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Sighting in Your Rifle

So you’ve acquired a new hunting rifle. After saving your hard-earned cash and landing permission from your other half, the gun rests in your hot little hands. It looks great, feels great… it probably smells great… but more importantly does it shoot great? Now its time to hit the range and get this baby sighted in.

Truth is the same holds true for rifles we’ve had for many years. Chances are they don’t require the full-meal-deal, but sighting in, confirming that our equipment is in good working order, or realigning sights is something we should do on a regular basis.

Unfortunately many of us try to kill two birds with one stone. We visit the range infrequently and attempt to sight in and practice shooting all at the same time. It’s important to remember, sighting is very different from regular shooting practice. The process of sighting in involves aligning the scope (or other sights) with the firearm when using a specific bullet and load. Shooting practice involves discharging and often experimenting with different positions to allow our bodies to grow accustomed to the form and function of shooting.

k_wilson_sighting_in2Believe it or not, many of us don’t sight in properly. It never ceases to amaze me how many hunters pick up their guns once or twice a year, assume it’s shooting straight and hit the woods without a second thought. As a professional outfitter I see it all the time. In fact, I’ve seen guests take it personally when, after arrival in camp, I ask them to take a few practice shots – just to make sure their gun is properly sighted in. As though I’m insinuating that they haven’t prepared for their hunt, once in a while I get a hunter who thinks I’m a control freak. Then the truth comes out. After a few shots it becomes obvious; better than half are inevitably in need of scope adjustments. Every one swears that they were shooting one-inch groups at home, but now their rifle requires major scope adjustments. In their defense, a multitude of things can happen to guns in transit. Blunt trauma to cases or directly to the scope itself can throw it way out of whack; hence the need to sight it.

To be honest many of us are guilty of not maintaining our rifle and scope. If you shoot regularly that’s one thing; you’re constantly checking it and tweaking the scope when necessary. In reality, most of us don’t. By in large, recreational hunters pick up their guns a few times each year. Whether you’re tuning a brand new rifle or confirming the accuracy of an old one, here are a few tips for sighting in:

1) Bore sight your rifle before shooting
k_wilson_sighting_in3This first step applies mostly to rifles and scopes that have a new marriage. The first time a scope is mounted to a rifle the gunsmith will usually use a bore sighting tool. This tool is used to approximately align the crosshairs of the scope with the rifle barrel. Unfortunately some folks erroneously rely on bore sighting alone to zero their gun. Remember bore sighting can be precise but most often it only approximates accuracy. If, when you visit the range, you discover that you’re not even hitting the paper at all, consider rough bore sighting your gun. Practical with bolt-action rifles, by removing the bolt, you can stand behind the gun, look through the barrel and center the target. Then without adjusting the gun, look through the scope and make the necessary adjustments to bring the crosshairs in alignment with the target. This should get you hitting the paper in no time, then you can move on to shooting.

2) Shoot from a stable platform and rest
To reliably confirm the accuracy of your rifle and scope, you must shoot from a rest. I’m not sure I should say this or not, but I will. To illustrate the naivety of some, I’ve actually witnessed guys trying to sight in their rifles at the range by shooting freehand from a standing position. Needless to say these are the guys that get frustrated because they’re not hitting anything.

Remember, when we’re sighting in our rifles we’re not testing our shooting skill, but rather the accuracy of the gun, scope and bullet being used. Our goal should be to eliminate or at least minimize human error and allow the equipment to do its thing. With this in mind, a stable shooting bench or table is always recommended. Most shooting ranges are furnished with suitable tables or benches and adjustable stools. If you’re using a portable bench, make sure it is resting level on solid ground. Likewise, it’s imperative to use a shooting rest. In my opinion a vice can be that much better. I really like MTM Case-Gard products (www.mtmcase-gard.com). They make a variety of shooting supplies that are both affordable and practical. Few of us exhibit perfect shooting form. By understanding the biomechanics involved with aiming, breathing, squeezing the trigger and following through we can better acknowledge how to eliminate torsion while shooting from a rest. By cradling the rifle fore-end on a rest or in a vice, we can align our sights with the downrange target and maintain that alignment for a long period of time. Then, by gently squeezing the trigger to discharge, we minimize our human influence thereby allowing the firearm to perform more or less on its own.

