Pro Tips on Zeroing a Carbine

Here’s a video from Travis Haley (hat tip, Herschel Smith). In this video, Haley applies the basic steady hold factors (the Army teaches 8, which are a little different from Haley’s) and some excellent TTPs on holding the carbine and zeroing the firearm with both iron and optical sights. (Irons first).

Here’s the next chapter of his video, where he talks about longer range zeroes. The 25/250 meter battlesight zero is falling into eclipse among gunfighters, and 200 and even 300 m zeroes are becoming more common. Haley’s preference is (given his background, not surprising) a 36m battlesight zero confirmed at 300, as is preferred in the USMC. The 25/250 and 36/300 zeroes depend on the fact that the bullet at the shorter distance is passing through the line of sight, rising relative  to the LOS, and at the longer distance passing through the LOS, descending relative to it.

Here’s the Army issue “8 Steady Hold Factors” from the M16A1 era, circa 1970. Our comments in Italic type.

  1. LEFT ARM AND HAND: Rest rifle in “V” formed by thumb and fore- finger. Relax grip, left elbow directly under the rifle. Nowadays, we can shoot lefthanded, so today we talk about “weak” and “strong” hand, not left and right. Travis shows a more modern method of using the weak hand with the thumb over. Also, nowadays, your weak hand pulls the rifle back into the shoulder pocket to avoid putting wayward stresses on your trigger finger.
  2. BUTT OF STOCK IN POCKET OF SHOULDER: Place the butt of stock firmly into the pocket of the shoulder.
  3. GRIP OF THE RIGHT HAND:. Grip weapon firmly but not rigidly. Exert a firm rearward pressure to keep butt of stock in proper position. Clenching the strong hand hard is not necessary, because the weak hand now provides the rearward pressure.
  4. RIGHT ELBOW: The exact position of the right elbow varies from position to position. The right elbow is important to the maintenance of a good pocket for butt of stock.
  5. STOCK WELD: To obtain stock weld, lower head so that cheek contacts the same place on the stock each time you fire. If you have to “lower” your head to get a good cheek weld, your sight is mounted too low; the more common problem with AR platform rifles is that the sight is too high and it’s hard to get a consistent cheek weld. Hence all the aftermarket stocks and cheekpieces, etc. But the Steady Hold Factor’s point is solid: your connection of face to rifle stock needs to be solid, and most of all consistent: same cheek weld, exactly, every time.
  6. BREATHING: Take a normal breath, let part of it out, then hold remainder by locking throat. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO HOLD BREATH FOR MORE THAN TEN SECONDS. It seems to help beginners to tell them, take a breath and let it half way out. 
  7. RELAXATION: Learn to relax as much as possible in any firing position. If a firer finds that he cannot relax, the whole position should be adjusted. “Relax” isn’t really the way we’d put it. You want to be loose and not tense, but not sloppy or slow. Too much tension does make your body (and rifle) shake. A sure sign of a novice is a tightly clenched jaw or grinding teeth!
  8. TRIGGER CONTROL: Press the trigger straight to the rear with a uniform motion so that the sights are not disarranged. The trigger finger should be placed on the trigger so that there is no contact between the finger and the side of the pistol grip. Smoothness on the trigger press is devoutly to be wished. Ideally, you want to tighten the trigger when the sights are on target, stop pressing and hold if they move, and tighten again. If the firing of the weapon surprises you, that’s okay, and a lot better than a jerked trigger.

