Shooting Mystery is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

How to Sight in a Rifle Scope: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Sight in a Rifle Scope A Step-by-Step Guide

Scope sighting or zeroing is the process of fine-tuning your reticle to allow you to hit a target a certain distance away. Your scope adjusts to allow you to aim at a distant target while taking wind and bullet drop into consideration.

This makes sighting one of the most important steps you can take to improve and ensure shooting accuracy. After all, a gun is nothing if you cannot hit what you are aiming at due to improper sighting.

This guide will cover everything you need to know to sight in a rifle scope, the importance of zeroing, and a step-by-step guide on how to do it correctly and consistently.

What Is Scope Sighting?

Scope sighting is the process of adjusting your scope reticle to align your point of aim (what you are targeting) with your point of bullet impact (where the bullet hits the target).

What Is Scope Sighting

While scopes and other optics are often factory-zeroed or set to be “accurate” straight out of the box, you must still make your own adjustments to ensure that your bullets hit the bullseye every time you pull the trigger.

When sighting a scope, you will have to manipulate the elevation turret (the top turret on the scope) and the windage turret (the side turret) to account for environmental factors that can affect the trajectory of your bullet.

adjusting elevation turret on scope

The elevation turret controls whether the bullet will hit higher or lower on the target. This allows you to compensate for bullet drop due to gravity and the bullet losing power over time.

The turret knob will be marked with directional arrows to make adjustments easier.

The windage turret (located on the right side of most scopes) controls the horizontal direction of the bullet, which can be affected by the amount of wind blowing around it.

The windage knob is also marked with directional arrows for you to turn clockwise or counter-clockwise in order to adjust.

What Do You Need to Sight a Scope?

You will need the following tools to make scope adjustments easily and consistently.

  • Gunsmith-grade screwdriver
  • A stable shooting platform
  • Sandbags/other rifle rests
  • Targets (paper/cardboard targets)
  • Ammunition
  • Laser Bore Sight
  • Gun vise (keeps your rifle stationary)

How to Sight in a Rifle Scope

Learn how to sight in a scope and ensure your bullet impacts where it should by following the basic steps listed below.

Step 1. Ensure Rifle Safety and Choose a Suitable Location

Whenever you are planning to shoot or even handle any firearm, whether loaded or unloaded, you must always prioritize safety.

When you select a shooting range, be sure it has proper backstops or a solid background to ensure bullets cannot hit anything else but the intended target and will not ricochet or hit bystanders once they pierce it.

Step 2. Mount the Scope Securely

Place the specific rifle you plan on using your scope on a gun vise or sandbag to make mounting your new scope easier.

man mounting scope on rifle

Follow the manufacturer’s mounting instructions to ensure a properly mounted rifle scope, ensuring the mounting screws are tight and your scope sits comfortably on the scope rings without blocking the rifle’s action.

Give yourself enough eye relief by increasing the distance between your eye and the scope.

This is for your comfort, increasing the clarity of your target and giving you an excellent sight picture. It is also for your safety, as this space will prevent you from being hit in the face by your scope due to recoil.

Some rifles are designed with pre-drilled and tapped holes or grooved rail systems to make installing scope bases easier, while others use Picatinny rails.

Ensure your scope rings are compatible with the mounting system of your rifle.

Step 3. Boresight the Rifle

Bore sighting entails placing a laser boresighter into the bore of your rifle and aligning the reticle to the laser point at 100 yards. The laser exiting the muzzle simulates bullet trajectory and impact on a target at 25 yards.

laser boresight trajectory example

Using a bore sight laser allows you to align your reticle with your point of impact (according to the bore of your rifle) without wasting bullets. Since you are not shooting through it, it allows you to reuse the same target across different sessions.

This method is also helpful for avoiding “reticle cant” (where you aim with your crosshairs unadjusted) as this can lead you to become more inaccurate the further the distance from the target.

Step 4. Set Up a Stable Shooting Platform

Ensure the rifle is well-supported and leveled to minimize movement during bore-sighting and later shooting by mounting your weapon on a rifle rest, bipod, sandbags, or other stabilizing equipment to keep your rifle stable.

A proper rifle mount can reduce recoil dramatically and ensure that you can sight in a rifle without worrying about improper calibration affecting your shots.

