As you progress as a shooter, you will often find yourself shooting longer and longer distances, whether you are a range shooter or a hunter. Eventually, whatever basic tools you had when you started out, will no longer be sufficient and you will need better equipment – and that includes optics.
You will need to accurately estimate distance to the target, and this becomes more important the further you fire. The unaided is easily fooled by variations in lighting, the type of landscape etc. One of the best ways of estimating distance for long range shooting is a high quality spotting scope with a built-in reticle. The reticle will allow you to judge distance based on the known size of the far-away target, be it a target down range, or an elk in the forest.
I’d stress the words “high quality”, because you need both the reticle to be accurate as well as the optics providing enough clarity at high magnification to be able to see your hits and misses. Otherwise, the optics are useless.
I hope this article will help you make a good choice, which in turn will make you a better shooter. I’ll provide valuable guidance to put you in the right place and give you in-depth reviews of several great products to consider.
Before providing you with all the things you need to know about spotting scopes with reticles, let me first introduce you to what’s one of the best choices on the market.
When it comes to spotting scopes, the Leupold always has a wide range of products to amaze people, and when it includes a reticle, then the Mark 4 12-40X60mm TMR probably tops the list.
The 12-40x magnification is versatile and will work great for most applications. It’s not as high as the 60x magnification that many competing scopes provide, but keep one thing in mind: just because you can zoom to 60x, doesn’t mean it’s always useful, as very few scopes provide a high level of clarity at that magnification.
This scope will work great for targeting and ranging at several hundred yards. Whether you’d be able to use it for say 1,000 yard shooting, it depends. It depends on your eyesight, the weather, ground conditions and the type of target you’re looking at. Due to the way perspective works, if something is magnified 40x, it’s the same as bringing it 40x closer. But of course, the clarity is not the same as with the naked eye. Would you see bullet holes at 25 yards with the naked eye?
In any case, the optics on this Leupold are fantastic. Consider that this scope has been used by the US military in recent conflicts, and I think that says a lot. I believe it was also featured in movies Hurt Locker and Shooter.
The 60mm wide objective lens is good enough for the brightness of image.
The Tactical Milling Reticle – this spotting scope is equipped with a TMR which can be used for estimating the size and speed of your target. This reticle is quite simple, it has two crosshairs intersecting in the center of an image, each one contains several scales which makes it easier to quickly calculate distance; the scale line which appears on the thick part of the crosshair is equal to 5 milliradians (1 Mrad = 3.6 inches at 100 yards).
- Top-end glass that conserves colors and reduces chromatic aberrations.
- Perfectly DiamondCoat 2™ ion-assist engineered lens multicoatings to enhance light transmission and improve contrast.
- Rubber armored for shock resistance
- Water and fog proof
- Includes a front focal plane Tactical Milling Reticle which is easy to use at all magnification powers – comes with a manual to understand the scale.
- Fairly compact
- The max magnification is 40x, not 60x like some other scopes.
It’s a great instrument to take with you to the range or hunting. Have a look at the user reviews over at Amazon – they’re quite impressive.
After considering this useful recommendation, we can move forward to discuss the various aspects of choosing this kind of spotter scopes.
Why would one want a spotting scope with a reticle?
Obviously, normal spotting scopes are useful for a wide range of activities including birding, wildlife observation, astronomy, archery… But those with a reticle are especially useful for shooting ranges and hunting.
Along with their magnificent capacity of zooming in at targets hundreds or yards away and giving you goosebumps every time, spotting scopes that are equipped with a reticle serve as a perfect tool for ranging as it allows you to get accurate information about the distance to your target.
The purpose of the reticle and specific applications of such scopes
The reticle is an important feature that comes embedded in the scope. This feature is extremely useful for aiming at targets and getting the best shot, you will find a scale on the reticle that will help you calculate distance, so you can hit the target / kill your game in one shot. That said, such scopes are of very limited use: they are very functional for hunting and target shooting, and are used by the military. They’re often not the best tool for birding, for example – the reticle gets in the way (unless it can be turned off).
Originating from the single dot reticle, engineers have developed many convenient types of reticles that are useful for locating, aiming and estimating the distance to your target.
