Getting Zeroed For Hunting

Getting Zeroed

There are many ways to sight in, or “zero, ” a scoped firearm. Here’s the most basic:

1. Fire three shots at the bull’s-eye of a large paper target. (A piece of duct tape measuring 1 inch by 1 inch stuck to a large sheet of white paper makes a usable target.)

2. Mentally average the center of your three shots, and measure the horizontal and vertical distances that separate that point from the bull’s-eye. Remove the turret caps on your scope and make the necessary
adjustments. Moving the turret in the “up” direction, as depicted on the turret, moves the bullet’s point of impact in the corresponding direction. Same with the left or right arrows on the turret that control horizontal movement. (Most scopes are adjustable in increments of M4 MOA. See this page for an explanation of MOA.)


MOA, or minute of angle, is a term often used in discussions about shooting and rifle accuracy. To understand MOA, imagine a 360 -degree circle with a dot in the center. Now take one of those degrees and divide it into 60 parts, so you’ve got 1/60th of a degree. That’s one MOA, also known as an arc minute. At a distance of 100 yards from the center of the circle, an MOA will subtend approximately 1 inch. At 200 yards, it will subtend 2 inches. At 400 yards, 4 inches. If your rifle is off by 4 inches, or four MOA, at 100 yards, it’ll be off by 16 inches at 400 yards. When you see a rifle that’s advertised as shooting sub-MOA groups, the seller is claiming that the rifle is accurate enough to fire several rounds into a circle smaller than 1 inch at a distance of 100 yards. If you’re capable of shooting sub-MOA groups—a goal that every hunter should strive for—you and your rifle are both doing something right.


a. Keep an oiled lint-free cloth in your gun case at all times and use it to wipe down your weapon after it has been exposed to moisture.

b. Never leave a wet firearm inside a case any longer than an hour or two.

c. Carry lens wipes and a lens brush for cleaning your rifle scope.

d. Always bring along a BoreSnake or similar product to clear any mud or snow that might get packed into the bore (which shouldn’t happen, since you’re supposed to keep your muzzle capped with tape or latex finger cots).

3. Shoot another three shots. You should notice that the center of your three-shot group has moved toward the bull’s-eye—and, hopefully, has hit it. If the bullet’s point of impact hasn’t moved according to your
adjustments, repeat step 2. If you still have problems, you’re likely dealing with an accuracy issue that could come from user error, equip-ment malfunction, or both. If the center of the group has gotten closer
but is still not on the bull’s-eye, measure the new distances and adjust the scope turrets again. Repeat as necessary.

4. Once your bullet is hitting dead center, fire a series of three rounds to make sure that the gun is grouping well. At 100 yards, you should at least be able to fit three rounds inside a 3-inch circle when shooting from
a proper rest. If you plan on shooting out to 300 yards, you should at least be able to group three rounds inside a 2-inch circle at that loo-yard distance. If you’re going to shoot past 300 yards well, you’d better  shoot enough to know what you’re doing.

If you’re having trouble getting this kind of accuracy out of your firearm, it’s time to revisit both the shooter and the rifle. Start by asking yourself the following questions. If the answer to any of these is yes, try to
remedy the situation. If you still can’t figure out the problem, it might be time for a visit to the gunsmith or a marksmanship clinic.

1. Are you flinching in anticipation of the firearm’s noise and kick? (A flinching shooter will never shoot consistently.)

2. Is your form improper? Are you jerking the trigger rather than squeez-ing it? Are you putting unnecessary torque on the grip or your forearm in an effort to hold the rifle on target? Are you altering the position of
your cheek on the stock from one shot to the next?

3. Is your shooting rest unstable? Does the rifle feel wobbly while you’re aiming?

Once you’ve ruled out shooter error, ask a few questions about your rifle.

1. Is the bore of your rifle excessively dirtY? (A dirty barrel causes erratic shooting. See “Routine Rifle Cleaning”.)

2. Is your scope damaged? Is there a loose reticle? Is the scope’s body badly dinged or dented? Did it take a serious blow?

3. Is your scope poorly mounted? Are the rings or mounts loose or improperly installed? Do you feel any Wiggle or turning when you put pressure on the scope or try to spin it?

4. Does the rifle shoot equally poorly with different ammo? (Often a rifle E might shoot horribly with one type of ammo and then shoot much better with another type. Experiment with different brands of ammo as well as different bullet weights.)

Another zeroing method is known as the one-shot technique. Here’s how it works.

A: Top left: Fire a shot at the target. In this illustration, the bullet has hit low and right.

B: Lower left: Position the rifle so that it’s aiming at the bull’s-eye. and then hold it securely while a friend adjusts the turrets so that the crosshairs move over to the bullet hole. At this point the rifle should be sighted in.

C: Right: Shoot a second round to make sure you’re zeroed.

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