Step 5. Select the Sighting Distance

Knowing how to sight a rifle scope at 100 yards, the standard zeroing reference, or 25 yards, a solid base for sighting, can ensure that your results are accurate and repeatable.

You can reduce the amount of variables you need to worry about when shooting at these distances.

Step 6. Fire Initial Shots and Grouping

Fire an initial test shot and note its location. Then, fire additional shots to form a group (typically in sets of three) and select the two closest shots as a reference for the point of impact.

rifle shots and grouping

This is the point from which you will adjust your scope so that the next time you shoot, your rounds will land where they should.

Step 7. Adjust Elevation and Windage

You can adjust your reticle’s elevation by turning the knob counter-clockwise and vice versa to lower it. The windage can be adjusted to the right by turning the knob counter-clockwise and vice versa.

Adjusting Elevation and Windage knobs

NOTE: As a rule of thumb, you make any adjustments needed by turning the knob in the direction you want your reticle’s center point to go.

When making adjustments, take note of the units of measurement used by your scope. There are two main units of measurement depending on the model of your scope.

  • MOA Scopes: use MOA (Minute of Angle) measuring 1/60th of a degree, with 1/4 MOA being used to adjust crosshairs for precision at 100 yards.
  • MIL Scopes: MIL (Milliradian) refers to a 1/1000 of a radian.

In the case of MOA at 100 yards, your adjustments will be based on how many inches the center needs to move (UP/DOWN and LEFT/RIGHT). However, for a 1/4 MOA per click, you just need four clicks per MOA.

With MIL scopes, you will adjust based on your group in centimeters but translated as tenths of a MIL. This will tell you how often you need to adjust toward your desired direction.

Some models, such as the first focal plane models, have reticles that increase proportionately to the target image. Whereas in the second focal plane scopes, their reticle remains consistently the same size.

Your choice of plane will affect how visible your MOA hash marks or mil-dots are, which can affect your calibration before you start shooting.

Step 8. Align the Point of Aim and Point of Impact

When zeroing a scope, you must make precise adjustments as you fine-tune the turrets to align the reticle with your impact point.

Aligning Point of Aim and Point of Impact

Should your grouping miss the center of the target, adjust your turrets based on reference points.

Whenever you sight in, align the center of your reticle with the point where the bullet actually landed. This ensures that your reticle is aligned with your muzzle the next time you aim.

You will know your adjustments are correct when your bullet lands on the point your reticle is centered on.

Step 9. Fire Additional Shots and Confirm

Fire a few extra shots to confirm the accuracy of the adjustments and make minor ones if necessary. Consistency of the points is key.

Three-shot groups are the norm when zeroing. Identify the group’s center amongst the bullet holes, then adjust your reticle accordingly.

You can fire another three-shot group to confirm before heading to the next step. To make your elevation and windage adjustments easier, I recommend using a grid paper target to give you a reference for distance.

Step 10. Record the Sighting Settings

Once you have the consistency, record your elevation and windage settings for future reference.

Step 11. Practice and Confirm Sighting

After recording all the adjustments, practice with your zero to confirm its effectiveness from different distances and its ability to react to environmental factors like the wind.

Remember to repeat the sight-in process when shooting at different distances for consistent accuracy.

Tips and Troubleshooting on Sighting a Scope

Some common challenges when sighting and adjusting your scope, as well as tips to overcome them, are the following.

  • Although the process can be long, keep practicing; it will become second nature, given enough time.
  • When adjusting, ensure the turret cannot be nudged by accident.
  • Although sighting for 25 yards is optional, it will save you time, effort, and patience, as you will not have to sight in at different distances. You can reduce the variables and make zeroing a more repeatable process.
  • Adjusting after every shot instead of utilizing groupings will actually waste ammunition in the long run.
  • Always verify that your sight has maintained zero after firing a series of shots; sometimes, the turrets can become loose from recoil or factory defects, throwing off your zero.
  • To maintain shot consistency and prevent overheating, let the rifle barrel cool after you shoot a series of shots and before storing your equipment.
  • Should your reticle remain blurry, you can fine-tune the diopter adjustment, a knob that adjusts visibility for longer-range shots.

Why Do You Need to Sight a Scope?

The main benefit of sighting in scopes would be to allow you to make the best shot possible, but there are other benefits to consider that will allow you to become the best shooter you can be.

