Scope Recticles – Understand The Basics Of Rifle Scope Reticles

There are a lot of reticle styles you can choose from when you shop for a new scope. However, it is important that you choose the style reticle that best works for you – complimenting your performance and not compromising it. Below we will explore what exactly a reticle is, the different types of reticles, and some guidelines on how you can choose the best reticle type for you.

Explained: What Is A Rifle Scope Reticle

picture of a man with different scope reticles

Simply put: A reticle is a set of lines (crosshairs) or dots you use as a reference when aiming at a target. In short, it is the aiming point of a scope. The aiming point on scopes with crosshair reticles is typically where the lines intersect in the middle. And for a red dot reticle, the aiming point is simply the physical dot.

Different Types Of Rifle Scope Reticles

1) Original/Basic Reticle

As the name suggests, it really is a simple and plain reticle system – no bells or whistles. The reticle consists of a single vertical and horizontal line crosshair that crosses – the point of intersection is the aiming point of that reticle. Many of the best Henry H001 Optics are basic reticles.

2) BDC Reticles (Bullet Drop Compensating)

picture of BDC reticle sighting in an elk

The BDC reticle system is a common feature in ballistic rifle scopes. The bullet drop compensation system provides a shooter the ability to know the true point of aim for a given distance to compensate for potential bullet drop – if you want long-range accuracy, then this is the scope for you!

Horizontal lines, hash marks, circles, or single dots typically depict distance markers.

3) Plain Dot Reticle

Simplicity is key with a plain dot reticle. Red dot reticle styles typically have a solid dot in the center of the reticle. Some red dot systems will also have crosshairs, yet they are rare.

4) MIL Dot Reticle

A MIL dot or Miliradians (Mrad) is also a ballistic reticle. The vertical and horizontal crosshairs will have dots on them. Each of these dots represents 1 Mrad (1 Mrad = 3.6 inches at 100 yards). Some of the Best LPVO budget optics are MIL Dot reticles.

This reticle system was originally designed for use as a ranging reticle in the military. Nowadays, it’s not only the snipers who use it, but long-range hunters and competition shooters also choose it as their reticle system of choice.

5) MOA Reticles

MOA or Minutes Of Angle is an upgrade to the plain dot reticle. It features multiple reticle sizes you can choose from – with a larger MOA for closer shooting and a smaller MOA for more precise long-range shooting. We know that moa dot size makes a big difference in shooting accuracy!


Some red dot systems, like Holosun’s MRS, will also have a circle around the red dot to provide both close-range and long-range shooting capabilities. The MRS allows you to toggle between three different MOA sizes – this allows you to choose the reticle size that best suits your needs.

6) German Reticles

Typically described as German “n,” these reticle types usually have thick lower, right, and left crosshairs (6, 3, and 9 o’clock, respectively). The thick crosshairs will then taper off as they reach the center of the reticle. A typically German reticle will have a thin 12 o’clock (upper) crosshair, but sometimes it won’t even be present.

The most common German reticles are German #1 and German #4 – these reticles are most often illuminated.

7) Duplex Reticle

The Duplex reticle replaced the basic reticle as the most used reticle for a hunting rifle scope. The reticle system can be described as having four relatively thick crosshairs that thin out towards the center. This is a very efficient design as it tends to naturally draw the eye to the center aiming point. Some of the best 350 Legend Rifle Optics are duplex reticles!

8) Illuminated Reticle vs Non-Illuminated reticle

An illuminated reticle is one that, well, is illuminated. The illumination color can either be green, red, or any other color that you want. But the two mentioned are the most common. Varmint hunters prefer these types of reticles as it allows them to have better performance at low ambient lighting conditions. However, there are non-illuminated options, like the ebr 2c reticle, that perform well in low lighting!

A non-illuminated reticle is black in color. These are your typical hunting rifle scope reticles – perfect for daytime use but struggle at night.

9) Christmas Tree Reticle Lines

picture of christmas tree reticle

A Christmas tree-style reticle has the normal four crosshairs but also has horizontal lines on the 6 o’clock reticle. These hash marks elongate as it they move further down the crosshair.

The unique design is for allowing shooters to easily compensate for wind drift and bullet drop, especially at long range.

Use Cases Of Rifle Scope Reticles

All of these reticles mentioned above have different methods of achieving the same goal – providing an easy-to-follow aiming point that will allow precise and efficient shooting.

The reticle can contribute to easier shooting on a moving target – like the red dot reticle. Or it can be to allow an accurate shot at extremely long distances – like the Mil-dot, Christmas tree, TMR reticle, and BDC reticles.

Others can simply be for accurate target shooting at reasonable distances – like your basic, german, and duplex reticles. Finally, the reticle can help you achieve accurate nighttime or low-light shooting, as is the case with illuminated reticles.

How To Determine The Best Reticle For You

1) Do You Like The Center Point?

