How to easily sight-in an air rifle

by B.B. Pelletier

This post was inspired by a Pyramyd Air customer who recently returned a LaserLyte boresight device because it was 5″ off his aimpoint at 30 yards. I was flabbergasted that he got AS CLOSE to the mark as 5″ at that distance! He thought he should be CLOSER?!

Laser boresight devices are supposed to align the bore of your rifle with the sight line of your sights. They can get your rounds ON PAPER at 100 yards! They ARE NOT supposed to zero your scope.

When I was in the Army, I used to boresight 105mm M68 cannons on M60A1 tanks, because the “paper” (actually a huge 12-foot square plywood sheet) sight-in target was 1,200 yards away. With those monster rifles, we didn’t have the luxury of shooting at a small target at closer distance. Our normal targets were positioned 1,500-2,500 yards away, so 1,200 yards was considered close. We used black thread in a crosshair pattern over the 4″ muzzle and binoculars to look through the barrel from the breech. When we fired, everyone on the range helped us by watching through binoculars to see where the tracer went. The inert aluminum practice round left a perfectly circular hole in the plywood. If you saw where it went, it was easy to see the resulting hole through a 10x scope. The ammunition was expensive, plus it wore the bore rapidly, so we didn’t want to shoot more than necessary. The goal was to hit within a 24″ circle at 1,200 yards and to take as few rounds as possible to get there.

With firearms, you may have to boresight
With a centerfire rifle, I may use some kind of boresighting method to get on paper at 100 yards, but not always. Sometimes, I start sighting-in on a 50-yard or even a 25-yard range just to make things easier. Because the target paper is closer, the bullet has a greater chance of impacting somewhere on it, especially at 25 yards.

On some days, the range is full of shooters and I can’t move between targets at different ranges. I have to sight-in wherever I happen to be. If I’m unlucky, I find myself on a 100-yard range with a rifle I’ve never shot and the target paper I’m shooting at is only 12″ square. Only dumb luck would get me on paper under that set of circumstances, so I’ll use a laser boresight device if I have one. Or, if the rifle is a bolt-action, I’ll remove the bolt and sight through the barrel by eye. When both the reticle and the bore seem to be pointing at the target, the chances are good the bullet will hit somewhere on paper. What if it doesn’t?

A field expedient for sighting-in
The best field expedient to get on paper at long distance is to pick a spot on the dirt backstop berm that you and a friend can both identify – you looking through the scope or open sights of the gun and your friend looking through binoculars. Aim at the spot and both you and your friend call where the shot actually strikes. Adjust the sights from there. If you hit low and to the left of the aimpoint, adjust the scope or sight higher and more to the right. As long as you can agree on the aimpoint, this should take just one shot, or two at the most.

But airguns are different
Airguns aren’t centerfire rifles. They don’t have more than a small fraction of the danger range, so they’re much easier to sight-in. You don’t need a boresight device; you just need a cardboard box and 10 feet of distance. Tape a small target with a dark central aimpoint to the box. At 10 feet, it doesn’t take much to get on a small piece of paper. I use 10-meter pistol targets that measure 8″Hx7″W. Except for a Bug Buster, no scope is clear at 10 feet, but that doesn’t matter, and the aimpoint is way too large, too. But, you can still see the aimpoint well enough to align the crosshairs.

If you don’t have real target paper targets, don’t use copier paper. It’s terrible. Use a piece of cardboard or tagboard that will leave a visible pellet hole. I used cardboard for the sight-in article I wrote. At 10 feet, you want your pellet to strike the target directly below the aimpoint of the scope. How far? By the height that the sight line of the scope is above the bore. The height of the scope above the bore determines how far below the line of sight the pellet will strike AT CLOSE RANGE. Sighting-in is the process of making these two lines converge at some distance. Think about that. If the muzzle were touching the target, that’s how far below the scope’s line of sight it would hit. Backing up to 10 feet just gives the scope a little chance to focus on the aimpoint. Then follow the rest of the directions in that article.

