How to Sight-in a Hunting Pistol

By Chuck Hawks

It is important to carefully sight-in any hunting handgun from a solid rest. Usually this will be a bench rest at an outdoor rifle/pistol range. You will need at least a 100 yard range with 25, 50, and 100 yards lines to do the job right. Shooting from a bench rest is also important when checking the accuracy of a handgun or a new load.

At the range you will also need, in addition to your handgun and a supply of ammunition, access to a bench rest, a couple of sandbags or other means of steady support (such as an Outer's Pistol Perch), shooting glasses, ear protection, paper targets, tape or a staple gun to hang targets, and a tool to adjust sights (coin, screwdriver, etc.). A spotting scope is very handy and can save a lot of walking. There are numerous other convenient items, most of which are probably already in your "range bag."

Handguns are extremely sensitive to the way they are held. You grip must always be uniform from shot to shot. This is because the gun recoils in the hand before the bullet leaves the barrel, and if your change your grip or the tension used to hold the pistol, the muzzle will be in a different spot when the bullet departs. The result is a significant change in the point of impact, and erratic groups.

A hunting handgun will be fired "for real" in the field, not from a bench rest, so it is critical to hold the pistol exactly as you would in the field (usually a two hand hold) when sighting-in or practicing. You must grip the gun as you would in the field, because if you change your grip when sighting-in at the range the gun will shoot to a different place in the field.

When shooting over sandbags or other support from a bench rest, never let the barrel touch anything; it will jump away from any surface it touches. And never let the frame of the gun touch anything hard (like a table). The barrel is particularly a problem with a SA revolver, as contact with the ejector rod housing makes it jump erratically. Rest your hands (holding the gun) over the sandbags. It is okay if the frame of the gun touches the sandbags, but not the barrel or butt. Likewise, when using an impromptu rest in the field, always keep your hand between the gun and the rest so that the gun itself does not contact a hard surface.

If you are shooting a gun for the first time, start at 25 yards. Adjust the sights so that the bullets are grouping between zero and 2" high at that distance. You should now at least be on the paper at 50 and 100 yards. Refine your sight adjustment at 50 yards, according to the maximum point blank range (MPBR) of your cartridge and load and the size of the game that you will be hunting. Do your final check at 100 yards. I use a maximum deviation from the line of sight of +/- 1.5" for small game and +/- 3" for big game.

The typical Magnum revolver used for deer hunting, for example a .357 with iron sights shooting a 158 grain bullet at a MV of 1250 fps, should be zeroed to hit about 1.8" high at 25 yards, and 3" high at 50 yards. That will have it hitting dead-on at 100 yards, and give a MPBR (+/- 3") of around 119 yards. These figures will be basically in the ballpark for .357, .41, and .44 Magnum pistols shooting bullets with a ballistic coefficient around .200.

These methods may not produce the smallest possible groups, but if you do your part you will be able to shoot good groups--certainly better than you can shoot in the field. Most of all, they are intended to insure that after you sight-in your handgun from a bench rest, it will also be properly sighted-in when you take it hunting.

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Copyright 2004, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.