It is time to sight in your rifle for deer, bear hunting in Pennsylvania

Sight In Target

“I can hit a paper plate at 50 yards and that is good enough to kill a deer in Pennsylvania.” — anonymous hunter.

It never ceases to amaze me how many hunters don’t take time to check the aim of their scoped rifle each fall. Having a rifle that hits where you are aiming is one of the foundations of having a successful big game season. This blog is for those hunters who fire their deer rife once or twice a year.

There are just a few weeks left to get your rifle ready for deer and/or bear seasons. Checking the aim of your rifle is easy and should take less than an hour. Here are few tips to help you. Space doesn’t allow me to detail the entire process.


Of course, your rifle was cleaned when you put it away last winter, right? If not, it would be wise to start with a good bore cleaning and make sure that the bore is clear of any obstructions before you load ammunition.

There is no use starting to shoot only to discover later that your scope is loose. Check all screws on your scope’s mounts and tighten as necessary.

Buy or make some sandbags. You’ll need at least three. Doubled bread bags, two-thirds-filled with unused cat litter, bird seed or potting soil will do if you don’t have sand. Locate or buy at least two 20-shot boxes of ammunition of the same brand, bullet type and weight. This should be the type of ammo that you plan to hunt with. For example, Remington .270 with 150 grain Core-Lokt bullets.

Ammo manufactured by different companies and with different bullet weights usually has different points of impact. Never attempt to sight in a rifle by shooting old assorted ammo.

Buy or make several targets. A small target will do if you are pretty certain that your shots will hit close to your point of aim. If uncertain, it would be best to begin using a large piece of corrugated cardboard with a smaller target taped near the center. Make sure that you have hearing protection, a marker or tape and a ruler. If possible, locate the directions that came with your scope when you purchased it. Make sure that you have a coin or two in your pocket to adjust your scope.

Head to the range

Sighting in a rifle is best and most-safely done at an approved rifle range. There you’ll find sturdy shooting benches, target holders, measured distances and a safe backstop. If you already have your own range and shooting bench, I doubt that you really needed to read this blog. Those owning large tracts of rural land may be able to locate a safe place to shoot with a wide clear path to the target and a safe earthen backstop. A picnic table can double for a shooting bench. Never use a forested hillside for a backstop.

Ranges have their own safety procedures, protocols, and etiquette. Stop, watch, learn and ask questions of other shooters if necessary before you begin to shoot. Range safety is dependent on all shooters and bystanders being considerate and cooperative. I am fortunate enough to be able to shoot on my own rural property, but lately I use the Bald Eagle Sportsmen Club range to check my rifle, and I usually have the range to myself.

Important advice

Remember that sighting in a rifle should not be a test of your shooting skill, but rather a test of the scoped rifle’s point of aim. To do this when on the rest, your rifle needs to aim at the bullseye without you touching it. This is what the sandbags are for.

When safe to do so, set up your target at 25 or 50 yards from the bench. If this isn’t possible at the range you go to, use the shortest distance that you are allowed. Then, back at the bench, place sand bags, two under the forearm and one under the butt of your rifle. Set your scope on its highest power that affords a clear view. Adjust the sandbags so that the scope’s crosshairs meet at the center of the bull’s eye — even if you are not touching the rifle. This step is very critical. Take your time and add or subtract support as necessary until you achieve the desired point of aim.

Slowly fire three shots. If done properly, your three shots should form a fairly tight group. Always take your time between shots. A hot rifle barrel can direct rounds differently than a cold one. Your rifle barrel will be cold when you take that all-important first shot at a big buck.

Measure or estimate the distance left-to-right and up-or-down from the center of your group to the bullseye. Adjust your scope the required number of clicks to move your point of aim towards the group. Slowly fire three more shots. Locate your group on the target. Repeat the process until you are hitting at or just above the bullseye. Move your target to a longer range and fire three more shots. Every caliber’s ballistics differ, but most hunters like to have their rifle hitting an inch or so high at 100 yards. That provides accuracy from close out to 200 yards.

Knowing that your rifle will hit close to the bullseye will be a giant boost of confidence and allow the human error involved with shooting offhand at a deer or bear to still place your shots within that “paper plate” range.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, Firearms

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