How to Zero the Service Rifle for Competition

By Jim Evenson In order to be able to hit the center of the target, the service rifle must be aimed properly and have the sights set properly. The process of getting the sights set properly to hit the center of the target at various distances, and in varying conditions is called Zeroing the Rifle. For the Competition shooter there are three types of Zeros that the shooter must understand. 1. Mechanical Zero - Having the Elevation wheel turned all the way down to the lowest setting, and having the windage knob set to dead center. To set the Windage to Mech. Zero, turn the windage knob left or right till the index line on the large aperture aligns with the center mark on the sight base. (See Below)

2. No Wind Zero (or True Zero) -- The sight settings required to place a shot or shot group into the center of the target at any given distance (or range), on a calm day without any wind that might cause lateral movement of the bullet’s flight. Note that any given rifle may require that the windage be normally set left or right of Mechanical Zero a certain number of clicks as an artifact of just how that rifle shoots. The No Wind Zero of that rifle and that shooter may also be different for each position that the shooter fires from. The Zeros for prone position, Sitting position, and Standing position may all be different even when shot from the same distance. Be sure to record No Wind Zeros from each position normally used. Example: I record my No Wind 200yd Sitting Rapid fire Zero as 14e – 3R That is 14 clicks of elevation up from the bottom on the elevation wheel and 3 clicks Right from Mech. Zero on the windage knob. 3. Local Zero -- The sight settings required to place shots into the center of the target allowing for changes in wind direction, wind speed, and other weather conditions. Local Zeros would also include factors such as shooting uphill, downhill or local knowledge that certain rifle ranges may not be exactly the distances listed on match programs. Example: A 500 yd. match at a rifle club may actually be 540 yds. or a 600 yd. match might be 585 yds., and the pits at one rifle club that I have shot at are 110ft higher than the 600yd firing line. Local conditions, along with local weather conditions will affect the zeros used on that particular day. Record corrected zeros for those conditions so you can repeat them next time shooting at that range.

AR-15 Service Rifle Sighting System consists of 3 elements -1. Post type adjustable front sight. The post can be adjusted for height by depressing the spring loaded detent in front of the post and rotating the sight post with the tip of a bullet. Post rotates 4 clicks per full revolution and each click up or down raises or lowers the strike of the bullet 1.2 in /100 yds range.

Pg. 2 2. Elevation Wheel -- Horizontal wheel at base of rear sight. Each click clockwise raises the strike of the bullet approximately 1 inch per 100 yds. range.

3. Windage Knob. – is on the right side of the rear sight. The windage knob is used to move the strike of the bullet left or right on the target and to compensate for local wind conditions. Turning the windage knob clockwise 1 click moves the strike of the bullet ½ inch to the right per each 100 yds. range. Turning the windage knob counter clockwise moves the strike of the bullet to the left.

Initial zeroing of the rifle
1. The front sight should be adjusted so that the base of the post is flush with the body of the front sight. To do this press down the detent with the point of a bullet or a “sight adj. tool” and rotate the front post clockwise to lower the post and counter clockwise to raise it to the flush position 2. Rotate the Elevation wheel to 7 clicks up. 3. Set the Windage knob to dead center---Mech. Zero

Fire a 3 shot group
1. Set a target out at 100 yds. This target should be as large as 4ft by 4 ft., clean with no holes, and have a bull’s-eye of approximately 3 in or 4 in. Draw centerlines (cross hairs) through the bull’s-eye side to side and top to bottom of the target. 2. Fire 3 shots and examine the target. Draw a line from hole to hole making a triangle. Place a dot in the center of the triangle and measure up or down to the horizontal centerline, left or right to the vertical centerline. 3. For each inch your group center is above or below the horizontal centerline, rotate the front sight 1 click clockwise if above the line and counter clockwise if below the line. 4. For each inch your group center is off to the side from the vertical centerline, rotate the windage knob 2 clicks clockwise if your group center is to the left, and counter clockwise if to the right.

Repeat firing the 3 shot group and initial adjustments.
1. Now your Group center should be approximately centered on the bull’s-eye. It doesn’t have to be perfect. 2. If you ran out of front sight adjustment, you would need to add in some rear sight adjustment. Rotate the rear sight wheel up if you can’t rotate the front sight down any farther, and rotate the rear sight wheel down if your front sight gets too high. I like to have about 7 clicks up on the rear sight when zeroed at 100 yds. The front sight will not be readjusted from now on. 3. If you run out of windage adjustment – see: Zeroing the windage Scale below. 4. Record your initial 100 yd. zeros—how many clicks up (from bottom) and left or right of Mechanical Zero on the rear sight. Such as: 7e-4L

Pg. 3

Move the target out to 200 yds. (Distance for Offhand and Sitting rapid fire Matches)
1. Move your target out to 200 yds. and adjust the rear sight up 1 click (std. sights). Fire a 3 shot group and examine the target for group center. If necessary readjust the sights (rear) to center up your group. At 200 yds. each click of the elevation wheel will move group center 2 inches up or down, and each click of the windage will move the group center 1 inch left or right. 2. When centered up at 200 yds. record your “Local Zeros” for that day and conditions. If the wind was calm and not a factor, these zeros would be “No wind” zeros for 200 yds. in whatever position you were firing from.

