The generally accepted measure of the mechanical precision of a firearm/ammo/optic combination along with the skill or consistency of the rifleman is the ability to shoot tight groups. Too much time shooting groups, however, can encourage an excessive reliance on precision rather than accuracy and the ability to hit a mark with the first shot. Also, ask yourself how many times you have seen articles showing tight groups 2 or 3 inches away from the bullseye? Those types of groups are useful to take a repeatable measure of a rifle’s performance, and a baseline for adjusting the sighting system, but unless we make the necessary adjustments to get the rifle accurately hitting point of aim=point of impact, all of that precision is wasted.
Off the square range, the rifleman doesn’t get to fire groups at a target, but has to rely on one well-aimed shot doing the job because stuff tends to run away (or shoot back) when it gets shot at, hence the importance of practicing and documenting “cold bore” shots. For the casual hunter, mediocre marksmanship skills may be adequate (though perhaps not always ethical), due to generous standards of accuracy at hunting-sized targets/distances, along with minimal consequences (for the shooter) for a miss. A 200 yard shot on the vitals of a whitetail-deer sized target only demands 4-5 MOA standard of accuracy, albeit at what might be a partially-concealed or moving target.
Something I have found that helps keep me honest with my scoped rifle shooting, as well as helping refine my dope and diagnose bad habits, is basically the scoped rifle form of what pistol shooters call “dot torture.” Rather than firing a group of shots at a single aiming point, individual rounds are fired at a series of aiming points. Sounds too easy for you? Did I leave out that you stand up from the rifle between shots? While this exercise helps the shooter develop speed and consistency getting back into position and finding their natural point of aim, as well as working on their breathing and finding their natural respiratory pause, it is primarily a diagnostic. If your optic’s eye relief is too close or too far, or your adjustable cheek rest isn’t high enough, or your length of pull is too long, you will figure that out quickly in this activity. These are 2 targets I use frequently, feel free to click on them for the full size version and print them off on standard 8 1/2 X 11.
If you are just starting out, begin with the more generous two inch circles at 100 yards. Once you and your rifle can consistently go 7 out of 10 inside of the 2 inch circles, increase the difficulty and move to the one inch circles at that same distance. Keeping 10 to 12 shots out of 15 inside of the 1″ circles at 100 yards is good shooting.
If you find yourself chasing shots around the edges of the circle, you may be staring at the target instead of the reticle. This is easy to do, because with a parallax adjusted optic, the target and reticle are focused in almost the same plane. Concentrate on staring at the crosshairs, not the paper, and that should help pull your shots inside the ring.