If you’re a first-time gun owner, it can be pretty confusing to figure out exactly how you should go about sighting in a rifle scope. This process is called “zeroing” – when you zero a rifle scope, you are essentially setting its aiming point so you can shoot accurately. But if you’ve not done it before, you’re probably scratching your head a bit, so here are some tips to sight in a new rifle.
Quickly Sighting in a Rifle Scope
You can zero a rifle at whatever distance you prefer, with 100 yards being pretty common for most deer hunting. In the video below, I walk you through the steps for sighting in a rifle for your first time.
Step 1: Setup and Safety
One of the first things you should do is set everything up safely. You should have access to a shooting range or safe rural property for sighting in a rifle. Wherever you set up your target, you should have a solid backdrop to ensure that the bullets will not leave the area.
If possible, use a sturdy bench or table to shoot from. The more stable you are, the easier this process will be and you will fire more accurate shots too. Shooting sandbags or a shooting rest, if you have them, will streamline things even more because they take the human error out of the equation. But you can get by without them in a pinch.
Another necessary thing, especially if you’re a new hunter, is to pay attention to gun safety rules. Throughout the process, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction (e.g., at the ground, downrange, etc.), keep the safety on and your finger off the trigger until you decide to shoot, and use hearing protection.
Step 2: Figuring Out Range Distance
Importantly, no bullet really travels in a straight line from the muzzle to the target. Some fly flatter than others, but any bullet needs to arc a little (to counteract gravity) to reach out to distances like 100 yards.
Since my new rifle was bore-sighted at the factory, I knew that it was going to be reasonably close to accurate out of the box. But if you’re buying a rifle that’s not bore-sighted or if it had a new scope mounted, you don’t have that luxury. In this case, start shooting at a close distance – 25 yards is a good starting point. At this distance, you’re likely going to hit the target at least somewhere. Then you can make the adjustments needed.
Once you get centered, you can extend the shooting distance out to your desired range. For a northern Minnesota hunter, I rarely get shots past 100 yards due to the thick forest cover. So zeroing a rifle at this distance makes sense.
Step 3: Shooting and Adjusting the Scope Turrets
When you’re ready for sighting in a rifle, place it on your rest or firmly hold it to your shoulder. Align the scope’s crosshairs (i.e., reticle) over the center (bullseye) of the target. When you’re ready and the range is safe, take your first shot. It might help to take 3 shots so you know the general “average” of where you’re hitting. Immediately put your gun back on safe, and walk downrange to see where your first bullet(s) hit.
If you’re using grid-line target paper, you can easily see how many inches you need to adjust your scope by. So for my first shot, I was about 2 inches low and 2 inches to the right. Next, I needed to adjust the scope turrets to bring the point of impact up and to the left. Each scope has two turrets – an elevation (i.e., up and down) turret on top, and a windage (i.e., left and right) turret on the side.
For my scope’s site screws on the turrets, 1 click = 1/4″ change at 100 yards (you’ll also see this expressed as “1/4 MOA”, or minute of angle). So because these clicks are based on 100 yards, I needed to quadruple the number of clicks at 25 yards in order to achieve the same change in impact. Therefore, because my shot was 2″ low and to the right, I had to adjust the elevation 32 clicks up and the windage 32 clicks to the left!
Step 4: Extend the Shooting Distance
Once you’re getting consistent groups at or above the 25-yard bullseye, you can extend the shooting distance out to your given distance (100 yards, in most cases). You should be hitting the paper at this distance. And again, it may help to take a couple shots and see where your group is hitting the paper.
Use the measurements from the grid paper to make further adjustments to your scope’s turrets so that you hit the bullseye at 100 yards. But remember that since you changed your shooting distance, 1 click now equals 1/4″ change. If you quadruple your clicks at this range, you’ll be well off the paper in no time.
In the image above, my first shot was the bottom right, followed by the next one up, followed by the third one up. The fourth (top left) shot illustrates why it’s good to take multiple shots or use a gun vise/sandbags. I pulled to the left slightly as I shot, which moved the bullet’s point of impact up and left. If you were going off of this shot alone, you might over-adjust the wrong way because of an errant shot.
Sighting in a Rifle Summary
I hope you can use these tips for efficiently sighting in a rifle on your own. It might seem intimidating, but it’s really not that difficult. And the good news is, you only have to go through this detailed process when you mount a new scope or get a new gun.
Otherwise, I recommend checking your firearm each year before your season opens. Over the off-season, your scope might get bumped or jostled, which could affect your point of impact. Simply shoot 2-3 times to see where your average group lands at your desired range (e.g., 100 yards). If there are any adjustments needed, you can follow the same process above.
Best of luck!