Choosing the right scope
The question about which scope has been asked since Sniper’s Hide was started. In some ways we have made our bones answering this question for thousands of members.
Scopes are not cheap, and the good ones are only getting more expensive so it’s important to get the scope that best for you and your type of shooting. Because this is Sniper’s Hide and not F Class Central, we tend to focus on scopes designed for the tactical shooter. However with the more people competing the tactical rifle is more of a crossover tool. So the question gets clouded because known distance competitions that allow scopes are so different from tactical (PRS) type matches.
FFP vs SFP
Next to reticles, the next biggest question is, Front Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane. These are the two choices we have. And each have their pluses and minuses. To clarify, a Fixed Power scope would also be put in the FFP category, but understand when we are talking scopes, we are talking variable power optics. Very few are investing in fixed powered scopes as the advancements in the industry have increased reliability well beyond what your grand father was using. As I am fond of saying, it’s not 1978, so what you remember from the “good old days” no longer applies. If you go from 1978 when the USMC first used the MST-100 (Unertl 10x) on the M40A1, to 2000, very little changed in the precision rifle world. After 2001 with the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq we have made gigantic leaps and bounds when it comes to everything precision rifles.
Second Focal Plane
To start off, Second Focal Plane scopes are probably the oldest type variable. This puts the reticle in the back of the erector tube and closes to the magnification ring. What effect this has is the reticle not subject to changes in magnification. It does not adjust with the changes, and is fixed in terms of size and sub-tension. That means the reticle is only valid at the advertised values on one power.
Today we use reticles with either MOA or Mil graduations. You also have BDC type reticles that are based on distance and drop. If you intend on using these scopes as advertised, you have to be on a specific power when it comes to a second focal plane scope. Now, it doesn’t end there, if you are so inclined you can “Map” your scope which means you go out ahead of time and measure the reticle against a known distance and value and map the changes. It’s recommended with all second focal plane scopes to check the magnification vs the reticle values because the ring can be slightly off.
The easiest way to map the scope, is to use a yard stick at 100 yards. Most SFP scopes are designed so the reticle is valid on Max Power. The exception to this is competition style scopes that are more than 25x. If they are designed to work on something other than Max Power, they will sometimes mark the magnification ring with a reference point. Worst case check your literature but defaulting to max power is a good starting point.
1/2 the Power - Double the value
If you are using a second focal plane scope and you want to use other powers, by reducing the magnification, you increase the value of the reticle. Half the magnification will double the value so 2 MOA on 20X will be 4 MOA on 10X. Again, verify this as not all magnification rifles are correct.
Second Focal Plane scopes are mostly used in Known Distance competitions like F Class and Benchrest shooting. They are not worried about the values of the reticle as much and want as much magnification as possible. It’s not uncommon to find SFP Scopes in excess of 40x. Because the reticle is fixed, it remains usable for aiming as well the manufacturer can make the reticle as thin as possible. In other words they tend to cover less of the target because they start off smaller. Now this is changing as manufacturing techniques change, but with a FFP scope customers tend to complain that the thinner reticles are not useable on all powers.
A Second Focal Plane scope for the tactical shooter requires effort to use. You cannot get away with always being on max power and small moves on the magnification ring will limit your ability to successfully used the reticle.
Front Focal Plane Scopes
These are the most common among tactical shooters. We tend to be more dynamic combining movement as well as multiple targets at multiple distances. You may also run into moving target that require you to effectively use the reticle to lead the target. For these reasons we want a scope that gives us a valid reticle at any power. Should not matter, we want the reticle to work without thinking about it.
The reticle is not covering more or less of the target, it is simply adjusting for magnification. The value never changes, if it’s a .13” thick reticle, it’s always that. It is not “growing”. So backing off the magnification is not reducing the area covered.
We find in tactical competitions like the Sniper’s Hide Cup where you have multiple targets at multiple distances in a field type setting, the magnification ring becomes your best friend. We are constantly switching the power from low to high in order to make sure we are shooting the right target. If you are working on max power there is a good chance you are gonna shoot the wrong target. Under time, I don’t want to worry about where my magnification rifle falls, I want to scan, identify, and then focus in on hitting the target. That means I might start out around 6x, locate the targets, identify, then hit the magnification ring and shoot it on 14.7x because that is where it stopped. You can’t do this with a SFP Scope.
Moving targets are tricky with a SFP, you have to back off the magnification, usually 8x - 12x and the reticle needs to be correct because I am using it for my leads. Even when guys will use a SFP on 1/2 Power they sometimes forget to double the value and will default the original value meant for max power.
The Front Focal Plane scope puts the reticle in the front of the erector. These means it is subject to magnification but not in a negative way.
This type of scope should be a must for the hunter as well. If you are on a trophy Elk hunt, you want the flexibility of not worrying about the status of the scope or reticle. Regardless of distance, magnification, you can depend on the reticle in a FFP Scope being correct.
Law Enforcement is generally using SFP scopes mainly because of history, distances encountered and the believed superior durability. This thinking needs to change. Consider Night Vision, to set the exit pupil you want to reduce the magnification, normally 8x or less. If you are doing this, you still want to use your reticle. You’d have a odd number and it would require you to map the scope if you used a SFP. A FFP is a must for Military and Law Enforcement today. Again, it’s not 1992, I get it, someone above you was in the USMC in the 90s an used a fixed 10x, well they use a variable now.
Manufacturing methods today have really refined the FFP scope. They work, and the choice in reticles is getting better all the time. It is more expensive, you definitely pay more, but you can do so much more with them without thinking about it. Durability has been increased as well.
The downside, especially with scopes using higher multipliers like a 3-27x will be the reticles. You have a trade off, if you have the best picture at 27x the reticle will be reduced to an aiming point at 3x. But why would you need the Mils or MOA at 3x would be my question. If the target is that close, hold center and shoot. But people constantly feel they need the value of the reticle to be seen equally as well on 3x as they do on 27x. It’s a trade off. Even the best designed reticles are usually only working from 6x up, and not below.
Choosing the right reticle is a deeply personal choice, every choice has it's pros and cons, but it's important you choose a reticle that suits you. I will say, no reticle is a solution to do it all, they are each a compromise. So understand your needs first and base you decision on that, and not because you read something online. Remember you have to use it. The other guy who suggests one is superior to the other because "They Like it Better" does not have to stare at it like you. With the right training you can do the same thing with a Standard P3 Mil Dot as you can with Horus, without the $400 up charge. Sure it takes practice, but you can do it. I have my favorites, the next person has theirs, it's like choosing shoes. Do your homework and realize it is a tool, find the right tool for the job and drive on.
If you’re a field shooter, you definitely need to be using a Front Focal Scope. Don’t get me wrong, you can make anything work if you put the effort in, but for ease of use, a Front Focal Scope is definitely the ticket.
If you’re a KD Competition Shooter, of course stick with a Second Focal Plane Scope. It’s gonna serve you so much better.