How to Zero a Scope: Step-by-Step Instructions

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

You mean to ask, how do you actually hit the target? Do you also fear missing the bullseye? Or your rifle isn’t behaving as it should be? Or you haven’t even tried yet?

Well, whatever the case, just remember, when it comes to hitting your mark, you have only two choices: either zero the scope or request your target to stand still while you aim at it. Your call!

Let’s cut to the chase and get down to what’s important: zeroing the scope in order to nail the target. So, read on, shoot at targets, and thank me later!

What Does It Mean to Zero a Scope?

how to zero a scope

Zeroing a scope means teaching your rifle to hit the bullseye like a sharpshooter. It is all about commanding your bullets like, “Hey, this is where I want you to go,” and making sure they behave accordingly. So, what actually are you doing? You are taming your hunting rifle. And how do you do it? You just bring the scope and the barrel of the gun on the same grounds.

Yikes! It is that simple in definition. Just get your rifle and your target on the same page. Another definition of zeroing a scope can be ‘a process of making the point of aim match the point of impact.’ Alright, enough of the confused looks, please. I will explain these terms in detail later in the heading below.

Just so you know, getting it right is the only way to happy and successful shooting. It is crucial to make sure that the bullet hits with precision every time you try, only if you want some delicious meat on the revolving spit over an open fire beside your camp.

Now that I have succeeded in increasing your appetite and your will to hunt down prey like a pro let’s go and eat something first.

Alright, Andrew, I won’t joke anymore. Now, you say ‘serious,’ and I say ‘let’s hunt a prey down.’ When you zero your rifle scope, you ensure that your shots are consistently hitting the target while also taking into account ammunition, distance, and environmental conditions.

For this very purpose, you need to select an aiming point, get yourself into a comfortable position, check your scope adjustment values (windage and elevation turret), sight your rifle and set proper eye relief, and shoot a group at 100 yards.

You must be wondering, why the 100 yards though? Most shooters and hunters zero the rifles at 100 yards distance; however, some choose 50 or 200 as well. A distance of 100 yards is easy to estimate, not too far to walk and check, and corresponds nicely to MOA (minute of angle). Don’t worry, as I will explain ahead each step individually.

Sighting in Your Rifle: Tips and Tricks

Rifle sighting is a magical art of making your bullets behave and hit where you want them to. It is a process of adjusting the sights to hit a target at a specific range, just like when you are zeroing.

Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned marksman, just so you know, mastering this particular skill is imperative to hit a target. Let’s dive into the whimsical world of achieving a bore-sighted firearm!

how to zero a rifle scope

Safety First:

Your first step is to make sure that your rifle isn’t secretly thinking about firing. You know, rifles are just terrible at knock-knock jokes. As a shooter, you should treat every gun as if it is loaded and keep your finger off the trigger until you are actually prepared to shoot.

You should do it every time to start a new trip to shooting, as the rifle you sighted in prior to your last trip possibly got knocked out of alignment by a jolt.

Select the Right Optics:

What do I mean by this? Did I shock you? For sure, I did! Mind it, not all scopes are created equal. There is a specific scope for every personality, i.e., iron sights, holographic scope, red dots, or high-powered binoculars. Choose wisely!

Unfortunately, most of the time, the real culprit is the scope mounting system that is not installed correctly. Improper mounting looks like rough jolting or dropping of a rifle or over-tightening the scope mounts to rings.

Bore Sighting

zeroing scopes

It happens when your rifle needs a pep talk. Sighting in a scope is different from the zeroing process, but you will find it a bit similar to it. It is about aligning the sights or optics of a rifle with the bore of the rifle’s barrel. Clean the rifle and barrel thoroughly and choose any of the three methods given below for bore sighting:

Manual Bore Sighting

It involves using your naked eye to visually center the bore with the sight. Although it is a less accurate method, it will do when you cannot utilize any other method. Just remove the bolt and look down the barrel. You should see the bullseye through the bore, then move the scope’s reticle to the bull’s eye and make adjustments to turret caps.

Collimator Bore Sighting

An optical device is fitted into the rifle’s chamber, and this device projects a laser or an image down the bore. When you see through the scope, you can align the bore’s center to it by adjusting the reticle.

Magnetic Bore Sighting

Magnetic boresighters are fitted to the muzzle of the gun or to the end of the barrel with a magnet, and you are expected to look through your optic/scope to line it up with the reticle on the boresighter.

