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A Guide On How To Zero A Rifle In 5 Easy Steps

Posted on 26 Mar 2018
A Guide On How To Zero A Rifle In 5 Easy Steps

Properly Zero A Rifle With The Following Steps

Whether you are planning an enjoyable day out at the range or are going hunting, you will want to be able to hit what you are aiming for, so the initial step that you want to take is to ensure that your rifle is zeroed properly.  Taking the following steps is how you can do exactly that:

1. Put it on Paper

If you think of your rifle as your old friend, you might have handled this step a long time ago, however, if you have changed scopes or if it's a new rifle, then getting the rifle on paper is the very first thing that you need to do.  To do that, you need to get your scope (or sights) and barrel roughly into alignment.  A laser bore sighter or collimator will allow you to quickly do that, and those devices are the only real option for actions (pumps, levers, and semi-autos) where it isn't possible to look down the gun's barrel from its breach.   

With single-shots and bolt-actions, usually, I am able to use boresighting to achieve rough alignment. Remove the bolt, or open the action on a single shot and set your rifle in a steady and solid rest.  Put a short-range target up - 50 or 25 yards. The best bet for this is probably a bull's eye target since it is easier aligning the round view via the barrel. Line your barrel up on the target and be sure that it is steady.  Next, look through the sights or scope.  Use the adjustments to move the sights or scope until you see the same "picture" that you see through the barrel.  

It is time to shoot now.  I am pretty good at boresighting, so every once in a while. I do get it spot on- however, it isn't a perfect science, and laser boresighting devices are collimators aren't perfect either. Therefore, I get started with a clean, big target.  You can begin at 50 yards if you do have some confidence already, which is usually what I do.  However, if you just clamped a scope onto something such as a lever action, where looking down the barrel is impossible, then it is better to start out at 25 yards and have lots of clean targets - you may be way off at times! I shoot and make adjustments to try to get a zero rifle at short range. The story goes that having a 25-yard zero is just about right from 100 yards, but that isn't true.  It will depend on the height of your scope and trajectory of your cartridge, but in general, a perfect zero from 25 yards it going to be too high from 100 yards, so starting at 25 using a scoped rifle, usually will save you some ammunition by making your initial short-range zero at around one inch low.  Whenever I start from 50 yards, I try making it "point of aim, the point of impact" - then I am prepared to move out to a range that is longer.            

2. Make Your Decision

Your rifle is now roughly at zero, so you have three basic decisions that you need to make before you do any fine-tuning: point of impact, load, and distance.  For distance, I zero in at 100 yards.  If it isn't precise enough to go less, and although I do know of some good riflemen who zero at 200 or more yards, my preference is to sight in at 100 yards. That way I minimize effects like the winds and eliminate as much human error as I possibly can. If you are planning on shooting at ranges that are long, then it is a good idea - and perhaps essential - that you practice from longer ranges. However, I do prefer 100 yards for sighting in. 

If you have made the decision already about what load you are intending to use, you are ready to move forward. However, all rifles have various levels of accuracy when changing propellants, bullets, brands and practically anything else as well.  So if you still are determining which load you are going to use, then I recommend that you postpone achieving a perfect zero rifle and shoot groups instead.  At that point, it won't matter where they are landing on the target.  Ultimately, you might choose the most accurate load you try, or maybe you will compromise between the optimum velocity, bullet performance, and accuracy. 

After you have selected the load, you will need to determine precisely where you would like your 100-yard point of impact to be.  For your short-range hunting situations - such as for hunting dangerous game or close-cover hunting - you might want to have a 100-yard zero. When shooting from longer ranges, most likely you will want to have a high point of impact.  At 100 yards I like having a zero that is 2 or 2.5 inches high. Depending on what cartridge I'm using, that will place me dead-on maybe at 200-225 yards.  With long-range shooting being all the rage these days, many guys at 100 yards sight in at 3 inches high.  That is choice, however, the mid-range rise might exceed 5 inches.  Holding too high instead of too low is the most common type of aiming error, so as was advocated by Jack O'Connor, it is just fine at 100 yards to have a zero at around 2.5 inches high.  

3. Use Good Technique

When it comes to sighting in it is similar to shooting groups - it doesn't have anything to do with how great of a shooter you are; it is all about your rifle.  That is why eliminating human error is so important.  Use a steady, good rest, and be sure to take your time.  Recoil is accentuated by the bench, so don't hesitate using recoil-absorbing aids or padding yourself. Really concentrate, settle down, squeeze your trigger, then readjust your sights.  Continue to do this until you reach the desired zero you are aiming for.   

Whenever I am shooting from the bench rest, I attempt to hold my rifle perfectly steady, and then I allow the rifle rest or sandbags to do the work for me.  My support hand is used to snug the butt of the rifle into my shoulder, and my trigger finger has the most forward contact. 

4.  Clean and Cold 

If you are fortunate, you may get your rifle fairly close within three to four shots.  It can take a lot more than that at times!  Not too many riflescopes have really consistent and precise adjustments, so it is common needing to go back and forth quite a bit in order to get things right.  That is perfectly fine, but you need to take your time to ensure that your barrel doesn't become too hot.   After you think you are there, allow the barrel to completely cool down and then check it once again.  Depending on the number of shots that you fired, you will probably need to clean your rifle at this point.  There isn't any set rule since every barrel is different, however, for optimum accuracy, probably it is best to clean your barrel after a maximum of 20 shots.  A barrel that has been freshly clean often has a different point of impact compared to the exact same barrel after a few shots.  That is why I clean while I'm at the range.  If it is my final zero session before I take my rifle hunting, then I will clean the barrel and fire off a few "fouling shots," and check the zero again. 

5.  Double And Triple-Check 

Now you have a perfectly zeroed rifle.  But wait, there is more!  In the field are you using a bipod?  This is an excellent tool, particularly out in open country, however, some rifles have different points of impact when an attached bipod is used compared to over sandbags. It is one thing I have noticed, however, I suppose it could be true of nearly any type of field shooting aid.  After you are zeroed, take a few shots from your bipod or whatever shooting aid you are using.  It might not be as steady, so you might not get perfect results, however, you should notice if there is a significant difference.    

Finally, if you are going to be hunting away from home, be sure that you check zero one final time after you get to the hunting area.  I have found that very rarely does a well-mounted zero end up coming out of zero when traveling, but it's something that could happen.  Check your zero before you start to hunt.  It isn't always easy to do this.  There are many times that I have checked zero out in the dark by using the headlights on my car as the target. Do whatever it takes since your confidence is based on knowing that your rifle is absolutely ready.  That definitely makes it worth the effort.

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