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Want to know the deadliest combination of rifle and scope you can put together? Sure you do, and so do thousands of other big-game hunters who pine for that golden combination. I know this for a fact because of the scores of letters I get from readers, at least half of whom ask me to recommend rifles, scopes and calibers that are better than what they currently own. This often puts me in a bind, because the equipment they already own is about what I would have recommended. It’s hard to explain to a hunter that the reason he wants another rifle and scope is simply because he can’t hit anything with the perfectly good rig he’s been hunting with, but that’s often the way it is. He hunts, shoots and misses, and therefore figures he needs a rifle that won’t miss. Let’s put that in perspective.


There are as many reasons for missing game as there are hunters, but when you take out the human factor and leave only the technical alibis, there are so few it’s almost comical. Of these technical reasons for missing a shot, the biggest culprit has to be improper or nonexistent sight adjustment. In other words, if your scope isn’t adjusted so that the bullet hits where you aim, you are certain to either botch the shot or miss completely.

A bullet traveling at more than twice the speed of sound is an astonishingly deadly missile, but only if it hits where intended. And there, as Bill Shakespeare might have said, is the rub. This is why smart big-game guides begin each hunt with a sight-checking session at a shooting bench. This shows the guide how familiar his hunters are with their rifles, what their degree of marksmanship is and, most important, whether the scopes are zeroed so that bullets hit where they’re aimed. I’ve observed dozens of such sighting sessions and have seen sights so far off you couldn’t hit a moose at 60 paces.

Sometimes this is excusable. Some scoped rifles, like some wines, don’t travel well. And there’s no question that some airline baggage handlers are convinced they haven’t rendered an honest day’s labor unless they drop, stomp and otherwise mangle every gun case they see. More often, however, rifles that aren’t on the mark simply weren’t sighted-in to begin with. The excuses generally run something like “Well, my rifle was just right last year” or “I borrowed it from a buddy who says he never misses with it” or “The store where I bought it said it was ready to go hunting.”

To my mind, these excuses are no excuse at all and are even something of a mystery. I, along with most hunters I know, consider sighting-in a rifle before the hunt to be not only essential but actually part of the total hunting experience. On the other hand, I’m aware that many hunters (especially beginners) are rather baffled by the scope/rifle relationship, confused by conflicting advice from other hunters or gun-shop keepers and mystified by instructions that speak in a strange jargon of clicks and minutes of angle.

With OUTDOOR LIFE’s One-Shot Sight-In Method, all such confusion is bypassed. All you need is a target and a solid rest. By solid I mean at least firm sandbags under the forend and butt. Benchrest-type rests are better yet. “Bouncy” rests, such as pillows and rolled-up sleeping bags, won’t do. Though you can use this sight-in method by yourself, it’s usually easier to work in a two-man team–at least until you get the hang of it. Here’s how to do it.

1 FIRE A SIGHTING SHOT Before firing your sighting shot, make sure your rifle is unloaded and solidly positioned on the rest. You can check this by aiming and “dry-firing” a couple of times and noting any crosshair “jump” on the target. This also helps you refine the smoothness of your trigger pull. If you’re using a variable-power scope, crank it up to top magnification so you’ll have the best look at the target and be better able to see the bullet hole. Unless your scope has been bore-sighted or pre-sighted with a collimator, it’s a good idea to use a target at least 18 inches square, because it’s vital that your shot hits somewhere on the paper. When everything is ready, and you’re wearing eye and ear protection, load a single round, aim carefully, caress the trigger and give it your best shot.

2 FIND THE SIGHTING HOLE With a good scope of 6X or more and decent light, a .25-caliber or larger bullet hole can usually be seen at 100 yards. If you can’t see the hole through the scope, walk to the target and mark the hole with a black circle large enough to be seen from your shooting position. The next step is where a partner comes in handy.


With the rifle unloaded, simply aim again at exactly the same point on the target that you used for your sighting shot. As you hold the rifle firmly on target, have your shooting pal turn the scope’s adjustments until the crosshairs intersect the bullet hole. This is best done in two stages–first the vertical or horizontal adjustment and then the other–as trying to move both at once might be confusing.

Let’s say the hole made by your shot is somewhere high and left of your point of aim. (It doesn’t matter how far because measuring and counting scope clicks isn’t necessary with the one-shot method. You skip all that.) While you hold the rifle steady, your pal turns the windage adjustment in the R (right) direction. As he does so you’ll actually see the vertical wire marching over to the hole. The elevation adjustment is then made. If you want your rifle sighted so that it hits, say, 2 inches high at 100 yards, you simply adjust the wire so it is 2 inches below the bullet hole in your target.

4 FIRE TO CONFIRM Now fire another shot to confirm your zero and the job is finished. If you shoot from a rest that supports your rifle solidly, it’s easy to sight-in alone by holding the rifle with one hand and adjusting the scope with the other.

4 Steps to a Perfect Zero

1 Before firing your first shot, settle in behind the gun and dry-fire a few shots to get a feel for the trigger. Then crank the scope power all the way up so you can see the target clearly. When you’re comfortable, load and fire a single shot.

2 With the rifle unloaded and safe, aim again at exactly the same spot on the target that you held on when you fired your sighting shot. It’s extremely important that you hold the rifle firmly and that it not move from your original point of aim.

3 While holding the rifle firmly on target, have a friend slowly turn the scope adjustments–first the vertical, then the horizontal–until the cross-hairs line up on your bullet hole. Look through the scope and direct him until you’re on.

4 Once the crosshairs are aligned on your bullet hole, your rifle is zeroed. Now fire a second shot to confirm your zero and you’re done. The whole process takes only a few minutes to eliminate one of shooting’s worst problems.

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Just Jim

Moore is Less

Let’s speak for a moment about courage and cowardice. Shortly after Disney announced that it would have no part in distributing Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore’s latest cinematic debacle, The New York Times set poison pen to editorial page to proclaim Disney’s cowardice: “Give the Walt Disney Company a gold medal for cowardice for blocking its Miramax division from distributing a film that criticizes President Bush and his family. A company that ought to be championing free expression has instead chosen to censor a documentary that clearly falls within the bounds of acceptable political commentary.”

Acceptable political commentary? Had anyone at the Times even seen the film?

The plain truth is that the folks at Disney displayed rather amazing courage in their decision to renounce Moore, knowing full well it would bring down upon them the wrath of the liberal press (as the Times editorial proved) and those who wallow with each other in Moore’s muck.

But where is Moore’s courage? In his films Moore has attacked Roger Smith, the former president of General Motors; then Charlton Heston, who was president of the NRA; and now President Bush, knowing full well they would never stoop to his level to fight back. It takes no courage to attack a person or institution with comfortable certainty they will not retaliate. That’s the cowardice of a bully. So if Moore wants to show some real backbone, why doesn’t he take on those willing to fight at his gutter level? A few unions come to mind, and there’s no shortage of corruption in some of their ranks for Moore to expose. But do you think he will? When it comes to real courage, Moore is less.