Set Targets

how to adjust rifle scope

Most shooting is done first at 25 yards and then at 100 yards. This way, you are actually practicing both shorter-range and long-range shooting. Just pick a tape measure or use the ‘about the length of a giraffe’s neck’ method.

Shoot it!

Well, now it’s time for your first shot! Adjust your scope, then shoot a group of five shots at the dead center of the target while making sure you stay in the same position for each shot. Observe your shot grouping and see how far the center spot is from the bull’s eye. Adjust the adjustment turrets and shoot again.

Reshoot and Fine-tune

Alright, fellas! Most scopes have two dials on them, so make further adjustments to the dials or elevation and windage knobs of rifle scopes, and keep firing until your bullets decide to agree with the hit mark. While doing so, do not forget to observe bullet impact and record settings. I mean, one should not forget everything in a blaze of glory, right?

Confirm at Different Distances

To make sure your scope and rifle are now friends, simply repeat the process but with a little more pizzazz.

Understanding Point of Aim and Point of Impact

Before you start trying to get a handle on zeroing a scope, I need you to get yourself familiar with these terms: point of aim (POA) and point of impact (POI). So, exactly what are these monsters?

‘Point of aim’ and ‘point of impact’ are terms used in hunting and shooting to describe where a shooter intends to aim and where the bullet actually ends up hitting the target. Now, let’s find the difference between the two.

In simple terms, a point of aim is where the shooter intends to strike the bullet on a target. While the point of impact represents where the bullet actually strikes the target. It may not always coincide with POA, which is why one needs to zero a rifle.

Point of Aim and Point of Impact on rifle scope

Your goal as a shooter should be to match POA with POI. This process of alignment is known as zeroing. There are many important factors that contribute to achieving this bond, such as adjustments to the sights/scopes, correct bore sighting, and making fine observations while getting on paper.

Factors that can cause a discrepancy between POA and POI include improper distance, failing to zero your scope, wrong ammunition, inaccurate optics, improper optics, and bad weather conditions like wind.

Zero at Closer Ranges If you are a New Shooter

When you are learning to dance, you always start with simpler moves, right? I mean, nobody wants sprained ankles. Just like that, if you are someone new to firearms who fancies a giggle-worthy shooting experience, kick things off by zeroing in at 25 yards or 50 yards. You don’t want to go for a grand 100 yards soon because it is like practicing a moonwalk before a pirouette.

Being a beginner shooter, always choose closer targets as they are less finicky about your stance. Your practice should look like this: 8 clicks at 50 yards and double it at 25 yards. Now imagine missing the bull’s eye by an inch at 25 yards. I’m sure you are loving it.

How to Zero a Scope

how to adjust a scope on a rifle

Although scopes do come already zeroed from factories, but it doesn’t mean the rifle scope you own is zeroed according to your gun. So, there are good chances that you will find your rifle scope way off-target.

Believe me when I say that the default setting will get you nowhere, as you would have to bring both the sight and the barrel onto the same grounds sooner or later. So, without wasting a minute, let’s learn how to zero your rifle scope.

Your Scope Must Be Properly Installed and Leveled.

First things first, safety is paramount. Make sure your rifle is unloaded, and chambers are empty. As you know, the devil is in the details; I’d recommend you spend more time selecting mounting equipment than the scope alone. Often, the issue behind missed shots is low-quality scope mounts.

I will assume that you have already bought compatible scope rings and other mounting materials. Now, we will start installing the scope.

how to zero a rifle scope

For proper installation of the scope mount, tighten the screws into it according to the manual. Generally speaking, it is better to trust in the X pattern. This way, you will not be pulling the scope in one direction only. You need to confirm that the reticle is aligned with the gun’s bore. If you have more queries, you can simply go to How to level a scope and learn about it.

Now that you are done with installing rings onto the rifle, put the scope into the brackets and make sure the eyepiece is placed in the right direction. Set the eye relief right and confirm a clear sight picture. You can learn more about sighting a scope by reading How to sight in a scope.

Eye relief is the distance between your eye and the rear of the scope. Generally, it is around 3 to 4 inches. Or you can go straight to the information needed for learning how to set eye relief.

RIFLE ZEROING: Start at 25 yards and visually bore sight your scope if possible.

