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How to Adjust Scopes (Everything You Need to Know)

How to Adjust Scopes (Everything You Need to Know)

Adjusting scopes is one of the most effective ways of improving a shooter’s accuracy and consistency.

If you’re a rifle shooter looking to get the basics down or a seasoned pro needing a refresher, this guide on how to adjust a rifle scope is perfect for you.

I will discuss what a scope adjustment is, what tools you will need, the nitty-gritty of how to adjust rifle scopes, some expert tips, and a quick discussion on hot topics regarding adjusting scopes.

Ready to get the best aim of your life with any scope? Read on.

What Is Scope Adjustment?

Scope adjustment is the process of dialing in a rifle scope so that the bullet lands right where you aim it (or as close to it as you intend). Simply put, it is a way to help you shoot accurately and precisely.

To be more technical, scope adjustments align the reticle (crosshairs) of a rifle scope to the bore of a rifle, ensuring no discrepancies between your point of aim and point of impact.

The two main reasons why it is important to adjust a rifle scope, especially for new rifle scopes, are accuracy and consistency.

Scope adjustment also tackles challenges like bullet drop due to gravity, wind pushing them off course, and even mistakes you might make when aiming or pulling the trigger.

Adjusting a rifle scope involves securely mounting the scope, finding the eye box, bore sighting and sighting in, and fiddling with the adjustment knobs (namely the windage turret [horizontal adjustment) and the elevation turret [vertical adjustment]).

While it can be tedious, if you put in the effort to adjust your scope properly, your shooting accuracy will skyrocket.

What Do You Need to Adjust a Scope?

To properly adjust a rifle scope, you will need the following tools and materials.

  • Rifle and Scope: You cannot sight your scope unless it is mounted on your weapons system. This will ensure your measurements are dialed in for that specific rifle, ensuring accuracy and the ability to adjust your aim in the field.
  • Target: You will need a target to aim at when adjusting a rifle scope. Ensure it is placed at a known distance from where you are shooting.
  • Torque wrench: A torque wrench ensures your scope rings are tightened just right. This step is crucial to prevent any wobbling or loosening of the scope.
  • Cleaning cloth: Keeping your scope’s lenses clean is vital for a perfect view of the target. A cleaning cloth will help you maintain optimal visibility.
  • Patience: Adjusting a rifle scope takes time, especially if you want it done right. Stay patient throughout the process for the best results.

When working with most scopes, having these essentials ready will ensure a smoother experience so you can appropriately calibrate the windage and elevation turrets.

Refer to your scope’s manual for specific instructions when adjusting a new rifle scope.

How to Adjust a Rifle Scope

Adjusting a rifle scope is a process that aims to make your loadout work in sync with your shooting position and your target.

There are quite a few steps to remember on how to adjust rifle scopes, so let’s get started.

Step 1. Mount the Scope Securely

Parts of Rifle Scope Illustration

To begin, you need to learn how to mount a scope. If it is not properly mounted, there is potential for trouble and even injury if your loose scope falls on your foot.

Getting and installing the appropriate scope mounts is the first step in any scope adjustment process.

Scope Rings/Base

Scope rings are the connectors that join a rifle scope with the rifle itself.

Scope Rings and Base

These rings are usually constructed from materials like aluminum or steel, and they come in various sizes and designs to accommodate different scopes.

Their primary function is to create a stable and secure attachment point to ensure that the scope remains steady and unaffected by the rifle’s recoil and firing procedure.

To secure your scope safely on your rifle, follow the steps below.

  1. Make sure you get rings that match your rifle and scope dimensions.
  2. Before mounting the rings, clean the rifle and scope mounting surfaces to eliminate any debris or dirt that might hamper the mounting process.
  3. Follow the guidelines provided with your rings to install them onto the rifle. Tighten the screws evenly to guarantee secure mounting.
  4. Gently slide the scope forward into the mounted rings and proceed to tighten the screws. Avoid over-tightening, as this could potentially damage the scope. 

Some rings offer a height adjustment feature that enables you to modify the scope’s height on the rifle, which is handy for getting your eye in just the right spot to avoid eye strain and keep your vision clear.

Note that you might need to buy these rings separately, depending on the scope.

