Sighting In (For Normal Ranges, Like You Were a Real Hunter)

First a couple of incidental items: I’ve been asked what my first action will be when I am elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. The answer is: I will disband it. I will send them on their way with the words that Oliver Cromwell spoke to Parliament in 1653, because no one has ever said it better:

“You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”

Second: Happy Myles, it’s safe to read Gun Nuts again. I’m done with all the long range stuff.

Anyway, sighting in. There are two schools of thought about it. The first is the pie plate school, which says you take an aluminum-foil pie plate, put it up against a gravel bank, pace off 100 yards, and fire a shot over the hood of your pickup. If you punch a hole in the pie plate, you’re ready to go hunting. This gets done a lot, and an amazing number of people who practice it probably get deer.

This is because they have the sense to keep their shooting within 100 yards, because deer are large animals, and because the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass all the time, which means that a percentage of hunters are bound to get lucky.

For those of you who sight in carefully and meticulously, here’s a list of things to worry about:

For many, many years, the standard zero point for a big-game rifle that produces 2,700 fps or more has been 3 inches high of the point of aim at 100 yards. This produces a “tunnel,” within which the bullet will not go higher than 3 inches above the point of aim, or lower, until it gets to 250 yards or so, and this takes in one hell of a lot of shooting. Warren Page called it “The Rule of Three,” and it’s still probably the most practical way to sight in most rifles.

Slower bullets, or less aerodynamic bullets, will drop 4 to 6 inches at 300 yards. In shooting any .338, for example, I plan on 6 inches, and it seldom fails to pan out.

Cold hunting-weight barrels do not shoot to the same point of impact as hot barrels. Fouled barrels USUALLY do not shoot to the same point of impact as clean barrels. Some barrels shoot “fouled” with one round through them. Some take five or ten shots.

Almost all rifles are highly sensitive to the hardness of the rest over which they are shot. This means that once you’ve sighted in over a sandbag at 100 yards, your last group should be fired with your hand under the fore-end, just as if you were shooting for real. You may be in for an ugly surprise.

If you’re sighting in off a Lead Sled, I can practically guarantee you a very ugly surprise.

One shot tells you nothing. Three-round groups hint at the truth. Five-round groups leave no doubt about anything.

He who switches ammo without sighting in with the new stuff, is giving some animal the gift of life.

If you’re going to hunt from an elevated stand, you might consider sighting dead on at 100 yards. Since you’re shooting downward, you have to aim low, and forgetting to do so with a 3-inch-high zero can cause a miss. The dead-on zero lessens the chances of that happening.

Shooting with a bipod has no effect at all on your zero. Putting tape OVER the muzzle does nothing except keep out the rain, sleet, snow, mud and squirrel poop.

If you drop your rifle, consider it knocked out of zero, and re-sight it at the first opportunity. I don’t care how much you spent on your scope or what kind of absurd claims are made for it.

Bore sighting with a collimator may work, or it may not. Bore sighting on an actual target at an actual 100 yards almost always works.

When all else fails, get close enough to the target to put powder burns on it. With some rifles, I’ve shot from 5 yards to get on the paper.