Selecting the Perfect Reticle for a Hunting Scope

Selecting the perfect reticle in your rifle’s scope is a crucial part of your kit. Depending on the reticle you choose it can aid you in target acquisition, distance judging, and many more things. Though the variety of options on the market today can be confusing, this article will help in determining what you need out of your next reticle.

The most popular reticle sold for hunting applications is the standard duplex crosshair. Found in scopes from nearly all scope manufacturers, the standard duplex reticle is renowned for its quick target acquisition and simplicity for the operator making it the preferred choice for hunters. However, more complex reticles offer additional features.

Though the Duplex reticle is by far the most popular reticle to date the advancements in optic technology over the years have given birth to many variants. Some of these variants will help better assist a shooter in downrange accuracy with holding points in both windage and elevation. Depending on your personal preference and experience one of these reticle variants of the duplex may be your best choice in the future.

How to Select Reticle for Different Game

Surprisingly enough, the reticle choice is often overlooked when planning hunts for specific game animals. When planning a hunt such as a moose hunt in the thick bush, where not only is the backdrop dark, but the animal too, a fine reticle can become lost even on low magnifications.

The opposite can be said for a prairie antelope hunt where the animal is smaller and often at farther distances. This combination can cause a larger reticle to overwhelm the target and reduce accuracy. 

A perfect example for the popular standard duplex to shine would be a whitetail hunt in cover. Where shot distance will most likely be 200 yards or under and shot timing of utmost importance. An illuminated reticle will also help you better acquire your aiming point in the timber. Using an FFP optic in this situation would not be necessary and could actually hinder your success.

Surprisingly enough a good match-up for a fine FFP reticle is prairie varmint or predator hunt. With your target species often being at a variety of distances and of smaller sizes this pairing will be lethal. Keep in mind a fine reticle placed in an FFP scope is valuable in the mountains. Although, more often than not you will have to close distance anyway to insure an animal’s legal status. Whether it’s a rams curl or an elk’s 6th point, determining if an animal is in fact a legal shooter or not will often not take place at extended distances.

Tried and True

The standard duplex crosshair is arguably the oldest and most familiar reticle on the market today. Depending on the scope brand this reticle can be named a few different ways.

  • Leupold markets their “duplex” reticle
  • Bushnell markets their “multi-x” reticle
  • Zeiss markets their simple “reticle 20”

With its bold outer lines leading into a more precise and fine inner “cross” this reticle boasts fast target acquisition for all hunters. The thicker outer lines of the reticle aid in guiding your eye to the finer inner cross. Because of this design hunters in a range of cover and backdrops can still easily and most of all quickly acquire the center aiming point and get on target. 

This reticle is highly recommended for beginner hunters that don’t need the confusion of hash marks or MIL dots. Hunters that have less than optimal vision will also enjoy this reticle because of the bold outer lines that will help bring the aiming point into a more natural focus.

Other hunting situations that the duplex reticle will be superior in are situations such as brush or timber because the larger lines of the outer reticle are harder to lose in background “noise”.

The duplex reticle is paired nicely into a 3×9 magnification range and will almost always be in second for the focal plane. (More on the focal plane later down) This reticle is the workhorse of the hunting industry and is acceptable in all standard hunting situations. The practical range of this reticle is approximately 300 yards which easily encompasses all practical hunting ranges and skill levels. 

Because of these advantages, the duplex reticle is also used in a variety of dangerous game hunts from Alaska to Africa where precision is needed but not complexity.

The only major disadvantage with the standard duplex reticle is the fact that in some situations the reticle is too basic. For hunters looking for increased and near competition class accuracy the duplex does lack holding marks.

Introduction of Holding Marks

The standard duplex reticle is the foundation for vitally all modern rifle optics to this day.

With added markings on the reticle itself, the duplex has become more specialized and case-specific over the years. With civilian optics bringing in Minute of Angle (MOA) and Millradians (MIL’s) hunters and sportsmen alike can use the added markings on the reticle to better judge distance, holding points for wind, follow up shots, and even changing distances.

This also opened an avenue for hold-over markings on reticles to help hunters adjust for different yardages without the need of adjusting your scopes “dope”.

Holdover marks in reticles have been popular for some time now. Allowing for a quick transition from a zero point in the center to often 3 or more marks representing different yardages. These marks work in theory with your bullets drop over distance to hit multiple “zeroed” distances following down your vertical crosshair. This can be a very fast method of producing a higher sense of accuracy.

However, many of these hold-over marks are not caliber specific and furthermore change depending on your scopes magnification range.

With the majority of hunting scopes being in the second focal plane as you change your magnification range the perceived bullet drop along your vertical crosshair will change negating the holdover points. Some scope manufacturers have remedied this problem with custom drop points however these are expensive and uncommon.

