How to level a scope reticle

First off, I better explain that a recticle is the formal name for the cross-hairs or series of fine lines that are inside a scope that you use to aim with. There are a ton of different ones out there and one thing you want to do is to get them level with the rifle.

Let’s start with why this matters

The reason for this doesn’t affect the old traditional cross-hair designs but it does the ones that have additional marks to help you better determine the range and the necessary hold based on Mil-Radians (Mils) or Minutes of Angle (MOA).

These are examples of reticles found in a very interesting post about the topic on Wikipedia.

If you search, there are tons and tons of posts about different types of reticles and how to use them. The important point I want to make is that for any of these more modern reticles with additional lines to help you accurately, the horizontal lines must be parallel with the rifle.

How do you level a reticle?

The first way is the old fashioned “eyeball” method. Hold the rifle and make sure the top of the receiver is as level as possible (meaning the rifle is not tilted left or right), look through the scope and adjust it in the rings until it is true to the top of the receiver and then start tightening down the rings while confirming nothing shifts. It’s not the most precise method but it does work, I’ve done a ton of rifles that way, but there is another approach using levels.

In it’s most form, you put a small level on the top rail or flat spot of your recever, tilt it until it is level and then put the level on the top turret and adjust the scope until it matches. Having something to hold the rifle in place while you work really helps as does having a second level so you can both confirm the receiver and scope are level as you work. You can often find single vial levels at hardware stores or through industrial supply houses. The one negative to this approach is that the levels can slide off if you don’t have things secure. I like to use a Tipton Pro Rifle Vise to hold the rifle in place while working.

Wheeler Engineering does offer a basic level set that works. I don’t use it though because it’s rear receiver piece has a magnet to secure it and that will not work in an AR or other weapon that is made from aluminum and not steel. For this reason, it wasn’t something I could use.

These days, when I have time and I want to try and get the scope as accurately positioned as I can on the first try, I use a Wheeler Engineering Profession Reticle Leveling System. It’s easy and fast.

First, you put the level on your receiver/rail and level the receiver. Then you put the clamp on the barrel and level it – I compare both the receiver and the barrel bubble levels before I move the receiver level to the top scope turret. Once the level is on the top turret, I adjust the scope until the bubbles match and it’s done. I’ve used this for a number of years now and am very happy with it.

The professional leveling system has two parts – the barrel clamp and the separate level you use on the receiver and then the scope turret. The two parts are made from aluminum and come in a nice protective case. If it weren’t for the case, mine would look much more beat up. Protecting the parts makes sense for another reason – you don’t want things to get bent, gouged, dented or whatever and then throw off the readings or mar the finish of your weapon.
The first thing you do is to use the small level (shown behind the backuop sight) to true the receiver. Then you adjust the barrel clamp until it is level also. Just visible under the handguard is the front of my Tipton vise.
After the barrel clamp has been levelled, you move the small level to the flat top turret and then rotate the scope however you need to get it flat also. Compare this level to the barrel clamp level to make sure they agree. The more care you take to get the bubbles centered and matching, the better.

I do use a Vortex torquing screw driver to tighten the scope ring screws and am careful to confirm the scopes levelling does not shift in the process. Vortex scopes say not to torque them past 18 inch/pounds (please note that is inch pounds and not foot pounds just to be very clear – you don’t want to damage your scope but at the same time, you do want it secure).

Again, with any of these methods, it really helps to secure the rifle in a vise where you can adjust and then secure the rifle so the top is horizontally true.

Yeah, this is my real work bench. It was worse than normal as I still had all of the packing from the scope,rings and upper on the bench. The Tipton gun vise has served me very well over the years. By the way, notice the level on the turret – you reall want that perpendicular to the rifle. In this photo it is slightly crooked and no longer perpendicular and risk the scope not bein accurately levelled to the rifle.

Conclusion

The Wheeler Engineering Professional Leveling System has served me well and I have used it on a number of projects over the years. I have no hesitations in recommending it to you as well.

Sabatti Urban Sniper with a Vortex PST scope.
Ruger RPR with Vortex PST optic sporting its sun shade.
IWI .308 Galil with a Vortex PST Gen 2 Scope.

I hope this post helps you out.


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