How to choose the right riflescope for long-range hunting?

Especially in long-range hunting the right choice of riflescope is very important. Weight should be a factor to take into consideration when deciding on a new piece of equipment for this type of hunt. But more importantly is the optical characteristics of the scope. An important feature in your scope should be the magnification as it ensures reliable, very precise aiming for the shot. Secondly, quick and easy adjustment to the elevation and windage are essential. Finally, the reticle choices allowing compensation for the bullet drop, thus ensuring precise shots even at long distances.

But one questions should be address prior to evaluating the other features: Should I get a first or a second focal plane riflescope?

To answer this question, we need to understand the difference. What this is talking about is simply the position of the reticle inside the scope.

Every riflescope is equipped with a reticle as a targeting aid. It is selected based on the hunting situation and personal preferences. It is focused for your eyes by means of the diopter setting provided on the eyepiece. Elevation and windage adjustment turrets are used to align the reticle or the sighting line to the bullet’s trajectory precisely. The reticle on a riflescope can be positioned in the 1st or 2nd image plane.

What is the difference between a First-Focal Plane and a Second-Focal Plane riflescope?

With a first focal plane (FFP) scope the reticle is positioned in front of the erector tube near the turrets. A second focal plane (SFP) scope has the reticle right at the end of the scope and is usually the last element before the ocular lens.

The difference between the first and second focal planes appears when the magnification changes or on so-called subtensions. These describe the size or distance of the reticle in relation to the body of the game, i.e. how much is covered by a line or the illuminated dot at 100 m.

Reticles in the first image plane

A reticle in the first focal plane (in front of the erector tube) changes the same as the actual image does. The reticle and image create a single unit, both increase or decrease in size. FFP is an abbreviation or acronym for ‘First Focal Plane’ reticle reference/type/design. It is sometimes referred to as front focal plane and/or F1 design.

The subtension is therefore the same at all magnification levels so that it is possible to estimate the range easily. For example, if the distance between the horizontal bars on reticle 40 is exactly 70 cm at 100 m and a deer (typical length of 70 cm) fills half of the intermediate space, it is 200 m away regardless of the magnification.

An additional property becomes evident in poor light: the bars and lines become wider at higher magnification, making them easier to see.

Reticles in the second image plane

Here, the reticle is behind the zoom erector tube, i.e. in the image plane closer to the eyepiece. SFP is an abbreviation or acronym for “Second Focal Plane” reticle reference/type/design. Sometimes referred to as rear focal plane and/or F2 design.

When the magnification changes (zoom), it does not affect the reticle which remains constantly fine with minimal target coverage: A key benefit on long-distance shots at high magnification. However, the subtension of the reticles in the second focal plane now depends on the magnification setting. The lower the magnification (the smaller the image) the higher the subtension.

Which reticle type is better for my application, FFP or SFP?

First focal plane technology allows for both ease of use and speed for hold-over, hold-off, and hold-under aiming solutions to engage near or distant targets – regardless of the riflescope’s magnification setting. This is especially true as it relates to today’s smart reticle designs. Let’s explore a bit further.

Why do people like first focal plane reticles? 

Because the values remain constant – regardless of the scope’s magnification setting.

What are the benefits of that – if any? 

If you needed to be able to successfully engage multiple targets, over various distances, using different magnification settings, then first focal plane has the ultimate edge for speed of engagement over second focal plane.

But why is SFP so popular? 

A simple answer could be that on average SFP scopes are less expensive. A more practical answer could be that if you have time to set up, evaluate, and make the shot, then a SFP reticle can offer you a most ideal solution. If you prefer to dial for all your longer-range shots, then SFP can be the preferred choice. Or if you don’t like the size of the reticle appearing to change – visually – while looking through the scope at different magnification settings, then SFP would be the appropriate selection.

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