It can be frustrating trying to understand how a specific type of scope works without hearing other shooters’ biases and personal opinions. Finding the truth about a scope’s effectiveness and functionality can be hard; especially in modern times where the market is so big and there’s tons of muddled misinformation floating around.
Today, we’re going to talk about ballistic turrets and bullet drop compensation reticles. Both are a common and often standardized feature that already comes equipped on many scopes. We’re going to discuss the differences in using a turret vs. a reticle, and dive into what sets each style apart.
Most modern rifles will either come equipped with one of these devices, or at least give you the option to purchase one yourself. The great thing about these is that they are greatly customizable. You can purchase or upgrade your current mechanism to one that as simple or as advanced as you would like. A lot of companies even offer the chance to create your own custom turret. There’s such a range of products that you will have no issue finding one that will suit your exact needs and wants. The only thing you need to know is the key features of both types.
What is a Turret?
Before we can compare these two, let’s talk about what they are. A ballistic turret is a zeroing mechanism that usually comes on most rifles as a standard device. Ballistic turrets are engineered for tactical shooters; those who need to get their shots out rapidly and accurate swear by ballistic turrets. Not only are you able to adjust the turret any time you like, that feature will also allow you to hit multiple targets that may be at different distances. This makes short or long range shooting that much easier. The open turret grants a tactical advantage over other turret types.
A ballistic turret usually features a knob that you can turn or click to adjust your scope. Ballistic turrets, compared to other types of turrets, are usually simpler and offer general adjustment increments of 100 yards. Of course, this number is widely customizable just like almost every other feature.
Older weapons often had a cover that went over the turret once you zeroed the rifle and remained untouched. Now, most companies favor an open turret design for many of their rifles. This will give you the opportunity to change your sighting whenever and wherever you need to.
The use and range of the turret dialing between models can be significant. The differences are determined by what the rifle is intended to be used for and how far it’s supposed to be shooting. You can already image the different kinds of turrets that are out there just from knowing how large the market is for rifles. Let’s look at some real world examples.
A pretty well-known rifle scope is the Swarovski Z5 model. This particular model offers turret dialing of up to 53 ticks, or 13.25 MOA for the elevation adjustment. This allots around a 700 yard range of adjustments. Now, let’s look at another scope from just the same brand: the Swarovski X5i 305-18. This scope allows for a whopping 116 increments of adjustment. That’s a 29 MOA elevation turret adjustment. And both of those are offered by the same manufacturer. That’s just how much these scopes can vary.
There’s a few things that set a ballistic turret apart from the others. Let’s take a closer look at some of those features.
For one, the exposed model of a ballistic turret allows you to create a custom turret, which can give you a huge leap up when it comes to your shooting game. This way, you can design it to be geared towards whatever you might need it for, like hunting or target shooting. You can specify the exact elevation adjustment data that you would like to use and can even have a cap made to fit over your turret. This can allow you to narrow down your turret dialing capabilities to the range that you’ll need, making life a whole lot simpler.
Another great feature is the ease of adjustment. Since the turret is open and within reach, you are able to zero your rifle and adjust the elevation and windage at any time. Doing this will allow you to land shots at different distances easily and quickly, all with a few simple clicks.
You won’t have to guess or holdover your weapon like you might with any other method of turret. Holdover just refers to aiming above your target because of the rate of the bullet drop. We aren’t robots, so the probability of making a shot like that is pretty slim; humans lack the ability to calculate such a precise number like bullet drop just from sight alone. That’s where a ballistic turret comes in. All the adjustments with none of the guessing. Of course, you should be familiar with your weapon; bullet drop also depends on specific bullet weight. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of specialized turrets out there that are made for specific calibers too.
Let’s take some quick notes on the advantages of a ballistic turret:
- It’s easily adjustable for different distance and target ranges.
- They are very simple to use because of the turret dialing mechanism.
- They are widely customizable and can be made to fit your exact needs.
- You won’t have to guess or holdover your aiming point because of the ease of adjustment.
- There are turrets that are caliber specific, meaning that they bullet drop compensation will be as accurate as possible.
Now, all things have some cons that come along with it. For the ballistic turret, there’s a few you should keep in mind:
- Changing the zero for different distance targets is time consuming.
- They don’t offer fine adjustments; they typically operate by 100 yard increments.
What is a Reticle?
Alongside a ballistic turret is the drop compensating reticle. This is another common method of zeroing your weapon. This type of reticle has many different names. Ballistic Drop Compensating scope, Bullet Drop Compensation scope (both of which just abbreviate to BDC scope), a ballistic reticle, and even drop compensating reticle. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to refer to this type as a BDC reticle.
These types of reticles are pretty common and have been on the market for a while now. Simply put, a BDC reticle is a sighting mechanism that contains hashes or dots on the scope that are set specifically at different measurements. These measurements can be anything from 1/2 MOA spacing to 2 MOA spacing per increment. Using these over a ballistic turret presents a more complex system of sighting, but is a still a great option.
These lines or hashes are often placed along the crosshairs of the scope which gives opportunity for sighting the weapon. With the aiming point in the middle, the hashes that extend down the lengths of the crosshairs will provide the shooter with measurements for the elevation adjustment and the wind compensation adjustment.
Along with the MOA measurements, each mark of an increment corresponds to a different distance. Most scopes offer anywhere from 100 yards to 500 yards worth of markings. The more advanced scopes can offer up to 800 yards of distance measurements.
