How to Sight in a Rifle Scope Without a Boresighter?

There are various ways to sight in your new rifle scope. The easiest way is to have your local gun shop or an experienced shooting buddy complete the task. But, why let them have all the fun?

Failing that, you can purchase a boresighter device and set about sighting in that way.

While these methods will certainly do the job, there is a traditional alternative that is very worthy of understanding. And that is How to sight in a rifle scope without a boresighter. This method of sighting in is useful for those new to the world of rifles. It also suits those who do not wish to purchase a boresighter device.

A further benefit that cannot be dismissed comes through the fact that you will be increasing your overall firearms knowledge.

At the same time, you will quite rightly feel a sense of personal satisfaction once the task has been completed.

how to sight in rifle scope without a boresighter

New Technology Should Be Embraced, But

The modern firearms world is awash with gadgets, accessories, and new innovations. This has to be seen as positive. Having said that, it does not mean that traditional gun techniques should be discarded out of hand.

Understanding how firearms techniques have developed down the ages should be part of the learning curve for all gun owners. By doing so, it will give you a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the weapons you own.

Although our topic majors on how to sight in a rifle scope without a boresighter, it is only fair to balance the books. To do this, let’s first take a look at what a boresighting device is and how it works.

After that, there will be a step-by-step guide on how to complete the task in a tried and trusted way. Rest assured, this traditional process is not as daunting as it may sound. The other positive is that once completed successfully; it will give just as good (if not better!) results when it comes to downrange accuracy.

Boresighter Devices and How They Work?

As laser technology advances, boresighter devices have become a popular method for sighting in a rifle scope. There are various designs with two popular options…

A laser boresighter that is shaped like a cartridge

This is inserted into your rifle chamber. It functions by projecting a laser beam through the barrel and onto your pre-set target. Once inserted, you then adjust either the scope reticle (or your weapon’s iron sights) in order to align your point of aim to match the projected laser dot.

Laser boresighter attached to the muzzle

This is either inserted directly into the bore (“arbor” type), or a magnet is used to hold alignment with the barrel. From there, it projects a laser beam onto your set-up target. Once that is complete, the process is the same as the cartridge method, in that you align the sight with the emitted laser dot onto the target.

As mentioned, using a laser boresighter is certainly an effective way to achieve sighting in. But, let us do away with the new and concentrate on a long-established method, so…

Here’s How To Sight in a Rifle Scope without a Boresighter

Depending on the type of rifle you own, there are different steps to take. If you are using a semi-auto or pump rifle, the procedure is different to those who own a bolt gun. This is because bolt gun owners need to take their bolt out to complete the exercise. But don’t worry, all will be explained next…

Step 1 – Be prepared!

Take your time when beginning the rifle scope sighting in process. The following actions need completing and checking off before you even think about loading your gun and firing off shots.

Start by installing the scope onto your rifle. Good scope manufacturers will provide clear instructions for this. You can also be sure to find a host of specific rifle model instructions, instructional videos, and tips online.

Get it mounted correctly…

It goes without saying that to achieve the best results from scope use, your optic needs to be correctly mounted. You then need to check the eye relief, and reticle focus is set as recommended. Those two checks can be carried out at home or once you arrive at your shooting location.

how to sight in a rifle scope without a boresighter

It is then time to pack your rifle with scope attached, any tools that may be required, targets, and a box of ammo. You should also take a notebook and pen. More on why that will be useful shortly…

Just a word on ammo. It will pay to complete the scope sighting in process using the same type and load of ammo that you intend to use on a regular basis. While this is not a must, it will help with ongoing consistency of shot placement.

Step 2 – Head to a Safe Shooting Spot

Depending on your circumstances, this could be your own large backyard, ranch, quiet place in the country, or a shooting range. Wherever it is, there are two requirements…

The first is a solid rest from which to shoot from. If doing this at a range, there will be rests available, but otherwise, any type of stable surface can act as a suitable rest. The key here is to complete your scope sighting procedures using some form of rest. Failing to do so will very likely lead to inaccurate results and frustration.

The second requirement is for those who are not heading to a shooting range. It is important that your safe shooting spot has an adequate backstop placed behind your targets.

This should extend beyond and above your positioned paper targets. The reason for this is two-fold. First is the safety aspect. A solid backstop will stop your fired rounds once they exit the target. Secondly, in the event you miss the target completely, it will serve as a reference point to assist with adjustment before trying again.

Step 3 – Measure Your Target Distance

“Putting your shots on paper” is a common term in the firearms world. This refers to where shots taken hit your placed targets. It is commonly stated that a target range of 100 yards is the most appropriate distance for sighting in. While this is true, it is not a measurement that is set in stone.

Inexperienced shooters attempting to put shots on paper would be well advised to begin the process much closer in. Say 50 or even 30 yards. Once you get your shots on paper from that closer distance, you can then move out and work to sighting in at 100 yards.

how to sight in rifle scope without boresighter

Step 4 – This One is for Bolt Gun Owners Only

As mentioned, there are slightly different steps depending on whether you are a semi-auto or pump rifle owner or use a bolt gun. This step is for bolt gun owners only, and it relates to completion of a manual boresight. Double check your rifle is unloaded, and then remove the bolt from your rifle. This will give a clear, unobstructed view down the barrel. Site your rifle and scope towards the target.

