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How to Zero with Iron Sights

There’s often no better way to shoot accurately than with your trusted iron sights. After all, they were designed specifically for your firearm! If you take proper care in zeroing your irons, you can be ready to go shooting right away with less hassle, less weight and increased mobility.

 

However, the real truth in today's shooting world is that almost everybody is so keen to ‘upgrade’ their optics the moment they get a new rifle. A surprising proportion of people have probably never even tested out their iron sights - let alone zeroed them.

The fact of the matter is that, unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money on a top of the range scope/sight, your iron sights are going to be far more effective than any add-on you’ve bought on a medium to low budget.

 

We’ll talk you through the simple steps you need to take to get your iron sights zeroed and ready to go, so you can start shooting accurately without the struggles of aftermarket optics. 

 

AR-15 Open Sights

 

Step 1: Selecting the Right Distance

 

This first step is all about preparation and making sure you’re going to get the right end result. Finding the appropriate distance for zeroing isn’t strictly a step of the zeroing process, but it’s an essential thing you’ll need to know in order to get it right.

 

What we’re looking to find is your Maximum Point Blank Range. The clue is in the name here but what this is essentially is the furthest distance you’re able to shoot straight, before your bullet starts to drop below an intended target. The point blank range is anything that sits between point blank (right at the muzzle), and the point where your bullet drops. Obviously, the Maximum Point Blank is at the far end of this scale. 

 

That’s the point that you’ll want to zero your sights to.

 

It will be very helpful to know your rifles’ power and velocity, as every rifle will require different calibrations to hit a target, due to muzzle length, power to weight ratio and calibre types, among other things.

This is your initial starting point; find the point blank zero that’s best suited to your rifle. Some of you may be put off by the idea of having to work out this information - it shouldn’t be too daunting. Most rifles will have a PBZ of either 25 or 50 Metres, so it should be easy enough to work out which of these is better for you. 

 

Step 2: Set Your Target

 

A quick internet search brings up hundreds of different options for zeroing targets. 

Most of them you’ll see here are printed on a square grid on waterproof paper. These are the best style for you to buy as each small square on the target represents 1 Minute of Angle (MOA), which is the measurement you’ll use to get the perfect zero.

 

As a brief explanation, 1 MOA converts to about 1/60th of a degree (in terms of angles). When firing multiple rounds, 1 MOA will give you a spread of around 1 inch if shooting at a target 100 yards away. Changing the distance of your target will mean the spread will increase and decrease along this scale.

 

Zero Target with MOA

 

Although spending money on a proper zero target is a lot easier, you can really use any fixed marker as a target. A piece of paper with a bullseye marked out in pen would still do the trick - it would just mean you’d have to spend far longer afterwards calculating your results afterwards and the outcome maybe slightly less accurate.

 

The most sensible distance to start your testing is 25 metres. It’s going to be very unlikely that you’ll miss the target from this range, so you’ll be able to get a good indication of what adjustments need to be made pretty quickly.

 

Step 3: Make sure you’re using the right ammunition

 

It might be common sense to most people, but it’s a very important thing to remember. There would be no point even starting the process if you’re using rounds that you’re unlikely to continue using when you actually go out shooting in the future. Every round/bullet is going to perform slightly differently and will have different zero’s, so zeroing for the appropriate ammo type is going to make the best use of your time.

 

It’s also wise to conduct your zeroing with the best rounds/bullets that your budget can afford you - although this is a common rule in general. As they say, ‘buy cheap, buy twice’...

 

Rifle rounds lineup

 

Step 4: Getting comfortable

 

It’s not uncommon to see people adjusting their sight whilst using a rest and sitting on the bench. If you aren’t a benchrest shooter, this is bad practice.

As mentioned before, your ‘zero’ isn’t just about the technical adjustments you make to your rifle, it also includes your ammunition, the surrounding environments and you as a shooter. That means the position you adopt before firing is vital to your accuracy.

 

If you’re zeroing whilst sat at a bench not only is your control and stability going to be massively increased, but the possibility of your shots dropping is going to be a lot lower because you have a block below you to stop your arm from lowering. You’ll get excellent results, but you’ll be in for a shock when you start shooting from a freestanding position.

 

A popular position for zeroing is prone, but there are various positions which would be equally suitable.

Now that you’re ready to go, spend a little while finding your natural point of aim. When you fully relax your body whilst aiming, your rifle will always fall on a certain point - this is your natural point of aim. You can slightly change your position until you feel that your natural point of aim is focused around the target. This way, you’ll be as stable and controlled as possible.

 

the prone position

Image rights: @ AirgunMagazine.co.uk

 

Step 5: Reset your rear sights

 

This is a very quick step that only really applies to people who have an adjustable rear sight. Lots of rifles will have the option to adjust your rear sights to compensate for the distance or target that you’re shooting at. Set the rear sights to your ‘zero’ setting - this may be called something different depending on your rifle type - to complete your preparations.

 

Step 6: Begin your trial and improvement (3-5 Shots)

 

Now your testing begins. You don’t need to fire too many shots, but you need enough to be able to learn where your adjustments need to happen. Between 3 and 5 shots is sufficient here as you’ll be able to get a good average and hopefully get a clear and consistent pattern too.

Even if you do hit a couple of bad shots unexpectedly, with 5 shots you’ll be able to throw them away while still getting a decent overall picture.

 

Having said all of this, you’re still going to have to have a consistent, competent shot on the whole in order to get a proper indication. It’s not vital to be hitting the centre of the target with every shot - after all we’re zeroing your rifle to help that - but you need your shots to be grouped together as closely as they can be or it will be tricky to work out where the tweaks need to be made.

 

You’re likely going to have to make alterations both left or right, and up or down. If you see that your group has drifted to one side, this is usually down to wind. To compensate for the cross-wind adjust your sights so that you’re shooting into the wind slightly. Remember that the wind is probably going to be slightly different each time you get the rifle out to shoot, so bear this in mind when you set up again in the future!

 

If your group has come in above or below the intended target then your elevation is slightly off. Adjust your sights accordingly to allow for this (If you’ve shot low, move your sights up, if you’ve shot high, move your sights down). 

 

Your front sights should have some sort of marker on them to show you which way you need to rotate in order to elevate them.

 

A target with bullet holes

 

Top Tip

Don’t forget that it’s incredibly difficult to get your adjustments absolutely spot on as most sights are fairly clunky. You could spend hours trying to find an extra nanometer, so don’t cause yourself unnecessary stress; settle for the closest you can get.

 

Step 6: Fire to certify your zero

 

All you’ve got left to do is fire one last time to affirm the distance that you’ve zeroed to. Only do this once you’re happy that your 3-5 shots are landing pretty much exactly where you want them to. Make sure you’re sure of the exact distance you’ve just zeroed at - a perfect zero at 50 metres isn’t going to be a perfect zero at 100 metres too.


 

Give it a go - it’s not as complicated as it sounds as it’s something you’ll have to do an awful lot if you’re a keen shooter. There are plenty of handy videos out there that will guide you through the process visually, should you need an extra helping hand!

 
Archie Davis
Gunstar Chief Editor
Published on 17-12-2020
Archie has been on the management team at Gunstar UK since June 2018, and has since then been working tirelessly to integrate the business with the shooting community. A skilled writer and self-taught country enthusiast, Archie has conducted numerous investigations into many of the industries unanswered questions to try and unify shooters all in one place; the Gunstar blog.