Sighting In – Tips and Techniques
By Glen Wunderlich
Professional Outdoor Media Association
Here are some tips to get sighted in properly. As mentioned in previous writings, a six-inch kill zone will be the standard from any shooting position in the field for deer-sized targets. For target shooting, however, smaller targets help with precision. The orange squares with the black outlines are my favorites for scoped guns and plain black circles are best for iron sights, red dot sights and HoloSights.
Caution: start with a clean gun with no oil or grease in the barrel. Make sure everything is tight – especially scope bases and rings. Wear good hearing protection and protective glasses. Start at 25 yards and make sure you have a good, solid rest at the fore end and butt stock. Sandbags work well but there are store-bought shooting rests that work very well, too. This is not the time to use your elbows for a rest; you can do that in the field, but not when testing ammo. The idea when sighting in is to minimize human error.
Shoot three shots and find the middle of the group. (If you are missing the paper completely, move in to about 10 feet. A single shot will usually be enough to let you know which direction to go.) Remember, at 25 yards to make adjustments at four times what you would at 100 yards. For most guns, you are ready to move the target to 100 yards, if you are dead on at 25 yards. Don’t change anything and shoot another 3-shot group at 100 yards, find the center of the group and adjust to your chosen elevation at 100 yards. Even with our conservative 6-inch kill zone target, we can maximize “Point-Blank Range” by having the bullet or slug impact somewhat high at 100 yards. A few examples follow.
The Point-Blank Range of any gun is the distance out to which a hunter can hold right on the center of the kill zone and be able to hit within the vital zone. This means, if you set up your gun properly, you won’t have to guess whether to hold high or low on the deer. Just go right for the center of the vitals. A lot of hunters make the mistake of sighting in dead on at 100 yards. A 30-06 with a 180-grain spire point bullet going 2700 Feet Per Second (FPS) at the muzzle, with a 100-yard zero puts the bullet 3 inches low at 175 yards. Using the 6-inch kill zone, 175 yards becomes your limit, because the bullet is at the bottom of the vitals.
However, if the same cartridge is set for a 215 yard zero, the bullet reaches its peak of 3 inches high at 130 yards and is 3 inches low at 255 yards. As long as you know the deer is no farther than 255 yards, you can aim dead center and take him out cleanly. Just by changing the zero, you gain 80 additional yards.
Shotguns are relatively slow in comparison – even the hottest sabot offerings of today. Federal, Winchester, and Remington all have high-priced loads costing $12 to $20 per box of 5 rounds boasting 1900 FPS and these can be good using the 6-inch bulls eye philosophy out to 175 yards. Remington’s Premier Core-Lokt Ultra uses a 385-grain bullet and sighted in at 150 yards, will be 6.2 inches low at 200 yards. As fast as these are, you can see that the bullet drops some 6.2 inches in the 50 yards from 150 to 200 yards. The typical ¾ inch, 1-ounce shotgun slugs are heavier and some 500 FPS slower. The best bet is to get to the range and test with your gun and loads, because there are just too many variables to rely exclusively on charts. Whatever you choose to shoot, just make sure the bullet/slug never gets higher or lower than 3 inches when holding dead on.
Once you get sighted in, you can try shooting from various positions and with rests you may use in the field. As long as you can keep 9 out of 10 in the six-inch circle, you are shooting within ethical standards. When finished, don’t clean the gun’s barrel, because a clean barrel may change your point of impact. Just unload the gun, wipe off the exterior, and put it safely away and it will be hunter-ready when needed. Clean it after the season.
Of course, muzzleloaders being stoked with black powder or Pyrodex must be cleaned immediately because of sulfur content, or you run the risk of corrosion within a day! I prefer Hodgon’s Triple Seven for extreme velocity and lack of corrosion concerns. More on this subject later.