How to Sight in a Rifle Scope – 7 Steps

If you want to shoot accurately at long distances, a scope is a must-have item. Your rifle scope will be one of your most important shooting tools, but it does take a small investment in time and practice to make the most of your scope. If you don’t put in the time, your scope will never perform as you expect, and you’ll be in for a lot of frustrating experiences on the range or out in the field. If you’ve already got your scope and are ready to roll, read on to learn how to sight in a rifle scope properly and make the most of your accessory.

1. Install It Correctly

You won’t be able to sight your scope properly if you haven’t mounted it correctly. Modern rifles come with two styles of mounts. Rail systems, like the Picatinny or Weaver rails, allow you to basically slide your scope onto the rail, adjust it forward or back, and then tighten the screws and go. Other rifles have pre-drilled holes that hold scope bases. 

What all this means is that you have to be very careful to get just the right scope for your rifle type. The components have to match; if they don’t, you’ll never be successful in using your scope. Once you have the right scope for your rifle type, make sure it’s properly and firmly mounted.

2. Adjust for Easy Viewing

When you hold your head at the right shooting angle and look down the scope, you should get a clear image. You shouldn’t have to crane your neck, squint, or fiddle the rifle up or down in order to see clearly. 

Additionally, you need to get the right eye relief. This is the distance between your eye and the end of the scope. You need to be able to see clearly with no less than an inch of space between your eye and the scope. Otherwise, the kick from the rifle could seriously hurt you. Keep adjusting the scope until you’re comfortable looking through it and get a clear image every time at a natural head position.

3. Find a Level Place to Shoot

In order to sight your rifle scope, you have to be sure that the only variable being adjusted is your scope itself. This means you need to know exactly the distance you’re shooting, your rifle should already be broken in, the scope should be properly mounted, and then, make sure you’re shooting absolutely level. 

Use a shooting bench, bipod, or some other kind of mount. It’s even better if you have a mount that can absorb all the recoil while you shoot. Then you can be sure that the ONLY factor keeping you from hitting that bullseye is the scope itself.

4. Make Sure the Reticle Is Perfectly Aligned

When you look down the scope, the crosshairs should meet in the middle and be perfectly aligned. If your reticle is canted (the technical term for unaligned), you’ll miss to the left and right or up and down, especially at longer shots. Use the windage and elevation adjustments to make sure those crosshairs line up.

5. Set The Minute of Angle (MOA)

To do this, your best bet is an outdoor shooting range. This allows you to aim at targets at multiple distances. Most shooters put their targets at 100-yard increments. Using a mount to keep the rifle stable, adjust the crosshair MOA in one-quarter-inch increments. Four-quarter-inch clicks should take you to 100 yards.

In effect, what all this means is that you’ll be able to put in a certain number of clicks on your windage knob and then be confident your rifle is sighted in for a certain distance. Most rifles and shooters use:

  • 1/2 inch for 200 yards
  • 3/4 inch for 300 yards
  • 1 inch for 400 yards
  • 1 1/4 inch for 500 yards
  • 1 1/2 inch for 600 yards
  • 1 3/4 inch for 700 yards
  • 2 inches for 800 yards

6. Test By Firing Shots in Groups of Three

Always fire at least three shots to test each position on your scope. They should group in a specific area: ideally dead center, but possibly off to one side, too high, or too low. As you notice where the bullets are going, you can adjust your windage and elevation to get the right shot. 

Most shooters like their rifle to be sighted in slightly high at 100 yards and shoot dead center at 200. This works well for most scopes and hunting situations, but naturally, your mileage may vary. It all depends on what you want to do with your gun (hunting or target shooting) and what distances you’re most likely to be shooting at.

7. Tweak Until You’re Happy

You’ll want to keep shooting in groups of three until you’re consistently getting all groupings right at or near the bullseye every time. Once you’ve got this at shorter distances, adjust your MOA and practice at further targets. Remember that the further away your target is, the more you need to factor wind and the Coriolis effect. 

At very long distances, you’ll want to be sighting ever-so-slightly high to allow for the bullet drop. You’ll also want to get a feel for how much wind will affect your shot, and this can only happen with lots of practice on windy days. Be patient and put the time in, and soon you’ll be shooting like a pro.

All sharpshooters and hunters should know how to sight in a rifle scope. Even if your scope came pre-mounted to the rifle and accurate from the factory (which occasionally they do), you should develop this skill so you can adjust your scope in the event of an accident that dislodges it. If you get a new scope, you’ll also want to be able to sight it in easily. If you’re not sure how to do all this, don’t hesitate to talk to a professional firearms instructor at your local gun range.

Joseph Fox

Joseph Fox

Joseph Fox writes on a variety of topics ranging from reloading ammunition to gun cleaning. He has been featured on various publications like thetruthaboutguns, Sofrep & many more. Joseph is also the founder of Gunloading, where he reviews different types of reloading & firearm products available on the market.