Recognizing that consistency equals accuracy and vice versa, a sniper constantly looks for ways to increase his shooting consistency and diagnoses any causes of inconsistency.
Variations in rifle barrel temperature lead to variations in where a bullet impacts because a hot or even warm barrel will warp at least slightly. How much it warps, how quickly it warps, how differently it warps according to different kinds of ammo—these add more variation and lead to still more inconsistency.
The easiest way to reestablish consistency is to zero according to where your round impacts when fired through a cool barrel, the so-called "cold-barrel zero." As a general rule, fire slow enough that your barrel never warms—perhaps one round per two minutes to a max of three rounds, then pause for five minutes before starting this cycle again. Use some common sense, pacing your fire according to ambient temperature, especially when it's very cold outside and each round potentially raises the barrel temperature. By pacing your shooting so there's no temperature increase, you'll impose a very high standard of consistency, which yields superb accuracy.
Counterterrorist and police snipers use this cold-barrel zero since theoretically they fire only one round per situation, and each shot must be of almost machine precision, possibly even placing a bullet in a hostile's brain stem at 100 yards despite the subject encircling himself with hostages. There's no room here for average groups or compensatory holds between cold-and warm-barrel zeros.
Today's military sniper, outfitted with a precision bolt-action rifle, adjusts his zero for a cold barrel, too. If you're engaging targets correctly, you won't "warm up" with several sloppy shots and then all of a sudden get serious and accurate. No, your very first shot is perfect— then, after a pause to observe results, displace, and prepare to fire yet again, you take another cold-barrel shot. A sniper shoots a series of cold-barrel shots.
Conventional infantrymen fire so many rounds in practice that they unknowingly zero assault rifles for a warm-barrel zero's group and see the cold-barrel shot as an errant "flyer" that should be disregarded. That's fine if you're firing hundreds of rounds per engagement, but the military sniper builds his whole being around that very first round's impact, which may seem to others to be a "stray" but to htm is a one-shot kill.
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