• how to sight in a rifle

Here’s How to Sight In a Rifle With A Scope

Interested in finding out how to sight in a rifle with a scope? Keep reading for some step by step instructions.

Regardless of whether you’re hunting black bear, deer, cape buffalo, or some other big game animal, it’s crucial that you properly prepare your equipment for the hunt. Among other things, you should verify that your rifle is sighted in correctly so you can place your shots appropriately for a quick and ethical kill. Today, I hope to provide some assistance in this matter by providing a simple step-by-step guide on how sight in a rifle. Specifically, since most hunters use telescopic sights on their rifles, this article describes how to sight in a rifle with a scope.



How to Sight In A Rifle: Setting Up Your Scope

After you’ve mounted your new scope on your rifle, check one last time to make sure the scope is secure in the rings that the scope rings are tightly mounted to the base. There should be no wiggle whatsoever to the scope.

Next you’ll need to focus the reticle on your scope. You want the crosshairs to be instantly sharp and in focus when you look through the scope.

To do this, point the scope at a solid background (like the sky). Then look away from the scope for a few seconds at a distant object and let your eyes focus on it. Now, look back through your scope for an instant and then look away again.

Was the reticle perfectly in focus? Or was it a little blurry?

You’re looking for a snap judgement here because your eyes will start to adjust if you stare at the reticle for a few seconds.

If the reticle is blurry, twist the diopter adjustment on the scope. This is normally located at the end closest to the shooter. You can see it on my scope in the photo below just to the left of the word “Conquest.”

Continue to make adjustments until the reticle is clear and focused.

How to Sight In A Rifle: Boresighting

When you mount a new scope on a rifle, it’s best to bore sight it before actually shooting the rifle. First, ensure that the rifle is unloaded and that the barrel is unobstructed. Then, remove the bolt of the rifle and mount the rifle in a secure rest pointing downrange. Standing behind the rifle, look through the bore and center the target in the bore by carefully moving the rifle.how to sight in a rifle boresightYour view when looking down the bore of the rifle should look something like the photo below. Then, without moving the rifle, adjust the scope to center the reticle on the same target. The turret on the top of the scope adjusts the elevation (up and down) of the reticle while the turret on the side adjusts the windage (left and right). It is not vitally important for the bore sight to be extremely precise. It just needs to be close enough so that the rifle will hit somewhere on paper at 25 yards in the next step.how to sight in a rifle boresight 2You can also use a laser boresight that fits in the chamber of the rifle to accomplish the same task. The end goal is still the same though: ensure the scope reticle is centered where the rifle is pointing. The laser just makes it a little easier to be precise than merely looking down the bore of the rifle.

How to Sight In A Rifle: Getting On The Paper

After bore sighting the rifle, you’re ready to start shooting. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: when you sight in your rifle prior to going hunting, make sure you use the exact same type of ammunition that you’ll be using on the hunt. Some rifles are more picky than others, but it is virtually guaranteed that your shots will shoot to a different point of impact if you sight in your rifle with one type of ammunition then use a different brand or bullet weight on your hunt.

I like to shoot at 25 yards first, then fine tune my zero at longer ranges. I’ve learned that this saves time, ammunition, and frustration in the long run by avoiding taking shots at 50 or 100 yards that don’t even hit the target. The exact target doesn’t really matter at 25 yards as long as it has a distinct aiming point. Some people use bulls-eye targets with lots of success. I prefer to use a dedicated zero target with an easy to use grid format that helps easily determine my adjustments.

When sighting in your rifle, it is very important to shoot from a stable position with lots of support. Use sandbags or a specially built rifle rest to do this. Whenever possible, avoid supporting the rifle with your muscles as this is less precise than using a stable object like a shooting bag.

Once you’re set in a steady position, fire three shots at the center of your target at 25 yards. You may be able to see your bullets holes in the target through your scope. No matter where you see the bullet holes in the paper, do not change your point of aim. Keep aiming at the bulls-eye, or you’ll end up chasing your shots all over the target. It’s ok if you don’t hit the bulls-eye at first. In fact, you almost certainly won’t.

After you fire your first group, check the target to see where you’re hitting. Measure from the center of your group to the bulls-eye and adjust your scope accordingly. Most rifle scopes have 1/4 MOA adjustments. This means that 1 click will move the bullet impact 1/4″ at 100 yards. However, this means that you need to make 4x times number of clicks (16 clicks=1″) to move the bullet impact the same distance at 25 yards. For example, the point of impact on the target below needs move 1/2″ left and 1″ down. At 25 yards with a 1/4 MOA scope, that’s 8 clicks left and 16 clicks down.how to sight in a rifle target 2The turret on top of the scope moves the bullet impact up and down, while the turret on the side moves it left and right. As you can see in the photo below, most scopes have the measurement increments annotated on the turret along with the proper direction to turn it. In the case of the scope on my rifle, turning the turret clockwise will move the impact of the bullet up or right, depending on which turret you are adjusting.how to sight in a rifle scope adjustmentFor example, assume I shot a group at 25 yards that hit 1″ low and 4″ to the right. Since I need to move the bullet impact up and to the left, I’d turn the top turret 16 clicks clockwise and turn the side turret 64 clicks counterclockwise.

A trick I like to use is to go several clicks past the required number, then go back. For instance to adjust the scope 16 clicks clockwise, I’d go 20 clicks clockwise, then 4 clicks counterclockwise on the top turret. After that, gently tap the turret several times to lock in the adjustments. This is even more important when making very large adjustments or when using low quality scopes.

After making the required number of adjustments, shoot another group at the bulls-eye. If that group hits where you’re aiming, you’re ready to move the target out to 100 yards (or whatever range you want to zero your rifle for). If not, make the necessary adjustments to the scope and shoot until the rifle is dialed in at 25 yards.