While some shooters like the center point to be a dot or an open circle, most hunters will simply prefer a plain cross of the crosshairs. So it comes down to personal preference, really.

2) Review The Manufacturer’s Description & Specs

Educating yourself on what the reticle system consists of is crucial before you choose a specific reticle. Visit the manufacturer’s website to check the description of the scope. Is the BDC in yards, meters, etc.?

Most manufacturers will have an app that you can use to determine the yardage estimates each line represents for your specific gun’s ballistics.

3) Consider The Reticle Size

When we mean to choose the reticle size, we are referring to the thickness of the crosshairs. From the above-mentioned types of reticles, you already know that we get thick and thin crosshairs.

If you are a hunter, then the thick crosshairs might be the better one to go for. There are numerous benefits the thicker lines have for the hunters using them, including:

  • Help distort busy backgrounds,
  • Draw the eye to the center aiming point
  • Enhanced visual capabilities in low-light conditions

The fine crosshair type of reticle also has some benefits. These reticle types are better if you want finer accuracy as well as less reticle subtension. The thin crosshair reticles are typically illuminated to provide better visual capabilities day and night.

4) Consider The Gun You’re Using

This is an important one. For instance, you don’t want to put a plain red dot on your 300 Win Mag. Many BDC scopes have specific yardage estimations for different calibers. Therefore choosing the reticle type featured in your optical device is very important. Simply follow the descriptions of each reticle type listed above, and you can choose the correct reticle type best suited for you!

5) Budget Considerations

We don’t like to acknowledge it, but most of us are constrained by the amount of money we are able to spend. If your budget is leaning towards the lower side of the scale, then normal, duplex, or any other non-illuminated reticles are better. However, if you have money to spend, then I would lean more toward the ballistic drop compensating or Illuminated reticles – all while taking the other four points into consideration.

What Is Reticle Subtension?

You might not have heard of this term before, and because it plays such a big role in determining what reticle is better for you, I will try to be as in-depth as possible.

When we speak of reticle subtension, we refer to the amount of space the crosshairs will cover on the target you are aiming at. Subtension is influenced by two factors: The placement of the reticle inside the erector tube (SFP and FFP) and crosshair density.

I already mentioned thinner crosshairs have less subtension – excellent for the sharpshooter but can compromise a big game hunter’s ability to shoot in heavy brush. For thicker lines, the opposite is true.

The placement of the reticle inside the erector tube also affects the subtension. SFP reticles have low subtension at the maximum magnification level. For FFP reticles, the subtension remains constant throughout the magnification range. But more on SFP and FFP reticles in the next section of the article…

SFP vs FFP Reticles

Seeing that we already made an in-depth article on FFP vs SFP, I will only briefly describe what both of these reticle types are.

First Focal Plane (FFP) – The reticle is located in front of the magnifying lens of the scope. The scope’s reticle size is directly correlated to the magnification. If the magnification increases, so will the crosshairs increase. If the magnification decreases, the crosshairs will also decrease.

Second Focal Plane (SFP) – A SFP reticle is the most common reticle system hunters use – it is also considerably cheaper. With this design, the reticle is placed behind the magnification lens. Naturally, when the magnification changes, the reticle size will remain the same size.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which scope reticle is best?

That depends on your use case. A duplex, basic, or BDC reticle is best for hunters. A red dot reticle is best for shooters using pistols, shotguns, or the AR platform. An illuminated reticle is best for varmint hunters.

What type of reticles do snipers use?

Snipers most often use the Mil-dot, BDC or Christmas tree reticle.

What does a 30 30 reticle mean?

A 30 30 reticle, also known as a duplex reticle, refers to the reticle's view when at 4x magnification. The subtension converts to 30 inches both horizontally and vertically.

Which reticle is best for a sniper scope?

For a sniper scope, you want to go for the Mil-Dot or BDC reticles.

What scope do military snipers use?

Snipers use all different types of scopes. Most of these scopes have advanced reticles with a built-in bullet drop compensator and excellent sight picture clarity. Scopes the military use include the Mark 5HD riflescope, Primary Arms and Swarovski.

Do you need 20/20 vision to be a military sniper?

Snipers need to have sharp point reflexes and also excellent vision for fast target acquisition. Therefore, you need 20/20 vision or have vision that is correctable to 20/20 vision - meaning glasses that will enhance your vision.

The Bottom Line

There are various types of reticles available. It is best to choose the right reticle for your use case before deciding on what scope you want to buy because it will inevitably affect your shooting performance. If you are a hunter, like myself, go for the duplex or basic reticle. If you are a sharpshooter, then the standard crosshair reticle type won’t cut it – go for some of the other reticles that have bullet drop compensation. If you enjoyed this article and want to do some further reading, feel free to check out some of our other articles, for instance, our very informative article on how a scope works.

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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