How To Use a Rifle Scope

How to use a rifle scope

Every rifle’s accuracy depends on putting a bullet on target, and the most effective and efficient way to do that is by using a good rifle scope. Granted, every rifle will have built-in sights so that you can aim and shoot a rifle right out of the box. But adding a rifle scope gives you a greater flexibility, while your accuracy with each shot will be unmatched if just using the rifle sights alone. Good binoculars can help with acquiring the target.

Setting It Up

Before you begin to shoot through a rifle scope, you’ll have to set it up correctly. The first thing to do is to adjust the reticle and the eye relief.

  • Reticle — The cross-hairs, dot or another aiming device inside of the scope is called the reticle. It must be positioned correctly inside of the scope. To do this, loosen the mounting rings and turn the scope until the reticle is upright and centered. Once in the proper position, and you can easily see the reticle in your normal firing position, tighten down the rings just enough to hold the setting in place.
  • Eye Relief — This adjustment essentially lets you look into the scope at a slight distance from your eye, generally from 3 to 6 inches. On some scopes, you’ll actually have an adjustment on the end that you can turn to adjust this function, but on most scopes, you’ll have to move the entire scope back and forth through the mounting rings to achieve this.

When these basic set up functions have been completed, firmly tighten down the mounting rings. Unless the scope is jarred, dropped or it needs to be removed for some reason, you’ll never have to make these adjustments again. For a quick tip, if you do need to remove the scope regularly, mark the correct positions on the scope with a permanent marker. This will greatly aid you every time you re-mount the scope.

Scope Adjustment Knobs

  • On every scope, there are at least two and possibly three knobs that need to be adjusted.
  • Windage — The windage knob is generally on the right side of the scope. It moves the reticle side to side and allows you to adjust for blowing wind. For example, in a perfect world where there is no wind, the reticle can always remain zeroed in the center. But if there is wind coming from the left or right, the reticle can be adjusted to account for any effect the wind would have on bullet travel.
  • Elevation — The elevation knob allows you to adjust the reticle up or down. Once again, in a perfect world this adjustment can remain zeroed as the bullet flies straight and true. But on long shots, the rifle will need to be slightly elevated to make the bullet travel further, and by adjusting the elevation, you can bring the target back to zero even though the bullet will travel in an arc to get there.
  • Parallax — Manufacturers generally set their scopes up to aim properly out to 100 yards, and if you do not have a zoom scope or other ways to increase the magnification, you won’t have a parallax knob. Located on the left of the scope, you’ll only make a parallax adjustment at higher magnifications if the position of your eye changes, to see clearly through the scope, while keeping your aim on target.

Sight Picture

Before you fire the rifle, make sure your sight picture is perfect. By looking at a target through your scope, the reticle should be upright and centered, the target should be clear and crisp, and any black on one side or the other should be symmetrical. If any of these properties are not exact, they need to be adjusted now.

Also, make sure your eye relief setting is correct. Look through the scope and make sure the eye relief is within the 3 to 9 inch range, and if you feel uncomfortable with how close the eyepiece is to your eye, now is the time to add in another inch, just to be on the safe side. You do not want the kickback to propel the scope backwards so that it impacts your face. Add an inch if you are at all concerned.

Basic Sighting

The moment of truth has arrived, and you are now going to fire the rifle while sighting in the target through the scope. Don’t expect miracles here, the chances are you’ll be making several adjustments before you even get close to hitting a bullseye. But this is the first step to sighting in a new scope.

Aim through the scope and take your first shot, putting the reticle exactly on target. If the bullet hits too high, adjust the reticle upwards. If the bullet hits too low, adjust the reticle downwards. By doing this you’ll be bringing the bullet to the reticle, so continue adjusting with each successive shot until the height of where the bullet hits is at the exact height of where the reticle is on the target.

Windage works the same way, only from side to side. If the bullet hits to the left of your target spot, adjust the reticle to the left. If it hits to the right of your spot, adjust the reticle to the right. Always follow the bullet with the reticle on every adjustment.

When doing these basic adjustments, you can adjust either the elevation or the windage first. Some will say adjust elevation before windage and some will say adjust windage before elevation. You can do either/or, depending on what feels more comfortable to you during this initial sighting in period.

For best results, fire 3 shot groups before adjusting your scope. This allows for any extraneous movement that might have occurred between your and the rifle. Once you are fully adjusted and your shots are consistently hitting dead center, it’s time to zero your rifle in.

Zeroing In

Zeroing in your rifle means setting it up in a static position on a rifle stand. In essence, the rifle will be in a controlled position and will not move, exactly as you should be whenever you fire the rifle. By doing this, every shot that is sighted in through the scope should hit the bulls eye, and if you keep the rifle aimed perfectly and still when you are out in the field, all of your shots will be directly on target and zeroed in.

Mount your rifle on a rifle stand, and using the adjustments on the stand, zero in the reticle onto the target. Once again, just like basic sighting, fire a group of 3 bullets and check the results. Make adjustments as needed with the elevation and windage knobs to literally zero in the scope. Fire as many shots as needed until each shot is consistently hitting the center of the target. When that occurs, you are successfully zeroed in.

Specialized Adjustments

If you know your target is going to be at a certain distance, let’s say 300 yards down range, you can set up a target at 300 yards, and while on a rifle stand, adjust the reticle to compensate for the arc in the bullet. In this way you won’t have to make any off-the-cuff elevation adjustments out in the field, and your shot will hit in the center of the cross hairs.

If you have a zoom scope, you can do the same with the parallax adjustment. Adjust it in relation to where your eye sees the reticle clearly and on target at the optimal magnification for the distance required. Doing this now saves time, frustration and a potential missed shot at the range you’ll be shooting at.

Scope Care

When not in use, always keep the lenses covered with lens caps. This will prevent dust and dirt from scratching the sensitive optics. If you need to wipe off the lenses, always use a special lens cleaning cloth. Never wipe them too hard so as not to rub off any anti-reflective glare or other coating on the lens proper.

Using a Rifle Scope

By using a rifle scope, you can certainly increase your accuracy, especially over greater distances than by using the regular sights on a rifle. But knowing how to set one up, sight one in and take care of it are the keys to success. And if you are willing to do that, you’ll become a more successful shooter every time you take aim.

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