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Ever looked through your brand new red dot sight, and aligned that crisp red dot with your target, only to squeeze the trigger and miss? It’s frustrating, isn’t it? The culprit often lies in one overlooked aspect with newer shooters – zeroing. Yes, understanding how to zero a red dot is critical for accurate shooting with one.

This process to fine tune your zero may seem daunting at first. There’s lots of uncertainty for something that requires both precision and patience. But don’t worry, with our step-by-step guide you’ll learn how to zero a red dot in no time.

You’ll learn how to properly prepare, make precise adjustments based on shot groups, choose the right zeroing distance for your needs, and even save ammo by using techniques like boresight spot checking.

Let’s get you zeroed in – are you ready?

how to zero a red dot

Understanding Red Dot Sights

Ever wondered why red dot sights are the talk of the town in shooting circles? Well, that’s because they are efficient and offer benefits that other sighting systems can’t. A red dot sight, also known as a dot sight or a red dot scope, is an optic that gives you a significant advantage when it comes to target acquisition.

These sights work by projecting a simple red (or sometimes green) reticle onto your field of view. This appears as if it were hovering over your intended target. There’s no need to take the time to align front and rear iron sights with a red dot scope to achieve proper sight alignment and sight picture

And while they come in many shapes and sizes, from tube-like scopes to tiny reflex optics, they all share one common trait: they offer speed.

The simplicity of the design means there’s less fiddling around trying to get everything lined up perfectly like with traditional iron sights. Instead, just put that bright dot on what you want to hit, and then you easy peasy lemon squeezy the trigger. 

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It doesn’t matter whether you’re using handguns at close range or rifles at longer distances; this piece of equipment can significantly increase your accuracy when you have a proper zero and train with it.

Different Types Of Red Dots

There are various types available such as holographic sight systems which use a laser and mirrors to produce a hologram that appears to be in front of the optic itself. 

Red dots and holographic sights operate on two different principles. A reflex red dot sight employs an LED to project a beam that either reflects off coated glass and back into our eyes. A standard red dot projects it onto a flat surface that we can see. 

While most shooters will hardly be able to tell the difference there are distinct advantages and disadvantages over one or the other so it’s good to know what you go with.

Then there are prism sights with etched reticles that are magnified via two opposing prisms and then orient the image of the reticle you see. They are less common but effective for those with astigmatism who want something magnified.

Regardless of the sight you go with the process of how to zero a red dot will be the same.

Faster Target Acquisition

What’s more, the red dot optic alone doesn’t magnify your target at all unless you add a magnifier behind your optic. 

You might ask – isn’t that a bad thing? 

Well, not necessarily. It depends on your intended application. 

The main benefit of a red dot sight is that it lets you keep both eyes open while shooting and it enhances your situational awareness and reaction time.

Key Takeaway: Red dot sights are a game-changer in shooting, offering faster target acquisition. They project a simple reticle into your view, eliminating the need to align iron sights. The red dot sight comes in different forms and works well with both handguns and rifles. Not only does it enhance accuracy, but its lack of magnification also allows for improved situational awareness.

The Importance of Zeroing a Red Dot

Zeroing is the process of getting your red dot to aim perfectly on target and when the trigger is pulled, that is where the bullet hits. The point of your aim is the same as your point where the bullet impacts the target at a specified distance.

When you hear the term “zeroed”, that sight and firearm have gone through that process and are ready to fire predictably accurate shots.

But why is it crucial? 

Let me break it down for you. 

You see when you’ve got an accurate zero, your shots are going to hit right where that sweet handgun you’ve got is aimed. If it’s not zeroed there’s no telling where the shots will hit until you figure it out.

This isn’t just about accuracy; this critical step can make or break any shooting scenario. Whether hunting game or practicing self-defense tactics, a properly adjusted sight ensures reliable performance and shot consistency.

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Moving Up or Down: Elevation Adjustments

Here’s the deal – adjusting elevation is the vertical aspect of your sight adjustments. So moving forward whenever we refer to making changes to elevation that means we are talking about moving in the up and down axis.

Moving Left or Right: Windage Adjustments

Next, we have windage adjustments. This refers to the horizontal axis or more simply just left and right. Moving forward whenever we want to make adjustments to the left or right we will be referring to the windage.