How this works is pretty simple. Let’s say your rifle is sighted for 100 yards. If your aiming point is centered on the target that you want to hit, then the first mark below the center will be your bullet impact if you were shooting at 200 yards. Then the next one down is 300 yards, 400, 500, you get the picture. These types of scopes give you a great visual when you’re aiming of what kind of bullet drop you can expect from your rifle.
Unless your rifle and scope are specifically made for long range shooting, then the BDC scopes are best in the 100-500 yard range. Anything past that is when things start to become less accurate.
There’s a couple other components that we have to discuss regarding reticles. One thing that can affect the way your reticle works is a focal plane. On a rifle scope, there’s two different focal planes: first focal plane and second focal plane. Basically, the focal planes are the two locations inside your scope where a reticle can be installed.
The first focal plane is the furthest from your eye when you look through the scope. So, as you adjust the magnification for your first focal plane scope, the reticle will shrink or grow depending on how you adjust it. This, of course, will allow your sighting and your MOA measurements that are provided by the reticle for bullet drop remain accurate as your scope is adjusted. But, that feature also comes with the added price.
The second focal plane is the closest to your eye when you are shooting. This way, if the reticle is placed on the second focal plane, it will not grow or shrink when you adjust the magnification for a second focal plane scope. This means that your MOA measurements will not adjust to match the magnification of the scope and therefore will no longer be as accurate.
Check this article for comparing FFP and SFP
Now, let’s look at what makes a BDC reticle stand out from the others.
First, because of the more complex and detailed options that are available, this method provides better chances of accuracy and proper target acquisition than ballistic turrets. You can choose a reticle that has as much detail or complexity as you would like; there’s plenty of options to suit every shooter.
The hashes that give MOA measurements are a great way to compensate for bullet drop as well (hence the name). These scopes are much easier to calculate the level of bullet drop than a turret because they are presented as a visual measurement that is easily adjustable.
Unlike a turret, there’s no knobs or clicks to adjust. You simply utilize the hashes that will tell you where the bullet will land from a certain distance. That way, you can switch between targets very quickly and efficiently without the need to stop and adjust a physical feature.
These reticles are also highly customizable. There’s even a market for reticles that are caliber specific, meaning that they are made specially for your weapon. That way, the bullet drop compensation will be as accurate as possible. The custom reticle will calculate the bullet drop rate based off of the bullet weight for your gun.
Let’s mark down some of the main advantages to a BDC scope:
- They have a more complex adjustment system available, meaning that there’s more room for accuracy and precision when aiming.
- They are widely customizable and offer both simple and advanced system to suit everyone’s needs.
- There are reticles that are made for specific calibers, so the bullet drop compensation will be extremely accurate for your specific weapon.
- There’s no physical adjustments needed. The reticle is presented visually and is utilized by adjusting your aim based on the MOA markings that are along the crosshairs.
- It’s much quicker to adapt to different distance and targets.
Just like the turret, the BDC scopes aren’t perfect:
- If you haven’t used one before they can be distracting.
- The 2 focal planes design of scopes means that a reticle will only remain completely accurate if it is placed on the first focal plane.
- Reticles that remain accurate (first focal plane) are more expensive than some other common reticles that aren’t as accurate.
- Reticles are more complex than turrets and will require more skill and knowledge to use.
- If the target is not an exact distance that’s marked on your reticle, you will have to holdover in order to compensate.
Side by Side Comparison
We have an understanding of what each system does and how it functions. Now it’s time to do some actual comparing.
1. Ballistic Turret Advantages
- Is very simple to use.
- Is widely customizable.
- You won’t have to holdover because of the ease of adjustment.
- They can incorporate specific calibers to calculate bullet drop compensation off bullet weight.
2. Ballistic Turret Drawbacks
- Adjusting the turret dialing can be time consuming.
- Is typically not very fine adjustments.
- Slower to acquire targets at different distances.
3. BDC Reticle Advantages
- Is more precise and has detailed measurements.
- Is widely customizable.
- They can incorporate specific calibers to calculate bullet drop compensation off bullet weight.
- Is visual based and doesn’t need a physical adjustment.
- Quicker to focus on different distance targets.
4. BDC Reticle Drawbacks
- Can be distracting to a new user.
- Only remains accurate on the first focal plane.
- Accurate reticles are more expensive.
- Requires more knowledge and skill to use.
- Holdover might be required if the target is not exactly in line with a mark.
There’s a lot to unpack here. In reality, these options are both great and will depend on a lot of variables. Your shooting style and experience level, budget, weapon, and personal preference should all be considered before you choose an option to go with. And remember, once you pick one, it’s okay to switch! You’re not stuck with one just because you’ve used it before. The scope market is huge and a great place to try new things.
Just remember this list when you’re making your decision. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Mike Hardesty is a published freelance gun writer. With dozens of articles and reviews published in Pew Pew Tactical, Snipercountry.com, and TTAG (The Truth About Guns), Mike is considered a firearms expert. His special area of expertise is handguns.
Mike is a long-time shooter. He has been punching paper targets, taking deer and other game and shooting at competitions since about 1975. Other related pursuits include reloading and bullet casting. He currently reloads for over 10 calibers, both handgun and rifle. His reloads, particularly for 9mm, were in great demand during the height of the ammo shortage among family and friends. He donated hundreds of rounds to informal shooting sessions. He was quoted as saying “I do not sell my reloads but I sure will help my guys shoot ’em for free!”. He has a few cherished firearms that he has inherited or otherwise procured — those are his favorites.
He earned B.S. and M.S. degrees from Indiana State University in 1974-1975.
He’s a firearm experts and is the founder of mhardesty.com.