How to Sight In A Rifle: Fine Tuning

Using the same techniques described earlier, shoot a group at 100 yards. Since you zeroed the rifle at 25 yards, it should be at least hitting the paper at 100 yards. Measure the distance from the center of your group to the bulls-eye and adjust the scope as necessary. Remember: 4 clicks=1″ at 100 yards, not 16, like at 25 yards! If you decide to sight in your rifle with a 200 yard zero, then 2 clicks=1″ with a 1/4 MOA scope.

When zeroing at 100 yards, your windage should be dead on. However, there is some debate as to where your shots should be hitting elevation wise. If you’ll be hunting at a relatively short range, then it might make sense to adjust your scope so that the bullets are hitting the bulls-eye at 100 yards.




However, sighting in your rifle so it hits slightly high at 100 yards has advantages as well. Each rifle and cartridge is different and an ideal 100 yard zero varies. Using my rifle in the photos (a Ruger M77 Hawkeye in 9.3x62mm Mauser) as an example, I sight it in so my shots hit about 2″ high at 100 yards. With this set up, the bullet will hit ~1″ high at 50 yards, ~1″ high at 150 yards, dead on at 165 yards, and ~3″ low at 200 yards. This means that without having to adjust my scope or my point of aim, I can take a shot on a deer out to 200 yards and still hit the vitals.

If you’re using a flat shooting cartridge like a .300 Winchester Magnum and plan on hunting at longer ranges, then it may be better to sight in your rifle with a 200 yard zero instead. This is easier if you’re at a range that’s long enough where you can simply shoot a target at 200 yards and adjust your scope appropriately. If your range only goes out to 100 yards, then you’ll need to see how high your shots should be hitting at 100 yards for a 200 yard zero. Most boxes of ammunition have that information on them or you can use a ballistic calculator. Then, sight in your rifle so that it hits the correct distance above the bulls-eye at 100 yards.

After you’ve made your final adjustment, fire one last group to confirm it. If the group hits where you want it to, you’re done. Though it’s always a good idea to check your zero prior to hunting season, a good scope will hold a zero for a long time as long as you don’t drop or damage it.

I hope you found my description of how to sight in a rifle with a scope useful and interesting. Are there any other tips or tricks out there that I might have forgot to mention?

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About the Author:

John McAdams is a proficient blogger, long time hunter, experienced shooter, and veteran of combat tours with the US Army in Iraq & Afghanistan. John has written for outdoor publications like Bear Hunting Magazine, The Texas State Rifle Association newsletter, Texas Wildlife Magazine, & Wide Open Spaces. Read some of John’s most popular posts here and feel free to send him a message.

12 Comments

  1. jOHN August 6, 2014 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    John
    Can you suggest a good bullet for a Springfield 1989 45-70 Trapdoor. I am going out west to hunt a buffalo and want to use this old gun.
    Thanks

    • John August 7, 2014 at 2:34 pm - Reply

      Whatever you do, don’t use anything labeled “magnum” or “P+”. The 405gr soft points made by Remington are a good choice. Ammunition labeled “For Use In All Rifles” is what you want (the 405gr Remington load fits the bill here). They are loaded to a low enough pressure that they will work safely in your Trapdoor Springfield, yet will still perform well on bison. Many hunters in the 1800s shot bison with similar loads with great success. Don’t try to break the shoulder though, aim in the armpit, or high in the lungs. Good luck on your hunt!

  2. Rick October 8, 2015 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    Fantastic post John. You are right on the money about many guys getting all pumped up for hunting season with trail cams, camo, maybe even a new ATV, but completely neglect to sight their rifle in. Often everyone looks the part, but can’t perform due to poor planning. Thanks for this, Ill be sure to pass a link on on my site.

  3. Don November 26, 2017 at 11:51 am - Reply

    For me you have the clearest description I have read so far on the Internet. Thanks Don

  4. Mark Carey December 13, 2017 at 10:32 pm - Reply

    This is a very informative article. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Naldo December 18, 2017 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    Best article on how to zero your rifle scope on the internet. Thank you so much!!

    Regards,
    Naldo

  6. Luke December 28, 2017 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    I’m curious, with a scope that has 1/4 inch adjustments at 100 yards you mention 16 clicks = 1″ @ 100 yards? Don’t you mean 4 clicks? Sorry if I’ve misread somehow. My 45-70 has a 1-4x scope on it and the adjustment is 1 click for 1/2inch adjustment at 100 yards. This article was good reading btw

  7. Luke December 28, 2017 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    Oh, please disregard the comment above. I was speed reading…maybe I need to practice doing that more! Haha I see what you wrote in context to the 16 clicks

  8. Gary February 5, 2018 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    I have a savage 110fcp with a 4-14×56 nightforce scope. The scope is .025 that would 1/4 = 1″ at 100 yrs right. What would be the best way to sight it in.

    • John February 6, 2018 at 10:04 am - Reply

      Sounds like you have a pretty typical 1/4 MOA scope. Sight it in using the instructions in the article.

  9. Anonymous July 23, 2018 at 11:30 pm - Reply

    John, I will be hunting Texas wild pigs in about 4 months. I have many rifles but mostly tactical. I’m taking a bolt action 300 win mag with me on this hunt… do you have advice on best round to take pig hunting?

    Thanks Josh

    • John July 26, 2018 at 1:04 pm - Reply

      Josh,
      There are tons of good ammo choices for the .300 Win Mag. Though this is far from the only good .300 Win Mag load, my personal favorite is the Barnes VOR-TX 165gr TTSX. That will really do a number on a hog, plus it’s also a great round for hunting other big game species.
      Good luck on your hog hunt,
      John

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