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The 50/200 Yard Battle Zero

Zero for hunting is different than zero for combat/defense. Many people go by the old military standby of zeroing for 100 yards. But zero for 50 is the best defense for several reasons.

This method is for open sights or red dot only, not scopes.

I get asked “How should I zero my rifle?” quite frequently. The following is one of the most effective and quick ways to zero your 5.56mm/.223 rifle with either iron sights or a red dot sight (RDS). Please keep in mind this method is for iron sights and red dot sights only, it does not apply to rifles equipped with magnified optics, especially those that feature bullet drop compensators. For such optics you should zero the sights according to manufacturer recommendations.

So, you have that brand new AR platform rifle/carbine at the range for the first time and you’re trying to figure out at what distance you should zero the rifle for optimal performance for self defense. The answer to that question is simple, 50 yards. I’ll explain why in a moment, but first lets get the rifle on paper.

Fig 1 shows a 6-o’clock hold. Fig 2 shows a “dead hold” that cuts the bullseye in half. This is my preferred hold however both are acceptable as long as you consistently use the same hold.

The first time I fire a rifle, or a rifle with a new sight, I will set a paper target with a simple bullseye at 25 yards. I make my first shots at 25 yards because I want to verify that my rifle is on paper and hitting somewhere near the point of aim before I shoot at a greater distance. If your sights are horribly off, you’ll be able to catch it at 25 yards and prevent a round from straying wildly off-course.

Using a dead hold with either a red dot sight or with irons, I will fire a single round at the 25 yard target. Once I’ve confirmed I’m on paper, I will fire a second and third round to make sure the rifle is grouping. Now I will adjust my sights until I move the group to 1″ below the bullseye. Keep in mind that the bullet has yet to cross the line of sight at this range so it will be a bit low for our 50 yard zero.

Once you’ve gotten the rifle dialed in at 25 yards you can move your target to the 50 yard line. Here you will want to adjust your point of impact so it is dead center of the bullseye. Now your sights are set to engage man-sized targets out to 250 yards. How is that possible?  The following ballistic drop table should bring the magic of the 50 yard zero into focus.

The 5.56mm bullet will hit dead center at 50 yards,  1.9” low at 10 yards, 1” low at 25 yards, 1.4″ high at 100 yards, 1.5″ low at 200 yards and 7.2″ low at 250 yards. That’s less than a 3.5” spread at 0 to 225 yards. If you aim center of mass on the bad guy, your rounds will hit the torso center mass from CQB distances all the way out to 250 yards. 

The question then becomes, “Why not zero at 100 yards?” The answer to that question can be seen in the next table which shows the bullet drop for a 100 yard zero.

The drop is similar with the two zeros until you look at the bullet drop at 250 and even 300 yards. The 50 yard zero clearly has the advantage at range, which is why you should use it on a battle/defensive rifle.

The 50 yard zero can be used with the 5.45×39 as it’s ballistically similar to the 5.56mm. I also recommend using it with the 7.62×39 with one caveat, since at ranges past 200 yards the .30 caliber Ruskie round is at a serious disadvantage to both the 5.56mm and 5.45×39 with regards to bullet drop (and hitting anything precisely and consistently with an AK much beyond 100 yards requires either (a) lots of luck,  (b) lots of practice, or (c) divine intervention).

Zeroing a rifle is important and essential. Anyone who owns a rifle needs to know how to zero it and what they’re zeroing it for, and they need to know how to hit what they’re shooting at with iron sights or their equivalent from 0 to 200+ yards.

50/200 yard zero at 10 yards video

10-Yard 50/200-Zero-Target.pdf

Semper Paratus


100 Yard Zero

50/200 Yard Zero

50 Yard Zero at

10 Yards

How to achieve a 50 yard zero at 10 yards, and the benefits of doing so. This 10 yard technique is very simple and it works.

I have tested this a bit since the video was posted and found it to be a very handy tool to have in my toolbox. I really like the speed at which I am able to establish the zero since I can see and make my adjustments from my shooting position. I like being able to zero on an extremely compact range and I can see how this technique could benefit those without the skill to shoot a group consistent enough to accurately judge what adjustments should be made at extended distances. However, I have also found some caveats that you will want to keep in mind when using this technique.

If you can confirm your zero at a longer distance, do so. This assumes you have both the space and the skill required. When establishing a 50 yard zero, it is good to check at 50 yards, better to check at 100 yards (point of impact will be high at 100), and best to check at 200 yards. I tested the technique with an iron sighted AR-15, a red dot equipped carbine, and a carbine equipped with a 1-4X magnified optic. All three were well within 2″ of my desired point of aim when I checked them at 50 yards but checking at distance allowed me to further refine the zero. The great news is that using just the 10 yard sight in, I was able to hit a 4″ target at 50 yards in all cases so it is great technique for getting a usable zero on a carbine very, very quickly.

If you need another reason to confirm at distance when and if you are able, consider this. The difference between a 50/200 yard zero and 100 yard zero at 10 yards is only about 1/10th of an inch (1.92″ below point of aim for the 50 yard zero versus 2.06″ below point of aim for the 100 yard zero). The difference between the two zeros opens up to 7/10s of an inch at 50 yards, 1.4″ at 100 yards, and so on. The point is pretty much any zero is going to put you somewhere near 2″ below point of aim at 10 yards and, without confirmation, you may not have the zero you think you have.

Beware of parallax! You will have to be very mindful of consistent head placement when using optics well inside of their intended parallax range. Even optics that claim to be parallax-free will exhibit a shift in point of impact if you shift the position of your eye behind the optic. Basically, you need to position your eye so that the aiming point is in the center of the optic every time. This is good practice whenever you zero regardless of distance but it is vital when you are this close.

A good target helps. I like the field measuring technique of using your finger but also found that a good target helps. I was going to make my own but I came across this target from MyTargets.com and it works well. The target has 4 aiming points laid onto a full page 1″ grid. You can aim at the dots and move your point of impact to the grid point 2″ below the dot. It’s extremely easy and the grid can help you make informed adjustments to your optic/sights, or you can use the correct PDF target attached.

Be picky about your adjustments. At 10 yards, your mechanical adjustments will be very, very fine. An optic with adjustments that move point of impact 1/4″ per click at 100 yards will require 10 clicks to move 1/4″ at 10 yards. A group that looks “pretty close” at 10 yards can be off by quite a few inches at 50 yards. It is important to follow Frank’s advice in the video about not adjusting off of your group unless the shots in that group are touching. This level of precision will ensure that you have solid data with which to make your adjustments. It also gives you a clearer picture of the minute adjustments necessary at 10 yards to translate to a solid 50/200 yard zero.

And How To Do It At 10 Yards
And How To Do It At 10 Yards