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Illuminated Reticles Are Useless on Big-Game Riflescopes

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April 29, 2013
Illuminated Reticles Are Useless on Big-Game Riflescopes - 3

The fastest growing segment of the sporting-optics market is electronic illumination of a scope’s crosshairs. And it may be the most useless hunting-gear gimmick since the DeerView Mirror, a backward-looking reflector for your treestand. Check out the lineup of new scopes at your sporting-goods store. I’ll bet more than half have a bulbous illumination knob above the eyebox or opposite the windage and elevation knobs, distorting the otherwise lovely lines of the optic. But illumination modules also add weight, as well as a mechanism to fail and a battery to die.

Red is the most common illumination color, but a number of scopes also feature green and blue. And instead of illuminating a subtle aiming point, most of these battery-powered units light up the entire reticle like a Christmas tree on fire.

Illumination is a great asset on some scopes, like the low-magnification optics used on ARs for short-range work, such as clearing dark, dangerous houses. But here’s why they’re worse than useless on higher-magnifying big-game hunting optics:

- Legal light for most big-game hunting is a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset. Outdoor Life’s annual optics test has revealed that all but the cheapest, darkest glass is bright enough to resolve antlers, vital areas, and aiming points even several minutes after legal light fades. Not only will most glass let you “see” into the dark, but most non-illuminated reticles are visible long after legal light has ended.

- Any illumination brighter than a barely perceptible point will ruin your night vision. Yet many of these reticles are calibrated for high intensity, not subtlety, forcing shooters to concentrate on the blazing crosshair instead of the dim target. And when a reticle is awash in light, the optic glows with so much internal reflection that precise shooting becomes increasingly difficult as ambiant light fades.

- Artificially illuminated aiming devices are illegal for big-game hunting in some states. Even if you never turn on the illumination, its presence on your rifle could be setting you up for an avoidable wildlife violation.

- Building a bright, clear optic is difficult and expensive. Instead of investing in optical technology, scope manufacturers that turn to high-intensity illumination are grabbing market share with the luminescent equivalent of bells and whistles. Savvy hunters would do well to spend their money on good glass, not electronic gimmickry.

Comments (3)

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from LeadHead wrote 35 weeks 6 days ago

I have two scopes with illuminated reticles; a Sightron SII in which the entire thinner portion of the duplex reticle glows, and a Weaver Super Slam in which only a center dot glows on a standard duplex reticle. Both are on varmint guns, not big-game rifles. I have to say that the Weaver's center dot is the preferred method (plus, you can switch from red to green if you like). As the author stated, you only need a tiny spot to mark your point of impact so that you don't negatively affect your night vision.
Aside from the sheer size of the illuminated portion, my biggest gripe with the Sightron is that although it has several brightness levels, there's not much difference between the highest and the lowest settings. Furthermore, it's much too bright on the lowest setting. Other than that, it's a fine scope and it will likely continue to be on one of my guns for a long time to come.
Although I don't see much need for illumination on deer/elk scopes, because we can hunt coyote at night it is indeed a very nice feature to have for predators.

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from Trev wrote 39 weeks 13 min ago

Bad article. Illuminated reticles are not useless. If you hunt hogs or predators at night like we do in Texas they are extremely useful. And you can adjust the illumination on most scopes. You don't have to crank it up so bright that it looks like a blazing Christmas tree on fire. You can turn it down to a low faint glow that has minimal effect on night vision.

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from Dwight Looi wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago

I disagree.

Illuminated reticles are a great asset for any rifle scope. The problem with black cross hairs is that it is black. In target shooting, black cross hairs against a black target bulleye means you can't make out the aiming point clearly enough to precisely place the shot. In hunting, if your game has black fur you have the same problem.

I don't know of one illuminated reticle scope which doesn't have brightness adjustments on the illumination, so you can usually dial it down low if you like. If you don't want illumination you can always turn it off and get black cross hairs. If the battery fails you are no worse off than with a traditional scope safe for a tiny turret and the weight of a small coin sized battery.

I don't know of ANY state which forbids illuminated cross hairs. All the prohibitions pertaining to illumination pertains to lighting up the target and/or using night vision light intensifiers. You are doing neither with an illuminated reticle scope.

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from Dwight Looi wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago

I disagree.

Illuminated reticles are a great asset for any rifle scope. The problem with black cross hairs is that it is black. In target shooting, black cross hairs against a black target bulleye means you can't make out the aiming point clearly enough to precisely place the shot. In hunting, if your game has black fur you have the same problem.

I don't know of one illuminated reticle scope which doesn't have brightness adjustments on the illumination, so you can usually dial it down low if you like. If you don't want illumination you can always turn it off and get black cross hairs. If the battery fails you are no worse off than with a traditional scope safe for a tiny turret and the weight of a small coin sized battery.

I don't know of ANY state which forbids illuminated cross hairs. All the prohibitions pertaining to illumination pertains to lighting up the target and/or using night vision light intensifiers. You are doing neither with an illuminated reticle scope.

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from Trev wrote 39 weeks 13 min ago

Bad article. Illuminated reticles are not useless. If you hunt hogs or predators at night like we do in Texas they are extremely useful. And you can adjust the illumination on most scopes. You don't have to crank it up so bright that it looks like a blazing Christmas tree on fire. You can turn it down to a low faint glow that has minimal effect on night vision.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from LeadHead wrote 35 weeks 6 days ago

I have two scopes with illuminated reticles; a Sightron SII in which the entire thinner portion of the duplex reticle glows, and a Weaver Super Slam in which only a center dot glows on a standard duplex reticle. Both are on varmint guns, not big-game rifles. I have to say that the Weaver's center dot is the preferred method (plus, you can switch from red to green if you like). As the author stated, you only need a tiny spot to mark your point of impact so that you don't negatively affect your night vision.
Aside from the sheer size of the illuminated portion, my biggest gripe with the Sightron is that although it has several brightness levels, there's not much difference between the highest and the lowest settings. Furthermore, it's much too bright on the lowest setting. Other than that, it's a fine scope and it will likely continue to be on one of my guns for a long time to come.
Although I don't see much need for illumination on deer/elk scopes, because we can hunt coyote at night it is indeed a very nice feature to have for predators.

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