This is a question we all struggle with from time to time, especially when we start a new rifle build. As always, the biggest factor that is going to dictate what reticle you use, is going to be your intended application.
Not all reticles are created equal for all tasks, and a bush gun doesn’t need the same features as an Extreme long range rifle.
Before we get too deep into the specifics, let’s break down what a reticle is and how we came to use them.
What is a reticle?
A reticle is a series of lines or dots that are etched on one of the lenses in your optic. It allows for precise aiming and corrections when engaging targets, especially at longer distances. They are considerably more consistent and accurate than iron sights, especially with the modern advances the have been made in the last 10 years.
You may have heard the term “crosshairs” in the past. This was the original term used for the lines seen in the scope since the main material used for them was horse hair. So it was literally two crossed hairs forming a cross in the scope. Some people would even replace it with human hair because it was slightly finer then horse hair and gave a better aiming point.
The issues with these scopes were numerous, and the hair was prone to breaking, especially with age. You can imagine the frustration when you go to take a shot on a trophy buck only to find out the hair had snapped and you were trying to aim with an open telescope.
The next step in the evolution was the upgrade from the crossed hairs to crossed wires.
Once manufacturing was capable of producing a thin enough wire, it was the next logical choice. But this only solved the breaking issue and didn’t really increase the capability of the optic. So sharp shooters, and soon manufacturers started to paint dots on the wires to use for hold overs.
Yes, this was a step in the right direction but it had its own drawbacks.
The paint would wear or melt off, the measurements were SWAG (Scientific wild ass guess) at best and weren’t the most accurate. So with a few more modification and some great advances in the use of lasers for manufacturing we have the modern reticle. A laser etched lens that has precise measurements and holds that are computer calculated for consistency and accuracy.
These modern reticles are a far cry from the forefathers and have greatly increased the capability of the average shooter, regardless of application. Unfortunately there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to using them properly, but that is easily overcome.
BDC, MRAD, or MOA?
Modern reticles can be broken down into three basic categories. I am sure there are a few additional oddball ones, but these are the main three.
A Bullet Drop Compensator, or BDC, is probably the most common on hunting optics and military rifles. They work really well if they are calibrated properly and are used correctly.
A BDC uses hash marks or dots to give aiming points at various distances that don’t require the shooter to adjust the optic at all; Except for parallax. This sounds great on paper and can be used with lethality out to about 500 yards, rifle dependent. Where it falls short is versatility.
The BDC has to be calibrated to that specific rifle, with that cartridge, at that muzzle velocity, in that environment. If any one of those factors is off by a fair margin then the BDC goes from a precise measurement to a best guess.
The Issue I noticed in the military was even though the ammo and rifle remained consistent, if you zeroed your rifle in 29 palms California where it was 100 degrees and then had to conduct training in Bridgeport California later on that year, were the temperature was 15 degrees at 5000ft, your BDC was now essentially useless.
If you plan on using it for a hunting rifle that only gets brought out for the same month each year, then a BDC may work for you, but they are not ideal for all around rifles.
Mil Radian (MRAD), and Minutes of Angle (MOA) are both just angular units of measure. Their relation to a linear measurement, like inches or centimeters, changes depending on the distance between your reticle and the object it is looking at. Even though they are not formally part of any measurement system it helps people to think of them as MOA being standard and MRAD being metric.
Each one of these units have their very devoted cult like followings that swear the unit they use is far superior to everyone else’s. In reality they are more or less the same. 1/10th of a MRAD, the normal adjustment for one click of your scopes turret, is roughly equal to 1/3rd MOA.
Most MOA scopes adjust 1/4th MOA per click. Now, you may be asking what all this has to do with reticles. Most scope manufacturers try to please as many of their customers as possible, so they make most of their popular lines in both MOA and MRAD.
It is important to make sure you know which one your reticle is in and make sure that it matches the measurement on your turrets.
Types of reticles
There are three main types of reticles that use either MOA or MRAD, Mil dot/hash, Christmas tree, and grid. Each of these can be in either MRAD, or MOA.
They each offer different advantages and disadvantages that vary depending on application.
The dot/hash reticle is very simple and straight forward and allows for fairly accurate elevation holds, but is limited for wind holds and making on the fly corrections.
The grid and Christmas tree reticles are phenomenal for wind and elevation holds and making on the fly corrections, but are very busy and take a little while to get used to.
They also don’t work well for short distances as the lines are very fine and might get lost in background vegetation. It is definitely worth going to a large sporting goods store, which would have all three types, and look through them before making a decision.
Now that we have gone over all the basics lets talk about application.
As I have said before, not all reticles are created equal for all applications. One person’s “Best reticle ever” that they only use for 1000 yard bench rest shooting, is another person’s biggest regret because they tried to shoot a deer with it at 100 yards.
Whether it is choosing a rifle, scope, cartridge or reticle, application should always be the biggest factor in your decision. If you are looking into a hunting reticle it important to determine what kind of hunting it will be used for. If it is an east coast deer gun, which will never get shot past 300 yards, then a Christmas tree or grid reticle may not be the right choice. You will rarely need to make wind corrections at those distances and the finer, busier reticle will get lost in the brush on your short shots. A slightly thicker mil dot/hash reticle or BDC may be better. Some people still use a standard crosshair type reticle, but it offers no real advantage over a mil dot/hash reticle and takes away the ability to do holds.
Now if you plan on taking it to hunt goats somewhere on the western half of the country, where you shortest shot will be 500 yards, then it might be best to leave that mil dot/hash or BDC at home and use a Christmas tree or grid reticle that allows for those quick wind corrections and follow up shots.
Competition applications also vary greatly between shooting disciplines. Long range bullseye matches like bench rest, prong slung, or F-class, might just use a standard crosshair type reticle since they don’t focus on holding for their corrections and choose to dial them all. They also don’t want other marks or numbers distracting them from placing each shot dead center on the paper. This does not work however for PRS or ELR shooters, who almost exclusively utilize grid or Christmas tree reticles. This is due to the variety of distances and targets that can be engaged during a stage, and the need for rapid accurate adjustments.
Hopefully, this has answered most of your reticle related questions and gives you some more insight and knowledge to assist you with your decision. Reticles can be similar to scopes in the fact that it is better to choose the right one for the application instead of trying to force a product to work for something it was never designed to accomplish. You would never try to make a ford festiva go off road, or take a jeep wrangler to a drag race. Don’t take your dad’s deer rifle scope and try to shoot goats in Montana, or your bench rest scope and shoot a PRS match.
Try new things and always keep an open mind when it comes to new equipment, and as always, get out and shoot.