How to Sight-In Your Rifle


You’ve planted food plots, checked your trail cameras and planned your strategy. Opening day of the firearms deer season is almost here, but when that buck of your dreams strolls past your stand, will you be ready?

Sure, you’ve got nerves of steel. When you squeeze that trigger, though, will the bullet find its mark? There’s only one way to be sure: sight-in your rifle before that buck gives you a shot.

Near Is Better than Far

If it’s a new rifle/scope combo, or you just aren’t sure where your gun will shoot, it’s smart to start with a close-range target, about 20 yards. Depending on the height of your scope, bullet impact should be 1-2 inches low (yes, low) at this close range. Begin by using a large target to get the gun “on paper,” then dial in your scope’s crosshairs until you’re shooting 1-2 inches low at 6 o’clock. Be sure to fix any errors left to right at this close range. Remember, being 1 inch to the right at 20 yards means you’ll be 5 inches right at 100 yards, so be sure your bullets are perfectly in line just below the bullseye.

Next, place a target at 100 yards. But don’t just start banging away. This accomplishes little more than burning up expensive ammo. Fine-tune each shot by adjusting your scope’s windage and elevation knobs until you’re shooting exactly where you’re aiming.

A single shot is a good indication of your rifle’s point-of-impact, but a three- or even a five-shot group is better. In fact, it’s critical to shoot at least one group to make sure the loads you’re using shoot well from your gun. If they don’t, try another brand, bullet style or bullet weight. Those little things can make a big difference.

Many hunters like to sight-in their guns to shoot 1-2 inches high at 100 yards, which allows them to take longer shots without having to worry about bullet drop. Sighting-in 1-inch high just means your bullet will hit 1 inch directly above your point-of-aim at 100 yards. Check online ballistics charts to see the bullet trajectory for your specific cartridge/bullet choice.

Get Solid

Before you take that first shot – even at 20 yards – place your rifle into a solid, wiggle-free rest. Nothing can lead to poor groups like a wavering muzzle. A balled up jacket won’t do. Instead, you need something like a Caldwell Lead Sled (below) sitting on a solid bench. It will allow you to hold your gun rock-steady and take the human error out of the equation.

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No bench? No problem. Herter’s portable Deluxe Shooting Bench (below) provides a firm platform, a seat and even a padded chest protector to help you shoot accurately. It even folds up for easy transport.

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Whatever you use, just make sure your scope’s crosshairs are steady each time you squeeze the trigger. Use the pad of your fingertip, inhale, exhale, hold your breath briefly and then gently squeeze until the trigger drops. Remember to keep your cheek on the stock and then follow-through. Depending on caliber, ammo and scope, you might be able to see the bullet’s impact on paper through the scope. That follow-through will help you shoot better on the range and in the field. A high-visibility target such as Cabela’s Clear Shot Targets (below) will allow you to see exactly where the bullet hit without walking downrange after each shot.

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Protect Yourself

Before you load your rifle, protect your eyes with shooting glasses and your ears with high-quality ear muffs. Cabela’s S.T.R. Advanced Electronic Hearing Protection ear muffs (below) block the deafening roar of a gunshot while allowing you to hear normal conversations. They will not only prevent long-term hearing loss, but they’ll also help reduce flinching. Nothing can make a shooter jerk the trigger faster than the anticipation of an ear-splitting “Boom!” Of course, anticipation of recoil can also lead to flinching, and that’s another great reason to use a shooting aid like a Caldwell Lead Sled. It will help you stay on the bullseye and eliminate that kick.

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Mind the Details

Environmental factors won’t have much effect on a bullet’s flight at shorter ranges, but they can at longer distances, though. Wind in particular can push a bullet off its mark by several inches, depending on the speed and direction of the wind, as well as the distance to the target. A 10-mph crosswind, for example, can push a standard .30-06 bullet off by 1 inch at 100 yards. That’s certainly good enough for a kill, but it can make you question your shots at the range. It can also cause trouble at longer ranges in the field.

A Kestrel Sportsman Weather Meter with Applied Ballistics (below) takes the guesswork out of the weather. It not only tells you the current wind speed, but it also calculates the hold-off at various distances in relation to the wind speed based on the load data you enter.

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Practice Makes Perfect

Once you’ve dialed in your scope, have some fun. If you can, try shots from a variety of shooting positions, especially if those shots are a possibility for your style of hunting. Shoot from a sitting position, a kneeling position and even while standing. Not only will you get some real-world practice, but taking shots from a variety of positions will show you exactly how difficult they can be, too. The more you shoot, the better you’ll get.

The Two-Shot Sight-In

You don’t need to burn a box of ammo to find a good zero, at least not if you follow a few simple steps. First, take a shot at a target. Then, hold the gun solid with a Caldwell Lead Sled while dialing the windage and elevation knobs so the crosshairs move from the bullseye to the actual bullet hole. It’s critical that your gun stay perfectly still as you adjust the crosshairs. Simply move the crosshairs until they line up with the bullet hole. You can even adjust the crosshairs so they fall 1 inch below point-of-impact if your desire is sighting-in 1 inch high at 100 yards. Fire a second shot to confirm your scope adjustments.

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Finally, after you’re dialed in, store and transport your rifle in a hard-sided case. Cabela’s Armor Xtreme Double Gun Case (above) will protect your gun and keep the scope from getting bumped off its zero. You spent all that time at the range, so why take a chance when the buck of a lifetime steps into view?


Good luck this deer season; shoot straight!


This article was produced in cooperation with Cabela’s

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