Some points on zeroes:

  1. You absolutely must be able to fire the rifle consistently to zero it. Lots of trouble is caused by “social promotion” of guys that haven’t zeroed from the zero range to the rifle qualification range. Resist that promotion; master the tight group first, and the rest all falls into line.
  2. The Army love to have you take your previous zero off and start with a “mechanical zero.” This is stupid; don’t do it. Mechanical zero, which centers the sights, is like boresighting an optic; you use it when your old zero is lost or the specific serial number gun is new to you.
  3. If you confirm a zero, you’re done zeroing.
  4. The Army zeroes with a three round group. This is… you guessed it… stupid. Five rounds, please.
  5. Most Army units have “that guy” who can’t zero, or several of ’em, and often the problem is “those guys” who are coaching “that guy” can’t teach, can’t coach, and usually can’t shoot either.
  6. Shooting is not rocket surgery. Get good instruction and follow it and you will get better. Most people who suck at shooting assume they know it all. In the Army, it’s a truism that women learn to shoot better in basic than men do. Why? Our guess is that they don’t come all bound up with a male ego that already “knows it all” with respect to shooting.
  7. We have learned something from every instructor who’s ever taught us.


35 thoughts on “Pro Tips on Zeroing a Carbine

  1. H

    Back before Precision Shooting Magazine (R.I.P.) went tango-uniform, there was an article in the June 2001 issue about one of Carlos Hathcock’s po-lease sniper training schools by a gentleman named Brian K. Swain. Mr. Swain related that Hathcock issued every student a little copy of what he called his “bible”. If I recall correctly, the students were required to have this on them at all times, and Mr. Swain had his laminated. Sound judgment, that. If brevity is the soul of wit, this thing is a masterpiece of understatement.

    Carlo Hathcock’s “Bible”
    Body Alignment – Natural Point Of Aim
    Firm Hand Shake Grip
    Firm In Shoulder
    Eye Relief – Spot Weld – No Shadow
    Stare At Crosshairs – Target Is a Blur
    Slow Steady Pressure on Trigger To Rear
    Normal Respiratory Pause
    Follow Thru

    I believe the “Eye Relief – Spot Weld – No Shadow” line relates to getting your head and eyeball in the same exact place behind the scope every time with no shadow caused by getting too close or too far away from the scope lens. This had obvious implications for iron sights as well.

    1. Hognose Post author

      “In war, all the important things are very simple. But all the simple things are very hard.” -Napoleon Bonaparte.

        1. Clarence Chen

          It is a quote from Vom Kriege. The exact quote is “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.”
          If you have the Michael Howard and Peter Paret translation, it’s on page 119, “Friction in war.”


      June 2001
      Vol 42
      Issue 2

      is the issue to be exact, I have that very issue not 4 yards from me as i type this. I was a subscriber to PS from about 97 till its sad end.

  2. Tom

    The fundamentals are the fundamentals, and they’re simple to tell someone, but not necessarily simple for someone to learn to apply quickly. At least, to the level of being able to reliably shoot an Expert score on a standard qualification test.

    For what it’s worth, from the Appleseed program (which is pretty much what standard military rifle training was 100 years ago, there’s a neat way to organize these fundamentals which are taught over a 2 day Appleseed event.

    “The Holy Trinity” of Marksmanship:
    -proper position ie are your steady hold factors correct for whichever position you’re in
    -adjust your position to place your natural point of aim on the target, and verify your NPOA is on-target
    -perform the (6, per the manual that Appleseed uses) steps to firing the shot. These are sight alignment, sight picture, respiratory pause, focus on the front sight or scope reticle (and focus your mind on keeping it there on target), squeeze the trigger, and follow-through (call your shot, hold the trigger all the way back when the shot breaks)

    These fundamentals are not for Olympic shooters or world-class sharpshooters necessarily, at the high levels, those people often make up their own rules particularly with the steady hold factors. But, these fundamentals are very useful in teaching a mass of people how to shoot about 4 MOA or better with any standard issue rifle and standard issue ball ammo, not match ammo or an optimized target rifle. 4 MOA is good enough to hit a 20″ silhouette out to 500 yards, assuming you correctly account for bullet drop, wind etc. But you have to be able to shoot consistently (shoot 4 MOA at a 25m zeroing range) before it makes sense trying to put it all together at actual distance.

    1. LFMayor

      Second on the Appleseed, solid skills and a nice history lesson rolled together. Taken the wife, kids, cousins and friends. I’m not sure if I just cant coach or if it’s just “better” when the wife hears it from some besides me!

