How to Adjust a Scope on a Rifle – Everything You Need to Know

Whether you’re using a scope for the first time to improve your long-distance shooting at the range or you are headed out hunting for the first time, knowing how to adjust the scope on your rifle is an incredibly useful skill.

how to adjust a scope on a rifle

Modern-day scopes are fairly complex pieces of equipment. Even if you have decided to mount a basic scope, scope adjustment takes a little bit of practice. To help you figure it out, we created this beginner-friendly guide. Not only will we explain why it is important to properly adjust your scope, but we will also go over all of the steps you’ll need to follow in order to accurately zero in your scope — where you’re using a red dot sight or if it’s a part of a scope turret.

Step 1 – Get Your Rifle Scope Set Up

Before you begin adjusting your rifle scope, inspect that the scope was correctly mounted. Double check the torqueing of the screws to the recommended specs. As you shoot your rifle, the force of the recoil can loosen the screws between the scope and your mounting hardware, so it never hurts to make sure you “don’t have any screws loose”.

Taking a little bit of extra time to check this on the front end will ensure that any needed adjustments to your scope will actually last. Sighting in a red dot can take some time, but its worth the effort!

Step 2 – Bore Sight Your Scope 

Bore sighting is a way to make sure that your scope aligns with the center of your rifle’s barrel. It is a simple process that is a quick and easy way to make sure that everything is set up correctly before you fire live ammunition. It’s especially important if you’re taking your rifle out to go after the “big one”.

For proper rifle scope adjustment, position your gun on a stable and flat work surface using a gun vice. This is the first step in just about every scope adjustment tip from leveling your scope to boresighting. From there, use a laser pointer or a bore sighting kit. Remove the bolt of the rifle so you can see down the bore. Visually check that the barrel and the rifle scope align with each other and hit the same target image.

This is also a great opportunity to clean the barrel and make sure your rifle is ready for action.

Step 3 – Focus the Scope’s Reticle

With your rifle now confidently mounted and bore sighted, we turn our attention towards focusing the reticle.

Position the reticle, or center of the crosshairs you see inside your scope, correctly. If it’s not, your accuracy will be completely off.

How to Focus the Reticle

To focus the reticle, you need a solid background, like a blank wall. To find a target on that wall, you can simply use a sticky note or the point of a laser pen. Focus on this point without looking into the scope. Once you have it firmly in your vision, maintain eye contact as you bring your eye to the scope.

Your eyes should not have to adjust when you bring them to the eyepiece of your scope. Instead, it should appear sharp and in focus. If the reticle appears somewhat blurry, you will need to make a diopter adjustment. The diopter adjuster will be the adjustment knob located nearest to your eye. You simply have to twist it until the reticle looks clear and crisp the second you bring your eye to your rifle scope.

Adjust for Elevation and Windage

At this point, you can also make adjustments for elevation and windage. However, this can be performed at the range, as you will need to make these adjustments once you have sighted a particular target.

The windage adjustment turret should be located on the right side of the scope. The windage scope turret should make a small clicking noise as you twist it. The same can be said for the elevation adjustment turret, but the elevation turret will be located on the top of the scope, usually somewhere near the middle of the tube. Using the windage adjustment dial and the elevation adjustment dial will require some fiddling. It is something you will have to do on a regular basis to make sure your scope is properly tuned for the specific environment where you are shooting.

Remember to turn the knobs slowly. Try not to get frustrated if there is a bit of a learning curve. You will get the hang of it, and it will greatly increase your accuracy rate once you get the process down to a science. However, some scopes that have night vision for coyote hunting use simple buttons which make adjustments super easy.

Step 4 – Test the Scope by Firing the Rifle

 Scope by Firing the Rifle

With your scope now mounted correctly and the appropriate reticle adjustments finished, go test your rifle out in a safe location — like at the gun range.

If you are adjusting your scope for hunting purposes, make sure that you are using the exact same type of ammunition you plan on using for your hunt, as this can help you learn how your scope reacts when the rifle is fired.

When testing a scope, you will want to make sure that the rifle is as stable as possible, as you want to eliminate the possibility of human error. Use a rifle stand, or firmly rest your rifle against sandbags or any other type of stationary rest.

Using the scope, aim the rifle directly at the center of your target. Fire the rifle and return it back to the center of the target after making recoil adjustments. Repeat the firing process as closely as you can to the first shot. Once you are repeatedly hitting the center of your target, you can pull back to make a further shot. Keep repeating this process and making minor adjustments until you can hit targets with precision by looking through your scope. It doesn’t mater if you’re adjusting your AK sights or rifle scope, you want to do it the right way!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the three adjustments on a rifle scope?

There are three main adjustments on a rifle scope: level adjustment, horizontal adjustment, and vertical adjustment. Horizontal and vertical adjustments are commonly called windage and elevation adjustments.

What is the basic rule for sight adjustment?

The basic rule is that you should move your sights in the same direction that you want to move your shot grouping. For example, if you need to move your sight horizontally to the right. Make a windage adjustment to move your sight right!

Do you chase the bullet when sighting in a scope?

Do not chase the bullet when sighting in a scope. The shooter should do their best to no change their aiming point & should stay focused on the center of their target. Shot chasing will create an inconsistent shot pattern.


When you are out in the field or shooting at the range, you will have to make other adjustments, such as adjustments for magnification and, if your scope has an illuminated reticle, adjustments for brightness. But these are simply minor tweaks that you can make when you are about to shoot. But remember, the best magnification for deer hunting depends on your shooting conditions and personal situation!

The main components of adjusting a rifle scope are actually fairly straightforward. With enough practice, they will become second nature. The main piece of advice we can offer is to adjust your scope regularly and use it every time you shoot your rifle, as this will help you understand how everything works.

Remember, the more familiar you are with your equipment, the greater the chances will be that you will have success when you go to use 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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