how to level a scope on a rifle

How to Level a Scope on a Rifle? (Step-by-Step)

Properly aligning a scope on your rifle is a critical step in ensuring accuracy and precision in your shooting. It’s like the foundation of a building – if it’s not level, everything on top of it will be off-kilter. A misaligned scope can lead to missed shots and frustrating inaccuracies. Whether you’re an experienced shooter or a beginner, understanding how to level a scope is a fundamental skill that can make a significant difference in your shooting performance.

Overview of the Steps to Level a Scope on a Rifle

In this guide, we will walk you through the step-by-step process of leveling a scope on your rifle. We will cover everything from gathering the necessary tools to zeroing your scope. By the end of this tutorial, you’ll have the knowledge and skills to achieve a perfectly leveled scope for precise shooting.

Importance of Safety When Working with Firearms

Before we dive into the scope leveling process, safety is paramount. Working with firearms always requires strict adherence to safety guidelines. Make sure your rifle is unloaded, keep your finger off the trigger, and wear appropriate eye and ear protection at all times. Safety should never be compromised.

Now that we’ve established the importance of scope alignment and the necessity of safety, let’s get started on leveling your scope for improved shooting accuracy and consistency.

Gather Your Tools and Materials

A. List of Required Tools and Materials

Before you begin the process of leveling your scope, it’s essential to gather all the necessary tools and materials. Having the right equipment on hand will ensure a smooth and efficient scope leveling experience. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:

  • Rifle Rest: A stable rifle rest or vise is essential for securely holding your firearm while you work on it.
  • Scope Leveling Kit: You can purchase a scope leveling kit that typically includes a bubble level, alignment rods, and other tools designed specifically for scope mounting and alignment.
  • Torque Wrench: A torque wrench allows you to tighten the scope rings and bases to the manufacturer’s recommended specifications, preventing over-tightening and potential damage to your scope.
  • Screwdrivers and Allen Wrenches: These tools are necessary for removing and securing the scope rings, bases, and other accessories.
  • Bore Sight: A bore sight is a laser device or tool used to get a rough alignment of your scope with the bore of your rifle.
  • Spirit Level: A spirit or bubble level will help you ensure that your rifle is level both horizontally and vertically during the alignment process.
  • Scope Rings and Bases: Depending on your rifle and scope, you may need specific rings and bases for proper mounting.
  • Cleaning Supplies: It’s always a good idea to clean your rifle and scope before starting any mounting work.

B. Safety Gear: Eye and Ear Protection

Safety is of the utmost importance when working with firearms. Protect your eyes and ears by wearing the following gear:

  • Eye Protection: Safety glasses or goggles are crucial to shield your eyes from any debris or oil that might be released during the mounting process.
  • Ear Protection: Earplugs or earmuffs will help reduce the risk of hearing damage when firing your rifle, especially if you plan to test your scope after mounting.

C. Choosing the Right Work Area

Selecting the appropriate work area is essential for a successful scope leveling process. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Well-Ventilated Space: Choose a workspace with good ventilation to disperse any fumes that cleaning or maintenance products may produce.
  • Clean and Organized: Ensure your work area is clean and organized, with enough space to lay out your tools and materials.
  • Sturdy Workbench: Use a sturdy workbench or table to lay out your tools and provide a stable surface for your rifle and scope.
  • Good Lighting: Proper lighting is critical for inspecting your rifle and scope for cleanliness and alignment. Natural light or bright overhead lighting is best.

By gathering the necessary tools, ensuring your safety gear is in place, and setting up the right work area, you’ll be well-prepared to begin the scope leveling process. In the next steps, we’ll guide you through the process of preparing your rifle and scope for alignment.

Preparing Your Rifle

A. Ensuring the Firearm is Unloaded

Safety should always be the top priority when working with firearms. Before you begin any scope-related work, ensure that your rifle is completely unloaded. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Clear the Chamber: Open the rifle’s action to ensure there are no rounds in the chamber. If there are, remove them carefully.
  2. Check the Magazine: If your rifle has a detachable magazine, remove it and check for ammunition.
  3. Inspect the Chamber and Bore: Visually and physically inspect the chamber and bore to make sure there are no rounds present. Use your fingers to feel for any obstructions.
  4. Keep the Action Open: Once you’ve confirmed the rifle is empty, keep the action open throughout the entire scope leveling process to avoid any accidental discharges.

