Fitted it and let me guess…for a certain reason your shots are landing nowhere near the crosshairs?
Sadly there’s additional to riflescope sharp shooting than simply plonking the scope on the rifle and forever after engaging like a SAS sniper! You should “zero” it.
Assume regarding it. It’s like a bike wheel. If you tighten the bolts wrong, too much on one side, for example, it spins wrong and rubs the brake pads. It’s the same with a rifle scope. If it’s not set up correctly it is going to be offline and even at short air firearm, airsoft, and paintball range, this is going to throw your accuracy right off.
- 1 What Does It Mean To Zero a Rifle Scope?
- 2 Use the Math when learning How to Zero a Scope for Long Range Shooting
- 3 Installing your rifle scope
- 4 Ammunition is one of the core elements of the shooting experience.
- 5 Make sure your scope is mounted securely and sits level on the rifle.
- 6 How To Zero a Rifle Scope
- 7 At what range should you zero a rifle?
- 8 How much is 1 click on a scope?
- 9 5 Steps to Zero a Rifle Scope at 100 Yards
- 10 How To Find Optical Zero on Your Scope
- 11 Equipment To Do The Job
- 12 Conclusion
What Does It Mean To Zero a Rifle Scope?
Before we go over the process, let us clarify what zeroing a rifle scope means. Simply put, zeroing refers to aligning your scope or optic with your barrel so the crosshairs match where the bullet will fall.
This is of the most important parts of shooting, and arguably, one of the most overlooked.
A rifle is considered to be zeroed in when the bullets hit the intended target with a margin of error that is no more than a few inches.
Most of the newer scopes that are produced are much easier to zero in than their older counterparts, but it still takes a lot of time, patience, and precision.
There is no right or wrong way to calibrate one of your best rifle scopes to a particular firearm.
The shooter must make some assumptions if this is the first time sighting the scope and they are going to hunt rather than range fire the rifle.
No set rule on how you must zero your rifle. If you want, you can zero your rifle for a distance of 50, 150, or 200 yards. Shooting in hills and densely wooded areas, zero for 100 yards max should be the objective.
Use the Math when learning How to Zero a Scope for Long Range Shooting
87% of people learning how to zero scopes at the range use trial and error to zero their optics. You’ve seen it. Fire a shot. Look at the target. Spin the turrets one way. Fire again. Spin them the other way.
Fortunately, all of that trial and error is completely avoidable because scope turrets give you all the information you need to make an accurate adjustment on the first try.
Use information readily available at your fingertips, to make accurate adjustments and avoid wasted time and ammo.
Most scopes have turrets marked with something like “1 Click = ¼-inch.” Sometimes you might see a marking like “1/4 MOA (A Minute Of Angle is 1/60th of a degree).”
Here’s what it means: at 100 yards, a single click will move a bullet impact hole ¼ inch in the direction of the marking.
Think proportionally when moving to 50 yards or out to 200 yards. At half the distance, each click will move the impact hole by half, so at 50 yards, a bullet impact hole will be ½ of ¼ inch or 1/8th.
Move to 200 yards and double the impact placement. 1 click would equal two times a ¼ of an inch or ½.
Scope turrets may also be represented by milliradians or 1 click = .1 mills. (a mil represents 3.6 inches at 100 yards.) The impact on milliradian turrets is .36 or 1/3rd of an inch at 100 yards. A 50-yard impact would be ½ of .36 inches.
Installing your rifle scope
While this isn’t a guide on how to install a scope, it is incredibly important that your scope is installed correctly. If the scope is not correctly installed it can be impossible to zero. Depending on the scope rings or mount setup, the installation may be slightly different for each scope.
At closer ranges, a less than vertical crosshair won’t matter all that much. However, at longer ranges, a slight misalignment will cause a lateral miss. For example, a single degree of scope can’t error can shift your point of impact by five inches at 1,000 yards.
You can check the level of your crosshairs by making sure your rifle is perfectly level and then lining up the vertical crosshair with an object that you know is dead on vertical.
