How To Sight In A Rifle Scope

Purchasing a hunting rifle or a long range target shooting gun requires a quality scope to shoot accurately. However, not properly sighting in a scope and rifle is going to result in missing the target. Therefore with the following sighting steps, you will have the confidence in knowing you can be on target with an accurate shot.

Sighting In A Scope – Mounting

Selecting A Scope –

When purchasing a new rifle and scope or maybe a new scope for an old rifle, it’s extremely important to have it mounted correctly and tightly. Nearly all rifles are drilled and tapped or have sight rails for mounting scope hardware. When selecting a scope or optic be sure to have enough clearance between the scope and rifle. Without it, you can be left with a damaged scope after your first shot.  You can check out our list of the best rifle scopes here.

Securing A Scope –

Once you have a scope and rifle paired, use correct threaded screws or bolts when mounting. To ensure the screws remain intact and don’t loosen, we recommend using a little “blue” Loctite.  Blue is semi-permanent and will make sure that your scope or optic remains tight with impacts of shooting.

Aligning A Scope –

Next, before you have tightened the scope down securely, make sure you line the scope up with the center of the rifle barrel. Also make sure the reticle is lined up perfectly verticle and horizontal. This may require you to have the scope rings snug enough that it holds the scope, but still leaving you with room to rotate it with your hand pressure.  Reticles can vary among scopes with some set in MOA and others in MRAD.  For more clarity on what these mean and how they compare check out our breakdown here

Adjusting Eye Relief –

Once you have the scope aligned and centered, be sure to adjust for eye relief. If you ever see a dark circle around someone’s eye after hunting season or the range, it likely means they didn’t give themselves enough eye relief for when the rifle recoils. Generally giving yourself about an extra inch to inch and a half farther forward from where you believe to have enough eye relief will be correct.

Tighten Down Scope Screws –

Now that you have everything lined up with your eye as best as possible, you can tighten the screws or bolts on your scope. Be sure to use only the proper sized tools so as to not damage or strip any of the screw heads. If you have four or six screws to tighten down. Make sure you tighten in a criss-cross pattern.  This will help secure the scope in an even pattern. It’s recommended by most manufacturers to use specific pounds per square inch.  Be sure to check your manual or ask a professional gunsmith for recommendations so as to not strip any of the rifles threads.

Finally, you are ready to move to using a boresight so that you can get on target and make the necessary adjustments when learning how to sight in a rifle scope.

Sighting In A Scope To Get On Paper –

Now that you have your scope properly installed and mounted on your rifle, the next step is getting it on paper. What does it mean to get on paper or target? When mounting a scope or optics, the majority of the time it will need to be zeroed in. However, getting a starting baseline of where the rifle is hitting a target is necessary. To help in speeding up the process, you need to be hitting a target somewhere. This way you know if you need to adjust horizontal, vertical, or both.

For example, if you have a target 50 yards out and aren’t hitting the target, but rather hitting the ground. It is very hard to know exactly where you hitting, left, right, high, low. Therefore, think of hitting paper as the baseline for starting the sighting in process. Thanks to boresights this process can be done quite easily.

Boresights –

When it comes to getting on paper, using a laser boresight is going to be the most effective and least time-consuming. Essentially, an inexpensive bore sight is going to work on all models.  It is the only way for lever action, pumps, and semi-auto rifles to look down the barrel from the breech.

How To Use A Boresight When Sighting In A Scope –

First, you will need to find a location that is safe and has 25-50 yards of space. With this boresighting, it will not require any live ammo. Rather you will need a target at 25 or 50 yards and your rifle that you are planning on sighting in, and last a quality boresight. Next, you need to place the selected boresight in the front of your empty/safe/cleared rifle barrel end. Usually they are tapered allowing you them to fit multiple barrel sizes. However, they do make other boresights that are specific caliber size as well. Be sure to look at which one works best for your application.

You also want to make sure you have placed your gun in a secure and level position when boresighting. It gives you the freedom to make adjustments to your scope with two hands. As you will see, the following step is much easier to do with a stable rifle. A gun rest is ideal for this step, which you will also use when sighting your scope in with actual live ammo. The next step is to place a target at 25 or 50 yards and turn the boresight laser light on. With a secure rifle, you want to align the reticle in the scope with the laser on the target. Once aligned to the boresight laser, this will give you enough accuracy to be on target.  You may even get lucky and not have to make another adjustment, but that would be pretty good luck.

How To Sight In A Rifle Scope – Selecting Ammo 

Now that you have boresighted your rifle the next step is to select the ammo you are going to be using. Consider first what style of rifle this is going to be, hunting, target shooting, self-defense, or competition. When you know what the rifle will be shooting the majority of the time, you can search for ammunition that will fit your shooting type.

