There is very little more satisfying than a pistol that hits what it’s aimed at. Most won’t do this out of the box and the purpose of this article is to explain how to zero the sights of an air or airsoft pistol. There are two things to consider here: the point of aim is the place on the target where you aim the sights. The point of impact is the place on the target where BBs or pellets actually strike. The sights are zeroed when the two coincide.
Umarex Tokyo Soldier – fixed front and rear sights, no adjustment possible
Before you even start thinking about adjusting the sights on your pistol, the first thing you need to do is shoot. Lots. Only when you have shot at least 100 rounds with a new pistol can you start to consider what needs to be done.
Remember that it’s not possible to zero-in the sights of a pistol so that it will hit what it’s aiming at for every person. Everyone holds a pistol slightly differently and people have different stances and varying eyesight. A pistol which is perfectly zeroed for one person, may be entirely useless for another. If my wife shoots a pistol which I have zeroed for myself, she hits about six inches from the point of aim. We have many consequent discussions about who has the worst eyesight. Which I generally lose. Because I’m a man.
Umarex CP 88 – rear sight adjustable for windage only.
Right, so, you have had lots of fun shooting your new pistol, and you are aware that the point of impact is substantially different from the point of aim. What can you do? The simplest approach is to employ good old fashioned Kentucky windage – in other words, simply allow for the difference. If your pistol hits high and left when you aim at the centre of the target, aim low and right and your shots should end up in the centre. If the sights on your pistol aren’t adjustable, I’m afraid this is the only option to adjust for a windage error.
However, many pistols allow a more precise approach through adjustment of the sights. Many pistols allow windage (side-to-side) adjustment of the rear sight. You simply need to move the rear sight in the direction in which you want the point of impact to move. So, if the point of impact is off to the left, move the rear sight to the right, and vice versa. Sadly, very few pistols allow elevation (up and down) adjustment of the rear sight, but if you’re lucky enough to have one of these, adjustment is the same as for windage – move the sight in the direction that you want the point of impact to move. So, if the point of impact is high, move the rear sight down and vice versa. Very little movement in the rear sight is needed to achieve a large change in the point of impact so any adjustments should be done incrementally, with lots of testing after each.
WE Browning Hi-Power, fully adjustable rear sight.
On some pistols, the front sight can be adjusted for windage, often by drifting the sight in the slide. This is simple, but adjustment is the opposite to the rear sight – you want to move the sight in the opposite direction to that in which you want the point of impact to move. So, if the point of impact is to the left, the front sight should be moved to the left and vice versa.
But what can you do if you are hitting high or low but your pistol doesn’t allow elevation adjustment of the rear sight? On some Airsoft pistols, you may be able to adjust the hop-up to alter the trajectory of shots. Another option is to modify the rear sight – if the pistol is hitting high, file material off the underside of the sight. If it’s hitting low, fit packers under the rear sight (there is an article on doing this to an Umarex CP 88 here).
Umarex TRR8 – Fully adjustable rear sight with fibre-optic inserts.
If you don’t want to modify the sight, consider changing your ammo. As a general rule, the heavier the projectile, the lower it will hit. If you’re using pellets, experiment with heavier or lighter pellets to vary the elevation of the point of impact. If you are using plastic 6 or 8mm BBs, use different weights to adjust elevation. If you are using steel BBs, the options are more limited. Although there are slight weight differences between steel BBs from different manufacturers, these are very small indeed. It may be worth trying lead BBs, but be cautious because these don’t feed accurately in all BB guns.
Once you have the adjustment roughly right you can fine tune. I generally shoot at a range of 6yds, and I like to have the sights on my pistols set up so the point of impact is around ¼” to ½” above the point of aim at that range. If I then aim at the base of the centre circle of a target with this set up, I should be able to plant most shots within the centre circle. If I and the pistol are capable of that, obviously.
Umarex TRR8, six shots, 6yds. Aim point is the base of the black circle which is 1″ diameter. Allowing for my wobbly hands and failing eyesight, this is about as good as it gets with open sights on a replica air pistol.
If all else fails, consider fitting a red-dot or laser sight if possible. These can be adjusted for both elevation and windage independently of the fixed sights on a pistol, though I confess that both feel a bit like cheating to me.
Umarex Beretta PX-4 fitted with an aftermarket laser sight. The Umarex PX-4 has non-adjustable sights, and is notorious for shooting high and left. In this case, fitting an accessory sight was the only way to make the pistol hit where it was aimed. Still feels like cheating though.