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How to Sight in (or Zero) a Gun

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Woman Shooting Target Rifle
J&L Images/Photodisc/Getty Images

This most basic of shooting skills is also one of the easiest, once you know how. Here's how to get on target without burning up a pile of ammo.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: 30 minutes

Here's How:

  1. Check your gun to make sure it's in good, safe working order.
  2. Make sure the ammunition you have is the correct cartridge for your gun. Use only the ammo your gun is marked for!
  3. Find a safe place to shoot, such as a public shooting range or other location with a sufficient backstop and a guarantee that no one will cross your line of fire.
  4. If you plan to do your shooting on private land, get permission. If on public land, check the laws governing it. Trespass with a firearm is a felony!
  5. Start out at close range; around 25 yards for a rifle, 15 yards with a handgun.
  6. Use a solid rest, and take your time. Before each shot, take a deep breath, let half of it out, then hold it.
  7. Fire two or three shots and note their location on the target. If they are fairly close together, you're ready to adjust your sights. If they're not, then you're probably not resting steadily or are flinching.
  8. Once you've shot a reasonably tight group (one or two inches with a rifle, two or three inches with a handgun), adjust your sights.
  9. Move the rear sight in the direction you want the bullet to go. For example, if you're shooting low, raise the rear sight. If you're shooting left, move the rear sight to the right.
  10. If you're using a scope, adjust the crosshairs in the direction indicated on the scope. If you're shooting low and left, turn the screws "up" and "right" the respective number of clicks (see tip 2 below).
  11. Shoot another group of two or three.
  12. Re-adjust your sights depending on where you shot the group in step 11.
  13. Repeat steps 11 & 12 until you're on target. For rifle shooting, you'll want to fine-tune the sights, usually at a distance of 100 yards. The point of impact will sometimes be noticeably different between 25 and 100 yards.

Tips:

  1. ALWAYS keep guns pointed in a safe direction.
  2. With a scope, the per-click graduation will usually be marked, i.e. 1/4" per click at 100 yards. Remember this will make it 1/8" at 50 yards, etc. Estimate the distance you're off and adjust accordingly.
  3. Some "fixed" sights can be adjusted. If the rear sight is in a dovetail notch, you can drift it to correct for windage error. Do not hit it with a hammer! Use a brass drift and hammer or an adjusting tool, or if in doubt, have it done for you by a gunsmith.
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