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How To Use a Sniper Rifle Scope: All You Need to Know

L.p. Brezny | Updated February 22, 2024 | Why You Should Trust Us | How We Earn Money
Cover photo showing man in crosshairs

When it comes to long-range shooting, nothing compares to a good sniper rifle. That said, using a sniper rifle isn’t quite as easy as the movies make it look. 

When firing from such long distances, various factors can affect the accuracy of your shot, such as wind resistance and gravity. So, let’s look at how to use these scopes effectively.

The Best Sniper Rifle Scopes

If you’re interested in learning more about sniper scopes, make sure to check out our full article on the best sniper rifle scopes available.

How Do You Use a Sniper Rifle?

There are several factors to consider when aiming and shooting a sniper rifle unique to this kind of weapon.

  • First, most sniper rifles are bolt-action, meaning you need to reload after every shot.
  • Second, you need a high-powered scope to see at greater distances, such as 1000/1500 meters or more. 
  • Finally, you have to control your breathing, as that can disrupt the angle of your shot. Even minor interference can cause the bullet to wind up far away from your intended target.

Realistically, using a sniper rifle effectively means you need to practice a lot to account for each of these factors. Start with relatively close targets and work your way further out. Ideally, also practice in different environmental conditions to see how they affect your shot. (1)

How to Aim With a Sniper Rifle

Aiming with a sniper rifle is much more complicated than just “point and shoot.” In fact, snipers have to consider a mountain of data before squeezing the trigger. Most of the job of being a sniper is paying attention to your surroundings and determining how different variables can affect your shot.

Snipers usually train for weeks to learn how to aim properly, but here are some general points to keep in mind:

  • Shoot From a Prone Position – Snipers almost always fire from a prone position because it offers the best stability and allows them to control their breathing.
  • Wind Is a Huge Factor – While sniper bullets have a spin to help them stay accurate, wind can affect the shot more than anything else. So, firing on a calm day is much different than on a windy one. Also, when shooting over 1000 yards away, the wind may shift and blow in multiple directions between you and your target.
  • Collect Data With Every Shot – All snipers have a detailed book with data from every previous shot they’ve taken. If you’re not collecting information with each shot, how can you know how to adjust for the next one?
  • Ensure Your Scope Is Zeroed Correctly – Zeroing a scope means that it’s accurate within a minimal degree of error. For snipers, this range should be about one inch at 100 yards. If your shots are outside this zone, you need to adjust accordingly.

What Do the Lines on a Sniper Scope Mean?

The lines on a sniper scope help you identify your target. Commonly called reticles, you can choose from a variety. Here’s a quick overview of each option:

  • Original – Also known as “crosshairs,” this reticle has two perpendicular lines that intersect in the center of the scope. These lines can be etched in the glass or be made from wires.
  • Dot – Instead of lines, the reticle uses a dot to tell you where the center is. Some dot reticles may have crosshairs too.
  • German Reticle – These reticles are numbered, with #4 and #1 being the most common. German reticles are often illuminated and have thick lines on three of the four sides (typically, the top line is thin).
  • Duplex – This version is similar to the original, but the lines stay thick on the outer edges, leaving a small crosshair in the center. This design helps you focus on the center more easily, so it’s common for hunting scopes.
  • BDC – This stands for “bullet drop compensation.” The reticle has markings to illustrate how much a bullet drop affects your shot, useful for long-range shooting as they can give you accurate details to compensate for the next shot. Markings can vary based on the manufacturer.
  • Mil-Dot – Mil stands for “milliradians,” and this reticle type is perfect for long-distance sniping. Each line on the reticle has dots that typically represent one milliradian or 3.6 inches at 100 yards. These dots can help you determine the distance to your target and compensate for bullet drop.

How Do You Make Adjustments to a Sniper Scope?

soldiers practicing shooting on the range

As you practice with your scope, you’ll have to make corrections to adjust for wind speed, target location, and your position in relation to the target. That’s where the knobs on the top and sides of your sniper scope come in handy.

