What’s the Best Distance to Zero an Air Rifle Scope?
If you’re an airgun aficionado, you no doubt want to pair your favorite rifle with a prized scope or optic system. The right air rifle paired with the best scope can really improve your accuracy and let you hit pests on your property or outshine all your friends during backyard shooting competitions.
However, equipping your rifle with an excellent scope isn’t as simple as just mounting the thing on your weapon. You have to know how to zero your rifle scope and at what distance is best for the rifle and pellets you use. Many beginners – and even some experienced users – don’t fully grasp how far to zero their air rifle scope.
No need to worry; this guide has everything you need and can tell you the best distance at which to zero your air rifle scope. We’ll go through the zeroing process from the beginning and provide you with some distance recommendations if you don’t already have a distance in mind. Let’s get started!
What Does “Zeroing” a Rifle Scope Mean?
In a nutshell, zeroing your rifle is the act of aligning the optics or sights on your rifle so that they line up perfectly with the impact point of any pellet you fire. In other words, it’s sighting in your rifle scope so that the crosshairs actually line up properly with your target. Failing to do this can result in poor accuracy; you’ll take a shot with your rifle and expect the pellet or BB to land at the crosshair center point, only for the actual impact point to be somewhere else.
You have to zero your sights because you can’t really alter the way your rifle is constructed to change the path of your pellet. After all, your rifle barrel must be perfectly straight for the pellet to emerge properly at all.
Zeroing must be done both with both open sights and with telescopic sights or magnifying optics, although the latter kinds of optics are more common. Open sights still need zeroing, but it’s often a bit easier or faster.
How to Zero an Air Rifle Scope
The first thing you need to do is fit your scope correctly. This involves mounting the scope properly on the rifle in question, as well as adjusting its height and eye relief. The height of your scope can determine how easily you can look at the crosshair and your comfort level, as well as its overall accuracy. Eye relief describes the maximum distance your eye can be from the scope before you start to lose your sight picture.
Whichever scope you own, it should come with a manual that describes the ideal height and eye relief settings for rifles it is designed to be used in conjunction with. Most modern scopes and optics allow you to tinker with these variables to some extent until you find values that are comfortable for your shooting position.
You should also decide what pellets you’ll be using in conjunction with your rifle. Some pellets work better for certain barrels than others, and vice versa. Chances are you already have some experience with your rifle if you are mounting a scope on it, so you should have some idea about appropriate pellet calibers for your firearm.
But if your rifle and scope are both new, take a little while to fire between 15 and 20 pellets of various types into a safe target or backstop. As you test out pellet calibers, pay attention to those which hit the target with the smallest group size – that is, the pellets that stay closest together are the ones that are most appropriate for your rifle.
Firing lots of pellets beforehand has an additional advantage: doing so “leads” the barrel, which basically means that they prepare the barrel for optimal accuracy.
Now it’s time to actually get to zeroing your sight. When you “zero” your sight, you’re picking a somewhat arbitrary distance at which your rifle should be perfectly accurate. You have to pick a distance beforehand because, no matter how powerful your airgun and what type of pellet you use, gravity and momentum both play a role in the overall path of your projectile.
As an example, many airguns are supposed to be zeroed at distances between 10 to 30 yards depending on the pellets used in the type of weapon they are.
So how do you know what distance you should zero your rifle for? That depends on your typical engagement distance and the type of pellet you use with your airgun. For instance, if you plan to use pellets that are great for hitting targets between 20 and 30 yards away, you should zero your rifle for a distance between 20 or 30 yards as well.
If you have a general engagement range – that is, a series of engagement distances where you typically use your rifle – it’s often a good idea to set your zero distance at the upper end of that range. This will enable you to benefit from pinpoint accuracy at the edge of your effective engagement distance. In other words, your air rifle will be accurate across its entire typical engagement range spread.
