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How a Bipod Can Throw Off Gunsights

How a Bipod Can Throw Off Gunsights

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Explains, and offers suggestions to overcome, the inaccuracy caused by mounting a bipod near the muzzle of a rifle.
Explains, and offers suggestions to overcome, the inaccuracy caused by mounting a bipod near the muzzle of a rifle.

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Published by: John Michael Williams on Sep 04, 2010
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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J. M. Williams 2010-09-04 p. 1
How a Bipod Can Throw Off Gunsights
 By John Michael Williams
Sunnyvale Rod and Gun Club2010-09-04
Copyright (c) 2010 John Michael Williams. All rights reserved.
J. M. Williams 2010-09-04 p. 2
This paper explains informally why a rifle usually will not be sighted-in correctly bothfor offhand (or sandbag-rested) shooting and for shooting on a muzzle-mounted bipod.It offers three suggestions to overcome the inherent sighting inaccuracy.
The Problem
I was talking with an acquaintance of mine during a bullseye pistol match, abouttrouble with his bipod: He could not understand why, when he sighted-in his riflecorrectly on a sandbag mount, the sights always were off when he shot it from a bipodattached near the muzzle.This problem has been reported in several internet postings (search for "bipod","accuracy",
.). Although many advertisements and some postings say that a bipod canimprove accuracy, two especially relevant postings reporting loss of accuracy withincorrect mounting are at
(byBart Bobbitt) and
(by "Richard").
The Explanation
My explanation, expanded here in detail, was as follows:First, most of the length of a rifle barrel exists for two reasons, to accelerate the bullet,and to impart stabilizing spin to it. It is only the last centimeter or two of the muzzleend which determines the precise direction of the shot.Second, the barrel, especially the muzzle end, vibrates while the bullet is beingaccelerated. Let's look at this second point in detail.When a round is fired, the propellant charge is ignited and produces a huge quantity of gas at high pressure. This causes the chamber and nearby breech end of the barrel to bestretched and inflated; the actual amplitude of this inflation is very small, but it doesoccur. At the same time, the bullet is accelerated away from the breech. After arelatively short distance in the barrel, the bullet rapidly allows the pressure behind it todrop, and the barrel deflates toward its original diameter,Thus, when a round is fired, the sudden inflation initiates a sound wave which travelsfrom the breech end of the barrel toward the muzzle.In addition to the wave caused by gas expansion, a second kind of sound wave isinitiated in most rifles, depending on asymmetry in the geometry of the way the barrel isattached to the stock and other parts. In most rifles, the center of mass of the gun liesbelow the barrel, because the stock and receiver are lower than the barrel (assuming herethat the gun is being aimed with the barrel about horizontal). Thus, as the bullet isgiven momentum while it is being accelerated in the barrel, recoil momentum is
J. M. Williams 2010-09-04 p. 3
transferred to the gun in a way which transfers a small amount of angular momentumand rotates the chamber and breech. The barrel thus is bent slightly in an upward arc,creating a second sound wave transverse to the direction of the bullet. Even AR-15models with "floating" barrels will experience this kind of wave unless the breech end of the barrel is attached exactly at the center of mass of the rest of the rifle.Finally, other, smaller, sound waves are initiated by recoil of the barrel in the directionopposite to the direction of the bullet and by friction and reaction-force of the contact of the moving bullet with the barrel's lands and grooves.The exact spectrum and other quantitative characteristics of the sound wave on thebarrel of a particular rifle are very complex and too difficult to handle here; however,every rifle will produce such a wave every time it is fired.Now, according the the
Handbook of Chemistry and Physics
, the speed of sound in thesteel typically used in a rifle barrel will be between 5 and 6 kilometers per second (km/s).The average speed of a bullet leaving the barrel of a high-powered rifle will be no morethan 1.5 km/s (4900 ft/s). Therefore, the sound wave will reach the muzzle long beforethe bullet and is likely to be reflected on the barrel several times, creating a mixture of standing-wave patterns, before the bullet can leave the barrel.So, any rifle barrel will be vibrating as the bullet reaches the muzzle. Because everyrifle has relatively fixed physical characteristics, the vibration's effect on every shot willbe about the same; so, when sighting-in a rifle, the accuracy is not greatly affected by thevibration -- the sights will be aligned to cancel the effect.But, there is another factor, a loose end. Imagine tying a long rope to a post and thenshaking the other end up and down, to produce a visible wave on the rope. The rope willconvey the wave, and the wave will be reflected by the post. One can see this wave,which is analogous to the sound wave on a gun barrel.Now, what happens if the far end of the rope is not attached to anything? The solutionis given in elementary physics textbooks, and I would like to avoid the calculations here:The far end of the rope will vibrate with
the amplitude of the wave as produced bythe hand or as travelling down the middle of the rope! This is one reason why cracking awhip works so well. You can see this effect simply by dangling a string with a smallweight (say, a knot) on its end; shake the string sideways (transversely), and the end willflip with an amplitude much greater than the amplitude of the shake.To explain this physically, briefly and intuitively, small regions of the rope in themiddle of it are both receiving and passing on momentum as the rope vibrates; but, at theend of the rope, the endpoint gets the momentum which is being sent to it as well as themomentum which it normally would pass on to farther points; thus, it vibrates with twicethe amplitude of a point in the middle of the rope. The reader can look up the physics bysearching for explanations of "reflections at a boundary" in works such as
CD Physics
(4th ed.) by Halliday, Resnick, and Walker. Anyway, the same holds for the rifle barrel: The muzzle vibrates with twice theamplitude of regions closer to the breech.

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