B. Remove Any Existing Scope

If you already have a scope mounted on your rifle, you’ll need to remove it to start with a clean slate. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Secure Your Rifle: Place your rifle in a secure rest or vise to keep it steady during the removal process.
  2. Loosen the Scope Rings: Use the appropriate screwdriver or Allen wrench to loosen the screws on the scope rings. Be careful not to strip the screws or damage the scope.
  3. Carefully Remove the Scope: Lift the scope out of the rings gently, taking care not to scratch the scope tube or rifle’s receiver. Place the scope in a safe location.
  4. Remove the Rings and Bases: If necessary, remove the scope rings and bases from the rifle’s receiver. Make sure to keep track of any small parts or screws for reassembly.

C. Mounting the Rifle in a Secure Rest

For precise scope leveling, it’s crucial to mount your rifle securely. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Choose a Stable Surface: Select a sturdy workbench or table where you can secure your rifle. You may want to use a dedicated rifle vise for added stability.
  2. Position the Rifle: Place the rifle in the rest or vise, ensuring it’s well-supported and doesn’t wobble or move. Make sure it’s level horizontally and vertically.
  3. Secure the Rifle: If using a vise, tighten it just enough to hold the rifle securely without over-tightening and causing damage. Ensure the rifle is level in the vise.

By ensuring your rifle is unloaded, removing any existing scope, and mounting the rifle securely, you’ve set the stage for a safe and precise scope leveling process. In the next section, we’ll cover the steps to prepare your scope for alignment.

Preparing the Scope

A. Checking the Scope for Damage or Defects

Before mounting your scope, it’s crucial to inspect it thoroughly for any damage or defects that could affect its performance. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Clean the Scope: Use a soft, lint-free cloth to wipe down the scope’s lenses and body. Remove any dirt or debris that could hinder your inspection.
  2. Examine the Exterior: Carefully check the scope’s exterior for any visible signs of damage, such as dents, dings, or scratches. Pay close attention to the scope tube and turrets.
  3. Inspect the Lenses: Look through the scope to inspect the lenses for scratches, cracks, or smudges. Even minor imperfections can impact your accuracy.
  4. Test the Reticle: Ensure the reticle (crosshairs) is undamaged and properly centered. It should appear sharp and clear when you look through the scope.
  5. Check for Fogging or Moisture: Verify that there is no internal fogging or moisture within the scope, as this can affect its functionality.

If you find any damage or defects during your inspection, it’s advisable to contact the scope manufacturer or a qualified gunsmith for further guidance. A compromised scope can lead to inaccurate shooting.

B. Aligning the Scope Rings

Proper alignment of the scope rings is essential for a secure and stable scope mounting. Here’s how to align the scope rings:

  1. Separate the Scope Rings: If your scope rings consist of two parts (top and bottom halves), separate them for easier alignment.
  2. Ensure Proper Spacing: Align the rings on the scope base or rail. Make sure there is an even gap between the front and rear rings to distribute the pressure evenly.
  3. Align with the Rifle’s Receiver: Position the rings so they align perfectly with the rifle’s receiver. The rings should be parallel to the bore of the rifle.
  4. Check for Alignment Tools: Some scope leveling kits include alignment rods to ensure the rings are perfectly aligned. If available, use these tools for added precision.
  5. Tighten the Screws: While keeping the rings aligned, lightly tighten the screws of one ring. Avoid over-tightening at this stage, as you may need to make adjustments later.
  6. Check Alignment Again: Re-verify that the rings are still perfectly aligned. If they are, proceed to the next step. If not, make necessary adjustments and recheck.