Whichever load you select to use with your rifle, know that brand, propellants, grain weight, even bullet jacket all can affect the accuracy of your rifle. This is why it’s important to zero in your firearm with the intended ammunition you will be using it for. This removes unforeseen variables that can affect the accuracy of sighting in a scope. For instance, if you sight in with cheap target shooting ammo and then while hunting, select a premium round that is higher grain and made with higher-quality propellants, you may find yourself with two very different trajectories.  It’s important to be consistent when learning how to sight in a rifle scope.

Once a quality ammunition is selected you will be ready to shoot your rifle and begin to zero in your scope and rifle.

Sighting In A Scope – Proper Technique 

When sighting in a rifle, you need to put ego’s aside, because it has nothing to do with how well you can shoot. It’s all about shooting accurate groups and eliminating as much human error as possible. This is why a good gun rest comes in very handy making sighting in a rifle much easier. Being able to shoot from a sitting position with asecure rifle will allow for better groupings and a more zeroed in rifle and scope combo.

Best Shooting Rest

If you looking for a quality and inexpensive shooting rest to help with sighting in your rifle check out MTM’s shooting rest. The rest features a fully adjustable rifle or handgun shooting rest. Allowing you to sight in small to large rifles with the same shooting rest. The pads where your rifle would rest are made of non-marring rubber. Capable of gripping your gun while shooting and sighting in. It also can adjust vertically and horizontally to meet the needs of various gun manufactures.

Sighting In A Rifle – Shooting Groups

Now that you have mounted your gun, used a boresight, selected ammo, and secured your rifle on a gun rest, you are ready to start shooting your first grouping and properly zero in your rifle. Start, by finding a gun range or safe secluded shooting area. Some state-run shooting ranges will even help when it comes to sighting in a rifle. Once you have selected a shooting range, get yourself set up and on target. A good shooting distance is usually 100 yards for rifles.

Take your time in setting up your first shot, if you have completed your boresighting properly, your first shot should be on paper or target. Once you know you are hitting the target, take 3-5 shots on target while aiming at the center of the target or bullseye. Be sure to focus on completing the same shot and aiming at the same point every time. This will provide you with a consistent shooting group.

What you are looking for are accuracy and precision. Precision is a tight group of the 3-5 rounds you fired, For example, all shots within a golf ball sized location would mean your group has high precision. However, you are also looking for accuracy as well, meaning that you want to be hitting the bullseye or dot you are aiming for. Being both precise and accurate would therefore mean on the bullseye with a tight group. You should now have your scope and rifle sighted in. However, in the event, you are not, there are some easy steps to get zeroed in.

Sighting In A Scope –  Adjusting Your Scope For Zero 

In the event, you have a precise group of 3-5 shots you are half way to zero. The next step is to adjust your scope so that you can be accurate or on the bullseye. For example, if your group is high and left of the bullseye you will use the following steps to continue zeroing your rifle.

STEP 1 –

First, you will need to adjust the height of the scope. Every scope is a little different when adjusting, some may need tools, others may have knobs. However, the intent is to follow the bullet hole. So, if you are high you need to adjust your reticle up to follow the grouping. It sounds counterintuitive, but this is usually where shooters have trouble sighting in a rifle.

STEP 2 –

Next, after you have adjusted the height, now it’s time to adjust the horizontal axis. Similar to the verticle adjustment. The intention is to follow the bullet hole made in the first groupings with the reticle. So if you shoot left, the adjustment needs to be made left on the horizontal axis.

STEP 3 –

Finally, to test if your adjustments are correctly made on your scope. Another grouping is required. Therefore, repeat the step on shooting groups. You may need to go back and repeat the steps required for adjustment after the grouping. However, the main goal is to have the group of shots located over the bullseye in a small tight group.

Added Sighting Tips –

If the first group or even second group shot has low precision. More than likely, you are not steady enough when shooting.  A stationary gun rest, or even a very steady tripod can help make sure you are lining up for your target and creating a tight group.

Finally, shooting from a seated position at a range can increase the recoil impact. Don’t be afraid to use added padding for your shoulder, especially for high powered rifles that have intense recoils.

How Often Should You Sight In A Rifle Scope – 

It’s no surprise that a new scope and rifle need to be sighted in correctly. However, there are other times and situations where sighting in a rifle scope is necessary. For example, if you intend to travel long distance with your rifle.  Even in a case, a scope can become inaccurate from moving around or bouncing around when traveling. Another great time to check a scope’s accuracy is before hunting season begins. This can be especially true if your rifle sits for extended periods of time between hunting seasons. If you don’t use your rifle to hunt with, but rather target shoot, sighting in a rifle can be done anytime at the range. However, if you don’t fall into either one of those categories, sighting your rifle and scope in once a year will help ensure your rifle is accurate and your scope is working properly.