A reticle’s primary function is to help you aim and there’s many to choose from, but a simple reticle is better for the hunter than a complex one that clutters your field and impairs aiming.
A good friend of mine was in Mongolia a few years ago on a hunt for Mongolian wapiti and ibex. After he arrived at the base camp and stored his gear in a yurt, he uncased his rifle to check that its point of impact had not changed. To his dismay he discovered that at some point in the trip from Ulan Bator to the hunting area over some of the roughest roads in the world, the reticle in his scope (a Duplex) had broken.
Luckily all was not lost because he’d brought along a second scope pre-zeroed in Leupold Q/R rings. In a matter of minutes he had removed the faulty scope and installed the spare. He and his guide went out the next morning and he shot a large 12-point wapiti; four days later he bagged a fine ibex.
Another time a mate and I were hunting red deer. We’d completed a stalk on a roaring stag, a royal 12-pointer. The magnificent animal stood in a little clearing about 200 metres away across a gully frantically thrashing a small bush with his antlers. My mate who was sitting about 15 metres from me, couldn’t see him, but I had a clear broadside shot. As I tried to line him up in the scope I was amazed to see the crosswires in the 4x scope on my .270 tilted to the right at a 45 degree angle. As I tried to adjust my aim the crosswires tilted over farther. Alas, this story does not have a happy ending. I was afraid to shoot in case I wounded the animal, and my mate couldn’t see the stag because of the trees. Before I could signal my mate to move closer, the stag walked away into thick bush. The cell which contained the reticle in my scope had come adrift.
Once while hunting pronghorn antelope in Wyoming, I started missing high. I tried to resight a .25-06 equipped with an old Weaver scope, but I found that every time I fired a shot each bullet landed higher than the one before. The fault was I discovered later, the mechanism that controlled the elevation had become worn. Luckily I was able to borrow a rifle from the outfitter and got my pronghorn with that.
I hope that my telling you about these mishaps doesn’t give you the idea that such happenings are commonplace, but to show that the best scope in the world is not much good unless the reticle stays put. Nor is the reticle any use if it cannot be seen quickly and clearly. The lens system of the scope enlarges the target and transmits available light so that it is seen clearly, but without the reticle to aim with, no one could shoot quickly and accurately.
Ever since telescopic sights have been used on hunting rifles, a variety of different reticles have been designed to aim with. Some are simple, some complicated. Some are quick to use and easy to see even in the poorest light; some are confusing, and some satisfactory only under ideal conditions.
When I began shooting over 60 years ago, virtually the only scope reticles available to hunters were a crosshair, a flat- topped, tapered post and crosshair or a pointed picket post. Today, a fine crosshair is limited to target shooting and you couldn’t give away a scope with a post reticle to any hunter.
Having begun my shooting career with iron sights, naturally my first scope was equipped with a flat-top tapered post reticle, because it looked just like a front sight seen through a large peep. It didn’t take me long to realize its shortcomings. Trying to use holdover on a distant shot, the thick post blotted out the target. This made me to change to a scope with a medium crosshair reticle which I found was by far the best for use on running game because the horizontal wire helps control elevation. I’d swing the rifle along with a running animal, letting the horizontal wire slide along the target and then touch Old Betsy off when the vertical wire looked the right distance ahead. The first day I used the crosswire reticle my tally on running game increased by at least 50 percent. Since that day, I’ve always favoured a reticle with centre crosshairs
The term “crosshairs” originally came into use because the reticles were actually made of human hair. Reticles have also been made of spider web. Early “dot” reticles were tiny globs of plastic on almost invisible “crosshairs,” made of web spun by black widow spiders because other materials couldn’t be made strong enough. The supply of spider web couldn’t keep up with demand, however, so dot reticles were suspended from fibreglass crosshairs, but in the late 1970s this was replaced with tungsten wire. It had the advantage that it could be drawn down to .0001, or about a thirtieth the diameter of a human hair!
