How to Choose a Reticle

Written by John Shellenberger

One of the most important aspects of choosing a riflescope is deciding which reticle to use. The reticle is the aiming point for your scope, and they are available in many different looks and varieties for improved shooting performance. Once you’ve established what type of shooting you’ll be using the scope for, you can choose the reticle most fitting for your hunting, tactical, or competitive shooting needs.

Crosshairs are perhaps the most famous reticle due to their appearance in pop culture classics like James Bond. Commonly made by two intersecting perpendicular lines, crosshairs provide a reference for where the rifle is aiming, with the intersection of the lines being the aiming point. Throughout the years, riflescope manufacturers have developed the classic crosshairs, adding features like bullet drop compensation or thinner crosshairs for maximized precision. This means nearly every scope you look through, will vary.

When choosing a reticle, the first step is to define its intended use. Are you a hunter shooting deer at around 100 yards? A reticle with broad crosshairs delivers a clear image to place on your target without having to worry about losing your crosshair in the complex background image. Shooting at longer distances where precision is most important? A reticle with thinner crosshairs ensures the accuracy needed. Once you’ve decided, choosing a reticle comes down to personal preference, so be sure to look at all the options before deciding.

Different Types of Reticles

Duplex Crosshairs

The classic duplex reticle is good for quick target acquisition and precise shooting.
The classic duplex reticle is good for quick target acquisition and precise shooting.

Duplex crosshairs are lines that start off broader on the edges of the reticle and then become much skinnier as it gets close to the center. The thick bars on the perimeter allow the shooter to quickly focus in on the middle of the reticle, and the thinner lines in the center allow for precise shooting. Duplex crosshairs are the most common type of reticle on the market.

Wire Crosshairs

Wire crosshairs are flattened out wires to provide a durable reticle that does not impede light passing through the scope. Once the only way to make reticles, wire crosshairs are becoming less and less popular due to etched-glass reticles which are far more accurate and durable.

Etched-Glass

Etched-glass reticles are the result of carving a reticle into a thin plate of glass using a diamond point. They can have floating elements, such as complex sections for bullet drop compensation or range estimation.

Illuminated

Reticles can be illuminated, usually by internal mechanisms like battery-powered LED lights. Red is the most common color because it is the least destructive to your night vision, however, some products use yellow or green. Typically, illuminated reticles can be turned on and off at will and have brightness settings.

First or Second Focal Plane

Another factor to consider before buying a scope is whether you want your reticle to change in size proportionally to the target as you zoom the scope in or out. If you do, then you will want a first focal plane riflescope, where the reticle is at the front of the erector tube, allowing it to be affected by the magnification. If you want your reticle to stay the same size while the target is enhanced, then a second focal plane riflescope is for you. On a second focal plane scope, the reticle is at the back of the erector tube, meaning the image of the reticle is not enhanced as you zoom in. In general, first focal plane scopes are more expensive; however, their markings on the reticle are always accurate at any range, while second focal point reticles’ markings are only true at a given magnification—usually the highest.

Now that you know the terms associated with reticles, let’s look at a few.

The hog hunting reticle allows you to make quick adjustments on moving targets.
The hog hunting reticle allows you to make quick adjustments on moving targets.

• The Sightmark Hog Hunter Reticle can be found on some of the Core HX series scopes. This scope has duplex crosshairs along with lateral hash marks to allow the shooter to make quick adjustments on moving targets with ease.

The Venison Hunting reticle compensates for bullet drop at longer ranges.
The Venison Hunting reticle compensates for bullet drop at longer ranges.

• The Sightmark Venison Hunting Reticle can also be found in the Core HX series. Like the HHR, this scope has duplex crosshairs and longitudinal tick marks that allow for bullet drop compensation at long ranges. Notice how the eye is quickly drawn to the middle of the scope on both scopes due to the thinning of the crosshairs.

