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How Can I Properly Adjust a Rifle Scope?

Adjusting a rifle scope correctly is fundamental to enhancing accuracy, whether for hunting, target shooting, or competitive sports. A well-adjusted scope allows the shooter to align their point of aim with the point of impact at a desired distance, ensuring that each shot hits its mark.

This article provides a comprehensive guide on properly adjusting your rifle scope, covering everything from the basics of zeroing to the intricacies of accounting for bullet drop and windage.

Adjusting a rifle scope correctly is fundamental to enhancing accuracy, whether for hunting, target shooting, or competitive sports.

Step #1: Zero Your Scope

Zeroing, or sighting in, is the cornerstone of setting up your rifle scope. This initial adjustment ensures that your point of aim aligns with where the bullets actually strike, typically established at 100 yards-a standard distance that serves as a reliable benchmark.

Choose a Distance

While 100 yards is a widely accepted standard, it’s important to align this with your typical shooting environments.

For instance, if your regular activities involve shorter-range hunting, you might opt for a shorter zeroing distance, such as 50 yards. Conversely, for long-range target shooting, starting at a longer distance might be more practical. The key is to match the zero range with your anticipated shooting scenarios to ensure precision when it matters most.

Stabilize Your Rifle

Use a solid rest or a bipod to support your rifle. This setup minimizes human error, notably the slight tremors of hands that can significantly affect shot accuracy. Ensuring your rifle remains as motionless as possible during this process is essential because even slight displacements can result in considerable deviations at range.

Use a solid rest or a bipod to support your rifle.

Test Fire

Once stabilized, conduct a test firing at your chosen zero distance. Fire a group of three to five shots with the aim of maintaining tight grouping. Carefully observe where each bullet strikes relative to the center of the target. This initial grouping provides critical feedback on your scope’s current alignment and the necessary adjustments.

Adjust the Scope

Based on the test shots’ impact, adjust your scope’s elevation and windage. The knobs for these adjustments are usually marked, with each click designed to alter the point of impact by a specific increment, such as 1/4 MOA (Minute of Angle) or 0.1 MIL (milliradian). If your shots are hitting high or to the right, you’ll need to adjust downward or to the left, respectively. Precise adjustments are critical, as each click subtly shifts the bullet’s impact point, bringing your aim into alignment with the target’s center.

Repeat Testing

After making the initial adjustments, repeat the firing test to evaluate the accuracy of your changes. Continue this process of testing and adjusting until the bullets consistently hit where you aim. This iterative process may require several rounds of adjustment and testing to achieve perfect alignment, especially if conditions such as distance and environmental factors vary.

Step #2: Calculate Bullet Drop and Windage

For more advanced shooters, particularly those engaging targets at varied distances, understanding bullet trajectory and wind effects is essential.

Use a Ballistic Calculator

A ballistic calculator is an indispensable tool for advanced shooting. It utilizes input data-such as bullet weight, muzzle velocity (speed of the bullet as it leaves the barrel), and environmental conditions (temperature, altitude, and humidity)-to accurately predict how the bullet will behave once fired. For example, a heavier bullet may travel more steadily under windy conditions but will also drop more quickly compared to a lighter bullet, affecting how high you need to aim to hit a distant target.

To use the ballistic calculator effectively:

  • Input Accurate Data: Gather precise information about your ammunition and rifle, along with current environmental conditions.
  • Analyze the Output: The calculator will provide details on how much the bullet will drop at various distances. For instance, at 300 yards, you might need to adjust your scope to account for several inches of drop.
  • Apply the Results: Use these calculations to adjust your scope before taking a shot, ensuring your aim takes into account the predicted trajectory.

Windage Adjustments

Windage refers to adjustments made to the scope to compensate for the effect of wind on the bullet’s path. Wind can push a bullet off course, which becomes more pronounced over longer distances.

To manage windage effectively:

  • Evaluate Wind Conditions: Use a wind meter or observe natural indicators (such as the movement of grass or trees) to gauge wind speed and direction.
  • Use a Windage Calculator: Enter the wind speed along with the angle of wind relative to your shooting direction into a windage calculator. This tool computes how much the wind will push the bullet off course.
  • Adjust Accordingly: Depending on the calculator’s output, adjust your scope to counteract the wind’s effect. For example, if the calculator indicates the wind will push the bullet 2 inches to the right at 200 yards, adjust your scope to the left to compensate.

Step #3: Apply Adjustments in the Field

With theoretical knowledge in hand, applying these adjustments in practical scenarios is the next step.

Dial Adjustments

For precision, do:

  • Adjust for Distance: For each target distance, modify your scope’s settings to counteract the predicted bullet drop and wind interference. This means dialing in the calculated elevation (up/down) and windage (left/right) adjustments.
  • Confirm Each Setting: Before each shot, double-check that your scope settings align with the distance to your target and current wind conditions. This meticulous verification minimizes errors and increases the likelihood of a successful shot.

Quick Corrections

In situations requiring rapid response, such as during a competition or a hunting scenario, quick adjustments are invaluable:

  • Utilize BDC Reticles: If your scope is equipped with a Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) reticle, use it to adjust for bullet drop quickly. BDC reticles have markings that correspond to different distances, allowing you to align the appropriate mark with your target instantly.
  • Employ Mil-Dot Reticles: For wind adjustments, Mil-Dot reticles offer a series of dots along the vertical and horizontal crosshairs. These dots serve as reference points for quick windage and elevation adjustments, based on known distances between the dots (usually representing one mil, which is about 3.6 inches at 100 yards).

Step #4: Practice and Verification

Consistent practice and verification ensure sustained accuracy and confidence in your adjustments.

Consistent practice and verification ensure sustained accuracy and confidence in your adjustments.

Practice at Multiple Distances

  • Vary Your Training Range: Shoot at different distances to understand how adjustments affect your accuracy across diverse scenarios. This variety challenges your skills and improves your adaptability.
  • Simulate Real Conditions: Whenever possible, practice in conditions similar to those you expect to encounter, whether it’s varying weather or different times of day. This prepares you for the unpredictability of real-world shooting.

Record and Adjust

  • Keep a Shooting Log: Document each session’s details, including distance, ammo used, weather conditions, and the outcomes of your adjustments. This log serves as a valuable reference to track your progress and identify patterns or issues in your shooting technique.
  • Regular Review and Refinement: Consistently revisit your notes and the settings used during different scenarios. This practice allows you to refine your approach based on past experiences. Adjust your zero settings as necessary, especially if you switch ammunition types, which can significantly affect your bullet’s trajectory and impact point. Also, recalibrate your scope after experiencing rough handling or after transport, as these can sometimes alter your settings.

Mastering rifle scope adjustments demands patience, practice, and precision. By methodically following these steps and consistently applying the adjustments, shooters can significantly enhance their accuracy and performance.



Waylin is an avid hunter and tactical gear enthusiast with over 8 years of experience using and testing optics like monoculars and rifle scopes in the field. He provides practical, real-world advice and reviews to help others select and get the most out of their monoculars, scopes, and other key gear for hunting