How to Sight-In A Rifle Scope

Sighting-in, also called zeroing, means adjusting the sights or reticle to coincide with the bullet impact point on the target at the desired range. In other words, make the scope aim where the rifle is shooting.

When To Sight-In A Riflescope

Obviously you must zero after you install a new scope. Also, your scope may need to be re-zeroed occasionally. Occasions that require re-zeroing or at least zero verification are after the scope or mounting system is reinstalled, after your rifle has been reassembled, the action has been reinstalled into the stock, before hunting, after the rifle has been dropped or the scope bumped, a change of brand or bullet type of ammunition, after severe atmospheric condition changes, after an unexplained miss, or whenever zero is in doubt.

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Getting Ready

Get ready to go to the shooting range and sight-in your rifle. There are several things you should do before you head to the range.

You should clean the rifle bore before you sight-in. Clean the bore thoroughly if you have not cleaned the bore recently. Whether you have cleaned the bore recently or not, run a dry cleaning patch through the bore to absorb any residual solvent or oil and be certain the bore is not obstructed.

Check the trigger guard screws or action screws. Tighten them if needed. Check the scope mount screws also.

Is the eye relief distance of your scope adjusted correctly? Incorrectly adjusted eye relief is not only annoying - it can be dangerous if recoil drives the scope into your eye. Do not wait til you shoot your rifle to discover the eye relief distance is too short; check and adjust it before you shoot to be safe. See 'How To Correctly Adjust Eye Relief' on this website to read about the correct way to adjust eye relief.

Do not forget to check the levelness of the reticle after you have adjusted eye relief and before you tighten the scope ring screws. The reticle should be level with the rifle before you sight the scope to the rifle. Reticle cant will cause aiming errors at any range closer or farther than the distance you sighted in.

You can check the focus of the scope reticle at home or you can do it at the shooting range. In any case, the reticle should be focused before you boresight and sight-in your scope. The scope must be focused by you and for you. Wear the same eyeglasses to focus the reticle you will use to sight-in if you wear glasses. Check the current focus setting before you mess with it; it may already be adjusted for you. Do not view the reticle for longer than two seconds. Do the focus check at least three times to be certain. Do not change the focus setting if the reticle was clear the instant you view through the scope. Focus the reticle if it was not clear. Detailed information about reticle focusing is included on the How To Focus A Reticle page.

If you have an optical boresighting tool such as a collimator, you can get boresighting out of the way before you go to the range. An optical boresighter attaches to the muzzle of the rifle either magnetically or with the appropriate size bore arbor. Follow the instructions of your particular boresighting tool. The instructions explain how to align the reticle with the grid pattern in the collimator. Boresighting merely aligns the reticle with the rifle bore. Boresighting does not sight-in the rifle. Since boresighting makes no allowance for muzzle jump, barrel whip, bullet drop, and precession, you still must go to the range to sight-in. However, boresighting will save time and ammunition when do sight-in. When you get to the shooting range the first boresighted shot will probably be much closer to the aim point than if you just when to range and started shooting and wondering where your bullets are going. Boresight Before You Sight-In has more information about boresighting.

You will need:

  • Ruler
  • Marker
  • Pencils
  • A Nickel
  • Ammunition
  • Masking Tape
  • Sight-In Targets
  • Shooting Glasses
  • Hearing Protection

Do you have everything you will need to zero your rifle? Targets, ammunition, hearing protection. . . What are you forgetting? See the Rifle Range Kit page on this website for a list of items you should consider taking.

(Some of the sight-in instructions on this page pertain to the sight-in targets available on this website.)

Be sure to sight-in with the same type of ammunition you will use to hunt. That means same brand, bullet type, and same bullet weight. Hunt with ammunition from the same lot as you zeroed with if you have it. (If the ammunition lot number is not stamped somewhere on the outside of the carton, it may be on the inside of one of the flaps.) Buy or reload enough ammunition before you go to the shooting range to both sight-in and hunt. Use those left over odd rounds of a different brand, bullet type, and bullet weight to practice your shooting technique after you sight-in.

