6 Steps to Sight in Your Firearm
You just got your new firearm, attached an optic, and can’t wait to get to the range and show it off. Congratulations! Now, the work begins.
Sighting in your firearm is one of the most important things you can do to get the maximum enjoyment out of it. I’ve seen plenty of people get their new firearm, slap a red dot on it, adjust their point of aim, and call it good without ever zeroing the rifle.
I know it sounds stupid, but plenty of people do this and then get frustrated when they have trouble hitting their marks. Sighting in your firearm can be time-consuming, but the benefits of following these six basic steps will pay off in the long run.
1. Mount Your Sight
Make sure you mount your sight correctly. All sights and optics have specific rules (or guidelines) for where to mount them. We covered this in our previous article, and it’s pretty standard: iron sights should be mounted as far away from each other as possible, and scopes/magnifiers with the eye relief specified for that optic.
When mounting your optics, follow the manufacturer's directions for the appropriate torque level on the screws. This will ensure your optic won’t move when firing and that you don’t cause any damage to the screws or optic. Both of which will cause serious accuracy problems.
2. Pick Your Distance
It’s important to zero your firearm at the distance you anticipate shooting from most often. This distance will likely vary by caliber and your weapon setup—100 yards is a common zero distance for rifles. Many people will zero all of their firearms at that distance. I have varying zeros for my different rifles, determined by their intended use.
For my SBR chambered in 300 Blackout, I zero at 50 yards. 300 BLK isn’t known for its long-range capabilities, and with a short barrel equipped, this particular weapon isn’t extending that range. I use this firearm primarily for personal defense and don’t foresee employing it in that capacity beyond 50 yards. I also don’t have any magnification on this rifle—only a red dot. Zeroed in at 50 yards means even my old-man eyes can still clearly see the target and any associated threats in my periphery.
My mid-range firearm is an AR-15 with a 16-inch barrel chambered in 5.56 NATO and equipped with a green dot. I keep this one dialed in at 100 yards, which is fairly standard for this caliber and setup. At 100 yards, I can clearly see the target and modify shot placement depending on intent. However, I can still reach out beyond that with minor point-of-aim adjustments. Eventually, I’ll add a magnifier to this setup for some added versatility.
My long-range firearm is my AR-10 with a 16-inch barrel chambered in 7.62x51. This one is equipped with a scope with variable 16x magnification. As this one is intended to shoot longer distances, and most 7.62x51 rounds don’t shoot as flat as something like a 6.5 Creedmoor, I zero this one at 200 yards. My goal with this rifle is to be able to reach out to 1000 yards. Scopes do have dials for adjusting on the fly, but I wanted to be able to use the internal markings and hit a variety of distances without having to dial it in each time. For longer shots, I would definitely need to use the adjustments, but for up to 600 yards, I can usually just use the mil markers in the scope to make point-of-aim adjustments.
3. Select Your Ammunition
It’s important to use quality ammunition of the same grain weight and configuration you will likely use most often when zeroing your firearm. Switching out ammunition can make a big difference in where the shot ends up. An M80 7.62 projectile weighing 147gr will perform much differently than an M118LR weighing 175gr.
4. Stabilize the Firearm
When zeroing, you want the firearm to be as stable as possible. Many shooters will use a shooting platform like a rifle sled to stabilize their firearm when zeroing it in. A stationary platform provides consistency and eliminates point-of-aim variations caused by natural breathing and any other human or environmental factors. If you have a sled available, it’s highly recommended to use it and fire from there for the most accurate shot placement.
If you don’t have a sled, I’d recommend shooting from the prone position (lying down) and placing the barrel on a barrel rest and the stock on a sand sock. This will aid in getting you the most accurate shot placement and eliminate most human error.
Recommended Gear: Bore Sight
Bore sights are lasers inserted into your firearm's barrel to give you a starting point. A laser isn't affected by atmospherics or gravity, but sighting in with a bore sight should get you close enough that you will be on paper in most instances. These relatively low-cost items can help make the process of zeroing your rifle much quicker.
The basic premise is that you insert the bore sight into the barrel of your firearm, and then while looking down the sights, adjust the optics until they are in line with the red dot down range. Pretty simple and should get you on paper, making fine-tuning much easier. Follow the directions with your particular bore sight to get the most accurate results. You don’t have to have a bore sight, but it does cut down on how much ammo you’ll use and greatly shorten the sight-in time.
5. Test Fire
This is the fun part! I recommend starting the process at around 25 yards, dialing things in for that distance, and then moving back 25 yards at a time until you reach your desired zero distance. Get comfortable, take your time, and aim each shot at the same target location. I recommend a volley of five shots at a slow pace. At this point, you’re not worried about hitting dead-center. You’re trying to get a good grouping to determine the necessary adjustments before the next volley, so do not adjust your point of aim.
After five rounds, check your grouping. If your grouping is left by one inch and high by two inches, adjust your sights right by one inch and down by two inches. Your optic will have directions for adjusting your sights and even tell you how many clicks will equal one inch of correction at a specific distance.
Note: If your directions say that “at 100 yards, each click represents ¼ inch,” and you’re zeroing at 100 yards, then your adjustment would be four clicks to the right and eight clicks down. If you’re zeroing at 50 yards, you would halve those adjustments. At 200 yards, you would need to double them.
If you don’t have your instruction manual, a good rule of thumb is that each click is normally about ¼ inch. Use that as a reference, and shoot a second volley of rounds. Again, five slow, steady shots, and then make any necessary adjustments. I like to mark each hole in the target from each volley with a distinctive marker to avoid confusing them with future holes from future volleys.
You basically repeat this process until you are on target, and there you go, you’re zeroed.
6. Lock in Your Zero
Once you’ve zeroed everything, you’ll want to lock in your zero. On iron sights, there is nothing more you need to do. With red dot sights, you want to reattach any adjustment dial covers to prevent them from getting inadvertently moved.
For scopes, it can be a little more involved. With my scope, I had to completely remove the windage and elevation adjustment dials and then set them back in place so that the line on the optic pointed at the distance I had zeroed for. This enables me to turn each dial to adjust my zero on the fly. For example, if you dialed your rifle in at 100 yards but your target is at 200 yards. You simply adjust the distance knob before firing and place your crosshairs at what you want to hit.
Even with a bore scope on my 7.62 rifle dialed it in at 100 yards, moving back to 200 yards caused my shots to not hit, as the bullet drop was pulling everything down. There’s no beating gravity! My solution was to step back up to 150 yards, hit paper, and then pull back to 200 yards.
Shooting is enjoyable—even more so when you can reliably hit your target. So, take the time and dial in your firearm. It will make you a more consistent shot and really help you enjoy the sport. If I missed anything or if you’d like to impart some sage wisdom of your own, let us know in the comments below!
With over two decades of experience in both civilian and military marksmanship programs, Teeps has developed a profound passion for shooting. He finds great joy in introducing newcomers to the sport and continually seeks to expand his repertoire in the pursuit of shooting excellence.