How to zero rifle scopes

How to Zero Rifle Scopes?

You’ve just got yourself a new rifle scope, fitted it and let me guess…for some reason your shots are landing nowhere near the crosshairs?

Sadly there’s more to rifle scope sharp shooting than just plonking the scope on the rifle and forever after shooting like an SAS sniper! You have to “zero” it.

Think about it. It’s like a bike wheel. If you tighten the bolts wrong, too much on one side for example, it spins wrong and rubs the brake pads. It’s the same with a Rifle scope. If it’s not set up correctly it will be offline and even at short air rifle, Airsoft and paintball ranges this is going to throw your accuracy right off. At longer ranges you’ll miss by a mile (well figuratively anyway!)

What Does “Zero a scope” mean?

Zeroing a sight or scope means getting the crosshair in position so that when you shoot. Ground zero if you like. The point of impact.

There’s a lot of discussion amongst shooters on the best way to zero a scope or sight. What I’ve written below is one way and I’ve received a lot of good comments back about it so I know it’s OK!

How to Zero a Rifle Scope

First of all you need to set a firm foundation by fitting the scope mounts and scope onto the rifle perfectly:

  1. Put the scope mounts on the rifle first with the top brackets removed. Just like this:
  2. Tighten them into place using 1/2 turns at the time so that they sit solid and level as best as is possible, i.e., the downward pressure is as equal as possible. At this stage don’t tighten them fully as you might want to slide them up and down a little.
  3. Now take scope and place it on top of the open rifle mounts.
    • Position the eyepiece by sliding the scope back and forwards. You may have to move one or both rings to get this right.
    • Position the rings so the scopes eyepiece will be the correct distance from your shooting eye when the gun is held naturally.
    • This is usually between 2 and 3 inches from the eyepiece lens, but it is the spot at which the image in the scope appears as full and bright as it gets.
    • To see what this looks like, move your head back and forth along the stock, as you look through the scope with both eyes open.
    • Then, position your head on the cheek piece where you want it to be and move the scope back and forth until the image appears bright and full.
    • Make sure the windage and elevation turrets are positioned correctly – Elevation (up and down cross-hair adjustment) on top and windage (left and right movement) to the right.
  4. Then put the top mount brackets on and tighten – Tighten them until the scope is held secure but can still be rotated with your hand (Not very tight)
  5. Now align the vertical cross-hair with both eyes open and the gun held naturally to your shoulder. Rotate the scope until the vertical reticule seems to bisect the gun perfectly.
    • OK? Yes – Now tighten the base of the rings securely to the gun top (NOT the top rings yet, that’s next)
  6. Now it’s time to tighten the top cap rings. You need to take this carefully and slowly as it’s a critical step. It’s not hard, just be patient.
    • Tighten each screw partially, then move to the next one and go around the pattern of screws many times, rather than tightening each screw all the way on the first try.
    • You will put even tension on the caps and be less likely to dent the scope tube this way.
    • If there are two screws on the side of the ring, tighten only one, then tighten the one on the opposite corner of the other side of the cap (see graphic below).
    • Leave the other two screws for the moment and tighten two screws on the other ring next.
    • Then come back to mount one and tighten the two screws you left loose.
    • Then back to the other ring and keep rotating until the scope is secure.
    • It takes less tightening that you might think. They need be firm not as tight as possible. Err on the side of too loose, rather than too tight.

This is the order of screw tighten in the case of a double screw mount. If you have a single screw each side then do it as 1 – 4 – 5 – 8 (you get my drift I hope) basically you want pressure to be as even as possible throughout the process and not risk damaging the tube of having uneven pressure on one side that will make zeroing more difficult.

Next step –

Now that your scope is set up it’s time to have some fun and shoot a bit.

Zero rifle scope shooting plan

Air rifles can be zeroed in by shooting at a pellet target card or card in a trap at only 10 feet.

  • To do it this way you MUST wear safety glasses and ricochets ARE going to happen 100% definite. Also make sure that anyone else with you has them on too.
  • If you don’t have safety glasses get some! If you don’t and are impatient to get going (sighs) then try this method but extended distance to 30 feet or more.

Now it’s time to zero the scope for shooting:

  1. Adopt your standard prone/lie down shooting position.
    • Prone is the best way as if you test shoot from standing or kneeling positions you waver more and it’s harder to do a “true test”.
    • Make sure your windage and elevation turrets are ready for adjusting i.e., caps removed.
  2. Draw 1 or 2 small dots on a piece of cardboard about 6.5cm apart vertically.
    • There’s no precision to this step. You just want enough room on the target so no shots are lost. At 10 feet, they can’t go too far.
    • If your scope has parallax adjustment, adjust it as close as it will go. If it has variable power, adjust it as low as it will go.
    • The aim point will probably be a little fuzzy at this distance.
    • Aim at the top dot. Expect your first shot to be as much below the dot as the centre of your scope is above your gun barrel. If that’s 7cm then that’s how low the shot should go.
    • Then take another shot using the same aim point – this is to confirm the aim point as good as you can.
  3. Keeping in mind where your first 2 shots went adjust the windage and elevation turrets .
    • At only 10 feet this will take a lot of clicks.
    • Your objective is to get your shots in line with the lower target dot. Keep shooting and adjusting until you get there.
  4. Now it’s time to get serious. Move the target out to 10 metres (33 or so feet)
    • Take more shots and see where they land.
    • In this example they went off to the right a bit too much so adjust the windage (left and right) dial and few clicks – not so many are needed at this longer distance. Experiment.
  5. One you’re aligned correctly at the horizontal level at 10 metres it’s time to get the vertical zero sorted out.
    • Your shot pattern should look like this now (see point 4)
    • At longer distance your shots will rise but stay in line side to side.
  6. Now move the target out to 20-30 metres and shoot 5 shots.
    • If you know what your standard – average shooting range is then set your target at that range.
    • They should all be pretty close on the top dot now.
    • Make any small tweaks to bring them closer to the dot and you’re about done.
  • You now know that at less than this range your shots will fall lower than the aim point so you can mentally adjust your aim to compensate.
  • Also, at about 5 metres further away the pellet will again fall lower than the aim point, so you can adjust again.

It’s trial and error basically but with testing you’ll get to where you need to be and be able to trust that your shots will go where it says they will! This may take some time and a lot of shots. Be patient!