C. Installing the Scope on the Rifle

Now that your scope is ready, it’s time to mount it on the rifle. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Apply a Dab of Blue Loctite: To prevent the scope rings from coming loose due to recoil, apply a small amount of blue Loctite to the screws. Be cautious not to overdo it.
  2. Place the Scope in the Rings: Carefully position the scope within the aligned rings, ensuring it’s level with the rifle.
  3. Center the Scope: Before tightening the screws, ensure the scope is correctly positioned in the rings. The reticle should be perfectly centered within the scope’s field of view.
  4. Tighten the Screws Gradually: Starting with one ring, tighten the screws gradually and evenly in a crisscross pattern. Avoid over-tightening, as this can damage the scope tube.
  5. Check for Levelness: Throughout the tightening process, periodically check the scope’s level using a bubble level. This ensures the scope remains aligned with the rifle.

By following these steps, you’ll have a well-prepared scope, properly aligned rings, and a securely mounted scope on your rifle. In the next section, we’ll focus on the initial alignment of your scope using a bore sight.

Initial Alignment

A. Setting Up a Bore Sight

Setting up a bore sight is a crucial step in achieving an initial alignment for your scope. A bore sight is a device or tool that helps align your scope with the rifle’s bore, ensuring that they are roughly pointing in the same direction. Here’s how to set it up:

  1. Choose the Right Bore Sight: There are various bore sighting tools available, including laser bore sights and magnetic bore sights. Select one that suits your rifle’s caliber.
  2. Unload Your Rifle: Ensure your rifle is completely unloaded before proceeding. Safety is always paramount.
  3. Remove the Bolt or Open the Action: Depending on your rifle type, either remove the bolt or open the action to allow a clear path for the bore sight.
  4. Insert the Bore Sight: Insert the bore sight into the rifle’s chamber. It should fit snugly and align with the bore.
  5. Secure the Bore Sight: If your bore sight has a magnetic base, it will securely attach to the barrel. If not, use the provided mechanisms to ensure it stays in place.
  6. Power On (if applicable): For laser bore sights, turn on the laser if it’s not activated automatically upon insertion.

B. Rough Alignment Using Bore Sight

With the bore sight in place, you can now proceed with rough alignment:

  1. Look Through the Scope: Position your rifle so you can see the laser dot or the target grid through the scope.
  2. Adjust the Scope’s Windage and Elevation: Using your scope’s adjustments, get the reticle (crosshairs) to align with the laser dot or the target grid. This initial rough alignment is not expected to be perfect, but it should get you on the right track.
  3. Keep the Rifle Steady: While making these adjustments, keep the rifle as steady as possible. Use sandbags or a rest to support it.
  4. Verify the Alignment: Confirm that the bore sight is still aligned with the bore of your rifle. This ensures that the bore sight is still pointing in the right direction.

C. Adjusting Elevation and Windage

After the rough alignment using the bore sight, you can fine-tune the elevation and windage settings on your scope for a more accurate alignment:

  1. Secure the Rifle: Ensure your rifle is securely supported in a rest to prevent any movement while making adjustments.
  2. Align with a Distant Target: Point your rifle at a distant target, ideally at least 100 yards away. This will serve as your reference point.
  3. Look Through the Scope: With the rifle aimed at the distant target, look through the scope to ensure your reticle is aligned with the same point you were aiming at.
  4. Adjust Elevation: If your point of impact is above or below the target, use the elevation turret on your scope to adjust it up or down. Make small adjustments, as major changes are rarely needed.
  5. Adjust Windage: If your point of impact is to the left or right of the target, use the windage turret on your scope to make the necessary adjustments.
  6. Recheck and Fine-Tune: Continuously recheck and fine-tune your scope until the reticle is consistently aligned with the point of impact on the target.

By following these steps, you’ll have achieved an initial alignment for your scope, allowing you to move forward with leveling it accurately. In the next section, we’ll focus on leveling the rifle itself.

Leveling the Rifle

A. Using a Bubble Level on the Rifle

Leveling the rifle is a critical aspect of the scope alignment process. To achieve precise shots, your rifle needs to be perfectly level. Here’s how to use a bubble level to ensure your rifle is on the same plane:

  1. Attach a Bubble Level: Begin by attaching a bubble level to your rifle. Most bubble levels attach to the Picatinny or Weaver rail on the rifle. Place it where it’s easily visible and won’t obstruct your view through the scope.
  2. Position the Rifle Horizontally: While keeping the rifle secured in your rest or vise, adjust the rifle’s orientation until the bubble inside the level is perfectly centered. This indicates that your rifle is level horizontally.
  3. Check the Vertical Alignment: Next, verify the vertical alignment. Rotate the rifle to check if the bubble level remains centered, ensuring that the rifle is level both horizontally and vertically.

