While there are dozens of products available to help you mount your scope in perfect alignment with your rifle, there’s one that I’ve used for many years that’s cheap, simple, and extremely effective. This is how to level your scope the easy way.
Step one: buy a digital protractor. The one seen in this article is available via Amazon HERE, though I bought it maybe eight years ago and, were I doing it today, I’d probably buy THIS ONE. They’re both in the $20 to $25 range, but if you look at all the digital protractors on Amazon you can spend anywhere from about $14 up to like $500.
I found two features the handiest to have: a button to zero out the tool and a magnetic bottom so it sticks to whatever you’re measuring (well, given that it’s metal that attracts a magnet). From what I’ve seen, basically every digital level / digital protractor offers these functions.
Actual step one: your firearm needs to stay dead still during the scope mounting process. The best way is to chuck it up in a bench vice. It doesn’t actually matter if the gun is level, but it does matter that it stays as-is from start to finish. At home I’ve done this process with my rifle strapped into a rifle rest or simply on the floor resting on its bipod, as long as it’s a steady bipod.
Step two: find a flat, level surface on your firearm on which to place the digital protractor. This is typically the picatinny optics rail, but may be the base of your one-piece scope mount or across the tops of scope rings as seen above. If you’re doing it across a scope ring, make sure the base of the ring is fully tightened onto the firearm first (it may not be level before it’s snugged down).
Zero out your level. Technically speaking this isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s a lot easier to remember 0.00 than whatever random angle your rifle is at when you later go to match your scope to that same angle.
To be clear, again, you don’t need to get your rifle level. If you put the protractor on and it says your rifle is at a 2.9-degree angle or a negative 9.2-degree angle, that’s fine. Just zero out the protractor. What we’re doing in this whole process is matching the angle of the scope to the angle of the rifle so the scope’s reticle is square with the rifle (I get into the “why” of this at the end).
Note that, as I took these crappy cell phone photos, I didn’t re-zero my digital protractor after moving it from the optic rail to the top of the scope ring. While I’m sure on some firearms with some rings, etc., you’ll find a very slight difference measuring across one vs. across the other, most setups should be square in this regard. In the case of the Black Collar Arms Pork Sword Pistol with the wild TCU custom Cerakote job and whatever rings these were that the customer provided, 0.0 degrees across the rail was matched with a 0.0 degree reading across the rings.
Set the protractor aside, but leave it on. As in, do not turn it off or let it time out and turn off on its own. You want to save that zero you set.
Step three: add the scope (don’t forget to adjust it forward/backward for correct eye relief), add the scope ring caps, and tighten the screws on the scope ring caps until there’s a little bit of resistance to rotating the scope but you’re still able to rotate it.
Find the flattest, squarest surface on the top of the scope. This is almost always the top of the elevation turret. It may be the turret cap, or it may be the turret itself. If you do have a turret cap (like on this scope) I recommend removing it to see if the turret underneath offers a flat surface. Better to do it on the actual turret than the cap, when possible. Double check that the cap is snug if you’re going to measure off the cap.
Place the digital protractor level on top of the turret or other flat surface in such a manner that it gets a proper reading. What it’s now doing is displaying the angle of the horizontal reticle line in the scope as it relates to the zeroed-out angle of your rifle.
Rotate the scope until your protractor is zeroed out.
Ridiculously easy, right? Well, now’s the hardest part of this easy process . . .
Step four: tighten the scope ring caps. You want to do this in a criss-cross pattern like with lug nuts, tightening each side a little at a time until you’ve reached the correct torque spec with even pressure on both sides and even gaps between ring cap and ring base on both sides, as seen above.
Here’s the hard part . . . sometimes when you tighten down the screws it’ll cause the scope to rotate. You may drive yourself crazy if you’re driven to achieve a 0.00-degree reading on that protractor. Allegedly the human eye can’t even pick up an angle until you’re a couple tenths of a degree off, so just do your best here and don’t sweat a small imperfection unless you’re planning to shoot ultra long range and dial for your targets.
And dialing for targets at range, good readers, is why your scope and your rifle need to be in alignment. If your scope is canted, even slightly, it means that when you adjust for elevation you’re also going to slightly and unintentionally adjust your windage, and vice-versa. When you click that elevation dial you want the adjustment to happen in a perfectly, exclusively vertical plane.
Heck, even if you use lines etched into the reticle to hold off for elevation or windage, if your reticle is canted in relation to the gun then your holds aren’t going to be quite accurate.
