For me, zeroing a rifle is the closest I can come to a Zen like state. Literally everything around me stops, I’m just there with my thoughts and my rifle. Heaven I tell you.
Zeroing a rifle is not really complicated. Once you understand the process it becomes incredibly routine. You first have to decide on the type of zero, you then need to prepare the range and lastly you need to get your mind right for the evolution. During our classes, the single most repeated comment I make to the students is about consistency. Being accurate is nothing more than being consistent and being consistent is to be accurate. Our goal while zeroing in class is to become more familiar with the zero while improving the shot group.
Take it all in
Part of being consistent means you have identified the mode for which you will zero. For example are you going to zero supported or unsupported? I strongly suggest you start out with supported, get as stable as you possibly can get. Many folks don’t recognize that zeroing tests two tasks. The ability to align the bore with the sights and the ability to deliver consistent shot groups by the student. You can achieve what I call a “true” zero if you can eliminate some of the common shooting errors by using a supported position. Part of the bigger picture is realizing that anything you do differently will affect your point of impact. It could be the smallest thing like shifting your body position or like using different ammunition.
Think big picture
There are many other things that can lead to differing zeroes, here are just a few that we work through and why. We start out all zeroes slick, with no equipment that could prevent the student from obtaining the most stable, which really means comfortable position. Then we try to stabilize as best as we can by using some form of support. That can further be subdivided into using a sandbag, magazine or bipod. In my experience, each of these will produce slightly different zeroes as the student is perceiving their reticle slightly different from each position. If it helps, since the primary directive is to be consistent, each of these different supported positions are not consistent from one another. However, they are consistent within their own position. So, you will have three different types of zeroes is what I am saying. Some may not be able to see the difference in their shot groups, but that doesn’t mean it is not happening. It just means you haven’t gotten consistent enough to see the difference.
The process, abbreviated
I recommend three groups of five rounds for optimal performance during zeroing. The five round group is more a test of your ability to be consistent. The three groups allows for a major correction once on paper, minor correction to fine tune and a final confirmation to make sure you didn’t make a mistake when dialing in corrections. Once you have fired the group, read the target and locate the mean center for the group. This is where shooting a tight group pays off because it will allow you to be more precise. Measure the impact from your point of aim then calculate the corrections. I recommend you measure and annotate on the target the corrections in inches. Then do your math conversions to determine the corrections to apply to your optic. Double check the directions and clicks you need to dial in then make the corrections. Tape your target so it is always clean and shoot the next group.
You of course need to consider the distance you want to zero along with the load you are going to shoot, but that is for another day. When you get behind the gun, find your happy place and enjoy.