Before diving into how to adjust a rifle scope, take note: a proper rifle scope isn’t some toy you can fiddle with whenever you please.
You’ll need to make sure the scope adjustments you do are the right ones for your situation, as well as to understand how scope adjustments work at all.
Luckily for you, we’ve collated what you need to have on hand to adjust your scope as well as a step-by-step process in making any of the necessary adjustments to your riflescope.
- Rifle Scope Parts & Important Terminology
- How to Adjust a Rifle Scope: Step-by-Step Guide
- Final Words
Rifle Scope Parts & Important Terminology
Before you can adjust a rifle scope, it’s always good to start with understanding the different scope parts first. Each part of the scope will have an effect on how well you will be able to hit a target at a longer range.
For better clarity, we’ve broken down each part of a scope so you can better fine-tune your shooting later on.
These are lenses closest to your eye when placed correctly on your rifle scope.
These also dictate the amount of eye relief you have from the scope, which is the distance of your eye from the scope to get a clear image of the target.
Having a comfortable eye relief is important to avoid scope bite and other related injuries.
As the name suggests, this is the part of the scope which contains and protects the ocular lens.
Often, a scope will include a rotating body for ocular focus and magnification adjustment as well as a lens cap to protect your ocular lens from dust.
Ocular Focus Adjustment
The Ocular Focus Adjustment mentioned above can adjust the reticle inside the scope to better focus the lenses. Depending on the scope, these can be the entire ocular housing rotating or just a small dial around it.
A scope would often have variable knobs or dials that can increase or decrease the amount of magnification power your scope has.
Often these work in ratios, such as 5:1, meaning for your base magnification setting (say 2x), a scope can have a different magnification range in increasing powers up to 5 times, including the base (e.g. 4x, 6x, 8x, 10x)
The main housing to which all the different parts attach is called the “scope body” and includes all the different turrets and auxiliary settings like night vision and brightness adjustments.
This is often made out of lightweight but durable ballistic aluminum to both protect your lenses while remaining light enough to work with on an already often hefty rifle.
A turret is a knob that protrudes from the scope’s body, as mentioned above, and is used to adjust for elevation and windage.
Different scopes have different turret specifications, with some being exposed or capped, depending on your preference as a rifle shooter.
These are the “crosshairs” or the dead center point you often probably associate rifle shooting with.
While a reticle is available beyond just a standard rifle scope, it’s in rifle scopes that you have different variations of reticles available.
It’s also important to know what an MOA, or Minute of Angle, is. In the simplest way of understanding, this basically indicates how large your reticle will be but will have effects on your reticle accuracy on a 100-yard target.
This mainly deals with the adjustment to bring the target image to the appropriate focal plane as the reticle, mainly to avoid any unneeded parallax shifts.
And in more technical terms, it serves as the relative shifting of position between two objects you’re looking at.
Some brands on the market offer an adjustable parallax scope with a knob on the body and a special turret just for parallax adjustment on the fly.
On other scopes, you can find the parallax adjustment around the objective lens, allowing you to turn the dial to get the appropriate target focus.
This is the final lens found on your rifle scope and is opposite to your ocular lens. These lenses are often larger on rifle scopes and serve as the last lens housed by the body.
Be sure to keep a scope cap on these as well for added protection.
Now that you’ve reviewed the various parts of a rifle scope, it’s time to learn the steps towards scope adjustment.
For the best results, make sure you have the following tools:
- Gun Vice
- Torx Wrenches
- Stable Shooting Platform
- Practice Target
How to Adjust a Rifle Scope: Step-by-Step Guide
Adjusting a scope mainly goes through 2 different adjustments: elevation and windage (expressed in variations of MOA).
These are mainly tweaked through the usage of the various turrets found all throughout the rifle scope, where a left and right turret adjusts the lenses accordingly.
But if you want to make adjustments beyond these two, your best bet is to look into rifle scope sighting and other adjustments like brightness settings and scope mount placement.
Step 1: Elevation Adjustments
Bear with us here. This can get quite technical.
