Me and My Patrol Rifle, Part 2
You can find Part 1 here.
Part 2…the Zero
The most important part of training with a rifle is getting a proper zero. I mean zero, not three or two or one. ZERO. Dead nuts on. A zero is the act of matching the point of aim as exactly to the point of impact as the adjustments allow at a specific and exact distance. Without a zero you always wonder if the mistakes are yours or the gun. So you blame the gun.
Get a good zero. Train and improve you because your rifle is zeroed and you KNOW it.
“Is your rifle zeroed?”
“Yeah I shot it at about 35 yards.”
“So the answer is no.”
1. When zeroing, MEASURE the distance. Don’t “step it off” or guesstimate. Remember your zero is the base for all of your training. So use a laser range finder, or a tape measure. Even if the range has marked distances, check it. Don’t assume. It doesn’t hurt and will save you trouble in the long run.
2. Have a plan. I use a method to get a perfect fifty-yard zero (I’ll get into the “magic fifty-yard zero” later). I start by getting a rough zero at 25 (a 1.4 inch-low POI vs. POA) then I move out to fifty yards for the fine adjustments. You have to do the research on the ballistics for the round you’re shooting and decide what’ll work best for you.
3. Start from mechanical zero. This means the optic or iron sights are at the center of their adjustment range for both windage and elevation. For iron sights on an AR15, the shelf of the base of the front sight should be even with the front sight base and the rear sight should be centered left to right.
4. Use sand bags or a stand. Trying to zero a rifle offhand is like trying to sharpen a knife while walking a tight rope. Take my advice: use sandbags. You can make them from old blue jeans pants legs. It’s easy, it works, and it’s cheap.
5. Have someone help you. When I’m zeroing friends or students who are newer shooters I do the adjustments for them. I don’t tell them what the adjustments are. I want them just shooting at the point of aim. If they start thinking they were low on the last shot often a new shooter will try to compensate by changing their point of aim. Then we wind up chasing a zero, or making adjustments mechanically to the rifle to compensate for the changes the shooter is making to their sight picture. It’s a lot like trying to measure a piece of lumber when someone keeps moving it. It just doesn’t work.
6. Use a practice round as close as you can to the ammo you’re going to carry for duty use. Then test your duty ammo. If it’s dead nuts on at your zero range you are GTG. Otherwise you aren’t zeroed. You just have a rifle that is zeroed for ANOTHER AMMO. You may have to train a bit with your practice round then REZERO with your duty ammo. I like 55 grain 5.56 ammo. One reason is you can find it anywhere, and most manufacturers try their damnedest to match the standard NATO round at ~3100 fps from a 16 inch barrel AR15. Carry ammo in 55 grain is usually pretty damned spot-on but every rifle is different with every ammo, so do the work and make sure that when you leave the range the ammo you’re zeroed with is the ammo you have loaded for use. I like training with American Eagle Xm193 black box. It shoots well, it’s decently clean, it’s accurate enough to work with, and most importantly it’s available and cheap. You can get it by the case from your local gun store or online, or get it at Wal-Mart. But you can get it. Also Winchester white box and several others work well, mainly because everyone is trying to make a copy of the military round. Get zeroed, check your carry round to make sure it’s the same, train up and if needed zero again with your carry round before loading back up.
7. Fire three good ones. Adjust. Fire three good ones. Adjust. Make vertical OR horizontal adjustments. Don’t try both at once. If you have military training and learned that way, do that. But in my experience most shooters chase a zero all around until fatigue sets in, and by then they’ve often burned all their ammo and drive.
8. Go back and confirm your zero on a different day. Eye fatigue, different lighting, muscle and mental fatigue are all gonna set in. Heck, different weather conditions like cold to hot may make significant changes with your rifle. Go back and check it. You will be close so you don’t have to start at 25. Confirm it. Fine tune it again if needed. And CHECK IT every time you go to the range. So you don’t think, you know.
BONUS. With a cowitnessed optic like an Aimpoint, zero the optic first. Move the irons to match and CHECK THE IRONS independently of the optic.
Be sure also to check out the Benchmade Law Enforcement Division, on Facebook at /BenchmadeLE/, some good dudes there.
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About the Author: Jake is a LEO down Georgia-Florida way. Who may or may not like Spotted Dick.
Jake describes himself thusly: I’m a small town deputy sheriff. I’m not special forces, I’m not SWAT, I’m not metro with LAPD or a homicide detective with the NYPD. I’m basically a problem solver. Everyday I handle calls from the mundane car in the roadway, to the worst calls for service, and everything in between. What I write will be from this perspective because I have no other. I hope something I write helps you.”
Jake has been a night-shifter for years, and a cop for over a decade and a half. Despite an uncanny resemblance to Peter Griffin (especially when he’s in his uniform shirt), we really like him. In fact, we count ourselves lucky to have him aboard.
Now watch him get embarrassed.
“Hey, it’s just a dot. She said she was clean, and I was on vacation. Anyway, Doc says it’s just a freckle.”
Jake Bush, on the subject of spotted dick.