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.
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.
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.