Special airgun problems
Sometimes, I’m not sighting-in a .177 – I’m sighting-in a .45 caliber big bore. And, I’m at the range by myself (I belong to a private range and I’m often the only person on all four ranges). You don’t sight-in a .45-caliber, 500 foot-pound air rifle at 10 feet!

I recently had this problem, and didn’t have time to start on the 25-yard range, so I used a 4-foot-square piece of cardboard cut from a flat-screen TV box as my sight-in target on the 50-yard range. Believe it or not, there were still problems hitting that big target square at 50 yards (I didn’t know what bullets shot well in the rifle I was testing), but I solved them by aiming at the extreme corners of the target cardboard. Finally, one shot printed about three feet low and three feet to the right. That told me two things – the bullet I was using was wrong for the gun, and I would need gross scope adjustments if I wanted to use it. That sight-in session failed because I couldn’t find a good bullet of the six types I had available that day. The next time out, I found the right one and got 1″ groups with it. The point is that sometimes you have to improvise. You couldn’t do what I did on a busy public range, but you could do the berm trick with a friend.

Sighting in airguns is a breeze, if you use the smaller scale of the guns to full advantage. Yes, it’s cool to have all sorts of high-tech gadgets in your range bag, but sighting in isn’t a high-tech exercise. Remember to play safe and always wear safety glasses, and your sight-in sessions will go on without a hitch.

36 thoughts on “How to easily sight-in an air rifle

  1. BB,
    I have also used a cardboard box to sight in my air rifles using the method that you wrote about in the sight in article. It is by far the best way to sight in any scope. I found that flat white ceiling paint on the box with a small circle drawn with a red sharpie works great. I use this also to check and maintain my POI for one rifle which I use mostly at 35 yards for squirrel control. If I feel that I am shooting outside of the kill zone, then this becomes a quick way to tell if it is me or the scope that needs correction. Thanks for the great blog.

    Rich


  2. I use LaserLyte boresighters on everything, and have only had 2 problems. The first was a bent shaft. My 12ga slug gun was about 3 feet off at 50 yards because the shaft on my boresighter was bent. LaserLyte replaced the unit for me and the next boresight got me on paper at 100 yards.

    The other problem was with a break barrel airgun. I boresighted up close using the calibration chart that came with the unit. I did not compensate for barrel droop and was shooting very low at about 25 yards.

    What is nice with airguns though, is that the ranges are so short that you can use your target to boresight your airgun rather than having to set up a secondary target just for the laser. If your good at estimating drop, or have a ballistics chart, you can adjust your cross hairs relative to the laser and come very close to actual POI.

    You can also do the same thing at much longer ranges with some of the very flat shooting varmint cartridges.

    mech


  3. BB, maybe a bit of advice: do you test pellets first or sight-in. Maybe you should do a part two to show procedures for when you get a new rifle. A guy just getting one, not knowing how to set up the scope, find and choose the right pellet, or even know how the rifle will act might be prone to return it from poor results. I was going to ask how to choose pellets, and now your article brought up the right information to ask it with. JP


  4. When I was talking about using your target to boresight your gun, I meant to say that you can use the laser, and boresight off you normal target without setting-up a laser specific target at an intermediate distance.

    mech


  5. JP,

    I have tried to write articles like you suggest in the past, but they were always off the mark. Maybe if I could see things through your eyes I’d know what to write about.

    Will you help me?

    B.B.


  6. All,
    I purchased a laser boresight last fall. Used it once and it not too likely to ever get out of the gun locker again. It just does not seem to shave off any time or shots.

    Of course mine was the lowest price unit on the shelf at the local sporting goods store.

    DB


  7. BB,
    The same customer probably also returned some pellets because they were dirty and the tin did not look well-constructed. Perhaps he was just frustrated because his gun was supposed to shoot at 950 fps and it only did 930.


