Sighting In

By Jace Bauserman

women looking down a rifle scope

If you’re a big game hunter, you’re likely a prepper. Not a doomsday prepper with an underground bunker, necessarily, but one who crosses every I and dots every T in preparing for the season ahead. You do everything in your power to ensure fall months will be full of encounters and that space in your freezer gets filled with protein. 

But even some of the most diligent hunters make a similar mistake. If they own a rifle, many assume ol’ Betsy will be driving tacks. Then there are those who purchased a new rifle, ran a few rounds through it, and called it good. You can prep all you want, but if your hunting rifle isn’t holding zero, your fall season won’t go as planned. 

Remember, wood stocks absorb humidity, which causes them to swell slightly and then dry out. This will cause a change in bullet impact. Second, as good as modern scopes are, they are by no means 100 percent stable. 

If this scared you, you it’s time to develop a better relationship with your rifle. Here’s how to properly sight-in a rifle and create a routine that makes the shooter-rifle bond stronger than ever.

Boresight It

There are tools for this, but you can boresight your rifle without dropping any coin if you want to keep some greenbacks in your pocket. Hang a large target with a single bull’s eye in its center at 25 yards. Next, remove the bolt from your rifle and the turret caps from your scope and steady the rifle on a shooting bench. A weighted shooting rest is excellent, but you can also use sandbags and other devices.

target being looked at through a rifle scope

The key is making sure the rifle will not move. With the bolt removed and the rifle steady, look down the bore and set it dead center on the bull’s eye. Now, use your turret dials to walk the scope's crosshairs to the center. This will get you on paper, and twice in my life, I’ve boresighted and been dead-on at 200 yards. Before you start to fine-tune at longer distances, make sure you’re punching the target’s center at 25 yards.

Move It Back, Clean It & Repeat

With the rifle boresighted and fine-tuned at 25 yards, move back to 100 and send a single round. If the shot broke clean, note the bullet’s impact on the target and adjust your scope accordingly. Take three more shots and see where you’re hitting. The barrel may be a tad toasty by now, and this is a great time to take a break and let the barrel cool.

Afterward, especially if the rifle is new, we want to remove any carbon and copper fouling. Remove the bolt and place the rifle in a cleaning sled. Cover the scope to ensure you don’t get any liquid or scratches on the lens while cleaning. Use a one-piece cleaning rod and cleaning patch with a few drops of carbon remover on it. Run the cleaning rod with the patch through the bore a few times, and repeat the process until the cleaning patch is clean. Be sure just to let the patch protrude a short distance out the end of the muzzle. This will protect the barrel’s crown from damage. Now attach a caliber-specific nylon brush to the rod and run it through the bore of the rifle, but don't pull it back through just yet:

  • Add a few drops of copper remover solvent. Now you can pull the brush back through and give the bore a good scrub.
  • Repeat this process but squeeze some carbon remover on the brush. With the bore scrubbed, run a few dry patches through the bore to remove any excess fouling.
  • Put a few drops of gun oil on the patch and push the patch through the bore.

person adjusting a rifle scope dial

Take your freshly cleaned rifle back to the 100-yard bench. Get steady and send a three-round group. You might notice the group impacts the target a touch differently after cleaning. This is to be expected, so don’t freak out. Make your necessary scope adjustments, let the barrel cool, and send another three-shot group. If the three-round group is to your liking, you’re all set. If not, keep shooting until the gun is zeroed at 100 yards, whether that zero is three in the bull’s eye or three 1-inch high at 100 yards. You know where you want to be at 100. Make sure the group is there and to your liking. 

Date Night

You have confidence. Your rifle is driving tacks at 100 yards, and there is still plenty of time before the season. I suggest keeping the ball rolling. Make a date with your rifle once a week. Head to the range and shoot at different distances. If you can put groups on paper tightly out to 500 yards, imagine how much your confidence level will grow. Enjoy the process, and don’t get in a hurry. Each shot, no matter how far from the target, should be executed flawlessly.