Wind gusts and adjusting for bullet drop are where these names come from. These factors affect our bullet’s flight path and we can adjust for them if needed.

In layman’s terms, when learning how to zero a red dot, the red dot sight adjustments are crucial. They’ll literally shift your shot group sideways or up and down to line up with where you’re aiming. Keep that in mind and you’ll be right on target.

Key Takeaway: Zeroing a red dot sight is crucial for accurate shooting, making it a game-changer in any scenario. By making elevation adjustments and windage changes, you’ll ensure your shots hit right on target. So start dialing up those turrets and get ready to nail that sweet spot.

Choosing the Right Zeroing Distance

Zeroing your red dot sight is a critical step to accurate shooting. But before you start adjusting that elevation and windage, there’s an important question you need to ask yourself: What distance should I zero my sight at? 

The answer depends on your firearm, intended use, target distance, and your preference.

Another answer is that there are many.

man shooting a pistol on gun range. how to zero a red dot

The 15 or 25 Yard Pistol Zero

If you’re using a quality handgun with a red dot, oftentimes the ideal zeroing distance falls between 15 to 25 yards. This is because most engagements with handguns happen within this range and are really much closer. But zeroing that far out makes your pistol more accurate at 25 yards and beyond as well.

However, keep in mind that different factors can affect where your bullet will hit the target even if it looks pretty close on paper.

Your specific aim point could be off by a bit depending on barrel length, ammo type, and even temperature. So don’t get frustrated if your first few shot groups aren’t hitting dead center. Remember that fine-tuning for accurate shooting takes time and patience.

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The 50/200 Yard Rifle Zero

Moving onto rifles and longer distances, many shooters and professionals prefer the 50/200 yard zero. 

Here’s why: The 50/200 is a defensive zero designed for the torso of a human being. That’s a pretty big target even at 200 yards.

Using the 50/200 zero, I can accurately aim my top tier AR-15 at a target’s center and hit it with great precision within the range of 50 to 200 yards and even further if I am aware that around 300 yards I will be hitting the pelvis region if I don’t adjust where I hold my dot.

This is currently my preferred zero because I can set up at 50 yards to zero my rifle and know I’m good at 200+/- yards as well.

how to zero a red dot ar 15 zeros on target

Picture by The Armory Life

Other Zero Distances

There are battlesight zeros on the table as well that are incredibly effective and all based on an upper torso size target.

For instance, the United States Marine Corps swears by a different method called “the 36/300 yard zero”. A 36/300 zero makes sure that your 5.56 bullet stays within a 5-inch range from your target up to 300 yards.

Meanwhile, the US Army uses a common standard known as “the 25/300 meter zero”. Between 25 and 300 meters, this zero will give you 6 inches of variance compared to the USMC’s less than 5.

Different strokes for different folks. 

Pick one that’s best for you and train with it. Although I recommend starting with a 50/200 yard zero because even the best Ar-15s can precisely hit a target out to 250yds without any additional input

Key Takeaway: Choosing the right distance to zero your red dot sight depends on several factors. Handguns usually work best with a 15-25-yard zero due to common engagement ranges. It’s okay if you’re not dead center at first – precision takes time and patience. For shooting Ar-15s over longer distances, it might be worth considering the popular 50/200 yard zero that many shooters prefer.

How To Zero A Red Dot: Preparing for Zeroing

Before you even head to the range you should be bore-sighting, which is where our friend the laser bore sight comes into play. Using a laser boresight before live firing can help align your firearm’s barrel and sights or scope reticle so they’re all pointed close to the same place.

Laser Bore Sighting

A laser bore sighter, if used correctly, helps get your shots pretty close without wasting precious ammo by doing some preliminary alignment of your optic with the gun’s barrel.

This method works great because lasers are light beams that travel in straight lines while bullets follow curved paths due to their weight and gravity effect but we’re not getting deep into physics or ballistics here. That’s for another time.

Getting Close Before You Hit The Range

To make this work, put the device in the chamber, then gently close the slide or BCG so that the laser cartridge is acting just like a regular round. Adjust your optic’s elevation and windage to line up with the laser but you need to keep something in mind and that is called “height over bore”.

