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Rifle-Sighting Made Simple

A few easy steps will help ensure accuracy when it counts most.

By Larry Bozka

At the moment of truth, with a trophy white-tailed buck square in the sights, a successful hunter's entire season culminates with a split second of accuracy. Every rifle-and-scope combination, even the trusty 30.06 that was "dead-on" last year, should be carefully sighted-in before the season opens.

Fresh out of the box, a scoped rifle must first be "bore-sighted" at close range. With the stock squarely sandbagged, or preferably, secured inside the rubberized yokes of an adjustable bench rest or tripod, the shooter must either "eyeball" the bull's-eye through the barrel or use a "bore collimator" to squarely align the bore with the target.

Shooting range personnel will usually bore-sight rifles for a small fee. Some gun shops can do it before the rifle leaves the store. For the occasional shooter, either option is advisable. An inexperienced and unequipped shooter can waste a lot of expensive ammunition trying to simply get bullets "on the paper."

For most, it's worth it to pay a pro.

After bore-sighting, getting the rifle "zeroed" entails simple but essential procedures.

Select the load and bullet weight that match your caliber and hunting needs. Then, stick with the same brand and specifications. As insurance, some shooters buy multiple boxes of the same ammunition lot number (listed on the box).

Start at close range, no more than 50 yards. Use a calibrated target specifically designed for sighting-in a rifle. Check the scope screws for tightness. With a variable-power scope, use the same magnification you use when hunting.

Then, shoot a three-shot "group."

The center of the group will determine how much adjustment must be made to windage (left and right) and elevation (up and down). Sighting-in is a slow and meticulous process. For both safety and accuracy, load only one shot at a time. Leave the chamber open for a minute before making another shot. The cooler the barrel, the better the accuracy.

Accomplished rifle shooters are like Zen masters. Above all, they relax. Breath control is critical. Exhale, take half a breath, then hold it. Never "pull" the trigger. Instead, make a slow but steady squeeze.

Use a spotting scope to view the group, and determine the pattern center. Follow the scope manufacturer's directions for adjustment of the reticle (crosshairs) at your chosen distance, and do not over-adjust.

After adjustments, lightly tap the windage and elevation screws with a soft object, like your wallet. It's rare, but scope adjustments can sometimes "stick." A light tap will correct it.

Each rifle has its own performance characteristics. In two different same-caliber rifles, even identical models, one ammunition brand, load and bullet may outperform another. With time and experimentation, every shooter discovers the ultimate ammo for his or her firearm.

Sighting-in and shooting can and should be enjoyable. Like hunting, it's not a sport for the impatient. But for the rifle shooter who invests the time and effort, the rewards are significant.

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