Mil Dot reticle – this simple duplex type is considered as a tactical ballistic reticle which consists of two crosshairs intersecting in the center, each one contains two peripheral thick parts and one central thin part. Each thin line contains 4 dots distributed on both sides of the center. Each dot of the grid represents 1 milliradian (1 Mrad = 3.6 inches at 100 yards or 36 inches at 1,000 yards).
The Mil Dot is easy to use and unintrusive.
Tactical milling reticle – this one here is similar to the Mil Dot but it has a different grid, the thick and thin lines remain the same but the TMR is divided into more divisions and on a different scale. The biggest division is equal to 5 Mrad.
This type also serves as a locating feature and is easy to interpret thanks to the multitude of scale divisions.
Horus H32 reticle – this reticle is more advanced as it has complicated scale with a horizontal line that serves as a distance and speed estimator while the vertical grid serves as a second shot corrector.
The H32 is incredibly powerful, but requires some experience to be used effectively.
First focal plane vs second focal plane
This is the most important thing you need to know about reticles, it tells you about the position of the reticle inside the scope. First focal plane reticles are placed in front of the magnifying system while second focal plane reticles are located behind the magnifying mechanism.
FFP crosshairs increase in size with the increase of magnification and vice versa. It is recommended for long range target shooting as the scale will be easily visible and quickly interpreted.
SFP reticles remain the same as you adjust magnification. These can be used for relatively close range target shooting, but sometimes it’s hard to use especially on a loaded background – and it needs a more complicated calculation to get the right estimate.
Other things you need to be aware of:
Very limited selection on the market – spotting scopes with crosshairs and reticles are very special and they are only used for limited activities and they require high quality optics which get manufactured only by top-tier manufacturers such as Swarovski, Leupold, Nikon, Bushnell… Therefore, they are very limited on the market and there aren’t that many choices.
Pricing matters – for long range target shooting, you will absolutely need the best optics for a satisfactory optical performance. And for such optics, you will need to be prepared for a significant outlay. Yes, it’ll cost a lot but it’s worth the cost since paying a grand or two will get you a tool that will do the job for a lifetime.
Make sure that you are going to spend your money on high quality optics that will last forever without bothering you with chromatic aberrations, distortions or lens scratches.
You can still use a cheaper product with low quality optics on the range, if what you’re looking for aren’t bullet holes, but vapor trails. You don’t need high-end optics to see those.
Size and weight – the products mentioned in this article are of high quality materials brought together by modern technologies. The large magnification factors, and all the protection can make the instrument a little bit heavy. But don’t worry about this since this scope will be mounted on a tripod to stay steady.
Anyway, don’t forget to purchase a special case with your spotting scope to make it portable on your range or hunting trips.
Tripod necessity – Although spotting scopes can and are sometimes used handheld, especially in prone positions, it’s often a less than optimal approach. The solution is easy: a tripod which doesn’t cost a lot but will be very useful in making the scope steady and help you get the best results. Don’t think twice and purchase a high quality tripod that fits your product.
A lot of things are now covered, so let’s check out some interesting products from the best manufacturers. Keep in mind – the selection of products on the market is quite limited. I will be reviewing the most useful products out there, and frankly, there aren’t many besides these.
As always with Leupold products, this particular spotting scope wins a place in our list thanks to its stunning features.
The Leupold Mark 4 stuns with its 20-60X magnification eyepiece for breathtaking zooming including a Mil Dot reticle that will make ranging much easier, and an 80mm wide objective lens which guarantees bright images.
Leupold uses high quality glass in its scopes – the optics are really top-notch.
The Mil Dot reticle – this one comes with a Mil dot reticle that needs a quick focus and then will do the job for years. As mentioned above, the Mil Dot reticle is a duplex tactical reticle with a simple grid (4 dots on each half of crosshair, each dot corresponds to 1 Mrad.
- Very High magnification power (reaches up to 60X)
- Very wide objective lens (brightness)
- Top-end glass with multicoated lenses to ensure the enhancement of light transmission and contrast.
- Water and fog proof
- Rubber armored for shock resistance
- Price versus quality ratio is unfair since you can get the same quality with cheaper products.