Your red dot sits a specific measurement above where the bullets come out so you need to take that into account. You can just eyeball it for these purposes. So just set your optic and laser inline vertically and have the laser be around 1.5 to 2 inches below your red dot

Remember: achieving perfect alignment isn’t possible using only this tool but certainly gets us ‘pretty close’ – we’ll fine-tune it later.

Now you’re ready to move on to live fire zeroing. This critical step saves time and ammo while also ensuring accurate shooting in field conditions.

Here is a great video by Frank Proctor discussing his 10 yd zero method you can either use yourself or duplicate with the laser boresight.

Frank Proctor on Trigger Time TV About How to Zero A Red Dot at 50/200 yards

Key Takeaway: Remember, this is just the beginning. Once you’ve aligned your firearm and sights closely enough using a laser boresight, it’s time to fine-tune with live fire zeroing. This process will not only help conserve precious ammo but also prepare you for a more accurate and precise zeroing experience. If you don’t have one, don’t worry it’s optional.

How To Zero A Red Dot: Initial Group

The journey to accurate shooting starts with understanding your red dot sight’s mechanics. The red dots, or the dot reticle, are adjusted using either turrets or screws for elevation and windage and they should be clearly marked for which direction they adjust.

We’ll imagine that we are putting a 50/200 yard zero on our new AR-15 that we just got. The process will be the same for different zero distances and even for zeroing a pistol.

Establishing A Stable Shooting Position

When learning how to zero a red dot sight, you’ll need a stable shooting platform. A shaky platform will only lead to inaccurate results and frustration.

The trick is to find a spot that’s comfortable yet firm enough for precision shooting. You can use anything from legit shooting bags to specialized rifle rests – as long as it provides stability, it’s good to go. I just use the prone shooting position or a bench occasionally.

Maintaining a stable shooting platform is key when trying to zero in any sight system effectively.

how to zero a red dot prone shooting position
Prone Shooting Position. Photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha Schwoch

Finding Your Starting Point

Paper targets work great as starting points when zeroing any optic because they allow clear visualization of your groups. Take three shots after each set up then check where they landed on the paper target and this forms a ‘group’. 

By examining your group’s position relative to your point of aim, you can figure out the necessary adjustments without wasting as much ammo.

Firing Your First Shot Group

To start, we need to gauge where your rounds are currently hitting and make adjustments based on your groups. This is how to zero a red dot but keep in mind there is more than one way to skin a cat. 

This is what has worked best for me so far to get both spot-on and quick and dirty zeros.

Set up a paper target at around 25 yards as a starting point. That way we can see if your boresight job is even on paper, or close enough on target to actually make adjustments.


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Shoot a few rounds while aiming consistently at one intended point of impact. This will give us your first group. 

Now observe their points of impact and see if you are close to your point of aim or even on target at all.

The reason why we started so close is because, from experience, starting out at 50 yards right away, even with bore sighting, optics can be way off and it is harder to know which direction to adjust when you can’t see hits on the paper.

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So instead of wasting time and ammo, it’s worth throwing a few shots at it up close just to confirm it’s close enough for farther zeroing.

Now to make adjustments if necessary and double-check with another group if needed.

*Note you can skip this step at 25 yards and immediately go to 50 and follow the same process if you’re confident your red dot is already making close enough hits to see on target.

Making Adjustments

Now, let’s dial it in closer so we can move out to 50 yards and be on paper the first time we shoot a group. 

For example, if your shot group is landing many inches below and to the left of where you’re aiming, you’ll need to tweak your sight upwards for elevation and rightwards for windage.

Most red dots come with turrets or screws which allow precise control over both windage (left-right) and elevation (up-down). Keep in mind that most red dot sights adjust at ½ MOA per click.

When we talk MOA (Minute of Angle), consider the standard that one MOA is about 1 inch per 100 yards.

That being said, if a click on your red dot is ½ MOA, then that means it only moves in the corresponding direction a half inch at 100 yards. 

I’ll describe it in more detail when we start getting more precise in the next section.

Get your group at least close to your point of aim but don’t spend a lot of time here. Then move on to 50 yards.

Key Takeaway: If shots are missing their mark at only 25 yards, it’s time to tweak before moving any farther. If you’re confident it will hit the target then go ahead and start right away at 50 yards.

