50 Yard Zero – Best Distance To Sight In A Red Dot Sight

So you’ve just bought a new red dot sight or are thinking of buying one and want to mount and zero it to 50 yards. The 50-yard zero is the best distance for a red dot sight on the AR or other rifle platform. It is highly versatile, shooting on the dot at 50 and 200 yards and only deviating less than 2 inches high at 100 yards, to still expect accurate shot placement. How do we zero at 50 yards, what are the benefits of a 50-yard zero and what other zeroing distances are there – Let’s find out!

How To Zero From 50 Yards (Step-By-Step)

picture of 50 yard zero target

Zeroing a Red Dot Without Shooting (Theoretically)

There is a way to zero your red dot sight without shooting a round (theoretically). What you would need is a bore sight laser. This handy sighting system will be available in your desired caliber, allowing it to fit directly in the rifle’s barrel. The best laser bore sights for ARs are very popular and effective. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to zero with a boresight:

  1. Place your zeroing target at the appropriate zero distance range, in this case, 50 yards.
  2. Place the boresight laser in the barrel chamber and point at your target’s bull’s-eye.
  3. Now, adjust the reticle of the red dot sight to align perfectly with the laser (which should still be on the target bull’s-eye)
  4. Now your red dot should be zeroed, shooting a few shots for assurance is always advised but not needed.

Expert Tip #1: Use a range finder to mark the 50-yard distance to ensure accurate zeroing. Also, place the target in front of a large mound or tire and ensure the area is clear of any humans and animals.

Expert Tip #2: Most red dot sights have a lower sight height which means they are most likely absolute witness (for more comments on the co-witness system, you can read our article: Absolute Co-witness vs. Lower 1/3 Co-Witness), meaning the iron sights align with the red dot. This means it can be difficult to spot the boresight’s laser, especially if both the laser and reticle are red. I recommend using binoculars or a spotting scope to make it easier for you.

Zeroing a Red Dot By Shooting

picture of handgun wtih red dot sight

If you do not have a boresight zeroing scheme, you can always use the old-school method. This method is not frugal with your ammunition, especially if the red dot, like a Trijicon RMR or DeltaPoint Pro, struggles to zero. Here is a simple step-by-step guide for zeroing your red dot sight by the shooting paper method:

  1. Place the zeroing target at the respective zero distance (50-yard zero)
  2. Find a sturdy resting point, such as lying on the ground. Choose your point of aim, preferably the bullseye, as it is a better point of reference when making adjustments.
  3. Shoot a grouping of at least two to three shots
  4. After completing a grouping, you will have to measure (inches) the distance between your point of impact and point of aim and convert the inches to Minutes of Angle (MOA) for both elevation (vertical) and windage (horizontal).
  5. Most rifles are equipped with a 1/4 MOA turret system, which means that by adjusting your turret with one click, you are adjusting the bullet impact by 1/4 at 100 yards. In other words, to make a 1-inch adjustment at 100 yards, you would have to make four clicks.
  6. The formula for 50 yards is as follows: To make a one-inch adjustment, you would need to make 2x the number of clicks you would have to do at 100 yards. So if a rifle shoots 1 inch high and 2 inches right, you would have to make eight clicks lower (4×2) on the elevation turret and 16 clicks (8×2) to the left on the windage turret.
  7. Again, shoot a couple of shots to confirm the sight is indeed now zeroed.
  8. If the sight is still not shooting on the zero or is pretty close, repeat step #4, followed by step #5.

Expert Tip #3: Remember to let the rifle’s barrel cool down after consecutive shooting, especially with high loads. For the fastest cooldown: place in an upright position in the shade with the bolt open. This is something we learned in our comparison of the burris fastfire 3 vs vortex venom red dots!

Expert Tip #4: Sometimes, getting that zero in at 50 yards can be difficult, so I recommend you follow our 25-yard zero guide. It is easier to zero at point blank range and then move up to further distances.

Expert Tip #5: Use the same ammo in the field you did when zeroing your scope.

Benefits Of A 50 Yard Zero

1) Highly Versatile

For defense and other tactical use, your set up needs to achieve the same performance as with open sights at close range but improve on the weak long-range performance of an open sight. This is a great distance to zero your Budget LPVO Optic or other sight!

A 50-yard zero incorporates the best of both worlds, providing similar close-range performance to that of the 25-yard zero and similar long-range accuracy of the 100-yard zero – making it a highly versatile zero.