When we look through a reticle with a crosshair we naturally want to align it visually with objects that we “know” to be vertical or horizontal, like trees or water. If the reticle and rifle aren’t aligned, the shooter’s tendency will be to cant the rifle so the reticle is aligned correctly. This will pull shots left or right if the firearm was zeroed while level.
Also, it just looks and feels good! When you put that rifle into your shoulder pocket and you know it’s good and level, you want to see a scope reticle that’s also good and level.
A digital protractor is the easiest and most precise way to do this. Go forth and order one up today. Obviously they’re also extremely handy to have for all sorts of other projects, like leveling shelves, art, and other stuff you hang on walls, leveling tables, measuring the angle of a saw blade like on a miter or circular saw (this is what they’re typically marketed for), sticking it to your dash so you know if your jeep is about to tip over, and so much more.
Amazon is as antigun as any progtard corp you can name. While, perhaps, coinvent it is seldom the least expensive and certainly a haven of chicom mfg/sellers.
STOP using Amazon and buying chicom. You’re funding the enemy.
That’s not accurate. Cite for me any anti-gun group or cause that Amazon has funded or any anti-gun activism or outreach or advertising they’ve done or statements they’ve made, other than prohibiting vast categories of weapons stuff from being sold on the platform. Obviously I think any non-serialized firearm accessory *should* be available on Amazon, but they’ve chosen not to allow all sorts of things that are perfectly legal in the firearm category as well as in all sorts of other categories. I don’t like it but I also can’t agree that they’re anti-gun because of it, let alone “as anti gun” as myriad other companies that put money and messaging toward anti-gun endeavors.
Also, Amazon has donated millions to pro-gun charities through their Smile program. Second Amendment Foundation ($400k has gone from Amazon to SAF) and many others.
Chicom, fine. Then buy a digital protractor that was made elsewhere. There are tons of options for that.
Amazon is run by a left wing tyrant. Amazon conspired with other tech giants to deplatform the most popular app in the country at that time (Parlor). They were going crazy with censorship, and didn’t want right wingers to have a voice. Our antitrust laws and enforcement are a joke. They regularly ban right wing books and documentaries, as in factual information about Covid-19. They banned the Clarence Thomas documentary during Black History Month! They have to push the propaganda that black = democrat. That Smile charity program is a thing of the past. Bezos also happens to own the Washington Post, not exactly the most pro-gun rag in the country.
Oscar kilo bravo uniform delta delta yankee Romeo echo tango alpha Romeo delta.
Local gun stores and some of the large nationals have Amazon store fronts and sell their non ffl inventory on it.
Also, that book that gun jesus tried to get published about the Azov battalion that was a neo-nazi memoir, is now on Amazon published by a neo-nazi publisher so maybe you should readdress your view on their censorship.
Buy where it makes sense for you, chief.
[email protected]? What are 12? You think they aren’t pro-censorship because they’re selling some obscure Nazi book? That doesn’t dispute anything I said. Who’s the [email protected] again? Also, I never once said we shouldn’t buy from Amazon. Reread my comment, and try your best to understand it before leaving some pointless, childish comment.
It’s great that businesses have a way to sell non-FFL items. It’s great that consumers have a way of buying cheap stuff. However, people should be aware of what they’re supporting. If you’re supporting Amazon, then you’re supporting a massive pro-censorship, very left wing company. Nothing you said disputes that fact. Buddy
Yes, I had my Amazon Smile account set up to donate money to the FPC (Firearms Policy Coalition), but recently Amazon discontinued their Amazon Smile donation program.
Thanks for the quick tip. If it’s of any consequence, one could use the measuring/leveling app native on iOS phones as well.
Most excellent article. I just put two scopes and a red dot on last weekend. ALWAYS good to practice and brush up on the basics!
Leupold FX-4 on Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter
Leupold VX-Freedom Rimfire 2-7×33 on a Ruger 10/22 Carbine
Ultradot Gen 2 on Taurus Raging Hunter
Because this is the only place anyone will care, and then very little 😂
Fast, yes. Accurate, maybe not.
Many optics have reticles that are not square to the body of the optic or the turret housing. Some major manufacturers have a spec of +/- 3° for reticle to body squareness. Resulting in inadvertant changes to windage when adjusting elevation.
If you KNOW that the turret housing is square to the elevation mechanism, and the reticle, the above method is great. If not, it is just another layer of problems, resulting in wasted ammo and pissed off optics owners.
This works better:
1.Square the wpn to the earth, fix it in that position.
