How to Zero a Scope and Rifle


Millions of avid shooters have learned the process of zeroing a rifle by trial and error; while others borrow techniques from experienced shooters and pass the information on. 


There is no right or wrong way to calibrate one of your best rifle scopes to a particular firearm. The correct procedure is always what feels natural to the shooter and gets the job done correctly. 


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. Shooting in hills and densely wooded areas, zero for 100 yards max should be the objective.


 States like Texas and Oklahoma, with flat and long-ranging landscapes, zeroing at 150 to 200 yards is essential. 


Make sure your scope is mounted securely and sits level on the rifle. Your vertical crosshair should be lined up to the centerline of your rifle. Any misalignments and there will be lateral misses.

long-range-rifle-scope-setter

Rifle Scope Setter

Use a tool like the Scope Setter to make sure Your best rifle scopes line up before heading to the range. 


Your Teachers Said, Math Will Last A Lifetime; Here's How :


Instead of using the tried and true method of firing a shot, spinning the turret and firing another shot. Use information readily available at your fingertips, to make accurate adjustments and avoid wasted time and ammo.


Windage and elevation turrets have markings such as 1 click = 1/4 inch or ¼ MOA (A Minute Of Angle is 1/60th of a degree).

rifle scope minute of angle measurement

MOA Measurements

The markings mean: 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. 


ather than spending the day firing off one shot after another and spinning the turret, find the specific information on your scope and make Your teacher proud! 

Get on Paper 

Your shiny new scope is firmly attached to a rifle. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing if it will hit anything, let alone a target.


There are two methods to get on paper and evaluate the impacts. 

rifle paper target

Paper Target

1.
rifle-bore-sighter

Bore Sighter

Is a reliable well documented way to calibrate a rifle to the scope. Remove the bolt from a bolt-action or lower receiver from an AR-style rifle and point the rifle naturally toward the target. (experts believe starting at 25 yards is best) Remove both turret covers.


Look through the barrel and center the bullseye exactly in the center of the bore and lock in position. 


Move to your scope, rotate the elevation turret until the crosshair is aligned vertically on the bullseye. Repeat the process with your windage turret.


If there is any firearm movement, recheck the bore and re-center (this is where a firearm rest comes in handy). 


Your scope is now bore-sighted. Reassemble the rifle and shoot a round and examine the impact hole. If the shot is accurate, you are ready to start zeroing. 

2.

Zero at 25 Yards

Is an additional step/method. This technique can be used in conjunction with bore sighting.


Steady your rifle and set a target at 25 or 50 yards, use the math described above. As an example, target dead center to get on paper, examine the impact hole.


If the bullet hits dead center laterally but is four inches above the target center, make 64 clicks down. All things being equal, your next shot should be dead on at the center of your target. 


The National Shooting Sports Foundation has produced an excellent video on the subject of zeroing a scope at short distances.


The video gives instructions; First, Bore Sighting, then zeroing at 25 yards and finally at 100 yards. The video is set in natural surroundings, rather than at a range. 

After a zero at 25 yards, you should be able to accurately place a grouping of three shots on target center.

Keep making adjustments until you are satisfied with the results.


Short distance deer hunting at less than 60 yards and a grouping of 0.05" should be sufficient.

 

If there is competition involved, be more precise, before moving to 100 yards.

Use the following observations before setting up at the 100 yard mark. 

What Is The Best Distance To Zero A Scope? 


The answer to the question of where to start and how far out, has a lot of dependencies to answer correctly.

 Guns and Ammo gives some direction when choosing a distance. 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. 

Zero at 25 Yards

The standard answer of where to start is always, "a 25 yard zero will be about right at 100 yards."

 Again, Guns and Ammo says this is not true. The correct distance depends on the bullet trajectory and the height of the scope. 

A perfect zero at 25 yards will be high at 100 yards. Starting at a distance of 25 yards, it is advised to make your zero about an inch low. 

Zero at 50 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.


 Bullet impact should only have a line of sight drop of about 1.57 inches to the high side at 100 yards.

