Skip to main content

Dialing for Better Accuracy in Your Hunting Rifle

If you want to extend the effective range of your firearm, ditch the holdover method and dial for distance.

Dialing for Better Accuracy in Your Hunting Rifle

Now more scopes come with exposed elevation dials, which allow quick adjustments for bullet drop. (Photo by Brad Fitzpatrick)

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.

Find the best day and time to hunt in your zip code

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.

Click to subscribe to Game & Fish Magazine

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.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Sometimes you have to fish a bait that allows you to cover a lot of water efficiently. When you're on the search for bass that have moved into deeper water off the bank and away from obvious holding spots, a swimbait can locate them.

On the Search with Swimbaits

One of the best imitations of a wounded baitfish is the soft-plastic jerkbait, or fluke. A fluke darting just beneath the surface can be too much for a bass to resist. Rig it and fish it according to water conditions and cover to make this great bait even more effective.

Fun with Flukes

There are three models in SPRO's Outsider crankbait series: 55 (runs 3-4 feet), 60 (7-9) and 80 (19-21). Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley goes over the specifics at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

SPRO's New Outsider Crankbait Series: First Look

Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley highlights the features of SPRO's new lures at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Essential Series Spinnerbaits and Buzzbaits from SPRO

Syd Ribes with Sea Falcon highlights four new lures for saltwater fishing. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Lineup of Lures from Sea Falcon

Syd Ribes highlights two new saltwater lures from SPRO: Flutter Tail Shrimp and Cannon Ball Jig. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Saltwater Lures from SPRO

AFTCO's Matt Florentino highlights the features of the new Barricade cold-weather suit, a Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022 in Orlando. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

New from AFTCO: Barricade Cold Weather Tactical Gear

Three-time ICAST Best of Category winner Bubba covers it all with new knives set. With Bubba's Matt Kinamore and Game & Fish's  Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

4-in-1 Bubba Multi Flex Cutlery Kit

The innovative landing net will weigh and measure your catch while it's still in the net. Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

Award-Winning Frabill Witness Net 'Keeps You Honest'

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now