3) Begin at close range, then move out to 100 yards and further
I’ve heard much discussion about the standard 100 yard shot and arguably for most bore-sighted rifles, sighting in at that distance is fine. But talk to the pros and most will agree that you should begin at 25 yards if you want to do it right. Making adjustments at close range is easier than at longer distances. At 25 yards you’ll find it easier to acquire your target; it simply appears larger and is easier to center the crosshairs at this short distance. Inaccuracies are simpler to rectify and adjustments can be made quickly at that distance. Remember, inaccuracies are exaggerated that much more at greater downrange distances.

k_wilson_sighting_in1
As you make your fine adjustments to your scope, be aware of the increments and don’t overdo it. For example, with my Leupold VXIII, one click = 1/4 inch adjustment. So, if my shots were hitting consistently two inches to the left of center, I would likely need to dial the adjustment eight clicks in that direction, then shoot another round of bullets. Some folks disagree, but in my opinion it is better to make subtle adjustments, then shoot to confirm that you are working toward the zero mark. As long as there are no fliers, a series of three shots is typically representative of where the gun is shooting. Although with today’s scopes I don’t believe it is as crucial, I still like to give it a firm tap to seat the crosshairs after each adjustment.

When your rifle and scope are in sync at 25 yards, move to 100 yards. Most big game rifle and bullet combinations that are sighted in a couple inches high at 100 yards will shoot a hair low at 25 yards – with most deer hunters this is considered ideal (e.g., I like my 300 Win Mag to be 2″ high at 100 yards). Once your rifle is sighted in, try shooting at 200, 300 and 400 yards to better learn how your rifle, scope and ammunition perform at greater distances.

4) Use the same ammunition that you plan to hunt with
Not all ammunition performs the same. Be sure to sight in your rifle with the load that you plan to hunt with. Ballistics of variable bullet weights and designs (not to mention manufacturers) will perform differently. For instance, Winchester Ammunition’s 150 grain Supreme Elite XP3 (www.winchester.com) will inevitably perform differently than Remington’s 180 grain Core-Lokt, PSP (www.remington.com) shot out of my 300 Winchester Magnum.

If you reload your own ammunition, then you’re likely acquainted with factors affecting bullet performance. Working the right load may take some trial and error, but the same applies – always sight in with the bullet and load you intend to hunt with.

5) Record and reference each shot
Sighting in can be as labor-intensive as you make it. As a rule, several items are required and several more make the job that much easier. As an absolute necessity, we require a table or bench, a shooting rest, our rifle, ammunition and a target. Beyond these basics, the job is much easier with a spotting scope, tripod, and additional targets along with a marker.

As you begin shooting, be sure to analyze and record each shot. I like to use a Bushnell Elite 15-45x 60 mm spotting scope (www.bushnell.com) mounted on a solid tripod. At 45 power magnification, I can see every detail on the downrange target. My scope allows me to closely assess where I hit in relation to where I aimed. Further, many shooters like to keep a matching target on the bench while they are shooting. By checking their shot, then marking it on the target beside them, they can better track their progressions to confirm any scope adjustments and accuracy. This eliminates much of the guessing about which shot was which.

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Tips On How to Shoot Fast

by David E. Petzal

How_to_Shoot_Fast

The sign of a first-rate intelligence, said F. Scott Fitzgerald, is the ability to hold two conflicting ideas in the mind and still function. So it is with fast rifle work. Riflery is a sport of deliberation and precision, but the demands of the real world very often make deliberation and precision impossible. Gunsite Academy sums it up to a T: “A good fast shot is better than a slow perfect shot because you won’t get time for the perfect shot.”

What follows is about shooting quickly after you have positively identified your target. It’s not about blazing away at sounds or snap-shooting at what you think is an animal.

Develop Your Mental Clock
The first step in shooting fast has nothing to do with shooting. It involves learning how much time you have to shoot, and whether you have to shoot fast at all. Much of this can be acquired by watching critters and reading their body language. A whitetail aware of evil nearby does not act like a whitetail whose greatest worry is where he’ll find a date that evening. An animal that’s 400 yards away does not act at all like the animal right under your tree stand.