Zeroing the Windage Scale
After zeroing at 200 yds., you might find that your windage Zero is way off to one side – say maybe 10-15 clicks to the right or left. This is not unusual. This is due to the fact that the front sight may not be installed perfectly plumb. Rotating the front sight (base) on the rifle barrel can bring your “No Wind” zero to approximately Mech. Zero (center) on the windage scale at the base of the rear sight body. 1. Set windage on rear sight to Mech. Zero—dead center 2. Determine if your front sight base is held in place by: a. Set screws –proceed to #3. and #4. b. Pins – Drive out pins, or have AR-15 gunsmith do this for you c. Lock Tite – Use small amount of heat from butane torch to loosen Lock Tite d. Epoxy – consult AR-15 gun smith 3. Scratch very fine “witness” marks from Sight base to rifle barrel. The alignment of these marks will show you how much you have rotated the sight. 4. Loosen the set screws (or remove pins, loosen lock Tite, or loosen Epoxy) that hold the front sight base in place on the rifle barrel. 5. Rotate the sight and base on the barrel just enough to see that the “witness marks” have been misaligned by the smallest amount possible. Moving the top of the sight post only .006” is equal to two clicks on the windage knob. Rotate Sight clock wise if windage is off to the left, and counter clockwise if windage is off to the right. Fire a few shots at 200 yds. and see if group has moved to center, if not, rotate sight a “little” more and repeat. Once group is centered at “Mech. Zero” windage (or very close) secure front sight base with set screws, Lock Tite, etc.

Move the target out to 300 yds. (for prone rapid fire)
1. Moving from 200 to 300 yds., you will find that the bullet drops about 9 in and so to compensate you will have to raise the rear sight about 3 clicks of elevation. This is where having a finer elevation adjustment of ½ min of angle (match type) instead of the standard 1 MOA (1 click/inch/100 yds.) is useful. 3 full clicks on the elevation knob at 300 yds. might put your group center just a little high, whereas 5 clicks on a Match type ½ MOA sight would be just about right. I do suggest that competition shooters install a ½ MOA elevation wheel. 2. Center your group at 300 yds. and record your zeros for Prone rapid fire.

Standard “come-ups” for known distance shooting with the AR-15 using Match type ½ MOA sight adjustments. This varies a little from shooter to shooter and depends on type of ammo used.
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 100 yds. to 200 yds. -- 2 clicks of elevation 200 yds. to 300 yds. -- 5 clicks of elevation 300 yds. to 500 yds. -- 10 clicks of elevation 300 yds. to 600 yds. -- 20 clicks of elevation 500 yds. to 600 yds. -- 10 clicks of elevation (69 or 77 gn bullets) (69 or 77 gn bullets) (80 gn bullets at 500) (80 gn bullets at 600) (80 gn bullets at 600)

Marking your sights for easy reference
All too often, shooters move from yard line to yard line and either forget to add elevation or add their elevation twice. I have many times seen shooters fire a really nice small group of shots in 300 yd. rapid fire ended up at 6 o’clock in the 8 ring because they forgot to put on the additional clicks required after moving from 200 yds. to 300 yds. I have also seen shooters in a Leg match fire that first shot at 600 yds. down into the bottom of the target for a miss -- same reason. Ouch! Marking your sights with colored paint will help eliminate this problem 1. Mark the Elevation Wheel with a vertical white line to show Mech. Zero. (figure 1 below) 2. Mark 200 yd. Zero with green line – (figure 2) 3. Mark 300 yd. Zero with Red line—and so on.

Figure 1 --White line for Mech. Zero No wind Zero

Figure 2 -- Green line for 200 yds.

Figure 3 – Windage knob marked for

4. Mark the Windage knob for No Wind Zero with white or yellow line that extends onto the Sight Base. Lining up the mark on the knob and the sight base shows you that you have NO windage on the sights – or that you are one complete revolution off. (figure 3)

Keep good records of your zeros after firing
Each time you fire, you should record the Elevation and Windage settings that you had on the rifle, and given the fact that your group may not have been centered up, you should also record the zeros that you should have had on to center up that group. These would be “local Zeros” taking into consideration the effects of that days wind and other factors. Be sure to record, the estimated wind speed and direction, the light conditions, and the temperature so you can make a good guestimate at what zeros you should put on if you fire at that range, and in those same conditions at some time in the future.


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