There's more to long-range shooting than just having a good rifle and being a sharpshooter; you must also know how to adjust the long-range scope.
Ideally, you want the scope properly configured for precise, spot-on long-range shots. Sure, that sounds easy, but adjusting a rifle scope requires technical understanding. It is an essential skill you'll want to master if you're a long-range shooter keen on improving their accuracy.
This article covers rifle scope adjustment procedures to help you hit long-range targets with 100% precision.
By the tail end of this post, you'll learn the following:
- How to achieve max magnification to extend your rifle's long-range shooting capability
- How to focus your rifle's eyepiece
- Illumination adjustment control for the brightness of the reticle
- Windage adjustment
We'll even talk about scope adjustments when you're not on the same focal plane with distant targets.
Before we look at how to fine-tune your rifle scope for long-range shooting, let's get a few basics out for the way first.
Understanding the Long Range Scope
As the name suggests, the primary purpose of this type of rifle scope is to enable you to take long-distance shots with precision.
Long-range scopes feature several magnification lenses and a special reticle. For starters, a reticle indicates where your ammo will impact the target.
That said, there isn't a specific definition of "long-range" since effective shooting depends on your gun and cartridge.
Some rifle calibers, for instance, are super-effective with shooting distances of up to 500 yards, while others struggle past 150 yards. Often, most rifles can't hit targets beyond 350 yards without optical sights — and that's where long-range scopes come in.
Maintaining consistent accuracy at 500 yards and beyond is easier with quality optics. Some of the best long-range scopes can shoot out past 1,000 yards accurately.
Apart from helping increase accuracy for longer-range shots, these long-range scopes also:
- Improve your shooting confidence.
- Give you an edge in competitive shooting.
- Provide more safety. For example, hunting in the dark.
The Anatomy of a Scope
The first step to learning how to adjust a rifle scope is to get acquainted with its various parts and terminologies.
Parts of the Long Range Scope
A typical long-range scope has the following parts:Scope Tube
The scope tube, also known as the main tube or the barrel, is the tube holding the lenses in place. The tube also attaches the scope to the rifle via the scope rings. The exterior scope body features all the necessary adjustments to control the lenses.
Common scope tube sizes range from 30mm to 34 mm in diameter. The scope body is, in most cases, made using aircraft-grade aluminum.
The External Adjustment Turrets
Most rifle scopes have three external adjustment turrets as follows:
- The windage turret
- Elevation turret
- Parallax turret
The windage turret is located on the side of the scope body. It allows you to fix the horizontal alignment of the retile, enabling it to adjust to the wind's point of impact.
The elevation turret sits on the scope body's top and allows vertical adjustment to enable your rifle's reticle to adjust for the bullet drop to a distant target.
You can measure windage and elevation adjustment in minutes of the angle (MOA) or MRAD (milliradian).
This is the lens you look through when shooting/aiming. The ocular lens magnifies ambient light from the focal point and is smaller than the objective lens.
This is the lens facing your target and is the larger of the two external lenses. The primary function of the objective lens is to transmit light to the back of the ocular lens.
The objective lens diameter is measured in millimeters. The larger the lens, the bigger the objective diameter.
Magnification Power Ring
The magnification power ring enables you to determine how much magnification is required for long-range shooting. It is the rotating ring sitting on the smaller ocular eyepiece.
This function is only available for illuminated scopes. It allows you to switch the illumination on and off. You can also use it to adjust the scope's brightness.
Also known as adjustable objective, the parallax error adjustment turret is located on the scope body. It adjusts the objective lenses to correct a parallax error, as explained later in this post.
Also known as the diopter, the eyepiece accommodates the ocular lens. You can adjust the eyepiece to increase reticle focus and, by extension, obtain sharper images.
This is the cross or dot pattern you use to aim when looking through your rifle's scope. The reticle illumination control sitting on the side of the scope body can be helpful for long-range hunters operating in low light conditions.
Rifle scopes concentrate the illumination collected by the objective lens into a beam known as the exit pupil. An exit pupil's diameter is the objective diameter divided by the magnifying power.
Now that you know what a long-range rifle scope is all about, it's time to get to the gist of the matter; how to adjust the scope for extreme long-range shooting. Let's get cracking:
Adjusting your rifle's scope for long-distance shots comprises two critical elements: the magnification power (zoom) and the focal point.
The magnification power is pretty straightforward; it allows you to achieve high magnification and, by extension, zoom in on your target for clean, accurate long-distance shots. A 5X magnification setting, for instance, means that your target is five times larger than its actual size.
The focal plane dictates how the reticle behaves relative to magnification.
There are two types of focal planes: the First Focal Plane (FFP) and the Second Focal Plane (SFP).
First Focal Plane
An FFP adjusts WITH the target image. As a result, you can use any graduated markings on the reticle to measure your magnification setting.
The First Focal Plane reticle is ideal for target shooting because the minute-of-angle (MOA) or milliradian (mil) distances between hash marks remain accurate at every magnification level.