On occasion, I’ve given the hunters with me heart failure because I waited and waited for a critter to move just a little bit to give me the exact shot I wanted. And I always got it because I knew that animals never stand still, and I knew that whatever I was about to drop the hammer on had no idea anything was amiss.

Eschew Perfection
Unlike shot gunners, who send out hundreds of pellets with every pull of the trigger and are happy if one or two of them get the job done, riflemen have it dinned into them that they have to be precise. It’s not enough to get a bullet in the 10-ring; you want to get it in the X-ring. If you’re shooting groups, you want to shave off every tenth of an inch you possibly can. And the way you do this is by being deliberate and getting everything perfect before you pop a cap.

547e9416-31d5-4b8e-9e13-35f18ec88b17

This is exactly the opposite of how a good game shot operates. Animals have not evolved with 10-rings or X-rings. What they have are hearts and lungs, and a hit anywhere in either counts. Modern hunting bullets are so destructive that catching a distant corner of a lung will result in as certain a kill as a shot right through the middle of said organ.

Don’t Forget to Aim

On the other hand, you still have to aim. Many misses occur because hunters panic, get the crosshairs somewhere in what they think is the general vicinity of the beast, and yank the trigger. (The closer the critter, the more this seems to happen.) A little while back I listened to a Wyoming outfitter recounting in disbelief how a client, resting his rifle on shooting sticks, had managed to shoot an elk in the buttocks at 60 yards. “How do you hit an 800-pound animal in the ass at 60 yards?” he asked me, still indignant. (He tracked the poor creature for two days and eventually lost it.)

is
The answer is simple. When the moment comes, most hunters can only think: “OMG, this is the only chance I’m going to get!” Everything else, such as the fundamentals of riflery, goes right out of their heads.

Furthermore, too many hunters don’t practice. For them, the mechanics of mounting the gun, acquiring the sight picture, and pulling the trigger are about as familiar as those of piloting a space capsule.

What to Do?

I can’t tell you how to acquire cold blood. Jerry Fisher, the great custom gun maker, once told me that after you take about 300 head of big game you calm down. That sounds about right.

Short of that, the way to learn to shoot fast is roughly this: First, know your animal. There is no shortage of game-critter anatomical charts that you can study. Know where the lungs are. That’s always the percentage shot.

Second, when it comes time to shoot for real, envision an aiming point on the beast and hold for that. And the nanosecond the cross hairs are even close to it—not precisely on it—shoot. Fast, good shots, remember?

To practice shooting fast, you need a .22 rifle and a whole bunch of NRA 50-Yard Slow Fire Pistol targets. These have an 8-inch bull that’s just about the size of an animal’s boiler room. Set your scope at its lowest power and, at 20 yards, fire a five-shot string, lowering the gun from your shoulder between shots. What you’re trying to do is get that round off the instant the cross hairs are anywhere in the bull’s-eye. If the bullet hits in the bull, it counts. If it doesn’t, you missed.

sighting-rifle-deer-hunting

It takes me about 1.7 seconds to mount the rifle, aim, and get the shot off. Since my skill with a gun is legendary, bordering on mythical, this is a good time for you to try to match. When you can get all five rounds in the black, every time, back up 5 yards. Eventually you will be shooting from 100 yards, and if you can put 20 out of 20 shots into the bull at that distance, shooting fast, I will buy you a cigar. Or you can buy me one for telling you this stuff.

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Sighting in Your Rifle

So you’ve acquired a new hunting rifle. After saving your hard-earned cash and landing permission from your other half, the gun rests in your hot little hands. It looks great, feels great… it probably smells great… but more importantly does it shoot great? Now its time to hit the range and get this baby sighted in.

Truth is the same holds true for rifles we’ve had for many years. Chances are they don’t require the full-meal-deal, but sighting in, confirming that our equipment is in good working order, or realigning sights is something we should do on a regular basis.

