The Mystique of Zeroing

What range do you zero with your rifle? Well that raises all kinds of red flags doesn’t it? I’ve broken the rule of starting a paragraph with a question. But, its important question. One that needs to be addressed and hell, why not just come out and say what i’m thinking. For the majority, you all zero at 100 yds. Some 200. Very few will use the 50yd mark. Why do i care you ask? the more important question is why did you choose that range? was there a method to the madness or simply because that’s what everyone else does? in the next few paragraphs i will talk about different zeroing ranges, some benefits, and ultimately the importance of zeroing without getting off on a tangent about other subjects that are equally important but must be saved for next month’s newsletter.

The importance of zeroing or “dialing your rifle in” is such an important task but often does not receive enough attention when assessing your goals or when in the physical act of zeroing. Simply put, shit gets “F’ed up”. As a shooter, especially a long range or precision shooter there is a checklist that should be followed, well because consistency equals accuracy. The checklist is not set in stone and can be in any order that the shooter is comfortable with, the key is consistency. A mental checklist prior to zeroing should consist of these elements:
– Rifle stock length set for the shooter (Proper length of pull)
– Scope mounted with the correct eye relief (after checking length of pull)
– Diopter focus set so the reticle is crisp and clear
– Good Position behind the rifle aiming at the target allowing for max absorption of recoil
– Natural Point of Aim
– Parallax Checked to ensure the reticle does not move on the target (target in focus)
– Control your breathing
– Rifle is stable
– Focus on the reticle
– Relax
– Apply proper trigger control and fire
– conduct follow through, call your shot,  and re-engage when ready
– Fire minimum 2-3 rounds before adjusting to show consistency
Following this checklist or a similar checklist will ensure that you are building good habits but that you are giving yourself the best possible zero allowing you to focus what matters when the shot counts. Now I can go in depth about the checklist but it would take up several pages of this newsletter and it would also make my fingers bleed. No one wishes that on anyone. So if you read my check list and you see actions that you do not understand you might want to consider enrolling in a training course. But this is not a sales pitch, merely an article to help improve you as a shooter so we will move on to the next bulletin.

As I said before, why zero at 100 yards, 200 yard, 50 yards? Depending on your goals you may have an answer, or you may not. 100 yards for the longest time has been the standard. I’m here to tell you there are other ways. The best part is they make sense. These methods can improve a shooters efficiency. What I am referring to is called PBR aka Point Blank Range. If you can understand how trajectory works when speaking about the projectile in flight, you know that gravity is constantly pulling the projectile downward which is why when engaging targets down range we must elevate our trajectory higher the further we intend to engage. We also have another factor called Drag where the air molecules are creating resistance to the projectile in flight causing it to lose speed during flight. These two factors give the trajectory its curved shape. That being said lets discuss a 100 yard zero first. When shooting your rifle and as you read this article keep in mind, your scope sits above your barrel which is what directs the projectile towards a specified direction. When zeroing, you are simply aligning your scope and rifle at a certain distance to meet. In specific terms we are aligning our Line of Sight with our Trajectory. Also, please take note that I will be referring to a specific rifle caliber and scope height so you can refer to the pictures provided. For this demo, the Rifle Optic sits 2.5 inches above the barrel. When zeroing at 100 yards, you are adjusting the scope reticle to intersect with the impact of the projectile. But it’s important to realize that at 100 yards gravity will take effect and when properly zeroed, your projectile will never go above your line of sight past 100 yards unless you dial your optic or hold over. So what i’m saying is after 100 yards your projectile is being pulled down. Some of you may be wondering where i’m going with this. Here it is. If i’m engaging a 12 inch target, how far can i engage that target without dialing my scope elevation? If i’m aiming dead center of the target, i have 6 inches below my point of aim to impact. That being said, most .308 are roughly 4-5 inch drop at 200 yards. I will most likely not be able to engage much further than 200 yards. If you look at the picture, you will see that after 224 yards I will not be able to engage my 12 inch target any longer without making an adjustment or holding higher. What the problem you say? 224 yards sounds good to you does it? To me it sounds like we are being wasteful. There is 6 inches above our point of aim that we did not utilize. We might as well just used a 6 inch target to engage. Shame on us. How do we utilize the remaining 6 inches, becoming more efficient shooters? The answer is simple, Change our ZERO range. We need to find a range where we can utilize the top 6 inches of the target as well as the bottom 6 inches.

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I introduce to you the 36 yard zero. So i’ll give you a minute to look over the two pictures provided as examples. You will see the 36 yard zero allows the shooter to engage further by utilizing the entire target. The projectile will leave the muzzle at a much steeper incline to intersect with the reticle point of aim at 36 yards. But unlike the 100 yard zero, the projectile will continue to climb above the shooter’s line of sight before peaking at approximately 3.25 inches around the 150 yard mark before starting to drop. Now, i know we didn’t use all of the 6 inches above our point of aim but 3.25 is better than 0. The distance can be tweaked and played with to be more efficient based on your scope height and muzzle velocity. Back to the dropping projectile. It’s now being pulled down, effected by gravity and drag, and will intersect the line of sight a second time approximately 240 yards out. But we are not done yet. That is merely the intersection of our projectile and the reticle, we still have 6 inches of target below our point of aim that we can impact. That being said our projectile will continue to drop but will not exit the striking zone of our 12 inch target until approximately 310 yards. And that my friends is Point Blank Range.

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To close out this discussion I’ll leave you with this, Don’t settle. As an instructor i still consider myself a student. Always learning and seeking knowledge. Always trying to improve. When considering zeroing at 36 yard, just remember when dialing elevation on your scope that you are basically adjusting using numbers as a reference system whether using Minutes of Angle of Mil-Radian systems. Will zeroing at 36 yards opposed to 100 yards change the numbers you will dial for different ranges? Hell yes it will but the scope operation remains the same, only the numbers for ranges have changed. The fundamentals remain the same as well. Don’t be afraid to try new things. To improve your experience and to make your rifle work best for you and the situation you are using it for. Thank you for taking the time to read this long drawn out article and I will do my best to deliver another award winning article of education next month.

Tyler Hughes
U.S.M.C. Scout Sniper (Ret)
U.S. Optics Academy
Training Directory

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