Posted by Matt Little on 27th Jan 2024

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” - Abraham Lincoln

Zeroing your firearm is a crucial and fundamental skill. Without a correct zero, and understanding of where your chosen zero hits relative to your point of aim at various distances, you’ll never be truly accurate no matter how skilled you are at pulling the trigger. This applies to pistols as well as rifles, iron sights as well as optics.

For a pistol, I like a 25 yard zero. I’ve done it at 10 as well, and that certainly works well for most shooters. I find though that zeroing at 10 and shooting at 25 induces a level of error in the zero that I’m not satisfied with. Zeroing at 25 however avoids this. I use the same zero for my PCC as well.

For a 5.56 rifle, there are several good zero distance options. With a magnified scope, I use a 100 yard zero, primarily due to reticle use, and I use that for precision rifles in all calibers as well. For a carbine with irons or an RDS, you can also choose either a 25, 36, 50 or 100 yard zero. I typically zero my irons and RDS for 100 yards for consistency’s sake, but if I only had a general use carbine with an RDS, I would choose either the 50 or 36 yard zero.

When I was raised up as a private we were taught to zero our AR platform rifles at 25 yards, which would then approximate a 300 yard zero. I am not a fan of this zero due to the large vertical spread it creates between point of aim and point of impact. This zero requires you to aim low out to about 250 yards, then dead on at 300, before aiming high from 350 yards and out. I prefer a much flatter trajectory for my zeroes on working rifles to keep things simpler and more intuitive.

Another common prescription for carbines is the 50 yard zero. The hold-unders for this zero are minimal, allowing you to hold the same point of aim out to 250 yards while keeping the spread within the A zone on a USPSA target. 300 yards hits a little lower, into the C zone, and at 350 yards, the bullet impacts low on the target and into the D zone with the same point of aim. Basically, this allows you to only think of hold-overs and so you never have to consciously aim low. If I lived in an urban or suburban environment where shots over 100 yards were improbable, and only had one multi-use carbine with an RDS or irons, this is the zero I’d prefer.

The new kid on the block when it comes to zero distances for AR rifles is the 36 yard zero.this isn’t quite as flat of a trajectory as the 50 yard zero. There are some minor hold-unders out to 250 yards, but this zero keeps you in the A zone out to 350 yards with the same point of impact. If I only had one general purpose rifle with irons or an RDS, and I lived in an area where shots out to 300 yards and further were a likelihood, this is the zero I would choose.

Regardless of which zero distance you choose, a good precise zero is absolutely essential. I’m always chasing a better zero, and it’s a process to be followed rather than a box to be checked. Follow that process diligently and your equipment, and skill, will be there when it’s needed.