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How to Calibrate a Scope Correctly in 4 Easy Steps

How to Calibrate a Scope

I understand how tempting it is to just mount the rifle and start shooting. That’s a rookie mistake I made!

There are many fine adjustments and tweaking you have to do if you want to shoot accurately at different distances and conditions

People that take up target shooting for the first time often have trouble learning how to mount, sight, and adjust their scope.

In case you fall under this category or have experienced the same trouble, this article has all you need to know.

Down below, I’ll be providing information about how to calibrate a scope along with a step-by-step guide on the best way to calibrate it.

With a little practice, you should be able to calibrate a rifle scope by heart!

What is Rifle Scope Calibration?

Scope calibration is the process of adjusting and aligning your scope, so it lines up with your target.

This process allows your scope’s images to be accurate and distortion-free.

I like to think it’s almost like adjusting the settings of a camera to make sure everything is clear and within the framing that I want!

After doing a few test shots, chances are the bullet did NOT land where you wanted it.

Let’s say if you wanted it right on the bullseye, it might have veered off to the left or right.

Calibrating the rifle scope and adjusting the turrets accordingly help you fix that error. After a few scope adjustments, the bullet will land where you want it!

How to Calibrate a Rifle Scope: Shooting and Testing

Step 1: Visit a Shooting Range

Men shooting sniper rifles in a shooting range

The most effective way to calibrate a rifle scope is to shoot a couple of rounds from several positions and see how things turn out.

You should consider heading to a nearby shooting range if you wish to test and sight in your scope.

Needless to say, you need to prepare in advance by purchasing enough ammunition for the trip and packing safety accessories.

Don’t forget to obey the regulations of the range as well!

Shooting ranges are great places to get your feet wet. I learned a lot during my first time from fellow shooters and instructors!

For an accurate assessment of your scope, you should use a bullseye target that’s specifically designed for zeroing purposes.

If you don’t know WHY your scope is losing zero, then make sure you troubleshoot it to understand the issue.

Step 2: Place Your Rifle on a Rest

Man looking through scope

To eliminate potential human error, it would be best to place the rifle on a rest. 

These are usually available at sporting goods stores and gun clubs, but you can also purchase gun rests online.

In case you are unable to find a gun rest or can’t get one online, you could always use books, bricks, or even your own jacket as substitutes.

As long as you can achieve a stable shooting position, you can pretty much use anything you like.

I personally like using a gun rest bag, or if you don’t have one, you can try using sandbags.

However, using a legitimate gun rest is still the best choice overall.

Step 3: Send Some Rounds Down Range

Rifle mounted on stand

Once you’re settled at the shooting range, load your rifle and sight in your scope on the target, and shoot it at least 5 times.

Retrieve the target or use a range sight to examine your grouping. After that, make adjustments by rotating the scope turrets, then shoot again.

Keep repeating the process (shoot, check the grouping, and make adjustments) until you can hit the target repeatedly without missing.

I learned the hard way that this is a very trial-and-error step, so don’t get too frustrated!

For optimum results, you should only make as few adjustments as possible.

While different scopes may come with different mechanisms, the principle is usually the same.

Step 4: Move to Different Distances

Man shooting

You probably like to sight in the scope at your primary shooting distance, but it’s not a bad idea to test fire at multiple distances.

The above technique could be used for any distance, but do remember to use a different target for each distance, so you don’t get confused.

In most cases, I usually start at 20 yards and increase the distance after each shooting session.

For optimum results, you should not move more than 50 yards at a time.

If you have the time and patience, you could theoretically go as far as you want.

How to Calibrate a Scope Without Taking a Shot

Scope calibration uses up a lot of ammo, so it’s understandable to worry about wasting ammo.

While you can calibrate a scope without firing a shot, it is not the most ideal because the results will not be optimal.

Of course, you will not know if your rifle is properly calibrated if you do not test it with a shot!

I think it’s more of a last resort. If you must learn these methods, I can teach you two ways to do that.

Using the Barrel of a Bolt Action Rifle

If you’re using a bolt action rifle, you must take the bolt off and see through the barrel to see if everything’s aligned.

Keep the rifle as STABLE as possible, as slight movements may reduce accuracy.

The downside to this process is it only works for very short distances, such as around 50-100 yards.

Use a Collimator or Laser

A collimator is a type of laser beam that points to where the bullet will supposedly land. I say “supposedly” because it is not always accurate.

It lets you theoretically see where the bullet would hit without firing it. From there, you can make the necessary adjustments now that you have a point of reference.

