The most important element of practical rifle shooting can be summed up in one sentence: You have to know where your rifle shoots.
This truism was illustrated for me a few weeks ago at the Tidewater 3-gun match. Somehow, between the Topton team match and Tidewater, the zero on my rifle shifted about 3MOA low and left. Normally I can blow through 200-yard Flash Targets with barely a care, but Sunday I was missing them left and right. Well, mostly left…
Anyhow, this is a problem I see quite a bit. A lot of shooters never have the chance to shoot a carbine out past 50 yards, and these are the shooters who struggle mighty with 200-plus-yard steel. They don’t know where their rifle shoots.
So, whenever I get a new rifle or a new load, I like to run a dope table for it. It’s easy to do, and it will save you a lot of heartache and dropped point on those long range stages.
You’ll need your rifle, ammo, a place to shoot (at least 100 yards, and 300+ is even better), and a stack of targets. You don’t need to go all crazy elaborate with the targets – I use 3×5″ index cards stapled to sheets of scrap cardboard.
First things first, throw a target up at your preferred zero distance. I zero my 3gun rifle at 100 yards, and my defensive rifle at 50. Shoot at least a 3-round group, adjust your sights as appropriate, and repeat. I prefer to do all my zeroing from supported prone, but there’s probably nothing wrong with establishing your zero from the bench. Just don’t make a habit of it, and be sure to wash your hands afterwards. 😉
Okay, now you have a zeroed rifle. Now it’s time to figure out your holdover at some different distances, from different positions. I do this by shooting 10-round groups at different distances. The distances that you shoot at are up to you and your type of shooting, but some suggestions are in the table below:
- Prone – 50, 100, 150, 200, 300, and 400 yards.
- Standing – 15, 25, 50, 75, and 100 yards. I’d stretch it out to 150-200, except that I just can’t hold an offhand group that far out…
- Supported offhand: 50, 75, 100, 150, and 200 yards. I use a VTAC barricade or something similar as a rest.
- Rollover prone/reverse rollover prone: 25, 50, and 100 yards.
For a given position, I set up a target at each distance and shoot the groups in a single string. Then I measure the holdover/hold-off and note it in my shooting journal. I frequently shoot different positions on different practice days, as a warm-up – prone one day, offhand the next, etc.
That’s the end goal of the zeroing process – to collect enough data that you’ll know exactly where to hold to hit a given target, no matter the circumstances or conditions. Once you have that, you’re one step closer to mastery.