Perhaps you just purchased a new whitetail wrecker and are getting ready to send lead downrange for the first time. Or, possibly, you’re on the other side of the fence and have had your rifle for years. It’s been in the safe, but you haven’t fired it in a hot minute and want to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. Perfect. Let’s dive in.
New rifle owners will want to get on a bench, and if possible, use a shooting sled, sandbags, or a nest system. The steadier you can get during the sight-in process, the better. Set a target with a distinguishable, single aiming point at 25 yards, remove the bolt, look down the bore, and center the bore on the center of the 25-yard target. Be sure not to move the rifle once you’re locked on target. Next, look through your scope. Your job is to use your scope’s up/down and left/right turret system to walk the crosshairs to the target’s center. The same method can be used when sighting in a muzzleloader as long as the muzzleloader is wearing an optic.
Now, fire a round at 25 yards and see where the round impacts the paper. If you bore-sighted correctly, you should be, at the very least, on a 8×10 target. Make your necessary turret adjustments, and then fire another round at 25 yards. After punching a hole square in the center of your 25-yard target, back up and fire at a 100-yard target. I like to shoot 3-shot groups at 100 yards, whether I’m shooting a rifle or muzzleloader, and take the time to examine each group. After a few 3-shot groups, the barrel will be a little hot, and this is a great time to take the rifle back to the house or shop and give it a good cleaning. If you’re shooting a muzzleloader, the shooting and cleaning process may be a tad different. Be sure to give your owner’s manual a good read.
Place the rifle in a cleaning sled and remove the bolt. I also recommend covering the optics. The last thing you want is cleaning solution or a wire brush hitting the glass. Use a one-piece cleaning rod and cleaning patch with a few drops of carbon remover on it. Run the cleaning rod with the patch through the bore a few times and repeat the process until the patch comes out clean. Be sure to let the patch protrude a short distance out the end of the muzzle. This will protect the barrel’s crown from damage. Now attach a caliber-specific nylon brush to the rod and run it through the rifle’s bore, but don’t pull it back through just yet. Next, add a few drops of copper remover solvent and run the brush back and forth through the bore. With the brush still attached, add some carbon remover and repeat the process. Lastly, put a few drops of gun oil on the patch and make that bore shine.
With the gun clean, head back to the range. Get steady on the sled and sight-in at 100 yards using the same 3-shot group process. Of course, you can sight-in dead-on at 100 yards, 1-inch high at 100 yards, or whatever you prefer. Those that bring a tried-and-true whitetail rifle out of the safe can go straight to the cleaning process and then sight-in.
During the sight-in process, especially if this is your maiden shooting voyage with your new deer killer, I highly recommend experimenting with different loads — both grain weight and bullet type. Muzzleloader shooters may want to experiment with other powders and primers as well. If you take the time and do some testing, you’ll find the round that marries the best with your rifle, and it will be obvious. Your group size will shrink, and accuracy will be boosted at extended distances. Few things provide deer-killing confidence like putting three shots on paper that touch one another.
With your deer killer zeroed, I recommend spending one day a week leading up to the season shooting how you plan to hunt. Get off the sled and make the situation real. If you’re a spot-and-stalk hunter, practice taking shots standing, kneeling, and flat on your butt with the rifle on shooting sticks. If you plan to hunt from a treestand, I suggest hanging a practice stand, using the shooting rail, and executing good shots. The same holds true for ground and elevated blind hunters, and again, it doesn’t matter if you’re toting a rifle or muzzleloader. The more you practice in-the-field shooting situations, the more your confidence will grow.