How to Sight In Your Riflescope

You’d be surprised how many animals still freely roam because people forgot to sight in their riflescopes.

Most parts of your rifle are incredibly stable. The scope, however, is known for getting misaligned. Perhaps you dropped your rifle once? Or maybe your hunting pal dropped it and never told you? Either way, you’ll zero in 10 inches to the left and wonder what the heck is going on.

When you get a feeling that your aim is not as good as the last time you used your rifle, more often than not, your riflescope is the culprit. It needs to be sighted in.

What Does It Mean to Sight In Your Riflescope?

To sight in, or to zero in, a scope means to align the scope with the rifle’s barrel. The scope has to be pointed where the barrel is. Otherwise, your aim will not be precise at all. Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect sighting in. Even professional zeroing in on long-range precision firearm can be slightly off. The closer, the better.


When you want to sight in your riflescope, there are a few things you have to go over. For one thing, your rifle must be mounted and adjusted correctly. Otherwise, all your efforts will be in vain. Secondly, you’ll wish to establish the distance you want your scope to be zeroed in to.

As for the distance, it’s best if it’s between 50 and 100 yards. That would be a great place to start. However, if you want to sight in your rifle for 200 or 300 yards, start with a shorter distance, and then make some tweaks once on paper.

Boresighting Definition

Boresighting, by definition, is “a method of visually pre-aligning a firearm barrel’s bore axis with the target, in order to more easily zero the gunsight (optical or iron sights). The process is usually performed on a rifle and can be accomplished either with the naked eye or with a specialized device called a boresighter.” Basically, it’s looking down the bore or the barrel of the gun so that you can align the scope.

No matter the method, boresighting is crucial before sighting in your riflescope. Your scope has to be aligned with the barrel. If the barrel is not zeroed in, how can the scope get there? It’s like starting to build a level floor with a broken level.

Boresighting Process

The process is not the same for all rifles. For AR-type rifles, you have to ensure that the bolt is forward and then remove the two pins that hold the upper and the lower parts together. Once you pull them apart, you can remove the bolt. When the upper has no bolt, you’re free to see down the barrel.

Your next step is to put the rifle or the upper on the rest and aim at the target. It’s best to use a large target. An excellent model is the NRA SR-1. It has a big black center on a light background, and the high contrast makes the sight-in a whole lot simpler. If you can see the target properly (the barrel is not crooked), then your rifle is boresighted and you can move on to aligning the scope.

Boresighting Tools

No specialized tools are necessary for boresighting if you have a good eye. However, boresighting requires a very stable platform on which you can place your rifle. If you do this at the shooting range, you can take advantage of a shooting bench. You also need a good front rest. A gun vise is perfect, but some people use sandbags. As long as it’s stable, you’re good to go.

How to Sight In Your Riflescope

Once the bore is aligned with the target, you are ready to sight in your riflescope. The process should not take long, and with a little bit of attention, you should be successful even if you have little to no experience.

Before getting started, make sure that you have the following:

Next we’ll break down the process of sighing in your riflescope in three simple steps plus an optional fourth step.

Step 1: Focus the riflescope

When you sight in your riflescope, the first step is to focus it. This is a two-part job. First, you have to focus the reticle and then go on to the parallax.

The reticle is easy to handle. However, the second part applies only if the rifle has an adjustable objective or a sight-focus parallax. If that’s the case with your rifle, you must adjust the parallax first to ensure that the target is focused correctly for the distance you want to shoot at.

Now, when you focus the parallax, there are two things you have to look for:

  1. The target must be as crisp and clear as possible.
  2. Make sure that the reticle is not wandering when you shift your head position.

If everything is okay so far, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Take your shots

This is the part when you test how you adjusted your riflescope. Don’t expect to get good results on your first try. This step just shows you where you’re at.

Once you’ve taken a few shots, you can go to your paper and see how good (or poorly) you hit your target. As you may already know, the bullet trajectory is measured in MOAs (Minutes of Angle.) Because “bullet trajectory happens in an arc consequential to gravity, we measure that arc in degrees and angles to better compensate for bullet drop to get dead-on. MOA is especially useful in shooting because it works cohesively with the inch measuring system in the United States.”

The target paper you buy for this purpose will show you what adjustments you have to make to your riflescope. And that leads us to the next step.

Step 3: Make the proper adjustments to your riflescope

This part doesn’t require much explanation. The target paper should tell you exactly how many MOAs down/up and right/left you should go next time when you adjust the scope. Make the proper adjustments and try again.

You have to understand that when you sight in your riflescope, it doesn’t always have to be perfect. It’s okay if your hunting rifle is not precisely on point. It doesn’t need to be. You can bring it as close to zero as possible.

However, if you have a long-range precision rifle, the story is a little different. It may take you longer, but you have to sight it more carefully.

Step 4: Adjust the turrets in the field (optional)

This applies if you want to take a long-range shot to compensate for elevation or wind, in which case you are required to dial the turrets in the field. It’s not a complicated process.

To dial up the turrets in the field, you’ll need a coin. Remove the turret cap. Use the coin as a screwdriver to remove the screw on top of the turret. Lift the turret up and re-reference it so that the zero is facing the zero-indicator line. After you do that, screw the top of the turret on and put the cap back on.

Understanding Turrets

A traditional hunting scope is equipped with adjustment dials that are covered with caps (for protection.) To zero in the scope, you have to remove the caps, make the proper adjustments, and then put them back on. Do this once or whenever you change the load you use.

Another thing about this type of scopes is that you make progressive distance compensation when shooting using marks on the reticle. The downside is that you have to take off the caps and then put them back on every single time you make an adjustment.

On the other hand, exposed turrets, otherwise known as tactical turrets, do not have caps. They are in plain sight, and they’re designed to be adjusted with your fingers. You can go through that process before every shot if you want. Nevertheless, you still have to determine that initial zero. A few adjustments will accomplish that.

Just remember that the zero on the turrets may not always be at the zero-starting position. With exposed turrets, you have to adjust for zero and then recalibrate the caps so that zero on the dial corresponds with the zero position.

Not all rifles have the same kind of exposed turrets. Some of them operate with a release screw that disconnects the turret. Other models let you pull out the turret and then reposition it correctly.


Sighting in your riflescope is a skill that all rifle owners should develop. It’s not a complicated process, and with a little bit of research (and patience) you’ll be successful. When it comes to optics, everything is adjustable and predictable as long as you have a good rifle and scope.


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