Do you know how far you will be sighting in? How high should you sight-in at 100 yards to achieve your desired sight-in range? Visit the Trajectory Tables page on this website to discover your ammunition's trajectory before you go to the range. Do you need sight-in targets? Check out Print A Sight-In Target to print the appropriate sight-in target for your ammunition's trajectory.

Most scopes have windage and elevation click values of 1/4-inch per 100 yards. That is 1/4-inch per 100 yards. Not 1/4-inch at all ranges. Click values will be different at ranges other than 100 yards. What will the click values be at the distance you will be zeroing for? The Click Value Table on this website shows the click value at various ranges. Print one to take with you.

How is the weather? Do not let an adverse weather system interrupt your range session. You will need time to zero your rifle correctly. Also, it is difficult to zero when the wind is blowing. Zeroing when the wind is blowing will result in a false zero. Attempting to zero when the wind is gusting is frustrating. Therefore, you should zero when the wind is calm. The wind is most likely to be calm early in the morning and late evening. However, evening means it will be getting dark soon. Early morning is usually the best time to zero a rifle for several reasons - daylight is increasing, wind is normally calm, and mirage is less intense.

At The Rifle Range

Laser boresighting and visual boresighting should be done at the range. Twenty-five yards is the best range to boresight because the bullet will cross the your line-of-sight (LOS) at about 25 yards on its way to the target at whatever reasonable distance you sight-in. So claim a shooting bench shooting bench with an unobstructed view of a 25-yard target frame as soon as you get to the shooting range.

Why should you boresight? Two good reasons to boresight are to save time and to save ammunition. Boresighting helps to get your first shot, when you finally take it, somewhere - anywhere - on the target. You'll have an idea how to adjust if your first shot hits somewhere on your target. There is no use in walking a sight-in target way out at your intended final zero range then discovering that your first bullet missed the whole darn target. Maybe you will get lucky and hit the target with your first shot. Maybe. Don't count on it. How many shots will you shoot just to get on paper? Better just boresight. 'Boresight Before You Sight-In' has more information about boresighting.

Turn the scope magnification to its lowest power setting if it has variable-power. Adjust the parallax to 25 yards or as close as you can to 25 yards if your scope has parallax adjustment. Install your laser boresighter and point it at the 25-yard target or remove the bolt if you have a bolt action rifle and view the target through the bore after you post a target at 25 yards. Stabilize the rifle, remove the scope turret caps, place a penny or nickel in the coin slot on the windage dial (the dial on the right side of the scope), and adjust the vertical crosshair into alignment with the laser spot on the 25-yard target or, if you are boresighting visually, adjust the vertical crosshair to the middle of the target as viewed through the bore. Adjust the horizontal crosshair with the elevation dial (the dial on top) second. Most riflescopes have click adjustments based on a distance of 100 yards. You must adjust four times as many clicks to center the reticle on the laser spot or boresight target at 25 yards. Refer to the Click Value TableTurn the laser boresighter off and remove it after you adjust the reticle to the laser spot or reinstall the bolt if you boresighted visually through a bolt-action.

Hold the windage dial with a coin so it does not turn, loosen the screw that secures the windage scale (if the scale is secured by a screw), align the "0" on the scale with the index mark on the windage turret, then retighten the screw that secure the scale. Do the same with the elevation scale. Reinstall the turret caps.

First-Shot

Be sure the range is clear. If range rules allow, you may as well take your first shot at the 25-yard boresight target since you already have a target posted there anyway. Besides, the bullet will cross the LOS at about 25 yards on its way to the sight-in target at whatever reasonable distance you decide to sight-in. This shot can also be your fouling shot to remove any residual oil or solvent you missed with your dry cleaning patch earlier. (Be warned: the rules of some rifles ranges prohibit shooting a centerfire rifle at a target less than 50 yards away. That makes no sense because muzzle blast for any particular rifle will be the same whether you aim at a target 25, 50, 100-yards, or whatever distance away. The bullet has to pass through 25 yards on its way to a 50-yard or beyond target anyway. Do not violate the range rules. Place a sight-in target at the minimum distance allowed and start from there.)

Use the same type of ammunition you will use to hunt. Aim as carefully at the center of the boresight target as you would at a sight-in target at 100 yards or beyond. Take your time. Do not let yourself be distracted. Apply the fundamentals of accurate shooting - stable position, steady rest, natural point-of-aim, good sight picture, breath control, gentle trigger squeeze, and follow-through. Shoot only when you are ready.

