How to Zero a Rifle Scope (Explained in Plain English)

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You put your rifle together, mounted an optic, and absolutely whiffed your shot.

What happened?

You probably haven’t zeroed your optic correctly. In this guide, I’m gonna show you exactly how to zero your riflescope. Here’s how:

  1. Step 1: Read manual
  2. Step 2: 36-Yard Target
  3. Step 3: Shoot
  4. Step 4: Adjust

Let’s get into it!

Basic Parts for Zeroing an Optic

Before you zero your scope, you have to know the basic parts, starting with…

Elevation Knobs

The elevation knob — located on the top of your scope — is your “up and down” adjustment. If you’re shooting high, you need to turn the elevation knob left. And vice versa.

Windage Knobs

The windage knob — located on the side of your scope — is your “left and right” adjustment.  If you’re shooting too far to the right, then you need to turn the windage knob left. And vice versa.

Parallax Adjustment

You won’t have to worry about this for zeroing your scope, so you can skip this. But if you’re interested, what does the parallax adjustment knob do? It provides eye relief by making your reticle and scope image line up. This is essential at higher magnification levels.

Illumination

Illumination is how bright your dot or reticle is. This knob helps you brighten or dim your reticle.

Magnification

Magnification is pretty self-explanatory: it makes far things look closer. High magnification will give you better and closer visuals at range but limits your field of view.

Focus Ring

Some variable magnification scopes have a focus ring. These are usually located by the objective lens (the one closest to your eye when you peep down the scope). This ring can be used to ensure that both your target and reticle are in focus simultaneously.

Zeroing Distance

Zeroing distance is a hot topic among shooters and we could talk about it for hours, but today I’m gonna keep it short and simple.

First, you need to know that bullets don’t actually travel perfectly parallel to the ground. They travel in an arc, like this:

Depending on your zero distance (the distance at which you’ve made your optic accurate), you will have two distances where your point of aim (where your put your reticle) will match your point of impact (where your round lands).

Today we’re using a 36-yard zero. 36 yards is my near zero (closest to me) and roughly 100 yards is my far zero. At these two distances, my rounds will impact at my point of aim.

This zero distance is my favorite because you have two very solid distances where your shots will be bang-on and adjustments for other distances will be a piece of cake.

At this zero, you don’t need to make dramatic adjustments (holding your reticle way above or below the target) to hit shots at, say, 75 yards.

Shooting for Zero

Get your target out to 36 yards. Use a bullseye target like this:

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Now, position yourself. Take your time to brace on a solid object. Sandbags (or shooting bags if you’re fancy) are a fantastic option for this:

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Just something to keep your rifle as steady as possible while you prep your shot.

Look down your sight and line up your reticle or crosshair in the center of the target while being as steady as possible.

Once you’re perfectly lined up, squeeze your trigger smoothly.

Put your rifle on safe and peer through your scope to see where you’ve landed.

Take note of where your round lands on the target. I typically use the high-vis targets linked above and just look through my optic to see where I’ve landed. Otherwise, you can use binoculars…

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…or a spotter scope:

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This is where you get to trial and error.

For example, if you’re shooting low and to the right, I’d need to turn my windage knob (right and left) to the front a couple of clicks and then my elevation knob(up and down) to the left a couple of clicks.

Take care not to turn your adjustment knobs too much or you’ll just need to adjust the opposite way.

It’s boring, but this is essentially the entire process.

Take a shot, turn the respective adjustment knob one or two clicks. See where your shot lands and repeat the process. 

Technical Details

You may have noticed I skimped out on some technical details like MOA and the different zeroing distances. Lots of guides have a lot of technical jargon that might be difficult to sift through, so I tried to trim the fat and keep it to the point. 

If you want me to go in-depth here, let me know in the comments down below or check out my Riflescope Basics guide

Get Out There

To recap, here’s how to zero a riflescope: 

  1. Step 1: Familiarize yourself with your equipment. Read your instruction manual and my Scope basics guide. 
  2. Step 2: Take your target out to 36 yards. Walk out to 36 yards and plant your target by bracing on a solid object. 
  3. Step 3: Aim and shoot. Be deliberate and slow when you take aim. 
  4. Step 4: Check your point of impact and adjust. Use a scope or binoculars to confirm your shot, adjust, and shoot again. 

If you still can’t get it to work, then try watching this video:

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