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Rifle Scope Reticles Explained – Fiber vs. Wire vs. Etched

Table of Contents

Scopes are a valuable addition to add to any rifle and can enhance your shooting experience significantly. With a plethora of solid options to choose from, optics not only provide you with a better sight picture, but they aid in positioning your shot when shooting at a distance.  

Among the essential elements that make up your optic, the reticle is the most important feature. You’ll spend a lot of time using your scope reticle as a reference, so it’s important that you have a good one in your optic. Some of the most popular scope reticles are wire reticles, glass etched reticles, and fiber reticles, which are used in nearly all fixed and variable power optics. Of all the reticle types, what are the differences, and which one is best? We’ve got the answers right here: 

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Wire Reticles

Wire reticles, characterized by a thin metal structure, were traditionally crafted using hair or silk strands. Today, these optic reticles are made with durable metals such as platinum or tungsten wire, and they’re still an incredibly popular choice amongst hunters and enthusiasts alike.  

Modern wire reticles in optics today are much more durable than traditional ones. Even more, they don’t obstruct as much light passing through the scope, compared to other reticle options. The simplicity of wire reticles also makes it easier for those who aren’t familiar with using scopes on rifles.  

Wire reticles aren’t without their flaws, however. While using metals creates a fine optic line, wire reticles can’t have any type of complex reticle pattern that uses floating elements like those typically seen in most optics today. Patterns such as MOA and Milliradian (MRAD) style reticles have floating elements that are not directly connected to the vertical or horizontal stadia, like dots or crosses, which aren’t feasible when using a wire reticle.  

There are some wire reticles that have hash marks integrated into the reticle, however, these windage and elevation ticks will only be on the horizontal and vertical stadia of the reticle itself, unlike modern etched optics. If you look at most “Christmas tree” style reticles that are found in many optics, they have dots/marks that float next to the main crosshairs of the reticle to aid in compensating for wind and elevation. 

For hunting and basic target shooting within around 150-200 yards, a wire reticle is great. The simpler reticle designs are great for close-to-medium distance shots. However, if you’re intending to do precision shooting at distances past 150-200 yards, a wire reticle won’t be as beneficial to you. It’s possible, but not as easy when compared to other reticle types.

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Glass Etched Reticle

Glass etched reticles, or etched reticles, are characterized by etching the reticle directly onto one of the center lenses of the scope. The reticles are etched in by lasers, allowing them to have complex reticle shapes that are more precise.  

Etched reticles can’t break or shift when dropped like wire reticles, since the reticle isn’t made of any materials like metal. If you were to drop an optic with an etched reticle sight, you don’t have as much risk as you would have with an optic with a wire reticle. Besides this, etching enables manufacturers to include complex reticle patterns in their optics.  

Etching the reticle into the glass also allows the lines of the reticle to be much finer and more precise than other reticles available. Scopes that feature the popular MRAD, MOA and BDC “Christmas Tree” style reticle patterns, each use etched glass reticles to achieve the pattern. Another benefit of etched glass reticles is that they’re easy to illuminate as well. Many popular optics with etched reticles come with illuminated reticles, making it easier to use when in low light environments. This type of reticle isn’t just relegated to variable power optics either.  

Prism sights for example, can also used etched reticles and provide the same benefits, albeit without variable magnification. Most prism sights come with reticle illumination too. If you’re unfamiliar with them, you may wonder what exactly prism sight is. Fortunately, we have a guide that’s all about that

Though they’re a massive step up from wire reticles, etched reticles are much more expensive to manufacture comparatively. Due to the technology and machinery needed to complete the etching process, production costs are much higher than optics with simpler reticles.   

Etched reticles are great for long range shooting and precision as well, with some hunters using them when taking shots at greater distances. An etched reticle can make the optics much more versatile and usable in different scenarios. Having mil or MOA stadia in your reticle allows you to make more calculations in the field, like range estimation and calculating bullet drop, providing you with consistent and accurate impacts on target.  

NOTE: For newcomers, MIL and MOA are two different units of measure found in rifle scopes. Whether you pick MOA or MIL will depend on the marksman’s preference, but there is nuance to it. Luckily, you can take the guesswork out of the buying process by checking our guide on Mils vs. MOA vs. BDC types of reticles.  

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Fiber Reticles

Fiber reticles are much different in construction when compared to wire and etched reticles. Optics that use fiber reticles are more complex than standard optics, as fiber reticles utilize a thin fiber optic tube, often in conjunction with a wire one, to enhance the brightness of the reticle. Optics like the Primary Arms SLx 1-6x24mm SFP Rifle Scope with the ACSS® NOVA® reticle and Leupold optics with their FireDot BDC reticle are some of the most popular fiber wire reticle optics on the market today. 

