The primary requirements of an accurate shooting rifle are a good barrel, good trigger, good shooter, and a good zeroing application from the start. A correct zero is everything in shooting regardless of the weapon. Can aline the sights on target and you are not going to hit what you are shooting at to be sure.
Issue number one when getting into the subject of zeroing a firearm starts at the gun dealer’s counter itself. Many shooters have little or no understanding as to what the correct zero all about, and will assume that the guy behind the gun counter knows what he or she is doing at the onset of getting a scope mounted at the store.
I have had examples of store mounted glass sight that has come to my range that was so far off target they could not hit a 4×4 foot sheet of target paper at 25 yards.
Now, that means nothing was done to zero that sight save for mounting it on the rifle and handing it to the customer. At that, I would also question the mounting itself even before getting into the zeroing of the sight and firearm. While all stores are not in this category far too many of them are, and that comes down to be sure you learn yourself how to take on the simple task of developing a correct zero with that new rifle, handgun, or shotgun.
The following review will not only train you to produce a correct short-range zero, but also how you can use the knowledge of a zero system to greatly extend the range of your weapon by way of advancing the zero to much greater distances.
We will explore the use of “Second Zero” being a special add-on system ahead of the scope that gives the shooter the advantage of both a 100-yard base zero and a much more extended zero further down range. With the development in the last decade of ultra long range shooting the world of a rifle and zeroing has greatly changed.
The Basic Zero
Right off the first area of coverage here is developing the basic zero. This is the easy part to the subject and it requires a correctly mounted scope, a bench rest that is solid, and in most cases sand bags or shooting bags that will allow the shooter to maintain a very steady sight picture.
Ammunition should be of the same lot number and factory box. If handloaded again keep the selection part of a single run of cartridges. Do not switch grain weights around, brands, or hand loads versus factory ammo during the zeroing process.
Set up a nice large piece of clean white paper at 25 yards. Even if the scope has not been bored sight zeroed at a sporting goods store the use of a 4X4 ft sheet should catch the first round down range right off. At 25 yards you most likely going to hit the target someplace, and with bullet contact, you now have a map to the correct zero.
Now, after the shot measure the inch distance to the target center. Taking off turret caps, or just adjusting them of open target style, start with the adjustment of the horizontal impact change by way of turing the turret knob left or right. Bullet is hitting right, move clicks marked left on the turret knobs. At 25 yards you’re going to have to move about a full rotation for a bullet even as close as four inches off center. Remember most scopes are using ¼ MOA clicks, that means four clicks per one inch of impact change at 100 yards. You are cutting the distance and increasing the number of clicks, as now a single click will not move the bullet much at all, and the count comes out to four clicks per ¼ in at this close range.
When the adjustments have been made for the first horizontal movement reshoot for impact and check that change in terms of bullet impact once again. Not on the bullseye yet? Make another movement until the correct horizontal right to left has been achieved.
Now, it is time to take on elevation adjustments. Just like the previous method measure the elevation point of the bullet and crank down or up to get that bullet on the target center.
At 25 yards you can cut time and ammo by allowing for the bullet impact to strike about an inch under the target center. That is because at close range the bullet is still rising fast and in effect you now shoot to high with that dead on zero, but at that range you are at least getting bullets on paper. ( I would hope ?)
With the 25 yard zero completed make the move to 100 yards down range. Same target new distance. Here is the working zero for most rifles and shooting situations. Industry ballistics are set up for 100 or 200 yard zero, but most zero work is done at the 100 yard mark.
If the bullet is off the mark a bit now is the time to make detailed adjustments. Remember now at 100 yards ¼ inch on a single click on the turret knobs. Checking right and left, high or low, make the required adjustments and method number one has been accomplished in terms of gaining a correct zero.
If you are not able to maintain good positive impact control, and by that I mean bullets will not group at all or you are getting a lot of flyers to the sides and up or down, make this check of your equipment.
First of all, don’t blame the ammo. The odds of that being the issue are about 1 in 1000. First, check your scope mounts at both the rings and bases, and be sure they have not become loosened due to recoil, etc. Secondly, does the scope seem workable, crosshairs in line, or have they moved at the sub-tension viewing point? Scopes can die a fast death. Budget glass can have an issue right out of the box. In scopes what you pay is often what you get in terms of quality and service life.
If you are turret setting knobs will not move far enough to get the correct windage or elevation the problem can be solved by using shims. Some scopes just are set up a bit different and I have several that require shims or they must be zeroed at 200 yards right from the get go. I just can’t get them any lower in terms of depressed elevation adjustments. I have seen this with some very high priced glass as well as budget scopes and when this happens I shim my rear ring. A cut up pop can that is aluminum works well here. Simple and effective as well. When you shim remember this, move the scope cross hairs opposite the direction you want the bullet to go. Again a simple rule that can save you piles of grief.