Unfortunately many of us try to kill two birds with one stone. We visit the range infrequently and attempt to sight in and practice shooting all at the same time. It’s important to remember, sighting is very different from regular shooting practice. The process of sighting in involves aligning the scope (or other sights) with the firearm when using a specific bullet and load. Shooting practice involves discharging and often experimenting with different positions to allow our bodies to grow accustomed to the form and function of shooting.

k_wilson_sighting_in2Believe it or not, many of us don’t sight in properly. It never ceases to amaze me how many hunters pick up their guns once or twice a year, assume it’s shooting straight and hit the woods without a second thought. As a professional outfitter I see it all the time. In fact, I’ve seen guests take it personally when, after arrival in camp, I ask them to take a few practice shots – just to make sure their gun is properly sighted in. As though I’m insinuating that they haven’t prepared for their hunt, once in a while I get a hunter who thinks I’m a control freak. Then the truth comes out. After a few shots it becomes obvious; better than half are inevitably in need of scope adjustments. Every one swears that they were shooting one-inch groups at home, but now their rifle requires major scope adjustments. In their defense, a multitude of things can happen to guns in transit. Blunt trauma to cases or directly to the scope itself can throw it way out of whack; hence the need to sight it.

To be honest many of us are guilty of not maintaining our rifle and scope. If you shoot regularly that’s one thing; you’re constantly checking it and tweaking the scope when necessary. In reality, most of us don’t. By in large, recreational hunters pick up their guns a few times each year. Whether you’re tuning a brand new rifle or confirming the accuracy of an old one, here are a few tips for sighting in:

1) Bore sight your rifle before shooting
k_wilson_sighting_in3This first step applies mostly to rifles and scopes that have a new marriage. The first time a scope is mounted to a rifle the gunsmith will usually use a bore sighting tool. This tool is used to approximately align the crosshairs of the scope with the rifle barrel. Unfortunately some folks erroneously rely on bore sighting alone to zero their gun. Remember bore sighting can be precise but most often it only approximates accuracy. If, when you visit the range, you discover that you’re not even hitting the paper at all, consider rough bore sighting your gun. Practical with bolt-action rifles, by removing the bolt, you can stand behind the gun, look through the barrel and center the target. Then without adjusting the gun, look through the scope and make the necessary adjustments to bring the crosshairs in alignment with the target. This should get you hitting the paper in no time, then you can move on to shooting.

2) Shoot from a stable platform and rest
To reliably confirm the accuracy of your rifle and scope, you must shoot from a rest. I’m not sure I should say this or not, but I will. To illustrate the naivety of some, I’ve actually witnessed guys trying to sight in their rifles at the range by shooting freehand from a standing position. Needless to say these are the guys that get frustrated because they’re not hitting anything.

Remember, when we’re sighting in our rifles we’re not testing our shooting skill, but rather the accuracy of the gun, scope and bullet being used. Our goal should be to eliminate or at least minimize human error and allow the equipment to do its thing. With this in mind, a stable shooting bench or table is always recommended. Most shooting ranges are furnished with suitable tables or benches and adjustable stools. If you’re using a portable bench, make sure it is resting level on solid ground. Likewise, it’s imperative to use a shooting rest. In my opinion a vice can be that much better. I really like MTM Case-Gard products (www.mtmcase-gard.com). They make a variety of shooting supplies that are both affordable and practical. Few of us exhibit perfect shooting form. By understanding the biomechanics involved with aiming, breathing, squeezing the trigger and following through we can better acknowledge how to eliminate torsion while shooting from a rest. By cradling the rifle fore-end on a rest or in a vice, we can align our sights with the downrange target and maintain that alignment for a long period of time. Then, by gently squeezing the trigger to discharge, we minimize our human influence thereby allowing the firearm to perform more or less on its own.

