Rethinking Your Zero

Written by Sierra Bullets Ballistic Technician Rich Machholz

It’s fall and time to get ready for opening day, the first shot or the overall experience.
Several years ago I was preparing for my first out of state hunting trip with my friend Lloyd in Montana and I asked him what kind of shots I might have.  We came to the conclusion that they would be pretty long, maybe in excess of 300 yards.  So I zeroed my 7×57 Ruger M77 for 300 yards here at home, did some practicing and ultimately arrived in Montana ready willing and able for that big Mulie.  It didn’t take long for my opportunity to come.  Late the first morning a nice 5×5 came strolling out of the cedars and I promptly shot over him at about 150 yards.  It should have been an easy shot but my zero was way too long with entirely too much mid-range rise.  We came back to town for lunch and promptly went to the local range where I changed my zero to 2 inches high at a hundred which put me pretty much dead on at 200.

By mid-morning the next day my first ever Mule Deer was on the ground.  We had sneaked into a small basin and spooked a nice buck with three does that were bedded in the thick cedars.  As they made their way around the rim of the basin I had the angle on them so I hurried across the bottom of the basin and cut them off on the other side.  As they came by above me they crossed an opening and stopped.  That’s all I needed, one shot and done.  So how far was the shot after all that you ask, about 80 yards on a steep uphill angle.   The 7mm 140 grain SBT GameKing (#1912) entered low in the brisket and we found it in the offside shoulder.  He never took a step.

Over the years I have found that a solid 200 yard zero is more than adequate for 90 percent of all my needs and the majority of the cartridges I shoot.  But I have to admit that there are times when a 264 Win Mag, STW, one of the big 300s or other flatter trajectory cartridges can use a more generous zero if you will be hunting out in flat country or other  terrain requiring very long shots.  My little 7×57 and its modest velocities was way too high at mid-range with a 300 yard zero.  As a result I missed.  Plus, I have decided it is much easier to hold over for a leisurely longer shot than it is to hold under on a rushed close shot.

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2 Responses to Rethinking Your Zero

  1. Christopher Kuna says:

    Absolutely RIGHT ON !!!!! Here in NE Pa 99.9% of our Whitetails are shot @ less than 100 Yds. Zeroing 2 inches high @ 100 puts virtually all of our rifles within a a whisker of dead on @ 200 Yds. assuming a muzzle velocity of approximately 2600 – 2700 fps.


  2. DAVID RUPPEL says:

    We all learn by trial and error. Here in the high desert of Oregon hunting in the sage brush, you may have a shot at 10 yards or 1000 yards. Those quick close shots where you don’t have but a split second to make up your mind, I can not remember to hold low. Holding high I’m much better at. and for those way out there shots where yiu have all the time in the world, you can use ballistics tables and spin knobs to hit your target. Yep live and learn!


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