At 150 yards the line of sight maxes out at about 2 inches of drop. The farther out you zero, the less error there is with shorter distances. 

Zero at 100 Yards

When it is time to move to 100 yards, there are different considerations. 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. 


A 100 yard zero is the basis for every distance going forward. Scope manufacturers consider "only" the 100 yard mark in there builds. 

Shooting Fun Begins At 100 Yards 


Now that your scope is fundamentally sound, we can move to the target at 100 yards.

The first step is to start with a three-shot grouping to get on paper and see what adjustments need to be made. 

adjusting your rifle scope

Shooting experience plays a huge role when zeroing a scope. If you have been going through the same zero methods year after year, starting at 100 yards is the natural first step. 


An observation on hunting conditions; If your shots on target are less than 60 yards, zero at 100 yards should be your last long-range sight-in.

 

However, if you are shooting big game, where the target can be 150 to 300 yards downrange, the 100-yard mark is just the beginning. 

  • Take time to know the scope. Make sure you know the MOA and MIL markings, and you can change them in a second in the dead of night.
  • Hunting conditions are rarely ideal. Scopes, like rifles have characteristics, and it is vital to understand what they are before moving on to a longer distance or on a hunt. It is vital to know the limits and advantages of your equipment.
  • Re-mount the scope, check all fittings, and re-zero if your sighting-in is not going the way you want. At 100 yards, the slightest missed calculations are magnified. 

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.


 If all else fails, it may be necessary to reset the scope to factory zero and start over from the beginning. 

The reasons to reset your scope are varied. You may want to use one scope on different platforms, calibers or barrel lengths.

 

Another example, you are running out of windage adjustments and elevation. Centering the optics on your scope maximizes the changes you can make.

 

The more modifications you can make, the farther downrange you can find zero. 

Here are two methods for optical zero. Remember, these adjustments can never be as precise as factory centering. 

1. The Mirror Method

The Mirror Method is best performed in a well-lit room, you will need a small mirror. Set your scope flush to the mirror and then look through the scope and observe the crosshairs.

 

If you will only see the reticle itself, it is optically centered. If the scope's reticle is not centered, you will see a shadow in the reflection.

finding optical zero with mirrors

Reflection Of Reticle View

Make adjustments to either turret to line up the shadow to the reticle. Once the shadow disappears, you now have an optically centered scope. 

2. The Counting Method

Spin one of the turrets in either direction, until you feel resistance, do not force the spinning. Turn the turret back in the same direction while counting clicks.

 

Once you have reached the end of that turning, divide the number in half. Now, rotate the same turret in the original direction with the halved clicks.

 

On the last click, Your scope is optically centered. 

Quick Ways to Find Zero For Your Rifle Scope 


As mentioned before, there are plenty of ways to zero a scope with some methods being extensive and complicated.

 

Other procedures are quick and dirty, designed to be carried out in the field.

 

Experience plays a significant role in finding zero on a scope. (throughout this article, I continually reference this foundation) .


There are times when it is simply not feasible to spend the day on a range, optically centering and bore sighting a scope. 


Quick methods are aimed at conserving time and ammunition or both. Any way you choose, Requires you to have the scope properly bore-sighted first. 

Four Shot Grouping Zero Method

rifle scope supported for proper zero
  • Make sure the rifle is secure after bore-sighting and center the reticle on the target center. Load and fire one shot. Return the firearm to its EXACT position before the shot. The crosshair should be centered on the target. 

  • Locate the impact bullet hole in your scope while holding the rifle securely. Dial the windage and elevation turrets until the crosshairs are centered directly on the fist impact hole and lock in place. (this step works better with a friend)
  • With the rifle firmly supported, re-aim the scope, so the crosshairs are centered directly on the target center. Take your second shot. The impact hole should be dead on at the center of your target. 
  • With the rifle firmly supported, re-aim the scope, so the crosshairs are centered directly on the target center. Take your second shot. The impact hole should be dead on at the center of your target. 
  • Align the crosshairs to the center of the target and take the third shot. Make adjustments as needed after the examination of the previous impact hole. 
  • Shoot the fourth shot from a firearm rest (or a trusty sandbag) if you have one. Confirm the zero is unchanged.

