Sighting-In Made Simple: Five simple steps to deer season accuracy

Never before have good rifles and scopes been so affordable and accessible. Today’s optics are far superior to the glass we used 20 years ago and a scope can be tailor made for an individual to wring astonishing accuracy from his or her rifle. A hunter can buy premium off-the-shelf ammo that, under the right conditions, is capable of minute-of-angle accuracy.

But advancements in manufacturing are no substitute for time at the shooting bench. Rifle, optics and cartridge have to be harnessed in a pre-hunt ritual we call sighting-in.

Bore-Sighting Isn’t Good Enough

At the sporting goods counter, a hunter can have his new scope bore-sighted by the same fellow who sold it to him. The technician uses his eye or a laser to align the scope with the bore. Bore-sighting saves time at the range, but it is no substitute for sighting-in. A bore-sighted rifle will probably be ‘close,’ but close might mean that the bullet strikes within three feet of point-of-aim at a hundred yards. That’s not good enough.

Most rifle scopes have two turrets – one for windage (to move the bullet impact left or right) and one for elevation (to move impact up or down). Remove the turret caps and the crosshair can be adjusted by inserting a coin or twisting the dial clockwise or counter-clockwise. Most scopes are calibrated such that one ‘click’ equals an adjustment of 1/4-inch at 100 yards.

All Ammo Is Not Created Equal

Sight-in with the ammunition you will take on the hunt. Don’t bring bargain-basement bullets to the range when you plan to use premium projectiles in the field. Downrange performance is likely to be very different. You can use the cheap stuff in practice if you want, but to establish accuracy, you want to use the hunting bullet.

Take at least 40 rounds to the range and set another box aside for the hunt. If you’re buying factory ammo, make sure the lot numbers match. 

Here are five simple steps to take to make sure your rifle is sighted-in before deer season.

1. Bore-sight it. Set the gun in a vise or bed it on sandbags. Point the muzzle in a safe direction. Remove the bolt and peer through the bore at a target and adjust the scope settings left or right and up or down to bring the crosshair into line with the bore. A laser bore-sighter may be used to good effect during this step. Just remember to remove the device before inserting ammunition.

2. Dry-fire it. Make sure the barrel is free of obstructions and pointed in a safe direction. Replace the bolt, set the safety and practice mounting the rifle to the shoulder. Flick the safety from ‘safe’ to ‘fire’ and, using the pad of the index finger, take the slack out of the trigger.

3. Bench-rest it. Create a solid rest for the gun from sandbags or use a bipod (only use a bipod if you plan to hunt with a bipod). Settle in behind the gun, snug it against your shoulder and settle your cheek on the stock. Don’t grip the fore-end. That’s what the bipod or the sandbags are for. Use the off-hand to stabilize the stock.

4. Establish the 25-yard zero. Set a target at 25 yards and fire three rounds to establish a group. Adjust the crosshair to center the group around the bulls-eye. This may take several adjustments and most of a box of ammo.

5. Tune the 100-yard group. After establishing a 25-yard zero, set a target at 100 yards and fire three rounds to establish a group. Depending on your hunting style, you may want your 100-yard group to impact two inches above the bulls-eye for a zero closer to 200 yards. Fine-tune the zero from the bench then replace the scope turret caps. The gun is sighted-in.

Now it’s time to practice. Shoot off-hand, from improvised rests, from sitting, kneeling and prone positions. Use a bipod and shoot from shooting sticks. Shoot at close range and out to 300 yards and beyond. 

Gary Lewis is an outdoor writer, speaker and television host from Bend, Oregon. Contact Lewis at, on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Originally Published: Oct 15, 2013