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6 GUN QUESTIONS YOU'RE AFRAID TO ASK

"There is no such thing as a stupid question." That old adage holds water, and when it comes to firearms, it's actually very important. Asking questions shouldn't be an embarrassing proposition, as it can prevent a dangerous situation. Assuming you've got the safety bases covered, let's explore some of the common questions that might feel silly to ask, but will boost your firearms knowledge.

1. What is a free-floated barrel?

This feature primarily applies to rifles, with the concept being that you don't want the stock to touch the barrel at any point. This allows the barrel to whip and twist naturally as the bullet leaves the barrel. You can test your rifle easily with a dollar bill—if you can slide a bank note between the barrel and stock, your barrel is free-floated. Should you feel resistance, the stock is touching the barrel, and might affect accuracy. Also keep in mind that wooden stocks can swell when wet—sometimes to the point they touch the barrel, hence the beauty of the synthetic stock in inclement weather.

2. How do you properly squeeze a trigger when shooting a rifle?

This is a huge point, one that can make or break your accuracy. The question itself answers the biggest part of the equation: squeeze. Never jerk a trigger or slap at it—this causes an involuntary muscle flex throughout your body that pulls your rifle off target, drastically affecting point of impact. To properly squeeze a trigger, grab it with the pad of the index finger, halfway between the tip and first knuckle joint. Take two deep breaths, let the second halfway out, and maintain a steady hold while the trigger is broken. The firing of the rifle should come as a surprise to you; it should never be anticipated. Your finger should hold the trigger rearward, not fly off upon firing. This technique will definitely improve your accuracy, whether you're shooting a 22 Long Rifle or hard-kicking magnum.

3. How do you choose the right ammunition for your type of hunting?

There are a multitude of bullets available for hunting—so many it can be rather confusing. In the big game world, the size of the animal and the likely ranges at which you'll be shooting dictate your choice. If you're after antelope on the prairies, or elk across wide canyons, choose one of today's sleek, high ballistic coefficient bullets with a polymer tip. These bullets' flat trajectories and extreme accuracy make them perfect for long-range scenarios. However, if you're hunting bears over bait, or whitetails in the woods, round-nose bullets or flat-base spitzers can be a better choice, as long-range accuracy isn't needed and they often transmit their energy faster. If you shoot a high-velocity magnum cartridge, choose a bonded-core bullet, especially if you expect some closer-range shots. Or, simplify matters entirely by choosing a bullet built for all of these scenarios, like the Edge TLR from Federal Premium It's built to provide high weight retention and deep penetration for big game at close range, as well as pinpoint accuracy and reliable expansion on impact at extreme long range.

4. How do I shoot properly from the bench?

This is not a difficult proposition, once you have the know-how. The shooting bench is primarily used for zeroing your rifle and for assessing true accuracy potential. A sand bag for resting the fore-end is a good idea, as it will allow the barrel to move freely. Use your off-hand to secure the butt of the rifle, gripping it just in front of the rear sling swivel. Use your off hand pressure to adjust the hold, and use the trigger technique described in question #2. If you're seeing the effects of your heartbeat from the influence of your shoulder or off hand, a shooting glove and shoulder pad will help out immensely. Don't worry about the stigma of using these tools—your tight little groups will show the benefits.

5. Centerfire vs. Rimfire: which fits my needs better?

This depends on your particular hunting or shooting habits. While almost everyone will end up with a good 22 Long Rifle in their safe, there are many centerfire cartridges--with different bore diameters and power levels—that will cover a wide variety of needs. If you like mild recoil, and small game and target shooting comprise your shooting and hunting needs, one of the rimfire cartridges will suffice. If big game or long-range targets are what you're after, you'll want a centerfire cartridge.

6. What's the difference between a clip and a magazine?

This one is nails-on-a-chalkboard to those in the know, so let's address it to prevent any further misuse of these terms. First, the similarities: Both clips and magazines hold multiple cartridges to feed a repeating firearm. That's where things end. A magazine—which most of us use today—is a reusable, often detachable means of holding and feeding rounds. Clips are a disposable device used to hold multiple cartridges and load them into select rifles or pistols—for example the Mauser broomhandle pistol or the M1 Garand. In short, clips are old technology.