If you are new to rifle scope use, increased accuracy over varying distances is something to look forward to. But, that does not happen by itself. Along with regular practice (and patience!), various adjustment methods need to be understood and carried out smoothly.
With that in mind, the key question is… How do you adjust a rifle scope? The intention of this article is to provide a detailed answer in as straightforward a manner as possible.
However, let’s not jump the gun! Before getting into scope adjustment details, there is one thing that is a must, and that is that…
Your Scope Must be Properly Mounted
When shooters complain that their scope is not giving accurate results, there is a common cause. It has not been mounted correctly! This should underline just how important it is to have your scope correctly mounted.
This is because an incorrectly or poorly mounted scope will not give the shooting accuracy results you are looking for.
If you have any doubt whatsoever about how well your scope is mounted, it should be checked. This can be done either by yourself, with help from an experienced shooting buddy, or by your local gun shop. For more details, please check out my informative How to Mount a Scope Guide.
For this guide’s purpose, it will be assumed that your new scope is already mounted correctly.
Riflescope Parts and Common Terms Used
Adjusting a rifle scope correctly is quite involved, but with regular practice, it will be quickly mastered. Understanding the components that make up a rifle scope is where you should start.
This will help when it comes to understanding their purpose and show how different adjustments are made. First up is the…
This is the largest lens on a scope. When fitted on your weapon, it is the one farthest from the rifle stock. The size (diameter) of an objective lens dictates the amount of light allowed into the scope. The purpose of the objective lens is to transmit light back to the…
When looking through a rifle scope, the ocular lens is the one closest to your eye. It is contained in the section of the scope called the eyepiece.
All quality rifle scopes will have some form of lens coating on both the objective and ocular lenses. Fully multi-coated lenses are the best because multiple layers of coating have been applied on both pairs of glass lenses.
The objective bell gradually increases from the scope tube up to the size of the objective lens. (More on the scope tube next.) It also holds the objective lens in place and can be threaded to allow a sunshade attachment.
This is also called the main tube and usually comes as one solid piece. The scope tube bridges the objective and ocular lenses. Scope tubes come in 2 sizes, either 30 mm or 1-inch. When looking at the bottom of the scope tube, you will find either scope rings or bases. It is these rings or bases that fit to your rifle to hold it firmly in place.
Important note: Because scope tubes come in two different sizes, they must be paired with the same size rings or bases. A 30 mm scope tube can only be used with 30 mm rings/bases. A 1-inch scope tube can only be used with 1-inch rings/bases. Trying to put a 30 mm scope tube into a 1-inch base (and visa-versa) will result in an incorrect fitting. Worse still, it is likely to damage the scope itself and/or your rifle base.
The eyepiece holds the ocular lens in place and is what you look through to view your surroundings and targets. Lots of rifle scope models have dials on the eyepiece that allow reticle adjustment. These adjustments enable shooters to receive the sharpest target view possible.
There are many different types of reticle, but the most common is a crosshair. The purpose of a reticle is to show you exactly where your shots go once the trigger is pulled.
If you have purchased a fixed magnification scope, there will be no power ring. However, the majority of shooters today go for variable magnification scopes. That being the case, the scope will have a power ring.
The purpose of the power ring is to change (or “dial-in”) at different magnification levels. Dialing the power ring up or down allows zooming in and out on a target.
To give an example, 3 to 9x variable magnification rifle scopes are the most popular for deer hunting. This means at the lowest 3x magnification setting that, viewed objects will appear 3x closer than the human eye. Dial right up to the maximum 9x magnification, and viewed objects will appear 9x closer than the human eye would see.
As you dial between your available magnification range, the focus increases or decreases accordingly. With the above 3-9x variable magnification example, you can magnify viewed objects (or targets) by 3x, 4x, 5x, 6x, 7x, 8x, or 9x closer than when viewed by the human eye.
Turrets on a scope are key to getting scope adjustment right. They are adjustment knobs positioned on the top and on the side of your scope. The purpose of these knobs is to adjust for windage and elevation.
The windage turret is for left and right movement and is generally placed on the right-hand side of your scope. The elevation turret is for up and down movement and is situated on top of your scope.
When considering the primary purpose of turrets, this would be for setting up the zero of your rifle scope. However, before explaining the zeroing process, let’s take a look at the different types of turrets you will find. The reason is that shooters have a choice of turrets. This choice depends upon such things as the scope manufacturer, country of origin, type of rifle, and, of course, price!
To help you decide which turret style is best for your needs, so here are three types that are widely available. The third turret style described below is only found on scopes designed for long-distance shooting.
Once these three turret types have been detailed, I will move on to the different ways in which they are adjusted:
If precise adjustment is what you need, then target turrets are it. They have been developed and in use for a long time. This turret style allows for precise target practice shooting. They allow shooters to make very small scope adjustments to ensure rounds fired hit the bullseye (your target’s dead center).
The small adjustment scale just mentioned runs at fractions of an inch. Target turrets are an excellent choice for longer-range target practice and those into competitive shooting. They are not the best turret type for hunting. The reason for this is that even a small knock or bump can put them off kilter.
These are the type of turrets hunters generally go for. This is because they are designed to make larger adjustments for each “click” made. By the very nature of sports hunting, shooters often need to take aim and fire off shots quickly.
These actions need to be completed without the bother of making too many small or exact adjustments. Ballistic turrets are raised and come with markings that are usually stated in 100-yard increments.
It is possible to purchase a scope with ballistic turrets that are uncapped or capped. Capped turrets are the most popular choice because they prevent accidental adjustments while the shooter is on the move.