3) Begin at close range, then move out to 100 yards and further
I’ve heard much discussion about the standard 100 yard shot and arguably for most bore-sighted rifles, sighting in at that distance is fine. But talk to the pros and most will agree that you should begin at 25 yards if you want to do it right. Making adjustments at close range is easier than at longer distances. At 25 yards you’ll find it easier to acquire your target; it simply appears larger and is easier to center the crosshairs at this short distance. Inaccuracies are simpler to rectify and adjustments can be made quickly at that distance. Remember, inaccuracies are exaggerated that much more at greater downrange distances.

k_wilson_sighting_in1
As you make your fine adjustments to your scope, be aware of the increments and don’t overdo it. For example, with my Leupold VXIII, one click = 1/4 inch adjustment. So, if my shots were hitting consistently two inches to the left of center, I would likely need to dial the adjustment eight clicks in that direction, then shoot another round of bullets. Some folks disagree, but in my opinion it is better to make subtle adjustments, then shoot to confirm that you are working toward the zero mark. As long as there are no fliers, a series of three shots is typically representative of where the gun is shooting. Although with today’s scopes I don’t believe it is as crucial, I still like to give it a firm tap to seat the crosshairs after each adjustment.

When your rifle and scope are in sync at 25 yards, move to 100 yards. Most big game rifle and bullet combinations that are sighted in a couple inches high at 100 yards will shoot a hair low at 25 yards – with most deer hunters this is considered ideal (e.g., I like my 300 Win Mag to be 2″ high at 100 yards). Once your rifle is sighted in, try shooting at 200, 300 and 400 yards to better learn how your rifle, scope and ammunition perform at greater distances.

4) Use the same ammunition that you plan to hunt with
Not all ammunition performs the same. Be sure to sight in your rifle with the load that you plan to hunt with. Ballistics of variable bullet weights and designs (not to mention manufacturers) will perform differently. For instance, Winchester Ammunition’s 150 grain Supreme Elite XP3 (www.winchester.com) will inevitably perform differently than Remington’s 180 grain Core-Lokt, PSP (www.remington.com) shot out of my 300 Winchester Magnum.

If you reload your own ammunition, then you’re likely acquainted with factors affecting bullet performance. Working the right load may take some trial and error, but the same applies – always sight in with the bullet and load you intend to hunt with.

5) Record and reference each shot
Sighting in can be as labor-intensive as you make it. As a rule, several items are required and several more make the job that much easier. As an absolute necessity, we require a table or bench, a shooting rest, our rifle, ammunition and a target. Beyond these basics, the job is much easier with a spotting scope, tripod, and additional targets along with a marker.

As you begin shooting, be sure to analyze and record each shot. I like to use a Bushnell Elite 15-45x 60 mm spotting scope (www.bushnell.com) mounted on a solid tripod. At 45 power magnification, I can see every detail on the downrange target. My scope allows me to closely assess where I hit in relation to where I aimed. Further, many shooters like to keep a matching target on the bench while they are shooting. By checking their shot, then marking it on the target beside them, they can better track their progressions to confirm any scope adjustments and accuracy. This eliminates much of the guessing about which shot was which.

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How To Call Your Shots

Calling a shot simply means the marksman can tell where his bullet hit. This can be done by observing the bullet’s flight and impact or by knowing where the sights were the instant the firearm was triggered. There are two separate, but complementary, ways to call a shot.

shot

When shooting from non-prone positions, witnessing the impact of the bullet is difficult. The trick is to focus intently on the position of the sights and take a mental snapshot of where they were in relation to the target when the bullet was fired.

The best way to develop this skill is through dry-fire practice, coupled with live-fire practice shots at the range. When dry-firing, use a small target that is a challenge to keep the crosshairs on. Don’t fight the wobble of the sight, just smoothly break the shot as it covers the target. Remember where the crosshairs were when the trigger clicked. At the range, do this with every shot.

To actually see your bullet’s impact, you must pair this level of focus with excellent form. If you are square behind the rifle and not putting any pressure on the stock that will cause it to jump to the side under recoil, you’ll be able to watch the bullet and see where it hits.

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Tips On How to Shoot Fast

by David E. Petzal

How_to_Shoot_Fast

The sign of a first-rate intelligence, said F. Scott Fitzgerald, is the ability to hold two conflicting ideas in the mind and still function. So it is with fast rifle work. Riflery is a sport of deliberation and precision, but the demands of the real world very often make deliberation and precision impossible. Gunsite Academy sums it up to a T: “A good fast shot is better than a slow perfect shot because you won’t get time for the perfect shot.”

