Diminishing Returns and Firearm Performance

Alex C.
by Alex C.

It seems like with anything else, there is a easily obtainable goal or threshold one can reach with a reasonable level of expenditure, but going beyond that takes exponentially more time, money, and effort. Firearms are no different, as an entry level stock gun can do much more than many people realize, but as you make your way up the ladder you find that accuracy and increased performance don’t come cheap.

Transcript …

– [Voiceover] Diminishing returns and firearms, how does it apply? Well, in economics it means that as investment in a particular area increases, the rate of profit from that investment after a certain point cannot continue to increase if other variables remain at a constant.

So, as investment continues past that point the return diminishes progressively.

So how does this apply to anything else? Well, it’s something hot rodders are all too familiar with.

For example, getting to 500 or 600 horsepower is pretty easy and reasonably inexpensive these days.

For a couple of thousand bucks you can get there on a stock long block.

Most modern transmissions can handle it, as can rear ends, and modern brakes even provide enough woe for all that go.

But to step up and get to the next level it’s exponentially more expensive.

You need new pistons and rods, head work, cams, perhaps even a new block if you go big enough.

Then comes the transmission, diff, cage, belts, Lexan, and all of a sudden shaving off another 10th of a quarter means a second or third mortgage on your home.

So this automotive tangent aside, if you’re still with me then the same applies most certainly to firearm performance.

Too often I see people with firearms who for no good reason spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on brilliantly made stock handguns to try and turn them into some kind of half-assed race gun or tactical monstrosity.

But let’s back up.

Yes, for many shooters like the folks who are competitive in IPSC Open, then they legitimately need any edge they can get.

That’s why race guns look the way they do, charging handles, electronic sights, thumb rests, compensators, and jet funnel mag wells all help the best of the best handgun shooters shave off precious time and increase hit probability to hopefully place first.

These guns also cost $5,000 and up, but are purpose-built race guns with ironically little to no practicality outside of shooting events held by the International Practical Shooting Confederation.

Sure they’re still deadly, and I guess you could use one for protection, but when building one of these firearms nobody asks, “Well yeah, but how viable is it “as a carry gun?” But really you see people shooting who wouldn’t place well in production or classify an IDPA above novice shelling out money for mods instead of ammo and range time, which I promise will help an amateur shooter more than any expensive parts you can put on your new Glock.

$1,000 worth of accessories is alluring to a young, new shooter.

It’s fun to work on stuff and make something your own, but shooting well is more important than looking cool, and that dollar amount will also buy you about 5,000 rounds of ammunition to practice with.

And I think any trainer or competition shooter is going to tell you to go that route.

So when should you start modifying your stuff? Well, that’s a tricky question to answer.

First of all, what do you want to accomplish? If you’re nailing the bullseye at all angles while standing or on the move, then you may be getting the most out of your pistol, which is something most shooters do not and cannot do despite claims made by everyone on the internet who can send all their rounds through one hole while back-flipping from the bed of a moving pickup truck.

The fact is that most guns are more capable than the shooter behind them, and squeezing every little bit of accuracy out of a handgun takes time, patience, and dedication.

It’s hard to say exactly when a shooter needs more, but suffice it to say if you are killing it in production or shoot a classifier and fall into export, or the coveted master, then you’re probably there.

This also goes for rifle shooting.

A stock AR-15 is a lot more capable than people think.

I’ve seen excellent shooters make stock rifles dance like a ballerina, and marginal shooters behind extremely high-end expensive rifles struggle at 100 yards to hit a 12 inch plate.

I would argue that if you’re shooting five or six inch group at 100 yards with iron sights behind a 69-20, you don’t need that $300 trigger yet.

The gun is doing its job in this case.

It’s the shooter that isn’t, as much as it might pain you to admit.

But say the shooter is shooting very impressive groups with irons, then I would say, “Yes, you could definitely “benefit from expensive parts.” So diminishing returns applies here.

Accuracy is expensive.

A new trigger is one of the less expensive upgrades that has a noticeable effect on accuracy, but in my experience is one of the greatest things you can do to tighten up groups.

And getting to one MOA consistently with the right ammo, trigger, and a decent optic is a pretty solid goal; however, as a shooter seeks to tighten up a group beyond this, the cost grows exponentially for each fraction of a minute.

A new barrel, bolt, incredibly expensive optic, free float tube, and so on makes the price of getting down to one MOA look like pocket change.

Then you see old guys with rail guns for whom accuracy has become an absolute obsession trucking around monstrosities that would cost more money and time to build than your car.

So there’s definitely a threshold.

The cost of accuracy goes up exponentially, especially if the shooter’s skill level remains constant.

For the overwhelming majority of shooters there is no substitute for range time, but for the few who can get the most out of any given firearm, then the perpetual disappearance and reappearance of the comma in their bank statement may be necessary despite the insistence of their accountant or wife.

Thank you very much for watching, and a special thank you to Ventura Munitions for helping us with the ammo for our program.

Also, thank you for sitting through the musings of an internet gun expert.

We hope to see you next time.

Alex C.
Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.

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  • RowdyCo RowdyCo on Aug 17, 2016

    Well said. I appreciated the analogy from the hot rodding world. A buddy of mine builds cars and his favorite maxim about that particularly expensive hobby is, "If you wanna to build a car worth 20 grand, get ready to spend 30."

  • Old Gringo Old Gringo on Aug 17, 2016

    . The Vanguard Weatherby was about $450 and shoots 3/4 inch groups and with its plastic stock and cheap optics is a plain as they come. My Weatherby Mark V Deluxe with custom sites added at the factory is a work of art, beautify stock and mirror blue finish. It will shoot 1.5 MOA.......I find the biggest hype is in high end 1911s.....I have bought the RIA and ther cheap ones that will shoot half the groups as Kimbers top end and be totally reliable...just my experience after 45 years of shooting them and carrying them in law enforcement and the military.....dont waste money...doing so is a sign of immaturity.....