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Rifle Sight 101: Sighting In your Rifle Using a Scope

Whether you’re out hunting, at the range competing in an event, or working on your aim, hitting your mark is always a priority. Something every seasoned shooter or marksperson knows is that when it comes to hitting your mark, you need to make sure your rifle is sighted in.

Sighting in or zeroing a rifle, simply put, is calibrating your scopes or sights to the way the bullet exits the barrel. When barrel and scope/sight are aligned, you’re generally going to hit what you aim for.


When Should I Sight In or Zero my Rifle?

Picture showing red dot sight

You need to sight in a rifle that you’ve purchased brand new off the shelf. Even if you inherit an old rifle or buy one second hand, it’s a good idea to sight it in. Finally, if you replace your sighting mechanism or make a switch, say from iron sights to a scope or red dot sight, sighting in your rifle is recommended.

Now on to how it’s done. Remember, with a brand new rifle, it helps to fire off a few loose shots prior to sighting in.

Getting Started

The first thing you need to do is get a rough sense of what your rifle’s alignment is like. There are two ways to do this, depending on the action of the rifle you are using.

Semi-automatic rifles, lever-action rifles, and pump-action rifles do not allow for what’s known as boresighting. For such rifles, you’ll need to use something called a laser-boresighter or collimator. This should help you loosely align your scope with the opening direction of your bore.

Picture showing red dot sight

On the other hand, if the rifle you’re using is a bolt action or single shot, boresighting is the way to go. You do this by either opening the action if you’re using a single shot or removing the bolt if your rifle is a bolt action. You then place your rifle on a stable and solid rest.

You then proceed to set up a target at a short distance. We’re talking between twenty-five and fifty yards. After this, align your barrel with the target. If you’re boresighting, simply peer through. If you’re using a collimator, the laser point should help.

Align your scope sight as close as possible to the barrel.

Primary Calibration or Sighting In

After you’ve aligned your sights and barrel as well as possible, it’s time to aim and fire off a test shot or two. If you do not hit your mark, make the necessary adjustments on your scope and repeat the process.

If you’ve zeroed your rifle at short range, you may proceed to the next step (increasing target distance). Just remember, the point of impact for the bullet is usually lower at longer range than it is at short range, even if no other conditions (including ammo weight) are altered. This is due to the trajectory the bullet may follow.

Secondary Calibration or Sighting In

Picture showing Handguard

Before you zero your rifle at a longer range, make sure the ammunition or rounds you’re using are the same ones you intend on using when you compete, hunt, or practice fire on the range. This is because bullet weight causes variation in your point of impact.

The distance at which you finally sight in your rifle at depends on your own shooting preferences. Sighting in at between a hundred and a hundred and twenty yards is generally acceptable. At the same time, sighting in at up to 200 yards is not uncommon for seasoned markspersons and long-range shooters.

Remember, recoil does do a number on your sighting in and aiming process, which is why it’s helpful to use a muzzle brake during secondary calibration and overall rifle use. The image above is of a muzzle brake used to reduce recoil and hence, help improve accuracy.

Winding Down

Remember, there will be a degree of error or irregularity unless you’re a very adept marksperson. The idea is to get as close to zero as possible and the way you do that is by minimizing human-error as much as you can.

If you equip your rifle with the right sights or scope and other accessories, you reduce the variables, ensuring you make that mark!


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