How To Sight in a Riflescope
For many beginning (and even some more experienced shooters), the most frustrating aspect of setting up a new riflescope is sighting it in. They recognize the importance of properly sighting in the scope, which is ensuring your shot goes where you want it to go at any range you might want to shoot. However, the task becomes bewildering when the glass just won’t zero in properly.
While there are certainly a handful of dud scopes out there that simply won’t sight in properly no matter what you do, most often the problem is one of technique. If you have properly mounted your scope, hopefully following our instructions for how to do so, and follow these instructions carefully, you’ll find that you can get your riflescope zeroed in a matter of minutes, not hours or days. Here is how to sight in a Riflescope.
Gather your materials
First, you want to gather some materials and take those with you to the rifle range.
- Your rifle, with the scope already mounted and boresighted (use a laser or magnetic boresighter for better accuracy)
- The instruction manual that came with your scope
- Padding of some kind (to protect your shoulder and the finish of your rifle)
- A rifle rest or sandbags for better stability, which reduces error
- Ammunition (at least 100 rounds)
- Screwdrivers for adjusting the windage and elevation on your scope
- Binoculars or spotting scope
- A tripod or bipod, if you plan on using one
At the range
When you get to the shooting range, set up a target at 25 yards, and another at 100 yards. Some shooting ranges will require you to change stands for different distances, so be prepared for this. To get set up, follow these steps.
- Secure your rifle in a bipod, on sandbags, on a rifle rest, or any other method that will hold your rifle steady while you sight it.
- Make sure no part of the rifle is resting on a hard surface.
- Set out your targets. It’s best to use official targets, since these will help you gauge how far off your shots are from center.
Boresight to 100 yards
At the range, set up a target at 25 yards, and another at 100 yards, if possible. Note that some ranges will require you to change shooting stands for different distances. Once you’re at your shooting stand, you can start sighting in. We’ll start by double-checking the boresight of your rifle, this time at 100 yards.
- If you have a bolt-action rifle, remove the bolt and look down the bore. You want to align the bore of your rifle with the 100-yard target.
- If you have a single-shot rifle, open the action and look down the bore to align it with the 100-yard target.
- Adjust the rifle stand so that the 100-yard target is centered in your view when you look through the breech end.
- Without moving the rifle, adjust your scope so that the cross-hairs are aligned on the bull’s eye of the 100-yard target.
Your rifle is now bore-sighted to 100 yards. You can also do this using your laser or magnetic boresighter, if it will project the light beam that far.
Sight in to 25 yards
Next, replace the bolt or action and set your scope to the highest magnificatioin that still gives you a clear image of the target. We are going to sight in at 25 yards, now.
- Relax, take a deep breath, and fire a single round at the center of the 25-yard target.
- Make sure your rifle is unloaded, and look towards your target with your binoculars or spotting scope.
- Find your shot and determine what you need to do to adjust the shot. For example, if your bullet hit the bottom left corner of the target, you need to adjust your scope up and to the right. Your scope’s instructions should help with this, so follow them.
- Repeat steps 1 through 3 to continue refining your shot placement at 25 yards.
Sight in to 100 yards
Now, we’ll sight in your rifle to 100 yards. Make sure your barrel has cooled, and follow these directions.
- From a comfortable, relaxed position, fire 3 shots, slowly and carefully.
- Check the shot grouping, and adjust the sight so that the bullets hit about 3 inches above center when you have aimed at the bull’s eye of the target. This gives you the most effective maximum range.
Note that if you won’t ever be hunting or shooting beyond 100 yards, you should adjust your elevation so that your shot grouping falls within the bull’s eye of your target paper. Most hunters, though, prefer to have their scopes sighted in so they can accurately shoot beyond 100 yards, which is where setting the elevation high has its benefits.
Double check everything
Once you’ve made your final adjustment, you should fire one last grouping to confirm it. If your shots hit where you want them to, you’re finished sighting in your scope. If not, you’ll want to repeat the process.
Maintaining your zero
A good riflescope will hold zero for a long time, definitely through hunting season. However, if you ever drop your rifle or otherwise damage your scope, you should double-check your sighting and possibly realign your scope. I’ve found, though, that most high quality scopes will even hold zero after a 15-foot fall, but I still make sure to check my sighting whenever such a drop happens.
Once your scope is sighted in, you should be good to go. Make sure you hunt with the same ammunition load that you sighted in with, and you should find your shots hit their mark every time, as long as you follow good shooting habits. Have fun, and happy hunting!