HUNTING: The 26-Yard Hunting Zero

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Unsure of the correct zero range for different shots out in the field? Here’s an idea to help end the confusion! Read all about it…

riflescope

SOURCE: NRA American Hunter, by Jeff Johnston

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 center of a 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 misses 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 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 center of the bore. Zeroed at 100 yards, the bullet will impact 0.76 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, (3 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 are common 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. 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 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

100 YARD ZERO
.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.
26 YARD ZERO
.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.

 

 

SOFTWARE 

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17 thoughts on “HUNTING: The 26-Yard Hunting Zero”

  1. Well being old enough I reconize this from the playBack O’Connor! I mean it’s very nearly word for word. I tried this with my 270 and my wife’s 257 Roberts. After a couple of missed deer at between 150 and 200 yards I went back to the 3/4 high at 100.

  2. interesting.
    with the M14 rifle (7.62 Nato or .308) we did what was called “battlesight zero”
    At 25 yards the bullet would impact at 1-13/16 high (25 meter impact would be 47mm)
    This would also meany you were dead on at 250 yards (or 250 meters).
    So, on the field of battle, you would hold center chest on the enemy soldier. If he was at 250 you got him. If he was at 100 meters and you were a poor judge of distance, you still get him, a little high, like wise if the enemy was at 400 or even 500 yards, you’d still get the enemy.
    Same theory applies and you are talking 26 to 28 yards vs 25 yards.
    BTW…. this zero (battlesight zero) holds true for .223, .308 and 30-06 !
    cheers and happy hunting.

      1. it was, then they changed it to metric.
        that is why I posted it in BOTH dimensions.
        I was in Basic in 1965 and it was 25 Yards and 1-13/16 inch high impact. I even have a copy of the book the M-14 rifle that shows the target where you placed the front sight into the cut out with the M-14.
        It was still 25 yards in Dec 66 when I worked on the rifle range at camp casey in So. Korea with the M-14.
        In Vietnam with the m-16 it became 25 meters in Late Nov 67.

  3. either i dont understand ballistics or there is a flaw in this article.
    you are telling me my bullet is only going to drop .01 inch from the 100 yard range to the 200 yard range.
    i suppose this is possible if the bullet is still rising at 100 yards and on the way down at 200 yards.
    if this is true the bullet is at zero at 26 yards and again at zero at 275 yards for this to be true the highest point of the bullets path is between 100 and 200 yards, how high is that point? is it above your 3″ limit?
    there was a chart put out in the 80s that was called the non thinking mans trajectory chart. they gave you a point of aim zero for each caliber that you were never above or below the line of sight by 3″ if you zeroed at the caliber specific distance. with your 270 example that would put your zero at 2.80 ” high at 100 yards and dead on aim from muzzle to 275 yards.
    this is just a rebranding and a 100 yard zero is better than 26 yard because of bullet spread you mentioned and a more reasonable expectation of what you and your rifle are capable of.

  4. Good discussion on the concept of near and far zero. Many hunters never even think about near zero. However keep in mind most hunting scopes have a fixed parallax that is set to 100 yd (or more). Parallax error in the scope at 26 yards may make it challenging to have the tiny shot group size you’re going to need at that close range to get a proper zero. If you have an adjustable parallax that can adjust down to 26 yards that usually only comes on very expensive competition precision rifle scopes. Another thing is a group size of a dime (.5 inch) at 26yd is not really tight enough for shooting game at 300+yd. If you are planning on taking ethical 300yd and longer shots you need to be consistently able to put shots in under and inch at 100yd. That is a .25″ group at 26 yards. Or all your shots in one bullet hole. At the end of the day there is no substitute for practice at distance. This is a technique to get on paper at 300, but it is not likely a good enough zero for most hunters to take long shots. As the article says, confirm your point of impact at distance and practice, a lot, at distance.

  5. I am now 68 years old and was taught at an early age about the 25yd zero. It has worked great for me all of these years. The trusty old 30-06 is dead on at 25, 3″ high at 100, again dead on at 225, and 6″ low at 300. Simple adjustments at various ranges have accounted for many big game and quite a few varmits. It worked then and still works today.

  6. I zero my rifles at 3” high at 100 yards. I keep them tight at that distance and aim dead on. Looking at your data, it looks pretty close to the same aiming point as yours only I set mine at the longer distance in your chart. To me, my zero is going to be more accurate with the amount of error you can accumulate at the 26 yard distance.
    I did enjoy your article, it is just that I take mine to the next step. I use the 25 yard zero only when setting up a new scope. I don’t own any bore sighting equipment.