• The Dual Caliber Reticle can be found on some of Sightmark’s Core TX series. This reticle can be illuminated with the twist of a knob, choosing from 1 to 10 brightness settings, thereby allowing the shooter to get a clear view of the reticle and deliver optimal shot placement. The reticle can be illuminated in either red or green and the shooter can choose from six levels of brightness. This reticle also has duplex crosshairs that get thinner as they move towards the center.

Sightmark CDC-300 circle dot chevron first focal plane reticle.
Sightmark CDC-300 circle dot chevron first focal plane reticle.

• The CDC-300 Circle Dot Chevron Reticle is not a duplex reticle. The ballistically-matched CDC-300 is on a first focal plane, meaning the reticle stays in the same visual proportion to the target across any magnification range. The red or green illuminator helps the shooter to see clearly in all lights, allowing you to accomplish holdovers from 100 to 800 yards. The CDC-300 Circle Dot can be found in Sightmark’s Pinnacle series.

The TMD (tactical mil design) reticle is made for long-distance shooting.
The TMD (tactical mil design) reticle is made for long-distance shooting.

• The TMD Tactical Mil Design Reticle could be considered a duplex. The markings on the crosshair allow for bullet drop compensation, helping the long-distance shooter effectively make holdover shots without changing the magnification. This reticle is in the first focal plane, meaning it stays visually proportional to the target at all ranges, and comes with 1 to 6 brightness settings for its red/green illuminator, meaning it can provide unparalleled clarity in bright and low light situations. The TMD reticle can be found on scopes from Sightmark’s Pinnacle series.

If you were to invent a reticle, what features would it have? Describe your dream reticle in the comment section.

Since you’re now all set on how to pick a reticle, click here!

Mil-Dash VS. MOA Riflescopes

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.

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

The author, Kevin Reese shooting a precision rifle long-range with a Sightmark first focal plane riflescope.
The author, Kevin Reese shooting a precision rifle long-range with a Sightmark first focal plane riflescope.

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.

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.

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-dash, precisely identifying the center of one line to the next for accurate, reliable and repeatable holdover is quick and easy.

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.

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.

First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane

A guest post written by Sellmark marketing intern Clayton Costolnick.

There are many factors you need to consider when purchasing a new variable-power riflescope. Many shooters only focus on the magnification range and price. A potentially but overlooked factor is the placement of the reticles on the first and second plane. What’s the difference?

First Focal Plane

The Pinnacle’s tactical mil-dash first focal plan TMD reticle gets you on target and keeps you there.
The Pinnacle’s tactical mil-dash first focal plan TMD reticle gets you on target and keeps you there.

First focal plane scopes have the reticle placed towards the front of the optic. When the magnification of the scope is increased, the reticle’s size increases with it. In doing so, the reticle remains the same perspective on the target’s size as you increase or decrease magnification. These scopes provide long-range and tactical shooters more accuracy due to the constant MIL/MOA values. Sightmark’s Citadel and Pinnacle riflescopes have first focal plane reticles.

Second Focal Plane

The SIghtmark Latitude has a second focal plane reticle.
The SIghtmark Latitude has a second focal plane reticle. 

Second focal plane reticles are placed towards the back of the scope. When the magnification of the scope is adjusted, the reticle’s size does not increase. The MIL/MOA values are only correct at one magnification. When the scope is adjusted to a different magnification, the spacing changes and is not consistent. A shooter would have to do some math to calculate the actual values of the subtension. Second focal plane scopes are most useful when using the same magnification. Sightmark’s Latitude riflescopes have a second focal plane reticle.

Hunting

First focal plane scopes are increasing in popularity with hunters because they are more versatile than second focal plane systems. Whenever you are hunting, you cannot predict the outcome before the hunt. The animal could walk out at 25 yards or 500 yards. Using a first focal plane scope allows hunters to make accurate adjustments, again, because they know the subtension values are consistent throughout the magnification range. Additionally, having a larger reticle means more precise holdover adjustments. Many Europeans prefer a first plane scope because they are legally able to hunt later into the evening than in America. A first focal plane scope is generally more expensive than a second focal plane scope, however, it is worth the money. Many hunters have switched to a first focal plane scope without looking back. Many long-range shots can be easily adjusted by using a first focal plane scope at any magnification. Furthermore, if you miss your first shot but see your point of impact, you can place your second shot more accurately.

