feet meters zeroing rifle scope
courtesy chemistry.about.com
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[ED: Here’s an old Ask Foghorn post we still get asked about.]

Reader Jeremy writes:

I don’t know if you guys have gotten this question before, or if it would warrant writing an article, but do you have any feedback on zeroing a rifle on a range measured in yards, and then how accuracy would be affected when shooting that rifle estimating distance based on meters? The difference @ 100m vs. 100 yards is going to be about 9′ so my assumption is that even to the max effective range of a 5.56 round, there isn’t going to be enough of a difference to see a noticeable POI shift. Do you have an opinion?

Good news for the lazy among us: for the typical zero on a 5.56 gun, it doesn’t really matter.

Meters are longer than yards, but only by a tiny bit. For one meter or ten meters, it’s virtually the same. In fact, the difference between meters and yards at 50 yards is negligible. Which is perfect for our purposes.

The typical 5.56 rifle zero is a 50 yard/meter zero. That puts the round on target at 50 yards and 200 yards, with less than a three-inch vertical deviation over that distance. It’s also the zero that’s used with Leupold and Trijicon’s optics, as zeroing at 50 yards will align the trajectory with the reticle.

At 50 yards, the difference between meters and yards is still so small that it really doesn’t matter. In fact, the inherent inaccuracy of your barrel and ammunition will probably do more to mess with your zero than the difference between yards and meters (more about that here).

In fact, even at longer distances the difference still really doesn’t matter. Doing the calculations in either metric or imperial units will get you close enough to where you can walk the shot on target with a couple of rounds.

If you’re going for precision shooting, though, it might matter. But if you’re the “one shot, one kill” kind of person, you already know your holds (or can calculate them) in either system and adjust as needed.

For new shooters, my advice is not to sweat the small stuff. Even for NRA High Power service rifle matches, I calculated my ballistics in yards while the range at MCB Quantico is laid out in meters and it didn’t slow me down. Two sighters and I was tapping the X ring.

The difference between meters and yards is important, and for those who need to make a precise shot, it’s important to understand the difference and adjust as necessary. But for those just starting out, it’s no biggie.

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  1. Metres are 9.33% approximately longer than yards. Not much different out to 300. At 800 metres or more though you are adding almost another hundred yards. Depends a lot on projectiles at this stage.

    All ranges I use in Australia are in metres so I zero at 100 or 200 metres depending on the round. We used to zero the FAL in 7.62 at 200 metres using iron sights and M16 at 100. Boy to have 40 year younger vision again.

    • Most of the deer around here are in metrics because the wander up into Canada often. Same with the birds that fly south. The fish, however use the US fractional system so my rod is feet long and the action is in pounds.

      • Now I understand. That makes much more sense than all those numbers and equations,(zzzzzzzzzz). I should have more success with the (Canada) birds. Thank goodness they squawk in english, too.

      • Kind of like how all professional shooters know that you measure distance for a 7.62 caliber rifle in meters but you measure distance for all .308 caliber rifles in yards.

    • From 25 years of competitive shooting I’ll agree. Out to 300, no discernible difference. Further out you should start factoring in the difference.

      And to further complicate things, my range has the firing points set halfway between the yards and meters as measured with a laser rangefinder.

  2. These are the mental tricks I use to remember this conversion:
    The second to last year of WWII, and the year of the Battle of the Bulge and such, was 1944. Now transpose the 1 and 9 and put a period in front.

    To convert yards to meters MULTIPLY yards times .9144 (Multiplying by .9144 will get you a smaller number, and you know yards are smaller than meters so this is a way to remember this..)
    To convert meters to yards DIVIDE by .9144 (The opposite of above, dividing by .9144 will get you a _larger_ number, and you since know meters are larger than yards this makes sense to help remember as well.)

    Your mileage may vary and widely, but this is how I remember that .9144 figure and how to convert back and forth between yards and meters. Memory tricks don’t work for everyone of course, but _maybe_ this will stick in some few minds and help some folks out there to remember….(?)

    • In the real world though, I use just 1.1 yards= 1 meter. I alway go to yards, as that is my primary distance measurement. It gets me close enough that any deviation on calculations is hidden under my limitations.

      • In _my_ real world I wear a calculator watch, so it has become routine for me to be punching in numbers for various things, and perhaps I should have noted that. I also have “Point Blank” ballistics software installed on my wife’s pink laptop computer, and that looks real cool when my son and I pack it along to the range – which luckily for us is on private local farmland, which helps to cut down on the laughter from those who would otherwise find such things amusing.

        If it works don’t fix it. 🙂

        Here is a great example of needing to be constantly aware that they mean METERS when they say meters and YARDS when they mean yards, and that these two systems of measurement are used interspersed together throughout the following sighting in routine(s):

        Best single article I ever found for sighting in the infamous 7.62×39 AK-47 / AKM. If anyone out there wonders what “near zero” means for a rifle set to some long distance, go there. Setting the AK’s rear sight to “2” for 200 meters and then starting your sighting in process at a target at 25 YARDS will make sense by the time you are done…!

