Five steps to sighting in your rifle

Posted on: October 11, 2018 | Bob Frye | Comments

It’s a time for multitasking.

Archery deer seasons are in full swing all around the country, with weeks yet to go. No one need hang up their bow just yet if they haven’t filled their tag or tags.

Small game seasons are, depending on where you live, either underway or about to start, too.

And still…

Big game firearms seasons – for deer, bear and elk — are on the near horizon, closer than you might think. Riflemen and women will hit the woods soon enough.

With that in mind, I put my bow aside one day this past week to go to the range. It went well enough, eventually.

I bore sighted the new scope atop my rifle, then hit the bench for a little trigger time.

My first shot hit the paper, but low and left. A follow-up shot did the same.

So, I tweaked the scope, moving the aiming point up and right. Two more shots, inching closer to the bulls eye, lead to more tweaking.

The next round down range after that hit the center of the target exactly.

Ah, I thought, now we’re in business. One or two more to confirm that all’s well, with a nice, tight group, and we’re on our way.


The next shot was low and left again. The one after that was even further off target.

“What the …” I mumbled.

That’s when I noticed that my scope mounts – not tightened down enough from the start, obviously – were loose. A classic rookie mistake.

You know what that means. I shored everything up, shot again, and found that I was back to being way off the mark, even more so than originally.


I started over, and eventually walked the sights back to the bulls eye, producing the kind of groups necessary to feel confident going forward. So there’s that.

But the whole exercise was a reminder of the importance of getting a rifle dialed in before hunting seasons start.

That’s easy enough to do — especially if you make sure your scope is tightened down from the start. Just follow these five steps.

First, bore sight your rifle.

There are two ways to do this. If you have a single barrel rifle or bolt action, put the rifle in a steady rest. Then, with the bolt removed, look through the barrel. Set the rifle up so that the bulls eye is centered in the barrel.

Next, look through the scope and – without moving the rifle – adjust the crosshairs so that they’re centered on the bulls eye, too.

Re-assemble the bolt and, when you shoot, you should be close to being on target.

With something like a lever action, or if you don’t want to remove the bolt, you can also use a laser bore sighter. With the rifle in its rest, project its light onto the target and adjust the crosshairs to meet it.

Second, be stable.

There may be times in the field when you’ll have to shoot offhand – though any time you can find a rest or even kneel or go prone, that’s advisable. That eliminates human error.

Well, that’s really important on the range.

Sighting in is not the time to leave things to chance. When getting on zero, shoot from a stable position, with our rifle atop sand bags or a metal or plastic rest. You should be able to look through the scope and have the crosshairs on target without even touching the gun.

The goal is to eliminate any variables.

Third, start close.

Depending on where you’re hunting, the average shot might be 50 yards, or 100, or 200 or more. You will eventually set up your rifle for those appropriate distances.

But to begin at the range – and avoid going through a lot of costly ammunition unnecessarily – start shooting at 50 yards. If need be, you can even start at 25.

Concentrate on getting good groups. I like to be able to consistently put three shots in one spot, and even get dead-on at 50 yards.

Then you can move to longer distances and fine tune as needed.

Fourth, adjust your scope.

All scopes allow you to adjust for elevation and windage. Most operate with each click of the scope representing one quarter inch at 100 yards.

If your shots at hitting two inches low and three inches left at 100 yards, you turn the eight clicks up and 12 clicks right. Then, fire another three-shot group.

If you’re right on, perfect. If you’ve not moved enough, or you’ve over-corrected, adjust once more and fire again.

Fifth, shoot the right ammunition.

Which is best? Only practice reveals that.

Experiment with various brands and weights to see which your particular rifle handles best. When you find what works, stick with it.

That doesn’t necessarily have to mean shooting the most expensive rounds out there. Some rifles do just fine with garden variety ammunition.

Just don’t sight in with one type because it’s cheapest, then switch to something else for hunting without test firing a few rounds of it, too. If it behaves differently, you want to know that on the range, where you can make adjustments, rather than in the field, where a missed shot is lost game.

Follow those steps and, should game present itself, you’ll be ready, or at least your rifle will. The rest is up to you.


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Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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Bob Frye is a storyteller with a passion for all things outdoors. He hunts, he fishes, he hikes, he camps, he paddles, backpacks and snowshoes depending on the season. If he’s not an expert at anything, it’s because he’s passionate to try a little bit of everything.