B. Ensuring the Rifle is Level Both Horizontally and Vertically

Proper leveling of the rifle involves ensuring it’s not only level in the horizontal plane but also in the vertical plane. Here’s how to achieve this:

  1. Use a Second Bubble Level: For added precision, you can use a second bubble level that attaches to the scope’s elevation turret or to a rail on the scope itself.
  2. Check Horizontal Level: Ensure the bubble level on the rifle is centered horizontally. This indicates that the rifle is level from left to right.
  3. Check Vertical Level: With the rifle still oriented horizontally, check the second bubble level on the scope or the elevation turret. Make any necessary adjustments to ensure the bubble is centered.
  4. Recheck the Rifle Bubble Level: After adjusting the scope’s bubble level, double-check the rifle’s bubble level to ensure it’s still centered horizontally.
  5. Fine-Tune as Needed: Continuously monitor both bubble levels and make any minor adjustments to achieve a perfectly level rifle, both horizontally and vertically.

A level rifle ensures that the bore is parallel to the scope’s reticle, which is essential for accurate shooting. By using bubble levels to achieve this balance, you’re setting the foundation for precise shots with your scoped rifle.

Fine-Tuning the Scope

A. Adjusting Elevation and Windage to Center the Crosshairs

Fine-tuning your scope alignment is where the magic happens. You’ll be adjusting the elevation and windage settings to ensure that your crosshairs are centered and aligned with your target. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Focus on Elevation: Start by adjusting the elevation turret on your scope. If your shots are consistently hitting above or below the target, make corresponding adjustments. For example, if you’re hitting low, dial in more elevation.
  2. Adjust Windage: If your shots are consistently to the left or right of the target, use the windage turret to make the necessary adjustments. For instance, if you’re hitting to the left, dial in more windage to the right.
  3. Make Incremental Changes: When making these adjustments, remember that small, incremental changes are key. Overcompensating can lead to inaccuracy, so be patient and make slight adjustments at a time.
  4. Shoot and Reevaluate: After making adjustments, take a series of shots at your target. This will help you assess whether your crosshairs are moving closer to the point of impact.
  5. Refine as Needed: Continuously refine your elevation and windage settings based on the results of your shots. The goal is to get the crosshairs to align with the center of your target consistently.

B. Checking for Crosshair Alignment

Crosshair alignment is crucial to ensure that your scope’s reticle (crosshairs) is properly oriented. Follow these steps to check for crosshair alignment:

  1. Select a Distant Target: Choose a distant target, ideally at least 100 yards away, and aim your rifle at it.
  2. Center the Crosshairs: Look through your scope and ensure that the crosshairs are perfectly centered on the target.
  3. Maintain Consistency: Make sure that the crosshairs consistently align with the target at various distances. This helps ensure that the reticle is not canted (tilted) within the scope.
  4. Check Both Vertically and Horizontally: Confirm that the crosshairs are aligned both vertically and horizontally with the target. This will help prevent any crosshair misalignment errors in your shots.

C. Rechecking Rifle Level

Throughout the fine-tuning process, it’s crucial to continuously recheck and maintain the level of your rifle to ensure that your scope and bore are aligned. Here’s how to recheck the rifle’s level:

  1. Inspect the Bubble Levels: Verify that the bubble levels on both the rifle and the scope are still centered. If they have shifted, make the necessary adjustments to level the rifle again.
  2. Ensure Consistency: Continuously monitor the bubble levels during your fine-tuning adjustments to maintain a level rifle. Minor adjustments to the rifle may be necessary as you make changes to the scope settings.
  3. Confirm Levelness: Before taking any final shots, reconfirm that the rifle remains level both horizontally and vertically. This step is crucial to maintain alignment.