Properly mounting a scope is a crucial piece of getting the best accuracy from a rifle. Watch as Larry Potterfield shows how he installs a rifle scope on a pre-64 Winchester Model 70.
Mount the base and rings on the scope
Tighten the screws into the mounts according to the manufacturer’s directions. It’s best to proceed in an X pattern so that you are not pulling one way or the other. Start the screws loosely at first, so you can make adjustments if necessary.
Start with a good quality base mount and mounting rings to ensure that your scope will be held sturdy for years to come.
Mount the scope on the rifle
Lay the scope into the bracket. Use a small torpedo level, laying it on the top of your scope to check for level, and tightening the rings firmly.
Position the eyepiece correctly
Your image should be sharp and clear when you look through the eyepiece, when this is achieved you know you are in the correct place.
Level your cross-hair
Your rifle should be held in a steady position, mounted on a stand so that the rifle stock is level and square to the ground level. Start rotating the cross-hair so that the vertical cross-hair is at the top dead center, or 12 o’clock. It’s important to get the cross-hairs oriented in the correct position now before you tighten it down.
Tighten your mounting base securely
Make sure that the cross-hair remains the top dead center, then gradually tighten your mounting rings. Tighten each screw only half a thread at a time constantly checking the cross-hair hasn’t moved.
Here’s a great video from Midway USA that walks you through how to mount a scope properly. Gunsmithing – How to Properly Mount a Scope Presented by Larry Porterfield of Midway USA
Ammunition is one of the core elements of the shooting experience.
Choosing the right load is key – and will depend on the gun being used, the level of shooting expertise, the quarry, the terrain, and the target.
When you zero scope to a rifle, you are also zeroing it to a specific type of ammunition. This is called a load. Once a scope is zeroed to a certain load of ammunition, this load will be the most precise for that scope. Other loads of the same caliber may cause slight variations in inaccuracy.
When selecting the ammunition for your firearm, remember the following.
- You must use the correct cartridge or shotshell for your rifle, handgun, or shotgun.
- You should also consider the species being hunted, the hunting environment, and the hunting regulations.
Make sure your scope is mounted securely and sits level on the rifle.
Ensure that the riflescope is mounted level and also torqued to the correct factory-recommended settings using an appropriate torque wrench.
Use a tool like the Wheeler Scope Mounting Kit Combo Engineering to make sure Your best rifle scopes line up.
If this is the first time that you’re firing the rifle it’s best to take 10-20 minutes and dry fire your gun to get a good feel for the trigger.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the trigger on your rifle, it’s time to set a distance to zero your scope. Most riflescope manufacturers suggest zeroing at 100 yards.
To get consistent and accurate shots, a rifle bench rest or sandbags are a must. Regardless of your method of shooting, stabilization is the most important factor in how to zero a scope. To correctly zero a rifle and scope, shooters need a stable platform to shoot from. It is also highly beneficial to have a spotting scope next to you focused on the target you’re shooting at.
While aimed at the dead center of the target, take two controlled shots. More often than not, these first shots are going to be somewhere in this lower left area.
How To Zero a Rifle Scope
The only way to accurately sight-in a rifle scope is to shoot it from a variety of positions.
Use a bulls-eye target specifically for zeroing. These will typically have lots of measurements that will let you make accurate adjustments on the rifle. The more sure how “off” each hit is, the more accurately you’ll be able to sight it in.
Follow the specific regulations and rules at the range at which you’re shooting.
Mount the gun in a rest
To give yourself the most accurate zero, you need to mount your gun into a rest specifically for this purpose.
If you don’t have a solid gun rest, get in as solid a position for shooting as possible. Even just setting up a couple of steady books, or your boots, or your jacket, will help you to rest the gun on something and shoot more accurately. Just make sure whatever you’re resting it on is clear of the bolt.