  8. I keep it simple..I start at 5 yards and walk off 5 yard increments. I try to find the longest “corridor” where the pellet will be 1/2″ above and below my scope’s crosshairs. Most of the time about 12 to 42 yards with an AR depending on what pellet I am using. Then I shoot a target at 10 meters and save it so I know where to site in at 10 meters to get it back to where I had it originally.

    I just use a simple 4x scope and mainly just hunt pests for farmers and small game. I don’t have a chrono, but if I set an empty regular sized soup can on the ground (unattached) at 10 meters with the bottom facing me then shoot the bottom. If a .22 baracuda or kodiak 21.14 g pellet goes through it, I can pretty much guess it’s about 12 flbs or more and enough to knock out my quarry.

    I also shoot phone books with same pellets and distances to check for changes in an AG performance (number of pages penitrated). Also, I try different pellets to see how they perform. Clay is fun to shoot at also.

    Real results with your ammo and AG is the best. You can read, look at charts, use formula and use special equipment, but the best results are those you carry and and experiment with.


  9. B.B.

    Well, so much for my idea of using laser boresites with assembled sniper rifles. I don’t understand the distinction between aligning the bore with the sights and zeroing the rifle. Aren’t they the same thing? And it doesn’t seem like the technology would pose huge problems. Lasers are very straight, and if they’re placed in the bore, they should line up well. It seems like this system has all the makings of a super-precise sighting system.

    Matt61


  10. Matt61,

    Think of it this way. By boresighting, you get the ball on the basketball court. By zeroing, you get it in the basket.

    And just because the laser lines up with the bore, what makes you think the sights do? In fact, the bore doesn’t even line up with the outside of the barrel – as in the hole doesn’t go through the center of the barrel!

    The only way to appreciate these things is to try them yourself. Then you;ll see what works and what doesn’t.

    B.B.


  11. Hey BB, Just an update on the mystery rifle we’ve discussed. I recieved the owners manual from the Marksman Co, and it’s called a Beeman(?!?) Silver Bear Model 0035. Did mention it was made by a Spanish firm called Norica Laurona. Anyways it’s rated at 650 fps, and I’m very pleased with it. Not as hard hitting as the Sierra Pro, but enough to group the bottum of a beer can at 90 feet. This weekend I didn’t get to shoot to much (got windy and chilly), but worked on my technique and especially the “tack-weld” consistancy. I was hitting everywhere I placed the cross- hairs. I’m starting to get a good feel of this rifle, and it seems it’s really coming into its own. I’m still not quite ready to write up an “official” review for PyramydAir, but it won’t be as brash, as I initionally was going to write. Still disappointed with the crappy factory sights. Especially since it was made in China, where out-sourcing for cheap labor could have went back into a quality product with real metal sights. Thomas


  12. Matt61,
    With air rifles at least the crown can change the POI and that has little to do with anything that is aligned with the bore.

    Also… the laser may not be aligned with the device body. Meaning if you spin it in the barrel you’ll see the red dot move. Mine did just that. It was close but not real close.

    DB





  13. BB

    its hardly surprising that novices to air gunning get confused, here is a link to the daisy website
    http://www.daisy.com/shopping/customer/product.php?productid=16203&cat=253&page=1

    its shows 4.5 ft/lb rifle and states the max shooting distance as 257 yards LMAO. Yes, maybe thats how far the pellet could fly if you shot the rifle at 45% on a very windy day, but come on, for that power of gun you are looking at more like a max distance of 35 yards surely

    Paul


  14. Larry Durham once pointed out that one can shoot incredibly well by sighting down a bare barrell. For my M1 Garand, for instance, the sights are almost exactly lined up with the barrell. As a first guess, making sure that your sights line up with the barrell would help. For most scopes, if the sights are centered, they will line up with the barrell.


  15. All,
    Glad I put in my bulk order for JSB Exacts last week. Price just doubled. Of course they are back ordered. But PA will honor the price.

