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Different Types of Rifle Scope Reticles for Hunting and Tactical Shooting

If you ever tried browsing rifle scopes, you probably got distracted by a variety of additional features and fancy specs. And we don’t blame you; it would be weird if you didn’t. However, you probably also understand that buying a rifle scope goes beyond it being easy on the eye.

With that in mind, when shopping, you’ll need to make a range of decisions. If you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, some of the choices will threaten to drive you crazy.

So we’re here to cover one of the most critical aspects of buying a scope – the type of reticle you ought to choose. So without further ado, let’s dig in! By the end of this article, we hope to turn you into an expert. 

Different Types of Rifle Scope Reticles

Rifle Scope Reticles 101: The Basics You Need to Know

What Is a Reticle?

In most rifle scopes, the reticle is simply the aiming point in the hunter’s field of view. They are usually made of wire, but glass-etched ones have also been gaining in popularity – they are extremely durable and precise and virtually unbreakable.   

The aiming point is made up of at least two fine perpendicular lines (either made of wire or etched in glass) fitted within a circular frame. Those lines are also known as crosshairs, which brings us to our next point.

Reticle vs. Crosshairs: Clarifying the Terminology Used

If this isn’t the first article on rifle scope reticles that you’re reading, then you probably noticed that many writers (and hunters) use the terms reticle and crosshairs interchangeably. 

Now, that isn’t necessarily wrong, but we believe it could result in quite a bit of confusion, so we decided to clarify a few things before we proceed. 

When we say crosshairs, we only refer to the perpendicular lines and any other distinctive features that might appear within the circular frame. We are talking about the distinctly thicker, heavier parts of the crosshair if we refer to the post. By that logic, whenever we say reticle, we refer to the whole thing, i.e., crosshairs and post together. 

What Does a Reticle Do? 

Now that you know what a reticle is, it’s probably quite easy to figure out what it does. Namely, it is supposed to give you a centralized aiming point when hunting. Still, there’s so much more to a reticle than that, depending on what you need it for. 

For example, there’s a huge difference between general hunting and tactical reticles. Your choice will also depend on whether you need bullet drop compensation or laser rangefinding, as well as if you will be shooting in low-light conditions. Similarly, you won’t get the same type of reticle for hunting varmint that you’d get for hunting hogs. And if you need a higher contrast, you’d probably opt for an illuminated reticle. And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, as you’ll see in the next section. 

Also of interest: What’s the best scope for a 270 rifle?

9 Types of Reticles

The Classics

The Original

Featuring only two perpendicular lines as its crosshairs, this classic has been a trusty partner of many hunters for years.

Original Reticle
The Duplex 

If you’re new to the hunting game and you’d like to stick to a standard, then the duplex reticle is your best bet. Its clean-cut, simple design makes it an all-purpose reticle that you can use for virtually anything. 

Experienced hunters consider the Duplex perfect if you’re going to hunt big game or plan to hunt in thick bush. In both cases, you need high precision, and the four thick posts make your eyes focus on the center of the crosshairs. 

If you’re not sure where to start looking, explore the offers of Leupold, Simmons, Nikon, and Weaver. These brands provide superb reticles in the duplex category.

Duplex Reticle
The Non-Illuminated

This type of reticle is as simple as it can get — it’s standard black. That makes it extremely affordable and perfect for daytime hunting. However, the fact that it’s plain black also makes it highly impractical for nighttime hunting activities.

The Elaborate Ones

The Illuminated

Virtually any standard non-illuminated reticle can be made illuminated if your activities require it. In fact, it seems that having a center-illuminated reticle is all the rage, which is why you can find one in any reticle variety from varmint to BDC. The most popular brands in this category are Victory, MeoPro, Swarovski, and Nightforce.  

Illuminated Reticle
The Dot

If you like keeping things simple, then the dot reticle will be right up your alley as its aiming point is just that – a simple dot. There’s an option for this type of reticle also to have crosshairs. Such models can emit from left to right, top to bottom (i.e., at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock). 

Dot Reticle
The German #

Read as the German number X (e.g., the German #1 or the German #4), this type of reticle often falls into the illuminated category. They usually have thicker, heavier 3, 6, and 9 o’clock posts that become thinner toward the center. Alternatively, the crosshairs don’t have to meet in the middle – instead, the reticle can feature a dot in the center. 

The most popular German # reticle manufacturers among hunters are Leupold, Meopta, and Zeiss Victory HT. So if this reticle checks all the boxes for you, then these three brands should be your starting point.

German Reticle

The Ballistic Ones

The Bullet Drop Compensation

Also known as BDC, this ballistic reticle is a perfect choice for long-range hunting. It will provide a precise aiming point and will compensate for the bullet drop if you know the distance you’re shooting from. 

