Sighting in Your Firearm

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Sighting in Your FirearmThe fall hunting season is just a few weeks away, and now is a great time for hunters to sight in their firearms to be sure they are on target when they go afield, according to Paul Johansen, Assistant Chief of Game Management of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Section.

“Early fall is a pleasant time to visit a shooting range, and public shooting ranges are normally less crowded during this time of year,” said Johansen.  “I encourage adults to use this time to introduce our youth to the enjoyment of shooting, and to use this opportunity to instruct youngsters in the methods of safe gun handling.”

The proper sighting in of a firearm involves the use of a safe shooting range, a solid shooting support and a few basic shooting techniques.  A shooting range should have a safe backstop and be at least 500 feet from any residence or place where people gather.  The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) maintains many public shooting ranges statewide and these facilities are excellent places to sight in a firearm.  The location of these ranges can be found on the WVDNR Web site at

  • Sighting in Your FirearmWhile sighting in a firearm, it should be solidly supported on a sturdy shooting bench using sandbags or a commercial shooting rest.  Always place the fore stock of the firearm, not the barrel, on the support.  Stock and sight mounting screws should be checked for proper tightness.  Be sure that the ammunition is the correct caliber for the firearm and sight in with the ammunition that will be used for hunting.  Several different brands and types of ammunition may need to be tested to determine the one best suited for a particular firearm.
  • Always wear proper eye and ear protection when shooting and be sure other persons nearby are also wearing this protection. Try to time your sighting in sessions so the sun is not shining directly into your face or onto your sights.  A sandbag placed between the rear of the stock and your shoulder will greatly reduce felt recoil of heavy recoiling firearms.  Assume a comfortable shooting position so your muscles are relaxed.  Position the firearm’s sights on the target by adjusting the support so the support holds the firearm on target and little or no effort on your part is required.
  • Relax, take a deep breath, slowly let the breath out and then smoothly pull the trigger with the pad of the shooting finger when the sights are properly aligned on the target.   Be careful not to use the joint area of the shooting finger and do not jerk the trigger in anticipation of the firearm firing.  After firing the shot, follow through smoothly and relax before looking at the target or firing another shot. 
  • Fire a three or five shot group, determine the center of the group, and make sight changes if necessary.  Follow the firearm or scope manufacturer’s instructions to make the necessary sight adjustments. Fire several more groups, allowing the barrel to cool between groups, to determine if the firearm is properly sighted in.  When you are confident that the firearm is properly sighted in, practice shooting several groups from the various unsupported field shooting positions (standing, kneeling, sitting, prone) that likely will be used when hunting.

“Going afield with a properly sighted in firearm will enhance your enjoyment of hunting in the Mountain State,” Johansen concluded.