Trigger Time: Zeroed In

Trigger Time: Zeroed In

When I first started shooting, knowing which load my guns were zeroed with and the range at which they were zeroed was easy to keep up with.

The author applies a piece of masking tape with all of his rifle's ballistics data on each of his ARs so he can remember what they are zeroed with. It's not exactly high-tech, but it works.

When I first started shooting, knowing which load my guns were zeroed with and the range at which they were zeroed was easy to keep up with. I only had a few guns, they were all chambered for different cartridges, and I sighted them all in at 100 yards. But as my gun collection and hunting interests grew, keeping track of which guns were zeroed with which loads and the distance at which they were zeroed became increasingly difficult.

I showed up at more than a few hunting camps over the years with the wrong load because I had several guns of the same caliber. Multiple rifles chambered for the same cartridge that had different roles or bullet preferences were supposed to make life easier, but managing the mess actually made my life a whole lot tougher. Over the years, I've found a couple of simple, efficient methods that help keep me on target.

A Low-Tech Solution
My ARs are a pain to keep track of. I have quite a few with various barrel twists and intended roles. From 24-inch, heavy-barreled prairie-dog rigs to 10.5-inch fighting guns to 18-inch hunting rifles and everything in between, each of these guns is sighted-in with a load that best suits its intended mission and twist rate.

Further compounding the problem are sights and optics. Though most of my precision rifles are scoped, many of my fighting guns have backup iron sights. Though my irons and a short-range optic like an Aimpoint might be zeroed at the same range, a Leupold- or ACOG-equipped rifle is very likely to be zeroed differently with the optic than with the iron sights.

Suppressors represent another complication. All my guns have some degree of shift when I install a suppressor, whether it's a SureFire, Jet, or John's Guns can. But the change in point of impact varies from very little to a few inches at 100 yards, and it's different with every gun.

Keeping track of all those zeros was a real pain until I went low-tech and stuck a piece of "tactical" masking tape on the stock of each AR and scribbled my zero info on it. I also wrote the shift in point of impact with the suppressor as well as which suppressor the gun was zeroed with. For example, the tape on my run-and-gun coyote-calling carbine reads:

Hornady 60-Gr. TAP
= @ 200 w/scope = @ 100 w/irons
-1" and Left 1.5" at 100 with SF Mini

So, that particular carbine's irons are dead-on at 100 yards, while the Leupold is dialed in at 200 yards. With my SureFire Mini suppressor installed, my 100-yard point of impact is 1 inch low and 1.5 inches left. It's a simple system, but because I have so many ARs, that cheap piece of tape has greatly simplified my life.

I employ a similar solution with my hunting rifles, though I use a laminated piece of paper or a sticker instead of masking tape to record drop and wind drift. In the case of scopes with long-range reticles, like Swarovski's BR or the Zeiss Rapid-Z, I rely on stickers with the reticle lines and their values on them.

Scribbling your zero on a piece of tape isn't rocket science, but it's easy and it's 100 percent reliable. You could add more data, but that's really about as detailed as the average shooter or hunter needs to be. However, if you're serious about shooting tiny groups or reaching way out there with your favorite rig, you should probably step up to a rifle data book.

Storm Tactical's Precision Rifle Data Book offers a cold bore zero

verification target. The author thinks it's an essential training and record-keeping tool because it is the first shot that counts, and having a record of where your rifle shoots with a cold bore under different conditions makes it easier to pull off a perfect shot later.

The Rifle Data Book
Military and law enforcement snipers have long used logbooks to record their drop and wind drift at various distances and to keep track of their rifle's round count. Those are still valid reasons to keep a data book for a precision rifle, but advanced logbooks, such as those offered by Storm Tactical (, are so much more than a simple way to keep track of shots fired.

I use Storm's 5.5x8.5-inch Modular Data Book for my long-range, precision rifles. It is a thick, rugged, three-ring book that starts out with a comprehensive, user-filled data sheet that allows you to fill in your windage and elevation adjustments in mils or minutes from 100 to 1,125 yards or meters. The top of the page has location, density altitude, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, rifle, ammunition, and remarks fields. The book has four individual ballistics pages with the same data printed front and back. Multiple pages allow you to record your rifle's data in various weather conditions or locations, or to record basic data for multiple rifles.

Another useful page is the cold bore/zero target data sheet. This page has a simple diamond that represents the diamond target on the included CD-ROM (more on the CD later), as well as places for important data like temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. I like this page because the first shot from a cold bore can impact differently than subsequent shots, and it's the first shot that matters most. This page allows you to record your cold bore impact in different weather conditions so you can refer to it later. As Storm's Mark Hartwell told me, "The role of the data book is to enter environmental conditions and ballistics so you can repeat the shot under those exact same conditions in the future." The cold bore zero pages help you do just that.

The book is also loaded with other important information and tips on how to engage moving targets, estimating range with your mil-dot reticle, shooting uphill and downhill, and doping the wind. It also has the values for the dots of standard and Gen 2 mil-dot reticles as well as Leupold's popular TMR reticle. Windage and elevation tables for the most popular 5.56, 7.62, .300 Win. Mag., and .338 Lapua precision loads are also included.

Storm Tactical also sends out a CD-Rom with each data book that includes a 19-page user manual that

is especially helpful to new long-range shooters. It explains how to fill out the ballistics pages and how to use every page of the book. It also has a selection of targets that print on 8.5x11-inch paper. The selection includes hostage and cold bore targets as well as zeroing targets scaled in both MOA and mils, which makes rapid zero adjustments easy regardless of which scale your reticle and turrets use.

You can use as few or as many of the data book's features as you like. I often refer to its many technical reminders, while other shooters I know just use it to record their ballistics data and total shots fired so they can constantly compare accuracy to round count. If you shoot enough, you will wear out your barrel, and a good logbook is the best way I know to see it coming.

Everybody needs a handy way to remember which load their rifle is zeroed with, and a good rifle data book is one way to cover that. It can also be an inexpensive training tool that will make you a better rifleman, and it's a good, easy way to keep your rifle's ballistics close at hand.

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