Fiber optic reticles feature an innovative design that offers exceptional versatility. These reticles employ fiber optic tubes to create a highly visible and brightly illuminated center point, which can still be seen in broad daylight. At first glance, many fiber wire reticles may look like a traditional wire crosshair, but once you turn on the illumination, you’ll see that distinct brightly illuminated aiming point. For competition and duty use, this aiming point will give you a distinct advantage when acquiring your aiming point at high speed. 

Fiber wire reticles aren’t always budget friendly. Fiber optic tubes by themselves are very expensive and adding them to optics causes manufacturer costs to increase drastically. Still, some manufacturers are leveraging newer production technologies to bring fiber wire optics into budget-friendly price points. As mentioned, the SLx 1-6x24mm SFP Rifle Scope offers a powerful fiber optic option with the ACSS® NOVA® reticle, which remains affordable to most enthusiasts.  

When discussing fiber optic illumination, it’s hard not to also talk about Trijicon’s Dual Illumination system, found on the iconic ACOG. These optics are unique and very different from other fiber/fiber wire reticle options like the ones mentioned previously. Instead of using an LED or other light to illuminate the fiber optic, ACOGs utilize ambient light to illuminate the reticle. They also have Tritium enclosed in the fiber optic tube to keep it illuminated when not in direct light.  

Regardless of which type of optic you choose, fiber/fiber wire reticles are still a great choice for competition or recreational shooting.  

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Reticle Comparison

Each of the reticles mentioned above is great for different purposes, but how do they stack up against each other?  

There’s three main purposes that these reticle options are typically used for: hunting, long range precision, and competition/duty. 

Hunting

Most optics are good for hunting, with wire, etched, and fiber reticles each being a great option for hunters, depending on their needs. At shorter distances, a wire reticle provides a clear sight picture to accurately take down a deer or other animal. Like we said before, the simplicity of wire reticles makes them great for beginners or those looking for a short-medium range hunting optic. At distances past 300 yards, it gets harder to take shots accurately, though not impossible.  

This is where etched reticles shine. Since etched reticles can have more complex reticle patterns, they’re much more versatile for hunting over long distances. MOA and MRAD reticles have numerous holds for windage and elevation, making it much easier to accurately take shots at greater distances. Some etched reticles like our ACSS HUD reticle are tailored for hunting, giving you the greatest advantage possible when on an excursion.  

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Fiber reticles can be great for hunting too. Optics like the Primary Arms SLx 1-6×24 SFP Rifle Scope have an illuminated ACSS Nova Fiber Wire Reticle and features a wire reticle with MIL holds and specialized Auto ranging stadia along with a crisp center fiber reticle. The ACSS reticle is great for both up close and distant engagements.  

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Long Range Precision

Anytime long-range shots and precision are involved, a wire reticle isn’t the best choice. While it’s not impossible to make consistent shots at longer distances with one, it’s difficult.  

Generally speaking, etched reticles are the best for long range precision. Since etched reticles can have complex reticle patterns, it’s much easier to make holds and take accurate shots at far distances. Most high-dollar precision riflescopes will have an FFP etched reticle, usually with MIL or MOA based stadia.

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3 Gun/Multi Gun Competition and Duty

For 3 Gun/Multi Gun competition and duty, the best reticle options are etched and fiber optics. In most cases, enthusiasts will opt for one of these reticle styles, usually in the form of an LPVO. LPVOs are one of the best optics available for both competition and duty since they can be quickly shifted from 1x to 6x, or 1x to 8x magnification quickly, providing more versatility than something like a red dot and a magnifier

For maximum versatility, however, you’ll be better off using an etched reticle LPVO. If you’re looking for an LPVO, the Primary Arms PLxC 1-8×24 FFP Rifle Scope, SIG Sauer TANGO6, and the Vortex Razor HD Gen II are great options. 

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Fiber reticles provide a brighter sight picture when illuminated, making them perfect for competitions and duty use. Competitions and duty scenarios are often in broad daylight, and you’ll want to have as much visibility as possible. A fiber-powered reticle, like the Primary Arms SLx 1-6×24 SFP Rifle Scope and the Vortex PST Gen 2, will give you the brightest contrast and a bold aiming point for faster target acquisition and engagement speeds.  

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Conclusion

Optics are one of the best ways to enhance your shooting experience, and your reticle should provide you with the best advantage possible to excel whenever you’re shooting. The three main reticles discussed each have their pros and cons and are tailored to suit specific endeavors better than others. 

Getting behind different optics is the best way to learn more about them, but we can help you get a head start before starting your next optic venture. Our guides on what the numbers on scopes mean, and how a rifle scope works, will get you up to speed and better prepare you for having an optic on your rifle.   

Knowing the differences between reticle types will help you narrow down the options available, making it easier to find the one that works best for your needs. Whether you’re hunting, interested in precision, or training for competition or duty, a quality optic will benefit you greatly.