Similar to the first method, it is not very effective except for short ranges.

Why Is Scope Calibration Important?

I think there is no other reason why scope calibration other than it increases your accuracy.

Without checking the proper adjustments or if your scope is not properly aligned, your shots will land all over the place!

In the scope calibration process, you eliminate errors and can land SUPER accurate shots in the shortest amount of time possible.

Even though it takes a bit of trial and error, it pays off to take the extra time to readjust and reshoot until you get the results you want.

The Scopes You Should Calibrate

Most of the time, shooters who have precision, “clickable” scopes with around 1/4 MOA (or 0.1 Mil) adjustment per click should learn how to calibrate their scopes.

These rifle scopes tend to come in handy when the distance between you and your target often exceeds 250 yards.

If you have a scope like that, you definitely need to know how to zero the scope properly by manipulating its elevation and windage turrets.

As the shooting distance increases, the effect of scope calibration errors on your shooting accuracy becomes more and more noticeable.  

On the other hand, scopes with friction-adjustable turrets do not need scope calibration and would not benefit from it.

These scopes aren’t exactly precise instruments and are not designed to be adjusted for different ranges on a whim.

Turrets of such scopes are usually set up in a way that zeroes the scope at 220 yards, which is sufficient for hunting purposes.

Therefore, if the shooting distance is between 0 and 250 yards, these scopes would let you hit your target without fail.

In most cases, you could achieve a 6 to 8-inch grouping easily.

BONUS TIP: Adjusting for parallax is also something you should keep in mind to get the most accurate shot.

Man Looking Through a Scope

The Installation of the Base Mount

Before you can actually calibrate the scope, you need to install a mount first. I also advise you to stay concentrated while doing so.

If you do a poor job at calibrating, the scope will become vulnerable to recoil and impact forces which will reduce its value.

Spending a bit more on a nice mount goes a long way! A quality mount is capable of keeping your scope secured for years to come.

To install the mount, the preferred method is to tighten the base of the screws according to most instruction manuals provided by the mount manufacturer.

I recommend proceeding in an X pattern, so the scope doesn’t get pulled from one side to the other.

In order to make the necessary adjustments, you should tighten the screw slowly at first; pick up the pace afterward when everything falls into place.

DO NOT RUSH. Take as much time as you need to do things right!

Sideview of two rifles with scopes

Attaching the Scope to the Mount

After the base mount is properly secured, the next step is to attach the rifle scope and make the initial adjustments.

Place the scope on the mount according to the manufacturer’s directions with the correct eyepiece orientation, then tighten the rings.

By setting up the eyepiece correctly, you can see a sharp and crystal-clear target image through the scope in normal shooting conditions.

Take a look at the crosshair as well and make accurate adjustments if needed to ensure that the vertical crosshair is the top dead center (12 o’clock).

Sideview of a sniper rifle with scope

As you tighten the scope’s mounting screws, keep an eye on the crosshair to monitor its position.

Once again, you need to slowly tighten each of the screws, ideally half a thread at a time.

Check the crosshair regularly to ensure it doesn’t move from its spot.

Frequently Asked Questions

1_Frequently Asked Questions

Why Is My Scope Not Holding Zero?

The rifle cannot hold zero for several reasons.

Your scope may be damaged or defective, which means some of its features may also be defective.

The problem may also be in the installation or mounting. You might have used incorrect or defective scope mounts, which affects the rifle’s stability.

Find a high-quality scope and double-check all your materials for any defective or damaged parts to prevent losing zero.

Do Rifle Scopes Need to be Calibrated?

Rifle scopes don’t always have to be calibrated, but it’s a HUGE help to do so.

Without it, your shots are pretty much off-target all the time, and your accuracy is out the window.

Calibrating your scope helps keep your inner scope components accurate as well, preventing them from wearing down.

Why Do Snipers Adjust Their Scope?

Snipers adjust their scopes for the same reason as anyone, to increase accuracy and hit their targets head-on.

Since snipers are usually in high places, they must adjust for windage and elevation to compensate for the increase in wind and altitude.


That’s all there is to it when it comes to calibrating your rifle scope.

If you’re a beginner, I hope this article gave you new insight and knowledge about guns and scopes.

If you’re someone more experienced, I also hope this article clarifies some things for you and can improve your scope-adjusting procedures.

FINAL TIP: For more Scope 101 tips, I highly recommend learning about holdover shooting and how to deal with foggy scopes.

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