Prepare Your Weapon: Easy Steps to Zeroing Your Rifle Scope

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Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from AH.


When you own a long-range shotgun, it’s all about taking those perfect, accurate shots. But it’s not always easy, not even if you’re a seasoned shooter, but especially if you’re a novice. So mounting a scope on your rifle seems like the obvious and easy solution, but it might not actually be as easy as you thought. Unless you are zeroing your rifle scope before you count on it to help you hit the target, there’s no use if firing a single shot. So here are a few tips and tricks on how to do that, with very little effort or time involved.

Defining the process

First of all, zeroing your rifle scope simply means adjusting your sights so that you can hit with precision the target you have in mind when firing from a given distance. Speaking of distance, it varies depending on the type of shooting you’re doing, the caliber you are using, the scope adjustment unit of measurement and, last but not least, on your personal preferences.

Normally, the shorter the distance the easier it is to zero your scope, keep it that way and shoot your target with maximum accuracy. This is because on a shorter distance, the point of impact is less affected by external variables. A short-range here means approximately 100 yards. A longer one of, let’s say 300 yards, will be a lot more difficult to shoot and it will actually render your scope pointless on the long run. Which is to say that you need to zero it all over again, after each shoot, because the external variables have changed.


Setting up your scope

This is the first step you need to take in the whole process of zeroing the scope on your shotgun. First and foremost, adjust the eyepiece, which is the rear lens of the scope. This part can actually be rotated in order to focus your eye on the reticle. Don’t forget to do this, as you need a perfectly sharp reticle when it comes to long-range shooting. It will also help to look at your target solely through the reticle and not with your naked eye, or, worse, to keep shifting your gaze at it between the reticle and the naked eye, which leads to unnecessary eyestrain. When the image is crisp and clear, you will know you have gone through this step correctly.

You also need to level the cross-hair. It’s probably best if you mount the shotgun on a stand, so that it can be held in a steady position. You need its stock to be level and square to the ground. Rotate the cross-hair so that the vertical one is right in the center. If it helps, you can imagine a line running through the cross-hair that also runs directly through the center of your rifle. Certain adjustments can be made later on as well, but it’s a very important step to get it correctly aligned now, before you tighten it down.

Testing the scope

After you mounted and properly adjusted the scope on your shotgun, the best way to test it is to head out to the shooting range, where you can shoot it safely and repeatedly. It’s also easier to measure the distances and the backstops while you’re there, as opposed to being out in the open, for example.
Prepare Your Weapon: Easy Steps to Zeroing Your Rifle Scope - The Prepper JournalPrepare Your Weapon: Easy Steps to Zeroing Your Rifle Scope - The Prepper Journal

Here are some tips and tricks for practicing at the range while testing your scope:

  • Practice on a bulls-eye custom-made for zeroing. They normally have many measurements, which will make the adjustments very accurate.
  • Study those measurements thoroughly after each shot, in order to determine how “off” you were. Only by doing this will you be able to tell what you need to do next and if you’re improving or not.
  • Always follow the rules and regulations of the range you’re shooting at. This will help you develop a correct shooting technique.
  • Mount the gun on a rest. Although you might be tempted to hold the rifle yourself, remember the ideal way of shooting with high accuracy is when the rifle is securely locked on a rest. This eliminates user-error or slight trembling of the hand.


Choosing a scope

And last, but not least, be careful when you select your scope. All the steps mentioned above will come to nothing if you have the wrong scope. There are many great rifle scopes you could go with, so here are some pointers to help you choose.

  • Don’t go over the top. Indeed, the technology used for making shotgun scopes keeps getting better and better every year, producing bigger and more accurate scopes all the time. But that doesn’t mean you have to choose those ones. Remember the simple rule of not buying a Ferrari just so you can go grocery shopping. Choose the one right for your eyes, your prey, your shotgun and the distance you’re shooting from.
  • Do your homework on technical details. This is the easiest and surest way to know which scope is best for your needs. You need to find out and learn that, in a 3-9X40 scope, 3 means three power. The image you’ll be seeing through your scope will be magnified three times. The nine means 9 power, or 9 time, 9X closer than you see it with your naked eye. You can find many articles and tutorials online with a simple search.
  • Understand a rifle scope’s anatomy and learn the terminology. Although it might look simple at a first glance, a scope is actually a complicated and delicate piece of equipment, made up of many intricate parts. Take knowledge on your side and find them out. You will want to learn about the eye piece, the ocular lens or the eye relief. If you don’t choose a proper eye relief, for example, you might get a black eye. Why? Because if the eye relief you’ve selected doesn’t allow for much space between your face and your gun, the recoil will hit you right in the eye. These are all things you should know before getting into the business.

