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Optics

Practical Specialty Reticles

by J. Guthrie   |  September 23rd, 2010 0

It was a frustrating experience. In one hand was a 10-page instruction manual and in the other was a scoped rifle boasting the latest, greatest reticle of the month.


The Leupold Varmint Hunter’s reticle allows a shooter to make quick and accurate windage and elevation corrections through a simple system of stadia and dots.

While lacking degrees in mathematics or optical engineering, I do have a pretty good understanding of how riflescopes and reticles work. But this monstrous collection of dots, stadia, and squiggles was getting the best of me.

I finally managed to zero the rifle at 100 yards, shot a few groups, and then turned my attention to the 300-yard targets. Picking what I thought was the correct aiming point, I let fly a few rounds, and then I strolled down to the target boards expecting the best. What I found were bullet holes a whopping 10 inches above my aiming point. I went crawling back to the manual, thinking to myself that while it undoubtedly sounded and looked good in theory, this reticle was practically unusable without the manual on hand and months of practice.

Thankfully, this is not always the case. There are quite a few different designs that are quick to learn, easy to use, and produce the desired results: rounds on target. Here are a few of my favorite reticles.

Leupold Varmint Hunter’s
Shooting varmints is a very precise and incredibly enjoyable endeavor. The average prairie dog stands 7 to 10 inches high and is 3 or 4 inches wide. The rewards for putting a lightly constructed bullet on this tiny target after it screams across several hundred yards of terra firma are a display of aerobatics rivaled only by Olympic gymnasts from China and a wet, hollow smack that can be heard through your florescent orange foam ear plugs.

I have used mil-dots and adjusted for drop and drift with target turrets, but the best by a mile is Leupold’s Varmint Hunter’s reticle. It has three additional stadia below the intersection of the crosswires that, with a 200-yard zero, represent the flight path of common varmint calibers at 300, 400, and 500 yards. Instead of making the stadia all the same length, Leupold stretched them across the field of view to provide handy and unobtrusive corrections for wind drift.

While the aiming points do not match up perfectly with every caliber–I still zero my rifles at 100 yards–it only takes an hour of range work to determine exactly how they correspond with your favorite varmint round’s flight path. The big advantage this reticle offers is the ability to make corrections without having to count clicks or place a prairie dog in optical purgatory. Holding off a dog for windage and elevation corrections is just about impossible, especially when the ranges get long.

The Varmint Hunter’s reticle allows a shooter to hold on, subtend, or bracket a dog and then make wind corrections without ever taking the eye away from the scope. The manual fits on a page, and it takes about 10 minutes to figure out everything.

Trijicon ACOG Red Chevron
The Marine Corps likes the Trijicon unit so much it just bought at least 100,000 new ones and possibly as many as 800,000 under a recent contract. Part of the reason is the sight’s durability and ease of use, but the biggest reason is how the sight allows a Marine rifleman to put bullets on bone. Iron sights cannot hope to equal the accuracy and speed the ACOG allows, and it all starts with a little red chevron sitting in the middle of the scope’s field of view.


Calibrated for the 5.56 NATO round, the Trijicon ACOG’s dual illuminated chevron is quick to target for this 100-yard shot. The underside of the chevron is used for 200-yard shots, while the illuminated tip of the verticle hair is for 300-yard shots.

The sight is meant to be shot with both eyes open. At close ranges, a rifleman’s binocular vision tracks moving targets and allows the chevron to be superimposed over the image. At long ranges, the scope’s magnification draws the sighting eye to the target for more precise shooting. Some units are equipped with ballistic drop compensators, and even the chevron can be used as a rangefinder, but it is the simplicity of the system that makes it work. Put the chevron on target and squeeze or slap, depending on how close and how dangerous the target. The reticle intensity is self-regulating, using a fiber optic to illuminate things during the day and tritium at night.

The little red chevron is great for zapping targets within whispering distance and then, in the next instant, putting down poppers at a couple hundred yards. Simple and versatile are qualities that make this reticle one of the best.

NightForce Mil-Dot
Mil-dot scopes have been around for quite some time and have proven to be very handy systems for making fast corrections, estimating range, and computing leads on moving targets. NightForce has been in the business of providing high-quality scopes to those who need to make fast corrections, estimate range, and compute leads in life-or-death situations, and the company thought the reticle could be improved.

The problem with mil-dots is that they often obscure that which is to be ranged or shot. NightForce uses etched reticles almost exclusively, mostly because the reticles can be etched very precisely. This allows NightForce to make the dots hollow for more precise ranging and aiming because, after all, you cannot hit something you cannot see.

Another interesting difference is that the crossbars are hollow as well. The overall effect is that there is hardly a reticle in your field of view, until you need a dot or crosshair. This makes the reticle ideal for snipers who need to observe conditions and a target, range it, and then place a bullet precisely. The same goes for hunters or target shooters.

The mil system is proven and, depending on your math skills, is as simple or complicated as you make it. NightForce just took a good idea and made it better without unnecessary complications.

This is a pretty short best-of list and no doubt other great reticles have been omitted. But all three of these have been proven on battlefields, in dog towns, and in shoot houses around the world. And all three share a most important quality; they enable a rifleman to put his rounds on target quickly and without a user’s manual.

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