Setting up your rifle

by Linda K. Miller & Keith A. Cunningham | April 26, 2022

Hunting is big again. If you’re among the many freshly-licensed hunters who just bought a gun, there are few things you need to take care of in the off-season to ensure sure your rifle is as ready as you are.

Give your butt a trim

Most factory buttstocks are too large. Unless it’s adjustable, your gun’s stock will likely need trimming. The rifle butt should be short enough to accommodate the heavy jacket that you‘ll be wearing during the colder part of deer season. Once the stock is trimmed, you’ll also need the butt pad refitted. Unless you’re handy with this type of work, take the rifle to a gunsmith who is. They’ll be able to ensure you get the right stock length.

How’s that scope sitting?

Make sure your scope is mounted correctly. A store or manufacturer-mounted scope will be positioned for average eye relief — it needs to be positioned for how you hold and use the rifle. It needs to be mounted level (using a leveller) not just someone’s eye, but we have seen many come into our shop that weren’t. With most modern scopes, you can focus the reticle to your own eye, and you should do this. If you’re doing your own scope mounting, read our feature, “Choosing a riflescope,” in the August 2017 issue.

Check the screws

Before you head to the range, look your rifle over and make sure everything is tight. Check that every screw and bolt is tightened correctly. Also do this after travelling and using the rifle at the range. Keep required tools handy in your shooting bag.

“It was sighted in at the store/factory” means nothing

If it was sighted at all, what the merchant probably means was that it was bore sighted (an approximation was made to adjust your scope to hit somewhere on a 4×4-foot target at 100 yards). A really good bore sighting might get you within about 12 inches of your point of aim. That’s still way below the standards for hunting. You must take the gun to a range or safe shooting location and finish zeroing the rifle yourself.

Zero it the right way

Whether you’re zeroing to have “point of aim, point of impact” or you’re zeroing for shooting pointblank (e.g., two-inches high at 100 yards), there are some things you need to do:
• Use a bipod on the ground or a machine rest on a shooting table. Use a rear bag (see next point).
• Shoot a group. If you’re way off the mark, a group of three shots will do for coarse adjustments. Once you’re near the centre, a five-shot group will be the minimum for fine tuning.

For detailed info on point-blank zeroing, read comfort-zone range,” in the 2017 Hunting Annual.

Shotguns: The usual measurement for ideal butt length is from trigger finger to the crux of the elbow.

Rifles: The right measurement is the distance from the eye to the shoulder. That usually means a 131 ⁄2 inch butt length for thin, lanky, or long-necked people, and closer to 121 ⁄2 inches for thick-chested or shorter-necked people.

shot placement on a bullseye

To assess a shot group, you need to find the centre. Draw a horizontal line with the same number of shots above and below the line (In the photo above, four shots above and four below the line). Then draw a vertical line with the same number of shots to the left and the right of the line. The intersection of those lines is the centre of your group. Use your sight knobs to shift the centre of the group to your point of aim and then shoot another group.

Solid zeroing advice

Zero with the good stuff: Different ammo can have different points of impact. We certainly appreciate how expensive ammo can be. So, use cheap ammo for plinking and practising positions, but use only your hunting ammo to zero or confirm your zero.

rabbit gun rest

Get a rabbit: At the range, you’ll need a front support (a machine rest or a bipod) for your gun. But the unsung hero of the rifle support system is the rear bag. The best type of rear support is the rabbit-ear bag. The body and the ears must be separate and must be filled separately with poly pellets (sold in craft stores). Correctly filled, the ears will be rigid, and the base soft enough to squeeze. Set the gun so the crosshairs are just a smidge above your point of aim and then squeeze the base gently — only the base, not the ears — to put the crosshairs exactly on the point of aim.

Originally published in the April 2021 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.

contributors Linda Miller and Keith Cunningham

Linda and Keith own and operate the MilCun Training Centre ( near Haliburton, Ontario. They are the authors of the bestselling books The Wind Book for Rifle Shooters and The Secrets of Mental Marksmanship. Reach Linda or Keith at

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