Did your shot hit where you aimed? Probably not. Boresighting does not take barrel whip, parallax, wind drift, and a few other factors into account. But if you boresighted correctly, the bullet hole will be somewhere on the target. When the range is cold ("cold" means no one is shooting or ready to shoot), use a ruler to measure the distance the center of the bullet hole is from the vertical line. Measure how far the center of the bullet hole is from the horizontal line separately. Write both these two distances on your notepad. The arrows on the scope elevation and windage dials indicate the correct directions to turn to move the bullet point-of-impact (POI) to the point-of-aim (POA) you used, so adjust accordingly. Remember, the click values are worth only 1/4th at 25 yards what they are at 100 yards. For example, 1/4-MOA (about 1/4-inch) clicks at 100 yards move the POI only 1/16-inch at 25 yards. If you are not sure you measured and adjusted correctly, fire another shot at the 25-yard boresight target and readjust. Reset the windage and elevation scales to "0".

Retrieve your 25-yard boresight target if your are certain that you measured and adjusted correctly.

Sighting-In

Post a sight-in target at 100 yards. You could first sight-in directly at 100 yards then subsequently adjust the POI the appropriate height above the POA needed to sight-in at the desired range. Or you could simply sight-in the appropriate distance high at 100 yards from the start. (Visit the Trajectory Tables page before you go to the shooting range and select a trajectory table to see the recommended sight-in range for your ammunition and the estimated trajectory at 100 yards. The following instructions pertain to the sight-in targets available on the 'Print A Sight-In Target' page, so print a 100-yard sight-in target that matches your ammunition's trajectory at 100 yards. Print a duplicate target while you are at it to keep at the shooting bench with you for reference.)

Turn your scope's power to its highest setting if it has variable power and adjust parallax to 100 yards if it has a parallax adjustment. Adjust the shooting bench, rest, and rifle to you. If you will hunt with a bipod or a support sling, use it to sight-in also. When the range is clear, load one round of the same type of ammunition you will hunt with, assume a stable shooting position, and aim directly at the point-of-aim on the sight-in target. Apply the fundamentals of accurate shooting. Take your time. Fire just one shot. Try to make it your best shot.

Do not make any scope adjustments yet. How did the shot feel? Did you do everything right? Admit to yourself if you messed up; no one else has to know. Simply consider that shot a practice shot if you messed it up. You are still sighting-in, so do not expect to hit your intended POI on the target yet. If that shot was not acceptable you, either walk downrange and tape over the bullet hole or, if you can see it on the target through your spotting scope, plot its position on the duplicate target you kept at the bench and "X" it out so you remember to disregard it. Wait at least three minutes to let the barrel cool then make the next shot better.

If the first shot (or a subsequent shot) felt good, consider it your first sight-in shot. When the range is cold, walk downrange with your notepad, duplicate target, pencil, marker, and ruler. First, draw a circle around the bullet hole with the marker so you can see it better back at the firing line. Next, measure how far the center of the bullet hole is left or right of the middle vertical line. Round the measurement to the nearest 1/4-inch (or round to the nearest 1/2-inch if your scope has 1/2-inch click values or 1/8-inch if it has 1/8-inch clicks). Then measure how far the bullet hole is above or below the horizontal line that bisects the impact circle. Round that measurement also. Either write both of these measurements on the notepad so you do not forget them by the time you get back to your shooting bench or simply plot the bullet hole on the duplicate target. Designate the horizontal measurement with a left or right arrow to indicate which direction you must make the scope adjustment to move the POI and designate the vertical measurement with an up or down arrow. (Alternatively, you can view the target from the firing line with a spotting scope, plot the bullet hole on the duplicate target, and take the measurements there. The sight-in targets available on the Print A Sight-In Target page have parallel lines spaced 1/4-inch apart to help measure and plot bullet holes.)

