The Importance of ‘Zero’
I shot quite a bit on unsupervised, state-maintained public ranges a few years ago and watching this new generation of handgunners has convinced me that accuracy, in the classic sense, isn’t important to many of them. I watched in wonder as groups of 2-3 shooters would take turns loading magazines, while one of them would step to the line and empty those magazines as fast as they could jerk a trigger. 200 rounds would go downrange in a matter of 15 minutes, with volume of fire being the obvious goal. They were having just a hell of a good time exercising their Constitutional rights and I got a kick out of watching them.
I was usually one bench away, at the 50 yard line, busting cans or clay birds on the dirt berm with whatever handgun I happened to be carrying and/or hunting with. The hose-monsters sometimes noticed I was actually hitting something and a few even came over and asked for help on how to do it. When they did, the first thing I did was check their zero.
The importance of proper ‘Zero’, AKA sight regulation, cannot be overstated. If your zero is off, you’ll never reach your potential as a pistolero.
If our sights are properly aligned, a proper zero means that unless you ‘flinch’- each and every shot will go exactly to the center of the top edge of the front sight. But before we start- let’s get a proper sight picture.
Note that the front and rear sights are perfectly aligned for height and that an equal amount of light is visible on each side of the front sight. The front sight is in sharper focus than the target, which is a little blurry. This is to expected because the eye simply cannot focus on the front sight, rear sight and the target at the same time. That’s OK because we don’t need to see a fly speck on the target. We do need to align our sights perfectly in relation to it.
If our goal is ‘bullseye’ pistol shooting, we’ll adjust the sights to move the Point of Impact (POI) to the center of the target with a six o’clock hold, as illustrated below:
That’s great if you’re shooting standardized targets at known ranges with one load- as in NRA competition. The six o’clock hold is easy on the eyes and since ‘bullseye’ is fired over a fairly long course with one hand, minimizing strain on the human component translates into higher scores.
Many of us however carry a handgun for hunting, defense, or duty and we need to be able to hit something small, over various ranges. In those applications we are better served by Direct Zero- where the POI exactly centers on the top edge of the front sight:
I set mine up exactly as illustrated above, at 50 yards. Using that zero and a careful hold, you can hit damn near anything you want out to 75 yards or so. Pistols shoot a lot ‘flatter’ than many people think and the trajectory of even the slower rounds, like the .45 ACP, can be optimized by zeroing at the longer distance.
‘Zeroing’ involves adjusting the sights and that means means moving the rear sight in the direction you want the bullet to go. With adjustable target sights, you just turn a couple of screws.
But most defensive/service handguns have fixed sights, which require drifting or arbor-pressing the rear sight to accomplish ‘windage’ (left-right) adjustment. There are various gee-gaws designed for moving fixed sights and gunsmiths usually offer this service, for a fee. Personally, I just use a hammer and drift punch.
Elevation adjustments are accomplished by changing the height of the front or rear sights. If you’re handy, and unafraid to alter your sidearms, a few file strokes can often pull it off.
Some closing thoughts-
You zero to a single, specific load. If you change bullet weights, your zero will change right along with it. Pick a ‘zero load’ that’s readily available and does what you need. I stick with 158 grain in .38/.357, 180 grain in .40 and 230 grain in .45 ACP.
When zeroing your pistol, SHOOT OFF A SOLID REST! We are not showing off here; we are removing as much human error as possible.
Be CONSISTENT in your hold, sight alignment and trigger squeeze when zeroing. You need to learn these things anyhow and the bench is a good place to start.
I said in the beginning that the importance of proper zero cannot be overstated. I’ll guarantee you that there is not a top-ranked competitive shooter in any discipline who cannot tell you exactly where his match gun shoots, using his match load. It drives me nutz when a poor internet newb posts that he’s shooting low-left with his new blaster, then some retard posts one of those ‘shooting error charts’ – without ever asking if the newb’s sights are zeroed! Proper zero is an absolute of fine shooting, and if you ain’t got it then all the ‘Error Charts’ in the world won’t get it for you.
So get with it folks… get Zeroed! After all, the object of shooting is hitting something- and we wouldn’t want to look silly while trying do that, now would we?