Guns > Rifles

The 26-Yard Hunting Zero

Much has been written on the ideal distance to zero a hunting rifle. There is no best sight-in range for everyone, because the range at which hunters expect to shoot their quarry differs considerably. There is one technique, however, that should allow you to hold your crosshairs on the vitals of deer-sized game and keep the bullet inside the vital zone out to 280 yards—and Jeff Johnston's ready to share it with you.

Much has been written on the ideal distance to zero a hunting rifle. There is no best sight-in range for everyone, because the range at which hunters expect to shoot their quarry differs considerably. For example, if you hunt exclusively from a ridge top that overlooks a food source that is 150 yards away, you should zero for that distance. But if you hunt various terrain that offers both short- and long-range shots, here’s a technique that’ll allow you to hold the crosshairs on the vitals of deer-sized game or larger and keep your bullet inside the vital zone out to 280 yards, give or take a few yards depending on your caliber. It’s called point-blank range, and to maximize it you should alter your sight-in range for a particular load, rather than letting your traditional sight-in distance dictate your rifle’s zero.

Point blank range defined is the range of distances at which you can hold your rifle on the bullseye and never fall in or out of your target’s kill zone. The point blank range for a deer, for example, is generally regarded as six inches. In other words, if you hold dead center on the vitals, your bullet can be 3 inches high or 3 inches low before it slips out of the vital zone. An elk’s vital zone is larger of course—we’ll say 8 inches. But I like to stay with the 6-inch rule of thumb because is allows for some shooter error, an occurrence that you’d be naive to assume doesn’t happen while in field positions shooting at wild game.

So many hunters zero their rifles at 100 yards that it’s almost become standard practice. But the following examples will illustrate why that’s not a great zero for a rifleman who wishes to be able to take shots quickly, without calculating, from point blank to nearly 300 yards.

As an example, let’s use a very common hunting round, a .270 Win., loaded by Remington with a 130-grain Premier Accutip boattail bullet that has a .447 Ballistic Coefficient (BC). It’s got a muzzle velocity of 3,060 fps. Ballistically, it falls in line with a whole class of moderately fast calibers. The scope (line of sight) is mounted 1.5 inches over the middle of the bore. Zeroed at 100 yards, the bullet will impact .76 inches low at 25 yards (this is just fine for hunters), and will be 2.98 inches low at 203 yards. But after 203 yards it falls below the 6-inch vital zone. (That’s missing the 6-inch circle, 3 inches below the center, or point of aim.) At 250 yards, it will impact 6 inches below the point of aim, (three inches out of the vital zone.) So, with a 100-yard zero, a hunter can simply aim at a buck and expect to hit it in the vitals anywhere from 0 to 203 yards.

Other riflemen who routinely hunt areas where shots of 300 yards or more aren’t uncommon sometimes opt for a 200-yard zero. This places that same .270 bullet 0.4 inches low at 25 yards, 1.41 inches high at 100 yards, 2.51 inches low at 250 yards and finally slips below the 6 inch vital zone at 257 yards. So with a 200 yard zero, a hunter can hold dead on from 0 to 257 yards and kill the animal, assuming he does his part and fires an error-free shot. As you can see, the 200-yard zero is very effective, and if your target range will accommodate it, great. But many hunters don’t have the luxury of zeroing at 200 yards. No worry, there’s a better zero anyway.

Using ballistic software downloaded from Remington.com, I manipulated the zero range input data until it was optimized for the greatest point-blank range. (Another great website for finding maximum point-blank range is ShootersCalculator.com.) I found that by zeroing my rifle in at 26 yards, the .270 will deliver its bullet 2.81 inches high at 100 yards, 2.80 inches high at 200 yards and 2.12 inches high at 250 yards before finally falling out of the 6-inch vital zone at 310 yards. This means that with a 26 yard zero, I can hold dead-center of a deer’s vitals and kill it cleanly from 0 to 310 yards without adjusting my hold.

