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Reticles vs. Turrets in Hunting Scopes

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/04/2009 at 15:49
John Barsness View Drop Down
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RETICLES VS. TURRETS IN HUNTING RIFLE SCOPES

is the 4th in a series of monthly articles that John Barsness (www.riflesandrecipes.com) is writing for Opticstalk.com.

 

            Many of today’s hunters think that using a riflescope’s adjustment turrets to compensate for range windage is the latest thing, but my collection of riflescopes includes quite a few older models, some made 60 or more years ago. Among them is a Noske, a 2.5x with a pointed post reticle, and I’ve used it on a Savage 99 in .300 Savage for hunting whitetails, taking deer out to 250 yards or so, a range many hunters think requires a 4.5-14x.

            This Noske is the lightest scope in my collection, built on an aluminum 7/8” tube and only weighing a little over 5-1/2 ounces. The most interesting feature of the Noske, however, isn’t its light weight but some tiny numbers inscribed on the top of the elevation dial. There are hashmarks around the edge of the dial, and next to them numerals from 1 to 8. Inside these numerals are “.270, 150 @2670 SEC.”

            Yep, this old, low-powered scope has an elevation adjustment turret, set up for shooting a 150-grain .270 bullet at 2670 fps out to 800 yards. This might seem quite optimistic (especially to anybody looking through the eyepiece of the scope) but there it is. With the Noske on that 99, I once took a few shots at rocks in the badlands of eastern Montana, using the dial to crank the scope’s elevation up and down. It worked pretty closely out to 500 yards or so, despite the “wrong” caliber and the coarse aiming point.

            I started shooting a more sophisticated version of the same idea in the mid-1970’s, when Bushnell introduced “BDC” (Bullet Drop Compensating) dials on their scopes, which worked exactly like the dials generically known as BDC today. They were numbered with yardages, and the shooter twisted the dial to set the scope for, as I recall, ranges out to 600 yards.

            Bushnell offered to send me one to test and I used it quite a bit, learning a few things about such a set-up. First, the scope came with 3-4 dials and a chart. You looked up the load you’d be shooting and picked the dial that supposedly matched that trajectory. This worked reasonably well, but obviously wasn’t absolutely precise.

            Also, in those unsophisticated days there were no laser rangefinders. Instead I figured out how to use the scope’s reticle as a rough rangefinder, since the 1970’s were when most optics companies started copying the Duplex reticle brought out by Leupold. The Bushnell scope had such a reticle, and I figured out how the distance from the intersection of the crosshairs and the top of the bottom post could be compared to, say, a pronghorn’s chest to estimate range.

            I mounted the scope on an accurate .243 Winchester and went pronghorn hunting, using a 100-grain bullet at what may or may not have been 3000 fps or so. (This was a couple of years before my first chronograph.) But I did shoot the rifle and twirl the dial out to 500 yards, and the bullets hit close enough to the crosshairs to be useful. Then I set the BDC dial to 200 yards, allowing me to aim in the middle of a pronghorn’s chest to 250 or so, figuring I’d change the dial if needed.

            The next lesson learned was in the field. On opening morning I made a good stalk on an average buck and got within about 200 yards (according to the reticle) and shot from a very steady prone position. He was feeding contentedly when the first shot went over his back. This seemed odd, but he stood there looking around so I shot again. This bullet also went over his back, and he started trotting away. I shot again, leading him by a little, and missed again. He started loping and I led him by six feet or so and this time the bullet broke his back right at the top of the shoulder, and he went down.

            I was a very good running-game shot in those days, practicing a lot in winter on jackrabbits. Today I probably wouldn’t have taken that shot, but I also wouldn’t have missed the first one (or at least let’s say I haven’t missed a pronghorn at 200 yards since then). The reason the first three shots missed was that somehow, between my shooting range and the hunting grounds, the BDC dial got accidentally twirled to 325 yards. When the pronghorn finally fell he was close to 300 yards away—far enough to be hit in the spine.