Fine-tuning your scope’s elevation and windage settings and ensuring crosshair alignment, while consistently monitoring the rifle’s levelness, will result in precise and accurate shots. This meticulous process is the key to achieving optimal performance with your scoped rifle.

Tightening the Scope Rings

A. Proper Torque Settings for Scope Rings

The process of tightening your scope rings is a crucial step in scope leveling. Using the correct torque settings helps ensure your scope is securely mounted without damaging it. Here’s how to determine the proper torque settings for your scope rings:

  1. Consult the Scope Manufacturer: Check the manufacturer’s specifications or manual that came with your scope for recommended torque settings. These settings can vary between scopes, so it’s essential to follow the guidelines specific to your model.
  2. Use a Torque Wrench: To achieve the recommended torque settings accurately, use a torque wrench. This tool allows you to apply the correct amount of pressure to the screws without over-tightening.
  3. Set Torque Wrench Accordingly: Adjust the torque wrench to the recommended settings as provided by the scope manufacturer. This is typically measured in inch-pounds or foot-pounds.
  4. Apply Even Pressure: When tightening the scope ring screws, ensure that you apply even pressure to each screw. Tighten the screws in a crisscross pattern to maintain an even distribution of pressure.

B. Tightening Sequence for Screws

Tightening the scope ring screws in the correct sequence helps prevent any misalignment and maintains a secure connection between the scope and the rifle. Here’s the recommended tightening sequence:

  1. Snug All Screws: Start by lightly snugging all the screws in the scope rings without applying significant pressure. This helps ensure that the scope remains level and centered as you begin the tightening process.
  2. Tighten in a Cross Pattern: Begin tightening the screws in a crisscross pattern. Start with one screw and move diagonally to its opposite screw. Continue in this pattern until all screws are properly tightened.
  3. Gradually Increase Torque: As you follow the crisscross pattern, gradually increase the torque applied to each screw. Ensure that each screw receives an equal amount of pressure. Be cautious not to over-tighten at this stage.
  4. Check Alignment: Periodically check the alignment of the scope and the crosshair. If you notice any misalignment, adjust it as necessary while maintaining consistent torque on all screws.

C. Avoiding Over-Tightening

Over-tightening the scope ring screws is a common mistake that can damage the scope and lead to alignment issues. To avoid this, follow these guidelines:

  1. Use a Torque Wrench: Utilizing a torque wrench ensures that you do not exceed the recommended torque settings, preventing over-tightening.
  2. Follow Manufacturer Recommendations: Adhere to the recommended torque settings provided by the scope manufacturer to ensure proper mounting.
  3. Apply Even Pressure: When using the torque wrench, maintain a steady and even application of pressure on each screw to prevent uneven tension.
  4. Double-Check Alignment: After tightening the scope rings, recheck the alignment of the scope and crosshair. If over-tightening has caused any misalignment, make necessary adjustments.

By properly tightening your scope rings, you’ll maintain the alignment and secure attachment of your scope to the rifle. This ensures that your scope’s accuracy remains consistent and reduces the risk of damaging the scope or the rifle.

Final Checks

A. Checking the Rifle’s Alignment Once More

Before wrapping up the scope leveling process, it’s essential to double-check the alignment of your rifle to ensure it’s still level. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Inspect the Bubble Levels: Begin by examining the bubble levels on both the rifle and the scope. Confirm that they are still centered, indicating that the rifle remains level both horizontally and vertically.
  2. Adjust if Needed: If you find that the rifle is no longer level, make the necessary adjustments using the vise or rest. Realign the bubble levels for perfect levelness.
  3. Steady the Rifle: Once you’ve made the adjustments, ensure the rifle is steady and securely positioned before proceeding.

B. Verifying Scope Reticle Alignment

Ensuring the alignment of your scope’s reticle (crosshairs) is crucial for accuracy. Here’s how to verify scope reticle alignment:

  1. Select a Distant Target: Choose a distant target and aim your rifle at it.
  2. Look Through the Scope: Examine the reticle through your scope to confirm that it is perfectly centered on the target.
  3. Maintain Consistency: Make sure the crosshairs consistently align with the target at various distances. This ensures that the reticle is not canted (tilted) within the scope.
  4. Check Both Vertically and Horizontally: Verify that the reticle is aligned both vertically and horizontally with the target. This will help prevent any crosshair misalignment errors in your shots.

