What Happens in a Riflescope… MATTERS

Years ago, I learned (the hard way) just how important the features on your riflescope really are when it comes to long-range shooting. Granted, when you’re shooting just a few hundred yards, you have some leeway when it comes to the reticle plane, the reticle itself, tracking, return to zero, chromatic aberration, etc.; however, there isn’t much room at all for a compromise on any of these features as you extend your distance game.

The author, Kevin Reese shooting a precision rifle long-range with a Sightmark first-focal plane riflescope
My money is on a first-focal-plane system for long range… and for me, the Mil (MRAD) adjustment and reticle system.

I was asked to field-test an optic from 100 to 1,000 yards. The problem was, the optic was completely ill-prepared to handle any long-range work and barely accomplished mid-range shooting at just 600 yards. While the riflescope was touted as a long-range optic on a 6-24×56 and 30mm tube platform, the nuts-and-bolts features included a red/green illuminated mil-dot second-focal-plane reticle and 1/4-MOA per click windage and elevation turret adjustments, as well as adjustable parallax and diopter.

I assure you, it’s easy to create a mess when you begin with messy parts. There was little (actually nothing) to like about an optic that, itself, was a contradiction. Some things should never be mixed—beer and whiskey, water and gasoline… MOA and milliradian. Consider the latter. In our shooting world, while minute-of-angle (MOA) is 1.047 inches at 100 yards and usually adjustable at 1/8- or 1/4-MOA per click, a milliradian (Mil or MRAD) measures 3.6 inches at 100 yards and is most often adjustable at increments of .1 Mil. As examples, we’ll consider the most popular—1/4-MOA and .1 Mil.

Adjusting ¼-MOA per click moves you approximately .26-inch. at 100 yards while .1 Mil shifts your position of impact (POI) about .36-inch. The important takeaway here is obvious, the incremental values of MOA and Mil are not the same. Again, at closer distances, the problem won’t matter much. Unfortunately, at longer distances, reticles, their subtension values and their focal plane really do matter. Make sure, on a fundamental level that your turret adjustment type (Mil or MOA) actually match your reticle (Mil or MOA). Moreover, determine whether you need a first- or second-focal-plane optic.

Green and red illuminated mil-dash reticle by Sightmark
With mil-dash, precisely identifying the center of one line to the next for accurate, reliable and repeatable holdover is quick and easy.

The difference in focal planes is easy to understand in terms of magnification. On a second-focal-plane system, adjusting magnification does not change the size of the reticle. Increasing or decreasing magnification does not change your reticle size. The problem? The incremental measurements of the subtensions are not consistent. Generally, the appropriate MOA increment (1.047-inches) is only true at one magnification, either at the highest setting or at a power annotated by a mark.

Conversely, first-focal-plane reticles do increase and decrease commensurate with the optic’s full range of magnification. As a result, the subtension values on a first-focal-plane reticle are consistent no matter the magnification power setting. The result is reliable adjustability at all known distances, as well as the added benefit of stadiametric-type ranging based on the target size and fact that subtension values never change. For this difference alone, my money is on a first-focal-plane system for long range… and for me, the Mil (MRAD) adjustment and reticle system. To that end, however, there is another critical reticle feature when considering milliradian-based optics—Mil-dot and Mil-dash. So, which is better?

While some might suggest it depends on your shooting, my take is—not so much. Unless you’re trying to find that sweet spot of balance between speed and precision, or have trouble identifying fine subtension lines, mil-dash is a better option every day of the week and twice on Sundays, especially as you extend your distance game and, depending on the focal plane, increase magnification. When it comes to accuracy, the greatest threat to precision shot placement, as it relates to this topic, is a mil-dot covering more of your target face. At best, your potential accuracy is only as small as the area of your target covered up by the obstructive black dot while a fine mil-dash subtension line essentially leaves your entire target face unobstructed. The area a mil-dash covers is essentially negligible.

three riflescopes
The Citadel line of riflescopes is designed for long-range precision shooting and competition.

Subtensions also are used for holdovers and are measured from the center of one line to the next. With mil-dash, precisely identifying the center of one line to the next for accurate, reliable and repeatable holdover is quick and easy. With mil-dots, the shooter is left with estimating the center of a mil-dot to the center of the next mil-dot, leaving room for error; moreover, even if you’re using a first-focal-plane reticle, the mil-dot increases in size as you increase magnification—a rather annoying reality when you’re trying to keyhole shots at 100 yards or beat up a 10-in. steel plate at 1,000. Good friend, Sightmark Pro Staff shooter and winner of History Channel’s Top Shot, Season 2, Chris Reed, said it best when he quipped, “You can’t hit it if you can’t see it.”

Unfortunately, while many top competitive shooters and snipers alike prefer first-focal-plane riflescopes with premium glass and mil-dash reticles, they often are quite expensive, running from $2,000 – $4,000. Fortunately, in January 2018, Sightmark introduced two first-focal-plane riflescope lines boasting illuminated mil-dash reticles, Latitude and Citadel. While Latitudes turn heads with an average price point of $800, the new Citadel lineup includes two FFP riflescopes–a 3-18×50 and 5-30×56, both with .1 mil adjustments and red-illuminated mil-dash reticles–averaging a jaw-dropping price point of $479-$516.  Citadel riflescopes even include Sightmark’s lifetime warranty.

Are you a mil-dot/mil-dash type of person or MOA? Tell us which one and why in the comment section.
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