The elevation turret on the scope adjusts the vertical angle alignment and essentially moves the impact point up or down, depending on the curve of the bullet.
This means that an elevation adjustment is key to anticipate the effects of bullet drop on your accuracy in shooting long range.
An elevation turret functions similarly to the windage adjustment turret – you adjust the relevant reticle positioning per click of movement left or right if found on top of the rifle scope (don’t worry, most turrets are marked with “U” and “D” for up and down, respectively).
This is vital as you are ensuring that your point of aim, or POA, will be the same as your point of impact, or POI.
Different distances will require adjustments to ensure your POI stays the same as your POA.
Each click of the turret will adjust the elevation by an MOA unit, which varies per scope but usually follows a variation of 1/4, 1/2, or 1-inch adjustment at 100 yards per click.
This MOA adjustment is facilitated by the erector tube, which moves the reticle in accordance with your turret adjustments.
Zeroing Your Scope
Remember, each new adjustment happens when you are zeroing in on your target image at a specific distance. Meaning changing your shooting conditions will require you to “re-zero” your scope.
Luckily for you, many modern rifles have a “quick zero” function to allow you to reset your rifle scope with a quick push (or click, or turn, etc) of the turret.
Remember, up and down adjustments…
Don’t mean your reticle will go up and down the way you think it does. If you see that your reticle goes down and you’re adjusting your turret “up”, don’t worry your scope is perfectly fine.
If you’re adjusting your scope down, the reticle will go up to compensate your rifle barrel to aim down towards the target.
Meaning that in order to compensate for the elevation changes, the reticle helps you aim by moving the rifle accordingly.
To turn the elevation turret:
- If you need to move your aim up, the reticle will go down, making you aim your rifle up.
- If you need to move your aim down, the reticle will go up, making you aim your rifle down.
A bit odd to wrap your head around, but it makes sense when it comes down to it.
Step 2: Windage Adjustments
Now that you’ve seen what an elevation adjustment is and how you can adjust them accordingly, it’s time to look at windage adjustments.
While an elevation adjustment had taken into account the physics of the bullet curve when shooting, you’ll also need to factor in the effects of wind on the bullet’s trajectory at a distance of 100 yards and 200 yards (even distances of 25 yards may get affected by windage).
The farther you are from your target, the more noticeable the effects of wind will be. So if you want to keep accurate at 100 yards, make sure to adjust your windage turret accordingly.
The windage turret, like the elevation adjustments before it, allows for windage adjustment by moving it left or right, with the reticle moving accordingly with each turret adjustment.
The internal erector tube, like with the elevation turret, will adjust the reticle left and right depending on how many clicks you do on the turret properly.
With both windage and elevation turret adjustments, you want to make sure your POI stays the same as your POA.
Each click unit of measurement is expressed similarly in MOA, but also has measurements known as MRAD or MIL on some scopes.
It’s best to stick to just one uniform measurement across your different turrets for better accuracy and consistency.
Many modern scopes have windage readings on the reticle to help you make the necessary windage adjustments that are helpful to both new and experienced shooters.
When to Keep the Windage Turret Undisturbed
Though some shooters may opt to keep the windage turret untouched. Why?
Because wind tends to change in both direction and intensity much more frequently than you changing distance when taking into account windage and elevation zeroing.
So to compensate for any strong windage, some experienced rifle users tend to keep their eye just slightly left or right of the reticle (called “holding left/right”) using the windage markers mentioned above.
This can help people keep their shots accurate on target while accounting for windage adjustment without having to consistently change or “re-zero” their turrets.
Step 3: Sighting
Now while you have your windage and elevation adjustments properly taken into account, most experienced riflemen recommend you “sight” your rifle.
Adjusting the sight on your rifle basically ensures your scope is properly aligned with your rifle barrel.
Every rifle is essentially manufactured in different ways and often most scopes come from different manufacturers altogether.
Be sure that when you look through the scope on a rifle, it’s properly mounted and aligned to your barrel.
Manual Target Bore Sighting
This method works if you happen to be using a bolt action rifle. We love ’em.