Adjusting The Scope

Back at the shooting bench, calculate the scope adjustments required to move the POI to the center of the impact circle. Calculate the windage adjustment first. Simply count the number of 1/4-inches (or 1/2-inches or 1/8-inches depending on the click values of your scope) the center of the bullet hole was left or right of the middle vertical line on the target. Verify that you did reset the dial scale to "0" so you can return to it if you miscount the clicks. (Hint: If the wind was blowing from the left or right when you fired the 100-yard shot, leave the windage dial where it was after you adjust previously for the 25-yard shot. The windage you adjusted at 25 yards is probably closer to correct than the windage at 100 yards because the wind drifted the bullet much more at 100 yards than it did at 25 yards. Of course, if the wind was not blowing from the left or right, adjust the windage for 100 yards.) Turn the windage dial that number of clicks. The arrows on the dials indicate the correct direction to move the POI. Refer to dial images printed on the duplicate target if the scope dials or target knobs do not have arrows. Reset the dial scale to "0". Then adjust the elevation to the center of the impact circle in the same manner.

By now the barrel should be cool. Realistically, you will be shooting your first shot at game from a cold rifle barrel, so sight-in with a cold barrel as well. Let the barrel cool at least three minutes between shots and at least five minute between shot groups.

Do not assume the first shot was ideal and your scope adjustments were perfect. The scope click values are not always precise 1/4-inch or 1/8-inch or whatever at 100 yards, so fire the next shot to verify the scope adjustments you just made. Aim more carefully than you did previously. (Always try to make each shot your best shot.) Use the same POA as you did for the previous sight-in shot. Fire just one shot again.

Did this shot land within the large impact circle on the target? It probably did if you fired this and the previous shot carefully and you made the correct scope adjustments (and the click values are precisely as indicated). Measure the bullet hole distance from the center of the impact circle and readjust the scope accordingly if that shot did not land within the large circle.

Estimating MPI

If the shot did land within the large circle, fire two more good shots to form a shot group, allowing the barrel to cool at least three minutes between shots. This is not a competition, so you can disregard any shots you believe you messed up and fire another. Plot the shot group on your duplicate target considering only your good shots and disregarding any bad shots or go downrange to measure the group when the range is cold. If your shot group is not centered in the impact circle, you must adjust it.

Adjusting a shot group is a bit different than adjusting a single bullet hole. Tape over or "X" out the bad shots and draw lines with a marker to connect the three good shots you accept as your shot group. A shot group rarely forms a perfect geometric shape. Unless the lines draw a unilateral triangle, you must determine the mean point-of-impact (MPI) of that group and adjust MPI to the center of the impact circle. The MPI is not the center of the group unless connecting the three bullet holes form an equilateral triangle. You could take time to measure, calculate, and plot the MPI precisely but that will be not necessary because you will round it to the nearest click adjustment value later anyway. So just estimate. Imagine a vertical line about 2 inches long half way between the two bullet holes with the least lateral space between them. Estimate 2/3 of the distance between the farthest laterally displaced bullet hole and the vertical line. Draw vertical pencil line about 2 inches long there. Similarly, imagine a horizontal line half way between two bullet holes with the least vertical dispersion between them. It may be the same two bullet holes for some shot groups. Estimate 2/3 of the distance between the farthest vertically displaced bullet hole and the vertical line. Draw a horizontal pencil line about 2 inches long there. The estimate MPI is where the two pencil lines cross. Now measure the lateral distance of the MPI from the center of the impact circle of the target then measure the vertical distance. Jot down both measurements so you do forget them. Replace the target if you believe you will have trouble distinguishing any new bullet holes from the current holes. Change the scope windage and elevation adjustments accordingly back at the bench. Reset the dial scales to "0" after you complete the adjustments.

Fire another good 3-shot group after the barrel has cooled for at least five minutes. Allow the barrel to cool at least three minutes between shots. The MPI of this group should be near the center of the impact circle. If not, readjust the scope windage and elevation dials as required, reset the dial scales, and shoot another group. Do not forget to reinstall the scope turret caps after you have sighted in.

Beyond 100 Yards

Your scope will be zeroed to 100 yards (or to shoot the appropriate distance high at 100 yards for a more distant sight-in range). Does your shooting range extend all the way out to your desired sight-in distance? If it does, you should post a target out there, fire a shot-group, then make scope adjustments if needed. Do not be too concerned if your shot group is a bit larger at the farther range. That is normal. However, it should be centered around the point-of-aim (POA) at that range unless the wind is blowing, in which case the windage dial should still be where it was after you shot at 25 yards. Refer to the Click Value Table for the click values at that range if you must make scope adjustments.