Zero at Ten Yards
However, beginners (and even some experts) would benefit from zeroing their air rifle at close range to start. This will enable you to perfect your zeroing technique and make sure your pellets are striking your targets properly before adjusting upward.
Our recommendation is that you first zero your air rifle for 10 yards. Set up a safe backstop behind your target, then step 10 yards away from that target and start taking shots. Keep firing until you can see where your pellets are getting. Once you have marks on your target, it’s time to start messing with your windage and elevation adjustment turrets.
Most airguns worth your time and money will come with a set of windage and elevation turrets, which are usually situated at the top and side of the rifle, respectively. The vast majority of rifles, both airguns and traditional firearms, make adjustments of one-quarter MOA increments.
Without getting too technical with the math, this just means that every time you click either of the turrets, they’ll move your rifle’s point of impact about one-quarter of an inch at 100 yards. This “100-yard” number is why many regular firearm users will sight their scopes at 100 yards to start.
To visualize this, imagine standing 100 yards from your target with a regular rifle. Adjusting either the windage or elevation adjustment turret by one click remove your point of impact in the chosen direction (left or right or up or down, respectively) by one-quarter of an inch. Of course, this value also means that zeroing your rifle at ranges other than 100 yards will require you to adjust accordingly. You will need to click several times at close range is like 10 yards.
Mess with the windage and elevation turrets as much as you need until you have an initial zero at 10 yards. At this point, your rifle should be perfectly accurate and hit your target exactly.
Now you can move on to your farther or “primary” zero.
Again, think about what you’ll be using the air rifle for and what kinds of pellets you are feeding it. Light sporting rifles primarily designed for backyard plinking or friendly target practice competitions should have zeroed scopes at 20 yards or so, with plenty of wiggle room depending on your preference.
On the other hand, air rifles that are going to be used to hunt rabbits or other pests will probably be more powerful and needed to be used from farther away. Going for a higher primary zero distance, like 30 yards or 40 yards, makes a lot of sense.
If you are in doubt, stick with our general recommendation of 30 yards. This is a great engagement distance for the vast majority of air rifles and allows you to comfortably be accurate across a variety of activities.
Zero at 30 Yards
To zero your rifle at 30 yards, place the target 30 yards away with a safe backstop, then take five shots at the target. Once you see the five markers on the target, try to find the average point of impact across all five impact points. Then adjust for windage or elevation accordingly. Then take another five shots and do it again. In fact, keep doing this until all five pellets are clustered effectively around the bull.
The reason you take five-shot groups is that a single pellet by itself doesn’t provide consistent information with which to adjust your windage and elevation variables. A single shot might be a fluke – unluckily hit by wind, perhaps. But five shots tells you the way your rifle is trending in a much more consistent way.
You can repeat the above process with any zero distance you desire. That’s the basic formula: set target, fire shots, adjust for windage and elevation, repeat.
How to Discover the Best Zero Distance
This knowledge only comes with personal experience with your chosen air rifle and your favorite ammunition type. You can follow our recommendations for 30 yards as a happy medium for most activities, but spending time with the airgun and taking it through all sorts of sessions is the best way to determine its actual effective range.
Don’t be afraid to settle for a zero distance that you know works for your needs. As an example, if you frequently use your air rifle for backyard plinking with your friends and hit targets around 25 yards away, feel free to zero your air rifle scope for 25 yards.
It’s always a smart idea to zero your scope every time you change pellet caliber, as different pellets have different effective ranges and behave differently when they emerged from your rifle barrel. You should not expect a .177 pellet to be accurate at the exact same ranges as a .25 pellet, for instance. Naturally, this requires you to go through the entire process again.
The good news is that your initial zeroing session for your airgun optic is likely going to be the most labor and time-intensive. Once your air rifle is “broken in” and you’ve at least partially zeroed the optic you want to use with it, zeroing for other ammunition types and at other ranges should come a little easier.
