How to Zero a Rifle Scope

By on April 3, 2017


Whether it’s for target practice, competitive shooting or hunting, a high-quality rifle scope or a best rimfire scope is arguably one of the most valuable tools you can purchase to ensure accurate shooting. In addition to magnifying the target so it’s easier for you to see, some scopes brighten the target by gathering light thereby further illuminating the target in low light conditions. However, unless you invest the necessary time and effort into sighting, then zeroing your scope, you might as well be using the default iron sights instead.

There are different ways to sight and zero a traditional scope, but the easiest method involves firing it in a controlled environment, such as a shooting range, and then making the necessary windage and elevation adjustments based on where the bullet strikes the target.

If you plan to use this method, it’s important to consider sighting in on days with little-to-no wind, as even the slightest gusts can change the trajectory of your bullet. Before taking your firearm to the range to sight in your scope, it is recommended that you first bore sight the scope so that you will be more likely to hit paper (target) once setup at the range. This will save time, ammunition and money.

Once your scope has been bore sighted and you’re ready to start zeroing in your scope, set up a target at the distance you will most likely be shooting from and a target half way in between. Shooting a round or two at the closer target will let you know if your scope is even close to being sighted.  For instance, if you expect to be firing at game animals roughly 50 meters away, then you’ll want to zero your scope in at this distance.

Of course game animals are unpredictable and won’t be lining up at 50 meters away each time you go out to hunt. Higher quality scopes have reticles that allow for correcting the elevation for longer (or shorter) shots. Therefore relatively small changes in distance shouldn’t make too much of an impact on overall accuracy.

At this point the windage and elevation knob caps on your rifle scope should be removed and put aside so they can be replaced later. Most scopes have the windage and elevation knobs located on the top and side of the scope. Some scopes have more than two, but these are typically found on firearms used for advanced shooting and are not covered here.

Another key element in zeroing a rifle scope is to use sandbags, shooting rests or other stable mounts and to carefully control your breathing. Don’t waste your time trying to sight in your scope while standing with the rifle unsupported, or even crouched down with the rifle on your knee, as small movements will affect accuracy.

Instead, sit at a table, shooting bench and use a shooting rest, sandbags or other stable mounts – as mentioned above. With your rifle positioned properly and stabilized, you should be able to look through your scope and see the target with minimal movement.

Now look at the target through your best rifle scope and line up the middle of the crosshairs on the center of the target. When you’re confident that the crosshairs are centered on the target and all movement is minimized, take a deep breath and while slowly exhaling squeeze the trigger until the gun fires.

Keep looking through your scope to see where the bullet hit the target. If it was off horizontally, then you’ll need to adjust the windage knob. Read your scope’s manual to determine the click to inches ratio. If it was off vertically, you’ll need to adjust the elevation knob.

Continue making the adjustments mentioned above until the bullet is hitting as close to the center of the target as possible each time you fire your rifle. Ideally, this entire process should only take 3 to 5 bullets.

This article was written by Douglas Brooks. He is the founder of He was enthusiastic about hunting from the first shot. He is also a rifle optic guru.

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