You load up your magazines with the various brands of 22 ammo you have been using. Why a few different brands, or types of .22LR ammo? Simply because you were told that 22s can be finicky feeders, and you needed to try various brands in order to assure the pistol will function at its best. So you load one brand into one magazine, one brand into another and so forth for as many mags as you need to top off. Then you start shooting, first always making sure it is safe to do so.
You fire away, blissfully at your target, or targets dependent upon your range set up. You are confident that you are shooting well,and at 45 feet those tiny 22 holes are way to small to see from where you are standing. Then, when safe, you go to check your targets. You are aghast to see that while some of your shots hit their mark, others seemed to have gone haywire and their are some targets with shots all over the palce, others with groups high to the left, others high to the right, and others just high of the bullseye. You are starting to notice a consistent factor - all of your shots seem high, and none of your targets have groupings as tight as were those at 7 yards. So what is the problem? Were you not sighting in properly, were you not gripping the pistol correctly, did you jerk the trigger, were you trying too hard, was the distance just too far, is the gun not accurate at that distance? All good questions, but maybe none of the them beg the actual answer as to why your shots seemed to have a mind of their own.
Yes it is a bit harder to sight in at further distances. Once you get out past 7-10 yards you should really start using your sights correctly. At 7 yards you can shoot the bullseye all day long with using them if you know how to point shoot. At 15 yards point shooting is possible if you are an experienced and gifted marksman, but most of us need to depend on the gun's sights. So asking yourself if you had sighted in correctly was a good question. Let's assume that for practical purposes you had the correct sight picture when you sighted in. So what else could have gone wrong?
You wonder, was I gripping the pistol properly. This is another good question to ask yourself if your shots are starting to go astray. Improper grip, depending on how you are improperly holding the handgun, can make your shots go high right, high left, low right, low left, left, right, low, high or all over the paper. For a right handed shooter: Gripping too tightly can cause your muscles to strain and along with that often comes uneccesary trembling. This can causes your shots to fly all over the paper. Heeleing of pushing out the bottom of the hand can causes shots to go high or high left. Anticipating recoil often causes you to push the hand down just before the shot causing low shots; but it can also cause shots high and to the left or right if you heel in anticipation of recoil. Jerking the trigger can make shoits go low left or all over the palce depending on how badly you do it). Here are a couple of links that explain it better: http://is-lan.com/challenge/images/Pistol-Correction.pdf, and: http://www.targetshooting.ca/docs/grp-analysis.pdf. As far as you could tell your grip was fine, you even mentally went through each step of gripping, aiming, trigger control, and followup for each shot just as you did at the 7 yard line. Still your shots are spreading out somewhat to miserably, and none of your group seem all that consistent.
Let me say here - good work! Why do I say that when you are getting poorer groups? Because you deserve credit if only because you have looked to yourself for the problem before going elsewhere. So far you have done well in your analysis because you have wondered if it was something that you as the shooter have done wrong. The great majority of the time when something goes wrong with shooting, it is operator error. This time though, you have had an experienced shooter watching you shoot and he tells you the good news, you grip seemed excellent, and your trigger finger motion looked smooth and correct. Great news, but you are becoming more and more confused and perplexed. What is happening, why have your shots spread out so much?
Now you start to wonder about excuses that don't necessarily involve shooting technique because you just cannot figure it out and because you seemingly did things right. So you figure maybe the distance is just too far for the pistol you are shooting to hit the mark accurately, or maybe if outdoors you think it was the wind even though only the slightest breeze is blowing now and again, or maybe the gun is shooting poorly because something has broken or the sights have come loose, or maybe it is shooting poorly because the gun is dirty and needs cleaning. The truth be told, it culd be any of these factors or all of them that have effected your groups so your range coach checks them all. He checks the sights and finds them secure, he runs a function check and the gun operates properly, he checks for fouling in the barrel and there is only a normal amount if any. He fires the gun with a few rounds and hits the bullseye from 50 feet away. Now your are sure it is you who is to blame; but should you be sure? Of course, you know I am about to tell you otherwise, but first I'll give you a chance to think about it all again to try to figure out the cuplrit. Go ahead, stop reading and take a moment or two to go over all the things that could have gone wrong. Read the above again if need be. Is there something else that could have gone wrong, something I did not mention, something you have not thought about?