Do you have some odd rounds of a different type of ammunition that remain from an earlier range session or previous hunting season? Use them to practice your shooting technique after you sight-in. But do not change the scope dial settings for the odd ammunition. Leave the dials set for the ammunition you used to zero. You are only practicing your shooting technique. It is okay if the bullets do not hit where you aim. Your scope should still be zeroed for the ammunition you will hunt with which is what this range session is all about.

Some sight-in sessions at the rifle range are better than others. But a bad day at the range is still better than a good day at work. May your next sight-in session be your best!

Adjusting The Scope

Back at the shooting bench, calculate the scope adjustments required to move the POI to the center of the impact circle. Calculate the windage adjustment first. Simply count the number of 1/4-inches (or 1/2-inches or 1/8-inches depending on the click values of your scope) the center of the bullet hole was left or right of the middle vertical line on the target. Verify that you did reset the dial scale to "0" so you can return to it if you miscount the clicks. (Hint: If the wind was blowing from the left or right when you fired the 100-yard shot, leave the windage dial where it was after you adjust previously for the 25-yard shot. The windage you adjusted at 25 yards is probably closer to correct than the windage at 100 yards because the wind drifted the bullet much more at 100 yards than it did at 25 yards. Of course, if the wind was not blowing from the left or right, adjust the windage for 100 yards.) Turn the windage dial that number of clicks. The arrows on the dials indicate the correct direction to move the POI. Refer to dial images printed on the duplicate target if the scope dials or target knobs do not have arrows. Reset the dial scale to "0". Then adjust the elevation to the center of the impact circle in the same manner.

By now the barrel should be cool. Realistically, you will be shooting your first shot at game from a cold rifle barrel, so sight-in with a cold barrel as well. Let the barrel cool at least three minutes between shots and at least five minute between shot groups.

Do not assume the first shot was ideal and your scope adjustments were perfect. The scope click values are not always precise 1/4-inch or 1/8-inch or whatever at 100 yards, so fire the next shot to verify the scope adjustments you just made. Aim more carefully than you did previously. (Always try to make each shot your best shot.) Use the same POA as you did for the previous sight-in shot. Fire just one shot again.

Did this shot land within the large impact circle on the target? It probably did if you fired this and the previous shot carefully and you made the correct scope adjustments (and the click values are precisely as indicated). Measure the bullet hole distance from the center of the impact circle and readjust the scope accordingly if that shot did not land within the large circle.

Estimating MPI

If the shot did land within the large circle, fire two more good shots to form a shot group, allowing the barrel to cool at least three minutes between shots. This is not a competition, so you can disregard any shots you believe you messed up and fire another. Plot the shot group on your duplicate target considering only your good shots and disregarding any bad shots or go downrange to measure the group when the range is cold. If your shot group is not centered in the impact circle, you must adjust it.

Adjusting a shot group is a bit different than adjusting a single bullet hole. Tape over or "X" out the bad shots and draw lines with a marker to connect the three good shots you accept as your shot group. A shot group rarely forms a perfect geometric shape. Unless the lines draw a unilateral triangle, you must determine the mean point-of-impact (MPI) of that group and adjust MPI to the center of the impact circle. The MPI is not the center of the group unless connecting the three bullet holes form an equilateral triangle. You could take time to measure, calculate, and plot the MPI precisely but that will be not necessary because you will round it to the nearest click adjustment value later anyway. So just estimate. Imagine a vertical line about 2 inches long half way between the two bullet holes with the least lateral space between them. Estimate 2/3 of the distance between the farthest laterally displaced bullet hole and the vertical line. Draw vertical pencil line about 2 inches long there. Similarly, imagine a horizontal line half way between two bullet holes with the least vertical dispersion between them. It may be the same two bullet holes for some shot groups. Estimate 2/3 of the distance between the farthest vertically displaced bullet hole and the vertical line. Draw a horizontal pencil line about 2 inches long there. The estimate MPI is where the two pencil lines cross. Now measure the lateral distance of the MPI from the center of the impact circle of the target then measure the vertical distance. Jot down both measurements so you do forget them. Replace the target if you believe you will have trouble distinguishing any new bullet holes from the current holes. Change the scope windage and elevation adjustments accordingly back at the bench. Reset the dial scales to "0" after you complete the adjustments.