        • I’m glad the article helped you understand how to zero and use the iron sights on an AK. It took a lot of research and experimentation to put that together. I’ve received many emails from shooters that have zeroed their rifles with that technique and validated the results.

          For anyone who says that yards and meters are similar I’d like to point out that at the difference between 500 yards and 500 meters is nearly half the distance of an American football field. If you have a rifle whose sights are calibrated in meters (and the rifle is properly zeroed), if you set the sights on the “5” setting and shoot at a target at 500 yards the your rounds will fly way over the top of your target.

    • Your zero and your computations should be in the same units as are reported by your rangefinder. If you don’t have a rangefinder, WTF are you even talking about? Shooting something holding a sign to tell you what the distance is?

  3. One hundred meters is about 325 feet. One hundred yards is 300 feet. Unless you have an electronic rangefinder, you probably cannot tell the difference. Benchrest and other precision shooters excepted, of course.

    • ollie,

      100 meters is 328 feet to be even more precise. That is the conversion factor that I happen to remember. (Why that particular conversion factor sticks in my head, I have no idea.)

  4. I’d rather walk 5 klics then five miles, other then that most critters don’t stand at known distances anyway, and range finders take all the guess work out of it .

    • “I’d rather walk 5 klics then five miles”

      I thought possums scampered or scurried.

      …at least until the tire on an F-250 make them go *splitch*… 😉

    • It’s actually a pretty good question to ask. It takes a fair amount of intelligence to ask good questions though, so you wouldn’t know about that.

  5. I’ve never much liked the meter, it’s much too long a thing. The yard works fine for me, always has. It is even easier to spell. Shorter and there’s only one spelling for yard. The Europeans consistently mis-spell meter as metre but are too pompous to admit their error.

    The meter also has a long history of being just as much a randomly thought up notion as the yard. Difference is the yard admits to it where the meter has always wrapped itself up in the pretense of science. It took generations for real science to fix the meter, make it respectable and repeatable.

    Oh, the meter is French, mostly. That’s a plus, I hear they make great bread in France and the meter runs right thru Paris. Probably the French picked Paris for the bakeries, as who would want to argue exhaustingly about meters without some good bread to go with the whine and cheese?

    Oh and all you gotta’ do is add 3.3701 inches to each yard to get to a meter.

    See what I mean? They made the silly thing too long.

    • Look over yonder, there’s a critter/enemy/paper target, and it is precisely (to a .01 millimeter) the same distance away from you, regardless of the units used to express that distance. The concept of holding center mass from the muzzle to 300-400 yards/meters does not depend on the units considered.

  6. “….if you’re going for precision shooting….” You’ve got it bass ackward. Yards/meters doesn’t impact precision which is a small grouping. Y/M will impact accuracy, which is putting the grouping on the target. Precision will put all rounds into the same point. However, that point will be at different locations whether you use meters or yards. Using meters or yards will cause a miss on a specific point.

    • Boosht. If you sight your rifle in for a given distance, your rifle will not know or care whether the target is yards or meters distant. You would have to go out and measure the distance to discover what distance you had it sighted in for, which you could then express in yards, meters, or wavelengths without changing your bullets’ impact point.

  7. “If you’re going for precision shooting, though, it might matter.” You’ve got it bass ackwards. Y vs M will not impact precision, which is a small close grouping. Y vs M will impact accuracy, which is putting the grouping or single round on a specific point. Precision will yield the same close small grouping whether using Y or M. However, the group, or point, will be at different locations for Y vs M. For accuracy, using Y vs M will yield a hit for one and a miss for the other on a common target or point. If you are just ringing steel, it may not make a difference between Y vs M if the range is short enough and the target large enough.

  8. I can’t wait for the reprint of the article on “Yards vs Arshins When Zeroing Your AK …Who Gives a дерьмо?”

  9. I always looked at the difference between metric and standard was that in metric everything is divided into tenths and standard everything was divided up into halves. Look at a tape measure. Metric is centimeters into 10 millimeters and standard is inch to half to quarter to eighth to sixteenth.

    • Unfortunately, not consistently into halves. A foot is one third of a yard, an inch is one twelfth (or one third of one half of one half) of a foot.

      In my opinion, the U.S. should have changed from the imperial system to the metric system decades ago. Imperial units are ridiculously convoluted and archaic. Sure, I use them, because that is the standard where I live and work but, it is a whole lot easier to figure out how many meters are in 0.7 kilometers than how many yards are in 0.7 miles.

  10. Who cares which system you are using as long as you do all your calculations is said system. If your sighting system is set up for yards and you do all your calculations to the target in yards, the result will be the same as if your system is set for meters and you use meters for your calculations.


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