    DB



  16. B.B.

    Two things. One, your tales of the M60 brought back memories. Hard to believe that those beasts were once state of the art. Two, I bought a tin of Crosman Ultra Magnums for the heck of it. I read somewhere (maybe your blog!?) that a heavier pellet took better advantage of the power available in a springer (I’ve got a Crosman G1 Xtreme)I had my scope sighted in at 20 feet with regular weight (Crosman Pointed Hunting) pellets. When I tried the heavier pellet, the POI actually went up about 1/2 inch. The Ultra’s were harder to load, so they may have had a snugger fit in the barrel. I thought that all .177 pellets would be the same diameter. Veeerrrry Interesting! I guess I’ll have to send a bunch more down range to verify.


  17. B.B.–Scott298 reporting in. What are your thoughts on using Eun Jin 16.1 gr in .177 in my rws 350? Any idea at the velocity, accuracy and distance I would get? And will they cause too much wear on the gun-thanks Scott298. Weather looks promising in this neck of the woods on Wed to finally sight in my new leapers and find out how well the gun shoots after Umarex has had had their hands on it-but I would really like to know your thoughts on the eun Jin!


  18. You mentioned it briefly once in a response here but if this article has a part 2 anywhere, could you go over a little more why laser bore sighting doesn’t do what it seems like it ought to do?


  19. To Scott298:

    Hi Scott. My name is Scott too! I just got my .22 cal 350 mag back from Umerex after they fixed a broken mainspring and spring guide. Before I knew any better I had shot about 300 to 400 Ein Jun heavy pellets through it. The FPE dropped from 24.5 to 18 rather quickly as I damaged the rifle over a couple of days. Fortunately Umerex did all the repairs under warranty no questions asked- and I didn’t even register for the warranty service. I’m sure B.B. will tell you why ultra heavy pellets in springers is a no-no. I would if I could, but I’m no expert.
    P.S Just got my .25 cal Patriot today! WooHoo!!

    ScottinCali


  20. Hi BB,
    Off topic. How about some feed back from any body who shoots a 392what brand of pellets can shoot a decent group of 1″ at 20 yards?. My 392 shoots 2″-3″ inches with CPs, RWS, some JSBs etc…but the cheapy Daisy wads does 1″-1.5″ which is very surprising as in my mind if the lowly Daisy wads can do 1″-1.5″ there must be some other more expensive brands that can do better but If the 1″-1.5″ is the standard for the 392s at 20 yds. then I can complain no more. I knew before hand when I bought one that the 392 is not a shooter but just a decent shooter and I think it has to do at least 1″ in order to take a squirer. My harder to shoot springer (Panther) does dime size w/CPs & RWS superdomes at 20 yards.

    Hank


  21. My 392 shoots 3/4 inch groups at 25 yards with Beeman Silver Ace pellets. Does about the same with Gamo Match, but only at lower velocities (3-4 pumps).
    –MikeU



  22. Scott298,

    Do you remember me talking about spring gun performance and how each pellet gets different results because of what the piston does? If you recall, I said that springers usually liked lighter weight pellets better, as long as they fit the bore well.

    Scott from California has some actual data for you that seems to suggest the Eun Jins are not for the 350 Mag. Eun Jins were made for powerful PCPs, and were never intended for spring guns to begin with.

    I would stick to Beeman Kodiaks as the heaviest pellet for your rifle.

    B.B.


  23. Laser,

    No, there isn’t a part 2 to this post, nor is there another sight-in article.

    A laser was never intended to zero a scope. There is too much movement and imprecision for that to occur.

    I will say this once again, and if it doesn’t get across, you tell me. The sights on a gun are not aligned with the bore of the gun, except by design. In other words, we HOPE they will line up, but there is no guarantee that they will.

    The laser boresight device, which moves around and is loose, can never zero the sights or scope because of its degree of imprecision. All it can hope to do it point you in the right direction, so you can finish the job. The goal of a laser boresight device is to get the scope hitting SOMEWHERE on the target paper, so the scope or sight adjustments can finish the job.

