Scope Reticles

By Chuck Hawks

Scope reticles used to be pretty simple, at least the common ones. (I suppose that there have always been odd reticles in use, especially in Germany.) The three common types used in North America when I started shooting were the crosshair, dot, and post and crosshair.

The most popular, by far, was the simple crosshair. This was sometimes available in fine (for varmint hunting), medium (for big game hunting and all-around use) and heavy (for close range shooting at large targets, such as deer with a slug shotgun). The plain crosshair is a simple, fast, and easy to use reticle.

In addition we had the Lee "floating" dot, and the post and crosshair. The latter was probably second in popularity to the simple crosshair.

The post was intended to resemble a flat topped front sight and was designed for use by those who were so used to shooting with iron sights that they had a problem adjusting to a scope with a crosshair reticle. A post reticle should always have a flat top. In dim light the tip of a pointed post, one shaped like a picket fence post, becomes very hard to see and the shooter ends up aiming farther down the reticle and shooting over the target.

The horizontal crosshair, located well below the top of the post, was added merely to aid in holding the rifle level. It has no aiming function. These days, with most shooters accustomed to shooting with telescopic sights, post and crosshair reticles are no longer common.

The original Lee Floating Dot was actually suspended by strands of spider web. This was the finest, strongest material available. The ultra thin strands of spider web were practically invisible, so the dot appeared to float in the center of the field of view. The dots themselves were available in different sizes, designed to subtend two, four, or (I believe) six minutes of angle (MOA) at 100 yards. The four minute dot is about right for big game hunting.

The old Weaver Company offered a Range-Finder reticle in their scopes, starting (I believe) in the 1950's. This reticle added a second crosshair 6 MOA below the central horizontal crosshair. The idea was that an average size mature buck's body, from top of back to brisket, would fill the space between the two crosshairs at 300 yards, giving the hunter a fair estimate of range.

Scope reticles got more complicated during the 1960s, when Leupold designed the Duplex reticle. This is basically a fine central crosshair that transitions to a heavy crosshair about 1/4 of the way out toward the edge. The idea was to lead the eye to the center (aiming point) of the reticle. The heavy section of the Duplex is relatively easy to see in dim light, and the fine inner crosshair can be finer (subtending less of the target) than the typical medium crosshair.

All in all, I consider the standard Duplex to be the most versatile of all hunting scope reticles. To my eye, Leupold still does the Duplex better than anyone else, although there are many satisfactory copies in scopeland.

The Leupold Duplex became the most imitated reticle design of all time, and nearly all modern scopes are offered with some version of this reticle. Most manufacturers have devised their own alias for the Duplex, and many shooting publications and authors refer to Duplex type reticles generically as "plex" reticles.

In addition to the standard Duplex, Leupold offers a Fine Duplex for target and varmint shooting (my favorite of all varmint hunting reticles), and a Heavy Duplex for shooting in very dim (low light/nighttime) conditions.

Other Duplex variations offered by Leupold are the Wide Duplex (with a wider center gate for shooting at running game), the illuminated Duplex, and the Wide Duplex RE. The latter is a range estimating version.

Leupold, as the inventor of the Duplex, seems to offer more variations than anyone else. Most other manufacturers seem to get by with just a knock-off of the original Duplex.

Leupold probably offers more reticle styles than any other scope manufacturer, so I will make an example of them and briefly describe the other styles illustrated in their 2005 catalog. Some, perhaps most, of these reticles are also offered by other major scope makers.

CPC - This Leupold reticle is a variation of the Duplex that uses tapered crosshairs that are about as wide as a standard Duplex at the edge and taper continuously to a fine crosshair at the center. It is versatile and precise, but not quite as visible as a standard Duplex in dim light.

Crosshair - See comments above. The plain crosshair is still popular because it is simple and versatile.

Mil Dot - This military style reticle is sort of a variation of the Heavy Duplex, with a fine and very wide center gate along which are evenly spaced aiming dots for elevation and windage correction. See Barry F. Marks "Mil Dot Table" on the General Information section of the Scopes and Sport Optics Page for mil dot values.

Post and Duplex - Similar to the heavy Duplex with the top section replaced by extending the central crosshair all the way to the top.

Target Dot - As the name implies, useful for target shooting and also varmint hunting. Similar to a small "floating" dot.

German #4 - a crosshair with three, squared-off posts. The posts appear at the bottom and both sides. Supposed to be easy to see at night and against tangled backgrounds and shadows. I find it unnecessarily complicated and the heavy posts subtend too much of the field of view.

German #1 - Just about the worst of all possible worlds. This reticle incorporates the #4's heavy posts at right and left, but dispenses with the crosshair. Instead, the lower post is extended to the middle of the field in a "picket fence post" shape and becomes the aiming point. Subtends even more of the target than the #1 and adds the imprecision of a pointed post. Not a good design for a low light reticle, but apparently popular in Germany.

Tactical Military Reticle (TMR) - This reticle is a variation of the Mil Dot and uses various sized and spaced tic marks on the vertical and horizontal crosshairs. Mil Dot calculations are TMR compatible.

Special Purpose Reticle - Incorporates features of the fine Duplex, Post and Duplex, and rangefinding reticles plus a small center circle. A very complex and distracting reticle.

In addition to all of those standard reticles, Leupold offers versions of their Duplex, Mil Dot, German #4, TMR, and Special Purpose reticles with an illuminated center aiming point. They also offer two versions of a special Circle Dot illuminated reticle that is not available as a standard (not illuminated) reticle.

Last, the Leupold Custom Shop will make a custom ballistically matched reticle for any factory load or handload that you desire, with hold over points for 300, 400, and 500 yards. The Custom Shop will also install almost any of their non-illuminated reticles in their non-illuminated scopes.

Any reticle is actually much finer (smaller) than it appears in the scope. Crosshairs were, at one time, literally human hairs. I understand that red hair worked best. Later the transition was made to very fine platinum or tungsten wire, which is still used today. (Leupold simply flattens the outer portions of the wire to form a Duplex reticle.) Some scope manufacturers engrave their reticles, of whatever sort, on glass.

The reticle is usually located somewhere in the middle of the scope, where the adjustment turrets are. Never try to internally clean or blow dust out of a scope. You will destroy the scope's watertight integrity and likely blow the reticle away. If a scope or reticle needs service, return it to the manufacturer.

In my opinion the best reticles are the simplest. For big game hunting I like the 1) Duplex and 2) a plain medium crosshair. For varmint shooting I prefer 1) the Fine Duplex, and 2) a fine crosshair.

Avoid anything fancy or complicated. Your eye should naturally find the center of the reticle and align it with the target. You should not be looking at or thinking about anything else from that point on but making a perfect shot.

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Copyright 2005, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.