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The Perfect Zero




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Heading to the range before deer season is a tradition for many hunters. In addition to being great practice for the season, it's important to check your rifle's zero in case that big buck you've been chasing strolls by your stand. The scope could have been bumped during travel or while hoisting the rifle into the tree stand. It's doubly important to sight your rifle properly after mounting a new scope.

While sighting in a rifle properly can be a long, slow task, the end result of knowing your rifle is ready to make that crucial shot is well worth the effort.

Home on the Range
Always sight a rifle from a shooting rest or bench. Permanent benches that are affixed to the ground or a concrete pad are the most stable.

Ensuring a proper backstop is in line with the target, place a 1-inch-grid-based target at 25 yards from your muzzle. Then, shoot a fouling round into the backstop (don't even try to hit the target). This fouling shot leaves a little powder and copper fouling, which replicates a hunting situation. A clean barrel POI (point of impact) will nearly always be different from a fouled barrel POI. Since few hunters actually clean their rifles after each shot in the woods, a lightly fouled barrel is best for sighting in.

New Scopes
Scopes should always be mounted and bore sighted by a trained individual to put the shots on paper; however, don't stop there. Bore-sighted rifles must be fine adjusted to ensure ethical and humane shot placement.

Let the barrel cool for a few minutes before using the steady rest, along with breath control and trigger squeeze, to fire a single shot at the center of the 25-yard target. Again, let the barrel cool before firing a second shot at the exact spot you aimed last shot. A group of two or three is sufficient to see the trend of your POI. If your group is consistently hitting to the left and high of the zero mark, for instance, adjust your scope to compensate for that. Most deer rounds should register an inch or inch and a half low at 25 yards for a 100 yard zero.




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Dial it In
While you should read your scope's manual to be sure, most scopes come with a minute of angle adjustment for both windage and elevation. Therefore, one click of adjustment on your scope equals 1/4 inch at 100 yards. However, at 25 yards, you have to multiply your adjustments by four (16 clicks per inch). This means if you're shooting one inch to the left, you would adjust your scope right only four clicks at 100 yards but 16 clicks at 25.

Cool it Down
Point of impact can change dramatically as a barrel heats up from firing. Since most hunting shots are made from a cold barrel, always let your rifle rest for at least five minutes between shots to let the barrel cool down.

Needed Range Gear

  • Sandbags or rifle rest
  • Cleaning kit
  • Ammunition in the proper caliber
  • Eye and Ear protection
  • Binoculars or spotting scope

Cleanup
It's best to clean your barrel thoroughly between groups with both nitro solvent and a copper or lead solvent before running several dry patches through the barrel. Then, shoot one fouling round into the backstop, let the rifle cool and resume your adjustment process.

Once dialed in, clean the barrel thoroughly and fire one more fouling round before casing the rifle and heading home. Many hunters don't clean the rifle again until after the season unless it's exposed to rain or snow. If this happens, a thorough cleaning is crucial to prevent rust and damage to your rifle. If you remove the receiver from the stock, it's wise to double-check your zero before hunting. One shot is all it takes to verify zero, and this also will be a good fouling shot. — Matt Lindler

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