These rifles have removable bolts where you can look through the barrel. This will come in handy with a method of sight adjustment called “bore sighting”.
How to start:
- Prepare your “rifle rest”, or your rifle with the gun vice and mounting the rifle scope you just got. You can use do this using the screwdrivers and Torx wrenches you have on hand.
- Prepare a target roughly 25 yards away from your rifle. Remove the bolt to get the barrel aligned with the target image in question.
- Look through the scope to see where the crosshairs hit, then make adjustments to the reticle using the windage and elevation turrets until the reticle is at the center of the target.
- Once you have this centered on the target, you can test your rifle to check if the point of impact matches your point of aim.
If it comes out accurate, then your rifle should be sighted enough until about 50 yards. Past that (say 100 yards or 200 yards) you’ll need to adjust the elevation and windage turrets again.
Laser-Assisted Scope Sighting
Another way to adjust your scope on your rifle would be to use a laser bore sighter. This is a method of sight adjustment that uses an additional laser attachment you can attach to the end of your rifle.
This is especially useful when using a non-bolt action rifle, such as semi-automatic and lever-action rifles.
Place your rifle on the gun vice and ensure you have a stable platform for aiming.
Attach the laser bore sighter to the end of the barrel and turn it on so it shines a laser dot onto a surface approximately 25-50 yards away. If it is accurate, it should stay accurate at 100 yards as well.
Make the necessary adjustments via the turrets (shouldn’t take more than four clicks usually) to make sure you have the reticle aligned with the laser dot.
If you want to test out your shot, you can mount a target at roughly the same distance you tested.
Remember: Remove the laser sight before shooting or else you’ll end up with damages to your barrel.
Step 4: Additional Adjustments
There are various adjustments that don’t necessarily deal with the ability to hit your target at 100 yards long range but will definitely help your experience in shooting.
When it comes to brightness adjustments, intensity and management will differ among the many rifle scopes available on the market.
Two modes of illuminations are commonly used in a scope: battery-powered and optic-wire.
For battery-powered scopes, the method these work is pretty self-explanatory. Most battery-operated illumination systems have several levels of illumination depending on your environmental lighting situation.
There are versions of rifle scopes that includes night vision as well. A scope that has night vision usually has various levels of night vision intensity as well.
Adjusting brightness here is commonly done through knobs on the left and right sides of the scope body. Brightness levels would change per click turn.
For a scope that uses solar optics, like a solar-powered optic fiber wire, these don’t utilize battery but rather ambient UV rays to naturally illuminate the reticle.
This keeps the riflescope without the need for battery replacement while providing relatively bright layers of illumination.
Incorrectly focused eye lenses are a common issue (so don’t feel bad) even amongst experienced shooters.
Many times, this setting isn’t even something taught in most shooting ranges and schools, but this doesn’t mean that it is any less important than the other adjustments we’ve talked about so far.
Parallax adjustment and refocusing eye lenses will take some work, and often most people will get it wrong the first time around. But that doesn’t mean you can slack off.
It’s still important to understand how to do it properly as it can fix a blurry target or blurry reticle, improve your shooting, and reduce eye strain from an incorrectly focused eyepiece.
Luckily, it’s fairly easy to do it:
- Start by mounting your rifle on a proper mounting/gun vice rack and ensure it’s stable. If you can manage, have a friend help you out here as you’ll need to make target adjustments while looking through the scope.
- Have your friend hold up a light-colored item (like a piece of paper) about a foot away from your scope. Once everything is in position, close your eyes for a bit to make sure it’s not strained while looking at the target.
- Open your eyes for roughly 2 to 3 seconds then close them to avoid additional strain. Once you close your eyes again, have your friend adjust the ocular focus adjustment at least 1/2 a revolution in one direction.
- Open your eyes again for the same time duration and check if the image is clearer. Repeat this exercise by continuing adjustments until you hit a point where you move left and right without any improvement in clarity.
Apart from standard adjustments done on scopes’ lenses (yes, there’s more!), it’s important to take note of an additional scope adjustment that makes all the difference when it comes to scope accuracy: the mounting.
