Scope Adjustment Which Way To Turn (Elevation & Windage Adjustment)

Rifle scopes are comprised of many different parts such as an objective lens, elevation turrets, windage turrets, and parallax adjustment knobs. These different parts allow gun owns to fine tune, calibrate, and adjust their scopes to their specific liking.

The adjustability of rifle scopes gives them a wide variety of use cases. The main rifle scope adjustments that can be made include elevation adjustments, windage adjustments, eye piece adjustments, zoom adjustments, parallax adjustments, brightness adjustments, and generic scope movements.

In this post, we’ll further breakdown the different scope adjustments that can be made in more detail, their main purpose, and how to do them. We’ll also touch briefly on the adjustments that need to made in order to zero a rifle scope.

Rifle Scope Anatomy & Parts

In order to adjust a rifle scope, you need to have a complete understanding of the parts it is made of. Otherwise, you’ll be like a mechanic that doesn’t know the first thing about cars! Understand these basic parts before making any scope adjustments.

picture detailing the different parts of a rife scope

Windage Turret – The windage turret is a knob on a rifle scope that is used to make horizontal adjustments.

Elevation Turret – An elevation turret is a vertical adjustment knob on most riflescopes. It is used to adjust the point of impact of a rifle by moving the optical element up or down in relation to the user’s eye.

Scope Body – The body of a rifle scope is the housing that encloses the optics. It is usually made from aluminum, which is strong yet lightweight. The housing protects the delicate optics from impact and moisture.

Objective Lens – The objective lens on a rifle scope is the large lens at the front of the scope. For example, a 50 mm lens would be a 4-16×50 zoom scope. This lens is responsible for gathering light and providing the image that the shooter sees when looking through the scope.

Parallax Adjustment – Parallax adjustment is the process of fine-tuning the focus of a riflescope. When the target and the shooter’s eye are not on the same focal plane, parallax can cause the image to appear blurry. By adjusting the parallax setting, shooters can ensure that their target is in sharp focus, even when they are not looking through the center of the scope.

Magnification Adjustment Knobs – Magnification knobs modify the scopes zoom. By adjusting the magnification knob, you can make an object appear larger or smaller.

Lesson #1 – Elevation Adjustments

picture of elevation settings on a rife scope

The most important thing to remember when making elevation adjustments is that they are made when you are zeroing your scope. Rotate the elevation turrets when you need to make vertical adjustments to compensate for bullet drop.

The amount of elevation adjustment will depend on the distance of your target. Elevation settings are simple. If you shot low & need to adjust your scope upward, then twist the elevation turret in the up direction.

Lesson #2 – Windage Adjustment

Just like elevation adjustments, windage adjustments are made primarily while zeroing your scope. However, windage turrets are for horizontal adjustments to move your aim left or right.


Wind can have a significant impact on a bullet flying through the air. Depending on whether you are missing right or left, make the necessary adjustments to get dialed in on the target.

After you have your scope sighted in, it will be very rare to make any changes to your windage settings.

Lesson #3 – Eyepiece Adjustments

Not many shooters are aware that they can adjust the eyepiece. To adjust your eyepiece, follow a few simple steps.

Start by getting into a prone shooting position with your scope aligned on a target. Then close your eyes for a few seconds & briefly open them. How did the reticle image look?

If it looked off, make adjustments to the ocular lens until the reticle looks better. Some scopes on our list of the Best Elk Hunting Scopes make this process easy with special adjustment rings.

Lesson #4 – Zoom & Magnification Adjustments

No matter what kind of rifle scope you have, sooner or later you’re going to need to make a magnification adjustment. If you have a variable zoom scope, the process is pretty straightforward: just turn the zoom ring until you get the desired level of magnification.

Lesson #5 – Parallax Adjustment

Have you ever wondered why your shots seem to be off, even when you’re using a scope? It could be because of something called parallax. Parallax happens when the target and the reticle (the crosshair in the scope) are on different planes within the scope.

Rotate the parallax setting until the rifle scope and reticle are aligned perfectly.

The parallax adjustment on a rifle scope allows you to align the reticle with the image, so that it appears clear and has less perceived movement. This is especially important when you’re trying to make a long-distance shot when small movements make a big difference.

