How to Zero a Red Dot Sight – Your Complete Guide

Need to know how to zero a red dot sight? If you find this question intimidating, don’t worry. Red dot sights are more popular than ever, and many gun owners use them: you can, too! They work on handguns, shotguns, rifles, and more. If you’ve got one, and you zero it in correctly, you can have an amazing shooting experience. The main issues are getting them properly mounted and then getting them zeroed in (which just means making sure they aim correctly).

If your red dot sight is zeroed in, it means that you know it’s lined up with the gun barrel in a way that means every shot will hit the target (all other things, like your shooting skill, being equal!) If you put in the time now to get your gun properly sighted, you’ll be sitting pretty when you go out shooting. Let’s put that another way: if you don’t put the time in now, you’ll find yourself constantly frustrated in the field or at the range.

Choose Your Distance

The great advantage of a red dot sight is the way it allows you to quickly acquire your target, and most of the time, that’s most valuable at shorter shooting ranges. As a result, red dot sights are usually best from 25-50 yards with rifles, though many shooters do use them at 100, 200, and more. For the purposes of sighting in your red dot, 25 yards is a good choice. 

This allows you to be sure there’s no mechanical offset that affecting your shot. All this means is that you want everything to be equal so that the only factor in whether you hit or miss the target is the sight itself. This means a fixed distance, preferably shorter, a stable shooting platform, and a calm environment without any gusting winds. Whatever distance you choose for shooting, the basic process is going to be the same.

Properly Mount Your Sight

We recommend that you use AR platforms for zeroing in your red dot sight, and that’s because these platforms use the Picatinny rail system. It’s basically the easiest system for mounting hardware and accessories, and you get a wide range of choices among sights that will fit this system. Additionally, if you have other accessories on your gun, this rail system still usually gives you enough room to add a red dot sight. 

Most red dot sights you’ll find out there will fit on a Picatinny rail system. That said, of course, you can find red dot sight that will fit the Weaver rail system or guns without any rails at all. If you’re using a rail system weapon, the steps for mounting it will be clearly laid out for you in the packaging that comes with your red dot sight. If you don’t have a rail system, consider having a professional gunsmith do it for you.

Zero In Using Your Iron Sights

Now that you’ve chosen a distance and have mounted your sight, you’ll want to use the iron sights to take the next step in zeroing in the red dot ones. Your iron sights are simply the sights that come on your weapon. Typically, there’s a sight at the end of the barrel that you line up with the sight at the rear. When you can look down the rear sight and see the front sight directly in the middle, you know your weapon is pointed accurately. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to sight in your iron sights before using them to work with your red dot sights.

This process is very easy. In the military, they refer to this as lollipopping. All you need to do is look down your red dot sight and mess with the windage and elevation knobs until the red dot sits right on top of the front post of your iron sights. Assuming you’ve properly sighted in your iron sights, your hits should be bang on target if your red dot sight is lined up with that front post.

What If I Don’t Have Iron Sights?

A small minority of guns don’t come with iron sights, and some older heritage weapons don’t have them, either. If that’s the case for you, all you need is to boresight. A bore sighter is essentially just a type of laser pointer that allows you to actually see your point of aim rather than try to guess with your eyes alone. Most shooters and hunters are well-advised to get one of these, and they’re not overly expensive.

If you have a laser bore sighter, insert your bore sighter into your bore and aim at your target. Then look through your red dot sight and adjust it till it lines up perfectly. Of course, you can bore sight even without a laser bore sighter. You’ll need something like a vise grip, though. Mount your red dot sight, then put your gun into a gun vise to hold it perfectly level and straight. Adjust until it’s aiming dead center at the middle of the target.

Once you’re sure of your barrel aim, look through your red dot sight and adjust it until the red dot shows right in the middle of the target. Double-check your barrel placement a few times, and be sure to fire off a few groupings of three shots at a time to check that you’ve got it just right. Make adjustments to windage and elevation as needed.

A Zeroed Sight Is a Reliable Sight

As mentioned, it’s absolutely crucial that you put in the time now to zero in any sights and scopes you have. Once you do, you can rely on your weapon to perform as expected no matter where you use it. If you don’t, you literally don’t know what will happen when you pull the trigger. Consider a worst-case scenario, like a home invasion: a shot from an un-zeroed sight could be so wild that you actually endanger the very people you’re trying to protect. Take time to get this done this week!

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.