When it comes to choosing a rifle scope, there’s a ton of features that you need to think about. Things like magnification, bullet drop, eye relief, the objective lens, and even the type of target shooting that you’re doing. Are you going to be hunting or long range shooting? All of these are very important things to consider, but there’s one main feature that’s going to affect all of these other things as well: the rifle scope reticle.
A riflescope reticle is a huge part of using a telescopic sight. There’s tons of different types of reticles, all made for different purposes like bullet drop compensation or low light condition. The aiming point is essentially what you are going to use to estimate where your shot is going to land on your target. Using a rifle scope reticle provides a great advantage over using iron sights. Reticles are much more accurate and easy to use, and can also come equipped with features like night vision, cross hairs, and even an illuminated reticle or non illuminated reticle.
While all these features are great, choosing the right ones is equally as important. You can have the most expensive scope and reticle on the market, but still have a hard time shooting if the features aren’t suited to what you need for the type of shooting that you’re doing. Today, we are going to discuss the different types of reticles that are available, what they are intended to be used for, and the benefits and drawbacks of each type. This way, you’ll be able to conduct your perfect scope search without the question of whether you’re making the right decision or not.
Important Features to Consider
Let’s break down some of the most important features that come with a rifle scope reticle. Before we dive into the dot reticle or other types, let’s talk about what you should be looking for in a reticle depending on your needs.
Between the different types of reticles, the aiming point is bound to look different. The aiming point is going to be at the very center of your reticle, and will be the spot that you use to estimate and aim your rifle. The aiming point can come in many different shapes. The most common ones are dots, cross hairs, triangles, or even an open circle. Some manufacturers will have their own custom, branded reticles that represent their individual company. This list of possible shapes is no where near extensive, as there’s probably hundreds of reticle shapes out there today.
What you need to think about here is how you shoot. Since the aiming point is going to be the center of your reticle and what you will rely on to make your shot, you need to make sure you get the right style that you need. When you’re looking into different cross hairs and shapes, there’s some things you should ask yourself first:
- Will it overtake your target?
- Will it block precise kill locations of the target when you use magnification?
- Do you want the reticle to remain the same size when you use magnification?
- Do you want the reticle to change size when you use magnification?
- Can you still see it on the lower magnification settings?
We’ll talk more in detail about magnification, and FFP reticle and SFP reticle later on. Just keep these key points in mind as we move forward in deciding which reticle you need.
A great way to determine what a scope is like is to simply read the manufacturer’s product description. The product description can give you information on the scope itself, reticle style, reticle size, and other important features regarding magnification and how the reticle operates.
Often times, the reticle will be presented as either a type of cross hairs, post reticle, or a bullet drop compensation reticle, which will feature a different type of measurements. The reticle might also have other marks or lines that indicate different measurements for the scope as well as possible hold over points or a range estimation feature.
These measurements are most often going to be in yards and will depend on a specific rifle type or caliber in order for the estimates to be accurate. That’s why it’s important to read the description and make sure that the scope you are looking at is compatible and will be accurate for your specific rifle.
Especially if the scope you choose ends up being a BDC reticle, you’ll want to make sure that you understand how to use it. More than likely, a lot of the BDC scopes will require complex calculations in order to estimate the bullet drop for your rifle. So, when choosing a ballistic reticle, make sure you are ready to do some hard math on the range, or just see if the manufacturer provided a ballistics table (which would be much easier). This way, you can estimate your bullet drop but also eliminate the math work you will have to do on the spot.
Thin vs. Thick Cross Hairs
This feature can be a game changer for a shooter. Depending on your preferences and the style of shooting you’ll be doing, the thickness of your reticle lines can make a big difference on how you see your target image.
You’ll want to go for a fine crosshair if your main priority is accuracy. A fine crosshair will cover minimal surface of your target image, allowing you to precisely choose your shot and where you want to land it. A fine crosshair is probably not going to be very easy to see against a complicated background, which is something you need to consider in case you encounter that situation.
However, most fine crosshairs come with an illuminated reticle feature, which will give you great visibility of your reticle whether that’s in the day time against a tough background, or at night when it’s dark and the reticle just blends in with the shadows.
If you’re an avid hunter, than you might want to consider a thick crosshair as well. A thick crosshair is better for hunting because it provides quick and easy visibility against most targets. As soon as you look through your scope, you’ll be instantly drawn to the aiming point of the cross hairs, giving you fast target acquisition.
A thick reticle is also very easy to see against a complicated background, with minimal need for a illuminated reticle. While blocking parts of the target might be a concern with the thick posts of the reticle, most reticles typically thin out in the center, still allowing you to make decently accurate shots. You’ll also be better off when trying to locate your thick reticle in a low light condition since the posts are thicker, which can make the scope cheaper since you might not need the illuminated reticle feature.
This is something that affects all scopes. Subtension is defined as the amount of surface area that your reticle is going to take up on the target image. Basically, the higher the subtension level, the more of your target that is going to be obscured by the reticle. The level of subtension is affected by the type and size of reticle as well as where the glass reticle is placed relative to the objective lens inside the scope tube.
A fine cross hair will have less subtension because it is smaller in size. While this is good for accuracy, it can be hard to see in some situations.
A thick cross hair will be greater in subtension but will be easier to see against all backgrounds. It will take up more space on your target which can lead to more room for inaccuracy.