  • Accuracy – Proper sighting ensures accurate and consistent shot placement at longer distances.
  • Optimal Performance – A properly-sighted scope maximizes your rifle’s performance, effectiveness, and adaptability in the field.
  • Confidence – Proper sighting can help you build confidence in your shooting abilities, which is necessary for high-pressure situations like competitive shooting.
  • Consistency – A properly zeroed scope ensures consistent shot placement, reducing the chances of inaccurate shots occurring.
  • Safety – Properly zeroing a scope enhances safety by reducing the risk of missed shots or stray bullets, especially when precise shot placement is critical, such as in hostage crises.
  • Improved Hunting Success – For hunters, a properly sighted scope increases the likelihood of a clean and humane kill, which is essential for ethical hunting and putting meat on the table.
  • Effective Target Shooting – Whether for sport or practice, a proper sighting helps you consistently hit targets, improving your skills over time.
  • Long-Range Shooting – Sighting a scope is essential for long-range shooting, where precise adjustments are crucial when accounting for bullet drop, windage, and other factors affecting bullet trajectory.
  • Diverse Shooting Environments – A properly sighted scope allows you to adapt and make accurate shots in different environments, such as those with dense foliage, varying engagement distances, high elevations, and heavy winds.
  • Reduced Ammunition Wastage – By sighting in at a target 25 yards away, you can achieve the desired impact on the target more efficiently, reducing the number of shots needed to zero in on the target.
  • Personalization Sighting lets you personalize the rifle to your preferences, ensuring the reticle aligns with your shooting style and aiming habits.
  • Saves Time and Resources A properly zeroed scope saves you time and ammunition in the long run because it ensures a proper reference point for future shooting occasions.

What Are the Different Types of Scopes?

Rifle scopes are divided and classified by their primary purposes and special features, as shown below.

  • Fixed Scope: Designed with a nonadjustable magnification level.
  • Variable Scope: Designed with adjustable magnifications (2-8x, 4-16x, etc.).
  • Night Vision Scope: Designed for visibility at night/near-darkness.
  • Tactical Scope: Offers rapid accuracy in high-stress situations like military or law enforcement operations.
  • Long Range Scope: A scope with high magnification levels (10x above).
  • Hunting Scope: Optic designed for accurate shooting in outside elements, often uses a simple duplex reticle.
  • Competition Scope: A scope designed with very high magnification while remaining lightweight.
  • Sniper Scope: Provides snipers with detailed information for high accuracy and environmental compensation.
  • Scout Scope: A scope designed for firing with both eyes open and quick recovery for a follow-up shot.
  • Red Dot Sights: Utilizes a red dot reticle with minimal magnification.
  • Air Rifle Scope: Designed to handle the double recoil of an air rifle
  • Rimfire Scope: Designed with low-recoil, rimfire ammunition firearms in mind.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are the answers to some of the most common questions found online regarding sighting in your rifle scope.

How Often Should I Sight in My Rifle?

You should sight in your rifle before you perform any significant shooting activities. Most hunters and competition shooters will re-zero their optics before heading out to hunt or practice.

Which Adjustments Should You Make on the Scope Turrets?

Scope turrets are designed to adjust for windage (on top), elevation (right side), and sometimes parallax (left side). Most rifle scopes have markings for the adjustment direction (UP, DOWN, L, R) to make calibration easier.

That said, you must take note of your units of measurement (MOA) and how many adjustments per turret clicks your scope makes to improve your overall accuracy.

What Should You Do If Your Scope Loses Zero After Firing?

If you lose zero, simply repeat the sighting-in process by utilizing these steps.

  1. Set up your scope and shoot a group of test shots.
  2. After firing, keep your rifle perfectly still.
  3. Adjust your crosshairs to compensate, given the feedback from the shots.
  4. Ensure your scope is perfectly aligned and mounted.
  5. Shoot another group and repeat the process until zeroed.

Final Thoughts on How to Sight a Rifle Scope

Whether you are firing at a paper target or a whitetail deer, proper sighting-in or zeroing of a scope will allow you to shoot dead center and hit the bulls-eye every time you squeeze the trigger.

To properly set and sight in a rifle, you must make the necessary adjustments to your scope’s elevation and windage turrets to align your reticle (crosshairs, red dot, etc.) with your point of impact.

When in doubt, a combination of laser boresighting and zeroing with three-shot groups will allow you to ensure your reticle is perfectly aligned and that your target stands no chance when you are on the prowl.

About the author