A quick reference guide for getting started zeroing carbines.
This has specific applications for ARs and AKs, but should be handy for anybody new with rifles.
The TLDR of how zero and repeat zeroes work
Zeroing can be done at many ranges, depending on the preference and experience of the shooter, though most people tend to zero at similar ranges for certain rifles. For ARs, a 25 meter zero with a 300 meter return zero is widespread. This is the US military’s zero and works well enough, though there will be slight variances depending on your barrel length and the height of your sight/optic.
A military AR zero target can be downloaded here.
If you want a more precise idea of where your repeat zero will land, use a calculator such as this one by Hornady -these calculators work for AKs or really any other rifle too
Zeroing the irons on an AR is “tool free”, requiring as little as the point of a bullet to adjust the elevation, though I personally try to remember to bring a metal punch with me.
When you’re zeroing always try to have the rifle supported on something for stability to help you be able to remove variables while you’re determining the zero. A rolled section of carpet or a backpack both work well for this. If you are shooting at a range with neither, consider resting the magazine on the bench to get better stability no, resting the magazine doesn’t hurt it. Reference PDF page 110 for any doubters
For ARs with adjustable stocks, try to zero with the stock reasonably extended. If you’re on the taller side, fully extend it. If you’re a bit shorter, try holding the rifle by the pistol grip while making a 90 degree angle with your elbow, and try to fit the stock snugly in the crook of the elbow to get an idea of what your ideal stock length it.
In general I recommend reading through the basics of shooting from the military TC. Experienced shooters will do some things differently, but having the basic shooting knowledge from the book builds a baseline to work up from.
A video to familiarize with the internals of an AR
For AKs there are more varied methods, but I like the official soviet method- text taken from since I’m lazy:
The specific target for zeroing issued by the Soviets consisted of a black rectangle 35cm tall and 25cm wide (14 x 10″) centered in a white background 1 meter high by 1/2 meter wide (39.3 x 19.6″). The aiming point is the middle of the black rectangle’s lower edge. In the case of the video above the simply painted the appropriate size target box on a IDPA target.
Place your confirmation target at 100 meters (109 yards).
Set the rear sight at the “3” setting (300 meters).
At 100 meters the front sight post will appear the same width as the black target box. It will be easy to line up the sights so that the black box sits perfectly on top of the front sight post. The edges of the front sight post and the black box should line up perfectly.
From the prone position with the firearm supported on a sandbag or beanbag, fire four well-aimed shots at center of the bottom edge of the black portion of the confirmation target.
Control point or required point of impact shall be 25cm (≅10″) above the point of aim.
The group should be no larger than 15cm (≅6″). One flier permitted. The center of the group shall be no farther than 5cm (≅2″) from the control point. If not, adjust the sights and repeat until it is.
Set the rear sight to the “1” position (100 meters). The rifle is now zeroed.
When you have an AK, don’t forget you need a tool to adjust your windage! Tool
A video to familiarize with the internals of an AK
A helpful packing list for a zeroing day includes:
• Eye protection
• Ear protection (invest in some muffs, or some of my favorites- in ear SureFire EP earplugs for comfort)
• Printed targets
• A roll of painters tape (to help when reusing targets)
• A sharpie (to mark iterations)
• A cleaning kit including a solid bore rod. Those rods are useful time savers for cleaning out stuck cases if you can’t “mortar” them out
• A first aid kit to what you feel comfortable carrying. (Training on basic life extending first aid is helpful. You never know when the Bubba two lanes over is going to have his .22lr plinker “just go off” accidentally)
• A spotting scope (if you have one) to save you trips up and down range when testing the repeat zero
• Water. Staying hydrated really does help make the zeroing process go a bit faster
• A notebook. Always remember to record your zeros. Include the distances, grouping size, sighting method, and type of ammo used. This will be super helpful as a baseline reference point if you change one or multiple variable in the future