The Blackpowder Journal

The Blackpowder Journal Icon

...for the blackpowder enthusiast

Sighting In Your Muzzleloading Rifle

Dan Kindig

Advice from an expert.

Any shooter will at some time face the problem of adjusting the sights on their firearm, because no, Virginia, they are NOT sighted in at the factory! Muzzleloader or cartridge gun, fixed sights or adjustable, the task of getting the point of aim and the point of impact to coincide can be filled with confusion and frustration.

With a muzzleloader, as with any firearm, the first essential step is to fire a tight group. Until you can consistently place 3-4 shots in a tight group there is no way to make intelligent sight changes. Many shooters will try to adjust the sights after every shot, never knowing if the shot was off-center because of something they did, or because the gun really shoots to that direction. Once you have fired 3-4 shots into a tight group (wherever it is on the target), and you are confident that you know where the gun is shooting, you are ready to make a sight change.

The best way we know of to picture the sight change process in your mind is to remember that the line of sight from your eye through the rear sight, front sight and to the bull's eye is a fixed line. When you have a proper sight picture, these four points will necessarily be in line. With this in mind, when you move a sight in effect you are really moving the gun. For example, when you raise a rear sight, what really happens is that the butt of the rifle is depressed because the rear sight can not be allowed above the line from your eye to the target. If all this is as clear as mud, and you don't want to take the time to think it through, remember this simple statement and believe that it is true: move the BACK sight the way you want the bullet to move. Let's assume the center of your 3-4 shot group is directly below your point of aim. You want to raise the point of impact so you raise the rear sight. The same is true for windage. Assume the center of your group is to the right of the bull's eye. You want the point of impact to move left so you move the rear sight to the left.

In some cases you may not have enough movement in the rear sight to bring the point of impact to 0, or it may just be easier to move the front sight to make the adjustment. When this happens, you need to reverse the above statement, i.e. move the FRONT sight opposite of the way you want the group to move on the target.

Many original muzzleloaders, and some replicas, are equipped with sights that have no built-in adjustment feature. These so-called "fixed sights" can still be adjusted, although perhaps not as easily as more modern style sights. Most fixed sights are mounted in a dovetail notch in the barrel so they can be moved right or left with a flat brass punch and a hammer. Elevation adjustment is accomplished by filing down the front or back sight as needed. This needs to be done carefully, a little at a time, with a test group fired after each filing. It's very easy to take off more sight height, but it is more difficult to put it back on if you go too far!

We are often asked where a gun should be sighted for hunting. That is, at what range should the gun be zeroed. Many variables are involved in the answer to this question: bullet type, velocity, height of the sight above the barrel, etc. Since most target ranges have a 50 yard line, we find this distance a convenient one to use as a reference. We find it is usually productive to have the rifle shoot 2"-3" high at 50 yards. Given the size of the "kill zone" of a deer, this would allow the shooter to use a "dead center hold" from point blank out to perhaps 80 yards or so. Beyond that range, the shooter would need to "hold over" (aim high) to compensate for the drop of the bullet. Since a vast majority of reasonable shots on deer in the Eastern US are within 80 yards, this seems to work well.

Another often repeated mistake in sighting is to start the process at the 100 yard line. A shooter with a new rifle may spend considerable time and ammunition and never get a group on paper. It can save time, money and frustration to start the sight-in process at 25 yards on a large target, so you can tell exactly where the gun is shooting. Once again, until you have a tight group of 3-4 shots at a known point, you can't make an intelligent sight change.

The Log Cabin Shop has a range on the premises at the shop in Lodi, Ohio. It is for muzzleloaders only, and is open Saturdays only. Please call before coming out to make sure the range will be open to the public on the day you choose to visit. The cost is $7.50 per shooter for the day, targets are supplied. They have both a covered 25 yard range and an open 50 yard range that you can use for target practice or to sight-in your muzzleloader.

They also carry a wide variety of replacement sights for C.V.A. and Thompson Center muzzleloaders (as well as others), and have many sights to choose from if you are building your own. For more information on the sighting-in process, you may be interested in the book SIGHTING IN, catalog #700364, for only $2.95. The complete Log Cabin Shop catalog is available for only $5.00--200 pages of over 6000 items for the muzzleloading hunter, gun builder, and re-enactor. Call the toll free order line for your copy today! Visa, Mastercard and Discover card are welcome.