• Jason Stanley

Precision Ladder

Updated: 5 days ago

Communicating with people all over the world has been a rewarding “side effect” of ctdshooting. Since launching Connect The Dots, numerous questions about rifle related concepts have entered my inbox. However, it soon became apparent that the correct answer to many of the questions was dependent on the application of the rifle.

Those conversations gave me the idea of the precision ladder. The precision ladder is a metaphor comparing the use of a rifle to the rungs of a ladder. This simple correlation can be used to accurately communicate a plethora of rifle related topics.


Starting at the first rung, these rifles are factory, out-of-the box, rifles that are fed preloaded (aka: factory) ammunition. The majority of hunting rifles and “plinking” rifles fit in this category.

Moving up the precision ladder are the rifles in which the shooter handloads the ammunition. The rifle and function is essentially the same as rifles on the first rung, with the main difference being the ability to tune using handloads, thus gaining precision.

Take another step up and we run into the precision rifles. Rifles on this rung are partially or fully custom and are tuned using hand loads. Oftentimes, these are custom hunting rifles or rifles used in “club” level tournaments.

At the top of the precision ladder is the tiny group of rifles whose shooting demands the highest degree of precision and accuracy. Largely custom and meticulously tuned to shoot the smallest groups in the world. These are the rifles used in registered competitions.

In general, the precision requirements for each rung increase as we move up the ladder, hence the name. However, an important concept to keep in mind; verticality does not make one rifle better than another. Quite the opposite. It shows that rifles can be different, yet equally successful for their intended use.

I own and enjoy rifles on all “rungs of the ladder.”

Resting on the first rung is my daughter’s Remington Model 7 chambered in .243. 100% factory and fed factory ammunition. This rifle is what Kennedy uses for coyote and deer hunting.

The first rifle I ever bought, a Rem 788 sits on the 2nd rung. Factory action and stock (the stock has been stripped and restained), I installed a Timney trigger and Krieger barrel chambered in .22-250. This rifle’s task is predators and is tuned using handloads.

On the 3rd rung is a TAC action resting in a Bell and Carlson stock with Timney trigger. The Krieger barrel is chambered in 26 Macho; a wildcat Steve Grosvenor and I designed to be used on deer sized game.

At the top of my precision ladder is a BAT 3 Lug, Kelbly stock, Jewell trigger, and Krieger barrel chambered in 30 BR. This is my competition rifle used in the Heavy Varmint Class.

“Which Lens are You Using”

The important point of this writing is NOT the actual terminology of the rungs. Rather, grasping the concept that there can be different requirements for success on each rung (level, tier, etc). Rifles built for the purpose of one rung may not score the highest when judged against another classification. When we judge using the wrong criteria we are unjustly setting the object up for failure.

Identifying the rungs of the precision ladder will allow us to set and meet realistic expectations. An example would be players on a football team. Offensive lineman need a different body shape and set of skills than defensive backs. Each can be outstanding in their respective position, but switch their roles, and they wouldn’t make the traveling team.

Top rung rifles are designed to shoot groups whose measurement starts with a zero. However, take a bench rifle to the treestand and it might earn an "F" on the report card. Matching the rifle up with the intended rung allows us to pick the correct lens to judge the rifle through.

“Father Time”

Knowing the rung of the rifle and the desired precision level gives the owner an idea of the time they will spend to achieve their goals. This is similar to drag racing. To make a 14 second car really isn’t that difficult. To get a 10 second car takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. Keep in mind, this is a two part situation. One is the desired time of the car and the other is the capability of the car.

We can apply the same analogy to our rifles. It is not difficult to get a first rung rifle to shoot a two inch group. That two inch group might be perfectly adequate for the intended use of the rifle. However, decrease that group size to half inch and now there is serious work to do. If you truly want a ½” rifle - consider moving up a rung or two.

I sometimes see this in the competition world. Competitors will spend tremendous amounts of time, effort, and money trying to get a second or third rung rifle to be competitive against a fourth rung rifle. Very seldom do those shooters end up in the winner's circle. They simply are handicapping themselves too much. (A major exception is for the individual who enjoys the challenge of getting the most out of every rifle. More on this later.) The rungs of the precision ladder help us remember that our time is valuable. Spend it wisely.

“I Don’t Have Enough Money to Spend it Twice”

Speaking of spending; deciding which rung the rifle is on can save us money. Unfortunately, I have failed to learn this lesson.

Countless times, I have bought an inexpensive piece of equipment that worked fine for one rung. Yet, when I wanted to move up the ladder, I had to update that piece of equipment. In the end, I had to spend money twice.

My suggestion; when there is an internal debate about what rung you are purchasing for, always hedge toward the higher rung. Even if this means waiting while you save some cash. As the saying goes; “Buy once. Cry once.”

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

The definition of success is subjective. I mentioned earlier that some competitors handicap themselves too much...that is true only if their definition of success is taking home some fake wood. If the value is determined by making their rifle shoot the best it can, they may be the most successful people at the match. This example applies to all rifles on all rungs of the ladder.

The definition of success is also individualized. The precision ladder should be used to judge our rifles, not someone else’s. This is incredibly important to remember when discussing rifles with other people. It does not take long to earn a negative reputation when you downgrade someone's favorite rifle.

“Makes an A$$ out of You and Me”

The most important reason for the precision ladder is for proper communication. When questions are asked about shooting techniques, equipment, reloading, etc, the correct answer often depends on which rung the rifle is on. When the level is identified, we can properly convey our experience to help the shooter.

When the level is not clearly stated, it is up to the one answering to assume. Assumptions leave the door wide open to miscommunication. We all know what happens when we assume.

“Moral of the Story”

The moral of the story is to understand different rungs of the precision ladder have different standards for success. This knowledge will allow us to pick the correct lens to judge our rifle through which can save time and money. Most importantly, using the idea of the precision ladder will avoid miscommunication. Until next time, enjoy the experience.

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