Design-wise, the BDC reticle is specific because it features distance markers in the form of circles, dots, or hash marks. Those are usually found on the 6 o’clock crosshair, but you can also find reticles that feature them on the 3 o’clock line. In case you’re looking for something even more elaborate, you could opt for the so-called Christmas tree BDC reticle. It features distance markings that span across a part or the entire field of view in a pattern that resembles a Christmas tree.  

According to both users and experts, the manufacturers with the best BDC reticles are Bushnell and Weaver. 

The Christmas Tree

This BDC reticle subtype has grown so popular that it became a category of its own. As already explained, it is designed to resemble the shape of a Christmas tree. That means the hash marks, which are usually positioned on the 6 o’clock crosshair, become progressively shorter toward the center. 

When used in long-range shooting, the Christmas tree reticle allows you to take into account the effect of wind drift on your bullet velocity and strike, as well as compensate for it. However, it’s important to note that this type of reticle is more common in tactical, military, and mil dot rifle scopes. Generally speaking, it’s not so common in hunting rifles, though you can find it in some tactical-hunting hybrids. 

BDC Reticle
The Mil-Dot

Explicitly designed as a military ranging reticle, the Mil-Dot has also managed to earn its place among the favorites of the hunting community. 

This ballistic reticle is measured in milliradians, and each dot in the crosshair represents one. It’s important to note here that one milliradian equals 3.6 inches at 100 yards or 36 inches at 1,000 yards. 

One feature that makes the Mil-Dot reticle unique is that it allows you to roughly calculate how far away and how big your target is. At the same time, it will enable you to determine the bullet drop. As such, the Mil-Dot has proven to be a great choice for extreme long-distance hunters and sniper shooters.

Mil-Dot Reticle

How to Buy the Perfect One: Rifle Scope Reticle Buyer’s Guide

If you’re fairly new to the hunting game, just knowing all the reticle types and what they do won’t be enough for you to choose the perfect one for yourself. To help you make an informed decision, we put together a small but detailed buying guide. 

Getting Started

What Is the Center Point Like?

When shopping for a reticle, the first thing you should consider is whether it will in any way interfere with how you see the target. 

That means you need to take into consideration if the center becomes bigger when you zoom in. Similarly, you need to check whether you’ll be able to see it at all when you zoom out. Both of those features can affect the way you perceive your target’s kill zones. 

In addition to that, you also need to keep in mind the design of the center point itself. It being a dot, an open circle, or a cross will all mean different bullet strike areas.

What Does the Manufacturer’s Description Say?

Usually, the manufacturer gives all the important information on a reticle within its description. Any distinctive features, such as posts, dots, hash marks, or circles, are there for a reason. 

Always keep in mind that they usually represent yardage distance estimates, meaning that you’d have to confirm those in an actual range to be 100% sure about them. For added security and precision, you also ought to check the trajectory travel of your preferred load. 

All that guesswork is made easy if you’re using a manufacturer’s smartphone or computer ballistic app. It usually allows you to see or print out the yardage estimates for every line or dot. 

Other Specs That Will Affect Your Hunt

Thin vs. Thick Crosshairs

This may seem like a purely esthetic question, but by now, you know that’s not the case. Quite the contrary – the reticle posts greatly impact how you perceive your target through the scope. Here’s what you should keep in mind: 

The Thin Crosshairs

If you’re a high-precision enthusiast and you plan on hunting in clear and open backgrounds, you should look into reticles with thin crosshairs. They are often illuminated, which makes them perfect for nighttime hunting, and they provide minimal subtension. As far as manufacturers go, you can turn to Meopta and Carl Zeiss for some interesting models in this category. 

The Thick Crosshairs 

If you’re more of an in-the-woods type of hunter, you’ll be working with extremely busy backgrounds or low lighting most of the time. In that case, you’ll need a reticle with easy-to-see, thick crosshairs. In ballistic reticles (BDC, Christmas tree, Mil-dot), the top of the post often implies the long-range distance,

Generally speaking, the thick crosshairs will help your eye focus on the center of the aim. And don’t worry; as we already pointed out, the thick posts become thinner toward the center. That means your general view of the target won’t be affected. 

Reticle Subtension 

Reticle subtension is the amount of space the crosshairs cover when the scope is pointing at a target. As such, it is heavily affected by the density of the crosshairs.

As mentioned in the previous section, you’ll get minimal subtension with thin crosshairs, which is perfect if you intend to shoot precise targets. If, however, your shooting background is cluttered, your reticle will easily get lost in it. 

