How to correctly calibrate a rifle scope without needing to take a shot and with just one bullet

    In order to shoot with precision and hit the target from any distance and under any circumstance the shooter must indisputably know how to calibrate or collimate a rifle scope.

    People who are new to hunting or to any kind of long range firearm sport generally find it difficult to mount, view and adjust a scope. If you find yourself in this position, then this post is for you! Today’s article will give you the freedom and independence to do these things anytime and anywhere.

    In the following paragraphs you will find practical information on how to operate a riflescope, what elements are required for the calibration process and most importantly a step by step guide on how to do all this with ease. Pay close attention to the instructions and you should be able to shoot your target without much trouble.

    IMPORTANT: This guide applies to any scope or telescopic sight mounted on any type of weapon . It does not matter if it is a 5.5 air rifle or a .308 WIN rifle. It does not matter if you have a red dot scope or a fixed 4×32 or variable 3-9×40. It will serve you in all cases.

    We recommend that you have the following elements at hand:

    • Rifle
    • Rifle scope
    • Gun scope mount
    • Screwdriver or your rifles cope adjustment tool
    • Mounting rings (for the scope)
    • Ammunition (máximum 10 rounds)
    • Shooting target
    • Bipod, tripod or sand bag to hold your rifle steady

    If you still do not have a good telescopic sight, we recommend that, before buying, read our article on the 10 best brands of telescopic sights .

    elements to calibrate a rifle scope

    NOTE: I have seen that many people have consulted me if the support apparatus (tripod, bipod, or sand bag) is absolutely necessary to calibrate a rifle scope. The answer is: it is possible to calibrate a rifle without support but I definitely do not recommend it. Calibrating a rifle without maintaining it stable in a set position is something that we should only do in extreme situations, otherwise, it is strongly recommended for you do this with some kind of support that will maintain the rifle in a stationary position. Calibrating a rifle correctly will save us from inconveniences while in action. Most importantly, if you are still new to the sport, having some kind of rifle support will save you from wasting ammunition.

    There definitely are inexpensive options available and surely whichever one you choose will last you your whole life. Here are some of my suggestions:

    Once you have all the necessary appliances at hand, there is nothing else left to do other than to follow our step-by-step and calibrate your scope:

    1. Mount the scope on the rifle
    2. Set up a target
    3. Position the rifle
    4. Align the rifle with the target
    5. Align the rifle scope with the target
    6. Take a test shot
    7. Adjust the rifle scope based on the test shot
    8. Repeat the shot to make sure the scope is correctly calibrated

    IMPORTANT: Whenever you calibrate a scope you shout set its magnification (the “zoom”) at its maximum capacity.

    Don’t worry, we will explain in detail and step by step so that you are left with no further doubts.

    How to calibrate a scope without taking a shot

    We’ve received many inquiries asking if it was possible to calibrate a rifle scope without firing a shot. Our answer is: Yes and No. This is kind of confusing, right? Allow me to elaborate.

    There are two methods with which you can “calibrate” a rifle scope without having to take a shot. The downside is that these methods will not reach the optimal calibration level that your scope is capable of, and they only allow you to calibrate very short distances, like 50 meters (55 yards) for example, maximum 100 meters (110 yards).

    They are also called emergency calibration methods and their use is only encouraged in those kinds of situations since they are not very efficient.

    Method 1: Using the barrel of a bolt action rifle

    This method simply consists in following the same indications that we previously mentioned in the article but only until Step 5. In other words:

    1. Mount the scope on the rifle
    2. Set up a target
    3. Position the rifle
    4. Align the rifle with the target
    5. Align the rifle scope with the target

    It’s worth emphasizing that this only works if you have a bolt action rifle since, in order for this method to be effective, we must pull the bolt off and see through our rifle’s barrel; not only that but the method will truly work if we have a way to maintain the rifle stable while we adjust the scope.

    The trick, as you probably have already deduced, is to use the rifle as a reference when calibrating our scope. This is not a very reliable method and it also limits you to be able to work with very short distances, but follow the steps below and we will explain the process thoroughly.

    How to calibrate a scope without taking a shot

    Method 2: Use a rifle scope collimator or a laser

    The second method to calibrate a rifle scope without firing a single shot, is a little more effective than the first but it can still be limiting.

    It consists in following the before mentioned steps but with a small variant:

    1. Mount the scope on the rifle
    2. Set up a target
    3. Position the rifle
    4. Align the rifle with the target
    5. Align the scope with the target (using the collimator variant; explained below)
    6. Take a test shot (using the collimator variant; explained below)
    7. Adjust the rifle scope so that its matches with the test shot (using the collimator variant; explained below)

    We employ the same steps as before but with an important variation: the use of a small apparatus called a “collimator”.

