Sighting in your rifle is essential to achieving practical accuracy in the field and on the range. The process of sighting in your rifle also called zeroing, requires an understanding of marksmanship and sight adjustment fundamentals.
When you aim a rifle, you use a sighting system, such as iron sights or an optical sight, to align the barrel with the intended target. The point of aim is where you align your iron sights or place your sight reticle on the target. The strike of the bullet is the point of impact. The purpose of sighting in or zeroing is to cause these two elements to coincide at a specified distance. That way, where you aim is where you’ll hit.
Windage and Elevation
Whether you’re aiming a rifle or a handgun, there are two critical elements to understand when aiming: windage and elevation.
Windage refers to sight adjustment on the horizontal plane designed to compensate for wind drift. When you adjust the windage, you’re shifting the sight picture to the left or the right, which causes you to move the barrel of the rifle in the corresponding direction.
Windage and Elevation Controls on a Rifle Scope
Elevation refers to sight adjustment on the vertical plane. When you adjust the elevation, you’re shifting the sight picture up or down. This causes you to raise or lower the barrel. Elevation allows you to compensate for the effect of bullet drop caused by gravity and air resistance (drag).
Adjusting windage and elevation shifts the point of impact, or strike, of the bullet on the target.
Accuracy and Precision
While accuracy and precision are often used interchangeably, the two values are different. When a firearm is accurate, the point of impact and the point of aim coincide at a specific distance; therefore, your shot grouping is roughly where you placed your sights. This is the purpose of sighting in a rifle: to achieve accuracy.
Precision, however, refers to the spacing of the shots relative to each other. A firearm can be accurate but imprecise or precise but inaccurate. The ideal is both simultaneously.
How to Sight In a Rifle
To sight in a rifle, place it on a rest to provide a stable firing platform. Set up a target at 25 or 50 yards. It’s generally thought that zeroing your rifle at 25 yards will coincide with the point of aim and the point of impact converging at 100 yards, whereas a 50-yard zero will achieve this at 200. This, however, depends on several factors, including the ballistics of the ammunition you’re firing.
At 25 yards, you’re more likely to land hits on paper. The target you choose should be composed of 1-MOA (minute of angle) squares. This simplifies the scope adjustment process.
Aim your scope reticle at the part of the target you want to hit and fire three to five shots. The process of sighting in a rifle requires that you understand and apply the fundamentals of marksmanship consistently, especially breath control and trigger control. You may want to dry-fire the rifle before sighting in to ensure you know how the trigger breaks.
Measure the distance between the shot group and the point of aim. If, for example, your shot group is 5 MOA above the point of aim and 5 MOA to the right, you will need to adjust your scope reticle accordingly — 5 MOA low (elevation) and 5 MOA to the left (windage).
When sighting in a scope, keep in mind that you will typically adjust the windage and elevation dials in increments of ¼ to ½ MOA — i.e., each click, clockwise or counterclockwise, will shift the impact of the bullet by that amount up, down, left, or right on the target. In a scope that allows for ¼-MOA adjustments, you will need to adjust each dial 20 clicks to shift the point of impact 5 MOA down and 5 MOA to the left.
Remove the protective dial caps, and adjust the windage and elevation dials either clockwise or counterclockwise, according to the scope and the required corrections.
Once you’ve adjusted your riflescope, fire another 3–5 shots at the target and examine the group, measuring the distance again. If necessary, repeat the scope adjustment process until your point of aim and point of impact are roughly the same.
If you cannot place a shot on the target at 25 yards, you may need to bore sight the rifle. To bore sight your rifle, remove the bolt or bolt carrier group from the receiver and look through the barrel from the breech end toward the target.
When you’ve found the target through the barrel, look through the riflescope without disturbing the position of the rifle relative to the target. Align the barrel and the scope, adjusting the scope as needed. This should allow you to hit somewhere on the paper, providing a valuable reference point for more precise adjustments. It can also save you ammunition.
Ammunition and Why it Matters
Your choice of ammunition is critical to the sighting in process. The ammunition you use to zero your rifle should not differ from what you intend to use when hunting or shooting competitively. If you zero your rifle for one load, then shoot another, your groups may not print the same way. Bullets strike differently depending on weight, ballistic coefficient, and muzzle velocity, among other factors.
The environmental conditions under which you zero your rifle play an important role in the accuracy of your rifle when used afield. If you zeroed your rifle when it was cold — high air density, low humidity — your shots may group differently when you shoot during the warmer months — low air density, high humidity.
It’s also worth investing in high-quality match-grade ammunition for the most consistent results. Inconsistent or low-quality ammunition designed for recreational target shooting will not allow you to gain the most from your rifle’s inherent or mechanical accuracy.
Whether you’re training with handguns for self-defense or trying to become a more precise target shooter, training and practice are essential. Practice the fundamentals regularly — stance, sight alignment and sight picture, trigger control, breath control, and follow through — and you will become a more confident and effective marksman.
Visit We The People Holster for High-Quality Firearm Accessories
At We the People Holsters, we manufacture holsters for a variety of handgun designs, ensuring you have the best holster available for concealed or open carry. However, we understand the importance of rifles and rifle marksmanship to hunting, competitive target shooting, and self-defense. To gain the most from your rifle, you need to know how to sight it in.