            It turned out that not much effort was required to turn the BDC dial. Who knows when it got turned? I have several scopes with “turrets” of various sorts these days, and most are harder to turn. But I still don’t trust exposed turrets in the hunting field, especially when a rifle is going to be going in and out of a saddle scabbard.

            These days a bunch of what might be called average hunters are using not only turrets but multi-point reticles, and shooting far beyond 500 yards. The tool that made this really possible is the laser rangefinder, though some shooters have gotten used to using reticles as range-finders, especially with the publicity surrounding “mil-dot” scopes in recent years, but most hunt

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/04/2009 at 16:09
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Great read John...many thanks.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/04/2009 at 19:33
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yeah real good read was looking at some of those
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/04/2009 at 20:54
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       Excellent    Thanks, John I read it and enjoyed it as always   #1
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/04/2009 at 21:00
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Thunbs Up    Thunbs Up
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/04/2009 at 21:13
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 Good article as usual.
 
I especially liked the comment about rarely finding a big mule deer buck twice.
 
I've always had a heck of a time finding them even once!
 
I've always thought that a young mule deer buck is one of the easiest animals to hunt, and and old mule deer buck one of the very hardest. They are smart.
 
edited to add;
 spelling error, and an apology for the sidetrack away from the real gist of the article, which of course is reticles and turrets, not mule deer. (I like hunting stories though!)


Edited by RONK - May/04/2009 at 21:19
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/05/2009 at 07:59
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Complete agreement about young and old mule deer! In fact, when talking about really big mule deer I often think of a quote (can'ty remember where I head it now) from an older hunter: "Even where there's a lot of them, there ain't very many!"

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Good read!  I must be one of the few first focal plane reticle fans left.  They are pretty consistent at any power...
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/05/2009 at 13:36
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Yeah, I like 'em too, but they are getting harder to find even in European scopes.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/05/2009 at 15:20
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Excellent  Good read, John!
 
I like first focal plane reticles best for general big game hunting scopes and second focal plane reticles best for target, rimfire, and prairie dog rigs.
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Another great read!  Thanks again John!  Thunbs Up
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/07/2009 at 10:22
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Thanks, John. Interesting stuff and well-written. Although I have now have a rangefinder, I still make it a habit to range distances in other ways, mostly with the naked eye. Like you said, a device may fail or there may not be time. Under max PBR, which for me is 300 yards, I wouldn't even bother with the RF because my zero is already set to let me shoot without correction. How do I know just looking when 300 yards is 300 yards? By constantly noting when out shooting or hiking what objects in the landscape look like at known distances.

Beyond that however, I'd be reluctant to shoot at an animal without using the RF and if it's not working, I'd either forget about it or figure out a way to close the distance. What I think rangefinders are really great for is as a practice and load-testing tool. I like going to the range and knowing that I'm really putting rounds into a target that is 255 yards away. Otherwise, I didn't even want one, thinking I could just go cheaper and simpler with a mil-dot reticle to range. Then I learned (and calculated for myself) what a 5-10% mistake in estimating an animal's size (that's a 19-20" back-to-brisket instead of 18" on a deer) can mean in terms of a missed or botched shot at distances out past 400 yards.

Regarding SFP mil-dot reticles: While it's true that they only "work" at one magnification, Koshkin pointed out elsewhere that you can, for example, set a 10X down to 5X and just halve the final distance, e.g. if a 1 yard object fills 1 mil @ 5X then it is 1/2 of 1000 yards or 500 yards. The nice thing with SFP reticles is that they stay visible at lower magnification. However, if someone wants to mail me a new Nightforce FFP with zero-stop, I won't complain.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/07/2009 at 18:25
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Actually, I have measured the chests of a lot of animals (especially big mule deer) and they don't vary as much as some of us might guess. Truly mature mule deer pretty much do all measure 18" from top to bottom of the chest. In trhe rare case that one measures 17" or 19", then there is only about 5% error from the base-line--meaning around 25 yards at around 500. If I'm hunting them with my .257 Weatherby, and get a good reading with my scope reticle, then I certainly would take such a shot, partly because the vital lung-shot area of a big mule deer is at least 10" across, not that tough a target at 500. Similarly, I have measured a lot of pronghorns and found big bucks to measure 15" all the way from New Mexico into northern Montana.

