It’s safe to say that within the next couple of months, thousands of rifles will be pulled out of closets, safes, and from gun-store racks in preparation for the fall hunting seasons. We each have our routines for getting our rifle ready for opening day, but there are several important considerations when sighting in. Most of these are second nature to those of us who shoot all the time, but they are still worth mentioning, and I’m reminded of the need to repeat them every time I see a boneheaded sight-in methodology at my local shooting range. Whether you’re a novice or expert, keep these things in mind to set yourself up for success.
1. Bore Sighting
Always remember that just because you or the gun store bore-sighted your rifle, it does NOT mean that it is sighted in. Bore sighting is great for getting you on paper right off the bat, and reducing ammo waste, but it’s just that, a place to start.
2. Shooting Groups
When sighting in a new rifle or scope, it’s a good idea to shoot groups to calculate your adjustments, rather than chase single holes all over the paper. Usually, for the first couple of rough adjustments, I’ll fire one round, but for any kind of fine tuning, you want to shoot a group of at least 3 rounds for a couple of reasons. First, it will show you a more accurate representation of your hold vs impact, and you will be able to make adjustments more efficiently. Second, it will ensure your scope is “settled in” to that adjustment. Sometimes, after adjusting the scope, the point of impact will move slightly on the first shot. Some scopes are more prone to this than others.
3. Cooling Your Barrel
When you’re sighting in your rifle, it’s important to let your barrel cool down between groups. Every rifle barrel is different, and accuracy and point of impact can vary greatly when the barrel gets hot. Some are affected much more than others, but you will typically get better results if you let it cool down. If it’s too hot to keep your hand on, let it sit.
4. Finding Your Cold-Bore Zero
When you’re hunting, it’s the first shot that counts, and a shot out of a cold bore almost always impacts at least slightly different than out of a warm barrel. Again, with some rifles, this is very slight, but more pronounced with others. After you get zeroed in at your desired range, let your barrel cool completely down completely to ambient temperature (this will take a while). Fire one round, and note how far off you are. If it is more than an inch or two at 100 yards, I would measure the windage and elevation difference, and adjust, let cool back down, and repeat, until your first shot hits exactly where you want.
This all may be old news to a lot of you, but you’d be surprised at the number of shooters who have never learned these basics. And no matter the specific steps you use to sight-in your rifle, spend plenty of time at the range ensuring that it shoots where you want before you take it into the field this fall.