    2. Henry Sutter

      Agreed, “Get thee to an Appleseed”
      Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals and then you can build on the new skills and abilities.
      Plus the program is not equipment specific Marlin 60, Winchester 94, AR, Garand to Mauser 98 are all fine. Don’t have enough equipment call the Lead Instructor and we will find you a loaner.
      2 full days of Instruction for an adult 60$ and a young person 18 and younger 20$. At that price you should get everyone in the household up to a basic level of competency.

  3. 11B-Mailclerk

    I believe #8, Trigger Press, is actually #1. The proper trigger press is absolutely fundamental. If you cannot press the trigger properly, nothing else matters.

    Dime drills seem to be a quick way to teach trigger press, that require little else besides weapon, a dime, and time.

    There is of course, the implied “good working eyes”. All that great mojo from our 20s gets a bit weak when the eyeballs simply wear out, and iron sights become hopelessly fuzzy. Or, if the poor kid was never properly diagnosed and issued glasses….. Kid in my OSUT company could dime just fine, but couldn’t group or hit worth a dang. One oh so very clever range instructor had us swap around glasses until we found a pair that sort-of worked. Instant bolo to sharpshooter conversion. He was sent off to get re-checked and issued glasses. Apparently, they missed him when inprocessing.

    1. Hognose Post author

      We couldn’t understand why we were unable to train the first battalions of the Afghan National Army, until they had their eye doctors’ vists. Suddenly a lot of guys could see the target for the first time in their lives!

      1. Centurion_Cornelius

        Roger that! The eyes are windows to the soul; refresh those headlights.

        Like Chesty said: “You don’t hurt ’em, if you don’t hit ’em.”

  4. Badger

    Your “Points” are worth gold. Agree with the comment RE female shooters in #6. They process information differently. #1 son was once having “difficulty” with his wife on the pistol range. (First mistake was orienting her to his 1911 when a Ruger Mk.II was right there.) No success was evident from his 2-step instruction of “1. Line up the sights (w/o definition of what that looked like). 2. Pull the trigger.” For a woman who can successfully hold her niece in one arm while insuring that French Toast doesn’t burn I converted this to a single compound sentence: “While keeping the sights aligned, continue to press the trigger.” (After using Pen, Retractable, Skilkraft, 1 each to draw sight alignment into the wood bench.) Results were pleasing, she had a smile, and he got slapped (literally). They are different creatures.

  5. Hillbilly

    My dad who is a long time NRA bullseye shooter coached me growing up. I started with a Weirauch 50S air rifle and eventually competed myself in rimfire and High Power matches as a kid so I had a pretty good foundation going in.
    My son competed in long range steel and F-Class matches when he was a teen but being kind of hard headed had difficulty paying attention to instructors who obviously knew considerably less then he did as far as shooting.
    I’m pretty sure he got the stubbornness from his mother who also as Badger says processes info differently.
    Men shouldn’t try to train their wife is my takeaway from that.

    1. SemperFi, 0321

      I learned from giving scuba lessons, separate the husband and wife (send one off with another instructor if possible), men are more prone to try and show off how much they know in front of GF/spouse, and end up distracting the whole group. Has something to do with male ego.

  6. DaveP

    Heuristics are weird things, and gender *does* matter. Similar to weapons-training, teaching avalanche safety to a group of a group of ice-climber or BC ski dudes requires much more work than a similar skill-set female cohort. And in a mixed class, the ‘dude’ factor goes off the charts.

    Demonstrating and then trying to coach my girlfriend through backing her new, large goose-neck horse trailer was also an exercise in futility, and frustration on both our parts. After things settled down, I ended up hauling it to a huge empty parking lot, revisiting some very basic ideas as I saw them, and went to read a book while she tooled around for a couple hours until she felt comfortable.


    1. Loren

      So true.
      I started shooting @ 8 years old shooting a BB gun in the basement. Old playing cards were the targets. Punch out each diamond the 5 of diamonds, go to next card. Do that a few thousand times a year for 3 years and on to the pellet gun. Repeat for 3 years and on to the 22 then the deer rifle.
      Fundamentals are a key, but many tens of thousands of rounds down range will make you a shooter.
      i would like to ask the folks who’ve been on the 2 way range, what’s the aim standard? Do you guys get and keep a good sight picture or spray and pray?