If you want to change the height of the scope or upgrade your scope to a different size or style, you will have to buy replacement mounting rings.

Level the Scope

Leveling a scope is the process of ensuring that the reticle of the scope is perfectly parallel to the bore of the rifle.

Bubble level attached on rifle scope

This is important because it ensures that the point of impact of the bullets will be consistent with the point of aim.

An unlevel or canted scope is going to be unable to hold zero. This means that the point of impact of the bullets will change over time, making it difficult to hit targets consistently.

The reticle comes into play as it is the part of the scope the shooter uses to aim their shot. It is typically made up of crosshairs or other aiming points. It must be parallel to the bore of the rifle for the shot to be accurate.

Follow these steps that explain how to level a scope.

  1. Attach a level tool to the rifle.
  2. Look through the scope and center the level in the reticle.
  3. Use the torque wrench to tighten the screws on the scope mount until the level doesn’t reveal any slanting or canting.

Rifle scope with bubble level on rifle scope

Eye Relief

Eye relief is the space between the scope’s ocular lens and the shooter’s eye. Establishing the correct eye relief is vital to ensure a comfortable, practical shooting experience.

Eye Relief Illustration

Getting this distance right is essential for avoiding eye strain and preventing scope bite (a.k.a. a black eye).

Additionally, you will see a scope shadow if you have incorrect eye relief. This happens when the scope body or the objective lens blocks a part of the reticle. This can make it difficult to see the entire sight picture and significantly affect accuracy.

The simple steps below will help you set your eye relief appropriately.

  1. With your scope mounted securely on the rifle, get on your shooting position, peer through it, and adjust the eyepiece.
  2. Tweak it until you can comfortably see the entire reticle without straining, shifting the eyepiece of the scope forward or backward as needed.
  3. Take a few shots at a target.
  4. If you experience scope bites, keep adjusting the eyepiece (as well as your head position) until the problem disappears.

My advice is to begin with the eyepiece fully extended so you have the maximum eye relief. Gradually move the eyepiece inwards until you can see the entire reticle without discomfort or the risk of getting punched by your optic.

If scope bites keep happening, consider adjusting your rifle’s cheek rest. This can give a better cheek weld, reducing the pressure on your eye.

Step 2: Adjust the Eye Box and Eyepiece Focus

Not finding the eye box and working with an incorrectly focused eyepiece are causes of significant headaches for shooters. Let us discuss how to avoid these mistakes in the section below.

Eye Box

The term “eye box” refers to the space behind the ocular lens where the entire reticle is visible.

Scope Eye Box Illustration

You want to have the correct shooting position that allows you to find the eye box to make the most of your scope’s capabilities and avoid eye strain. The steps below should help you with it.

  1. Whether you are shooting standing, sitting, or lying prone, get in a comfortable position with the rifle properly shouldered.
  2. Look through the scope and focus on your target.
  3. Adjust your position until the entire reticle is visible without straining your eyes. This ensures you are in the eye box and ready for precise aiming.

Your rifle stock can play a role in this, too. Find the sweet spot where your cheek naturally rests against the stock, and your eye has a full field of view.

If you need an extra boost, consider getting a cheek riser, a padded insert that lifts your cheek to align perfectly with the scope. Some shooters even make their own risers using towels or cloth.

Eyepiece Focus

This portion involves adjusting your rifle scope’s eyepiece to ensure the reticle looks sharp and clear. When adjusted incorrectly, you will end up with either a clear reticle and a blurry view or the opposite.

Scope Eyepiece Focus

This is important because when you aim at your target, you want to see exactly where you are pointing. A clear reticle and field of view are critical to getting your aim dead on.

Plus, a blurry reticle or view means hitting your target becomes a guessing game. That is NOT SAFE and not accurate.

The steps to fine-tune your eyepiece focus are listed below.

  1. Look through the rifle scope and keep an eye on your target.
  2. Use the ocular focus adjustment knob to calibrate the focus of the eyepiece until the reticle is sharp and clear. Go about it slowly and carefully, as it is easy to overshoot your desired focus.

Step 3: Sight in the Rifle Scope

Learning how to sight in a scope is essential for accurate shooting. From this point, we will move on from adjusting a rifle scope based on how it interacts with the shooter to how it interacts with the target.

