How to Sight a Rifle Scope in 7 Easy Steps
For any shooter wanting to improve their accuracy, learning to sight a rifle is an essential skill to master. Installing and learning how to sight a rifle scope requires some technical understanding, but if you follow these basic steps, even a beginner can learn to use this valuable shooting accessory.
What Is a Rifle Scope?
A rifle scope is an essential shooting tool that helps shooters to hit targets with long-range accuracy. Scopes are constructed with a series of magnification lenses and some type of reticle. The reticle is an instrument that indicates where your ammunition should impact the target. Together, these tools provide more accurate shots from further away.
Why Do You Need to Site In Your Scope?
Sighting in your scope is a crucial step in getting the best shot you can from your firearm. Taking the time to learn how to use a scope is well worth it and can significantly improve your shot. Here are some reasons why you need to site in your scope:
- Longer range shots – The powerful magnification in a scope allows you to shoot at targets that are further away.
- Increased accuracy – Your shot accuracy won’t be limited by distance. You can continue to hit accurate shots from longer distances.
- Improve shooting confidence – Feel more confident taking on challenges or competitions when you know you are able to hit the target consistently.
- Get an edge over the competition – Not using a scope puts you at an instant disadvantage. If you want to get ahead of your competition, using a scope is an important skill.
- Improved safety – If you hunt at night a scope may help you make sure you have the correct target in site. Some scopes come with night vision as an added safety feature.
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Are There Different Types of Scopes?
Getting the correct scope for your firearm is just as important as knowing how to set it up. Shooting conditions and reasons for needing an accurate shot can vary greatly depending on the situation.
Here are some different types of scopes that can improve your shooting accuracy even more:
- Fixed Scope – Basic scope with fixed magnification
- Variable Scope – Allow you to adjust the magnification level
- Night Vision Scope – Ideal for low light shooting at night
- Tactical Scope – Built for a specific type of shooting such as military
- Long Range Scope – Any type of scope over 10x magnification
- Hunting Scope – Weather resistant and durable to hold up to outside elements
- Competition Scope – Very high magnification, less durable and generally used for competition
- Sniper Scope – Created for snipers with important information displayed on reticles
- Scout Scope – Ideal for military and hunters in dense forest conditions
- Red Dot Scope – Minimal magnification with a red dot displayed on the target inside the scope
What Are the Steps to Site a Rifle Scope?
To learn how to sight in a rifle scope, you’ll want to make sure that you have the correct information, equipment, and you pay close attention to safety. Taking the time to set up your scope can greatly improve your shooting experience. Follow these seven rifle scope adjustments1 to improve your aim instantly.
1. Make Sure Your Scope Is Installed Properly
Most modern rifles are equipped with a mounting system for a scope. Your rifle may have pre-drilled and tapped holes for scope bases or has a grooved rail system such as the Weaver and Picatinny. You will want to make sure that your scope mount and rings are a proper fit for your rifle style. Certain types of scope rings fit only certain types of scope bases. It is essential that these components match.
2. Adjust Eye Distance
Adjust your eyepiece so that you see a clear, distinct image. You’ll need to fine-tune the scope and create the perfect amount of eye relief (the distance between the end of the scope and your eye).
Eye relief is a crucial component to sighting your rifle scope. You will need to make sure that the distance between your eye and the scope is far enough so that upon firing a shot the recoil doesn’t make contact with your eye. Depending on the type of gun and ammunition, the recoil could cause the gun to bounce back and hit your eye causing serious injury. We call this “Getting Scoped.”
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3. Get Level
To properly sight your rifle’s scope, you need a stable shooting position. You can choose to position your rifle on a shooting bench with a mount or use a bipod. Either method can achieve the desired result; however, a rifle mount can reduce the recoil up to 95% while securely holding your rifle on its target.
Many types of rifle mounts are available in various price ranges that are specifically designed for scope sighting.
4. Aligning the Reticle
Most shooters do not consider the alignment of their reticles when zeroing in their scope, but it is an essential step in shot preparation and should not be skipped. When the crosshairs of your scope2 are not perfectly aligned to elevation direction and windage adjustments, this is referred to as “Reticle Cant.” A canted reticle can cause your shots to miss the right or left of the target—especially when engaging a target at a distance of 250 yards or more.
5. Setting Your MOA (Minute of Angle)
Moa refers to the minute of angle which correlates to the minute hand on a 360-degree clock. Each minute refers to 1/60 of a degree and allows for precise shooting angles. Setting your zero is a multi-step process. You may find it easiest to do at an outdoor shooting range since you will need targets set at multiple distances more than 50 yards away. It’s also necessary to have a mount in order to keep your rifle stable while fine tuning your MOA.
Most rifle scopes will then allow you to adjust the crosshairs in ¼ MOA increments. This equates to ¼” of movement per click when sighting in at 100 yards. Most hunters use 1/8 inch and the 1/4 inch MOA click value.
To make your ammunition impact move one inch or one MOA at 100 yards, you must turn the elevation, or the windage knob, four clicks. The click value moves up by a 1/4 inch for each 100-yard increase in distance.
Here is an incremental list of movement per click of elevation or windage knob on your rifle scope for various distances:
- 200 yards = 1/2 in.
- 300 yards = 3/4 in.
- 400 yards = 1 in.
- 500 yards = 1 1/4 in.
- 600 yards = 1 1/2 in.
- 700 yards = 1 3/4 in.
- 800 yards = 2 in.
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6. Fire Three-Shot Groups
Fire three-shot groups, then take note of the point of impact on the target. Depending on the application, you may want to sight in slightly high at 100 yards and shoot dead center on at 200 yards. The choice is yours. Knowing your MOA will allow you to adjust to targets at different distances.
7. Keep Making Adjustments
Try out different distances and repeat until you can consistently hit grouped shots very close to the bullseye. After you master that, you can work on hitting targets that are further away – keeping in mind that you’ll need to factor in the rifle scope and distance to the target and environmental variables like the wind for each shot.
What Should You Do If Your Scope Loses Zero After Firing?
A scope can lose zero for a number of reasons, including mechanical issues, incorrect mounting, damaged and blocked barrels, or travel. If your scope does not hold zero after firing, here is what you should do:
- Set up your scope and fire your shot
- Immediately after firing hold your rifle perfectly still
- Get your crosshairs exactly lined up with the bullseye
- Adjust scope to line crosshairs up with the target
- Take another shot
Practice Your Sharpshooter Skills at The Range 702!
Installing and sighting a rifle scope is an important skill for a sharpshooter to develop. If you follow the basic steps outlined here, you will gain confidence and build precision target shooting skills in no time. Learning to properly use a scope is essential for any shooter wanting a more consistent and precise shot.
The expert firearms instructors at The Range 702 are ready to help you learn how to use valuable target tools correctly and instantly improve your shot. Contact our team today to set up a private instructor for individual attention and expert advice.
1Carmichel, Jim. (12 June 2019). Mount a Rifle Scope Yourself in 7 Easy Steps. Outdoor Life. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
2Petazl, D. (3 May 2013). On the Level: A Simple Method for Aligning Vertical Crosshairs. Field and Stream. Retrieved 14 March 2022.