If you are shopping for a new scope, you’re probably thinking a lot about reticle choice.
You aren’t alone. I just went through this process with my new AR-10.
There are a sea of options out there, and it’s hard to pick.
I’ll help you narrow down your options.
Different Reticle Designs
There are so many reticles out there, and each is suited to a slightly different use.
Let’s start by looking at some of the most common options.
Duplex reticles are by far the most common image that people put with scopes. In addition to the basic crosshair design of old, duplex reticles thicken at a certain measured distance from the target center.
These are mostly designed for medium range shooting and flat trajectories, or for people who are using a separate rangefinder and dialing their turrets for drop and windage.
Dot reticles are exactly what they sound like, a central dot which can be accented in different ways. Mostly these are used for fast target acquisition and sub-100 yard shooting or close quarters CQB. Good on a defense gun.
These are found on reflex sights of all varieties, be it tubes or exposed glass, and also on holographic sights.
BDC, or bullet drop compensating reticles have some big pros and cons. They have elevation ticks below the central crosshair with pre-determined hold-overs for various distances. These are medium to long range reticles that remove the need to dial in elevation changes.
The biggest downside is that the reticle can’t be tuned to your particular gun, and they are a cookie cutter firing solution based on an average cartridge from a single caliber. They might be off a bit for specific loads, but generally they work pretty well out to 500 yards.
It can also be hard to find one for non-traditional rounds like the 300 Blackout, though there are good BLK scopes for that one, too.
Range-finder reticles look a lot like BDC at first glance, but the ticks are designed not for drop estimation, but rather to range a target of known size.
For instance, a human silhouette will take up a certain amount of space at different yardages. By lining up the target with the ticks on the reticle, you can get a rough distance to the target, which will allow you to dial in your elevation turret.
They are a little hard to use, but can really help out if you don’t have a rangefinder and a giant buck appears near a treeline that is too far away to guess at.
MOA or Mil-Dot
The crosshair ticks on an MOA or Mil-Dot reticle are designated by angular distance. Since most scope turrets are set up with these units, the scopes make hold-over almost second nature. Just figure out where to put the target based on the dots.
Target acquisition is much faster than fiddling with turret adjustment for most distances, and they can be used for rangefinding to some degree if you know what you’re doing.
Illuminated or Not?
The next big worry is whether to spend a little extra on an illuminated reticle and batteries for it.
Most etched glass reticles do not get super bright compared to a dedicated red-dot or reflex sight, so if you think the illumination will make a good substitute for a close quarters dot sight, you will most likely find it lacking.
However, if you are hunting at dusk or popping pests after nightfall, illumination can be a huge advantage. It’s hard enough to see your target in the dark, much less tiny black crosshairs.
I would recommend that any gun used for varmints or pests be paired with an illuminated scope. For hunting purposes, you will need to decide on your needs.
If you need something really bright for CQB or self-defense in daylight, then stick to dot-sights that you will be able to see.
The Rifle’s Role Determines the Reticle
Generally speaking, knowing your rifle’s role is the most important consideration for both the magnification and the reticle.
Target guns need precise aiming points like the mil-dot or BDC scopes. Tournament shooters nearly always go with very “busy looking” variants of mil-dots or MOA reticles.
CQB and 3-Gun competitions require fast reticles that can be placed on a target in an instant. They also stick to un-magnified optics and low-power variables for this reason. You need a reticle that is bright enough to see and place quickly and a fine center if you also intend to use it at range.
Hunting rifles require precision, but not necessarily the speed of other reticles. As such, it’s often easier and cheaper to go with a high-quality duplex and dial in your windage and elevation.
Still Not Sure?
I hear you. Myself, I was making my new AR into a DMR platform, and that’s tough in itself.
At the end of the day though, I checked out as many scopes as possible in my price range, and compared the available reticles with my skill set and needs. Finally, I just picked the one I liked the best.
Sometimes, we just make too much fuss about reticle details, sort of like the argument between 223 vs. 5.56 that never seems to end.
Look through all the scoped rifles in your gun safe and see if that helps you decide.
Figure out what you need. Narrow your options. Then, let your gut decide, and build your skillset around the new reticle.
Know what’s out there, and what types of guns it works best for.
Figure the maximum and minimum range you need from your gun.
Determine if you need illumination.
And finally, just pick one. You’ll be relieved when you have something in the mail instead of spending weeks agonizing over the purchase.
I hope this was helpful and gets you motivated to stop shopping and get that optic mounted on your rifle.
Richard Douglas is a long-time shooter, outdoor enthusiast and technologist. He is the founder and editor of Scopes Field, and a columnist at The National Interest, Cheaper Than Dirt, Daily Caller and other publications.