When testing a new firearm, zeroing a rifle is the most important step. Most shooters will tell you zeroing a rifle is a daunting task. The zeroIng process is even more difficult when using an AR-15.
Zeroing is also referred to as sighting-in. It’s a process of adjusting your rifle’s sights to ensure the point of aim aligns with the bullet’s point of impact. It’s a crucial process to having the perfect shot.
Sighting an AR-15 can be done using iron sights, a riflescope, or an electronic optic.
If you just bought a new AR-15 and looking to zero it, then you’ve come to the right place. Join me below as I discuss the steps to sighting an AR-15.
7 Steps to Zeroing an AR-15
Gather necessary tools
Before starting any zeroing process, you need to have the necessary tools on standby. Lay all the bullets and bits down and play with your scope a little.
You want to make sure your scope or iron sight is properly installed. A poorly installed scope or sight is the start of missed targets.
Make sure you take as much time as possible to ensure the optic is properly fit. Below is a checklist of all the important tools you require.
- Large target board
- Staple gun
- Eye and hearing protection
- Shooting table/bench
- Gun rest
- Tape measure
With all tools set in place, you can start the zeroing process.
Bore Sighting Implementation
Bore sighting is simply looking through the rifle’s empty barrel to get a rough idea of where the bullet will hit.
To employ the technique perfectly, you need to have the gun perfectly rested on a bench. You need to look down the bore from the chamber to the muzzle. This will help remove any obstruction like the gun frame or bolt.
You’ll need to center a distant object in the bore using your eyes. Make sure the sights are aligned with the target downrange. This is what gets your rifle ‘bore-sighted’.
When bore sighting, start at small ranges. 25 yards is the best range to get started. Set a target/large paper at 25 yards. The aim is to make sure the bullet hits the paper on the first shot.
By doing this, you’ll know the kind of adjustments to make. Choose a bigger target for easy sighting.
Another excellent way for bore sighting is to remorse the upper and lower receivers. You also need to remove the upper bolts to create enough sighting room.
Cradle the upper receiver and sandwich it with sandbags to ensure it stays steady. Now, look through the barrel from the chamber with the bullseye at the bore center.
Next, move the eye up the sights without moving the barrel. Note the point of aim. Try adjusting the signs until they are calibrated on the bullseye.
Do some rough adjustments
Next, you need to perform some rough adjustments if the sights are not aligned correctly. For scopes, there are two adjustment turrets. This is the windage scope (left and right adjustment) and elevation scope ( up and down adjustment).
If adjusting scopes, listen for the audible clicks. Turn the scope turrets until the crosshairs align with the bullseye.
When making scope adjustments, the rifle needs to be extremely steady. Only move your head and eye between the views. You need to make sure the scope’s crosshairs and boresight are centered through the bore.
You can repeat the process for iron sights. But since you’re using an AR-15, make sure you also adjust the rear sight.
Set up a steady rest
Accuracy is always challenging no matter the adjustments if you don’t have a steady rest. Sometimes shooters need to perform trials to choose a rest that best suits their rifles.
Pick different rests and test them out before heading out to the field. You need to head into a shooting field with a rest that you feel comfortable using.
Apart from choosing a rest, you need to consider the rest surface. Make sure you check your AR-15 barrel length and choose a rest that fits the barrel length perfectly.
Shoot a Group
Now it’s time to shoot a group. With the AR-15 properly set and necessary adjustments made, it’s time to shoot. Start by firing a three-shot group.
Do you have a shooting partner? Group shots are best done with a friend. It’s easier to spot the point of impact and make a shot.
How are your hits? Are they hitting or missing the paper? If you’re missing the target, then it’s time to make some adjustments. Move a step back and redo some boresighting.
Once you repeated bore-sighting, make another set of rounds. Adjustments depend on how many shots hit the paper. If all three shots hit the paper, then you’re ready to move to the next step.
Make Fine Adjustments
With your shots hitting the paper, now you can make some fine adjustments. This is the step where you make your optimal zero. Are the shots on paper but not centered? If that’s the case, then you’ll need to make a few adjustments.
Estimate the center of the 3-shot group and mark them with a sharpie. This is where you need a tape measure. This will help you find the vertical and horizontal distances on the groups and the bullseye.
For example, if the lines are 2 inches left and 1.5 inches high on the bullseye, you must mark the bullet’s bullseye. Next, move the bullet’s point of impact the same distance, but in the opposite direction. This means adjusting the riflescope 2 inches right and 1.5 inches down.
With all the changes done, give your AR-15 a little tap for the changes to settle. You can make a few test rounds to see where they will hit. If all three shots hit the aim, then you’re set to go.
Find the Optimal zero
Just like a rifle, you can find the optimal zero for your AR-15. But first, make sure you understand your optimal specifications. This is dependent on the intended use.
Optimal zero is different at different ranges. For example, short-range shooting by police and home defenders is usually set at 10-25 yards. Zeroing your scopes at short ranges is ideal if you don’t plan long-range shooting.
But you’ll find most shooters and hunters zeroing their scopes at 100 to 200 yards. Some new rifles come zeroed at 100 yards. Such rifles will hit dead at 100 yards, low at 200 yards, and high at 50 yards.
Ideally, you need to zero your rifle at the furthest distance your scope travels. For example, 100 yards is ideal for 100-yard scope. Keeping the zero at the furthest point is recommended as it keeps points 2-3 inches away.
100 yards is recommended for target shooting, defense, and hunting. At 100 yards, the crosshairs or sight-in will be dead at 100 yards.
Overall, moving your target to a range is the best way to know the optimal zero. This is tested when shooting at a group. It’s when a bullet hit precisely at the center of the paper that your AR-15 is zeroed.
Additional tips to sight an AR-15
Choose the right optic: You need to choose a suitable optic that perfectly works for you. The right optic depends on the shooting purpose and conditions.
Weather conditions: As indicated above, weather conditions play a crucial role in zeroing an AR-15. It’s a little difficult to zero an AR-15 when the weather conditions are rough. You’ll need to take extra time and skill to zero in on the targets.
Range time: How much time do you have at the range? This is important as you don’t want to spend much time zeroing your rifle at the range. Take time and consider bullet drop compensators. This is crucial when shooting at long ranges.
Practice a zeroing routine: You need to create a proper zeroing technique to ensure you hit the point of impact every time. Make sure you understand the rear and front sight. Whether using a scope, red dot sight, or iron sights, practice making proper adjustments for each optic.
Practice 100: Lastly, make sure you practice nail shooting at 100 yards. You can start at 25 yards, but ensure you nail it at 100 yards.
Zeroing your AR-15 s crucial to precisely hitting the targets. For most shooters, the biggest frustration when zeroing is missing the target initially which makes zeroing difficult. Having inconsistent group shots is also challenging making adjustments difficult.
To properly zero an AR-15, you need to follow the outlined steps above. Start by setting the scope properly and boresighting. You also need to set a big and practical target at 25 yards for a start. Make group shots and see whether you miss or hit the target. This gives you a base for making adjustments.
Overall, you need to make sure the rifle rests properly and you’re not flinching. Hold the rifle well and practice a smooth trigger pull. Zeroing might seem a little difficult for a smart but becomes easier with more practice.
Travis Mike is a firearm enthusiast and author passionate about all things guns. With 10 years of experience in the industry, Travis Mike has gained a wealth of knowledge on the subject. He is skilled in gunsmithing and tactical training. In addition to professional experience, Travis Mike is an avid hunter and shooter, regularly participating in local shooting ranges and hunting trips.