Lesson #6 – Reticle Brightness Adjustments

This will not apply to all rifle scopes. However, if you have an illuminated reticle, then you should have the ability to adjust the brightness.

Depending on the brightness conditions you plan to shoot in, lower or increase the light intensity. If you’re shooting in brighter light conditions, I recommend trying a brighter reticle so that it is clearly visible compared to the background and target.

Lesson #7 – Scope Movements

We have covered many rifle scope adjustments you can make to your optic. But you can also make adjustments to the overall position of your scope on your rifle. Depending on your specific preferences, you can adjust the following settings. Make sure you know how to measure sight height and even how to level your rifle scope before you try to do it yourself.

  1. Forward/backward position of your scope
  2. Scope height
  3. Scope rotation.

How To Zero Your Scope

If you’re a hunter or just a weekend shooter, chances are you’ve had to deal with the frustrating experience of trying to zero your rifle scope. With a little know-how, it can be done correctly. The entire goal is to adjust the rifle scope so that your point of aim and the scope’s crosshair align. The process with a rifle scope is nearly identical to zeroing a red dot. Watch this video to do it correctly.

Accessories You Might Need

There are a few main things you will need to zero your scope correctly. For starters, you’ll need your rifle, scope, scope rings or a clamp, and a few rounds of ammunition. However, I also suggest you try a laser bore sighting device. They are the best way to maximize your precision during the zeroing process.

First vs Second Focal Plane Scopes?

Many new shooters don’t know the difference between FFP & SFP scopes. There are pros and cons to either option.

  • First focal plane scopes (FFP) are typically more expensive, but for good reason. The reticle on a first focal plane scope reticle changes size as you adjust the magnification. This is the most popular scope type amongst military snipers.
  • Second focal plane scopes (SFP) have a fixed reticle size. The reticle does not shrink or expand regardless of your magnification adjustment.

In general, the first focal plane scopes are more versatile and easier to use, but they’re also more expensive.

FAQs – Scope Adjustment

Do you chase bullet when sighting in a scope?

It's important to keep your aim on the bull's-eye while sighting in a scope. If you start chasing the bullet, you'll end up with an inaccurate sight. Always stay focused on the target image.

What are the three knobs on a scope?

The three knobs on a scope are windage, elevation, and parallax. Windage adjusts the horizontal movement of the crosshairs, elevation adjusts the vertical movement of the crosshairs, and parallax adjusts for changes in viewing angle.

Do all rifle scopes adjust the same?

No, not all rifle scopes adjust the same. The height of the crosshairs on the reticle can vary depending on the brand and model of scope, and even from one scope to the next of the same model.

How much adjustment does a scope have?

It depends specifically what you are trying to adjust on a scope. When it comes to the overall magnification range, the average scope can be adjusted to shoot accurately for up to 500 yards. However, most scopes will have a different elevation and windage knob so the adjustment will not be exactly the same size.

How many turns on a scope is an inch?

The typical rifle scope has 1/4 MOA adjustment knobs. These MOA scope settings mean you will need 16 clicks to get one inch.

How many MOA can a scope adjust?

Most scopes adjust in 1/4 MOA increments per click. This means that each time you rotate the adjustment turret, the point of impact on your target will move by 1/4 inch at 100 yards.

Do you have to zero a red dot sight?

What does it mean to zero a gun?

When you zero a gun, you adjust the sights so that the bullet hits the point of aim. In other words, you make the gun perfectly accurate at a certain distance. For most people, I recommend zeroing your weapon from about 36 yards.

Why do Scopes lose their zero?

Over the course of a few years, scopes often lose their zero. This could be for a few different reasons. One, the scope may have been zeroed incorrectly the first time. In most cases, the scope rings have come loose from repeated vibrations caused by firing rounds. Read our steps in the above paragraphs on how to adjust a rifle scope.

The Bottom Line

One of the hardest parts of shooting is making small changes to dial your scope in. Hopefully, you now understand how to make adjustments to your particular scope. You might be surprised how much a tiny adjustment can impact your accuracy on the range. Give these tips a try and let us know how it goes!

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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