How To: Properly Sight in a Rifle Scope

Sighting in your rifle scope can be a daunting task that many shooters struggle with their first time or 2. It doesn't have to be! There is a simple process that every hunter or shooter follows when they first sight in their scope. A lot of beginner hunters and shooters believe that a rifle scope out of the box should be properly sighted however that is far from the norm. This post will give you the confidence that you need to properly sight in your rifle scope for the first time.

First off, every hunter or shooter should probably invest in a laser bore sight. Sure, there are old school methods that don't require a bore sight however they have become so cheap that everyone should own one and they are worth their weight in gold. If you don't own or have access to a bore sight, you can use the old fashion way which just requires you to fire more shots through the barrel. The bore sight just gets your rifle scope "roughly" sighted so you don't have to put 30+ rounds through it. 

The simple process below will work for all rifles, whether you are sighting in your hunting rifle, .22 lr, .17/17hmr, 30-06, .308 etc. Make sure you are also following the important gun safety rules, using proper ear protection,and wearing eye protection

How to Sight in your Rifle Scope (5 simple steps)

  • Bore Sight - After you have properly mounted your rifle scope according to the manufacturers guide, it is time to use the bore sight to get the rifle scope roughed in. I recommend bore sighting at a shooting range rather than at your home, however both will work. Use the proper tip that comes with the bore sight for the appropriate bore size (.22lr, 30-06 etc). Drop the bore sight into the front of your barrel carefully and turn it on. When you are at the range make sure you have the proper bench set up that will allow you to hold the rifle perfectly still while adjusting the scope. Some guys prefer shooting bags or a proper gun rest whereas others prefer to use a bipod or some combination. Set up a target which is 25 yards away and make sure your scope adjustments are at their factory setting. Now, get setup and when the bore sight is turned on, look through your rifle scope and you should be able to see the red dot on the target. If not, re-position the rifle itself using your bipod or gun mount so that when you are looking down the scope, you can see the red dot. Remember now that the red dot is where the bullet from your rifle "should" hit in a perfect world. Get the laser pointing at the bulls eye of the target without making any scope adjustments, just move the rifle itself. Look down the scope and you will see where the laser is pointing. That is your guideline for how much adjustment on the actual scope using the windage and elevation adjustment turrets that your scope requires. Remember that you are only at 25 yards, and your rifle scope will have its own MOA, usually 1/4 turn for 1" but make sure to check this out in the owner manual. If at 100 yards, the scope has a 1/4 MOA, than at 25 yards, you will need to click the elevation or windage adjustment 4 clicks to move the scope 1". Don't get too carried away here as this is the first step and just a rough one at that. 
  • Range - After taking out the bore sight, load 3 bullets into the magazine using proper gun safety techniques. If you don't have a magazine, then drop one bullet into the chamber. The target should still be at 25 yards. Make sure you are comfortable using your gun rest or bipod and remember to breath to limit the amount of pull that will happen naturally when squeezing the trigger. Look through your scope and aim for the bulls eye. When comfortable, fire your first shot. I like to shoot in groups of 3 when first sighting in my rifle scope as to eliminate any poor or missed shots. Fire the next two shots using the same technique. 
  • Measure & Adjust - Now properly store your rifle and make sure the range is clear. Head out to your 25 yard target and take a look at how close you are to the bulls eye. Let's say for example that the average of the 3 shots was about 1" too low, and 1" too far to the left. It is time to make the adjustments on your scope. At 25 yards, in order to move the scope 1" higher, you need to turn the elevation adjustment 4 clicks whichever was is to elevate the scope. Don't forget that you also need to adjust the windage for the same amount.  
  • Repeat - once you are comfortable with the initial adjustment, it is time to shoot 3-5 more shots using the same techniques. By this point, your rifle scope should be pretty darn close and if not, keep fine tuning it to get it right for you. I don't like others fine tuning my rifle scope because every shooter is different and will have their natural tendencies. A scope sighted in for one guy may or may not be sighted in for you. 
  • Adjust Distance - Now that you are comfortable shooting accurately at 25 yards, it is time to move the target out to 100 yards. Use the same process as discussed above. I like to have each one of my rifle scopes sighted in for the average shot of that rifle. For instance, my .22 lr is sighted in for 100 yards and my 17 hmr is sighted in for 150 yards. My .30-06 hunting rifle is sighted in for my most used hunting shot which is about 250 yards or so. 

Sighting in your rifle scope is not hard. After reading through the process, I hope that I have given you the confidence to sight in your rifle. Note that this process also works for AR red dot sights, as well as fixed power scopes

Looking for the best spotting scope for hunting? See here. 

Stay safe, and happy shooting! 

Gary Fretwell is a 33-year-old die hard hunter and blogger from Wyoming. After serving in Iraq, he finished school to become an Asset Protection Officer and currently is learning to be a tracker to help hunters like himself find big game!