Parallax Error Adjustment
As mentioned, some rifle scopes have a third turret. This is to allow adjustments to be made for parallax error. If a rifle scope has this turret, it will be positioned across from the windage turret on the left-hand side. It isn’t found on all scopes because parallax adjustment only comes into play when shooting over very long distances.
Most rifle scopes are zeroed in at 100 yards. However, some variable magnification scopes can cause what is known as parallax error. This occurs if they are turned (dialed) to the upper end of their power setting.
Parallax error is caused when moving your eye from side to side while looking through the scope, and the position of the reticle appears to change. With the use of a parallax error turret, you can make adjustments. It can be turned until your target is focused and the reticle remains the same even with eye position changes.
Beginners and those who shoot at targets under 300 yards do not need to worry about parallax error. Those who shoot further or purchase a variable magnification scope with 10x or more magnification do. This is because parallax error could well come into play.
Parallax error is quite a complex concept. Any shooter who feels it could affect their scope use needs to take time to research it.
Measurement Adjustments (aka “Clicks”)
The most popular measurement comes in MOA (Minute Of Angle), but Mil-Dot (Milliradian) measurements are also available. Both measurements have their pros and cons. So, before taking the plunge, check out MOA/Mil-Dot differences and see which suits your math calculation best!
If you are more familiar with the imperial measurement system, then the MOA measurement system is likely to suit best.
Here’s an example of each…
A scope offering 1/4-inch MOA click step adjustments means that each click moves the reticle close to 1/4-inch per 100 yards, 1/2-inch for 200 yards, 3/4-inch for 300 yards, 1-inch for 400 yards, and so on.
However, if you understand the metric measurement system, then Mil-Dot adjustments are the way to go. These click adjustments come in centimeters and meters, with 1 mil equaling 10 centimeters at 100 meters.
The main thing to remember is that whichever scope adjustment type you decide on, it should come with a corresponding MOA or Mil-Dot reticle.
For more great info, check out my articles on What is MOA on a Scope and How to Use a Mil Dot Scope for Dummies.
Different Adjustment Methods
Again, the choice is yours. Here are the two most popular adjustment methods and an explanation of uncapped/capped turret difference…
As the term suggests, this style of turret does not need any adjustment tool. Shooters have the ability to make necessary adjustments with their thumb or a finger.
This turret design sits much lower than regular turret dials and makes aiming and shooting easy. Fingertip adjustable turrets are available for scopes that have either target or ballistic turrets.
Coin Style Adjustable
These are the more common on target turret scope models. They are narrow and do not allow finger adjustment. Instead, they have small indentations which are built into the dial. This is where you fit a small tool (or a penny) to turn the dial.
Recap! – Uncapped/Capped Turrets: These turrets are larger in size and are popular for target and ballistic turret scope models. They can be operated either by fingers or with a tool. If you use capped turrets, the cap is taken off, necessary adjustments made, and then the cap is replaced. This prevents and protects against any accidental adjustment.
Zeroing (or Sighting in)
Once a scope is attached to your rifle, it needs sighting in (zeroing). This process aligns your scope with your weapon and allows accurate target aim at a set distance.
It is not possible to adjust the flight path of a bullet by making changes to your rifle. That means scope adjustments need to be made until the reticle lines up with rounds fired from your rifle. Depending on the type of shooting you intend to do will dictate the most appropriate zero distance.
While it is possible to zero your rifle from different distances, most shooters do so at 100-yards. Once you have zeroed your rifle at the given distance, it will only be accurate at that exact distance. An example being 100-yards.
Having said that…
Correct zeroing will help improve target accuracy at any distance. This is because the zeroing-in process establishes baseline accuracy. From there, it allows you to make further adjustments. These adjustments will depend upon such things as target distance and the conditions you are shooting in.
During the zeroing process, precise reticle adjustment, either up, down, right, or left, are carried out. These adjustments need to be made until the reticle completely aligns with where you want fired rounds hitting your target.
Zeroing-in adjustment examples…
Examples of adjustments required to accurately zero-in your rifle scope at a target are:
Shots fired that hit higher than where your crosshairs are showing: Your scope needs adjusting to move the reticle lower.
The opposite stands if your shots are landing lower than where your crosshairs are showing. This means your scope needs adjusting to move the reticle higher.
If shots are hitting to the left of where your crosshairs are showing, you need to adjust the reticle to the right. Conversely, if shots are hitting to the right of where your crosshairs are showing, you need to adjust the reticle to the left.
For more great info, check out my informative articles on How to Zero a Rifle Scope, How to Zero a RifleScopes at 100 Yards, and What Distance to Zero an Air Rifle Scope.
Looking for Some High-quality Scopes To Test Your Newfound Knowledge On?
Then take a look at my in-depth reviews of the Best Scopes for M&P 15-22, the Best Scout Scopes, the Best Rimfire Scopes, the Best Mil Dot Scopes, or the Best Scopes for AR15 under 100 Dollars you can buy in 2023.
Or, check out our reviews of the Best Air Rifle Scopes, the Best 308 Rifles Scopes, the Best Mini 14 Ranch Rifles, the Best 300 Win Mag Scopes, the Best Low Light Rifle Scope, as well as the Best Deer Hunting Scopes currently on the market.
Learning the best way to adjust a rifle scope is an essential part of improving your shooting skills. While the process may appear quite involved, it really is achievable.
Hopefully, this guide has given a clear insight into what a rifle scope consists of and how adjustments need to be carried out. From there, to master rifle scope adjustments, up your accuracy, and your shooting enjoyment, you only need one more thing…
That is practice and then some more practice! So, get out to the range or the field as often as possible, and you will soon notice the difference.
Happy and safe shooting.