Thirty years ago, most of the hunters I knew used the holdover method to hit targets at moderate to long ranges. The holdover method consists of knowing the drop of your bullet in inches at certain ranges, and holding the crosshairs high enough to compensate for the bullet’s drop on game. A 180-grain .30-06 bullet, for example, will strike about 25 inches low at 400 yards when sighted in roughly 2 inches high at 100 yards.
“Roughly” and “about” are not terms that lend themselves to pinpoint accuracy. The holdover method is fine for shots at moderate distances, but the method doesn’t offer enough precision to reliably hit game at longer ranges.
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Optics have improved, and now more scopes come with exposed elevation dials that allow you to quickly adjust for bullet drop. It’s a more precise method and improves accuracy. The transition from holdover to dialing is simple.
Dialing for Elevation
The first step of dialing for elevation involves zeroing your rifle, and that process is very much the same as it would be with traditional holdover shooting. There are plenty of ballistic programs online, such as Hornady’s free 4DOF app, that allow you to input the data for your particular hunting load so you can accurately determine how high your bullet should impact at 100 yards (where sight-in usually begins) in order for it to strike dead-center at 200 yards.
You’ll need to input data into your ballistic calculator, including muzzle velocity (from a chronograph, not an ammo box, is best), bullet weight, ballistic coefficient, temperature, elevation and relative pressure. Once those figures are in place, you’ll get a table of bullet dropsyou’ll use to dial for accuracy.
MILS, MOA and Inches
Most elevation dials offer adjustments in MOA (minutes of angle), roughly 1 inch at 100 yards, or mils (milradians), roughly 3.6 inches at 100 yards. Mils are commonly used in the military and by many long-range shooters, and MOA adjustments are more common on hunting scopes.
Once you’ve zeroed your rifle, your scope’s elevation dial will need to be reset to zero. On some optics, like the Trijicon AccuPoint, you simply lift the dial, rotate and drop it at the zero mark when your gun is striking where you want. Others, like Leupold’s popular VX-5HD, require you to loosen screws in the dial, turn it back to the zero mark, and retighten once your rifle is sighted in properly.
From there, you’ll simply dial the turret to match the elevation you need for a shot at a particular range. If your ballistic table indicates that you need to raise the elevation 3.5 MOA to hit the target at a particular distance, you simply rotate the dial to that number, hold dead-center, and fire. This eliminates the need for holdover and makes hitting your target simpler.
If all of this still sounds too complex there are even simpler methods. Leupold, for example, offers a custom-etched CDS dial with the purchase of several new scope models. Once you’ve determined which ammo works best in your rifle, simply send Leupold the details of the load (caliber, weight, velocity, ballistic coefficient and so forth) and you’ll receive a custom CDS dial to install on the scope.
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The CDS dial is marked with distances in yards. If you zero your rifle at 100 yards you simply rotate the dial to 4.5 to make an accurate 450-yard shot.
Like many popular hunting scopes, the CDS dial comes with a zero-stop feature. As you rotate the scope dial back to zero, the turret automatically stops when it reaches your original zero setting. This eliminates the possibility of over-rotating the dial and making errors in future adjustments. That level of simplicity and precision will improve your shooting and will help you make clean, ethical shots on game without the guesswork involved in holdover.