There is a little more variation in other animals. Barren-ground caribou bulls go around 22", and big bull elk around 28", but again I have never seen a variation of more than 5%--and those animals have an even bigger vital lung-area than mule deer. Which is why I've never missed a shot at a distant mule deer, pronghorn, caribou or elk since starting to use a reticle to range-find: I don't shoot at them past 500 yards. I have always been able to get within that range on any animal I've wanted, which makes me skeptical of claims that "there was no way to get closer."
 
To be honest, I am always skeptical of being able to eyeball range. I used to be able to judge it within 25 yards out to 400 or so when I was guiding pronghorn hunters 20 years ago, but that was with a brightly-colored animal in relatively flat, drab terrain. But on drabber animals in various light conditions, at different angles below and above us, and sometimes with a canyon in between, I haven't eve rmet anybody who can consistently guess within useful distance. The last guy who claimed such a skill (because he had been a surveyor in his youth, and kept his skill up by always guessing distances in the field) judged the shot I'd just made on a whitetail buck at just about 100 yards, give or take 10 yards. This was across a snowy flat on a sunny morning. When we put the rangefinder on it the range turned out to be 188 yards.
 
My own guesses (and as noted above, I used to be really good at judging ranges to pronghorns) have been proven wrong so many times either by reticle or rangefinder that I've pretty well quit relying on eyeballing--except, as you state, when the animal is obviously within PBR.
 
The best FFP long-range reticle I have used isn't available on any scopes sold by SWFA, so I can't talk about it. But it is easily useable on big game out to 600 with the right load and rifle. Most of the reticles available on generally available scopes just don't have enough aiming points to be useful that far out. But even with that reticle I start cranking in elevation when shooting varmints, whether prairie dogs or coyotes.
 
ILya's point about SFP scopes is certainly valid, but the problem I have run into is that on a lot of scopes the magnifications indicated on the ring aren't always exactly 1/2 of the top magnification. Of course they can be tested on the range (and all reticles should be anyway), but the other problem is complexity. In big game hunting I have found the best policy is to keep everything as simple as possible, so that under the stress of the shot the shooter doesn't over-think or become confused. I have seen that way too often in people I've guided who have worked all sorts of problems out on the range, but become a little excited in the presence of game. I have even seen them refuse to believe the reading on a laser rangefinder, because it didn't "look like that" to them!
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John, that's good to know about the lack of variation among animals of a particular species. I've never even thought to measure one. And, yeah, the bigger the species, the less it matters if you're off a few inches. I tend to think of antelope as being the most likely to be shot at longer distances so all my preparation is geared towards an 8" vital zone. At 525 yards, my .308 load will drop 7" from 500 yards, which could be a poor shot. So I'd want to range more precisely than a mil-dot reticle would allow.

I don't pretend to be great at guessing exact distances but do believe that it is good practice and gets your eye trained to spot game and to note wind conditions. Thanks again for the thought provoking commentary. In the end, it's all about hunting as simply, competently and ethically as possible.
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Exactly--and I also tend to still estimate ranges, though just as often (as with you) I'm looking at wind as much as distane, both for shooting and hunting. Many years ago I suddenly realized on day in the mountains that I was unconsciously always heading more-or-less into the wind, just like a coyote--even though I can't scent game very well, except for those stinky elk.

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Originally posted by John Barsness John Barsness wrote:

...even though I can't scent game very well, except for those stinky elk.
 
It's funny... game always seem pretty adept at scenting me, though!Wink
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I wonder what we smell like to an elk?
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Originally posted by RifleDude RifleDude wrote:

Originally posted by John Barsness John Barsness wrote:

...even though I can't scent game very well, except for those stinky elk.
 
It's funny... game always seem pretty adept at scenting me, though!Wink
there is a REASON for that, Ted...
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Originally posted by John Barsness John Barsness wrote:

I wonder what we smell like to an elk?


