The first thing you need to do when choosing the rifle scope is looking at its reticle. Of course you can trust your intuition and decide whether you like it or not. But, in most cases, using your weapon in real life situation is different from what we imagine.
Therefore, it is always better to have and follow some general guidelines that summarize the experience of many generations of shooters. First of all you need to honestly answer the question: what is the real REASON you need a rifle scope? Secondly you need to determine approximate distance that you REALLY plan to use it from.
In this article I will highlight and review 6 types of reticles: German, Crosshair, Duplex, Mil Dot, BDC and Illuminated Reticles.
1) German #1 and German #4
German reticles are great for the low light hunting. It would work very well in dense brush and allows precise shots with the sharp tip of the bottom post. There are few different types of German reticles. The old version is #1. It is a combination of tree relatively thick lines. There are two sides’ lines and the bottom line tapered to the end.
Nowadays the most popular reticle is German #4, which is almost the same as #1 except of added crosshair for more precise aiming. From the low light hunting point of view #1 reticle seems even better than #4, because the bottom post goes all the way up to where the POI is. It is visible in low light. In low light the center crosshairs of German #4 reticle fade away and you force to center the target between the thick posts, but this is not so precise.
German #1 is “fast point and shoot” reticle for very dense brush. It works very well in low light and thanks to the tip allows precise shots when there is a time. A heavy and very obvious reticle is best when the critters run towards you. The last thing you want is to waste a second looking for a fine crosshair.
German #1 reticle has one drawback. It is difficult to aim small targets, especially at the long distance (150 yards and more). Lines are so wide that at such distance small target is completely covered by them. It is also hard to do windage and elevation adjustments because there is nothing to catch the eye. If you are hunting small animals (prairie dogs, squirrels, etc.) or perform target shooting it is better to find another reticle. However German #4 reticle eliminates some of the above problems.
2) Crosshair reticle.
It is better adapted to more precise shooting. Usually there are two thin – vertical and horizontal lines that converge in the centre of ocular field. However this type of reticle is not ideal as well.
This reticle is not adapted for shooting at the moving target, it is difficult to “catch and hold” such target. Besides it is hard to do windage and elevation adjustments for the same reason as with German reticle.
3) Duplex reticle.
Duplex is the most popular type of reticle. There are many types and modernizations of it. Every manufacturer has its own name for duplex reticle: Duplex, Nikoplex, 30-30 and so on.
Those reticles combine the advantages of German reticle and crosshair. Duplex is a combination of horizontal and vertical lines intersecting in the centre of objective lens. The lines have a complex shape, it is thick almost the entire length and very thin at the intersection with each other.
Such reticle allows you to perform different tasks e. g. make a fast shot at a moving target (thick lines help to do it) or aim at small targets using thick crosshair. You can do some adjustments as well, focusing your eye on the point where thin line becomes a thick.
4) Mil Dot Reticle.
This type of reticle can be used to estimate distance to the target. Mil Dot has dots spaced in one mil increments. Mil means mil-radian. Mil-radian is 1/1000 of radian or 1/6283 of a circle. A mil in a reticle subtends 3.6" at 100 yards.
To find the approximate distance to your target, set the required magnification suggested by the manufacturer. Then you should know the approximate size of your target. If your target is covered by 1.5 dots, the size of it is 1.5 mils. Then you need multiply the size of your target in yards by 1000, and divide by size of your target in mils. If your target is 1.5’ tall, you need a 0.5 yard setting. So 0.5 x 1000 = 500 and then 500/1.5 is approximately 333 yards.
So as you can see calculations may take a while. It will certainly not tell you the height you need to aim or adjust, but the dots can be used for hold over if you know your trajectory. A Mil Dot reticle is also pretty busy looking, and if you hold over, much of your target may be covered by dots.
Mil Dots are rarely used and if you want to determine distance to the target it is easier to use a laser rangefinder. This reticle is used by the military snipers. They usually work with team of two: one is shooting and another is doing the spotting and calculations.
99% of shooters do not use this reticle properly as it was designed. In conclusion: if you need to determine the distance you better use the laser rangefinder.
5) BDC reticles or Ballistic reticles.
To understand the need of using these reticles we need to know basics of bullet trajectory.
Bullet does not fly in a straight line. Bullet flies in an arc and eventually falls to the ground. You look at the target in a straight line while aiming. This line calls Line of Aim (LOA). Bullet begins its fly below the LOA, because rifle barrel is lower than rifle scope. To hit the target you should actually aim higher to compensate the distance between barrel and the scope as well as gravity's effect on your bullet. The height depends on the bullet speed and distance to the target.
Every rifle scopes’ manufacturer offers some kind of ballistic reticle. If you perform long range shooting e. g. bighorn sheep hunt or pronghorn located over 600 yards away, you should consider buying the scope with such reticle.
Leupold offers rifle ballistic reticle, varmint-hunters, lrv-duplex, lr-duplex, Boone-Crockett reticles. Nikon’s ballistic reticles are BDC and BDC-600. Burris has ballistic plex, ballistic plex E1 reticles. Bushell offers m2-200, G2, DOA 250, DOA 600 reticles.
Redfield’s ballistic reticles are Accu Ranger Varmint, Accu Ranger Hunter. Weaver has EBX ballistic reticle, Ballistic – X. And so on. These reticles have some point of aim on its vertical line as zero for different distances.
LR Duplex features central aiming point for rifles zeroed at 200 yards, and calibrated hold points for 300, 400 and 500 yards. Varmint Hunters is more complex reticle that provide precise aiming points for easy-to-remember range increments, as well as wind deflection.
Note that if your scope has the reticle in second focal plane you need to choose certain magnification. You can find this information in product manual. If your reticle appears larger when you change a magnification – your rifle scope has reticle in the first focal plane. In this case BDC reticle will work properly at any magnification.
For any type of BDC reticle you have to determine the distance to the target. A laser rangefinder will work just fine for this.
6) Illuminated reticle.
There are a few different types of such reticles. Some of them have the whole crosshair illuminated, some have just illuminated dot in the center of aim point. Some reticles have an illuminated circle.
Illuminated reticles are designed for use in low light condition, when the thin reticle is invisible on the dark background. In the dark such reticle will not help you because you cannot see your target anyway. However you need to be aware - it is hard to manufacture scope with good illuminated reticle.
All inexpensive scopes usually have the same problem – even with adjustable lighting controls, the minimum brightness of the reticle is still too bright and immediately destroys any low light capabilities your eyes have developed, and often the reticles are so bright that you cannot even see your target.
This feature is questionable along hunters. Some of them think that illuminated reticle does not help much as in low light condition often it is hard to see the target anyway. But more of them think that is better to have it than not to. It is useful when targeting in low light condition (especially with lots of gills or other bushes on the background) it is almost impossible to see thin crosshair and point of aiming.