Additionally, pellets are often made with different lead materials or alloys, which can affect other pellets if you don’t clean the barrel between types. A .177 pellet rifle might have .177 lead residue on the interior of the barrel that can throw off the accuracy of other pellet calibers. If you have the time and are dedicated to true accuracy, you should always clean the barrel of your air rifle before zeroing your sight with a different pellet type.
The Difference Between MOA and MIL
While most rifle scopes use the MOA distance measurements, some use a MIL system instead. Put simply:
- MOA adjusts for 1.047 inches at 100 yards for every click
- MIL adjusts for 3.6 inches at 100 yards for every click
MIL-style scopes are typically employed by military-style scopes, and it can be used with both the Imperial and metric systems of measurement if you like to do calculation in your head. MOA-style increments are only good with the U.S. measurement system, unfortunately, which is probably why many United States airgun users prefer these types of reticles.
Ultimately, both can be capably used to effectively zero your rifle. It’s just a matter of personal preference. When in doubt, remember that you can always “eyeball” the actual adjustment values you need to zero your optics, especially if you have plenty of pellets on hand.
Use Chairgun(The most precise and accurate way)
What to do next? Then, as you go down the accuracy and optimizing rabbit hole, download Chairgun(NOTE : Unfortunately the owners stopped supporting the app in 2018…but it’s still very much usable) on your phone, enter your pellet weight and speed. YES, I know people out there are complaining about having to use an app and learn how to use the software, but it really is incredibly easy to learn, and by far the most accurate and reliable way for range estimation.
The Chairgun app will give you the expected pellet path, and from there you can actually select the distance that fits your needs – for example, the longest ‘kill zone’ for your pest control or hunting needs.
For example, these are the #’s I get from my latest Chairgun measurements. I plugged in my pellet weight and velocity(If you don’t know how to calculate pellet velocity, simply plug in your gun’s FPS and pellet weight in Pyramyd Air’s Calculator )
For starters, I’m using a Benji Trail NPSS, my pellets are Crosman Premier UltraMags(14.3 grams). Chairgun gives me an optimum distance of 32.5 yards with this pellet, and a kill zone of 1 inch.I could shoot within that one-inch kill zone from 1.37 yards up to 36.4 yards.
Chairgun will also give you a mildot chart, including the holdover/holdunder for other ranges based on scope magnification, which is incredibly neat.
You can download ChairgunPro from: http://www.hawkeoptics.com/us/chairgun/index.php. You may need to register for the download, but it’s just to get you on their mailing list. No charge.
Do some solid testing, and pick the pellet that gives you the smallest group size. Our baseline recommendations are the JBS Exact, Air Arms Diabolo Feld, and H&N Field Target Trophy.
Other Variables at Play
Keep in mind that these are our general guidelines for sight-in distance. There is NO one gospel, true answer! We’ve mentioned that the type of gun, pellet can greatly affect the sight-in distance but there are some other variables to consider : Your hold stance(Yes, we recommend the Artillery Hold), grip and trigger technique.
Ultimately you HAVE to experiment, test and find what works best for YOU.
Best video explanations on YouTube
Ted’s Holdover : Starting out at 25 yards
Watch below 4-minute YouTube video for the simplest explanation we’ve found so far.
As Ted’s Holdover explains, simply set up a 5-inch target at 25 yards out initially. It MAY be off by a lot at this distance depending on what type of gun and pellet you’re using.
The beauty of the simple cues Ted gives is to adjust the crosshairs high, if the shot hits high, and adjust them low, if the shot hits low. This is because if I re-align my crosshairs on target, it’ll actually bring the muzzle DOWN.
All in all, zeroing your air rifle scope is an art just like pure marksmanship. It’s something you’ll get better at as you spend more time doing it, and eventually, it’ll be like second nature whenever you allow your air rifle for a great time. Remember to stay flexible with your distances in practice at multiple engagement ranges to learn how to zero for multiple activities. Good hunting!