2. Create or buy a perfectly level set of crosshairs, printed on a sheet of card or paper, whatever.
3. Place the crosshairs on an object across the room (or the range, whatever), in line with your fixed rifle.
4. Level that paper crosshair to the earth.
5. Mount the scope with enough slack to rotate it slightly.
6. Rotate the scope until it matches the paper crosshair.
7. Tighten in a crossing pattern, checking the reticle and rifle squareness as you go.
8. Confirm that your turrets track squarely to the reticle you just leveled by rotating them several rotations, checking that they stay level to the paper crosshair as they move.
…and people wonder why it costs more than $20 to mount a scope, *correctly*…
The digital protractor method doesn’t preclude you from checking that the mechanicals of your scope are correct. You may well find with either of these methods that your internal elevation mechanicals don’t track 100% flawlessly on the vertical plane or that dialing 30 MOA actually moves the reticle 30 MOA. I don’t think using the reticle to level the scope is necessarily any more reliable of a method of aligning the actual internal adjustment mechanics than using the top of the turret is. You’re going to have to convince me that the alignment of the lens (your suggested method) is a better indicator of the alignment of the turret mechanics than the alignment of the turret (my suggested, easy method) is.
Squaring the rifle to the reticle doesn’t preclude using a cheap, crappy digital protractor bought using your sponsored link to amazon, so there is no need to be defensive and upset that contradictory information might impact your profits from this post…
Unlike, for example, you trying to claim that Jeff Bezos isn’t an evil leftist bond villain who hates you, your readers, and everything they stand for, and spends billions trying to alter the fabric of our society to disenfranchise and silence those same people. Thats going to turn off some readers/potential buyers.
As to why your method is inferior: it is simple manufacturing methods and tolerance stacking.
Widget assemblers putting scopes together don’t care about whether the reticle, erector, housing, and turret (4 things × 3° tolerance = 12° variance) are all perfectly aligned, unless they happen to be assembling very expensive scopes and are required to do so. But, they are supposed to attempt to align the reticle and erector within spec (2 things × 3° tolerance = 6° variance).
Short version: it is more likely that 4 things are not aligned, especially when they aren’t required to be, than 2 things that ARE required to be aligned will be.
Same reason for aligning to earth. Cheap digital protractors have a stated variance tolerance of about -/+0.02° (but, lets be honest about how close to that spec a $30 chinese instrument really is), adding yet another stacked tolerance and yet another point of failure. A calibrated, certified level is going to be at least 25× more accurate than that, for about 6× the price. So, you’re up to 6 points of failure, vs my 2.
Neither method precludes someone from checking erector alignment with the reticle, yours just makes it more likely that they’ll have to reinstall the optic, or waste ammo realizing its wrong, then pay me to fix it.
Regardless, I get more customers begging to have their scope mounting fixed definitively thanks to your method.
I grant that a large swath of your target audience has crappy scopes and poor shooting skills that probably negate any effect of single-digit angle variances due to your method…but my target audience is the minute fraction that actually realize the problem, and want it fixed, so that doesn’t really impact me.
Oh, and I don’t actually have to convince YOU of anything, its my paying customers that have to be convinced. So far, they are
“1.Square the wpn to the earth, fix it in that position.”
How do you verify the top of the mounted Pic rail is parallel with the bore?
I’m assuming the *point* is to get the bore level, then the optic parallel with that?
Then crosshairs verified horizontal?
Maths. Also, expensive, certified angle indicator instruments, and comparative measurements.
The objective is to get the path of the bullet aligned with the adjustments of the optic, and, secondarily, the visual plane of the reticle.
Eventually you have to either spend hours doing math and comparing measurements, or pick an ostensibly flat surface and use it as the basis for comparison.
The trick is to minimize the tolerance stack between those surfaces, and minimize the number of surfaces you are dealing with. Cheap protractors and multiples layers of optics housing components aren’t doing that.
Don’t tape a reticle to the wall, you’ll mess up for sure. Talk about stacked tolerance issues. Have you trued the feed on your cheap inkjet printer? If not, how are you going to level an ink line?
Use a plumb bob as the vertical reference line for your scope’s cross hairs. Put it on the other side of the room and line up. Simple, cheap and effective. And I understand gravity is pretty consistent.