Load the gun and take three to five shots with the rifle
Wait for the signal that the range is hot, and look through your scope, training the sight on the bulls-eye. Using a proper stock to cheek weld and maintain the same sight picture as you usually do. Take the safety off the rifle. At the end of your exhale, hold for a split-second, and then squeeze the trigger firmly without jerking it for the most accurate shot. Repeat 3-5 times for the most accurate first run.
Examine your shot grouping
Wait for the signal that the range is cold, then safety and unload your rifle, checking it twice to be sure. Retrieve your target, or examine it through a range sight to get an accurate picture of your shots.
Make adjustments using the knobs, and recheck
Return to your rifle, and make adjustments using the adjustment knobs on the top and one side of the scope. Each scope will have a slightly different mechanism for making adjustments, but the principles are the same.
Fire a few more rounds, check the grouping, and readjust
It’s a good idea to mark the holes in the target that you’ve already made, so you don’t get confused later, or to use a new target.
Set zero from multiple distances.
Start at 20 yards (18.3 m), then move out to about 75. Try not to move more than 50 yards (45.7 m) at a time, to keep yourself making little adjustments. If you have time and feel like you could still make more adjustments, you can move into the 200–300 yard (180–270 m) range and get ambitious.
At what range should you zero a rifle?
The answer to the question of where to start and how far out, has a lot of dependencies to answer correctly.
The most useful zero depends on the bullet’s trajectory and on how far you intend to shoot.
If this is the first time bolting on the scope, Bore-sight at 25 yards, first.
If you have confidence and experience in your shooting, 50 yards may be a better target, to begin with.
For most big-game rifles, a 200-yard zero makes sense. Sight in there with a. 30-06 or a similar cartridge and your bullet will stay within three vertical inches of point of aim out to 250 yards or so.
Zero at 25 Yards
The correct distance depends on the bullet trajectory and the height of the scope.
Sighting your rifle in at 25 yards will allow you to have accurate shot placement from point-blank to about 300 yards.
You can set your scope for 100 yards shooting at 25-yard distance. You can do this by setting your point of impact lower than your aim at 25 yards. Usually, it requires a lower adjustment of .5” – 1.5”.
That means if your bullets are hitting the bulls-eye exactly .5 to 1.5 inches below that target at 25 yards, the same scope zero should work accurately at 100 yards.
The video gives instructions; First, Bore Sighting, then zeroing at 25 yards, and finally at 100 yards.
Zero at 50 Yards
If you set your zero at 50 yards, the angles are less severe. The barrel is angled less aggressively towards the line of sight. With a 50 yard zero, your bullet will only be about 1.57 inches above the line of sight at 100 yards and height maxes out just over 2 inches above around 150 yards.
Bullet angles are going to be less severe with a starting zero of 50 yards. Your barrel angle will not be as aggressive with this distance.
Zero at 100 Yards
Although not completely universal the 100-yard zero is very common.
At 100 yards the bullet has a slight downward arc to the intersect line, no matter the caliber, or load.
With a 100-yard zero, bullets never travel above the line of sight. Wind and gravity also play a role at this distance.
If you need to zero your rifle, there is no better place to start, in my opinion, than at 100 yards. There are a few reasons for this.
Many of the settings for your scope are based on 100-yard increments, like MOA (Minutes Of Angle). Your adjustment may be in MOA and your reticle may be at MOA.
This is sort of the perfect base distance for minimal environmental condition changes at various locations.
Most deer hunting is usually done at between 100 and 300 yards, so 100-yard increments is a sensible place to zero.
How much is 1 click on a scope?
If you’re looking at a target 100 yards away, four clicks will move the bullet’s point-of-impact one inch. The principle is the same for those scopes having 1/8 MOA per click — it takes eight clicks to equal one MOA, and when your target is 100 yards away, those eight clicks will move the point-of-impact one inch.
5 Steps to Zero a Rifle Scope at 100 Yards
The first thing you can do is to set your rifle, scope, and target up. Make sure that your rifle is set in your gun rest or other secure support that you have chosen for minimal movement. If you are using a rest, secure the rifle on it so that it does not move while shooting. Don’t forget your safety glasses and hearing protection. You are ready to shoot.