What follows is about shooting quickly after you have positively identified your target. It’s not about blazing away at sounds or snap-shooting at what you think is an animal.

Develop Your Mental Clock
The first step in shooting fast has nothing to do with shooting. It involves learning how much time you have to shoot, and whether you have to shoot fast at all. Much of this can be acquired by watching critters and reading their body language. A whitetail aware of evil nearby does not act like a whitetail whose greatest worry is where he’ll find a date that evening. An animal that’s 400 yards away does not act at all like the animal right under your tree stand.

On occasion, I’ve given the hunters with me heart failure because I waited and waited for a critter to move just a little bit to give me the exact shot I wanted. And I always got it because I knew that animals never stand still, and I knew that whatever I was about to drop the hammer on had no idea anything was amiss.

Eschew Perfection
Unlike shot gunners, who send out hundreds of pellets with every pull of the trigger and are happy if one or two of them get the job done, riflemen have it dinned into them that they have to be precise. It’s not enough to get a bullet in the 10-ring; you want to get it in the X-ring. If you’re shooting groups, you want to shave off every tenth of an inch you possibly can. And the way you do this is by being deliberate and getting everything perfect before you pop a cap.

547e9416-31d5-4b8e-9e13-35f18ec88b17

This is exactly the opposite of how a good game shot operates. Animals have not evolved with 10-rings or X-rings. What they have are hearts and lungs, and a hit anywhere in either counts. Modern hunting bullets are so destructive that catching a distant corner of a lung will result in as certain a kill as a shot right through the middle of said organ.

Don’t Forget to Aim

On the other hand, you still have to aim. Many misses occur because hunters panic, get the crosshairs somewhere in what they think is the general vicinity of the beast, and yank the trigger. (The closer the critter, the more this seems to happen.) A little while back I listened to a Wyoming outfitter recounting in disbelief how a client, resting his rifle on shooting sticks, had managed to shoot an elk in the buttocks at 60 yards. “How do you hit an 800-pound animal in the ass at 60 yards?” he asked me, still indignant. (He tracked the poor creature for two days and eventually lost it.)

is
The answer is simple. When the moment comes, most hunters can only think: “OMG, this is the only chance I’m going to get!” Everything else, such as the fundamentals of riflery, goes right out of their heads.

Furthermore, too many hunters don’t practice. For them, the mechanics of mounting the gun, acquiring the sight picture, and pulling the trigger are about as familiar as those of piloting a space capsule.

What to Do?

I can’t tell you how to acquire cold blood. Jerry Fisher, the great custom gun maker, once told me that after you take about 300 head of big game you calm down. That sounds about right.

Short of that, the way to learn to shoot fast is roughly this: First, know your animal. There is no shortage of game-critter anatomical charts that you can study. Know where the lungs are. That’s always the percentage shot.

Second, when it comes time to shoot for real, envision an aiming point on the beast and hold for that. And the nanosecond the cross hairs are even close to it—not precisely on it—shoot. Fast, good shots, remember?

To practice shooting fast, you need a .22 rifle and a whole bunch of NRA 50-Yard Slow Fire Pistol targets. These have an 8-inch bull that’s just about the size of an animal’s boiler room. Set your scope at its lowest power and, at 20 yards, fire a five-shot string, lowering the gun from your shoulder between shots. What you’re trying to do is get that round off the instant the cross hairs are anywhere in the bull’s-eye. If the bullet hits in the bull, it counts. If it doesn’t, you missed.

sighting-rifle-deer-hunting

It takes me about 1.7 seconds to mount the rifle, aim, and get the shot off. Since my skill with a gun is legendary, bordering on mythical, this is a good time for you to try to match. When you can get all five rounds in the black, every time, back up 5 yards. Eventually you will be shooting from 100 yards, and if you can put 20 out of 20 shots into the bull at that distance, shooting fast, I will buy you a cigar. Or you can buy me one for telling you this stuff.

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Sighting in Your Rifle

So you’ve acquired a new hunting rifle. After saving your hard-earned cash and landing permission from your other half, the gun rests in your hot little hands. It looks great, feels great… it probably smells great… but more importantly does it shoot great? Now its time to hit the range and get this baby sighted in.