      1. Hillbilly

        Take the time needed to make the shot as quickly as you can.
        I saw both aimed shooting and spray and pray happen myself ( I define spray and pray as rapid semi auto or auto without a definite sight picture myself) I think some people call that suppressive fire though.

      2. 858x70

        Good question. I’d like to know too.
        From a SF (vs regular army) point of view, after that 1st round cracks past your head, the adrenaline dumps, and it’s time to say “Fuck me? No, fuck YOU!!” are you aiming at the 3rd button on his shirt or the ZIP code where the MFer is?

      3. Mike

        The aim standard depends a lot on the accuracy of the incoming fire, lol. Distance and threat level have impacts as well. It also has a lot to do with the awareness of the situation before taking the shot. By that I mean, if you are sniping and not in a rush due to enemy action, you can take the time to get really dialed in. On the other hand, if you are fighting in a short line of sight area (either urban area, thick vegetation, or broken terrain) and you suddenly see someone 10-15 meters away, you’re going to be a lot more hurried in taking that shot.

  7. John Distai

    Is there a missing part of this sentence?

    5. STOCK WELD: To obtain stock weld, lower head so that cheek contacts the same place on the stock each time you fire. If you have to “lower” your head to get a good cheek weld, your sight (missing part?)

  8. Pingback: WeaponsMan: Pro Tips On Zeroing A Carbine | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  9. Aesop

    Firstly, Hell Yes on the 36m/300m zero. Which also puts the bullet’s arc for 5.56 between those two points somewhere into the vital giblets of any normal standing human target when aimed at center of mass, which is a lot of the rationale for it.

    FWIW, with the AR-series, a stock weld that leaves the tip of your nose touching on the rear of the charging handle makes stock weld stupid simple, if you can pull it off. For those that never noticed, the AR has essentially zero “kick”. Don’t be afraid of it.

    And your body should be in a natural point of aim. I.e., if you were to close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths in and out then open your eyes, you should find your sights dead on target.
    If that isn’t so, you move your body until you’re there, rather than muscling the weapon over, which increases shake, and decreases stability.

    High expert six times running, and marksmanship coach.

    And despite presbyopia due to being that #@*^%$ old, the one rifle that currently gives my eyesight zero problems is the iron-sighted AR (or any mil rifle with a peep aperture rear sight), because the rear peep provides exactly the pinhole aperture the elongated eyeballs of middle age require to focus without benefit of eyeglasses.
    Without glasses, I still see 20/15, as I always have. It’s just that now, that starts about half a foot beyond the end of the barrel. Except through the iron peep sight, which erases the ravages of time on aging eyeball musculature. Reason #463 on Why Iron Sights Are Still A Good Idea, Even If You Have A Killer Death Ray Optic Sight.

    1. Steve M.


      Excellent point on the “nose to charging handle” method. I learned of it from reading one of Paul Howe’s monthly newsletters and put it into practice. You are right, it makes getting a consistent cheek weld and sight picture stupid simple. This method also makes acquiring the sights surprisingly fast.

  10. Skip

    With both my Bride and I being competitve shooters, we’ve successfully coached a number of couples through the years through the simple expedient of her taking the female member to one end of the range and I taking the male to the other end. As I like to remind the husband/boyfriend/brother, etc., “at some point you’re gonna piss her off …. and she has a loaded gun.” LOL

  11. l2a3

    The article was good for informing on how to get your zero. Then after getting our zero, We were always taught:
    Remember the Trinity:

  12. BM

    The Army has a new TC on marksmanship, no longer six or eight or whatever fundamentals.

    You can also rest your magazine in the ground, as a hole in the space-time continuum opened and it no longer causes malfunctions.