    The collimator is a laser whose beam projects the rifle barrel’s direction. Some are made with the shape of a bullet and can be inserted in the rifle’s chamber just like you would insert actual ammunition. There are other kinds that simply need to be attached to the barrel’s muzzle. These collimators are available in different calibers and some can adapt their size to any caliber (these are classified as “universal”).

    The collimator’s laser beam is used to trace the trajectory of an imaginary shot taken from our firearm hence wherever the beam lands on the target is the place where a bullet would hit as well. Being able to mimic the test shot allows us to make the necessary adjustments to our rifle scope without taking an actual shot. As we explained in steps 6 and 7.

    As a result our rifle scope will be calibrated by our laser’s point. We repeat, this method is not very efficient but it works for shooting close range.

    For more details, pay attention to the upcoming indications. Meanwhile, here are some collimator models for anyone that is interested:

    How to calibrate a rifle scope with a single shot or a single bullet

    There are also people who consult me to know if they could calibrate a rifle scope with just one shot. For them, my answer is similar to the first: It is possible but it is not ideal.

    Even though this method is more precise than the last one, it is still pretty limiting.

    One reason for this is because, as many gunmen already know, not every bullet will hit the target in the same place. In the shooting sports world there is a known concept called “shot grouping” (also known as “group”) which is the pattern of projectile impacts made on a target from multiple consecutive shots taken in one shooting session. That is why a gunman would never expect all his shots to land in the same exact place; on the contrary, he will aim to concentrate the shots altogether and get them to hit the target as close as possible to the bull’s eye (the center of the target). The tightness of the grouping (the proximity of all the shots to each other) is considered a measure of the weapon’s precision.

    Not only that but you must also consider the fact that not all types nor brands of ammunition behave the same way. Experience proves that one brand of ammo can give very different results than another, and this is another reason why we should not be convinced that our scope is properly calibrated after taking only one shot.

    Ultimately this is a very good method to employ as an emergency measure (such as if you only have two bullets left), but if you want to hunt with long ranges, like when you are in the mountains, I wouldn’t take the risk of calibrating with just one shot.

    how to calibrate a rifle scope with a single shot

    As promised, here is the step by step. The method is very simple and you only need to follow this procedure up to the seventh step: :

    1. Mount the scope on the rifle
    2. Set up a target
    3. Position the rifle
    4. Align the rifle with the target
    5. Align the rifle scope with the target
    6. Take a test shot
    7. Adjust the rifle scope based on the test shot

    If you own a collimator you can use it as an aid. Keep reading for more details.

    The most precise way to calibrate a rifle scope

    In the upcoming paragraphs we will describe one of the most popular methods used by hunters, sports shooters and designated shooters (police and military).

    Basically you must use the next step by steps we’ve constructed for you hand in hand with the two calibration methods we mentioned earlier (i.e. calibrate without shooting and calibrate with just one bullet). Remember to take your time and use all your available resources.

    Step 1: Mount the scope on to the rifle

    If you have not already done so, begin by mounting the scope onto the rifle. We recommend that you first place the rifle in a steady position so that it remains stable, this will allow that you mount your scope faultlessly.

    After choosing the most conducive place to install the mount on the rifle we can go ahead and set the rifle scope using the mounts and mounting rings, while making sure that we leave approximately 1.5 cm (0.5 inches) of space between the scope and the rifle. Afterwards we need to fasten the scope the scope into place, but not too firmly, so that it remains mildly loose.

    Having done so, now we line up our scope with the rifle. In other words, we verify that the rifle’s point of view is aligned and leveled with the reticle’s center point.

    Also, we suggest that you set the scope at a comfortable distance from your eyes, so that you have room to move it back and forth until you find a comfortable position and finally decide to secure it in that place.

    In the end, once everything has been tightly bound and leveled, pinch the mounting rings and fasten them well so that everything stays secured.

    mount the rifle scope to calibrate a carabina gamo

    Step 2: Set up a target

    This step is important because the target lets us know not only where our shots are hitting but indirectly the measure of the weapon’s precision.

    We recommend the use of a standard “bull’s eye” shooting target which is divided by a series of concentric circles that are numbered from maximum to minimum, beginning from the center, outwards. We choose to employ this one because the distances between each circle is always the same, they are separated by a few centimeters.

    This knowledge is useful when correcting our shooting.

    mount a shooting target

    Step 3: Position the rifle

    When the rifle has been correctly mounted you may continue with this step. We will proceed to set and secure the rifle with a bipod, tripod, sand bag or by any other means that force it to remain very still so that it does not move while we are calibrating the scope.