Sure there is and it is the ammunition. I used the example of firing .22 LR ammunition because 22 caliber rimfire ammunition is notorious for a few things. First of all, 22 caliber rimfire ammunition, whether it be .22 short, .22 long (tow somewhat obscure calibers nowadays), .22LR or .22WMR (.22 magnum) are all know for the arching trajectory of their bullets. When the bulet leaves the barrel of any gun it does not fly staright and level to the ground even if you were holding the barrel parallell to level ground. This is because physics dictates that the bullet's path will be an arch. Sure some calibers and bullet designs travel flatter than do others, but they all travel in an arch upon leaving the muzzle. The thing about 22 rimfire ammunition is that its bullet travel in a pronounced arch. The trajectory of the .22 LR has a 2.7 inch (69 mm) rise at 50 yards (50 m) and 10.8 inch (274 mm) drop at 150 yards (140 m) when zeroed at 100 yards (100 m). (Reference: http://www.chuckhawks.com/17_M2.htm.) What this means is that when the .22LR bullet leaves the muzzle it begins to travel up in an arching motion, then begins to arch toward the ground. Many things effect this trajectory such as powder charge, bullet weight, bullet type (shape, size and so forth), gravity, and probably even air pressure to some small degree. With a .22LR round, the bullet archs up gradually and then begins to fall of at a quicker rate. I don't need to go into the physics of it in any great detail other than to apply this to your shots at 21 feet and 50 feet, so I'll stick to a simple explanation of it.
What happens is that if you are zeroed (aimed in) at 7 yards (21 feet), the bullet leaves the barrel and begins an immedaite upward movement in an arch, once the bulltet passes though the bulseye dead center at 7 yards it continues upward movement in an arch so that when it reaches 15 yards the bullet is higher than it had been at 7 yards. This arch continues for some distance until the bullet loses energy so much so that it begins to drop in an arch, and it sooner or later would wind up below your point of aim. The arch is very apparent when shooting .22 rimfire ammunition, much more so than when shooting most centerfire ammunition some of which travels in a fairly flat trajectory for the first hundred to couple hundred yards. If you understood what I just wrote, then you understand the consistency of all of your shots at 15 yards having gone somewhat high even though you had been shooting dead center at 7 yards. It is physics not you that made the flight of the bullet rise.
I suppose the obvious way to correct for this would be to adjust your sights, but sometimes that is not necessary. At this distance to correct for this problem I would simply change my point of aim. Instead of holding ht etop of the front sight in perfect alignment with the bullseye at 15 yards as I had done at 7 yards, I would now make asight picture so that the bullseye appeared to float just at the top of the front sight. In other words, the very top of front sight post would appear to support the ball of the bullseyes looking sort of like a lolypop. What you would have done is to have moved your front sight down in order to shoot higher.. If on the other hand you had adjusted your sights (rear sight being the one usally adjustable) you wuld have raised the rear sight (having the same effect as lowering the front sight).
Still though, this does not answer all of your questions about what went wrong, it only tells you why virtually every shot at the further distance went high. What about all those shots that went left with some ammo, right with another brand, that simply were scattered all over the palce with yet another brand of ammo, or that were almost as well groupe das those at 7 yards? Herein - if not the fault of the shooter - lies the fault of the ammunition and the ammunition manufacturer. What I mean is quite basically that manufacturing quality effects accuracy of the round. This is especialy apparent when you are doing everything right as to technique and you shoot cheap plinking ammunition as compared to expensive high grade target quality ammunition. Often, the cheaper the ammo, the more the groups will open up at further distances. Why, well because of quality control for the most part. Bullets are manufactured to certain specifications, yet not all manufacturing processes hold as close to those specifications as do others. The more quality control, the better the accuracy - in general. The sae holds true for your gun, but here we will sume your pistol is inherently accurate and reliably so. In essence, with ammunition, as with most things, you get that for which you pay. Tha is most of the time. I say most of the time because I am sometimes surprised by the accuracy of various inexpensive .22LR ammuntion I have shot. Some 22 firearms just like cheaper brand best and shoot well with them. I find though this is often changeable with varoius lots of one kind or another of ammunition. So while today my Ruger MKII pistol may shoot brand x well in lot number 001, tomorrow when lot 002 comes out, it may shoot miserably with it. Why, because of lack of quality control from one batch tot he next.
This same factor can be an issue to some extent when you shoot any firearm in any caliber. Quality control of the ammunition manufacturing process can have a noticeable effect. A little more or less gunpowder, a tiny size difference in the diameter or length of the bullet, a slight difference in the weight of the buolet, and other things all will effect accuracy from bullet to bullet. So, waht I am trying to convey to the new shooters among you, especially those of you whoa re shooting a 22 rimfire, don't be too hard on yourself if you start to notice changes when shooting at further and further distances. Sure, look to yourself first, because as I said the great majority of reasons for not shooting as well are due to operator error; but if you are convinced doing it right, and if your coach r shooting buddy is convinced likewsie, then maybe you need to take a ook at the properties of your ammunition too see if the problems lies therein.
If you are shooting centerfire ammunition and are wondering about balistics of your ammunition, you can go to: http://www.remington.com/products/ammunition/ballistics/ and punch in up to three types of ammo to compare the ballistics including the trajectories of each over given distances. I see they also offer a new downloadable software (new since I last checked anyway). I have not tried it out yet but will have to in the near future.
All the best,