In a comment on my post “How Many Shots Does It Take To Measure Rifle Accuraccy?” regular reader O. Garcia suggested that I write on how many shots it takes to zero in a rifle. Durn good question, what with the price of ammunition and the difficulty of getting same. If I can do it within 10 rounds, I’ve had a good day at the range. I believe the most I’ve seen anyone shoot is something like 200 rounds of .375 H&H ammo. This took place in Africa, and I don’t believe that the guy was sighted in at the end of it.
The secret to sighting in economically and accurately is, don’t do dumb s**t. I know this, because over the years I have done all the dumb s**t there is to do. So, here are some of the things that can save you time and ammo.
1. Don’t sight in on a windy day. Even at 100 yards, the breezes will move your bullets around, and when you finally do get your rifle sighted in you’ll have a false zero that is to one side or another of where the rifle shoots when it’s calm.
2. Don’t sight in on a very hot day or a very cold day. Temperature can change the rate at which some gunpowders burn, affecting accuracy, and on a very hot day mirage will drive you nuts.
3. Boresighters, whether optical or laser, may get you on the paper, or they may get you within 8 feet of the target, or they may get you within the same zip code as the paper. If you buy a rifle with a scope already on it that the dealer says is boresighted, BFD.
4. Actually boresighting a rifle by removing the bolt and looking down the barrel and then through the scope does work pretty well. It will get you on the paper, but not sighted in.
5. If you have a lever or pump or auto that can’t be boresighted, start off close to the target, and by close I mean 10 yards. That will at least get you on the paper and you can work from there.
6. Never, never shoot your barrel hot. It will start walking. If you can’t grip it with your hand and keep your hand on it, it’s time to let it cool.
7. Your final group, once you’re sighted in, should come from a cold barrel because that’s how it is when you’re hunting.
8. Before you start to shoot, check the direction arrows on your scope’s W&E dials. Meopta scopes, for example, do not adjust in the same directions as Leupold scopes. Imagine how pleased you will be if you think you’re cranking down and you’re actually moving up and off the target.
9. Remember that all adjustments are based on 100 yards. So if you’re sighting in at 25 yards it takes four times as many clicks to move the bullet an inch, and if you’re shooting at 200 it takes half as many.
10. Rifles are sensitive to the kind of rest from which they’re shot. If you sight yours in over a hard sandbag, or gripped in a gun cradle, I can absolutely guarantee that it will not shoot to the same point of impact as when it has your hand underneath it and your shoulder behind it. Your final group should be fired over your hand, and no gun vises.
11. One shot tells you very little. You can walk your bullets to where they should be using single shots, but once you’re there, you need three rounds to confirm.
12. If you’re traveling by air to your hunt, or if you’ve hunting at a higher or lower elevation than where you sighted in at home, you must check your zero when you arrive. The ramp apes will almost certainly play basketball with your rifle case, which will shake your scope out of whack, and rifles shoot higher or lower at different elevations.
13. Some rifles shoot to a different point of impact from a clean barrel versus a dirty one.
14. When you’re done sighting in, crank your scope back down to its lowest magnification. That way, when you jump an elk at 25 yards, you will be spared the heartbreak of trying to put the crosshairs on him with the scope set at 12X.