You then need to have your head in a position that allows you to see down the barrel and the scope at the same time. Experienced shooters often use one eye for the barrel and the other for the scope. There are other options but what you are after is a simultaneous barrel and target view.

From there, you will be surprised at how clearly the scope points at the target. Scope adjustments will need to be made because your view needs to be in line with the bullseye/center of your target. This procedure is quick, easy, and effective. Once complete, you will be surprised at just how accurately your sighting in shots hit the target.

Step 5 – Steady, Aim, Fire!

Carry out your firearms safety drill checks, load your weapon and put ear and eye protectors on. From there, you should get into a comfortable shooting position with your rifle steady on the rest. Aim for the bullseye/target center and fire a single shot. Try and keep the scope’s crosshairs in exactly the same place and fire off more shots.

How many shots should you fire? This is a personal choice. Although you can just fire one shot before checking its proximity to the bullseye, additional shots are recommended. This is because the aim of multiple shots is to achieve a grouping. Some shooters find a 3 shot group easier to see/compare; others prefer a 5 shot group.

Step 6 – It’s Adjustment Time!

After taking your shots, check on the target how they are grouped. What you are looking for is acceptably close grouping (regardless of where on the paper). From there, check how close that grouping is to the target center.

It is then time to make windage and elevation adjustments. Some shooters prefer to make adjustment tweaks to both windage and elevation at the same time. Others find it more effective to make just one adjustment at a time.

Making individual adjustments means you would only adjust the windage setting first, shoot, and check target shot placement is closer to your target center. This process will be repeated until you are satisfied with the final windage setting. You would then follow exactly the same procedure for elevation changes.

Once you are satisfied with the final windage and elevation settings, it is time to fire a 3 or 5 shot group. This will show center ring target accuracy. Have patience and keep fine tuning the adjustments as necessary until you are getting close groupings within the target circle. Once you are satisfied with your target groupings, that is the rifle scope sighting in process complete.


how to sight in a rifle scope without boresighter

Step 7 – There is No Need to Pack Up Immediately!

This last step is not strictly necessary, but boy, is it satisfying! Don’t pack up and rush off. Instead, put up some new targets and spend some well-earned “you” time by firing off a series of 5 or 10 shot groups.

These should be placed in different target areas and checked between each shot group. By doing so, you can evaluate just how closely you are grouping in different target areas.

This final shooting session will give deserved enjoyment. It will also be the start of your rifle and scope combination learning curve. And, who knows, you might just have some ‘paper’ grouping accuracy results to show friends and shooting buddies when they come calling!

What about The Notepad and Pen Mentioned Earlier?

Honestly, I haven’t forgotten! The reason this has been left until last is because it should stay with you as long as your rifle and scope combo does.

You should start as you mean to go on and detail such things as shooting location, weather, time of day, type of ammo used, and your intended shooting application. In this first instance, it will be: “Sighting in my rifle scope without a boresighter.” From there, you can make clear notes on all adjustment steps made and any other relevant observations.

Make a habit of taking notes and references each time you head out for a shooting session. This can then build into a very useful resource.

Two quick examples include…

You can note any accuracy difference when using different cartridges and loads over similar distances (and conditions!) The second could be classed as “bragging rights” and can apply to hunters as well as those looking to consistently increase their accuracy over distance.

Hunters can make reference to the type/size of game they take down each session. As for those looking to extend their accuracy over distance. Details can be recorded on a regular basis (hopefully showing gradual improvements!)

In short, treat this as your personal shooting diary. With regular updates, you will be pleasantly surprised at how useful it can turn out to be.

Looking for a Quality Scope To Practice Your Sighting in Skills?

Then check out our reviews of the Best Scopes for M&P 15-22, the Best 300 Win Mag Scopes, the Best Mini 14 Ranch Rifles, the Best Air Rifle Scopes, and the Best 308 Rifles Scopes on the market in 2023.

Or, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Scout Scopes, the Best Rimfire Scopes, the Best Scopes for AR15 under 100 Dollars, the Best Deer Hunting Scopes, as well as the Best Mil Dot Scopes you can buy.

Final Thoughts

Those who are new to rifle and scope use are in for a treat. Regular shooting sessions will show just how enjoyable this combination can be.

Rifles have a very proud history in the firearms world, and everyone involved will surely benefit from delving into that. They should also keep up with current and future trends but not dismiss the traditional methods used down the years.

One such method has just been described, and anyone who takes the time to sight in a rifle scope without a boresighter will surely benefit from the experience. It will add to their firearms knowledge base and give them a sense of achievement. For those reasons alone, it is a highly recommended exercise.

Happy and safe shooting.

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About Gary McCloud

Gary is a U.S. ARMY OIF veteran who served in Iraq from 2007 to 2008. He followed in the honored family tradition with his father serving in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam, his brother serving in Afghanistan, and his Grandfather was in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Due to his service, Gary received a VA disability rating of 80%. But he still enjoys writing which allows him a creative outlet where he can express his passion for firearms.

He is currently single, but is "on the lookout!' So watch out all you eligible females; he may have his eye on you...

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