11 Common Rifle Mistakes and How to Correct Them

In the firearms industry, Rifle mistakes are a pretty common occurrence. Human errors like sighting in a rifle, proper cleaning, or your choice of ammunition all have a major effect on how a rifle is going to perform. Mechanical mistakes like rifle malfunctions can really put you into a bind while you are at the range or in the backcountry. And the most important is safety mistakes can cause life-changing accidents that nobody wants to happen. No matter how big or small the mistake could be, we want to guide you through what to look for and how to avoid the 11 most common mistakes in our eyes. 

Not Properly Cleaning

A proper cleaning process is an important starting point for avoiding mistakes down the road. This allows your rifle to maintain accuracy and function properly whenever the rifle is in use. Proper rifle maintenance includes:

  • Cleaning carbon and copper out of the barrel. 

  • Cleaning carbon off the crown.

  • Cleaning all the dirt off the action lugs, bolt body, inside the action body, and trigger assembly. 

  • Cleaning out certain solvents that were used in the previously mentioned steps prevents negative effects on the ammunition and rifle while shooting. 

Some common mistakes while cleaning rifles are 

  • Over-cleaning, causing early wear. 

  • Using inadequate cleaning solvents like household cleaners or the incorrect firearm solvents for certain aspects like removing copper fouling. 

  • Letting cleaning solvents sit in the barrel too long. 

  • Not cleaning the correct areas.

  • Using too much cleaning solvents and not fully removing them in the barrel, action, or even in areas of the chassis/stock. 

Incorrectly Sighting in a Rifle

Proper sight alignment and sight picture

Having a properly sighted rifle is the product of all the other topics in this article. The rifle should be zeroed around the cone of fire for your particular rifle. This means the aggregate of your group should be exactly where your rifle's crosshairs are centered. The below topics will also help you get an accurate and consistent zero. To properly and efficiently sight a rifle, you should follow these steps. 

  • Bore sight the rifle to get you on target. This can be done with a laser or by looking through the chamber end of the barrel. 
  • Shoot a 3-shot group. 
  • Zero your scope
  • Shoot a 3 shot confirmation group.
  • If you are not satisfied with your zero, repeat the three previous steps. 

    Using the Wrong Ammo

    Ammo is the main component to truly test your rifle's performance. This is one of the most important steps to ensure your rifle is performing at its peak point throughout the shooting session or hunting season. The rifle barrel will have its own harmonics, which can be affected by how the rifle is set up, especially what stock or chassis is being used and how the rifle is shot, meaning different positions can matter. Take the time to test different ammunition from different manufacturers or, better yet, hand load your own ammunition. Allowing you to tailor the ammunition to your barrel.  

    • Quality ammo will be more accurate, more consistent, and more dependable. 
    • Correct bullet weight for your rifle's twist rate.
    • Correct bullet for your intended use (match, hunting, copper solid, etc.)
    • All of these will have an even larger importance with longer-distance shooting.

      For a more in-depth article about choosing the correct ammo, visit our “Choosing the correct ammo” article HERE.

      Poor Choice of Storage

      How you store your rifle is going to have an impact on the longevity, condition, and performance of your rifle. You should always store your rifle

      • In a safe manner
      • Clean rifle - Just placing the rifle in the safe after multiple range outings or use on a hunt can lead to rust, pitting in the bore and action, and corrosion with certain materials.
      • Dry and oiled enough in the proper areas to prevent rust 
      • With limited exposure to humidity
      • With limited stress on springs

        By following these steps, it will allow your rifle to continue to perform every time you pull it out of the safe. 

        Poor Trigger Control

        Proper grip and smooth trigger pull for accurate shooting


        Trigger control is one of the most important fundamentals for shooting accurately. Your trigger press is how well you can pull the trigger while staying on target and not inducing any pressure to either side off the center axis of the rifle. With a poor trigger press, you induce unwanted motions into the rifle that bring you off the center of the target. An inconsistent trigger control or a poor trigger press is normally the result of:

        • Anticipating recoil
        • Too much hand pressure
        • The trigger finger was incorrectly positioned on the trigger shoe and aligned incorrectly to the trigger and rifle.

          To maximize your performance behind the rifle, these steps are recommended

          • Find the right trigger for you. There are single and two-stage triggers, and many offer different shoes, such as curved and flat.
          • Find a comfortable trigger weight. The heavier the trigger weight, the more difficult it is to obtain a consistent 90-degree trigger press, and this can commonly lead to recoil anticipation. 
          • Practice a slow and consistent squeeze
          • Propper breathing and timing the trigger press at the end of an exhale

            Achieving a perfect trigger press takes years of practice, so those steps are just the building blocks. Once you are comfortable, make sure you can perform the perfect press in every situation and position. 