  13. John Boy

    Great article. I found that once I got the fundamentals down to second nature (thanks to my Army Ranger trainer bud), the ACOG was just what I needed so I didnt even need to know the range of my opponent.
    I have my iron sight where i need it, but that ACOG…wow. M-855 flys the mission dead on…

  14. Swamp Fox

    I am not trying to offend anyone just gathering evidence to confirm some new marksmanship instruction I have come across.

    Lets take Follow Through, most of what is taught does not follow science. I will try to explain this by using the Distance = Rate x Time. Lets solve for Time. How long will it take to drive 60 miles when you are driving 60mph?

    Solve for T, divide each side by R
    1 hour

    Now lets apply this to the average pistol barrel and average pistol velocity.
    5 inch barrel and 1000FPS, remember to use like units to achieve a correct answer. I will convert 1000FPS to Inches per second by multiplying 1000 by 12= 12,000 inches per second.

    5/12000= .00041666seconds
    You cannot do anything to disturb the shot after it has been fired, 10 inch 14 inch, 16 inch 24 inch, 5.56, 7.62

    The average human reaction time is .25 seconds when we run a pro timer and have the student on the trigger and all the have to do is fire a shot (I do not care if it hits as it is not an accuracy exercise, it is a reaction exercise) we see some below .20 seconds. Smoking splits of .14 seconds are still not fast enough to disturb a shot.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all.

    1. Cap'n Mike

      What you wrote is probably true, but it doesn’t mean follow through is unnecessary.
      Its possible that follow through works because it prevents you from jerking the trigger or doing other unwanted things ‘before’ the shot is fired.
      It also focuses your mind on where the sights and target are when the shot breaks, as you call your shot.

  15. Swamp Fox

    Check my math, if it is correct than that is science and facts, why teach something that cannot be explain?

    The US Army, with their 25/300 meter and USMC 36/300 yard zeros do not take human nature into account. Human nature compels humans to make themselves smaller when being shot at, think cover. Now you have a smaller target to shoot at, think of small as a distance from top of shoulder to top of head, (about 12 inches). Human nature also adds stress into the mix and this causes the shooter to react for at least a couple of shots before adjusting their aim. This is why SOF in general has moved to a 50/200 meter zero. It takes into account trying to hit a smaller target, the head. It is a more Plug and Play zero of putting the sights onto the target and squeeze.

    Here is where the 50/200 meter zero was most likely derived from. It is called the Maximum Point Blank Range Zero.

    This article was written by a retired SF officer.

    Another view on it from a competitive shooter service rifle type for you Appleseed types.


    1. PJ

      He did explain it, or at least gave a plausible reasons for it. You just weren’t paying attention.

      “You cannot do anything to disturb the shot after it has been fired”

      That may be true as far as it goes, but the rifle certainly does recoil with the bullet still in the barrel, and it can recoil inconsistently if you haven’t been careful PRIOR to the shot. Just as an example, benchrest shooters take pains to slide the rifle back and forth in the rest to adjust and ensure that the rifle comes back the same way every time, as if on rails.

  16. Lame-R

    Swamp Fox, your analysis makes sense, even when accounting for lock time, etc. But if only things were that simple. There may be better ways to instruct people so as to ward off bad habits such as anticipating the break, but disciplined follow through is perhaps the easiest place to start.

  17. Swamp Fox

    A few thoughts

    After reading the new TC on Carbine and Rifle on Follow Through, Section 8-7,

    “Follow-through is the continued mental and physical application of the functional
    elements of the shot process after the shot has been fired. The firer’s head stays in contact
    with the stock, the firing eye remains open, the trigger finger holds the trigger back
    through recoil and then lets off enough to reset the trigger, and the body position and
    breathing remain steady”

    How does “holds the trigger back through recoil” help you with an accurate shot?

    And how is Waiting in combat to shot another round a good thing. That could be a Bad Habit that you might not recover from. Think of the police recovering their shell casings during shoot outs, ingrained bad habit, that might have cost lives.

    Again back to my original statement

    I am not trying to offend anyone just gathering evidence to confirm some new marksmanship instruction I have come across.

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