In more than a few cases, probably a combination of beer farts, Jimmy Dean Pure Pork Sausage and last night's whiskey.
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Good article, John.

As far as rangefinding reticles go, I most certainly prefer them in an FFP scope.  As you have correctly pointed out, if you plan to use a rangefinding/holdover reticle in a SFP scope, you have to measure the reticle size at several different magnifications and be pretty damn sure of what your scope is set to.

I have made several experiements trying to shoot targets of different size and at different ranges when I have limited time (i.e. can't fiddle with the scope indefinitely until it is perfectly set up).  The one additional complication I added to the experiment was moving the magnificaiton ring across the whole magnification range a couple of times between shots.  One thing I was trying to determine was whether there is any hysteresis in the system, and another was to see if I have any clear tendencies in how I set magnification and range targets.  A friend of mine was spotting hits and misses and recording the details.

It turned out that when under time pressure I routinely overestimate the distance to the target and set magnification a bit too sloppily.  Attaching some tactile marker to the scope for the desired magnificaiton setting helped greatly.  Apparently, my tactile preception combined with a visual check is more precise than just a quick glance at the magnificaiton ring.

Anyhow, my conclusion from all that was very simple: if I plan to use the reticle for ranging or holdover, I will simply use either FFP or fixed magnification scope, since I have that choice.  Everything else, for me, is just adding additional variables to an already non-linear probelm.

ILya
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ILya,

I have made the same kinds of experiments myself, and came to the same conclusions.

My experience (both as a hunter and guide) is that the more complications we introduce into hunting scopes the more likely something will go wrong, including the animal disappearing before we finally get set to shoot.
 
Of course some modern hunters prefer infinitely adjustable scopes, and carry portable weather stations and computers to help them adjust those scopes. These hunters tend to view hunting as an engineering problem.
 
Hunting is a lot of things to a lot of people. Personally I gain more satisfaction from using a less complicated "weapon" and figuring out how to get in range, whether a longbow, an iorn-sighted rifle or a scoped rifle. Hunting to me is understanding the natural world, and interacting with it, not overcoming it with an engineering solution. As a noted wildlife bioligist once said, "I like as little between myself and the deer as possible." This means not just distance but technology.
 
Of course there is the argument that human hunting is technology, at least once we get beyond rock-throwing. And everybody is free to use what they like, within the legal rules. I also tend to use a lot more rifle technology when hunting varmints than when hunting big game--partly because the major point of varmint hunting is to reduce the population of prairie dogs or coyotes or whatever. Or at least that is still the major point in the part of the world where I live--and if I help my rancher friends in that endeavor they are likely to allow me to hunt edible game too!
 
I personally get more satisfaction out of stalking closer than shooting farther--though I have shot farther on a number of occasions. But I see little sense in shooting a deer at 600 yards when a stalk could have halved the distance.
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Originally posted by John Barsness John Barsness wrote:

ILya,

I have made the same kinds of experiments myself, and came to the same conclusions.

My experience (both as a hunter and guide) is that the more complications we introduce into hunting scopes the more likely something will go wrong, including the animal disappearing before we finally get set to shoot.
 
Of course some modern hunters prefer infinitely adjustable scopes, and carry portable weather stations and computers to help them adjust those scopes. These hunters tend to view hunting as an engineering problem.
 
Hunting is a lot of things to a lot of people. Personally I gain more satisfaction from using a less complicated "weapon" and figuring out how to get in range, whether a longbow, an iorn-sighted rifle or a scoped rifle. Hunting to me is understanding the natural world, and interacting with it, not overcoming it with an engineering solution. As a noted wildlife bioligist once said, "I like as little between myself and the deer as possible." This means not just distance but technology.
 
Of course there is the argument that human hunting is technology, at least once we get beyond rock-throwing. And everybody is free to use what they like, within the legal rules. I also tend to use a lot more rifle technology when hunting varmints than when hunting big game--partly because the major point of varmint hunting is to reduce the population of prairie dogs or coyotes or whatever. Or at least that is still the major point in the part of the world where I live--and if I help my rancher friends in that endeavor they are likely to allow me to hunt edible game too!
 