On the other hand, although they’re easy to spot in busy backgrounds, thick crosshairs can severely affect the way you perceive your target. 

In addition to all that, you will also need to take into consideration the placement of the reticle within the scope erector tube. In connection with subtension, you’ll see two types of rifle scopes — FFP and SFP. 

FFP Scopes and Subtension 

Front Focal Plane scopes feature the reticle in front of the magnifying lens, which means that the crosshairs increase or decrease as you zoom in and out on the target. As a result, the subtension doesn’t fluctuate because the space the crosshairs cover doesn’t change. 

This feature is what makes it possible for MOA and Mrad measurement increments to be accurate and what, essentially, allows you to use ballistic reticles at any magnification. The ballistic and distance information you get works with all magnifications. 

Among the most popular FFP scopes, you’ll find models made by Bushnell and Vortex, among others. 

SFP Scopes and Subtension 

Second Focal Plane scopes have the reticle behind the magnifying lens, which is why they’re also known as Rear Focal Plane scopes. Unlike FFP scopes, which are typical for military-grade and tactical rifles, SFPs are common for hunting ones.

When you zoom in on a target with an SFP scope, the target will become bigger, but the crosshairs won’t. The same applies when you zoom out — the crosshairs will stay the same at all times. That means the subtension isn’t stable as with FFP scopes, and you won’t be able to use a ballistic reticle at any other magnification but the standard one. 

Although that might make you think SFP scopes are less reliable, it’s actually quite the opposite. They are perfect for long-range shooting as they provide a decent estimate of bullet strikes on tiny targets. 

Putting All the Information Together

We’ve covered a lot of ground so far, and you have all this information — but do you know what to do with it? Chances are, you don’t. That’s why we’ll give you a simple how-to guide on choosing your reticle. 

What Kind of Firearm Do You Have?

Just because a scope is awesome doesn’t mean it’ll work with your firearm. For example, you wouldn’t pick the same thing for a gun and for a rifle — scopes aren’t universal like that. They’re versatile and usually made for specific types of firearms. You ought to keep that in mind when you start shopping. 

What’s Your Budget?

Setting a budget is a staple rule of any sensible shopping, and that goes for buying rifle scopes as well. Once you start splurging on additional features like additional hash marks, illumination, BDC reticles, etc., your bill can get astronomical quite quickly. You may not believe us right now, but we urge you to be smart about it. Set a clear budget early on — and stick to it. 

Who Will Be Using It?

This might seem silly as you’ll probably be buying a scope for yourself, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Make sure to think carefully about what you want to get from this scope. Are you a beginner and want something easy to set up and use? Are you a seasoned hunter and want something awesome to up your hunting game? Answering these and any other similar questions will help you narrow down your search. After all, you don’t want to buy something you can’t use because it’s too advanced or too simple. 

What Will You Be Using It For?

As you probably gathered by now, not all reticles were created equal. So determine the type of shooting activity you want to use the reticle for before actually starting to browse the offer. 

For example, you will want to look into illuminated reticles if you need something for your nighttime hunting escapades. As we mentioned, they’re unsurpassed in low-light and dark conditions. On the other hand, if you’re typically hunting during the day and you don’t need any bells and whistles, opt for a non-illuminated reticle. 

Moving on, your choice will also depend on your shooting range. Anything up to 250 yards will warrant a duplex reticle, whereas BDC reticles will be perfect for longer ranges. If you’re even more extreme than that, you should opt for Christmas tree and Mil-Dot reticles.

What Magnification Range Do You Need?

The range of magnification will largely depend on the function of your reticle subtension. As we already mentioned, subtension can be either variable (SFP) or fixed (FFP).

Do You Want Any Extra Pizazz? 

If you ever browsed rifle scopes before, you know that there are many additional features that can help you improve your shooting skills. Things like illuminated control and parallax adjustment can seriously boost your reticle’s effectiveness. 

You Chose Your Reticle — Now What? 

If this is your first time buying a scope with a new reticle, you probably won’t know what to do with it once it arrives or you bring it home. Simply follow our guide on how to zero your scope here: How to Zero a Rifle Scope at 100 Yards

Final Thoughts 

At the very beginning of this article, we warned you that you have a lot of reading to do. If you stuck with us until the end, we salute you. 

You should now be able to choose your reticle with much less stress and confusion. We hope that our tips will help you in your research and will ultimately allow you to make an informed decision. Be sure to keep your needs and who you are as a shooter in mind and take your time when choosing. And remember – a good reticle has the power to transform you to reliably shoot tight groups and acquire targets quickly. 

Different Types of Reticles for Rifle Scope
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Aaron Bennett