Of course, this is an on-paper estimate, and until you actually shoot your rifle at those distances, you can’t be sure, but I’ve found it to be pretty close. For most rifles, a 25- to 28-yard zero (depending on the caliber’s velocity and bullet’s BC) will maximize its point blank range. My technique for shooting is to zero at 26 yards (if using the .270 noted above), then shade slightly low (an inch or two) when shooting at 100 yards, and hold slightly high at 300. This increases my margin of shooting error, while allowing me to not have to calculate or hold off the animal at 300 yards. I simply see the animal, range it and shoot—out to 310 yards. Any further than that, I can either use my scope ballistic reticle, or know my caliber’s ballistic data and hold over appropriately.

If you choose to employ this 26-yard technique, beware that when zeroing at close range, you must strive for perfection. Place a dime-sized spot on the target and do not deem your rifle “good” until the bullet actually punches that dime on a consistent basis. If you are an inch high or low, or to the left or right, you will be way off at longer range, and it defeats the whole purpose of zeroing in at such a specific range. If you can’t hit the dime at 26 yards, it indicates that your rifle (and/or you) probably isn’t accurate enough to be shooting at long range anyway, because if your rifle is grouping 1-inch at 25 yards, for example, it will likely be 4 inches off at 100 yards and well off the paper at 300. But with the technique mentioned above, you can simply aim for an animal’s vitals out to 300 yards and concentrate on a smooth trigger pull.

The Data

.270 Win. at 100 Yards:

This graph illustrates that with a 100-yard zero, your bullet is on at 100 yards, then starts falling rapidly, and is 3 inches below the point-of-hold at approximately 200 yards.

.270 Win. at 26 Yards:

The graph shows that your .270 Win. bullet, when zeroed at 26 yards, angles above the line-of-sight 2.81 inches at 200 yards, crosses the line of sight (zero) again at approximately 275 yards, before falling beyond 3 inches low at 310 yards. Therefore, with a 26-yard zero, you can hold on the target and expect to hit a 6-inch vital zone from 0 to 310 yards.

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22 Responses to The 26-Yard Hunting Zero

Dave G. wrote:
November 09, 2014

Guys, 3' is three feet, 3' is three inches. I can't believe one of the above posters said otherwise.

Rich wrote:
November 05, 2014

I experimented with a 25 yard zero for my 300 win mag this week. My load is a 200 grain nosler accubond with 78 grains of H1000. This zero got me dead on at 300 yards and 3' high at 150, pretty slick.

Craig M. wrote:
July 01, 2014

Ho we well would that translate for rifled slugs/sabot rounds in shotguns?

Kelton Grizzard wrote:
April 15, 2014

I am by no means a ballistic guru. My rifle is a Remington Model 700 BDL, .270 Win. Using 130 grain Remington Core-Lokts, my rifle sighted in 1 and 1/2 inch high at 100 yds., will consistently kill deer sized game at close range as well as out to 300 yds.

Art wrote:
April 04, 2014

Bob Hagel, in his book 'Game Loads and Practical Ballistics for the American Hunter', covered this topic quite well by using 3' high at 100 yds and being good out to 300 and 400 yds depending on animal size. This distance also corrects for right/left errors.

Dick wrote:
April 02, 2014

An eotech512 is the best sight out to 150 yards. Both eyes open and you can't miss.

Dennis M wrote:
March 29, 2014

The 26 yard zero is also a great way to reconfirm your rifle/scope after traveling and right before starting a hunt. Usually only takes one shot dead in the center at 26 yds and you know you are good to go. If not close to dead center, your scope got bumped too much!

Ned Sayre wrote:
March 28, 2014

This does not account for group size. A reasonable 1.5 moa rifle will be shooting a 4.5 in group @ 300 yds. Place the center of that on the lower edge of the 6 in vital zone and see how that compares. Based on the given load, the 200 yd zero would give a MPBR of around 250 yds to ensure the rifles grouping would stay in the vital zone. That also assumes the shooter can hold that group under field hunting conditions. When in doubt, get closer.

John Tillander wrote:
March 24, 2014

I've used the 26 yard zero for over 20 years on my 270 and 30-06. I takes wind and altitude out of the variables and has worked perfectly for me. You are right about hitting a dime, you can't be satisfied with a one inch group.