Let’s get on paper, or you can say ‘boresight.’ If you are a newbie, I’d rather you start with 25 yards instead of shooting for a hundred. So, first of all, mount the gun on a rest or get in a prone position to eliminate user error. The rock-solid base will assist you in zeroing with more precision. Get into a comfortable shooting position.

Now remove the bolt from the rifle and see through the barrel and the bore of the rifle. While on rest, your gun should be centering on the 25-yard target. Through the barrel, you will see the clear image in a small circle. While looking through the scope, it makes the image bigger due to magnification. Get done with setting it up and observe.

If you notice that the scope reticle is left of the dead center of the target, adjust the windage adjustment to the left to position the cross-hair to the right. Just so you know, the process is the opposite if you find the situation otherwise. Now, fix the elevation and confirm your POA. If it doesn’t work still, choose a closer target.

Now that the rifle is bore-sighted, it is time for your first run. Load the gun and fire a group of three shots. You should keep in mind that adjusting the sight at 25 yards requires four times as many clicks to shift the bullet’s impact by the same distance as it would at 100 yards.

What does it imply? Well, to move the point of impact by 1 inch at 25 yards, you would need sixteen 1/4-inch clicks.

What do I mean by clicks anyway? When you adjust the windage and elevation knobs, they will click. Each click moves the cross-hair a certain amount in the direction.

Here are some common adjustment values for clicks: 1/4 MOA, 1/2 MOA, 1 MOA, and .1 MIL. If you don’t understand Minutes of Angle (MOA) and milliradians (MRAD)/(MIL), keep reading and get more information regarding these terms under the concerned heading.


Shoot a group, then adjust elevation and windage turrets at 100 yards.

You always see people telling you to group shot, but why is that? Because that way, you are actually building data. One can use these statistics to polish their aim and impact more quickly.

With good trigger control, fire a group of shots. After you are done with the first three or five shots, measure how much you need to adjust the scope to bring it to zero. To adjust elevation, the easiest way is to count the squares or just hold the vertical knob on the middle bullseye and move the rifle up and down until the horizontal crosshair intersects the middle of the target. To adjust windage, either count the squares or use a reticle.

Before you puff up with pleasure, let me tell you that this is not the final zero. Set zero from a variety of distances and then confirm it. Start from 20 yards, move to 50, and then try the 100 yards.

Brief comparison of MOA (minute of angle) and MRAD (milliradians).

Before you buy your scope, you need to decide between MOA and MILS/MRAD. Minutes of angle (MOA) and milliradians (MRAD) apply to scope reticles in the same way the scope turrets do. While MOA is preferred for shorter ranges, MRAD assists well in longer ranges for quick adjustments.

As you go further, MIL and MOA both change accordingly. These systems help you aim better by moving your scope’s crosshairs or reticles inside the scope/sight to account for wind and bullet paths when shooting.

A minute of angle (MOA) is based on degrees and minutes. Hence, it makes a 1/60th of a degree. This angular measurement is used to calculate a certain distance to a target and to guide a bullet’s trajectory.

One MOA is about a one-inch circle per yard. Similarly, at 200 yards, it makes a two-inch circle, while at 300 yards, it is an inch circle. If you want to find a certain MOA measurement, just multiply the distance in yards by 1.047, then divide it by 100.

A milliradian is 1/1000th of a radian. It is the metric unit for angular measurement and also the metric dual of MOA. A mil is so large that it is usually broken down into tenths for precision. At a hundred yards, a 0.1 mil click is 0.36 inch. While a full mil is 3.6 inches. Typically, you will not find a MOA scope more accurate than MILS. MILS is considered ever so slightly better than MOA.

minute of angle

After Zeroing Your Scope, Cap or Loosen Your Turrets and “Baseline” Them.

The most important step is here! If you get successful in zeroing the scope, document it or set zero stop if possible. Leaving the turrets at their current settings will eliminate any changes made.

With most sights and scopes, you can loosen the turret cover and adjust it so that your new zero becomes the reference point. This way, the process of ‘re zero’ will get easier whenever you need to make adjustments.

What Distance Should I Zero?

If you are a beginner, I’d recommend going for 25 yards. However, 100 yards are deemed a favorite by many shooters as this distance lowers the risk of wind blowing bullets around.

Final Thoughts

The secret code has been unlocked! With your newfound zeroing skills, now you are on the right track to make that bullseye tremble! Go forth and aim for dead center every time. Why? Because you are going to nail it in every try.

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