How to Use a Rifle Scope – Step-By-Step-Guide

Iron sights are great, and everyone should have their sights properly aligned so they can trust their weapon even if a scope breaks or a holoscopic site gives out. That said, nearly any rifle can benefit from a good scope. A scope vastly extends the usefulness of your rifle and allows you to be more confident of accuracy even at the limits of your rifle’s range. Keep reading to learn all the steps for how to use a rifle scope correctly.

1. Mount It

A well-mounted scope will be easy to look down and will not move, even with repeated firings. Some rifles come with factory-mounted scopes, and we recommend these if you’re a beginner. They’re usually sighted at the manufacturers, so a lot of the work is done for you. They’re also made to work with your rifle, and you can be sure they’ve been mounted correctly and securely. However, you may very well want a more powerful scope, in which case you might need to mount your own.

Most rifles come with a particular mounting system, and various scopes are made with pre-drilled grooves and special hardware to match these systems. Your first step is to be sure your scope’s system matches your rifle. If it does, it’s really just a matter of lining it up well and tightening the screws. If you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to take it to a professional.

2. Align the Reticle

When you look down your scope, you’ll see some form of cross figure: this is your reticle, and each scope can look a little different. Naturally, the point of this cross to help you focus properly on your target. The vertical and horizontal lines should meet in the center and form a cross. To adjust yours, loosen the scope rings and rotate the scope until you’ve got a perfect, even cross.

3. Fix Eye Relief

When you fire your rifle, it’s going to kick back. You don’t want your eye right up against the scope when that happens! At best, you’ll be bruised badly. At worst…well, you can probably imagine. Also, you don’t want to be leaning forward at a weird angle to get your eye up to the scope. This means your scope needs to give you the perfect view not when your eye is pressed right up to it, but when your eye is actually about an inch or two away.

The problem is that the higher the magnification on your scope, the more you naturally want to get closer to the eyepiece (and the harder it is to get a perfect view through it without moving yourself around in funny ways). The only way to deal with this is to put in the time to get the eye relief right. If you skip this step, your rifle and scope will never perform as you want.

To fix your eye relief, follow these steps:

  1. Put the scope on your rifle with the hardware attached but loose
  2. Move the scope as far from your eye as possible
  3. Put your head and shoulder in a natural, comfortable place for looking down the scope
  4. Slowly move the scope towards your eye
  5. When you can see the entire reticle and field clearly, stop
  6. Ensure the scope is at least an inch from where your eye will be
  7. Tighten the ring screws and lock down your scope

4. Test

Once you’re happy with the way your scope is sitting, your next step is to test it out and be sure it’s performing as it should. Some scopes have a single variable. These cannot be adjusted, so you’ll want to test with target practice so you get a good sense of exactly what distance your scope is accurate for.

Other scopes are variable, and these allow you to change the magnification. Just bear in mind that the stronger the magnification, the smaller the field width in your view. Once again, you’ll want to allow for plenty of practice so you’re comfortable with your accuracy at different distances and can switch between them quickly and easily. If you have a variable scope, for example, you might want to set up targets at four or five different distances so you can practice switching quickly among them.

5. Aim and Fire

To aim properly with your scope, you need to ensure your reticle is center in your field of vision, right over your target, and that when you look through your scope, the scope’s end ring makes a circle around your target with no big black areas on any side. If you do have areas of black in your vision, then your scope isn’t dead on target, and you need to re-center your gun. If you can’t find a way to make that happen, the scope may need to be checked. It’s possible it’s been tightened too hard on one side or not enough.

6. Make Adjustments

Your scope will have knobs or screws for adjusting windage and elevation. Windage is left to right; elevation is up and down. Once you know your distance, have a steady rifle, and can see well through your scope, fire off a few shots. If they’re hitting to the left or right, turn your windage knob in the opposite direction. If they’re hitting too high, adjust elevation down and vice versa if they’re hitting low.

Your scope will also likely have a parallax knob. This one allows you to make some minor adjustments to ensure you get a clear view quickly as you look out of the scope at your target and then zero back in on it through the scope directly. Practice looking away and then looking through the scope, and make small parallax adjustments until things are the way you want them.

You should keep “playing” with your scope until it consistently delivers the accuracy you’re looking for when you shoot at the target. Don’t ever be satisfied with just a few hits or hits that are close. Keep making adjustments until you have confidence in every shot.

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.