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How to zero your own rifle

Sighting in or zeroing your rifle means aligning the sights so that your aim is as accurate as possible.

Zeroing rifle

Zero your rifle at the sort of ranges you are most likely to shoot at

Instructions to zero your own rifle

  1. Set your rifle on a proper bench rest, making sure it is stable and secure so it will not move
  2. Line up the cross-hairs in the centre of the target and squeeze the trigger
  3. Once you have your bullet strike, move the rifle so the cross-hairs are covering the centre of the strike. Make sure the rifle is steady and secure again.
  4. Now, using the scope turrets, move the cross-hairs back to the centre of the target – the next shot should go where they are pointed now.

These steps are a swift way to zero your own rifle and work best for rimfire rifles. 

Remember to fine tune them to ensure that they are zeroed exactly.


zero your own rifle

Checklist when zeroing your rifle

  • You are adjusting the sight, not the rifle
  • Beforehand, decide on the range you will need
  • A bullet follows the bore axis out of the muzzle and flies nearly parallel until gravity does its work. Gravitational force will pull the bullet off course as soon as it leaves the rifle
  • When zeroing, you adjust the sight so your straight line of vision intersects the bullet’s parabolic path not far from the muzzle.The parabolic path then travels below your line of vision until the two merge at the zero distance. Bullets do not rise above the line of bore during their flight.Your line of sight dips below bore line and the bullet’s arc.

How to judge the distance to zero a rifle

Let’s say that a deer stalker is sitting in a high seat overlooking a maize field. He wants to protect the crop from deer.

To do this the stalker doesn’t need to be able to shoot further than about 80 yards. However, what if an injured deer is spotted in the next field at a range of 250 yards.  You might try to get closer – and perhaps lose the deer in the process – while from the seat you have a nice, steady shooting position and a better chance of making a clean shot.

When the rifle is zeroed at 100 yards, the bullet will be about eight inches below the line of sight at 250 and a full foot low if the actual range happens to be 275. With that sight setting and an error in range judgement it would be easy to miss a fallow, let alone a roe or a muntie.

What makes a good zero?

Q: What’s the best range to zero my rifle at?
Mark Ripley advises:
The simple answer to that is to zero it at the sort of ranges you are most likely to shoot at. If you’re shooting foxes with a centrefire, then the normal rule of thumb is an inch high at 100 yards. This will then mean that with most centrefires you will be ‘point and shoot’ out to around 230 yards on foxes, though this will depend on your calibre and bullet weight.
A lighter bullet that has a flatter trajectory will obviously have a further ‘point and shoot’ advantage over a heavier bullet with a more pronounced trajectory curve.
The idea is to keep all your shots in the target species kill zone for as great a distance as possible, in order to eliminate any need for holdover or dialling in elevation. Most fox shooting is carried out at night and involves the difficulty of ranging targets in the dark, so this is a good technique.
For long-range shooting, the same applies — you would just begin to dial in additional elevation at a given point or using hash marks on your reticle.
For rabbiting with a .22LR, I would normally zero about 60 yards, or around 100 yards with a .17HMR, again using hash marks on the scope for further ranges.

Zeroing rimfires

Savage Island Rifle/Air Gun Bench Rest

Hawke 11465 6-24×50 AO IR Air Rifle Rimfire Scope with Mounts

Hawke Airmax 3-12×50 SF IR Riflescope 30 mm

This article was originally published in 2020 and has been updated.