    If that is unclear, or if the reasons WHY that is true are unclear, let me know and I will do a special blog to explain it.

    B.B.


  24. Hank,

    There is something fundamentally wrong with your rifle. You may recall that I got groups smaller than 1/2″ at 21 yards when I tested the pump-assist 392.

    http://www.pyramydair.com/blog/2008/01/pump-assist-benjamin-392-part-5.html

    Years ago I had Mac-1 do a Steroid tune on a 392 for me and they left a burr in the transfer port. The accuracy was terrible until they removed the burr. Then the rifle shot well.

    Run a pellet down the muzzle and out to the loading trough and check for a burr, which will leave a gouge on one side of the pellet.

    Premiers are made for this rifle and should work very well in it.

    B.B.


  25. Benji 392 would Beeman kodiak heavy aka H&N Baracuda pellets be too heavy for an air rifle with a brass barrel? They do well in all my .22 ARs including my Daisy 22SG. They may have a little more drop at the end, but at 20 yard not a problem. Down to .250″ at 20 to 22 yards c-t-c or about 6mm.



  26. Hello their B.B. its been awhile hope everyone is doing good.

    I purchased the laser bore sight awhile back but I already had it in mind that the pellet wasn’t going to hit the red dot, I just used it to get close to the bore’s line of sight then once I had that I took a few shots and made further adjustments to get the pellets to land where I wanted or just to get a good group over a half inch at 20 yards with my gamo 1250 in .22 cal.

    Robert 1250


  27. A heavier pellet may cause a higher POI.

    Example Demo:

    http://www.arld1.com/rifledynamicssmaller.html

    Also, check out the homepage. A lot of good animated demos there.

    I believe the site built by Perry Babin.

    Just remember PA bought out AE. I think that must be an old banner.

    I’ll still whine about AE having some info on air guns I miss: like LOP and Country Made. I think some may have number of rifle grooves and rate of twist.

    I suggested listing the country where a air gun is made and LOP to PA, now they’ve take the country info off the brand listing page.


  28. i have my gun somewhat sighted in and i can hit a tin can a around 50 yards and i aim at the center next shot i miss the whole can ba a couple of inches and that goes on for a while then i hit dead center again then it starts all over


  29. BB,

    I know this article is over 2 years old, but I hope you can still help me.

    I just got a Beeman Mach 12.5 and I've shot it about 120 times or so.Then I decided it was time to try and sight it in.

    When I followed your sight in article, my pellets were hitting a couple inches ABOVE the aim point at 10 feet… when I eventually got to 30 yards back, I had my scope adjustment down as far as it could go and my pellets are still hitting about 10" above the point of aim.

    Perhaps the gun wasn't broken in enough to try to sight it in?

    What can I do?

    Thanks,
    Dave


  30. Dave,

    First, let's check to see if your barrel is bent. Your case sounds like a classic one where the barrel was open and the trigger was pulled. This allows the barrel to slam shut, resulting in an upward bend at the place where the barrel leaves the baseblock. That's the block used to connect the barrel with the powerplant. On some guns it's just a welded connection below the barrel.

    If the barrel isn't bent up, then your rear scope mount is higher than the front mount. Try switching the mounts front and rear. If you have a one-piece ring set, turn it around.

    You need to lower the rear mount or raise the front mount significantly. At 10 feet the pellet should strike a couple inches BELOW the aim point.

    Read this article, which should make it clearer.

    http://www.pyramydair.com/site/articles/scopes-part3/

    I also want you to come to the current blog, whatever it is, and tell me if this has helped you or not. We will try to resolve this for you.

    http://airgun-academy.pyramydair.com/blog/

    However, if we cannot resolve this problem, I will recommend that you return the rifle in exchange for another. So let's keep an eye on the time.

    B.B.


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