Sighting In His Vortex Riflescope

Especially with a bolt gun, there really aren’t that many moving parts. Translation? Most misses boil down to user error.


1. You’re new.

Many issues boil down to one simple fact: It takes a lot of practice to learn your shot and your weapon. In fact, the more you shoot, the better you get at calling your own shots, which just means being able to not only tell if you hit or missed at the trigger break, but why.

When you’re just starting out—and this goes for all shooting disciplines, from action shooting pistols to getting that 6.5 dialed for elk—each shot can feel like chaos. There’s a violent explosion, one that jars all of your senses, and you’re just focused on the absolute basics.

As you get more experience under your belt, what seemed like chaos becomes nothing more than your sights rising and falling, or resettling behind your optic. Experience will help you understand the process of each shot, and you’ll get a feel for why you missed.

As you work on getting some serious hours in at the range, here’s what you can do now to help learn from your misses:

  • Work with more experienced shooters. Often, they can diagnose your problem, and help you identify ways to fix it.
  • Use an app. Apps like Coach’s Eye allow you to record yourself, then play the action back in slow motion for yourself, or for someone with more experience.
  • Make sure you’re taking full advantage of range time. Set yourself up for success by using the same ammo and following a consistent routine so you can more easily rule out issues.

2. You need to double-check your optic and mount.

Vortex riflescope on a gun at the outdoor shooting range

Practice isn’t just good for developing your shooting skills. It also gives you a chance to make sure everything, from your rings, to your optic, to the torque applied to your screws—is dialed and ready to go.


When you start to stretch your effective range, tiny variations in your optical system—a mounting screw that’s not quite tightened to spec, for example, or tightened too much—can cause huge problems. But this also goes for all optics, pistol red dots, LPVOs on an AR, everything.

Especially if your optic and/or mount is new to your gun, make sure you’ve tightened all the screws to spec. (If you don’t already have one, we highly recommend picking up a Torque Wrench to be sure you’re dead on.) Even if the screws are just slightly loose, or slightly too tight, your optic can move around inside of the rings or in the case of too-tight rings, you may have an impinged tube, causing all kinds of issues with accuracy and sight picture.

It’s also important to read ALL the manufacturer’s instructions when mounting your optic. For example, we do not recommend the use of Loctite or other similar products in mounting our optics. These products can act as a lubricant, creating additional torque on the screws, which can exceed the recommend specs and actually damage your riflescope, limiting your ability to dial shots. (Checkout this 10-Minute talk on over-torqueing rings for more.)

Signs of improperly mounted optics can include:

  • Erratic point of impact. All other things equal, your shots are consistently hitting all over the target.
  • Scope or red dot migration. Your optic moves slightly, or more noticeably on its mount.
  • Crimped or deeply scratched riflescope tubes. This can be a sign that your rings are too tight and are causing an impingement in your tube.

Here’s what you can do to make sure your optic and mount are not the problem:

3. You changed something.

Shooter sighting in their Vortex riflescope

Practice isn’t just good for developing your shooting skills. It also gives you a chance to make sure everything, from your rings, to your optic, to the torque applied to your screws—is dialed and ready to go.


This one might seem pretty obvious, but it’s surprising how frequently the slightest change can affect your overall accuracy. Shooting is a holistic event; each part of the process—from your mount, to your trigger pull, to each mechanical interaction in your gear—can affect your point of impact. It might not seem obvious at first, but even small things make big difference.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you just dropped a new trigger kit into your AR. It’s not a part of the optical system, and it certainly doesn’t affect how you mount the riflescope. But, especially downrange, the difference a new trigger makes—even if it’s an upgrade—can affect accuracy if it affects how you break a shot. Adding a new or different suppressor can also affect your point of impact to a surprising degree.

Your gear, of course is only one part of the system. If you change the way you grip a pistol, where you hold on your shotgun, or how you approach a long-range shot, you’re introducing a new variable.

If you find that you’re still grouping shots well, but it’s off your original zero, try and remember if you’ve made any changes to your form or gear. Also be sure your environmentals—wind, mirage, etc.—are consistent.

Here’s what you can do to ensure a small change doesn’t wreck range day:

  • No matter how small the upgrade, always re-zero your weapon after adding new parts, or swapping one part for another.
  • As we mentioned before, record yourself shooting so you have a reference for your form. When you re-watch, is there some part of your routine that’s changed?
  • Especially if you’re shooting long-range, it’s a good idea to head to a shorter distance to get rounds on paper so you get a clear idea of where you’re missing.

If you’re still missing, it can’t hurt to take your weapon to a gunsmith to rule out the possibility of any mechanical issue, like a crooked barrel.

Want to go more in depth on why you’re missing? Listen to our podcast for even more tips with Jimmy and Mark.



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