Rifle Scope Reticle Types

Riflescope reticles are an indispensable part of your hunting rifle even if you have the lowest priced rifle scope. Those dots or crosses help you lock on to your target and make precise shots. Yet, unless you’re a military expert, you probably will not realize the differences between many different rifle scope reticle types.

These reticles are differentiated based on things like magnification power and lens system. If you want to improve the accuracy of your shots, you will need to learn about the differences and intricacies of the different types of rifle scope reticles or crosshairs.

This article will try and help you understand the uses and features of the different scope reticles.

First Focal Plane or Second Focal Plane?

Before we move to the different types of rifle scope reticles, you should know about the first focal plane and second focal plane. These two terms simply refer to where the reticle is located.

A first focal plane refers to the reticle being located in front of the magnifying lens assembly. In this case, when magnification in the rifle scope settings has increased, the size of the crosshairs changes.

While it may be hard to imagine as to why this may be useful, as you’ll read about certain reticles known as ballistic reticles (a reticle containing multiple aiming points), you’ll realize the benefit.

If the aiming points of these reticles didn’t change with the magnification, then they would end up being inaccurate at higher magnifications.

Hence some reticles you might encounter, such as Bullet Drop Compensating and Wind Drift reticles, are first focal plane reticles. The reticles will be highly visible, and so it is easier to keep track of your target.

However, the larger reticle size at large magnifications can be a double-edged sword as they might obscure your target, and you will end up relying on guesswork in those scenarios.

They also fare badly for long-range shooting since due to their construction, less light enters at higher magnifications making targets difficult to see.

A second focal plane, or sometimes referred to as the rear focal plane refers to the reticle being placed behind the magnifying lens. What this entails is that if magnification is increased, then the size of the reticle or crosshair remains the same.

This contrasts with the first focal plane reticles in that there is no fear of obscuring your target because the reticle is too enlarged. As a result, second focal plane reticles are very good for long-range hunting and hunting smaller targets.

And if the particular reticle consists of thin lines, it may make it harder to see at long distances or against certain backgrounds. A huge blow for second focal planes is that ballistic reticles will become inaccurate at higher magnitudes.

It is recommended to try these two out in the field before deciding which is better. While they have different strengths and weaknesses, some of the weaknesses can be mitigated by choosing the right reticle and overcome through practice.

What Are the Types of Rifle Scope Reticles?

Almost all reticles are made from wire etched glass with different adjustments or add-ons. Some of the most popular types of crosshairs seen or used are listed below:

The Basic Or Classic Reticle

You will probably have come across this type of crosshair before, as it is used in almost all rifles. It is basically a vertical stripe and a horizontal stripe that cross each other at the center. The center cross helps you focus on your targets. This reticle comes with almost all rifles and is a good beginner’s tool for practice.

It doesn’t have any outstanding features other than the noticeable fact that the stripes can come with variations in thickness. Thin stripes will allow for better accuracy and more precise shooting, whereas thicker stripes will not disappear in a busy background.

For example, if you are hunting animals that tend to hide in bushes or in foliage, you will want to go for a thicker reticle. Thin reticles will often disappear into the background, thus making it hard to aim. There isn’t much to say about this reticle as it is as simple as it gets.

Moreover, it’s reliable and does its job regardless of the activity you’re engaging in but will lag behind the other reticle types in specialized situations. Consider this if you want to take shooting as a very small side hobby.

The Dot Reticle

This is another common reticle featuring a dot at the center (which is often colored red). The dots also come in different sizes. Smaller dots are used for longer range shooting while larger sized dots are used for close-range shooting.

The red color of the dot allows you to use it against many different backgrounds without losing sight of it.

However, despite this, this type of reticle is not ideal for long-range shootings. The smaller dots will often be hard to spot, and it is very easy to miss your target at such long ranges.

Also, the small dots often don’t translate well at large distances, especially if there are no vertical or horizontal stripes. Overall, this reticle is quite similar in use to the basic or classic reticle as it is a good all-purpose reticle that doesn’t excel in any particular job or range.

Holographic Reticle

Unless you’ve been using military guns, you probably will not encounter this type of reticle. Holographic reticles consist of a circle with 4 bits extending out and a dot in the middle. These types of reticles are seen in high tech guns and not your average hunting rifle.

And these reticles have illumination thanks to the collimated laser diode built into it. This allows it to be used when the surroundings are dark, and even when the background is busy. However, lackluster use of the laser sight can end up scaring animals if you’re hunting.

The holographic image can be set to appear at different ranges, and so one can adjust to meet their needs. One of the main attractions to this type of reticle is the elimination of parallax error. In case you didn’t know, parallax error is something that occurs when you are viewing from different positions.

For example: if you view a clock from the left, you might see that the hands are actually somewhat ahead than when you view it straight. It seems that in viewing from the left, the hands have somewhat displaced. This phenomenon is common when using most types of reticles.

However, holographic reflex sights tend to suffer from a very small degree of parallax error, but you should note that the error gets magnified at close-ranges. If you’re very passionate about shooting, this type of reticle is a really helpful one to add to your collection.

