Don’t Wait: It’s Time For Sighting In Your Deer Rifle

sighting in
sighting in tools
tools of the trade for sighting in

It’s November and the firearms deer season is about to start which means it’s time to sight in your deer gun. Time is running short and the first order of business for deer hunters is to make sure your rifle, dedicated slug gun or muzzleloader is still tack-driving sharp.

Sadly, most hunters don’t actually check their weapon before the season.  Of those who do, sighting-in sessions are typically disorganized affairs that really prove nothing as hunters stop by the range and crank off a few shots.  Provided the bullet strikes somewhere on the target or powders that old beer bottle sitting on the backstop, it’s “good enough.”

There is a better way to approach this vital task.

The entire process of sighting in or verifying the accuracy of your firearm should be handled in a relaxed yet organized, non-hurried, preplanned manner.  Therein lays the first rule of sighting-in: don’t put it off until the night before the hunt.

Schedule a morning or afternoon when you can focus all your energy into the process and then gather up the needed supplies.

You will need several things to make range time more efficient: your weapon, plenty of ammunition, ear and eye protection, paper targets, target stand (if necessary), tape (for both posting and repairing targets), a marker, small notebook, gunsmith screwdrivers, spotting scope, a rifle rest and ground cloth (if necessary).   A few beanbags, water, hat and a good cigar complete the kit.

A check of the weather can be highly useful.  If you have a choice, a cloudy, moderate-temperature day with little or no wind is perfect for the task.

The core of the sighting-in process is a matter of shooting groups of bullets into a target while eliminating as many variables as possible to determine the true point of impact of the weapon with the current sighting set-up.   It is critical that everything from the shooting position to ammunition must be identical from shot-to-shot in order to make meaningful sight adjustments.

This means that changing your firing position, weapon grip, weapon support or ammunition is a no-no.  Police and military snipers go so far as to make sure each batch of cartridges is from the same production lot to eliminate slight differences in bullet weight, seating depth or powder charge.  You don’t have to go this far but keep in mind that every single thing that changes from shot-to-shot introduces error and inaccuracy into the process.  For muzzleloader shooters, this means that the way you measure powder and seat the bullet must be done precisely the same with every shot.

Before a range session every screw on the weapon should be checked for tightness, especially those holding the sights whether iron or telescopic.  Scopes are especially notorious for moving around in their rings and wasting your expensive ammo as you chase a point of impact that is different with every shot.

The rifle should always be rested on something to minimize the error introduced by shooter movement.  If you don’t have a rifle rest or bipod, a sandbag or steel ammunition can with a beanbag or folded cloth on top makes a passable rest when lying prone.

Whatever you do, don’t rest the barrel directly on anything as this causes significant variation between shots even if everything else is perfectly stable.  Whenever shooting, always use the fore end of the weapon’s stock as the only point of contact.

Once you are satisfied that everything is as perfect as is realistically possible, begin to fire strings of no less than three but no more than five shots.  These multi-shot groups are important to eliminate the natural variables that are remain from shot-to-shot in spite of your best efforts.

You don’t need to start shooting at the 100 or 200 yard line.  Start at 25 yards, which will also put your shots within an inch or two of zero at 100 yards depending on the weapon and load.  Then, assuming you have time and ammo, go out to 100 and further refine your adjustments.

Work on a single plane- horizontal or vertical- while making sight adjustments to avoid confusing things and wiping out the gains you already made.  This is where the marker and notebook come into play.  Mark and document your shots and all sight adjustments because everything will quickly begin to run together in your mind once the shooting commences.

Above all else, resist the common temptation to chase one-shot groups.  One shot tells you nothing other than where one bullet struck.  Shoot at least three times in succession before making any sight adjustments.

Shoot a few groups then allow the rifle to cool down because as the barrel heats up, the point of impact will usually shift.  Don’t worry about resting after every shot but take a break if the barrel becomes more than warm to the touch.

The subject of cleaning while zeroing is overrated.  Real-world experience has shown that accuracy degrades slightly after the first few shots out of a clean barrel then effectively stabilizes.  In the case of hunting guns, shooter inaccuracy will probably override any effect from a dirty barrel so don’t waste time at the range scrubbing the bore every few shots.  It won’t hurt anything but it does waste time while offering no major benefit.

As ethical hunters, it is imperative to know that our weapon will deliver a powerful, accurate and rapidly fatal blow to our quarry.   Making sure that your gun is up to the task only requires an hour or two on the range to avoid the heartbreak of a miss or worse, wounding a deer.

Don’t put it off- make plans today to check your deer gun before November 14!

Brent Wheat
A well-known and award-winning writer/photographer/radio & television talent/speaker/web-designer/media spokesperson/shooting instructor/elected official/retired police officer/bourbon connoisseur/cigar aficionado/backpacker/hunter/fisherman/gardener/preparedness guru/musician/and jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none, Brent Wheat is the editor and publisher of


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here