Oftentimes, shooters buy a new scope and expect it to be plug-and-play.
But these need to be calibrated to better fit the rifle you’re using it on. Besides the sight adjustment methods we discussed a while ago, the actual position on the railing matters heavily on shots over 100 yards.
So if you want to get the best target shots using your new scope, it’s important to get this step right.
These minor adjustments will affect how comfortable you are while using the scope and how your shots will eventually place on the target.
There are three main aspects of a rifle’s mounting to focus on:
- The height position (or its vertical position)
- The forward/back position (or its horizontal position)
- The rotational level position
Below, we will discuss the ways on how to properly adjust these three aspects.
Adjusting the Scope Vertically
No one wants to keep adjusting their head position when it comes to lining up the right on-center shot. But if you have an improperly mounted scope, you’ll have to keep lifting your head when you shoot.
To test if your scope is properly mounted in accordance with your natural head position, lay your head on the thickest/cheekiest area of the stock.
If you can then easily see through the scope without adjusting, your scope is rightly mounted.
But if you find that you need to make minor adjustments in position, it’s time to adjust the scope so that this neutral head position is just right.
There are two main ways to adjust for height: height scope rings or a cheekpiece stock pack.
A scope ring works by basically acting as a separate higher scope mount than the factory-built one on the rifle. It comes in various heights depending on what you need and various railing mount systems as well.
Don’t skimp on a scope ring mount, as these will be handling the recoil that a high-powered, long-range rifle can make. The last thing you want is your scope flying off when you fire the trigger.
A cheekpiece stock pack is more of a DIY method of fixing this issue.
If you have some insulation padding or other spare fabrics, you can use those between the rifle stock and the stock pack to add as a kind of higher-leveled headrest while shooting.
Adjusting the Scope Horizontally
Once you manage to determine the right scope height for you, it’s time to check if your scope mount is properly distanced from the barrel and the stock.
As a test, you can start in your most comfortable shooting pose with your eyes closed.
Open your eyes once you’re set and begin adjusting the scope position forward and back until you get a perfectly clear image. Note this is different from the focus adjustments we discussed a while ago.
For a Clear Scope View
This has more to do with the ocular lenses’ eye relief as different scopes have different levels of eye distance to get a clear scope view.
You’ll notice you’re too far in one direction if you have a black hazy ring surrounding the image. We call this a “scope shadow”, a common indicator of mispositioned scopes.
Don’t be alarmed when you see this, as it just means the riflescope isn’t positioned properly on the horizontal plane. Adjustments are easy on various mounting systems (especially the adaptable Picatinny Rail Systems).
Not adjusting your scope’s horizontal position and just relying on “center” placement can lead to neck strain due to the constant repositioning of your head to get a clear view.
This can even run into a nasty case of scope-eye, a common issue amongst amateur shooters who position their eyes too close to the scope in an effort to get a clear image.
The amateur shoots and the recoil kicks the scope into their eye, leaving a bad case of a black eye.
Adjusting Rotational Level
Once you get your scope in the right height and the right distance from your eye, you might think you’re all set for the range.
Unfortunately, eager shooters like you would be missing out on a key adjustment: level.
Some people use bubble levels to make sure their rifles are level on their rifles, but you can also opt to use the many new tools available for leveling out your scopes.
This is a key thing to take note of as bullets do not fly in a straight line. But that doesn’t mean you’re Wesley Gibbons from Wanted either who can curve bullets.
Your rifle and its respective scope will be designed to compensate for this eventual bullet drop. But a misaligned scope or a rifle can cause you to miss at far-off targets.
Riflescope adjustments, despite being very technical and boring, are a key part of preparing your rifle for hunting and target shooting.
You may think you’re the most accurate long-range shooter in the valley with your high-quality optics, but a misaligned scope will make every target shooting a crapshoot at best.
So take some time, relax, and make the adjustments needed first. You’ll be hitting dead-center in no time.
CHANGELOG: April 22, 2022 - Made minor updates to content and formatting, added 1 new article link, removed 2 product links September 16, 2021 - Reviewed and updated article links, updated article title