Bullet Drop Compensating (BDC) Reticles

If long-range is considered, hitting your target can often be a challenge. When one takes into consideration the trajectory of a bullet, he or she will realize the issue. At long distances, the bullet will start dropping to the ground due to gravity, and so in order to hit a faraway target, you need to adjust your aim in accordance.

This is easier said than done. Thankfully, a reticle was created to help solve this problem. Say hello to the Bullet Drop Compensating (BDC) reticle. A BDC reticle looks like a basic reticle but there are horizontal bars placed at increasing distances beneath the crosshair.

How it works is that each bar represents the same increment. Say that one bar represents a distance of 100 yards. If you wanted to hit a target that you know is 300 yards away, you would lift your rifle upwards until the target lands on the third bar. When a bullet is fired, it travels both a horizontal and vertical distance.

In case you aim your rifle upwards, the bullet will take longer to fall the same vertical distance than if you aimed your rifle a little downwards.

With this, you can compensate for the bullet drop. As handy as this sounds, there is a major issue with this particular reticle. Often a particular reticle of this type is made with a particular bullet type in mind. So unlike basic reticles, there is no one BDC reticle that fits all guns.

Thankfully this problem is alleviated as there are charts or ballistic tables for these that you can cross-check with. Also, these reticles work best when the power of your riflescope is set to its max. If it isn’t, the calibration will most probably be off, and you’ll end up missing your shots.

Duplex Reticles

These reticles are similar in design to the basic reticles, but there is one difference – the lines become thinner as they reach the center.

This allows it to have one advantage over basic crosshairs in that they allow the shooter to quickly and precisely focus in the middle of the reticle and hence acquire targets much easier.

They’re also a very common type of reticles found on the market due to them being all-purpose reticles. If you want a general use reticle that helps you quickly acquire your target, duplex reticles are a must-have.

Mildot Reticle

This reticle is a very complex one to use. The Mil in MilDot refers to milliradian, a form of measuring angles. A MilDot reticle is somewhat difficult to use if you’re not aware of the calculations involved. A basic MilDot reticle has 2 perpendicular lines that cut each other with bars extending outside the lines.

In an illuminated MilDot reticle, the bars are red. One of those bars represents one milliradian. One thing you should know about before opting to use this type of reticle is angle sub-tension. Simply put, angle sub-tension is the amount of physical space an angle covers or the length between two points on a target.

A mil in this reticle usually subtends 3.6” at 100 yards with the sub-tension doubling for 200 yards. You should look at a chart to get the proper measurements according to your scope, as it may differ.

By using the mils, you can understand the size of your target, and after further calculations, you can find out the approximate distance to your target. This reticle isn’t used as much since it is quite difficult and unwieldy.

Laserfinders do its job much better with much less hassle. While it is usable, there are very few times where you’ll benefit from having it.

Must Read: MRAD vs MOA

Illuminated Reticles

This is less of a type of reticles than they are a feature of already discussed reticles. Some reticles have an offshoot where the crosshairs have a red glow. This allows you to use them in the night or in low light environments.

Do note that cheaper variations of illuminated reticles often do not have a brightness adjustment setting and are often set to maximum brightness from the start. This can hurt your eyes and mess up your aim if you’re using them in very dark places.

The more expensive ones have a more specialized rifle scope with brightness adjustment settings.  Be careful when buying these.

German Reticle

Contrasting all the reticles before, the German reticle actually has three thick reticle lines with some models having a crosshair or dot in the middle. This design gives you a greater view when looking through your scope. Also, similar to the duplex reticle, the design of the German reticle allows fast target acquisition.

There are different variations featuring thinner lines or different crosshairs. Thinner lines allow for more precision but are harder to use for long ranges. They’re good for some small-time hunting but aren’t as sophisticated as some of the other reticles you might encounter.

Christmas Tree or Wind Drift Reticle

Another complex but very helpful reticle to use. This reticle was made to adjust for winds affecting the trajectory of the bullet. It is called a Christmas tree reticle since the lower half of the reticle consists of dots and bars arranged in such a way that they form the silhouette of a Christmas tree.

The marks on the bottom half get longer as they go down. These marks allow you to compensate for wind. They work similarly to BDC reticles and have similar functions that allow you to adjust for wind velocity.

However, like BDC, they are specialized reticles and thus suffer from similar issues. The main issue is that their measurements are often made for a particular bullet type or profile.

As a result, you will need to refer to ballistic tables and adjust for your particular gun and bullets used. However, despite these issues, Christmas Tree reticles are very useful tools for long-range shooting or where there is wind as it allows you to make precise shots without having to worry too much.

Aside from these types of reticles, you will also encounter some reticles that are combinations of the previously mentioned reticles.

For example, there is the illuminated MilDot reticle that contains the features of both the MilDot reticle and illuminated reticle, allowing you to use it in more situations.

Similarly, there are also reticles with added bars for bullet drop compensation or wind drop compensation. This allows you to combine the best of each reticle. They are usually more expensive.