How To Zero A Red Dot: Making Precision Adjustments At Your Desired Zero

So, you’re ready to dial in your red dot sight and make those critical adjustments to be on target with precision. Especially when we are as close as 50 yards. 

Remember, each little adjustment here will have a bigger effect on where bullets hit the farther in the distance you go so you want to be as precise as you can be in your shooting and adjustments.

If after firing at paper targets from 50 yards away you find bullets have clustered low, then now it’s time to move ‘up’. Turn a proper number of clicks on the adjustment turret towards the ‘UP’ marking.

Each click represents typically ½ MOA which it will move the impact ½” in the intended direction at 100 yards as we already mentioned.

Your optic’s MOA per click will determine how much of an adjustment you need to make. Most are ½ MOA per click but some are 1/4 per click. So there is some math that is involved in regards to distance and the value of your optic’s adjustment.

moa diagram how to zero a red dot
Photo by Going 4 Broke Outdoors

The Basics of MOA Adjustment

The most common measure used during this process is MOA – Minute Of Angle – which represents roughly one inch per hundred yards. 

So if we say “1/2 MOA”, we mean half-inch movement at 100 yards; quarter-inch at 50 yards; eighth-inch at 25 yards…you get the picture.

Knowing how many clicks correspond to a specific change helps fine-tune your aim more effectively. Generally speaking, most scopes offer either .5 or .25 MOA adjustments per click.

Using our solid AR 15 setup as an example, at 50 yards our adjustments on a 1/2 MOA per click optic will only move a quarter of an inch per click.

If you have a 1/4 MOA per click that would be an 1/8 inch of adjustment at 50 yards.

Does that make sense?

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How To Zero A Red Dot: Dial In That Final Zero

By this point, you should have some groups on paper and are slowly bringing that group closer to your point of aim.

As you get really close to your point of aim, it is important to be sure you are being patient with each shot and shoot as accurately as possible.

Take this zeroing process as an opportunity to train the fundamentals of marksmanship and really hone in your accuracy from the prone or whatever stable position you chose. 

Once settled into a stable shooting position again – remember consistency equals accuracy here – start making accurate shots each with an individual effort. If your group is low, increase elevation; if it’s high, decrease. Adjust in small increments: no more than a few clicks at once.

Keep your dot in the center of the optic’s viewing window and be consistent with your technique to get the most accurate shots off.

Then shoot another group and reassess. Keep doing this until you’re consistently hitting precisely on your point of aim with your point of impact. 

That’s when the magic happens and that’s how to zero a red dot!

Key Takeaway: Getting your red dot sight on target is a step-by-step process. Understand the mechanics, start with bore sighting to align barrel and sights while saving ammo. Next, fire a group and make adjustments based on where bullets land compared to the aim point. Lastly, fine-tune your sighting for precision by adjusting elevation and windage knobs according to bullet impact patterns. This systematic approach ensures you’ll be spot-on in no time.

FAQs On How to Zero a Red Dot

What should I zero my red dot at?

The ideal zeroing distance depends on your firearm’s use. A common choice is 50/200 yards for rifles and 25 yards for handguns.

What distance should you zero a red dot sight pistol?

A typical choice is to set the red dot sight of a pistol to be accurate at 15 or 25 yards, depending on personal preference and target engagement distances.

Do you have to zero a red dot?

Yes, it’s crucial. Zeroing aligns the sight with your firearm’s barrel ensuring shots hit where the reticle points – boosting accuracy.

Can you zero a pistol red dot without shooting?

You can get close using laser bore sights, but firing real ammo with your gun is the only way to get a true zero.

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Conclusion

Zeroing a red dot sight isn’t rocket science. With the proper know-how, it is easily achievable.

Understanding how to zero a red dot can make all the difference between hitting and missing your target. Remember that choice of distance matters; whether you’re zeroing your AR-15 to get a 50/200 yard zero or zeroing your handgun at 25 yards it all depends on what suits your needs best.

Bore sighting? A helpful step to conserve ammo in these uncertain times but not required. Start out by getting shots on paper then slowly bring those groups to your bullseye using those fine adjustments.

Practice makes perfect so take advantage of the process to get some solid practice in.

You’ve got this! Take this info, go zero in your guns and, get to training!

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