Final Thoughts

A first focal plane scope might be more expensive than a second plane scope, but it is well worth the price difference. Being able to adjust your magnification without second-guessing your subtensions is beneficial when shooting. Additionally, if you happen to miss, this will allow you to place an accurate follow-up shot.

Which scope do you prefer—first or second? Tell us in the comment section.

About the Author

Clayton was born and raised in Cypress, Texas just outside of Houston and is currently a senior at Baylor University majoring in Marketing with a minor in Corporate Communications. Clayton hopes to pursue a career with Sellmark, or continue his education after graduation. Clayton is an avid deer, waterfowl, dove, turkey and exotics hunter. Growing up around guns, Clayton’s dad and grandfather are hunters as well. When Clayton isn’t in the office, at school or in the field, he’s on the water pursuing another favorite hobby—fishing. Clayton says, “Whenever an animal is not in season, I occupy my time with fishing while I wait for the next season to start hunting again.”

How to Use the Sightmark Pinnacle TMD Reticle

While there is quite a bit going on inside a riflescope’s tube to get you on target and keep you there, the Sightmark Pinnacle’s TMD reticle is designed to help you successfully use holdovers, determine appropriate windage and elevation adjustments, range targets and even acquire zero or sight in.

The advanced Pinnacle riflescope is designed to perform flawlessly in competition and at long ranges.
The advanced Pinnacle riflescope is designed to perform flawlessly in competition and at long ranges.

The Pinnacle’s tactical mil-dash reticle, also known as the TMD reticle, is made of referencing points—including crosshairs, subtensions, subtension or referencing lines, numbers along the vertical and horizontal axis and a grid pattern in the lower half of the reticle some people refer to as a Christmas tree.

Let’s look at each reticle element and learn how they can be useful.

 

Crosshairs

The first and most obvious element of the TMD and most other reticles are the crosshairs. Crosshairs are comprised of the primary vertical and horizontal axis referencing lines that intersect at the reticle’s center point. You may see optics sometimes that consist of only crosshairs. Crosshairs create an initial point of reference for all other referencing information on the reticle and serve as an integral part of the point of aim when sighting-in a firearm or shooting at a distance where a bullet’s trajectory change is negligible. Of course, crosshairs also become the point of aim at greater distances when mechanical windage and elevation adjustments are made, at least until you run out of adjustment—possible even with the Pinnacle when shooting extreme distances.

Subtensions and Subtension Lines

Subtension is the distance a reticle covers at a certain range. Subtensions are the spaces between the subtension lines, also known as referencing lines or hashmarks. Just to the right of the vertical axis line and below the horizontal axis line to the right of center, there are numbers 2, 4 and 6. Each number references the corresponding hashmark’s distance from center. On the Pinnacle 3-18×44, each subtension is 0.5 mil, at least until you reach the top of the vertical and far right of the horizontal axis. The subtension lines for those final 3 mils reference 0.2 mil. These subtensions and hash marks are vital to using holdovers and ranging targets, especially on first-focal-plane optics.

The Pinnacle’s tactical mil-dash first focal plan TMD reticle gets you on target and keeps you there.
The Pinnacle’s tactical mil-dash first focal plan TMD reticle gets you on target and keeps you there.

Hash Marks

As examples, if you held the reference line on the horizontal axis above 2 on the bullseye, you would be holding 2 mils left—the reticle’s crosshairs are now 2 mils to the left of center mass. If you place the hashmark referenced by the number 4 on the lower half of the vertical axis line on the bullseye, you are now holding over 4 mils. As a final note, if you held between 2 and 4, your holdover would be 3. More finite vertical holdovers in this example might position you at 2.5 or 3.5 mils. The same applies for windage.

