Ballistic Reticle Or Ballistic Turret?

Two of the most common modern riflescope features are a ballistic reticle and a ballistic turret. Both are designed to help you precisely place bullets. The question many hunters face is, which is best?

Ballistic Turret
With a calibrated turret, the vertical reticle adjustment knob is marked for each click of adjustment and for the range to the target in yards. These yard marks are obtained by supplying the ballistic data for a particular load in your rifle to the manufacturer.

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If you provide good data, to include a velocity confirmed by a chronograph, the turret should provide precise trajectory correction. With lots of time on the range you can even identify the exact turret position for shooting at in- between ranges.

Nikon offers a new service for some of their riflescopes where you can order a turret calibrated to your load.

On the plus side, a ballistic turret works regardless of your scope’s magnification. On the down side, if you dial in a 279 yard correction, don’t get to take the shot, and then ultimately shoot at only 75 yards—without resetting the turret– your bullet could strike as much as 10 inches high.

A prerequisite to the practical application of a ballistic turret in the field is a reliably functioning brain and decent up-close vision. Numbers and marks on turrets can be small, and if you get lost in turret rotation, you might send a bullet into next week.

Like Nikon, Leupold offers ballistic turrets that are calibrated to your specific load. These can be very precise.

Ballistic Reticle
A ballistic reticle will have additional aiming points below the center of the reticle, positioned to replicate the trajectory of modern sporting cartridges at 100-yard and sometimes shorter intervals. Your job is to zero your riflescope and then confirm point of impact at farther distances using these aiming points.

All these aiming points will not exactly match your bullet’s point of impact at the specified range. In most cases you can correct these discrepancies by slightly altering your close-range zero. To shoot at the in-between ranges, like say 279 yards, you’ll need to do some more range work or apply a little Kentucky windage.

The upside to this system is you do not need to adjust your scope to shoot. You just establish the range to target and use the appropriate aiming point. The downside is most of these reticles are positioned in the second focal plane. This means their relationship to the target changes with magnification. Ballistic reticles in second-focal-plane riflescopes only provide accurate compensation when the riflescope is set to maximum magnification.

Imagine you’ve prepared for a shot at 75 yards with your magnification set to 5X. Things change and you ultimately get your shot at 279 yards. If you forgot to adjust your magnification to max power—let’s say 10X—your bullet will be about 13 inches above your point of aim. This is because the subtention of additional aiming points increases, proportional to the change in magnification.

There are many ballistic reticles to choose from, and some are more cluttered than others. Consider one that confuses you the least.

The other complication that can arise is choosing the correct aiming point. With a 30-inch mule deer on the other side of your reticle, it can be like seeing the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders for the first time; you’ll have no idea which one to look at.

    Smart Choices
    In the end it comes down to shooter preference; you can even have both. Having used various ballistic reticles and turrets while hunting all over the world, I’ve learned a thing or two. Here’s some stuff to consider:
  • A zero-stop and a ballistic turret limited to one rotation is a good idea. This prevents over rotation and allows you to quickly, without looking, rotate back to zero.
  • Consider ballistic reticles without lots of clutter. This will help circumvent unintentional use of the wrong aiming point.
  • Spend time on the range with either system to confirm they provide the correct compensation. With a ballistic turret, make sure it’s repeatable.
  • If you choose a ballistic reticle, avoid too much magnification. You don’t want to be regulated to supper-high magnification while trying to use the reticle for trajectory compensation.
  • Consider your default setting with a ballistic turret to be 200 yards. With a ballistic reticle consider using the 200-yard mark as your default aiming point. Then if rushed, you can still shoot out to about 250 yards with enough precision to get a kill zone hit on most big game animals.

Distance Matters
In the end, there’s no easy way out. To be able to shoot at any distance where trajectory becomes an issue will require practice with your system and, most importantly, accurate range estimation. If you cannot establish an accurate range to the target, neither system will help.

Of course, reticles can be used to estimate range. That’s a math problem you might not be capable of computing while staring down a bull elk. So, as a final tip, I suggest you get a good rangefinder.

Richard Mann is a hunting and ballistic expert residing in the mountains of West Virginia, spending his days at his range and at his keyboard, unlocking the secrets of shooting and fine marksmanship. For more from Richard:
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