Last Minute Deer Rifle Sight-In Tips

   11.10.20

Last Minute Deer Rifle Sight-In Tips

There’s an issue affecting the Great Outdoors and the hunting lifestyle that many of us have had to deal with. You get to where you’re going to go hunting and your rifle is no longer sighted in. Hopefully you find this out the day before while checking your deer rifle sight-in before you hunt – something I highly recommend – or worse, you find out during the hunt when you miss that buck. And the buck you miss will always be big, too. Fear not. There are some simple tips to getting you back in the hunt that work both in camp, and at home to get your deer rifle sighted in at the last minute.

Rule #1

Rifle in the blind
You should always check your rifle and sights before going hunting.                               Photo: Author

You should always check your rifle’s zero before a hunt. It’s that simple, folks. Even if you’re going hunting out the back door and your rifle hasn’t moved since you put it away after last season, you still should be checking to make sure you’re on target before hunting season. And if you’re traveling at all, it gets to be even more important. It is your responsibility to know exactly where that bullet is going, not only for safety, but also from an ethical standpoint. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but it has to be said.

Cause and effect

What can cause your rifle to be off? There are three main areas to look at. The first being that your scope got bumped and has been “knocked” off target. The reticle in your scope was designed to take recoil and a certain amount of abuse dished out in normal usage. Abnormal abuse can cause slippage. The worst culprit comes from flying. Even with the best case imaginable, it can happen. I mean, have you ever watched baggage handlers? And behind the scenes, well, I swear they have a herd of crack-addicted elephants who use my bags as balls in a soccer match.You can also drop your rifle yourself and knock the scope off target. A good case helps. I currently like Pelican cases. They are military drop rated, and that’s good enough for me.

Check for deals on Pelican cases

Many years ago on a hunt with the folks from Remington, our pre-hunt trip to the range was interrupted by me not being able to keep the bullets going in the same direction. Loose scope mounts were the cause there. That can easily happen to you and you do not even know it. I check them every time now. It helps to go with quality scope mounts.

The last major cause is ammo. The rule is, you always sight in with the ammo you are using in the hunt. I got in the habit of buying two boxes of the same ammo, and then mixing both boxes together. The simple matter is, some rifles just do not like some types of ammo. These three main causes are all easily fixable before a hunt. There are other causes, but those are a little more serious.

Getting back on target

Screwdriver set
A small screwdriver set made for your rifle is a good way to ensure you have the right tool to get you back shooting.

Pop quiz, hotshot. You find your scope is off. What do you do?!? The first thing you do is make sure everything is still tightened to spec. Check every bolt on your scope mount. Make sure it hasn’t come loose. This is why you always carry the proper size wrenches to fit your scope and rifle with you when you go on a hunt. I’ve tried several, but now carry a Wheeler Space Saver kit in my case. It has all the essential bits and was designed for rifles. If everything is tight, move on to the next issue.

Look for Wheeler screwdriver kits

level level level
A level kit is cheap insurance in making sure your scope and rifle are on the same page.

If your scope is on straight, the reticle should be 100% level with the rifle. Check this! I was working behind a gun counter many years ago and a guy came in saying his gun wouldn’t sight in. A lot of investigating led me to finding out his crosshairs were not level with the rifle, but the scope was. If that happens to you, you’re done. It’s new scope time. It doesn’t happen much, but it can happen and is now usually covered by a warranty. Not much it’ll do you in the field, though. A scope level tool will tell you if it is a scope issue or a mounting issue. If it’s a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, I’d sure carry a level tool and a spare scope just in case. Crack-addicted elephants don’t care if they break the soccer ball.

Check out leveling tools

Short range it

Ammo box
Your factory ammo box has ballistics and trajectory information you need to know. Photo: Author

You need to set up a short range to get you back in the game. 25 yards will work. At that distance, you can see where you’re hitting easy enough. Plus if you’re way off, you can get a better idea how far with the data you’ll receive from a short range. There is some information you’ll need from your box of ammo for this process. On the back of most factory-loaded ammo, you will get stats showing velocity and trajectory. It’s the later you need now. At 25 yards, you should be 1-2 inches high depending on your rifle and cartridge combination. If you’re dead on, you’re going to be low, and if you’re low, you’re going to be really low. Don’t ever get it in your head that you’re close enough. Be as close as you can to the point you’re certain where that bullet is going to go when you pull the trigger.

Clean it and start over

Bullet Holes
Once you’re done, a quick cleaning and a recheck should produce results you want.

Once you go through the steps to be back on target, clean your rifle and shoot again. My wife had a .243 that would be on, only to go way off as you shot it more. I mean, like 3-4 shots in and she’d be off by 10+ inches. The scope was fine, although it took a while to figure that out. The true culprit was, the rifle had to be cleaned after every 2-3 shots. After that, it would wander big time. It was mostly an ammo issue, but it did create some last minute stress that I could have done without.

Check out cleaning kits

Clean your rifle and then fire it again to be sure. You’ve got to be confident in what you’re shooting. Aside from the responsibility of knowing where your bullet goes, missing a big buck is a back breaker. Of course, feel free to say your scope is off and go through all of these steps, even when you miss a monster. A couple hours of faked work is far better than taking the abuse from your buddies over simply blowing the shot because buck fever.

Good hunting, my friends!

Cover Image by Author

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