Use this excellent video from NSSF explaining a quick method, but with only two shots. This procedure assumes the rifle has been sighted-in from the previous season and is already bore-sighted. 

Save Time and Ammo


Technology is firmly in control of the firearms industry.

 

One of the best instruments to get your scope zeroed quickly is a collimator.

 

This simple device narrows a beam of waves to align an object in one direction.

 

A single shot laser sight or collimator can start at a $40 to $60 and run upwards of several hundred dollars. Shop for quality. 

Pyser Optics Quick Zero

Pyser Optics Quick Zero

Pyser Optics offers a high-end WeaponCollimator/QuickZero.

 

The device zeros a scope without firing a shot and is accurate to .25mm at 100m.

 

The Pyser Collimator is a weapons-grade laser sighting system, and the price proves it. 


PyserOptics manufactures a comprehensive range of laser sighting devices. 

Equipment To Do The Job  


Zeroing your shiny new scope is a fun part of shooting and hunting. By definition, you learn the best and worst of your equipment.


 At the end of the process, you should know how your scope performs on the range and in the field.

 

Zeroing a high-end scope or any scope for that matter, with the old sandbags and trusty workbench, works in a pinch.

 

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. This scope is one of those items you hope to get for Christmas. 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.
  • Another handy item, is this 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.

Tips

  • Shooting equipment is a big help in the field and on a hunt. A bipod is a great tool for sighting a scope while you are on the hunt. Rifles have different impacts with a user, sandbags, or a bipod. Once everything is zeroed in, fire a couple of shots from the bipod and you may notice you are not quite as steady as thought.
  • Standard loads, such as .308, .270, or .30-06 should be sighted in at 100 yards. Magnum loads like the 7mm Mag or 300 MAG, zero the scope at 200 yards. 

  • Quality mounts are essential for larger caliber rifles. Cheaper mounts often can not handle the stress of recoil. Torque the scope to factory specs; your gun shop can handle this if you do not have the equipment.
  • Buy a quality scope, mount and rings. Optics in a quality scope are better in low-light situations and the windage, elevation adjustments are much more precise
  • If you are hunting away from home, sight-in before heading out to the hunt. There are times when a scope comes out of zero while traveling. Always check your zero before starting your hunt, not in the dead of not by car lights.
  • An accurate shot, is the essence of hunting. Make sure you are completely familiar with the action of the rifle and its trigger pull while zeroing. Poorly made hunting triggers have excessive creep which means you are never sure when the break occurs.
  • Use this drop chart to know different loads, zeroed at 200 yards. The chart explains where your impact will be at varying distances. At a 200 yard zero with a particular load, placing the crosshairs on a deer, means you can be accurate from short distances out to 250 yards
Bullet Drop Chart For Rifle Scope Zeroing

Bullet Drop Chart

  • Finally, Stay in The Rifle. More shots are missed at 30 yards than 300. The reason for this phenomena, a hunter is so sure they can make the shot at that short distance, they move their head to admire the shot. Follow through with the recoil and Stay in the Rifle.

Conclusion


There is a lot of hard work that goes into zeroing a rifle the correct way. Experience more than anything is the great equalizer. When starting out, it may takes a few days to get an exact zero for a brand new scope at 25, 50 or 100 yards.

 

Hunters and shooters who love the sport, know there is nothing more exhilarating than landing a shot, dead on at 150 yards. 


Use the voice of experience and start off with shorter distances. Learn the art of bore-sighting, either manually or use one of the enormous number 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. 


No matter Your Age, there is pure exhilaration when shooting a handgun or rifle. It is one of the safest sports for anyone to enjoy. Visit the National Shooting Sports Foundation or NSSF to explore the firearms trade.  


Experience the Fun and Excitement of Shooting at Your Local Firing Range! 

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George Grey


Being an avid outdoorsman since I can remember, my passion for survival, hunting and the outdoors has grown every year. I love being out in the country and living off it whenever time allows.

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