These knobs either adjust in MOA (minute of adjustment) or milliradians. Most American shooters prefer MOA because it has a simple unit of measurement. Typically, one click equals 1/4 inch at 100 yards. So, if you’re an inch off, you will need to adjust by four clicks.

Milliradians are technically more precise, but the math is a bit different. In this case, one click would equal .36 inches, so you have to move it three clicks to compensate for every inch at 100 yards.

Another point to consider is if you have a variable scope that allows you to zoom in. This option is helpful because you can see your target more clearly, but it can take some getting used to if you’re firing at long distances. (2)

How Does a Sniper Scope Work?

Close up of a long range sniper rifle

A sniper scope is basically a small telescope mounted to your rifle. As we’ve discussed, there are several elements inside the scope, including the reticles and the option to zoom.

For a sniper scope to work correctly, you must “zero” it out by compensating that the scope sits a few inches above the barrel. So, before you can actually shoot a target, you need to practice and ensure your aim is accurate.

Different Sniper Scope Types

Here is a quick overview of the different types of scopes you can mount on your sniper rifle:

  • Fixed Scope – This model has a set magnification that can’t be adjusted.
  • Variable Scope – This lets you zoom in with the lens to magnify your target to a specific point.
  • Thermal Scope – Instead of seeing things as they are, you’re looking at gradients based on heat signatures.
  • Night Vision Scope – This scope puts everything in a shade of green, so it’s easier to see at night.

For more reading see our write up on rifles that marine snipers use in combat and our guide on the most accurate shooting positions.


How does a sniper scope work?

A sniper scope works like a monocular or telescope mounted to your rifle. To ensure accuracy when firing, you must “zero” out your scope by using the elevation and windage knobs to compensate for both environmental factors and the offset created by the scope mount.

What are the dials on a sniper scope?

The dials on a sniper scope adjust your view. The top dial adjusts your elevation, meaning the bullet will go higher or lower depending on how you turn the knob. The side dial affects windage, so you’ll have to adjust this one based on how strong the wind is at any given time.

Do you chase the bullet when sighting in a scope?

You don’t chase the bullet when sighting in a scope – the scope should stay stationary, even if the shot is inaccurate. It’s better to make adjustments with the dials and get the bullet to go where you want it.

How far should your face be from a sniper scope?

Your face should be 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) from a sniper scope to account for recoil after firing. This is synonymous with eye relief, which means the distance your eye should be from the scope. If your eye is closer than that, you could wind up with a black eye. If the rifle has a bigger “kick,” you should set the eye relief further away.

What is the most powerful sniper scope?

If you’re making a judgment based on magnification, the March X-Series 8-80x56mm scope is the most powerful sniper scope, with a setting of up to 80x zoom. You need to adjust your head position and eye relief to compensate for this level of zoom, but this rifle is currently the most powerful on the market.

Can you use a sniper rifle to hunt?

Yes, sniper rifles are excellent for hunting because they offer superior accuracy and precision compared to standard rifles. However, you’ll need to practice targeting with a sniper rifle to ensure you can bring down your target in one shot while hunting.

What are the lines on a sniper scope called?

The lines are called a reticle, but many refer to them as “crosshairs.”

What is a sniper scope?

A sniper scope is a rifle scope designed to hit targets with precision at distances beyond 600 to 800 yards. However, many sniper scopes can target accurately up to 1300 or 1600 yards.

Reference Guide

  1. Outdoor Life, 10 Tips to Help Your Shoot Like a Long-Range Sniper, retrieved from https://www.outdoorlife.com/10-tips-to-help-shoot-like-long-range-sniper/
  2. Optics Planet, How to Choose a Rifle scope, retrieved from https://www.opticsplanet.com/howto/how-to-choose-a-riflescope.html

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