            Anticipating Recoil

            Anticipating recoil doesn’t just affect your trigger control but your body while shooting a rifle. When your brain knows recoil is coming, naturally, it's going to make your body tense up, causing the rifle to drift off the center of your target. Some steps for making sure you do not anticipate recoil include:

            • Shooting a lower recoiling rifle
            • Shooting with a muzzle brake or suppressor
            • Shooting a smaller caliber
            • Practice in uncomfortable positions

              A properly fitted rifle is going to allow your body to take up the recoil. By allowing your whole body to take up the recoil, it will disperse and result in less felt recoil. Proper fitment would include length of pull, scope location, cheek rest height, and recoil pad height. All of these will change how your body and rifle are positioned. Another solution to recoil anticipation is reducing the recoil. Whether you choose to run a muzzle brake or a smaller caliber, both are great solutions to make sure your fundamentals are rock solid. 

              Using the Wrong Accessories

              Rifle accessories are becoming more popular each year. Whether you are looking at aftermarket chassis, muzzle brakes, or triggers, they will all allow you to have a better shooting experience. When choosing accessories, you want to make sure you choose one that will be beneficial to your application. Some high-value accessories include:

              • A properly fitting stock or chassis
              • An aftermarket trigger
              • A muzzle brake or suppressor
              • A tripod

                Rifle accessories are made to improve your shooting skills. The above accessories are all going to help you build a stable shooting position and break a perfect shot when time matters. 

                Using Your Firearm for Something It Wasn't Designed For

                There are a plethora of different rifles on the market today made for different purposes. Backcountry hunting rifles, Varmint rifles, and benchrest rifles all serve different purposes. When you are looking for a new rifle, make sure it's designed for your intended purpose. Look for

                • Caliber
                • Weight
                • Stock/chassis design and features
                • Stock/chassis fit
                • Barrel length

                  By looking at all of these features before you make your rifle purchase, you are going to

                  guarantee your rifle will perform for you in the field. 

                  Failing to Follow Basic Firearm Safety

                  When we talk about rifles, firearm safety always needs to be the number one priority. In order to achieve that, at the least, you need to follow the four rules of firearm safety. 

                  • Always keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction, and never point it at something you do not intend to shoot. 
                  • Treat all firearms as if they are loaded. 
                  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. 
                  • Always be sure of your target and what's beyond it. 

                    Being conscious of these rules and always following them will ensure you and everyone around you are always safe while handling firearms.

                    Being Complacent

                    Complacency is one of the leading factors in firearms accidents. As shooters and hunters, we are confident in our ability to handle our firearm, but we get lackadaisical in keeping our muzzle pointed in a safe direction or not paying as close of attention to what might be beyond our intended target. By always being aware of your muzzle and your surroundings, you can ensure that you will always be safe.  To make sure we are not being complacent

                    • Follow the 4 rules of firearm safety
                    • Be aware of who is around you
                    • Be aware of your muzzle while walking up or down hills
                    • Be familiar with safe rifle-carrying techniques and how to use them to your advantage

                      If you can be aware of your surroundings at all times, complacency will not overtake your safety while you are handling a rifle. 

                      Firearm troubleshooting

                      Common shooting errors include neglecting the alignment with the rear sight


                      Rifle knowledge allows shooters to be competent riflemen when an issue needs to be addressed. When a rifle has an issue, you should be able to find the issue quickly, address the solutions, and perform those solutions without sweat. Some common rifle issues might include 

                      • Trigger malfunction
                      • Feeding issues
                      • Poor Accuracy
                      • Ammunition Problems

                        With today's access to information, start by searching the forums for common issues with your rifle. Familiarize yourself with the solutions and how to perform them. Even if you do not have an issue while you are at the range or at home, you still want to be familiar in case you need a solution while you are in the field. If an issue arises and you can not be confident that you are able to solve the issue, do not force anything. This might cause more harm to the rifle and eventually cost you more money or, worse, cause harm. Please contact a gunsmith when in doubt, and always keep in mind NOT everything on the internet is correct. 


                        The mistakes above are just a few of the common mistakes that we have seen over the years. There are an endless amount of mistakes that you will encounter while handling a rifle. As long as you follow firearm safety and stay aware, the mistakes are easily fixable. Continue to learn different mistakes and fix them where you can. And never get complacent with your rifle! We hope this article is helpful in helping you avoid some common rifle mistakes.