How do you choose your zero range? Tim Finley explains in detail
The word ‘zero’, when it comes to shooting, is a strange one. It refers to the fact that the scope is set to read ‘0’, or zero, on its vertical adjustment at the range you shoot the most, or the range most useful for your trajectory. Looking at zero shift got me thinking about the best technique to zero airguns. It’s really a case of ‘horses for courses’ and you need to look at the gun you have, its calibre, and what you are going to do with it.
Don’t think I am kidding when I say it can take months to have total confidence in your zero, especially if you are a top-flight FT shooter, or it was for me, at least. The accuracy demanded in that sport drives such levels of expectation that when you have that confidence in your zero, you never doubt yourself or your rig if you miss. FT really pushes the envelope in terms of ballistics. In real terms, it suffers the same level of forces and elements of change shooting at 55 yards as shooting a full-bore rifle at 1000 yards. Yes, that’s right. The principles are exactly the same. If you can shoot FT, you can shoot anything. I went on to shoot full-bore competitions after years in FT, and also found success with the copper-jacketed 155 grain bullet as I had with the 7.9 grain lead pellet.
Shooting out to 55 yards in FT, I had a 45-yard zero, and this kept the scope within the average range of an FT course for the dialling up and down required. HFT is another ball game; there you do not dial at all, and the longest range is 45 yards so here, the zero you go for is 15 yards. The zero for HFT needs to be ultraperfect for windage because HFT shooters have smaller diameter hit zones, right down to
“In real terms, you can set your zero at what the hell range you want”
15mm. The windage part of the zero is crucial here and there is an easy way to get this correct. Shoot at 15 yards indoors, or pick a day with little breeze, and have two targets set 15 yards apart. Shoot at one and then shoot the other from the same position. The pellet should move the same amount from the aiming line in each direction. Trust me, this does work. I have used it many times to check windage. You can even push the range out longer and longer, but any variance in the wind will have you second-guessing the distance moved in each direction, and that’s not good for building up confidence in your zero.
CHECK IT OFTEN
Of course, if you only shoot at one range, then make that your zero. I have several pistols for my loft range and all of these are set to six yards. If you shoot at many ranges, then you will either need to know the dials for the differing ranges if you adjust your scope, or know where to aim off your reticle if you use hold-over and hold-under. Indoor target shooters only have one range, so zero at that; for hunters it’s a whole different story.
You don’t know from one minute to the next what the range will be the next time you come across your quarry and have a clean shot available. Hunting ranges can be anywhere from 0 to 45 yards, although only 45 yards in ideal conditions. That’s for sub 12 ft.lbs. legal-limit guns, of course. My .177 FAC-rated air rifle can stretch that range to 60 yards, but only because of its ultra-flat trajectory. I zero that rifle at 40 yards and it only drops 40mm at 55 yards, that’s a mil-dot at 10 times magnification, so I know I never have to aim up more than one mil-dot. If you are wondering how I know the range when hunting, to keep accurate I use a laser set above the scope, but that’s another article in itself.
Hunters using .22 sub 12 ft.lbs. can zero at 27 yards, which gives them a coincidental zero of ten yards and only a 40mm drop at 35 yards – the maximum range that .22 hunters should ever go to. The flatter flying .177 sub-12 ft.lb. hunter can take it out to 45 yards with no wind to deal with; they can zero at 35 yards to give them a 40mm drop at 45 yards.
In real terms, you can set your zero at what the hell range YOU want, but a clever zero range helps you to get the best out of the ballistic characteristics of the pellet you are using, and therefore helps you to miss a lot less often than if you had picked a random range. Ballistic programs such as the Hawke BRC2 can help you in this respect by instantly letting you see what happens to the amount of pellet drop you get at each range when you alter the zero range. Happy zeroing everyone and remember to check your zero often. I
Hunters need a good zero, too.
Tiny hit zones of 15mm challenge anyone’s zero.
You can use range cards to help you.
An HFT cheat sheet on the back of a scope.