- Heavy weight (around 62 oz / 1750 grams)
- Tripod not included
The same as the previous one, but with a different reticle – the tactical milling reticle – which is more useful in some specific applications because it gives more precise measurements and allows the user a faster estimation than the Mil Dot thanks to the more divided grid.
The benefit of TMR – many hunters assume that tactical milling reticles are the most useful in the field because of the versatile scale and the convenient design that allows you to get a clear vision while zooming in.
- Same pros as the previous product with an addition of an illuminated TM reticle
- Same as the previous product.
Moving to lower quality spotting scopes with reticles, we find the Barska 11-33X50. The 11-33X configuration is not the best since there are many products that provide a magnification power of 60X but for the price, it is considered fair. The 50mm wide objective lens is quite sufficient to to get decent images at these magnifications.
The Mil Cross reticle – Barska engineers tried to develop the Mil Dot reticle and came up with the Mil Cross reticle: a design that consists of two perpendicular lines intercepting in the middle of the circle, each one of them contains 10 graduations distributed equally on both sides of the central intersection. The quality of the reticle itself has been harshly criticized by users, but that’s what you get for the money.
- Very strong rubber material which is well sealed to protect the scope and make it durable.
- Water and fog proof
- Includes a carrying case and a cover for the objective lens cover.
- Compact size for perfect portability (weighs only 1.4 pounds / 635 grams).
- Very tight focusing knob makes the focusing hard
- The quality of reticle decreases after some use, it tilts and makes measuring the distance or the size quite impossible
- Poor glass quality.
- The reticle design is not convenient – it’s on the second focal plane and really only useful at max zoom.
Another great product that deserves a mention is this Bushnell scope equipped with a Horus H32 reticle.
This particular scope will easily grab your attention thanks to its amazing shape, I mean it looks more like an over-sized rifle scope than a spotting scope but it is still a spotting scope with great quality optics and versatile design.
The Horus H32 reticle – this special kind of reticle has a great reputation and the H32 version comes with special features: a scale in the lower half of the circle consisting of two grids, a horizontal line for speed and distance estimation and a vertical more complex grid for 2nd shot correction. This would fulfill all your needs on a hunting trip and on the shooting range.
- Includes a FFP H32 reticle which contains a complex scale for better vision and interpretation of useful measures.
- Great optics for a very fair price, images are absolutely clear and crisp at very high magnification.
- Straight shape suitable for beginner use.
- Extremely durable and water/fog proof.
- Quite heavy
Saving best for last, it’s time to mention the king of all spotting scopes, Swarovski products and especially the STR 80mm, with a 20-60X magnification eyepiece and a MRAD reticle.
The STR 80mm is a straight scope that has a very wide objective lens (80mm) and carries the best quality optics inside, the eyepiece that comes with the kit is also of great quality since it provides a wide range of magnification (20 to 60X).
This absolutely supreme spotting scope is equipped with a MRAD reticle which is similar to the Tactical Miling reticle with a duplex design and various graduations that serve as MRAD divisions, the reticle is located on the front focal plane and it is possibly the most convenient setup for long range target shooting.
- Magnesium housing that guarantees protection and portability
- The MRAD reticle is illuminated which will help in dim conditions.
- Comes with a tripod collar to make it adaptable to tripods.
- Tripod not included.
- Very expensive for a spotting scope (it is obvious for Swarovski products but the quality that comes with this magical scope is unbelievable)
Similar to the one above, this one comes with a totally different reticle, the MOA type which is reserved for MOA measures, in other terms, this reticle looks exactly like the MRAD one with all the graduations and the duplex design but the unit of measure is different: MOA which stands for “minutes of angle” and 1 MOA is equal to 1 inch per 100 yards.
Some hunters find it more useful than MRAD reticles since it provides them with very precise estimation at very long distance especially on Swarovski products which have a stunning magnification power.
The eyepiece that comes with this model also offers slightly lower magnification of 25x to 50x.
PROS and CONS of this product are exactly the same as the previous one except the magnification difference.
Well, that was quite a long article reviewing the best options for a spotting scope with reticle, but I believe it was absolutely worth this amount of information. The only thing I will tell you at the end is this: don’t waste your money on something that doesn’t fit your requirements, learn about the aspects and dig into reviews, check out the products above, to provide the best fit for your needs. And good luck, let you aim be true!
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