Fire another good 3-shot group after the barrel has cooled for at least five minutes. Allow the barrel to cool at least three minutes between shots. The MPI of this group should be near the center of the impact circle. If not, readjust the scope windage and elevation dials as required, reset the dial scales, and shoot another group. Do not forget to reinstall the scope turret caps after you have sighted in.

Beyond 100 Yards

Your scope will be zeroed to 100 yards (or to shoot the appropriate distance high at 100 yards for a more distant sight-in range). Does your shooting range extend all the way out to your desired sight-in distance? If it does, you should post a target out there, fire a shot-group, then make scope adjustments if needed. Do not be too concerned if your shot group is a bit larger at the farther range. That is normal. However, it should be centered around the point-of-aim (POA) at that range unless the wind is blowing, in which case the windage dial should still be where it was after you shot at 25 yards. Refer to the Click Value Table for the click values at that range if you must make scope adjustments.

Do you have some odd rounds of a different type of ammunition that remain from an earlier range session or previous hunting season? Use them to practice your shooting technique after you sight-in. But do not change the scope dial settings for the odd ammunition. Leave the dials set for the ammunition you used to zero. You are only practicing your shooting technique. It is okay if the bullets do not hit where you aim. Your scope should still be zeroed for the ammunition you will hunt with which is what this range session is all about.

Some sight-in sessions at the rifle range are better than others. But a bad day at the range is still better than a good day at work. May your next sight-in session be your best!


Bonus: "The One-Shot Method" to Sight-In 

This other method, often called the "One-Shot Sight-In" method, involves adjusting the reticle to the bullet hole instead adjusting the point-of-impact to the reticle. It requires you to be able see a bullet hole with your scope at 100 yards

After boresighting at 25 yards, ensure both dial scales on the scope have been reset to "0", aim at a target posted at 100 yards, and fire only one good shot. If you cannot easily distinguish the bullet hole through your scope or if you intend to eventually sight-in to a distance beyond 100 yards, walk downrange when the range is cold and draw a small circle around the bullet hole with a black marker. If you intend to sight-in to a range beyond 100 yards, draw and fill in a second circle to make a dot about 1/2-inch in diameter centered the same distance directly below the bullet hole as the trajectory would be above the line-of-sight (LOS) for whatever final range you intend to sight-in. Measure and note the horizontal and vertical distances of the center of the dot - or the center of the bullet hole if the final sight-in range will actually be 100 yards - from the point-of-aim (POA) you used to fire the shot.

Back at the shooting bench, place the unloaded rifle in a sight-in vise, aim at the same POA you used to fire the shot, and tighten the vise so the reticle remains fixed on the POA when you let go. Carefully step away from the rifle so you do not disturb it. Round both the measurements you made at the target to the nearest scope click value and, standing next to the shooting bench while touching only the scope dials so you do not disturb the rifle, make the appropriate windage and elevation adjustments on the scope. Normally the scope adjustments move the POI to the reticle. However, because you are trying to adjust the reticle to the bullet hole or dot you drew on the target, the scope adjustments work in reverse of what is indicated by the arrows on the dials. (For example, turning the dial "UP" moves the reticle down and turning the dial "LEFT" moves the reticle right.) Turn the dial back to "0" if you get confused or lose count of clicks. If you disturb the rifle, turn both dials back to "0", aim the reticle at the POA again, and start the over click adjustments over.

View through the scope after you make the scope adjustments without disturbing the rifle. The reticle will be on or close to the dot (or the bullet hole if your final sight-in range is 100 yards) if you made the correct scope adjustments. Without disturbing or touching the rifle so you do not have the urge to aim at the dot, make the remaining few scope adjustments required to move the reticle to the dot while viewing through the scope. Reset the dial scales to "0" after you adjust the reticle to the dot.

Okay, now you can disturb the rifle. Remove the rifle from the sight-in vise, aim at the POA on the target, and shoot a 3-shot group to verify your attempt to sight-in with only one shot.
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