Person aiming with rifle scope

Boresight Your Rifle

Boresighting revolves around aligning the rifle’s bore with the optical axis of the scope body.

Boresight Rifle Scope

This initial alignment helps you get on paper and make the appropriate adjustments, speeding up the process of sighting in the scope and saving ammunition.

By ensuring that the scope’s direction is perfectly aligned with the rifle’s bore, you can see where the bullets will be hitting before you start shooting.

Take note that boresighting does not involve any elevation or windage adjustments.

The process of boresighting a scope does not have to be complicated. Below are steps you can follow for an easy and efficient time.

  1. Attach a laser bore sighter to the rifle.
  2. Point the rifle at a target mounted a known distance away (typically 25 yards).
  3. Adjust the sight until the laser or dot is dead-center on the target.
  4. Once the laser or dot is centered on the target, you have successfully boresighted the scope.

Step 4. Adjust Your Rifle Scope

In this step, we will finally fiddle with the windage turret and the elevation turret to sight in or zero our scope.

Shooting at different distances requires us to account for changes in conditions, adjusting our rifle scope left or right using the corresponding knobs to make consistent and accurate shots.

Since most scopes work with angular measurement, each turn of the knob has a corresponding “click value” (how much the windage or elevation adjustment is per click), usually measured in MIL or MOA.

Many beginners can get confused by scope adjustment, which way to turn the knobs to make the reticle go in a specific direction, and whatnot. Let us discuss it here.

Adjust Elevation

Elevation is the adjustment that allows you to move the bullet’s point of impact UP OR DOWN. This allows you to compensate for the effects of gravity, which cause the bullet to drop as it travels through the air.

The elevation turret/knob can be found at the top of the scope.

Person adjusting scope turrets

Below are steps to make the elevation adjustment you need when sighting in.

  1. Put your rifle with the scope on a rest and get in position.
  2. Shoot a few rounds at a target at a known distance and observe where the bullets are hitting.
  3. Using your knowledge of your scope’s click values and the values of the crosshairs, make appropriate adjustments. You can also use a bullet drop calculator.
    • If the bullets are hitting low, turn the elevation knob counterclockwise (i.e., to the left) to raise the point of impact.
    • If the bullets are hitting high, turn the elevation knob clockwise (i.e., to the right) to lower the point of impact.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the bullets are consistently hitting the center of the target.

Adjust Windage

Windage is the adjustment that allows you to move the point of impact of the bullet LEFT OR RIGHT. Windage adjustments allow you to compensate for the effects of wind, which can move the bullet off course as it travels.

Windage turrets/knobs can be found on the right side of scopes.

Zoomed in person adjusting scope turrets

To make the appropriate windage adjustment, you must fire a few times at your target. You can follow the steps for that below.

  1. Put your rifle with the scope on a rest and get in position.
  2. Shoot a few rounds at a target at a known distance and observe where the bullets are hitting.
  3. Using your knowledge of your scope’s click values and the values of the crosshairs, make appropriate adjustments.
    • If the bullets are hitting to the left, turn the windage turret forward (i.e., towards the target, away from you) to move the point of impact to the right.
    • If the bullets are hitting to the right, turn the windage turret backward (i.e., towards you, away from the target) to move the point of impact to the left.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the bullets are consistently hitting the center of the target.

Adjust Parallax (if applicable)

Parallax is the apparent displacement of an object when viewed from different positions. It happens when the target and reticle are not in the same focal plane.

You can spot it when you shift your head or eye while using the scope, and the reticle seems like it is moving or drifting around your target.

An adjustable parallax scope is a rifle scope that allows parallax adjustments, allowing the shooter to have a better target focus, regardless of where their eye is located.

This parallax adjustment turret (a.k.a. adjustable objective) is typically located to the left of the objective lens.

If possible, you can correct parallax by following these steps.

  1. Look through the scope at a target at a known distance.
  2. Adjust the parallax knob until the reticle is perfectly aligned with the target.
  3. Repeat steps 1-2 until the reticle is aligned with the target, regardless of where you are looking through the scope.

