It never fails: The afternoon before rifle season opens, someone grabs a paper plate from the camp’s kitchen, rides his ATV out to the nearest 100-yard opening and takes a few shots with a rifle he hasn’t looked at since last season.

If he hits the plate, he figures he’s ready to go.

But then, he can’t figure out why he misses or wounds a deer the very next morning.

Hitting a plate just ain’t good enough. To ensure a clean, ethical kill, it’s imperative to know EXACTLY where a bullet will strike every time you pull the trigger.

So what’s the proper way to sight in a rifle?

It’s important to first note that shooting across your ATV or the hood of your truck just isn’t the best way to work. You need a good, solid platform — and for all that’s holy, use a shooting vice or sandbags.

You’ll never know what’s going on if you just lay the gun across the seat of your ATV.

Assuming you are set with a vice or sandbags, the following are the steps to quickly sight in a rifle that isn’t hitting anywhere close.

Bore sight it

There are commercial bore sighters that work well, so get one if you have a semi-auto. Just follow the instructions to align your crosshairs with the center of the barrel.

If you use a bolt-action rifle, however, you can bore sight your rifle easily without purchasing any equipment. Here are the steps:

1. Set up a target about 25 yards downrange.

2. Pull the bolt out of the rifle’s receiver.

3. Place the rifle securely in a vice or on sandbags.

4. Look through the rifle barrel and line up the center of the bore as close to the center of the target as possible.

5. Without moving the rifle (that’s why a vice is so useful), look through the scope and carefully dial in the crosshairs to the target’s center — without moving the rifle.

6. Replace the bolt.

7. You’re ready for the first shot.

Fine-tuned in two shots

OK, so if you do this correctly, you can literally nail everything down by firing two rounds through the rifle.

Start by either locking the rifle into your shooting vice or firmly nestling it into your sandbags before putting a round in the chamber.

You can leave the target at 25 yards.

Place the crosshairs on the center of the target, chamber a round and gently squeeze (don’t jerk) the trigger.

At this point, you need to find the impact point — which should be very close to the center — using the scope. That’s why you want the target to be so close.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the impact point was an inch low and to the right. Now you know how you need to adjust the crosshairs.

Here’s the key to locking in the impact point with one more shot: Carefully move the rifle in the vice or on the sandbags so the crosshair is on the center of the target again.

Don’t argue: Just do it.

For the next step, it’s absolutely vital you don’t jiggle the rifle around. Again, a vice is best, but I’ve done this a hundred times using a pair of sandbags.

Just click the crosshairs down and to the right, watching as they move to the impact point of your first shot.

When the crosshairs are lined up with that impact point, adjust so you’re now aiming at the center of the target.

A second shot should be dead on.

At that point, you can move the target to 100 yards and take another shot just to be sure — again, the impact point should be dead on or very, very close.

With my 7mm Mag firing the custom loads I use, a 1-inch-high impact point at 100 yards is my preference. So I just click the crosshairs up to that position, and I’m ready to go.