On the flip side, the first focal plane scopes deliver super high magnification, which may make your target appear blurry.
Second Focal Plane
On the other hand, a Second Focal Plane reticle DOESN'T adjust with the target image at all magnification levels.
As a result, the image is sharper and easier to read at all magnification levels, making an SFP scope ideal for situations where your target is variable such as long-range hunting.
Conversely, hash marks on second focal plane scopes represent different distances relative to the magnification, so you may have a problem making precise adjustments.
Focusing the Eyepiece
Eyepiece focus adjustment is crucial for long-range shooting accuracy.
It is essential, therefore, to ensure you focus your rifle's eyepiece before making any other adjustments. Failure to adjust your eyepiece focus correctly will result in either a blurry reticle or blurry image.
In addition, make sure that your rifle lenses are clean. You won't achieve much if the lenses are dotted with fingerprints or dust.
When focusing the eyepiece for extreme distances, you'll want to get in a comfortable position first. Then, aim the scope at a light-colored, plain backdrop — think of a blue sky or white wall. Keep off dark or saturated backgrounds. Stick to backdrops that contrast with the reticle.
Once set, place your aiming eye with the optimal eye relief distance. For instance, if your scope's eye relief distance is 3.5 to 4.5, you can place your eye 4 inches from the ocular lens.
With your aim eye in the right position, start adjusting the eyepiece focus until the reticle is sharp and crisp.
Then, close your eye for a couple of seconds and open it to see if the reticle and image maintain the sharpness. If they do, you've adjusted your eyepiece focus correctly. If they don't, you'll need to repeat the procedure.
Target Focus (Or Parallax)
Parallax adjustment is necessary when a long-range rifle scope and your target aren't on the same plane.
Understanding the parallax and how to adjust it is crucial if you want to become an accomplished long-range shooter.
Below are the steps to follow to correct your scope's parallax:
- Start by stabilizing your rifle. Make sure there's no wobbling.
- Adjust the parallax to its maximum setting
- Aim at your target. Move your head slightly to the right and left, then up and down while checking the reticles' behavior.
A reticle that moves as you move your eye points to a parallax problem. Turn the parallax adjustment knob to fix the problem while moving your head, as described above. You want to ensure the parallax doesn't move as you move your head.
Side Note — A parallax adjustment can be too high or too low. You can tell if yours is high or low by checking how the reticle behaves when you move your head.
If the reticle moves in the same direction as your head, the parallax distance is too low and vice versa.
The windage adjustment aims to change the point of aim (POA).
Shifting your rifle's point of aim involves adjusting the windage turrets up and down to move the bullet's impact to the right or left.
Knowing how to use windage turrets is crucial for accurate shots, whether you're zeroing or adjusting the hunting scope on the field.
If your scope uses an MOA reticle, check the number of MOA adjustments per click it produces. For instance, a rifle with "¼ MOA per click" means a single click of the windage turret will shift the bullet by ¼ of MOA. That's about 0.25 inches at a long-range shooting distance of 100 yards.
For scopes using a milliradian reticle, a "0.1 mil per click" means the bullet moves by 0.1 mils. That's about 1 centimeter at a shooting distance of 100 meters.
Tip — to reduce the impact of wind drift for a bullet in flight, avoid readjusting windage turrets once you've zeroed the scope.
Changing Brightness of Illuminated Reticles
Most scopes using illuminated reticles allow you to adjust the reticle's brightness.
While the position of this adjustment may differ based on a particular scope, it is on the left side of the scope for most rifles.
Here's what you need to remember to help you make correct adjustments:
- Turn off the reticle whenever you're through a long-range shooting session. While a high-quality long-range scope like the Stealth Vision®️ Scope can continue to function for months, even if you don't switch off the reticle, most scopes don't have this technology. Thus, the battery may be dead the next time you want to use your rifle.
- Always have an extra, fully charged battery.
- Turn the brightness down to help you shoot accurately.
Cant or tilt
Everyone Cants or tilts the rifle without knowing they are doing this.
This is because as you tilt your head to see through the scope, the eyeball is tilted and tries to “cyclo-rotate” to get straight again. Due to the extra ocular muscles holding the eyeball, this correction is limited to 1.5 degrees of rotation. In this torqued position, signals will be sent to your brain that are incorrect signals.
This causes the brain to misrepresent to you when the crosshairs are straight. Stealth Vision has a built in (patent pending) bubble level that illuminates green when you are straight. The green light goes out if you tilt the scope more than one degree. This holds every shot to within one degree of perfection. For long range precision, this is a critical area that must be controlled.
Sure, you need an accurate rifle and ammo for accurate shooting when the target distance is beyond 500 yards. Still, long-range scope adjustment is part of the mix, so you must also perfect it.
Long-range shooters who can't configure their rifle scope properly have a problem hitting targets. Start by understanding how your rifle scope works and spend a considerable amount of time making adjustments.
The more you hone your craft, the easier it consistently is to hit a target of 1,000+ yards.