  7. I allow a rise of 2.8″ above the sight line, and with that as a standard, I sight in any firearm for essentially its longest “point blank” shot. For a lot of pistols, this range is about 80-110 yards. Using a 30-06 w/150 gr. spire soft point at 3, 018 fps MuzVel as an example, this range is about 229 yards. The 2.8″ rise is reached at 130-140 yards (always a little beyond the halfway mark). That has me setting my groups 2.4″ high at 100 yards. Of course, these trajectories give me the zeroing distance, but the effective range goes somewhat further, eince beyond zero there is also a range for the bullet to fall as much as 2.8 (or 3) inches. For 30-06 as described, that adds about 35 yards more. To be able to shoot straight on at up to 265 yards is not a bad deal.

  8. It’s nice to see the Jack O’cconor model put to modern graphs and shared once again with the public. Great article on the subject. I set my 270 with a 130 Barnes up the same way. Great article thank you.

  9. If a 308 win is sighted at 25 yds the projectile will hit 6.2 inches high at 100’yds. I zero at 25 yds and I have shot 100 yds too many times. This is great in combat, on a man. It will put him out of the fight….BUT for deer , It is not the thing to do. Zero at 50 yds is the way to go. 100 and 200yds will be 1.5 in high . 300 yds 2.5 in low. GOOD HUNTING…PS shoot them in the neck and you won’t have to blood trail it. Chief Going Panther, Cherokee

  10. “Point-blank” range defined is the range of distances at which you can hold your rifle on the center of a bullseye and never fall in or out of your target’s kill zone.

    You might want to fix that statement. I think you meant “Point-blank” range defined is the range of distances at which you can hold your rifle on the center of a bullseye and never fall out of your target’s kill zone.

    I agree with the philosophy and know that it works well.

  11. A point that seems to have been missed regarding PBR is that you really don’t want to use 26 (or whatever) yards to actually sight in at, except to get on paper. Use the longest practical hunting range you have available at your shooting range. For many of us, that might be 100 yards. So using the author’s PBR example, one would shoot at 100 yards and adjust his scope for the group to impact at 2.81 inches high, compared to the crosshair. Simple. If you actually have 310 yards to utilize at your range, you may prefer to shoot at that distance, and set your scope at zero at that range.

  12. Why wouldn’t you just sight in 3.71 inches high at 100 yards if you want a 310 yard zero? That way your zero will be more precise and you can actually see how you and your rifle/ammo is grouping. or if you have the option of 200 yards, 4.66 inches high to really see what the rifle, ammo and shooter is capable of. I’ve personally seen too many hunters that shouldn’t ethically be shooting past 150 yards and having a 26-28 yard zero would give them a false sense of security……and then there are the other factors of a solid rest and conditions that also enter in to the equation. So do I agree with this idea? In theory, maybe…..ethically, no way!

  13. I concur with the many good comments above. I do use 25 yds when I have trouble getting a rifle on paper at 100 yds. and it will get a rifle on the paper real quick. However, 2.81″ at 100yds and 2.80″ at 200 yds leaves no margin of error vertically. Most deer are actually shot at these distances from hunting positions, not from a bench and even a good rifle is plus or minus 2 inches at 200 yds.

    I use a Leupold B&C reticle zeroed at 200 yds with suitable chronographed velocities and BC’s. Short of a B&C reticle, I use 1.5″ high at 100 yds.

  14. I always did the battlesight zero and then VERIFIED it afterwards at 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500.
    That was back in the good old days when I was the member of a 500 yard range (which closed as the son inherited the land and is a LIBERAL).
    Now, I only have the ability to test to 200 without a lot of grief.

  15. I tried this concept back in the early 1970s and like George T,
    after a couple misses at ranges between 100+ yds out to 200 yds,
    went back to my preferred method: sight-in at one distance and adjust scope for any distances 300 yds or beyond.
    That stated, I completely agree with the part in the last paragraph: “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”. I’d only change, “until you, your rifle/bullet punches that dime on a consistent basis”.
    I also prefer to adjust my sights to the animal and terrain
    I’ll be hunting. Dense forest dictates a closer sight-in distance
    than shooting out West across the prairie, desert, or any
    other open ground.
    I’ve never thought much about “one size fits all” mentality.

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