What Features Should I Look for in a Reticle?

You’ve learned about the many types of reticles and how they differ and do their jobs. Now you should learn about what to look for in those reticles:

Center Mark

This refers to the mark in the center of the reticle. The center point varies in design from being a cross or a dot. A cross helps you quickly target on something but can sometimes obscure vital points of a target.

A dot doesn’t obscure but can end up becoming invisible in certain backgrounds or at certain distances. As a result, you will want to ensure that the mark doesn’t interfere with your aiming. Also, check to see if the mark on the reticle disappears at higher magnification or not as it will hinder you.

Additional Dots and Lines

Additional dots or lines aren’t given for design purposes. They often have meanings. Often the same reticle type can have different designs that might confuse you.

It is recommended to check the manufacturer’s manual as they will often provide information as to what dots, marks, and lines stand for. It is also important to check the manual for how much the increments stand for. Not all increments represent 100 yards and might differ.

The Thickness of the Lines

If high accuracy isn’t a concern, you can aim for thicker lines as they’re more visible. Thicker lines also work better in low light conditions. If you’re opting for very high accuracy, you will want thin lines. It is recommended to use illuminated reticles as they will help you overcome the poor visibility issues. 

Read Also: Rifle Scopes Under $300

How Do You Choose the Right Reticle for the Job?

Choosing a reticle isn’t the easiest. It’s an integral part of your rifle, and messing it up will affect your activities a lot. When choosing a reticle, there are some factors that one has to consider.

Suitability

Is the reticle you chose actually suited for your firearm? Not every scope is made for the same gun. There are factors such as the gun’s design or what bullet it fires that will cause it to have compatibility issues with the scope or reticle of your choosing.

While some general reticles such as Duplex avoid these issues, more specialized ones will suffer a lot from this. As a result, you will want to look for a scope that goes with your firearm.

Utilization

Can you utilize the scope reticle to its fullest potential? You should know that a scope reticle isn’t a do-it-all piece of equipment. It isn’t an auto-aim feature where all you have to do is pull the trigger.

At the end of the day, it is a tool to assist you, and unless you’re comfortable or even aware of how it functions, you won’t have a smooth time.

There’s no point in using a MilDot reticle for shooting if the calculations go over your head. If you don’t want to deal with multiple aiming points and just want to go for fast aiming and shooting, then you can opt for a Duplex or German reticle.

If you aren’t used to adjusting for bullet drop or windage, then even if you have an appropriate reticle, you will still have a hard time hitting your target. Choose a scope that you can use effectively.

Magnification Range

What magnification range would you prefer to use? You can choose between fixed or variable. If you’ve read about the first focal plane and second focal plane, you’ll have a good grasp as to how this affects your reticle choice.

Variable magnifications are useful if your ballistic reticles are first focal plane reticles. Otherwise, they will produce a great deal of inaccuracy. You will often need to test out the reticles to see if they match your preferences.

Choosing the right reticle also depends on what activity you are performing.  You have a good amount to choose from, so it can be overwhelming, but you’ll manage once you get a good grasp of the different properties and practice out in the field for a bit.

As a general rule of thumb, if you want to just do some normal precision shooting, a basic crosshair will suffice and if you want more accuracy to get a reticle with thinner lines.

Scope Reticle for Hunting

Duplex and German-style reticles are your best friends during hunting. You will usually encounter and hunt animals that are large enough that you won’t need extreme precision. Animals will often be on the move, and so you will want to be fast and get your sights on them as quickly as you can.

The design of the Duplex and German-style reticles allow for fast target acquisition, and the lines are thick enough that they won’t meld into bushes or trees. Overall, they are a good and easy pick for hunting. Nighttime hunters will prefer illuminated reticles for an easier time.

Scope Reticle for Long Distance Shooting

When long-distance (generally 250+ yards) is concerned, you will often have to deal with bullet drop and windage. So naturally, you will want to opt for either BDC or Wind Drift reticles depending on which factor you need to account for the most.

If you have a good knowledge of bullet trajectory, then you can opt to forgo BDC for Wind Drift at times at is much harder to judge the wind. Either way, they are useful for making adjustments to your shots and making sure your shots land but will require you to check up on ballistic tables for your particular bullet.

For mountainous terrain, both reticles are useful.

Scope Reticle for Tactical Use or Sniping

If you’re working for the military, you will have an easier time with the MilDot reticle. In the military bullet trajectories and adjustments often involve the use of calculations akin to that used in MilDot reticles, and so by the time you get to operate a sniper rifle, you’ll have sufficient knowledge.

Also, it should be noted that for tactical use or sniping, you often get partnered up with someone who has the mathematical expertise to help you accurately align your shots and decrease your burden.

Often times you will use some variations of the MilDot reticle that include elements needed for wind compensation or illuminated dots. Illuminated reticles are helpful if you’re patrolling or guarding during the night.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you have now got some ideas about the different rifle scope reticle types. It should be stated that while these reticles all have different advantages, you should aim to use one that you’re most comfortable using. Happy hunting.

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