Additional markings inside of your scope’s reticle are more than a cosmetic appearance. With the addition of MOA or MIL dot markings, your reticle’s versatility is endless. These markings represent measurements and in this case, can be used to enhance your accuracy while maintaining speed. When using these holding points precautions should be taken to ensure consistent results.

First, you need to know if your scope is either the first focal plane (more on the focal plane next) or the second focal plane. If your scope is the first focal plane the markings within your reticle will always hold their exact measurement. The second focal plane on the other hand will require a closer examination. Markings in a second focal plane scope will change in value depending on the magnification range.

For example, at maximum magnification, the markings of an MOA scope will usually be in increments of .5 and increase by .5 at a time. (ie. .5, 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5 and so on) However, if you drop your magnification those values are multiplied. Instead of these marks representing every .5 MOA, these marks can now represent 2 MOA every mark. (ie. 2, 4, 6, 8, and so on)

Scopes that offer holding points that are in the second focal plane at times offer conversion rates on the back of the magnification numbers to assist you. 

Focal Plane

If you asked the majority of hunters today if their hunting scope was either a First Focal Plane (FFP) or a Second Focal Plane (SFP) you would more than likely be met with a questioning glare. This section will help explain the differences and where each option fits in the hunting world. 

Second Focal Plane (SFP)

SFP is by far the most common choice of hunters for two main reasons. First is the cost. SFP scopes will be a lesser blow to your wallet because of the reduced manufacturing costs. The second is out of necessity. The average hunter that harvests animals at a range of 250 yards or less flat out does not require the added complications of a first focal plane scope.

Reticles such as the standard duplex crosshair are nearly always paired with the SFP optics due to their simple design and lack of MOA or MIL markings.

How to tell if your optic is built in SFP:

In the case of a 3×9 power, scope set the magnification to minimum power ie. 3. While looking through the scope hold your reticle steady on a specific target. Begin increasing the magnification from 3 up to its maximum of 9. You will see the relation of your target image change in comparison to your reticle maintaining its initial size. Simply put your target grows with the increased magnification while your reticle is unchanged.

This is helpful in hunting situations because the reticle maintains its size throughout any magnification range. Allowing for the reticle to be easy viewed at any magnification.

However, this is where hold-over marks previously stated will be altered depending on your magnification setting. For example, if your second hold-over mark represented 300 yards your point of impact will be different if your scope is on minimum magnification or maximum magnification.

First Focal Plane (FFP)

FFP is the choice of nearly all competition and military riflemen. The FFP scope allows for the markings of either MOA or MIL dots to be relative at any magnification setting. This is especially helpful for target shooters and long-range hunters alike.

The advantage is especially noticeable when changing between targets. Instead of having to add or subtract “dope” from your rifles scope turrets the shooter can simply add their desired drop by holding on a different mark within the reticle. This is also very helpful for follow up shots and wind compensation.

How to tell if your optic is build in FFP:

In the simple case of a 3×9 power scope, set the magnification to minimum power ie. 3.

While looking through the scope hold your reticle steady on a specific target. Begin increasing the magnification from 3 up to its maximum of 9. You will see that both the target image and reticle increased in size as you move up in the magnification of your scope. Simply put both the target and your reticle increase in size.

This is where the precision of the optic can be admired. In the case of an FFP reticle, if you have markings working outward from the main crosshair at a rate of .5, 1, 1.5, and so on, these sizes will be relative at any magnification range.

Although, because of its magnifying nature when at minimum magnification FFP reticles can often become hard to see especially in low light conditions. This is because at minimum magnification the reticle will appear at its thinnest, making the markings harder to see.

Illumination

Illuminated reticles have become more popular in recent years. With advantages for both traditional and nontraditional hunters, the illuminated reticles are only going to become more popular.

In the case of traditional 3×9 magnification, SFP standard reticle scopes the addition of illumination can help in hunting situations where defining your crosshair either against a chaotic background or dark-haired animal significantly easier. In the FFP application, the illuminated reticle can help hunters better identify markings in the reticle while at lower magnifications.

Usually equipped with a variable brightness the lighted reticle most commonly works off of a small watch style battery. Activating the illumination will turn either the entire reticle or a potion of it red in most models though colours such as green can be found. Though the crosshairs light up with the illumination, it does not brighten your target image.

*note* Always check with local regulations to ensure lighted reticles are not prohibited.

Magnification

The most common magnification range in hunting scopes is the 3×9 power. With the majority of hunters, self-imposing distance restrictions on themselves for ethical harvests the 3×9 power optic will more than cover the longer 200-yard shots while still having a very good field of view at lower magnifications.

The choice of magnification range is more dependant on hunting location and assumed shot distance rather than reticle choice. Although FFP scopes and reticles often come with a higher magnification range to allow the shooter better utilization of the reticle. It is not uncommon to find FFP scopes with magnification running into the upper 20’s.

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