Truth is the same holds true for rifles we’ve had for many years. Chances are they don’t require the full-meal-deal, but sighting in, confirming that our equipment is in good working order, or realigning sights is something we should do on a regular basis.

Unfortunately many of us try to kill two birds with one stone. We visit the range infrequently and attempt to sight in and practice shooting all at the same time. It’s important to remember, sighting is very different from regular shooting practice. The process of sighting in involves aligning the scope (or other sights) with the firearm when using a specific bullet and load. Shooting practice involves discharging and often experimenting with different positions to allow our bodies to grow accustomed to the form and function of shooting.

k_wilson_sighting_in2Believe it or not, many of us don’t sight in properly. It never ceases to amaze me how many hunters pick up their guns once or twice a year, assume it’s shooting straight and hit the woods without a second thought. As a professional outfitter I see it all the time. In fact, I’ve seen guests take it personally when, after arrival in camp, I ask them to take a few practice shots – just to make sure their gun is properly sighted in. As though I’m insinuating that they haven’t prepared for their hunt, once in a while I get a hunter who thinks I’m a control freak. Then the truth comes out. After a few shots it becomes obvious; better than half are inevitably in need of scope adjustments. Every one swears that they were shooting one-inch groups at home, but now their rifle requires major scope adjustments. In their defense, a multitude of things can happen to guns in transit. Blunt trauma to cases or directly to the scope itself can throw it way out of whack; hence the need to sight it.

To be honest many of us are guilty of not maintaining our rifle and scope. If you shoot regularly that’s one thing; you’re constantly checking it and tweaking the scope when necessary. In reality, most of us don’t. By in large, recreational hunters pick up their guns a few times each year. Whether you’re tuning a brand new rifle or confirming the accuracy of an old one, here are a few tips for sighting in:

1) Bore sight your rifle before shooting
k_wilson_sighting_in3This first step applies mostly to rifles and scopes that have a new marriage. The first time a scope is mounted to a rifle the gunsmith will usually use a bore sighting tool. This tool is used to approximately align the crosshairs of the scope with the rifle barrel. Unfortunately some folks erroneously rely on bore sighting alone to zero their gun. Remember bore sighting can be precise but most often it only approximates accuracy. If, when you visit the range, you discover that you’re not even hitting the paper at all, consider rough bore sighting your gun. Practical with bolt-action rifles, by removing the bolt, you can stand behind the gun, look through the barrel and center the target. Then without adjusting the gun, look through the scope and make the necessary adjustments to bring the crosshairs in alignment with the target. This should get you hitting the paper in no time, then you can move on to shooting.

2) Shoot from a stable platform and rest
To reliably confirm the accuracy of your rifle and scope, you must shoot from a rest. I’m not sure I should say this or not, but I will. To illustrate the naivety of some, I’ve actually witnessed guys trying to sight in their rifles at the range by shooting freehand from a standing position. Needless to say these are the guys that get frustrated because they’re not hitting anything.

Remember, when we’re sighting in our rifles we’re not testing our shooting skill, but rather the accuracy of the gun, scope and bullet being used. Our goal should be to eliminate or at least minimize human error and allow the equipment to do its thing. With this in mind, a stable shooting bench or table is always recommended. Most shooting ranges are furnished with suitable tables or benches and adjustable stools. If you’re using a portable bench, make sure it is resting level on solid ground. Likewise, it’s imperative to use a shooting rest. In my opinion a vice can be that much better. I really like MTM Case-Gard products (www.mtmcase-gard.com). They make a variety of shooting supplies that are both affordable and practical. Few of us exhibit perfect shooting form. By understanding the biomechanics involved with aiming, breathing, squeezing the trigger and following through we can better acknowledge how to eliminate torsion while shooting from a rest. By cradling the rifle fore-end on a rest or in a vice, we can align our sights with the downrange target and maintain that alignment for a long period of time. Then, by gently squeezing the trigger to discharge, we minimize our human influence thereby allowing the firearm to perform more or less on its own.