When it comes to the topic of subtension, there’s something called focal planes. A focal plane is basically where your target lies in relation to the reticle. So, if your target is on the same focal plane as the reticle, than they will change the same way when you use magnification.
First Focal Plane
Reticles that are on the first focal plane are also known as an FFP reticle. What this means is that the glass reticle is located in front of the magnification lens. So, when you go to use your magnification, the reticle is going to change with the target. If you zoom in and the target gets bigger, so will the reticle. If you zoom out and the target gets smaller, same thing, the reticle gets smaller too.
For an FFP reticle, the level of subtension will remain constant. However, it does provide some advantages. When it comes to a BDC reticle, the FFP will allow the reticle measurements for bullet drop compensation to remain accurate with the magnification.
With that though, you take the greater chance of your reticle obscuring the target. Because the reticle will also get bigger, it will have a pretty good chance of overtaking the target you’re trying to see.
Second Focal Plane
The second focal plane reticle will be located behind the magnification lens. This means that the reticle will not change size regardless of how much you use the magnification. This means that the crosshairs won’t adjust to the target magnification, which means that the level of subtension is always going to be changing.
This can provide some benefits. For the first, you won’t have the chance of the reticle obscuring the target when you zoom in because it doesn’t change size. It can also give you increased accuracy and precision when you are aiming at long distance targets.
However, this also means that the BDC reticle feature will only be able to be used at one magnification level. Otherwise, the bullet compensation will become inaccurate if you change the magnification. It can also be difficult to see at longer ranges and higher magnification.
Types of Reticles
Now that we’ve covered what to look for in a basic scope, let’s go over the types of reticles that you have to choose from. Each offers their own benefits and drawbacks, as well as features.
Non Illuminated Reticle
A non illuminated reticle is one that is not equipped to glow or light up in any way. While this can be great for your wallet, it might not be great if you need a versatile scope. You won’t be able to see it in low light conditions and it can be hard to detect the reticle against complicated backgrounds. But, if price is a main concern, the non illuminated reticle is a great choice for range shooting or target shooting.
These reticles, unlike the latter, will feature the ability to glow or light up the reticle. This can increase the price by quite a bit, depending on the brand and the quality, but it’s much worth it if you need it. With an illuminated reticle, you’ll be able to switch it on for dark shooting as well as against a background that blends with your reticle. This way, you can always count on being able to see your reticle no matter what the situation is.
This is probably the style that you are going to be the most familiar with. A cross hair reticle features two lines that intersect at the middle to form the aiming point. They can range from the basic two lines, to crosshairs with ranging or hold over markings, or even more complex measurements than that. They are very easy to use and understand, and will give you a great, simple way to guarantee an accurate shot. Many other reticle styles are actually based off of the basic cross hair design.
The duplex is pretty much just an upgraded version of the cross hairs. It features thicker lines that start to come to the middle aiming point, which then thin into the middle where they meet. This allows you to make finer adjustments and more precise shots as opposed to just the pure thick cross hairs. Your eye will be immediately drawn to the smaller center, giving you rapid target acquisition as well as an ease of aiming. It also improves the ability to aim at moving targets and is versatile for most types of shooting.
Red Dot Reticle
The red dot reticle is exactly what it sounds like: just a red dot that serves as the aiming point. A red dot is typically just a laser contraption that uses reflections to create the illusion that the dot is on the target. Red dots come in many different sizes, smaller being more precise, and bigger being easier and quicker to aim and use. They are very versatile and are great for all types of shooting. Typically, the dots are either green or red. They can also be combined with other reticle types like cross hairs or a duplex reticle to improve the chance of you landing an accurate shot.
Mil Dot Reticle
The mil dot reticle is essentially just a version of the duplex reticle, but instead made specifically for long distance shooting. Rather than the basic duplex or cross hairs, the inner lines feature dots that estimate elevation and windage holdover. These dots are great for competition shooters and long range, but will take quite a bit of practice to learn how to use it. It’s a bit complicated and requires knowledge on how the mil measuring system works prior to use.
The BDC reticle is a bullet drop compensation reticle. This type of reticle features a type of crosshairs that has markings along the bottom half of the lines, which allows you to estimate the bullet drop of a particular weapon or caliber. BDC reticles can be an amazing tool, but unless you have a ballistics chart, can require some complex calculations in order to properly take advantage of it.
You’ll have to know your caliber, exactly how far your target is, and where you want to land your shot in order to make this reticle work for you. But once you master the operation of the tool, it can be insanely accurate.
The German reticle features two lines on either side that don’t quite meet up, and then a thicker post that rises from the bottom of the scope to meet in the middle. It’s a type of crosshairs. The bottom post features a sharp point that allows the shooter to use that as a precise aiming point with speed and ease. There’s no top line, but this optic can still be accurate and efficient if you know how to use it correctly.
Christmas Tree Reticle
The Christmas Tree reticle is a serious reticle that’s typically used only in tactical applications or military situations. This style of cross hairs features many horizontal lines that extend below the center to allow the shooter to estimate distance, bullet drop, among other things. The lines also become wider as they extend towards the bottom, allowing you to compensate for the pull of the wind that might be present at your time of shooting.
Mike has been shooting, reloading, and bullet casting for over 40 years. He lives in rural Indiana where he has a backyard target range. Married for almost 40 years, Mike and his wife teach adult education in their home county and have four sons with their families, totaling 10 grandkids.