How to properly zero a rimfire rifle

Rimfire rifles can fall into several different useage categories. Hunting, silhouette shooting, precision rifle shooting, pest control, plinking, competition, etc. Each use for a rifle brings with it special needs the rifle needs to have to be best in that category. Up to and including best distance to zero.

For hunting, or general use, where the kill zone on targets is 3 to 4 inches or larger, zeroing your rimfire at 50 yards is best. This would allow a dead on hold out to around 75-80 yards or so, depending on the size of your target, before being concerned with hold over or under to hit your target.

In this case, your point blank range would be 75-80 yards. For normal shooting needs, zeroing for point blank range works great, but for our purposes, we must take a different approach. In long range precision shooting we are after a higher level of precision.

Long range shooting with rimfires requires a scope with external elevation adjustments and a good knowledge of bullet trajectory. Long range precision shooters are not trying to hit a target, we are trying to hit the center of a target. For that reason we are trying to find the perfect zero on every shot, at every distance.

What zero distance for 22 lr ?

Again, for hunting, or to set up your 22 to minimize having to hold over or under on normal size targets out to around 70 yards, zero at 50 yards. If you plan to participate in a competition or a type of hunting where most of your shots will be less than 50 yards, you might want to consider a 25 yard zero which would put you very close to dead on at 50 and only a small amount low below 25 yards but at 70 yards you would have to hold over slightly.

What zero distance for 17 hmr ?

The magic distance for 17 hmr is 100 yards. This will put you about 0.1 inches high at 50 and about 2.6 inches low at 150.

For our purposes, long range rimfire, we will set our base zero at 50 yards, and dial needed corrections for elevation as yardage increases. This means at less than 50 yards we will shoot a little low. The maximum amount low would be right at the muzzle and equal the distance between the center line of your scope and the center line of the bore.

As the bullet approaches 50 yards the amount you will shoot low decreases until you reach 50 where impact is right on target. As with point blank range zeroing explained above, if you like to plink at targets up close, you might want to set your base zero at 25 yards.

This just means you will have to dial a little more elevation at long distances. No problem. After our base zero is established, we are going to establish our elevation settings for several distances. I would suggest every 50 yards incrementally from the base of either 25 or 50 yards.

Record those settings on a small sticker and stick it to your scope cap, or anywhere that would allow you to reference it without sacrificing shooting position. This will allow you to quickly make elevation adjustments, and hold for windage and expect to hit dead center. Here is where you start your dope book to record all of your settings and notes.

Prep the rifle for zero

Rimfires run pretty dirty and a dirty chamber can cause issues. In my experience, it will 1-2 shots on a rimfire with a clean barrel to bring it back to a state of consistency. In other words, don’t make scope adjustments on your first or second shot,unless the scope has been recently been installed and you are just trying to get on paper.

Verify that all screws are tight and torqued properly

I have seen many shooters skip this step only to have their scope rings or bases come loose after several shots. This is the first thing to check if you see your shot groups spread open.

Before zeroing any rifle, especially new ones, spend a little time making sure scope bases and rings are good and tight to specs. Dabbing each screw with a little blue lock tight is always a good idea to prevent backing out later.

I have seen many shooters skip this step only to have their scope rings or bases come loose after several shots. This is the first thing to check if you see your shot groups spread open.

Before zeroing any rifle, especially new ones, spend a little time making sure scope bases and rings are good and tight to specs. Dabbing each screw with a little blue lock tight is always a good idea to prevent backing out later.

Adjust the diopter on your scope

The diopter is located on or near the eye piece. There is usually a locking ring that needs to be loosened. Loosen the locking ring and adjust it until your reticle is crystal clear for your eyes. Notice I said reticle, not the sight picture, that is done with the parallax adjustment.

The diopter is just for the reticle. In fact this can be done at home before arriving at the range. It is best done by using a mono color wall or blue sky. Once the reticle is clear, the sight picture can still be blurry, tighten the locking ring.

Get a stable rest

Any time you are zeroing one of your rifles I recommend using a lead sled to remove as much of the human error as possible. I know many of you out there are expert shots who “don’t need no stinking lead sled” but anything you can do to remove human error improves success at long distances.

Having a lead sled allows you to better stabilize the rifle, make the point of aim more exact, and while allowing the rifle to react the same way during the shot. This improves your results and get you on target faster. Getting zeroed is not a time to play around.

You will be depending on the settings you develop during this zero session for some time. It is worth the effort to make them right. Once the rifle is dead on, you can work on your human imperfections. At this stage of the game we are preparing the rifle, not you. The human preparation can come later.

