To Twist Or Not
Reticles Vs. Turrets.
Ever since accurate laser rangefinders became available to hunters in the 1990s we’ve extended the ranges for sure hits, partly because our scopes adapted to the new technology. First, optics companies offered multipoint reticles, whether simple dots on the vertical crosshair, or more complex versions such as “Christmas tree” reticles, with extra horizontal crosshairs that become longer at the bottom of the reticle to help when holding into the wind. Eventually numbered grids appeared, with the reticle covering almost half the field of view, so we could pick the right aiming point with a little help from a computer.
Most optics companies also introduced “tactical” scopes, more-or-less based on military sniper scopes, featuring extra-tall adjustment turrets with hashmarks, so the elevation windage could be quickly adjusted to any range. Some hunters who specialize in long-range shots still prefer really tall turrets, but eventually most companies brought out scopes better adapted to general hunting, with much shorter turrets so the rifle could fit inside a soft rifle case or saddle scabbard.
Which works better, reticles or turrets? It depends on the application. I first started using multipoint reticle for varmint hunting, and they did extend the sure range. Often, however, they didn’t work so well on small varmints such as prairie dogs, because the aiming points on most reticles were too far apart to provide real precision when aiming at something the size of a hot dog bun.
The best prairie dog reticle I’ve ever used was a grid-type offered in scopes sold by the Ramshot powder people, who live in the middle of prime prairie dog country in eastern Montana. On one calm afternoon (not common on the high plains) I once used a Ramshot 4-16X scope on a heavy-barreled .223 Remington to hit nine of 12 prairie dogs between 550 and 600 yards away. That scope is still mounted on the same rifle, now mostly used by my wife Eileen, but Ramshot quit the scope business several years ago, apparently because they got too busy selling powder.
Also, I suspect there isn’t as much demand for really complex reticles from prairie dog hunters, who found clicking the elevation turret worked better on small targets. A shooter set up next to a big prairie dog town has plenty of time to laser a target and click a turret, since prairie dogs aren’t going anywhere, unlike coyotes. Plus a coyote’s chest is several inches across, more easily hit with a multipoint reticle.
Big game animals are even easier. As somebody once noted, on deer all we need to do is hit a volleyball. When shooting a bullet with a high ballistic coefficient and a muzzle velocity over 3,000 fps, a center-of-volleyball hold works fine out to 250 or even 300 yards with the rifle sighted-in a couple inches above the crosshairs at 100 yards. We don’t even have to consider using one of the dots or extra crosshairs in a multipoint reticle until out around 350 to 400 yards, and somebody who practices with a multipoint scope can regularly hit the volleyball out to 600.
Beyond 600 yards, however, even a volleyball may fall through the cracks in a multipoint reticle. Twisting the elevation turret solves the problem, but since only a very few big game hunters are capable of consistently hitting volleyballs beyond 600 yards, many stick with reticles.
One problem with multipoint reticles is in most variable scopes they’re located in the second focal plane (SFP), behind the magnification-changing machinery. This means the reticle’s actual size relative to the target changes when the magnification ring is turned. Probably 99 percent of variable scopes sold these days are SFP, and some hunters don’t understand the potential problem, so end up missing when they forget to crank the scope to the magnification matching the bullet’s trajectory—and miss.
There are a couple of solutions. Reticle size in a fixed-power scope remains constant, magnification never changes, one reason fixed scopes are making something of a comeback these days, especially for longer-range hunting. If we’re not going to be shooting at “woods” ranges anyway, there’s no handicap in the smaller field of view of a 6X scope, or even a 10X.
By John Barsness
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