Fine crosshairs subtending from .02 to .03 minutes of angle are generally used for varmint/target shooting in a scope of high power. A medium crosshair in a 4x scope subtends from 1/2 to 3/4 minutes. It works very well in bright light conditions, but on dark days has a tendency to fade against dark targets. It is also not very conspicuous where there is strong light and dark shadows as in wooded or rocky country on a bright day. I’ve found that many crosshair reticles are too fine to be practical for all around hunting and are better used for target shooting. Another poor reticle is the dot which fades out in poor light. But modern electronically illuminated reticles have largely solved these problems.
Lighted reticles show up quickly even in near darkness, and they also help you detect the reticle against a tangle of branches. On the other hand, a bulbous battery compartment atop the scope’s eyepiece and a third turret housing a rheostat to control the brightness adds weight and bulk and detracts from the scope’s appearance. Two scopes that use different systems to illuminate the reticle without adding weight and bulk are the Bushnell Elite Firefly and the Trijicon.
Gradually, other forms of reticles were introduced with circles and stadia wires, and a gimmick called a Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) which worked on the premise that target animals come in standard sizes. The BDC was credited with almost mystic properties for rangefinding. Alas,it was mostly advertising hype.
Then in 1962, Leupold & Stevens introduced what has since become the overwhelming reticle of choice among hunters. The Duplex, a crosswire with heavy sidebars and slim crosshairs in the centre. The thick sidebars catch your eye and direct it to the centre of the field, where the thin intersection allows precise aim to be taken. In very poor light, if the game is not too far distant, you can aim by bracketing it between the sidebars. Knowing the subtension of the centre wire at a set magnification and yardage, you can use the Duplex as a rangefinder, but these days most of us prefer to use a laser rangefinder. Many other scopemakers have copied this reticle, but of course they cannot use the name Duplex. Some are called simply Plex, but there’s Z-Plex, Tru Plex, 4-Plex, Dual Plex, Fine Plex, Multi-X, Peep Plex, Nikoplex etc.
The versatility of the Duplex is that the thin centre portion allows precise aim at small targets to be taken and the thick side bars are conspicuous and fast to pick up. This reticle is excellent for a scope for dual-purpose use on varmints and big game as many use variable powers.
Leupold’s Duplex is a mechanical reticle, meaning that it is attached to a mount with solder. It’s made of .0012 platinum wire that’s flattened to .0004 to make the outer sections of the wire thicker than the middle sections and form the outer bars. Premier Reticle Company in the U.S.A who has supplied reticles to every major scopemaker except Zeiss, uses ribbon wire twisted in the middle to form a plex.
A reticle I like, but one that seldom receives a mention in print has a tapered crosswire that is medium on the outside and thin at the aiming point to draw your eye unerringly to the centre. I believe it was designed by Bausch & Lomb for their early variable power scopes which were externally adjustable and also in the internally adjustable Trophy series. It was etched in glass and has the virtue of no apparent change in size as the power is varied. As far as I know the only company that still makes it is Leupold who lists it as the CPC.
Another method of making a plex reticle is by using a photo- etching process on metal foil, in which chemicals strip away all the material around the etched pattern. The foil is barely .0007 thick and must be cemented to the mount whereas wire reticles are soldered. Proper tension of foil reticles is critical. Too little, and the foil will whip under recoil; too much and it won’t withstand the expansion and contraction caused by extreme temperatures.
A curious fact about foil reticles is that they can burn out. The sun coming through the lenses just right is concentrated by the lenses as if by a burning glass causing the reticles to be burned apart. The same thing can also happen with dot reticles.
There are reticles with crosshairs inside a circle and other smaller circles strung out along the horizontal wire and the lower wire.
These are of various sizes and supposedly useful for rangefinding. Like the Dot reticle they enjoy only limited popularity.
Because European hunters usually do their hunting from a hochsitz, often at night when game comes out onto forest clearings to graze. They prefer prominent reticles such as very heavy posts that stand put boldly and are easy to see in bright moonlight. Some of the posts used in European reticles are so large that they blot out a good deal of the target except at very short range. For our kind of hunting the Duplex is easy to see and allows more precise aiming at distant targets.
European hunters still prefer reticles which are located in the first focal plane of the objective where the apparent size changes with the size of the image. This means that in a 3-9x variable power, for example, the crosshairs are thin and fine when the scope is set at 3x, and heavy and coarse when the power is at 9x, which makes them easy to aim with.
