The “Ballistic Reticle” Scope: Essentially a Fixed Power Riflescope

By Randy Wakeman

The last couple of years have seen the introduction of quite an assortment of riflescopes with ballistic, or hold-over type, reticles. Along with that there has been some confusion about what they can do and what they can't. Most hold-over type scopes are actually fixed scopes when used to compensate for range. One exception is the Pride Fowler Industries (PFI) “Rapid Reticle” series of scopes, which have the reticle in the first focal plane. A first focal plane ballistic reticle works at all magnifications, since it changes size in concert with magnification. This means that it is always proportional to the target size, so regardless of magnification the hold-over points are useful.

The vast majority of scopes sold in the United States have reticles in the second focal plane, meaning the reticle is a constant size, as preferred by the great majority of North American hunters. This is true of most hold-over reticles, so as they do not maintain proportionality to the target, they only work at one power. Another way of phrasing it is that the reticle does not scale with magnification. Your 3-9x, 3-10x, or 3-12x ballistic reticle is a fixed power scope when that reticle is used. Normally cranked all the way up, the highest magnification is the only magnification where it works.

The negatives of this are several. If you don't have your power ring set properly, you can easily miss. In low-light situations or shooting off-hand, you may not want your scope cranked all the way up. Yet, all the way up is the only way if you want to use a holdover reticle.

Another consideration in hold-over reticles is compensating for wind drift. While gravity is wonderfully repeatable, wind speed and wind angle vary all over the place. Without some type of easy to find hold point for windage, precise holding into the wind is not possible when you need it the most: (at extended ranges). For that reason, the etched reticle found on the new Burris Fullfield E1 and Burris Six-X scopes makes perfect sense. Described as the “Ballistic Plex Enhanced,” you now have an easy, uncluttered way to compensate for wind drift. (If the wind is absolutely steady and the landscape is flat, with no trees or contour to cause swirls, and assuming you somehow know the wind direction and intensity hundreds of yards downrange. -Editor.)

Ballistic reticle scopes can be of value to the hunter. Yet, they are not always marketed transparently and accurately. Second focal plane scopes are essentially fixed power scopes when their ballistic reticles are used. Since this is the case, if you choose a second focal plane scope, you might want to consider the magnification at which it works. A 9x scope might be far more valuable to you in a hunting scenario than a 12x or 14x scope, based on the smaller field of view, exit pupil with the same objective size and the resultant lesser low-light performance of higher magnification scopes.

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Copyright 2011, 2013 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.