So there you have it; some easy ways in which you can make zeroing your shotgun’s scope fun and less time-consuming. And with hunting season in full swing, we definitely need this advice.

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Here’s a better way to zero your scope. Step 1.Mount your rifle or shotgun, (the names are not interchangeable ) into a rifle vice. Step 2. set up a target at no more than 25 yards distance. Step 3. Aim the cross-hair at the dead center of the target. Step 4. Fire one shot. Step 5. Reset the cross-hair of the scope at exactly the same spot it was before the shot by moving the rifle, not the scope. Step 6. Adjust the cross-hair to the spot where the round went through the target, being very careful not to move… Read more »


I realize that personal preference has a huge bearing on scope selection and admit to a strong preference to scopes that have a sniper reticle that provides minute of angle (MOA) rather than the standard cross-hair reticle. When you need accurate ranging estimates the most, you probably won’t be sitting at the rifle range. MOA reticles give you that ability and enable you to set up multiple “zero” points. Anything you can do to eliminate unintended movement while sighting in is beneficial, but I have to agree with Evil that the rifle vice will get you to your desired zero… Read more »


I’m sorry, were we talking about a Riffle scope or Shotgun scope? As Evil said, these two are not interchangeable, for the most part. I personally would not be mounting a 3-9X40 on a 12GA, even if shooting riffled slugs.
“Do your homework on technical details.”


Are you talking about a scope on a shotgun or a scope on a rifle? I have heard of scopes on shotguns, but, I never seen one.
I bought a laser bore sight for $30. It gets the scope on the bull’s eye before you fire a shot.


Laser bore sight IS the way to go. When mounting a new scope at home, I can use the laser to dial it in real close before I ever go to the range. Saves time and ammo when I do get to the range.


Hmmm why would I take advise from someone who can’t even get the difference between a shotgun and a rifle right?


Rifles shoot bullets down a rifled barrel, shot guns are smooth bore and in the majority of time use shells denoted as #6’s or #2’s for bigger game buck shot, sometimes rifled slugs, having rifling on the external circumference of the slug to provide flight stability. It is a reach to put a scope on a shot gun. If you are limited to a shot gun learn to stalk your game and get close before firing – I would go for double 00 buck shot over a slug almost all the time on deer. For a bear slug OK but… Read more »

Chuck Findlay

There are a LOT of shotgun slug barrels that are rifled, and they almost always have a rail on them for a scope as being rifled they are capable of hitting a deer vital area at 70-yards. We sell a lot of them every year at the gun shop.


I stand corrected, thank you for the first hand clarification. I would guess the development of rifled ‘shot gun’ barrels was to get around some legalisms, it is news to me. I did a second opinion on your statement and see that the BATFE has ruled that a firearm designed to fire shotgun shells that was converted to fire shotgun slugs with the addition of a rifled barrel was still a shotgun. A surprisingly sensible ruling by a government agency that I usually think more of as hair splitters. The word ‘shot gun’ itself denotes ‘shot’ being multiple projectiles in… Read more »


300 yard scope shot with a shotgun? What does he know that I don’t?

Molon Labe!

slugs..? maybe?


I would add to this, once zeroed KNOW YOUR HOLDOVER! I would be willing to wager 9 out of 10 shooters with a red dot optic zeroed at 50 yards could NOT hit a 1″x1″ square at 10 yards. It’s not easy to make yourself hold high at closer ranges and similarly to hold low at 100 yards. A zero is only accurate at the range your zero at, knowing how it changes at different distances (and how to estimate distances) is the only way you’re going to be able to hit what you intend.

Chuck Findlay

It seems some comments that don’t see the need for a scope on a shotgun. Working at a friends gun shop part time over the last 30-years I can say for sure a lot of rifled slug guns get scopes put on them for deer season. Fixed 2.5 and fixed 4 power scopes, and 2 to 7 power scopes are popular for shotguns. As is Halo type of sites. Halo sites are also popular on handguns for hunting deer here in Ohio. Lighted (Halo) sites really are handy in low-light situations like morning hunting. I personally don’t like scopes on… Read more »


You have a good point, but the letters r-i-f-l-e aren’t even close to the letters s-h-o-t-g-u-n. 🙂


Many of these articles are written by foreigners with ZERO knowledge or skill in the topic they are writing about. Their grammar is rotten at best and their research skills are nonexistent. This really smacks of fearmonger tactics and REALLY pisses me off.

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