3) Begin at close range, then move out to 100 yards and further
I’ve heard much discussion about the standard 100 yard shot and arguably for most bore-sighted rifles, sighting in at that distance is fine. But talk to the pros and most will agree that you should begin at 25 yards if you want to do it right. Making adjustments at close range is easier than at longer distances. At 25 yards you’ll find it easier to acquire your target; it simply appears larger and is easier to center the crosshairs at this short distance. Inaccuracies are simpler to rectify and adjustments can be made quickly at that distance. Remember, inaccuracies are exaggerated that much more at greater downrange distances.

k_wilson_sighting_in1
As you make your fine adjustments to your scope, be aware of the increments and don’t overdo it. For example, with my Leupold VXIII, one click = 1/4 inch adjustment. So, if my shots were hitting consistently two inches to the left of center, I would likely need to dial the adjustment eight clicks in that direction, then shoot another round of bullets. Some folks disagree, but in my opinion it is better to make subtle adjustments, then shoot to confirm that you are working toward the zero mark. As long as there are no fliers, a series of three shots is typically representative of where the gun is shooting. Although with today’s scopes I don’t believe it is as crucial, I still like to give it a firm tap to seat the crosshairs after each adjustment.

When your rifle and scope are in sync at 25 yards, move to 100 yards. Most big game rifle and bullet combinations that are sighted in a couple inches high at 100 yards will shoot a hair low at 25 yards – with most deer hunters this is considered ideal (e.g., I like my 300 Win Mag to be 2″ high at 100 yards). Once your rifle is sighted in, try shooting at 200, 300 and 400 yards to better learn how your rifle, scope and ammunition perform at greater distances.

4) Use the same ammunition that you plan to hunt with
Not all ammunition performs the same. Be sure to sight in your rifle with the load that you plan to hunt with. Ballistics of variable bullet weights and designs (not to mention manufacturers) will perform differently. For instance, Winchester Ammunition’s 150 grain Supreme Elite XP3 (www.winchester.com) will inevitably perform differently than Remington’s 180 grain Core-Lokt, PSP (www.remington.com) shot out of my 300 Winchester Magnum.

If you reload your own ammunition, then you’re likely acquainted with factors affecting bullet performance. Working the right load may take some trial and error, but the same applies – always sight in with the bullet and load you intend to hunt with.

5) Record and reference each shot
Sighting in can be as labor-intensive as you make it. As a rule, several items are required and several more make the job that much easier. As an absolute necessity, we require a table or bench, a shooting rest, our rifle, ammunition and a target. Beyond these basics, the job is much easier with a spotting scope, tripod, and additional targets along with a marker.

As you begin shooting, be sure to analyze and record each shot. I like to use a Bushnell Elite 15-45x 60 mm spotting scope (www.bushnell.com) mounted on a solid tripod. At 45 power magnification, I can see every detail on the downrange target. My scope allows me to closely assess where I hit in relation to where I aimed. Further, many shooters like to keep a matching target on the bench while they are shooting. By checking their shot, then marking it on the target beside them, they can better track their progressions to confirm any scope adjustments and accuracy. This eliminates much of the guessing about which shot was which.

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How To Call Your Shots

Calling a shot simply means the marksman can tell where his bullet hit. This can be done by observing the bullet’s flight and impact or by knowing where the sights were the instant the firearm was triggered. There are two separate, but complementary, ways to call a shot.

shot

When shooting from non-prone positions, witnessing the impact of the bullet is difficult. The trick is to focus intently on the position of the sights and take a mental snapshot of where they were in relation to the target when the bullet was fired.

The best way to develop this skill is through dry-fire practice, coupled with live-fire practice shots at the range. When dry-firing, use a small target that is a challenge to keep the crosshairs on. Don’t fight the wobble of the sight, just smoothly break the shot as it covers the target. Remember where the crosshairs were when the trigger clicked. At the range, do this with every shot.

To actually see your bullet’s impact, you must pair this level of focus with excellent form. If you are square behind the rifle and not putting any pressure on the stock that will cause it to jump to the side under recoil, you’ll be able to watch the bullet and see where it hits.

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