Adjust Magnification Range

The magnification range is the difference between the lowest and highest magnification levels. It is typically expressed as a range, such as 2x-10x.

Different Magnification Ranges

These numbers on the scope mean that it can magnify the target twice at its lowest setting and ten times at its highest.

Magnification adjustment of a rifle scope is the ability to change the magnification power of the scope. This is done by turning the magnification ring, which is typically located near the eyepiece of the scope.

Suppose you were wondering how to adjust a rifle scope for clarity. In that case, magnification adjustments allow you to choose the right magnification setting for different distances so that the field of view is crisp.

There are two types of adjustable power scopes: first focal plane scopes (FFP scopes) and second focal plane scopes (SFP scopes).

In a first focal plane scope, the adjustment affects the size of the reticle and the target image. This means the reticle will grow larger or smaller as you shift and adjust the magnification.

The adjustment affects only the target image in a second focal plane scope. The reticle remains exactly the same size, regardless of the magnification.

Step 5. Perform Final Checks and Corrections

Now, you should be ready to go out in the field and test your adjustments.

Final Zeroing

Make sure you have a clear sight picture of your target and fire some test shots. If the point of impact is consistent with the aim, congratulations! You have successfully adjusted your scope.

If not, keep making the necessary mounting, boresighting, windage, and elevation adjustments until your shots are continuously accurate and precise.

Record Adjustments

Having a log of the successful adjustments you have made with a specific rifle and scope at given distances/situations can be very helpful, especially if you have preferred engagement distances.

Next time you encounter the same scenario, you will not have to go through trial and error to make the ideal adjustments. You will simply have to refer to your notes.

Other Corrections

If there are other factors that may affect the accuracy of your shots, which will most likely be environmental, like the wind or poor weather conditions, address them as needed.

These can be tricky, but you will better understand how to adjust your windage, elevation, magnification, and even parallax right as you gain more experience.

Tips and Common Mistakes to Avoid

When adjusting a rifle scope, especially a new scope, there are a few things to remember.

  • Make sure the rifle is unloaded and safe before making any adjustments.
  • Use a target at a known distance to help you make accurate adjustments.
  • Maintain a stable firing position to lower the margin for error.
  • Beware of environmental factors affecting accuracy, like wind conditions or poor weather visibility.
  • Make minor adjustments until you get the desired results to avoid overcompensating.
  • Read the owner’s manual for your particular scope to learn about its specific adjustments.

As for common mistakes, the most frequent error is when shooters get excited and lose patience when trying to make the correct adjustments.

Do not rush the process; it is a delicate one.

If you are unsure how to adjust the scope, consult the owner’s manual or take the rifle to a qualified gunsmith.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Let us answer some frequently asked questions about adjusting scopes.

Why Is It Important to Adjust a Rifle Scope?

Adjusting a rifle scope is vital to ensure that the scope is properly aligned with the rifle so that the bullets hit the target right where you are aiming.

Scope adjustments also make firing the rifle safer for the shooter as it can protect them from the impact of recoil.

Is It Clockwise Up or Down on a Scope?

Elevation turret adjustments in the clockwise direction typically make the point of impact go down. Conversely, turning it counterclockwise makes the point of impact go up. It is best to consult your manual, as not all scopes are identical.

What Are the Adjustment Knobs on the Top and Side of the Scope Called?

These knobs are called turrets, and there are different ways to turn them to adjust your scope. The top adjustment knob controls elevation adjustment and the right side adjustment knob controls windage adjustment. Some scopes also have a parallax adjustment knob on the left side.

What Is Scope Parallax Adjustment?

Scope parallax adjustment is the ability to change the focus of the scope so that the reticle is always aligned with the target, regardless of where the shooter’s eye is located. It is sometimes called an “adjustable objective”.

To further clarify what parallax is on a scope, it is basically when the reticle moves when you shift your head instead of staying on target.

Final Thoughts on How to Adjust Scopes

In this comprehensive guide, we discussed how to adjust a rifle scope with ease and repeatability.

We covered everything shooters need to know, from the basics of mounting the scope to tricky windage and elevation adjustments.

I hope this guide has shared how important and helpful it is to have an adequately adjusted scope in the field.

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