2) Practical For Self-Defense

A 50-yard zero allows the bullet’s trajectory to be flat up to 200 yards, allowing for leniency of plus-minus 2.5 inches. Meaning that a relatively accurate center mass shot placement at any distance in the 200-yard range will land in the bad guys’ kill zone. I found this perfect for my .338 Winchester Mag Rifle Scope. So whether it is for home defense or you are in wide open spaces like a ranch, then the 50-yard zero will be the most practical.

3) 50-Yard Zero Is More Realistic

How to sight in a red dot does not change depending on the distance. But a 50-yard zero distance is more realistic, as very few targets will actually be closer than that. If indeed that is the case, then a pistol might be easier to maneuver with, especially in tight spaces such as buildings.

A 50-yard zero provides the same point of impact at 50 yards and 200 yards, so you know that your weapon will be capable of shooting accurately at both short ranges and with long shots. This is why so many .450 rifle scope owners use this zero distance for hunting!

Other Popular Zero Distances

25 Yard Zero

Choosing the right zero distance is an important part of knowing how does a red dot sight work. A 25-yard zero is most popular for most folks who are handgun users because shooting beyond that distance with a handgun will rarely occur. Law enforcement officers and concealed carry handgun owners prefer the 25-yard zero because the dispersion between shots at different distances will be minimal.

36 Yard Zero

The zero distance of choice for the US Marines, the 36-yard zero aligns best with their practical use and skill set. Marines need to be highly versatile, which is why the 36-yard zero distance works so well.

It can provide excellent close-range performance, such as when they are clearing urban structures. It can also provide high accuracy at a longer range of 300+ yards.

100 Yard Zero

This is my zero distance of choice for my close-range straight-walled cartridge rifles, for example, the 350 Legend and 450 Bushmaster. It is too far for a P365 Red Dot. It’s an effective medium-range zeroing distance and will shoot 2.8 inches low at 200 yards (variable with caliber). This distance is more appropriate for scopes and shooters using magnifiers like the holosun hm3xt with their optic.

Which Is The Best Distance To Zero?

It is a complex answer as all these different zeros have different purposes, and in the end, it depends on what your use case is. For handgun users and self-defense purposes, the 25-yard zero is the best. However, the Marines use the 36-yard zero for its versatility, but it can be difficult to predict if you are not well educated on the bullet’s flight path.

Zeroing your AR-15’s battle sight at a 50-yard zero distance is the best if you want both short-range and long-range performance, shooting on the dot at 200 yards. A 100-yard zero is best for medium-range shooting and primarily hunting activities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have to zero a red dot sight?

Yes, regardless of target size, the advantage of zeroing your red dot sight is accuracy, which could be the difference between you dying or not.

How far should I Zero a pistol red dot?

The best distance to zero your pistol red dot is 25 yards. The occasion for to shoot beyond 25 yards with a pistol will rarely arise. So best ensure your pistol is hitting its mark rather than having to guess where the shot placement will be.

Where do you zero red dots?

You can zero your red dot at a shooting range or a facility specifically for zeroing your sight. Otherwise, if you have access to a rural area away from any people and animals, you can zero it in there. Make sure to have a solid and large obstacle behind the target, one that will absorb the bullet and not ricochet it.

Should red dot be close or far?

That will depend on your reticle's MOA, a close combat red dot has a larger MOA (5+), allowing for fast target acquisition, and is better for a pistol. A longer-range red dot has a smaller MOA (below 4), allowing for accurate shooting at further distances, and is better for a gun with a longer barrel length (like a rifle) that is capable of accurately shooting at 50 yards+.

Should red dot be center glass?

When aiming, the red dot should be centered and in the middle of the optic. It should cover your target, ensuring that you hit your target.

Should you Loctite your red dot?

Loctite means permanently locking your sight's screws in place - which we do not want for a red dot sight! Red dot sights need regular maintenance and replacement of batteries, which means the sight would need to be dismounted, and if the screws are glued in place, then this cannot happen.

The Bottom Line

So remember, a 50-yard zero is an excellent choice if you want a versatile zero distance for your rifle. It is relatively easy to perform the zeroing process, but if you are still struggling, you might need a ballistic calculator, which will help give you trajectory corrections. We have a great article on the best red dot sights for an AR-15 with Fixed Front Sight if you want to read it.

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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