Language Lessons Twofer: Accuracy vs. Precision

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Breach-Bang-Clear Staff – this article was originally published on Thursday, March 9th, 2017

Today we’re taking a slight deviation from our normal format of Language Lessons and covering two different words. They’re so closely related that it’s very difficult to talk about one without bringing up the other–which is one of the reasons they’re so often confused and used interchangeably instead of independently. A thesaurus will even list them as synonyms. But in the context of firearms (and science) synonyms they are not, as you will soon see.

Term: Accuracy

Term: Precision

Category: Shooting Terminology

Application(s) of Use: Shooting of all kinds, and any projectile weapon

Definition (Accuracy): The closeness of a measured value to a standard or known value. IE: How close a shot is to the desired point of impact.

Definition (Precision): The closeness of two or more measurements to each other. The closer together each measurement is, the more precise the instrument is. IE: How close individual shots are to one another, regardless of point of impact.

Why it Matters: You can have high accuracy and low precision, vice versa, and everything in between.

If you’re shooting for the smallest group possible (such as during initial zeroing of an optic), precision is what you’re looking for. You want a tight group with a clear median in order to determine the required adjustments to bring you to your desired point of impact.

Actually hitting that target is accuracy.

We’ll talk about consistency later.

Accuracy vs. Precision in Shooting

The difference will be more important to some people than others, but anyone who isn’t a dilettante should have a basic understanding of both terms.

Into the Weeds: High accuracy combined with high precision is definitely something to strive for, but what degree of each one needs is totally dependent on the desired or required outcome. A higher degree of both is needed for a sniper or long range shooter, versus what’s required of a machine gunner, infantryman, or artilleryman. For this reason snipers and long range shooters have rifles and ammunition capable of far more precision than your mass-issued M4 and M855A1.

Similarly, a pharmacist requires a more precise and highly calibrated (accurate) scale for measurement of medication relative to what Rosie O’Donnell would use to track her [attempted] weight loss.

If your zero is off (which can happen for many reasons) you may well find yourself in a situation with high precision but low accuracy. Thankfully, this plight can usually be remedied with a re-zero, especially if you know your DOPE. Running down a bug regarding precision is the stuff of nightmares for long range shooters, as there are seemingly endless variables that contribute to its degradation.


In Summary, precision and accuracy are closely related, but independent terms. Being high in both categories is always a positive, but not a requirement for all situations.

Understand your weapon, understand your sights and optics, be familiar with your choice of cartridge.


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