C. Confirming Eye Relief and Comfort

The final step in the scope leveling process involves confirming your eye relief and ensuring comfortable use of the scope. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Check Eye Relief: Position your eye behind the scope and confirm that you have the appropriate eye relief. This is the distance between your eye and the scope that allows for a clear, full view of the reticle without any scope shadow.
  2. Adjust Scope Position: If necessary, adjust the scope’s position forward or backward on the rifle to achieve the ideal eye relief. This step is crucial for comfortable and accurate shooting.
  3. Maintain a Clear Sight Picture: While checking the eye relief, also ensure that you have a clear and unobstructed sight picture through the scope. Your field of view should be free from any distortions or obstructions.
  4. Check for Comfort: Confirm that you can comfortably maintain your shooting position while looking through the scope. This includes checking for comfort in holding the rifle, mounting, and aiming.

By performing these final checks, you’ll guarantee that both the rifle and the scope are in perfect alignment, the scope reticle is accurately centered, and you have the ideal eye relief and comfort for shooting. These details are essential for achieving consistent accuracy with your scoped rifle.

Zeroing the Scope

A. Basic Concepts of Zeroing

Zeroing your scope is the process of adjusting it to ensure that the point of aim (POA) and the point of impact (POI) coincide at a specific distance. It’s a fundamental step that fine-tunes your rifle’s accuracy. Here are the basic concepts of zeroing:

  1. Point of Aim (POA): This is where you intend to shoot. It’s where your crosshairs are placed on the target.
  2. Point of Impact (POI): The POI is where your bullet actually strikes the target. The goal of zeroing is to make the POI align with the POA.
  3. Zero Distance: This is the specific distance at which you adjust your scope to achieve alignment between the POA and POI. Common zero distances are 100 yards for rifles, but it can vary depending on your rifle, ammunition, and intended use.
  4. Windage and Elevation Adjustments: Your scope has knobs to make adjustments for windage (left-right) and elevation (up-down). These adjustments allow you to move the reticle so that your shots align with your point of aim.

B. Selecting a Target and Range

Selecting the right target and range is essential for zeroing your scope effectively:

  1. Choose the Right Target: Select a target that is easily distinguishable, such as a bullseye target or a paper target with clearly defined aiming points.
  2. Select the Appropriate Range: Zeroing your rifle at 100 yards is a common choice for many firearms, but the range can vary based on your specific needs. Make sure your chosen range is safe for shooting and offers clear visibility.
  3. Set Up a Stable Shooting Rest: To maintain consistency in your shots, use a stable shooting rest or sandbags. This minimizes the impact of human error on your shots.

C. Making Adjustments for Windage and Elevation

Zeroing involves making precise adjustments for windage and elevation to align the point of aim with the point of impact. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Begin at Your Zero Distance: Start by shooting at your selected zero distance, aiming at the target’s center.
  2. Shoot a Group: Fire a group of shots (usually three to five) and observe where the shots land in relation to your point of aim.
  3. Determine the Offset: Identify the offset of the shots from the point of aim. If the shots are to the left of the point of aim, you need to adjust windage; if they’re high or low, you need to adjust elevation.
  4. Adjust the Scope: Use the scope’s windage and elevation knobs to move the reticle in the direction needed to bring the point of impact closer to the point of aim. Each click of adjustment corresponds to a specific angular or linear change at your chosen distance.
  5. Shoot and Repeat: After making adjustments, shoot another group of shots. Continue this process of adjustment and shooting until your shots consistently hit the point of aim.


Properly leveling and zeroing your scope is a fundamental skill for any rifle enthusiast. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can ensure that your scope is aligned correctly, which, in turn, leads to accurate and consistent shooting.

Remember that practice and consistency are key. Regularly check and maintain your scope’s alignment to keep your shooting skills sharp and your shots on target. With the knowledge and techniques from this guide, you’re well on your way to becoming a more skilled and accurate shooter.

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