Use the right targets

The splatter burst variety are my preference. When the shot contacts the black or red portion of the target you get a bright yellow burst of color making the hits super easy to see

I have seen people spend half the day walking back and forth to their target because the tiny rim fire holes couldn’t be seen from the bench on a target with a black background. This is not very smart. Get the right targets ahead of time. Well worth it.

Make sure the rifle fits

If you are shooting a traditional bolt action rifle chances are you don’t have a great cheek fit. This can really hurt your shooting but is easily correctable without switching stocks.

An adjustable cheek rest allows complete customization of your rifle stock to your face and insures the proper cheek weld. Length of pull and weight balance are also considerations the can really effect the accuracy of a rifle.

Get all of this worked out before going to the range. Not addressing the potential issues above will have an effect on the level of accuracy you able to achieve once you get to the range to start the zeroing process. Address them all if possible.

At the range

If your rifle is new and / or you have just mounted a new scope and are ready to sight everything in, do yourself and everyone else on the range a favor and start the process at 25 yards. I have many people show up at the range who have had their rifle bore sighted “back at the shop” and try to start zeroing at 100 yards.

Usually what happens is a whole box of ammo and 30 minutes later they ask for help. I always bring them back to 25 yards to start the process over again. place your rifle in the lead sled and make sure it is stable and doesn’t freely move.

Remove the bolt from the gun and look down barrel from the bolt end and align the target in the center of the bore opening. When this is accomplished, make needed adjustments to windage and elevation to center the cross hairs on the target. This effort should get you close enough so you are on paper at 20 yards.

Use the correct technique

Each shot you place should be the most accurate shot you can make. You are developing your dope book now and no settings are worth writing down that aren’t repeatable. Your dope book should contain information that could be useful to you in the future like ammo type, brand, temperature, wind direction and speed, equipment used, etc.

This will be covered in more detail later. Do not fight the sights. If you are in a sled, which you should be, and if you are having to put stress on the rifle to keep the cross hairs in the middle of the target and you still see wobble, your shooting position is not correct.

Take the time to make sure it is – on every shot. The best shooting position is one where stress is removed from the body. If any part of your body requires tension to hold on the target, you are not in the right position. Find one that works for you. Once on target, squeeze the trigger. The gun should actually surprise you when it goes off. When that happens you know there was no jerk or flinch and the shot was executed well.

Know what ammo groups best from your rifle

Hopefully by now you have experimented with different brands, weights, a loadings of rimfire ammo out of your rifle and have settled on one. If you haven’t done this yet, now is the time to do so. It really doesn’t do any good to establish elevation settings at several distances if you haven’t locked in your choice of ammo.

Just get the scope printing close to the center of the paper and determine which ammo has the best group at 25 -50 yards. I like to start with 3 round groups until I narrow down a few of the most consistent performing choices.

Once I have narrowed them down, I shoot 5 and even 10 round groups to prove the consistency. There will always be one that performs better than the others. That should be your choice of ammo to go forward. You may also want to try a barrel tuner.

If you have no experience with these units, they are are designed to dampen barrel vibration and movement during the shot. By moving it to different positions on the barrel you get different results.

The object is to find the optimum position on the barrel which yields the smallest groups. They do work and can significantly improve group size even with builk ammo. Here is more information on barrel tuners.

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Build your dope book

From a secure position on the lead sled take your first shot into the target at 25 yards. Now, theoretically and realistically, you should be able to center your cross hairs on the bullet hole you just made in the target, while holding the rifle in this position, adjust windage and elevation so the cross hairs move and center on the bullseye.

If you can accomplish this, the next shot should be right on target. Building your dope or data book is a huge part of a good long range shooter’s process. This is how we learn and recall what we have learned when we need it. Here is one I use on Amazon.

Once you are grouping well at 25 yards, I would suggest 25 yard increments out to 100 and then every 50 yards to 300. Record all of your settings in a handy place that will stay with the rifle. Before every use of the rifle, if you get a chance, always verify your 25 yard setting.

As long as you don’t change ammo all other settings should pretty much remain intact. Realize that a warm or hot barrel will shoot a little differently as the barrel heats up. Unless you want to be tuned with a warm barrel, after every shot,open the bolt, point the barrel up and let the barrel reach it’s normal range of operation. This should only take a couple of minutes.


As an RSO at our local range, I can tell you that most people show up with new rifles and scopes and don’t come prepared. Many of these guys leave the range out of ammo and still not zeroed correctly. Learn and utilize the information above and it will pay off quickly..

Doing this correctly will allow you to be dead on the money with a cold bore which in long range shooting is what you want. Very seldom will you be firing multiple shots fast enough for the bore to get hot.