Michael Lumetta wrote:
March 23, 2014

Learned the 3 inches high@100 yards in the 70's living in Colorado. Killed elk to 600 yards, no rangefinders. Works for me!

ROBERT SMITH wrote:
March 23, 2014

many good comments BUT the correct abbreviation for an inch is ' and for a foot is ' I doubt you want to sight your rifle 3 feet high at 100 yards and expect to hit anything

Don Burris wrote:
March 13, 2014

I grew up siting in at 25 yards for a great point blank setting for .270 and .22-250. I'm a military guy and point blank is what I like, looking for point blank out to 300 yards. A few years ago I started using the RemShoot software to find the short range zero on all of my rifle/ammo combinations. My zeroes are from 23-27 yards depending on which one I'm using.

Michael Salach wrote:
February 13, 2014

I adopted the practice of sighting in my hunting rifles using 3' high at 100yds long ago. Learned this from my father. The ballistics work great for most big game cartridges. I agree that a hunter should always check his/her rifle and load at 100yds and longer if a range is available. Also get away from the bench and shoot from positions like sitting and kneeling at say 100yds and use your sling. Back to 26yds, I find this most helpful after traveling. Simply use this distance to check your rifle and scope prior to hunting. Great for confidence. Enjoyed the article.

Tim Ferrall wrote:
February 08, 2014

Good advice, but very old news. The late Bob Hagel espoused sighting 3' high @ 100yds 40 years ago. As others have said, a 25 yard initial sightin gets you on paper for a 100 yd. confirmation. BTW, would it hurt to write a tech article WITHOUT sponsor references once in awhile?

Lloyd Williams wrote:
February 07, 2014

I've spent many days as a range officer during which I have helped 'bore-sighted' rifles get on paper at 100 yds by having them zero their rifles at 25 yds. Once they do that and return to the 100 yard target, they ar always on paper, but seldom zeroed. The individual can try this 25 yard with his rifle, but he damned well better try it again at 100 and 200 yard targets if available.

DondoK wrote:
February 07, 2014

Good article and advice. Jack O'Conner espoused this mid-2o's sight in many times in his articles and books. As I am older than dirt I have been doing it since the 40's, including the 1000 inch sighting for the Garand during the Korean unpleasantness. O'Conner always recommended a 75 yard zero for the .22 LR which equates to a 20 yard sight in. Glad to see Mr. Johnson revive this very useful practice.

Philip Archibald wrote:
February 06, 2014

That 26 yard curve is based on a 1.5' bore to scope axis distance. Try tipping the curve to start at say 2 or 2.5' and you will see significant differences at the longer distances. Check your own rifle and adjust the curve for that distance!

Marvin Kinderknecht wrote:
February 06, 2014

I tried the same thing and missed my deer. I tried 100 yards and was 4' high and 2' to the left. The zero in on a dime really caught my attention!! Great article and thanks for the web site. P.S. I hand load

Chris Penland wrote:
February 06, 2014

I have used the 25 yard zero for a few years now. I also hunt with a .270 Win and my shots are usually in the 100 yards to 225 yards. I have utilized the 25 yard zero mostly out of convenience of using indoor rifle shooting ranges. It's hard to find public ranges over 75 yards and too expensive for me to join gun clubs with longer ranges. Thank you for the information.

EmoryEaston wrote:
February 06, 2014

This was an excellent read. Thanks!!!

Left Coast Chuck wrote:
February 06, 2014

Very interesting article. The USMC used to use a 300 yard battle sight setting for the M-1 Garand. We set that sight on a 27 yard range. Actually it was called the 1,000 inch range which works out to just slightly more than 27 yards. Of course we didn't care if we got a clean kill or not, just a shot that would take the enemy out of action. A wound was as good as a kill. We generally didn't have to track them after shooting them.

Patrick Keller wrote:
February 05, 2014

I like using the winchester ammunition calculator. If you are using their loads it works great. I shoot a .270 as well and I like using the 200 yard zero. I've never taken a shot outside of that distance at game and from 0 to 200 the bullet will only rise a max of 2 inches. My local range only goes out to 175 yards though. So I just looked at where the round passed the line of sight before 200 yards and at 25 yards it hits less then a quarter inch below center. This method works. great article.