What is Elevation in Long Range Shooting and Rifle Optics?

What is Elevation in Long Range Shooting and Rifle Optics?

Elevation refers to the vertical adjustment of a firearm's point of aim to compensate for bullet drop, which is the decrease in altitude of a bullet as it travels through the air due to gravity. In the context of long-range shooting and rifle optics, understanding and accounting for elevation is essential for accurate shot placement, as bullet drop becomes more pronounced at extended distances.

Understanding Elevation

Elevation plays a critical role in shooting performance and ballistics:

  • Bullet Drop: As a bullet travels through the air, gravity pulls it downward, causing it to lose altitude over time. This effect is known as bullet drop, and it becomes more significant at longer distances.
  • Trajectory: A bullet's trajectory is the path it follows through the air from the muzzle to the target. Elevation adjustments aim to align the bullet's trajectory with the line of sight to the target, compensating for bullet drop and ensuring accurate shot placement.

Adjusting for Elevation

Shooters can use various methods to compensate for bullet drop and achieve accurate shot placement:

  • Elevation Turrets: Most rifle scopes feature elevation turrets, which allow shooters to adjust the scope's reticle vertically to account for bullet drop. By dialing in the appropriate elevation adjustment, shooters can maintain their point of aim while compensating for bullet drop.
  • Bullet Drop Compensation (BDC) Reticles: Some rifle scopes, such as the Vortex Optics Diamondback Tactical FFP or the Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9x40, feature BDC reticles with holdover marks for different distances. These marks allow shooters to compensate for bullet drop without adjusting the elevation turret.
  • Ballistic Calculators: Ballistic calculators, available as smartphone apps or standalone devices, can estimate bullet drop for specific firearm and ammunition combinations. These calculators provide elevation and windage adjustments to compensate for bullet drop, along with other factors such as wind drift and spin drift.

Factors Affecting Bullet Drop

Several factors can influence the amount of bullet drop experienced during shooting:

  • Muzzle Velocity: Faster muzzle velocities generally result in flatter trajectories and less bullet drop at a given distance.
  • Ballistic Coefficient: Bullets with higher ballistic coefficients experience less drag in flight, resulting in flatter trajectories and reduced bullet drop.
  • Environmental Conditions: Changes in air density, temperature, and humidity can alter the behavior of a bullet in flight, potentially impacting bullet drop.


  • Cleckner, R. (2016). Long Range Shooting Handbook: A Beginner's Guide to Precision Rifle Shooting. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
  • Litz, B. (2011). Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting. Applied Ballistics LLC.
  • Barsness, J. (2006). The Big Book of Ballistics. Skyhorse Publishing.
  • Sweeney, P. (2010). Gunsmithing - Rifles. Gun Digest Books.
  • Van Zwoll, W. (2011). Mastering the Art of Long Range Shooting. Gun Digest Books.
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