The first plane scope is adjusted by moving the reticle against the image. A major drawback is that sometimes when the rifle is sighted-in the aiming point of the reticle is not in the centre of the field. When it ends up in a top or lower corner it is both annoying and disconcerting. Even today, when all factory rifles come with holes drilled and tapped for mounts, receivers are not always uniform and a base with windage and the correct height rings is mandatory if the reticle is to be centred in the scope.
Redfield was the first to solve the problem by relocating a reticle cell in the eyepiece, placing it in the second focal plane. Thescope is adjusted by moving the field against the reticle – that is by moving the erector tube assembly. With the reticle so placed it is always the same size, and it has the added advantage that the aiming point remains in the centre of the field.
Rangefinding scopes are all the rage, and the best known range-finding reticle is the mil-dot designed by the U.S Marine Corps for sniper use. The mil-dot uses a series of dots extending from the centre on fine crosswires. In some, the wirethickens toward the outside so the shooter can use it like a standard plex in poor light. A mil-dot (like other complex reticles) may be etched on glass instead of suspended. Premier Reticles supplies the suspended or mechanical mil-dot reticles for Leupold. The 16 dots are installed by hand.
The mil-dot enables you to estimate holdover over long distances. A millradian is part of a circle, which comprises 360 degrees of 2pi radians. A circle has 6.28 radians, and one radian is 57.32 degrees. A minute-of-angle is a 60th of a degree; thus there are 3,439 MoA in one radian, 3.44 MoA in a millradian.
Dividing 3.44 into 60 (the number of minutes per degree) gives us 17.44. So a millradian is about 1/17th of a degree. The spacers or interstices between the dots each subtend one millradian or mil – a span of about 3.6 inches at 100 yards or 3 feet at 1000 yards.
To find the range using a mil-dot reticle, you divide the targets height in mils by the number of interstices subtending the target to get the range in hundreds of yards. In variable scopes, mil-dot reticles are generally calibrated at the top magnification or 10x. On a practical note: when using a mil-dot as your aiming point, cranking the power down can precisely resight the scope at longer ranges because with less magnification there’s more subtension between the crosshairs and the post. As long as you can still see the target, this often works well.
An alternative to the mil-dot is a reticle available in Schmidt & Bender scopes which has a crosswire with mil hash marks, plus 13 horizontal wires half a mil apart below the main horizontal wire. Each of these has hash marks too; in addition there are dots between the hash marks. The upper left quadrant gives you a rangefinding scale, also marked in mils. It not only helps you estimate range and maintain holdover, but the hash- marked horizonal lines allow you to correct for windage.
Another type of rangefinding scope is equipped with a reticle, calibrated to a specific load at a specific velocity. Although this system works well for a good many shooters, not many want to tie themselves to one bullet weight and load.
This of course applies to all range-compensating reticles; change the load and all the values generally change and must be relearned. In all honesty, there isn’t much point in buying a scope with such a reticle unless you are content to stay with one load.
These days there are a number of scopes with fancy circles and mil-dots and other graduated reticles for help in rnagefinding and windage in long-range shooting. But most of these scopes are big and heavy, their reticles are extremely complex, and from what I’ve heard about them, they aren’t all that rugged.
Call me old-fashioned if you like, but I don’t care for complex reticles that fill the field with lines, dots, circles, bars, posts and numbers. For big game out to the longest range at which I care to shoot at game (366 metres), I find such complicated reticles impair aiming by being too cluttered; on a flat-shooting rifle the standard Leupold Duplex and its counterparts work just fine for me. Since I got a Leica Laser Rangefinder, I no longer worry about using a reticle to measure the range. If the animal is standing or grazing and far enough away to need accurate range estimation, it isn’t aware of the hunter’s presence. So he’ll have plenty of time to measure the distance, achieve a solid rest and use the correct amount of holdover.
Many unsophisticated hunters are being dazzled into buying “tactical” scopes that they have no real need for. The vast majority of shots at game are taken inside the 200 metre mark, where a simple duplex reticle will prove entirely adequate.
This article was first published in Sporting Shooter, February 2012