Method Number Two
These is another way to zero your rifle but in this case it will require a very solid and steady rest. In this method, you will shoot around for bullet impact printing and take great care NOT to move the rifle at all. With the rifle still in a fixed position look through the scope and turn the turret settings in the opposite direction that you want to bullet impact point to move. That point should be directly on top of the first round you fired.
Here you are moving the crosshair to the bullet impact point and thereby creating a perfect zero at the same time. You can actually see the crosshair move by this method as you are sighting through the scope toward the bullet hole by first moving the elevation knobs and secondly the windage knob for correct alignment. Remember again however that you can’t move the rifle at all from the time of that first shot until the dead on zero is completed. Often this system is so good that it is spot on even at 100 or 200 yards down range. Some call it the two shoot zero because you shoot, print, and move the cross hairs over that existing bullet hold. Now one single round into the first bullets hole for effect and your home free.
With practice you should be able to zero any rifle in a matter of a few shots, say two or three. It is just that way with a little training and observation.
Can there be issues?
Yes, as I have a friend that allowed his son to zero his 338 Lapua because he was having trouble. The boy came off the range with no ammo 40 rounds that cost $7.00 per round, and the rifle was still a total mess regarding bullet imprinting at 100 yards. After finding about $300 and change for additional ammunition I will take it out for him this time and get the job done.
As another point here, is to be advised that no two people shoot a group exactly alike. I mean a dead on zero I produce will be different when my buddy shoots the rifle. Why is this you ask? Because shooters have traits that differ a bit from one and other. A shooter may can’t a rifle different from me. The shooter will display different trigger control or lack of it, and the shooter will use a different cheek weld against the rifle stock.
When the shooter does this same set of characteristics every time they shoot, it becomes the imprint of their individual shooting method, and subsequently the group print will be like a finger print and all theirs. If you have someone else zero your rifle by all means take it out and shoot it yourself before pointing it at a warm target. Some correction can and in most cases will be required.
Extended Range Zero
The rifle zero is not always just at shorter range limits. Sure, the average deer hunter will not require a massively long range zero, but the long range target shooter, or even military police sniper may want to check the system completely.
At the onset of this review, I briefly talked about “Second Zero”. This is a system by which the shooter zeros his rifle for the standard 100 yard dead on shot, but using the “ Second Zero” system which is a para scope mounted in front of the scope lens becomes a second lens that is adjust at the factory to allow the shooter to use a re-zero at 800 through 1000 yards, by a flick of the switch to one side of the unit.
Let’s say I am hunting mountain marmots, being a large rodent in the high country of my mountain home. I get an observed target at 840 yards down range and my scope is set to the standard 100 yards zero. By using my “Second Zero” system I can quickly obtain my new dead on zero in the 800-yard bracket that is built into the lens of the system and now with a very slight high hold nail my furry friend with a single well place shot.
Currently, I do not know if “Second Zero” is currently in production, but I have found it advertised through Optics Planet from time to time. NightForce optics has copied the system with a couple of units that will do the deed but at a steep price tag. Even larger and more complicated systems are using this basic concept are available on the long range shooting market sites, and some shooters working at one, two, and now three miles regarding steel target shooting have gone to using them of late. With a zero at say 1400 yards you can run the ballistics through system like Hornady Ammunitions ballistic program that is free on your computer. Set the dead zero from 100 through 1500 yards or more, and hold with the corrected hold over at one mile with ease.
Remember, the further you zero your rifle the less hold over or bullet drop will be a computed which is a necessity when you take the ultra long range shots. With a 100 yard zero the bullet drop at a one mile target can be the height of a three-story building. Using “ Second Zero” and that elevation bullet drop is reduced to about 50 inches at best. ( rough estimate not exact for writing purposes. )
Even just moving up the zero points to 200 yards can give the big game hunter an edge in long range with less bullet drop involved in the process. Manufactures of modern better grade ammunition today will often show both zero points on the box and give drop figures to about 500 yard with each one, and two hundred yard zero point being used.
Today hunters and target shooters are shooting further as the equipment is getting better by the year. New cartridges, specialized rifles, and good scope glass are making long range shooting a game-changer regarding down range success. Lacking a correct zero you may as well be throwing a rock or using a sling shot. The zero is one of the most important things you can do to become an accurate shooter today.
L.P Brezny has been writing and reviewing product as well as how to projects for the past 50 years. He has authored four books on shooting with three on long range, and one covering shotgunning. With 26 years on a metro police department as a street officer and the rank of SGT / training L.P. has covered all the bases regarding weapons and street survival.
During the early years in non-toxic shotshell ammunition development L.P. designed the first successful measurement system for recording the speed of shot shell payloads down range. He was responsible for getting actual shotshell velocities printed on factory load boxes. Over the years he has developed and markets MetroGun System TM, and sells his designed ammunition for subsonic sound suppressed shotgun shooting.
Current L.P. resides in the South Dakota Black Hills and spends a good deal of time working through many types of ammunition both in the field on warm targets. With ultra long range being a current specialty L.P. shots for test and accuracy at ranges as great as one or more miles on the wide open Dakota grasslands.