Look through the scope
You must get a clear, distinct image when setting up the shot so make sure magnification is set at the correct range. Fine-tune the scope direction with windage and elevation adjustments to point the reticle at the center of the target.
Aim your rifle and put your reticle in the center of the bulls-eye. Make sure your rifle is secure in that position. Fire three or four shots and make sure they are consistent.
The point of impact will be the starting position from where you will need to adjust your scope.
If your shots don’t even hit the target, it could mean your scope requires greater adjustment. Now, the easiest way to do this is to start making your adjustments by turning the turrets and moving the reticle up or down, and left or right to place the reticle over top of the actual first shots. This way, you are re-aligning the reticle to match the true dead center, where the bullet is hitting.
Another way to do this is to measure how far off you are in inches, break those down into quarters, and adjust by counting clicks accordingly.
For example, suppose your scope makes adjustments of ½ inches for each click. If the shot falls 2.5 inches below the target and 3 inches to the left, you will need to adjust the aim by 5 MOA up and 6 MOA to the right.
Re-Position The Rifle
Now you can re-position your rifle and aim your reticle back to the target’s bulls-eye. Secure the rifle and double-check that your reticle is dead center of the target’s bulls-eye. This should have you pretty close to where you need to be.
If you have made the right adjustments after the initial shot, the rifle’s accuracy should improve and you will be closer to the target. If you are still off by a few inches, make finer adjustments and you should be good to go.
How To Find Optical Zero on Your Scope
There are situations when a shooter must find “Optical Zero” on their scope. Zeroing a scope may be more difficult than expected, and your results are not what you want.
The video gives instructions: how to find optical zero on your scope
Equipment To Do The Job
Doing the job correctly and with consistency over time, requires the right equipment.
The items below are personal preference only and should be viewed as such. Use the following equipment as a starting point for further research.
- A quality rifle rest is a must-have piece of equipment. Shooting rests come in varied designs, configurations, and in general, are priced well within reason. The Caldwell Lead Sled DFT 2 is an excellent example of an ambidextrous gun rest. Plenty of adjustments and recoil comfort. The Caldwell Rest can accommodate a massive variety of rifles and ammo and features non-marring materials.
- The old sandbags have gone high-tech. TWOD Shooting Rest Bags are versatile bags for resting rifles and other equipment on any surface. Extremely durable and water-resistant.
- SVBONY SV28 Spotting Scope. A spotting scope makes the job of zeroing so much easier with one person. The SVBONY features plenty of adjustments for range magnification and a wider field of view. The SV28 is dust, water, and debris proof.
- Shooter’s Case from Plano. The case offers lots of storage, with a handy add-on feature, the attached yoke system to clean and maintain a rifle securely.
- Paper targets are still the primary means to examine an impact hole, try one of these new Splatterburst Targets. Impact holes burst a bright fluorescent yellow after a hit. Easily seen from a distance, these targets are a reliable replacement for a spotting scope.
As you can see, zeroing rifle scope is a relatively easy process, but people who are new to firearms may be a little confused by exactly how to do it.
Zeroing your scope simply means ensuring that your bullet will hit exactly where your crosshairs or reticle are. It is easy to do, but it does take some time. It may also require getting into the owner’s manual of your scope to figure out exactly how to adjust it.
Learn the art of bore-sighting, either manually or use one of the enormous numbers of technological devices available.
Embrace technology and have a blast, in the field or the range. Purchase a rifle rest to make sure the shot is on target.
Precision optics are more advanced now than just a few short years ago. Technology has made the sport of hunting and shooting a lot more fun for everyone.
Zeroing does not have to be a tedious or intimidating thing. By following the steps in this guide, you are on your way to tuning in your scope so you can hit your target every time. Now all you need to do is keep practicing and shooting to improve your aim!
Vortex Optics has also put together a good video that walks through how to zero a scope from start to finish.
Experience the Fun and Excitement of Shooting at Your Local Firing Range!