Do's and Don'ts of Zeroing a Scope
Updated: Jan 24
As the hunting season nears, one responsibility of a hunter is to check the sights on their rifle. A key to success is never losing sight of the basics. Here are some fundamental Do’s and Don’ts of checking the zero.
Don’t: Assume the sights have not moved since last year.
Do: Check the zero
This October I checked the zero on seven different rifles. I had to adjust three of the scopes. Two of them were only off a couple clicks. One however, was off by more than two inches. I have no idea why the zero moved, but I am glad I checked.
Don't: Wait until the Last Minute
Do: Check the Zero roughly One Month
Things go wrong, even when the rifle is just sitting in a safe. Maybe solvent got into your trigger and gummed it up. Maybe the springs gave out in your turrets. Maybe last year's shot broke the firing pin. Maybe...
In a perfect world, we would be practicing once a month at varying distances. In reality, it would be great if the zero is checked roughly one month before season. That will allow enough time to fix any problems that may have occurred. If needed, do a confidence shot one week before the opener.
Don't: Assume your scope stays sighted in for the whole season
Do: Recheck if needed anytime during season
Scopes get bumped. Rifles bounce around in the vehicle or fall over when crossing a fence. Things happen. Do not assume that the scope will stay sighted in over the course of a long season. This is especially true for seasons that span several months like many predator seasons. If you ever suspect the sights are off, don't be afraid to check.
Don’t: Make multiple adjustments and not confirm
Do: Confirm your clicks with a final shot
Not all scopes have adjustments (clicks) that can be trusted. This is especially true when the turrets are not routinely moved (as is the case with most hunting rifles). For the majority of the hunters, we should always confirm a scope adjustment on target.
Yes, many long range hunters and PRS competitors commonly “click up” to their targets then fire a “bullseye”. However, they have two advantages that many hunters do not. First; those long range shooters practice hundreds of rounds at varying distances every year. Each time, checking to make sure their notes match the clicks. Second; through that practice, the scopes have earned their trust. These marksmen don't use scopes they can't trust.
Don’t: Use a dirty barrel
Do: Ensure that the barrel is in the precision window
If the rifle did not get cleaned after last year’s hunt, clean it. If the barrel is clean, take (at least) one fouling shot before checking the zero.
A clean bore shot (fouling shot) should be relatively close to your aiming point, but it probably will not be the same as the following shots. A safe 100 yd. rule of thumb is; if your first clean bore shot is more than two inches away from the aiming point, adjust your sights. Then confirm your adjustments with a second shot.
Don’t: Use different ammo
Do: Use the same ammo that you will be hunting with
It is fine to shoot “left-over”, “extra”, or “other” rounds when you are getting a clean barrel into the precision window or for the first few shots when mounting a new scope. However, once the time comes to check the zero, make sure to use the same ammo that will be used while hunting.
Don’t: Use an unstable rest
Do: Have a stable platform
This is not tuning and it is not practice. There is one purpose when you are checking the zero of the scope; To make sure the rifle prints where it is pointing. Eliminate all other variables from the equation.
Don’t: Have a general aiming point
Do: Have a small aiming dot
Most animals we hunt have a four inch (or bigger) kill zone. That does not mean we should draw a four inch circle and call it good. The four inch circle is fine, but there should be a smaller aiming dot in the middle of that four inch circle. When you zero your scope using a 1/2” dot it makes hitting the four inch circle seem a little easier. “Aim small, miss small.”
As hunters, we often prepare all year for a split second shot opportunity. Do not let all that time, money, and effort be wasted because these fundamentals of zeroing were not followed. Good luck to everyone this hunting season. Until next time, enjoy the experience.