    If the rifle is stationary then it will be easier to calibrate.

    position the rifle on a stable place

    Step 4: Align the rifle with the target (or use the collimator variant)

    Go ahead and place the target 100 meters (approximately 110 yards) away. Next we need to align the rifle with the target.

    If you have a bolt action rifle, then pull out the bolt and peer through the barrel at the target, make the necessary adjustments so that in the end target and rifle are lined up. Once finished you can re adjust the rifle’s base with the bipod, tripod, sand bag or the other means that will keep it in its desired position.

    If you do not have a bolt action rifle then you can use a collimator. In this case you will adjust the rifle’s position so that the laser’s red beam hits the center of the target.

    SIDENOTE: The distance you have between you and the target will define the distance with which you rifle scope is calibrated. Therefore if you do not want your scope to be calibrated at 100 meters (110 yards) that is fine, just distance yourself however far away from the target you desire.

    If you want to learn more about what is the best distance to calibrate your scope, take a look at our next article: Distance with which you should calibrate a rifle scope.

    place target at 100 meters

    Step 5: Align the rifle scope with the target (or use the collimator variant)

    Having properly lined up the rifle and target, and having assured that the rifle will not move, then your next step is to align the rifle scope with the target.

    To do this we must move the reticle’s center so that it matches the target’s center. To do so make sure the scope’s cross point coincides with the target’s bull’s eye.

    Once done, our rifle and scope will finally be in position and we can start to shoot.

    align the scope withe the target

    SIDENOTE: If you are looking to calibrate the scope without taking a shot by using the first method we described above, then this will have been your final step.

    Step 6: Test shot (or do the collimator variant)

    Now that everything is set, secured, lined up and ready to go we can return the bolt back to its place, deposit a bullet inside the rifle’s chamber and set the scope’s magnification to its maximum capacity so that we have a clear, precise image of the bull’s eye.

    Get yourself into a comfortable shooting position, relax, take a deep breath and pull the trigger.

    VERY IMPORTANT: do not move the rifle after taking the test shot. In order to make the proper adjustments to your scope they have to be done while the rifle being is in the same position that it was before the shot was taken. Do not move nor change the rifle’s place, just leave it where it is.

    take the first shot

    SIDENOTE: If you are trying to calibrate your rifle scope without taking a shot using the second method that we described earlier (i.e. using a collimator), then you would not take a shot and your reference would be the place where laser’s beam hits the target.

    Step 7: Adjust the rifle scope based on the shot fired

    After having taken the first shot (or having used the collimator) and without moving the rifle from its place, make absolutely sure that the rifle is unloaded and observe the location where the shot (or the laser) hit the target.

    observe the shot’s location

    What follows is to correct the deflection (or “drift”). We accomplish this by changing the scope’s position (make sure to do so by following the user’s manual’s instructions) and guide the reticle’s center to the exact point where it is lined up with the location where the test shot (or the collimator’s laser beam) hit the target.

    adjust the rifle scope’s height
    adjusting the rifle scope’s height
    correcting the rifle scope’s drift
    correcting the rifle scope’s drift

    SIDENOTE: If you are looking to calibrate the scope without taking a shot using the first method we described above, then this will have been your final step.

    Step 8: Take a shot to make sure the calibration has been done correctly

    Having completed the previous step, reload the rifle with a new bullet and return the reticle’s center to that position where it is aligned with the target’s bull’s eye. Once it is lined up, you can fire again.

    Your shot should now land on the bull’s eye hence your rifle has been properly calibrated. In the event that this is not so, repeat the previous step until your shots finally hit bull’s eye.

    Remember, you should not expect all your shots to hit bull’s eye, but you can expect for them be closely concentrated and very proximate to the target’s center.

    shoot at the target’s bull’s eye
    verify the shot at the target’s center


    If you have correctly conducted each of these steps you should be able to perfectly calibrate your rifle scope with very little difficulty from now on.

    Bear in mind: there are many other ways to calibrate, however, in this article we decided to show you the one that we believe is the fastest and most efficient of them all, based on our experience and criteria.

    You must also have in mind that if you do not have a bolt action rifle, and instead you have a semi-automatic or an air gun then your rifle alignment process will be different than what we have indicated and you should skip Step 4.

    Security note: we recommend that you follow these steps while respecting all safety norms, only carry and shoot a rifle whenever it is ready and whenever you have made sure that there are no risks nor danger of hurting yourself or another person. It is highly recommended and also a good idea that you take firearms or security classes for hunters if you are going to start hunting or shooting in the proximity of other people.

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