I personally get more satisfaction out of stalking closer than shooting farther--though I have shot farther on a number of occasions. But I see little sense in shooting a deer at 600 yards when a stalk could have halved the distance.


I do not really have much of an opinion on what is more enjoyable and interesting: stalking or trying to land a long range shot.  I hope to get out into the field more in the coming years (perhaps with some friends from this very forum), so I may form an opinion on the subject.

I am an engineer, so I am attracted to long range shooting: it is a complex problem that is interesting to solve.  I am also a realist: if I am interested in shooting long-range, I see no compelling reason to drag a deer into my shooting practice.  I am not a good enough shot to dispatch a critter at long range humanely from field positions.  We all have some delusions of self-grandeur and mine have nothing to do with shooting. 

Frankly, I have seen very few people who have any business taking long shots on game (myself included).  Of the people I have talked to on the subject, aside from you, John, there are maybe five or six who are clearly capable of it.  All of them, like you, get to spend quite a bit of time both in the field and practicing in the offseason.  Paradoxically, the people I know who spend a lot of time hunting, overall, seem the least likely to even attempt a difficult long-range shot, reaffirming my own conclusions.

ILya
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once you pull the trigger the work begins, (happiness is a warm gut pile) the closer you are to the animal the less work it is.
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As I have said before, I have successfully resisted the temptation to take game at long range by doing what my grandfather taught me... get as close as possible.  He once told me that if I could reach out and touch the prey before killing it, then I would be a hunter.  Once, while hunting in Alabama, while I did NOT take a deer that day, I did touch a deer on the trail without it knowing I was there until I touched it.  Best hunting day of my entire life.  I hope someday to do it again... and still take a deer.  This occurred before shooting light, so it would have been illegal to take even if I could have... toss - up on whether I could have or not.  
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As my old friend Finn Aagaard once commented  to a hunter who was bragging about a very long shot he'd made, "You mean you couldn't get any close than THAT?"

The longest shots I have ever attempted on deer and elk were under 400 yards--close to 400, but under. I have just never seen any reason to shoot further.

I have shot a few big game animals at over 400, all animals that live in very open country such as pronghorns and caribou--and in Africa, springbok. But those are less than 1% of the animals I've taken.  The problems of field shooting beyond 400 yards are quite unpredictable. Wind is the big one, particularly in the Rockies and on the high plains, where I do most of my hunting, but an animal can also move just enough during the bullet's flight to cause a wound rather than a certain hit.

Of course, the same problems are inherent in bowhunting, due to the increased susceptibility of the arrow to wind--and the long time of flight, even at 20-30 yards. In bowhunting often just taking the shot is impossible at very close range, because of the movement and slight noise involved in drawing the bow. I have, however, touched more than one deer while bowhunting. In fact I had one feeding on a bush next to me for over a minute, within arm's length, before it wandered away, never knowing I was there. That would have been impossible without a pretty stiff wind blowing from the deer to me!

One thing I like to do every year is hunt at least one big game animal with iron sights. Many hunters tend to discount irons as hunting tools, but they are quite effective with some practice, and at much longer ranges than many hunters would believe. But since I do hunt with them regularly I often have to wonder at hunters who believe that without a big, top-grade variable it's impossible to hunt, say, whitetails. In fact, I have taken at least 10 species of big game without using a scope at all, either with a bow or iron sights, as well as several kinds of small game. I like the challenge of the stalk, and getting to know the habits of the animals, particularly in daytime when a scope is particularly unnecessary.

On the other hand, I do like the engineering problem of shooting prairie dogs beyond 500 yards. Of course the possibility of wounding is just about non-existent there, because a typical fragmenting varmint bullet will kill a prairie dog with a hit anywhere at very long range.
 
I guess I just like to hunt and shoot!
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FFP, matching reticle/turrets, under $1000? pointer Tactical Scopes 12
matching turrets to reticle and FFP vs SFP ccoker Tactical Scopes 0
Z Plex reticle not aligned with turrets cb_rem Rifle Scopes 4


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