How to Sight in a Rifle

Sighting in a rifle is essential for obvious reasons. Many big game animals are living productive lives today because someone improperly sighted in their hunting rifles. Let’s look at the proper way to sight in your rifle so that you can hit the mark on the first trigger pull.

Boresight First

Many people who sight in their rifle tend to start at around the 100-yard mark, which is a mistake if you want maximum precision from your rifle. Instead, start at 25 yards using a nice big target with a big bullseye area. 

With a bolt action rifle, remove the bolt and look down the barrel to boresight the rifle; this is going to be the cheapest way to get on paper and get a proper sighting. To do this effectively, you need to line up the center point of your bore while looking down the barrel with the bullseye, and without moving the rifle (this is very important), adjust your scope so that the crosshairs are on the bullseye of the target.  

For lever action, semiautomatic, and pump rifles, you obviously cannot use this sighting method. If you are using one of these rifles, consider purchasing a boresighting laser to get an accurate boresight. 

When firing after boresighting at 25 yards, be sure to fire 3 shots, with the center hole of the 3 on the target being your actual point of alignment using the center hit; adjust accordingly. 

It’s also important to remember that when sight in an optic at 25 yards, you will need to adjust your optic by four clicks instead of 1 click if you were shooting at 100 yards. 

Further Adjustments 

Once you are done properly boresighting your rifle, it’s now time to increase the target distance to 100 yards. Start by shooting a 3 shot group to get started with fine-tuning your sights. 

It’s very important to note that when shooting groups to let your gun barrel cool down. After your initial 3 shots, wait for the barrel to cool down again. A warm or hot gun barrel will move your impact point on the target, and if you continue to adjust your sights at this time, you will only chase your impact points, and you will have to restart from the beginning. 

If you are hunting, you will make that first shot on your game animal with a cold barrel. This is why it’s crucial to sight in your rifle with the same barrel conditions. 

Range Compensation 

It would be a good idea to set a limit on the distance you plan on shooting in the field while hunting. For example, if you set your limiting distance to 300 yards, you will want to be shooting about 3 inches high of the bullseye for most standard big game hunting calibers.

This will put the impact point at 3 to 6 inches low at 300 yards and will be close to your zero point in terms of the impact on an animal. Be sure to practice shooting at the 300-yard mark or whatever limit distance you choose to be sure your exact ammunition and caliber will be within this 3 to 6-inch range. 

Reading Targets 

Your groupings on target can dictate what you, your rifle, or ammunition is doing. You can disseminate information from your groupings to either make adjustments or leave your zero. Let’s take a look at some common groupings and what they mean. 

How to sight in a rifle

Consistent Flyer

A consistent flyer is characterized by 2 tight holes and one hole that’s consistently 1-2 inches from the other 2 for every grouping. This is an issue with ammunition selection. At 100 yards, this isn’t much of an issue, but it will become a serious issue at longer ranges. 

If you are loading your own ammunition, you can adjust for this inconsistency by lowering or adding to your current powder loads. If you are buying your ammunition, you will have to try different types of ammunition to solve the problem. 

Inconsistent Fliers 

If your groups are consistent over and over again, and all of a sudden, you get a random flyer or an entire grouping of fliers, chances are its user error. By user error, we mean flinching or doing something on your end that’s different from before. This can be you doing something different that you aren’t aware of. 

If you are consistently getting tight groups and every so often a group that doesn’t fit, don’t adjust your rifle to compensate, this will only cause you to chase these fliers and waste ammunition on what is otherwise a properly sighted rifle. 

Stringing Groups 

If your groups are stringing out vertically or horizontally, it’s most likely a bedding issue. Most rifles have free-floating barrels that don’t touch the receiver. If your stringing shots, it’s most likely an issue with your barrel bedding, and you should get this repaired by a gunsmith. 

Rising Pattern 

If your shots are rising above your zero consistently it’s probably the result of a hot barrel. This is an easy issue to solve. Let your barrel cool back down and shoot a group; chances are your group will be back on target. 

Shoot Often

sighting rifle

There is no substitute for practice and experience. Once you have your rifle sighted in, it’s important to shoot regularly. Wind, mirages, and other factors can throw off your point of impact, so you need to recognize these factors when shooting, so you know how to adjust for it at any given range. 

Conclusion

Properly sighting and recognizing your groupings are significant factors to getting the most out of your rifle. Properly boresighting and fine-tuning at distance, along with recognizing the reasons for odd groupings are essential to accurately and successfully hitting the mark when it counts.