There is an old saying “keep it simple” and when it came to scopes I believed this. I felt the more stuff you cram into a scope, the more that can go wrong. The first scopes I shot were K4 and K6 scopes made by Weaver. I got real brave and bought a 12 power scope when I was doing a lot of varmint shooting. I wanted a scope that was rock solid with nothing that could go wrong or break at the worst possible time. I remember my first variable power scope, a 3X9 Bausch & Lomb. The crosshairs failed when I was hunting axis in the Hill Country of Texas. I had a 30 plus inch axis buck at 150 yards in front of me, the crosshairs were on the shoulder but when I fired the bullet hit in the dirt 2 feet behind the buck. The sight of that buck running away haunts me today; I had been looking for a good axis for 2 years and blew the shot from a bad scope. As it turned out the problem with the scope was as much the rings and bases as it was the scope. There was too much side pressure on the tube and it was being bent in the rings. As I got older and my eyes got worse, I found the 6 power scopes just weren’t getting the job done. I bought several Leupold scopes in 3X9 and 4X12. I never had a problem with these scopes, the clarity was better than my old Weavers and having 9 or 12 power was great for long range shooting. I could use the lower power for early morning low light or when I needed to make a quick shot. As time went on scopes got better and better. A company called Premier Reticle was installing bullet drop compensating dots in Leupold scopes. I had many customers swear by the dots, so I had to try one.
Ballistic reticles were fairly new to the hunting industry. I saw my first one around 1990. T. D. Smith was working with Swarovski to come out with the first Ballistic reticle in a factory built scope. T. D. Smith’s idea was to put sight lines under the normal crosshairs so you had an aiming point for longer shooting. Instead of holding over an animal at long range you could use the correct line for shooting 300, 400, or out to 600 yards. I got to try one of these scopes at the YO Ranch in a long range shooting competition and it really worked. I had Premier Reticle build a 4.5X14 power Leupold scope with ballistic dots out to 600 yards. The dots looked good and I found they worked well on 300 yard shots. Premier would custom build the scope for the correct drop of the bullet. I sent Premier the ballistic info (bullet and velocity) and they would install the correct reticle for the caliber I was shooting. The TDS system that Swarovski had was generic and could lead to problems with some calibers. The TDS reticle would work with most hunting calibers that have velocities in the 2800 to 3000 feet per second range. However if you had a TDS scope on a rifle that would shoot 2600 fps then you would have discrepancies. Over the years, I have sold hundreds of scopes with ballistic reticles in them and have shot the same scopes on game animals. However, I have never taken one of theses scopes to the range to see if they really worked at the different distances.
Do ballistic reticles work or are they just a gimmick? I decided to mount two of the best ballistic scopes on rifles and go to my local gun range that had ranges out to 600 yards. I mounted a Swarovski 3X18 “Z6” on a 300 Ultra Mag. and put a Burris 3X12 Euro Diamond scope on my wife’s 7mm STW. First, both of these scopes have great sight contrast for being able to pick out game. I think the Burris is slightly better in this case. Both scopes have exceptional clarity but the Swarovski is slightly better than the Burris. Both scopes look good and have very precise click adjustments (if you click for ½ inch they move ½ inch). The Swarovski has lines under the cross hairs which can be used out to 800 yards. The Burris uses dots which can be used for shooting to 600 yards. I like the dots and find them less confusing when looking at game. The Swarovski has one big plus, a side focus. If you are going to shoot long range, a parallax adjustment is a great thing to have. I would have to say the Burris is a great scope and for the price it would be hard to beat but the new Z6 scope from Swarovski is better, however the cost is about 3 times as much.
Bob and I set up targets at 200 yards 300 yards and 400 yards. First, we sighted the rifles in for 200 yards, then went over to the 300 yard range and shot a 3 shot group. The first thing we noticed is how hard it was to see bullet holes in a white bull’s eye on a clear day. Second, whoever made the benches must have been an idiot, the seat was too high and the bench is too low and the concrete pavement will scratch the finish right off your rifle. We used the second dot or line down and fired 3 shots. We couldn’t see the holes so I hoped for the best and moved to the 400 yard line. We again shot 3 shots using the second set of dots or lines and hoped for the best. The wind was blowing a steady 10 miles per hour from right to left, so I figured the bullets would be some what left of the bulls eye if we were lucky enough to hit them. Bob and I were amazed when we drove down to retrieve the targets, both 300 and 400 yard targets had a nice 3 shot cluster in the bulls eye. The 400 yard target had the bullet hole on the left side of the bull which was from the wind. I would say these scopes worked and worked well. One thing I need for sure is a better spotting scope so I can see the holes at 400 or longer range. My old Leupold just won’t cut it at these ranges. I would fill comfortable shooting game animals at 500 or 600 yards with either of these scopes. I would say the Ballistic Reticles in the Swarovski and the Burris scopes work and work well!