Remember, each subtension line is 0.5 mil. Of course, this is only true through all magnification ranges on a first focal plane riflescope. As they relate to second-focal-plane riflescopes, subtensions and subtension lines are only accurate representations of standard mil, or MOA on other scopes at a single power of magnification. This is the primary reason why long-distance shooters prefer first-focal-plane riflescopes like the Pinnacle 3-18×44.

Subtension Grid

The further we move from the crosshairs, the more difficult it becomes to acquire precise holdovers. Holdover is when you must aim above your intended point of impact to compensate for bullet drop. Since the lion’s share of holdover aiming occurs below the horizontal axis, the Pinnacle’s TMD reticle includes a subtension grid that widens as you move further down the vertical axis. If you were to use 4 up and 2 left as holdovers, you would hold the mark in the grid located 4 mils below the horizontal reticle and 2 mils to the right of the vertical axis on the bullseye.

Subtensions are also great for rapid zeroing or sighting in. For this example, we will use 100 yards as our distance. Shoot the target and note the shot placement. Now, place the crosshairs on the bullseye again and determine how many mils your bullet hole is away from dead center.

If the subtension lines revealed your shot was 2.5 mils below and 2 mils to the right, you would adjust your elevation turret up 25 clicks and left 20 clicks, considering each click is 0.1 mil of adjustment. Take another shot and you should be on the bullseye or left with only fine-tuning. If you’re zeroing, don’t forget to set the Pinnacle’s zero stop now, which guarantees an instant return to the original zero. You can find that video tutorial on Sightmark’s YouTube channel.

Ranging targets using subtensions can be a quick, relatively accurate way to acquire distance data without the use of a laser rangefinder or other technology; of course, to do so really requires a first-focal-plane scope like the Pinnacle 3-18×44 or, perhaps a second-focal-plane scope set on a single power of magnification. Again, the beauty of a first-focal-plane system is that the incremental values represented by subtensions, lines and numbers, never changes at any magnification. Subtensions mean the same at 3 power as they do at 18 power, whether the target is right in front of you or 1,000 yards away.

Windage and Elevation Axis

Remembering the Pinnacle 3-18×44 is based on mils with 0.1 mil turret adjustments helps us understand some quick math. 1/10th mil, most often referred to as 0.1 mil, moves your point of impact 0.36 of an inch at 100 yards. This is equal to 1.8 inches per .5 mil and 3.6 inches at 100 yards per full mil of adjustment. Simplified, because subtension lines on the Pinnacle’s reticle are based on 0.5 and 1 mil increments.

This means a 36-inch tall by 18-inch silhouette would span the vertical height of 10 mils and the horizontal width of 5 mils at 100 yards. So, an adult figure that filled 10 vertical mils and 5 horizontal mils of your reticle, would be an estimated 100 yards away.

Since 0.1 mil at 100 yards is 0.36 of an inch, we know 0.1 mil represents 1.8 inches of adjustment at 500 yards. Extended out from 0.1 mil to a full mil, we then know a full mil represents 18 inches at 500 yards. Since the target is 36 inches tall by 18 inches wide, we know it should fill 1 horizontal mil and 2 vertical mils. If so, that target is 500 yards away.

At 1,000 yards, we can double that. We know 0.1 mil is 3.6 inches of adjustment at 1000 yards and a full mil is 36 inches of adjustment at that range. So, the target we’ve been looking at would fill 0.5 mil on the horizontal axis and 1 mil on the vertical axis. Understanding the adjustment values of 0.1 mil, 0.5 mil and 1 mil at 100 yards and then extending out over yardage, coupled with identifying your target and possessing basic estimation knowledge of its size, means you can range any identifiable target with some degree of accuracy simply by utilizing the subtensions and hash marks in the Pinnacle’s reticle.

Click here to purchase a Pinnacle riflescope.

Do you have questions about using the TMD reticle? Leave them in the comment section and our product experts will answer them!