Zero Sense

Where Do You Want Your Bullets To Strike?

Editor Jeff John gets consistent requests for information about how to, or where to, “zero” firearms for both hunting and defensive applications. He asked me to address this issue so I thought I’d give you information on “how to” zero your firearms, specifically considering defensive applications. These are my opinions after fussing with the defensive use of firearms for a few decades.

As in all the firearms systems, you—yes, you—need to decide what you think is a baseline of where—as in how far in distance to the target—at which you’ll need to zero your handgun. A degree of silly comes up here because if we knew where we were going to be in a fight and at how far distance-wise, we could simply not “show” up that day.

Marksmanship and/or the application of firearms to a fight is—or should be—precision shooting, i.e. being to hit successfully and repeatedly the likes of the center of mass and the pelvis, for example. Shooting is then precision shooting, except an occasion may call for a surgical application, namely a head or partial head exposure shot, which is often not difficult, but the projectile placement requires attention.

This all seems pretty commonsense today, but then again, you get lots of variables when it comes to opinions. Historically, even some types of competition used bizarre hold offs like in PPC-stylized shooting. Many shooters opted for a neck hold because the tapered neck gave a more precise aiming point at extended ranges—so much so sights were even mechanically built with numbered hold offs for this extended 50-yard B27 target-type shooting. Silhouette shooting, such as steel chickens and pigs, was another example of big hold offs being required and often achieved by the use of rail-type sights and big clicky thing adjustments on both the front and rear of the sight.

Bluntly, if you are shooting a 9mm, .40 or .45 bullet for defense, the actual deviation in the curve/trajectory of the bullet is so minimal from 15 to 25 yards, most people can’t hold the difference. That said, I think a defensive handgun should hit where you aim at. Where “at” is, is someplace you decide on between zero and 25 yards. In my experience, more people will “lean” on the pistol to take the projectile impact off course than any “bullet drop” will ever make. So sights are adjusted on point-of-aim, point-of-impact and good ammunition with the pistol manipulated correctly. I set mine for 20 yards so the projectile then strikes at the top of the properly aligned sights at that distance. It makes me happy.

In a fighting handgun, where you aim is where you should hit, all other things considered. You just need to consider what all the other things to consider are.
By Clint Smith
Photos By Heidi Smith

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