The protractor is a neat idea, but my scopes don’t have any perfectly flat surfaces, and neither do my rifles. Perhaps they are flat enough. I’ll try. Probably better than the eye-ball method I have been using, which goes like this:
No matter how I chuck the rifle up in my vice, it might be canted. So, “square the weapon to the earth,” is always a problem or concern to me. I just eye-ball it as best I can, but even in my gun vice I know that the rifle may be canted. If so, then everything about the scope mount will be off too. If the rifle is indeed square, then the rest is pretty easy, digital protractor or not. In my homes, I have found a long room/hallway combination, at one end of which I have window blinds hanging. The longer the distance, for the sake of precision, the better the result. Dangling blinds + gravity give me both a visual grid to align the reticle to and grid lines that are assuredly plumb (because gravity is immutable when the blinds are dangling). If the weapon is indeed square to the earth, then visually aligning the reticle to the dangling blinds ensures that my scope will be too, within the limits of precision of my visual alignment. (Window mullions can substitute for the blinds, but if an old house like mine on piers is crooked, then their window mullions are too.)
Next time, I’ll try the protractor—if I can find some suitable flats on my rounded bolt action rifles.
But how does it matter if the scope is perfectly straight if the rifle it’s going on isn’t level?? Shouldn’t there be two peices to line up the scope in relevance to the rifles orientation?
You’re matching the two to each other. They’re square to each other. Whether they’re level with the earth or not while you’re aligning them to each other doesn’t much matter.
Because mutiple points of failure and additional tolerances to stack.
Leveling to earth removes at least two possible points of failure: failure of the protractor to be true to indicated level, and failure of the protractor to be repeatably level to itself.
Here’s my 2 cents…To make things easier for AR platform rifles using iron sights you need two electric gizmos or 2 machinist bubble levels such as the Starrett 130. One for the upper receiver and one for the rail height gas block or handguard intended for an iron sight.
For a scope level secure the leveled receiver in a vice. etc. I use a Plum Bob to visually align the scope vertical crosshair and a long level for checking the horizontal crosshair. Some scope caps, etc. are good for a reference point and some not so much. The scope crosshairs tell the tale.
Scope Leveling the Easy Way. For beginners, learning to align your rifle scope is a little complicated. If you have ever tried to do this, you know that it can be difficult and time-consuming. This book will teach you how to get started, how to do it quickly, and how to make it a habit. The book also includes advice for advanced shooters.
Actual Step One: Choose a gun colored such that it doesn’t look like something the Joker would use in a bad Batman movie.
Seriously, what specific shade/color is that purple’ish gun? Is there a name for that?
I’m *hoping* the gun is for Jeremy’s daughter…
Its missing a rainbow sticker.
Yeah, periwinkle, I think that’s the name for it. Also, this could turn into the viral fiasco of what color is the dress… Metallic periwinkle, yikes.
Also, I hope its in 308, and I need to know what color the holster is.
TX BBQ gun?
Digital protractor is a good way to go. I’d never get it from Amazon though. Never buy from Amazon. Them kicking Parlor off their platform kicked me of too.
I just get my gunm secure and aim it at a telephone pole a long ways away, far enough away the vertical crosshair just about covers it up. Then I wrap the duct tape one way then the other way to stress the pulling centered. If you just keep wrapping the same way then the duct tape will pull it the way your wrapping. Once you get it all centered glob some Bondo, or JB Weld on it.
The handyman’s secret weapon…
I only know you’re joking, because I’ve never seen a truly vertical telephone in my life.
telephone POLE, DAMMIT
The trick for several methods of leveling is finding a way for the protractor/bubble/etc to adhere to an aluminum pic rail/rings/mount. Everything is aluminum these days. Getting it to “thunk” in and stay there during the adjustment so far has been the impossible dream and why I keep going back to projecting the reticle.
I’m probably a luddite but I use a bubble level and a string with a weight on it typically.
Many years ago, I bought a used Remington 700 BDL in 22-250, with a Redfield 3-9x on it that had a newfangled bullet drop compensation feature built in. I took the scope off for some reason lost in the mists of time, and when I remounted it, I simply cranked it down to low power, and rotated it in the rings until the reticle bisected the front sight, which I could see just peeking up into the field of view. Nothing but shooting and cleaning since then. That rifle has accounted for a pickup load of groundhogs over the years, out to ~675 yards but mostly at 200-400. I put a borescope in it a couple years ago, and saw that the throat looks like 10 miles of rough road. Just about gave me a coronary, but it still cracks 3/4″ at 100 yards, so I’m not going to mess with it.
That being said, I’ve been a bit more precise in setting up other optics.
Hmm, google knows all. Just saw this in an email that came from Brownell’s this morning: