Hunter sighting in rifle with box of ammo and scope

Sighting in Your Firearm

Just because your firearm shot perfectly last season is no assurance it will do so this year. A sharp blow, warped stock or loose scope mounts can make you miss a whitetail. Serious deer hunters sight in before every season.

You’ll also have to sight-in any new firearms or those with new sights. If you’re using a gun that someone else sighted in, take it to the target range and make sure it shoots accurately for you too—each hunter sees sights a bit differently.

All firearms, including rifles, muzzleloaders, shotguns with slugs, and handguns should be carefully sighted in.

Sight-in well before the season, taking advantage of calm, sunny weather. Bullet drift will be minimal and it will be easy to see your targets and work with small tools to adjust your sights.

Hunter sighting in firearm
Steady your firearm to minimize human error. Cradle it on sandbags or some other soft but stable rest.

Use A Gun Rest
Most target ranges offer shooting benches, target stands, and solid backstops. Ask permission before sighting in on private land. Before using public land, make sure target shooting is legal.

Equipment for sighting in includes sandbags or other gun rests, ear protection, targets, and sight-adjusting tools like screwdrivers or hex keys, and tape for covering bullet holes in the target before shooting again. A spotting scope enables you to see bullet holes from your shooting position.

Sight-in using the exact ammunition you will use for hunting. Different loads and bullet weights may result in different trajectories. Even seemingly identical cartridges loaded by different companies may not shoot the same in your rifle.

To steady your gun and minimize human error, cradle it on sandbags or some other soft but stable rest. Relax, hold the gun firmly with your cheek squarely on the stock, and take a few deep breaths. Exhale halfway, hold your breath and gently squeeze the trigger.

To check a rifle, muzzleloader or slug gun that shot well last year, fire a three-shot group from 100 yards to make sure the sights haven’t changed. To sight-in new firearms, those with new sights, shotguns without sights, handguns, or any gun you suspect is not sighted in, shoot at a target 25 yards away.

If you miss at 25 yards, “bore sight” the gun to save ammunition. With a bolt action, remove the bolt, look through the receiver end of the barrel, center the bullseye in the bore, and secure the firearm so it can’t move. Adjust your sights to aim at the bullseye. Replace the bolt, fire a shot and continue to adjust the sights until you’re satisfied. If your action does not allow a direct look through the bore, you’ll need a bore sighting tool.

Make Fine Adjustments
Move the target farther away to make fine adjustments —100 yards for muzzleloaders, rifles and slug guns; 50 yards for pistols and shotguns without sights. Then fire three shots and note the location of the center of the group. If you’re not on target, adjust the sights and continue firing three-shot groups until you’re satisfied with the accuracy.

To adjust iron sights, move the rear sight in the direction you want to point of impact to move. Raise it to make the gun shoot higher; move it to the left to shoot farther left, for example.

To adjust scopes, turn the horizontal and vertical adjuster screws in the direction indicated by arrows near the screw head.

With a flat-shooting rifle, adjust the sights to hit 2- to 3 inches high at 100 yards. This way, you’ll be dead-on at 200 yards and only slightly low at 300 yards. A ballistic table will tell you how much your bullet will drop. Be sure to fire several three-shot groups at 200- and 300 yards to check long-range accuracy.

A good rifle in the hands of an expert marksman will put three shots in a 1-inch circle at 100 yards.

If you drop your gun during the hunt, fire a shot to make sure it’s still sighted in.

Making sure your firearm hits where it is aimed is the key to success in the field or on the range!

Editors Note: This is a re-post of an older article written for us by the late Gary Clancy. Throughout his life, Gary wrote 6 hunting books and spent countless hours presenting at hunting seminars throughout the United States. Although Gary passed away on July 27, 2016, his knowledge and passion for hunting will be passed onto future generations of hunters through his many articles and countless contributions to the great outdoors.


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9 Responses to “Sighting in Your Firearm”

  1. David Vaughn

    I had never heard of removing the bolt and looking down the barrel to rough sight in a gun. After I pick up my new 783 on Wednesday I will give it a go – hope it gets close the first time!

    • Dennis

      I’ve done it several times and it works!

    • Robert Cecil

      To save time and Ammo try this.. Start at 25 yards and with gun in a gun vice or very stable position place cross hairs on center of bulls eye and fire a three shot group. place sights back on bulls eye and adjust vertical cross hair and horizontal cross hair until the align on the three shot group. Move the H/V cross hairs about 4 clicks at a time alternating between H/V cross hairs. Fire one shot and repeat instructions, you should be close to bulls eye. Next move out to 100 yards and fire a three shot group. Repeat same instructions used for 25 yards. Fire one shot and place cross hairs back on bulls eye. Fire one shot @ 100yds to fine tune process keep moving cross hairs to last round fired until bulls eye and bullet are zeroed. The final adjustments may only take a click or two. most scopes are 4 clicks to an inch at 100 yards, 8 clicks at 50 yards, etc.

    • Robert Cecil

      After you get your new gun if you have any unprimed cases place on in chamber. That will get you close then follow my instructions below for your scope. one other note many years ago I had a .264 Win Mag stolen. I couldn’t find one locally si I went a dealer, bought a Whby Vanguard and had it re barreled to the .264. Didn’t have time to zero as I was going hunting the next day. I bore sighted on a street light about two blocks away that night. The next morning I shot an eleven point at 100 yards. When I shot all that I could see was one eye, antlers and the white patch on his throat. I held just off the white patch and that’s exactly where the bullet struck. NO TRACKING NECESSARY!

  2. J. Carroll

    I’ve used the one shot method of sighting in a scoped rifle with some success….. The rifle is held as secure as possible with the scope crosshairs centered on the target bulls eye ….squeeze off a round and then secure the rifle in a vise or rifle rest device with the crosshairs centered again on the bulls eye….. very carefully adjust the scope cross hairs so that they are centered on the point of bullet impact… can then adjust for elevation.

    • Robert Cecil

      One thing you can do is insert an unprimed case in chamber which increases the sight picture similar to using a peep sight with a hooded front sight.

  3. Joe S

    Sighting in a new handgun can be tricky, I like to start at 20 yards and move farther away at 10 yard increments.

  4. Edward

    I have owned high-end rifles/scopes and hunted for 3 decades and I think sighting a rifle to fire 2-3 inches high at 100 yards is too high. You will shoot over targets that are near and that happens on many hunts where a dear or elk come out of the brush and they are only 60 yards away. If your gun is sighted 1 inch high at 200 yards, your chances of hitting your target in the correct spot are better. Removing the bolt on a bolt -action rifle and sighting it thru the bore works great! Better than most laser bore sights, I think!

  5. John H. Norman, Jr.

    Please order me ammunition 6mm flobert ball breech caps or an address where to buy this ammo.
    John H. Norman, Jr.
    470 Parkway Road
    Tullahoma, Tennessee 37388 USA
    I would appreciate this very much for your time and effort.
    Order 100 each