by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

This report covers:

  • Use a bigger target
  • Don’t look through the sight when adjusting it!
  • Don’t go too far!
  • Don’t adjust on the basis of a single shot
  • Don’t change the reticle!
  • What have you learned?
  • Big bore match at the 2015 Texas airgun show
  • Coming tomorrow: Log-in to make a blog comment

I was at the range last week with my brother-in-law, Bob, who was visiting us for the Fourth of July. He brought his Colt AR-15 to get my help sighting-in, which I was glad to do. He has had a lot of problems sighting-in this rifle with optical sights, and I wanted to see what they were firsthand. Boy — am I glad I did! I think some of you will be, too, because this experience made today’s report.

Bob had already gone through several scopes on this rifle — never being satisfied with any of the results he got. This time, he had a dot sight mounted on the gun, and the mounts allowed him to also see the rifle’s standard peep sights. An AR-15 is hard to boresight (align the bore of the rifle with an optical sight) because you can’t see down the barrel. With a bolt rifle you can simply remove the bolt and look down the barrel while aligning the scope’s reticle. When the bullseye appears to be centered in the barrel at the same time the crosshairs are centered inside the bull, you’re boresighted. A shot at this point should strike pretty close to the bullseye.

We sighted-in at 50 yards, and Bob mentioned another problem he had encountered. What if the bullet fails to strike the paper target at all? What do you do then? People don’t think about this until they get to the range and actually begin shooting. If your bullets aren’t hitting anything you can see, there’s no way you will know if you’re high, low, left or right. Hence, you’re making sight adjustments with no reference and hoping on luck to see you though. This is where my first secret tip comes in.

Use a bigger target

Several years ago, I acquired about a thousand 2-foot by 4-foot silhouette targets — the kind used for defense training. I turn them around and staple the plain white target paper to the backer board at the range. Then, I position the sight-in target in the center of that.

sight-in target
With the target centered inside a larger piece of paper, the chances of seeing even a wild shot are good.

The first shot from his rifle at 50 yards missed the 10-1/2 by 12 inch paper target altogether but landed about a foot to the left of center (3-4 inches to the left of the target paper) and 6 inches high. Had he just shot at the target by itself, this shot would have been lost. The larger paper behind the target was the only thing that showed where he hit.

Don’t look through the sight when adjusting it!

I told him he needed to adjust the sight by a foot to the right and 6 inches down. He looked at the dot sight adjustment screws and then proceeded to look at the target through the sight while he turned the windage screw. Don’t do that. The dot in this case, or reticle if it’s a scope, has to move in the direction opposite where you want the bullet to move. Looking through the sight while adjusting it is a surefire way to confuse yourself. If you want the bullet to move up, the dot must come down against the target.

Bob adjusts sight
Don’t look through an optical sight while you adjust it.

I speak from experience, because just 2 years ago I was so fascinated that a Russian sniper scope reticle actually moved inside the scope as it was adjusted that I watched through the scope while I was adjusting it. And I adjusted it right off the backer paper before realizing what I’d done. I had forgotten this until I saw Bob doing the same thing. Then it was obvious. Have any of you done this?

Most optical sights are marked with directions that tell you which way the bullet will go when they are turned. Heck, my M1 Garand battle rifle has these marks on both knobs of the rear peep sight. Pay attention to the directions on the adjustment knobs and forget looking through the scope until the adjustments have been made. Most of the time, turning the elevation knob clockwise lowers the strike of the round — and counter-clockwise raises it. And most of the time turning the windage adjustment knob clockwise moves the round to the left — and counter-clockwise moves it to the right. Most times.

Some scopes have their adjustment knobs or screws located in odd places, or they have left-hand screw threads. These will more than likely adjust in the opposite direction from what I just said. So, pay attention to those directions and do what they tell you.

If there are no directions, make small adjustments and see which direction they move the strike of the round. And don’t forget that your scope may have stiction. Some scopes take one and even two shots to respond to any adjustments you make.

Don’t adjust too far!

After the first shot, I told Bob to crank a lot of right adjustment and some down adjustment into his sight. Bad choice of words on my part. He took me at my word and adjusted what he thought was a lot of right adjustment and fired two more rounds that didn’t seem to have hit the paper. Uh, oh! What happened, now? Did he adjust the sight too far to the right, or did he adjust it in the wrong direction and go off the paper backer to the left? When there’s no bullet hole to see, you have nothing to go on.

Then, I spotted a bullet hole way over on the right edge of the backer paper — about 18 inches from the first shot. One of the two rounds had hit the backer paper — fortunately. Bob and I needed to agree about our definitions of what a lot of adjustment means! It was my fault. He asked for my help, and I was assuming he would do things like I would. I then asked him to adjust the dot sight back to the left and slightly down because he was still shooting too high.

The next bullet landed closer to the bull and was, in fact, the first bullet to strike the target paper instead of the backer paper. Now we were getting somewhere. Another adjustment put a bullet too far to the left of the bull, and I remembered another important lesson.

Don’t adjust on the basis of a single shot

This is very important. Do not fire one shot and then adjust your sight from that bullet hole! Remember that your gun shoots groups. All the bullets will not go into a single hole. Shoot two or even better yet three rounds, and then adjust the scope or dot sight from the center of that group.

Bob did this. Within a few more shots, he was striking inside the black bull at 50 yards. As I predicted, his rounds weren’t all landing in the same hole, but they were close enough to let us know where the rifle was shooting.

Don’t change the reticle!

Then he did something to his sight and then said to me, “I wonder if this green reticle with the crosshairs is the one I should be using. I just switched over to the dot reticle.”

Oh no! “Bob, you just did the electronic equivalent of removing the sight and replacing it with a different one!”

Surely not! “Why would they give me these different reticles to choose from if they don’t all shoot to the same place?”

“Try it and see,” I suggested. The next round landed on the edge of the target paper, about 7 inches from where he’d been hitting. Lesson learned.

He switched back to the reticle he’d used before. Fortunately, the shot moved back to roughly the same place. We refined the sight setting and were done. His rifle was sighted-in, and several important lessons had been learned.

What have you learned?

Today’s report was about optical sights, but not the technical side. We weren’t looking at minutes of angle. We weren’t dealing with excessive droop or cant or any of the more common things shooters talk about when the subject of optical sights is discussed. We were simply learning how to adjust the sight. Yet, everything we’ve looked at today is just as important as any of those other things.

Big bore match at the 2015 Texas airgun show

The 2015 Texas airgun show is coming up fast. It will be held on August 29 at the Parker County Sportsman Club in Poolville, Texas. This year the show will feature the LASSO big bore match that has not been held since 2012.

I expect to see the usual big bores from Dennis Quackenbush, some Korean big bores like the Sam Yang Dragon Claw and of course the new AirForce Airguns Texan. Those are the big bores everyone is shooting, but nowadays we also have some new guns like the Benjamin BulldogHatsan Carnivore in both .30 and .35 calibers, and Evanix Max-ML. And, I’m hearing about many more new big bores from around the country — some with air cartridges and others with interchangeable barrels! I sure hope some of these new guns decide to compete this year!

The Crosman Corporation has generously donated one of their Bulldog big bores with a scope and ammunition as the grand prize for this match. Some-sharp shooting big bore competitor will leave the show with the very rifle I tested for this blog! And I will provide a letter of authentication that states this was the rifle I used for both the blog and for my feature article in the July 2015 color edition of Shotgun News, which hits your newsstands this month!

So, come to the show to see the guns. Come to sell your airguns. Come to see the big bore match and don’t forget to come to the reception we’re holding the night before, where you can watch the filming of a special segment of American Airgunner for next year!

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