Wire Reticle Vs. Etched Glass

By Guy J. Sagi

Today’s riflescopes are modern marvels, with engineers cramming more advanced technology into compact, rugged and combat-proven riflescopes than ever before. The performance is undeniable, but is there a performance loss in an old-school wire reticle vs. etched glass versions?

The dedication of today’s manufacturers shows in the quality, but information on their construction and effect on light transmission is relatively scarce. Thankfully, several experts were eager to fill in some of those blanks.   

Wire Reticle Vs. Etched Glass

The reticle makes its home inside the scope’s tube, hidden somewhere between the headline-grabbing objective and eyepiece. Today, that crosshair—or point of aim—is usually wire or etched glass.

“If you just want a simple, easy to use reticle without clutter, then a wire-type reticle is what you seek—least expensive of the reticle options,”Tom Moyle, Leupold & Stevens Gold Ring Project Manager explained in an e-mail. Acquisition is fast, but the thicker size covers more of the target. “If you want intricate markings to use for holdover (elevation and windage), range estimating, measuring, then a glass reticle is for you.”

“All Nightforce reticles are [laser] etched on precision multi-coated compound glass,” said Wayne Dayberry, Nightforce Optics marketing specialist. “This ensures exact alignment and eliminates breakage. Other reticle technologies tend to wear and/or lose their accuracy over time due to the physical limitations of their construction.”

Jon LaCorte, co-founder of Tract Optics has a different opinion, though. “There are thoughts that the glass-etched reticle is more durable as there is nothing to break like can happen with a wire reticle,” he explained, “however, in the almost 20 years that I am in the riflescope business, service-related issues with reticles would not significantly support this.”

Losing Game?

“If there is a glass reticle installed, then yes, a small amount of light transmission could be lost, Moyle said. “If you have a wire reticle installed, then no light transmission will be lost through that portion of the scope.”

The companies work tireless to minimize the effect, though. “Nightforce optical prescriptions and riflescopes are built to push image resolution and light transmission to the edge of what is physically possible,” Dayberry said. “The inclusion of smart reticle technology which incorporates intelligent information embedded within the reticle does not impede optical performance.”

Where the Experts Do Agree

Not everyone needs or wants a complicated, first-focal-plane reticle with range estimation. A simple dot is CQB fast and effective. The duplex design—where point of aim is at the intersection the horizontal and vertical lines—remains popular for its simplicity and the stadia lines draw your eyes to the crosshair.

A projectile’s trajectory begins to drop at distance, though, so companies developed bullet-drop-compensating versions with marks that reflect point of impact at known distances under ideal conditions. Leupold’s 300 Blackout reticle provides holdovers for sub-sonic loads out to 400 yards and 900 yards with supersonic ammo. It’s available with a lighted semi-circle at the center for quick target acquisition and has windage hash marks. The company’s CMR-W 7.62 is tailored for 7.62 NATO/.308 Win. owners, and with a 50-yard zero, provides holdovers out to 1,200 meters with windage adjustment up to 20 mph.

Tract’s MRAD reticle allows accurate ranging, but its design isn’t chambering-specific. With practice and patience, the version’s .5 milliradian (MRAD) increments with larger hashmarks at each mil allows shooters to dial into their specific load and barrel length for a host of environmental conditions.

Nightforce has plenty of simpler options, but it’s best known for sniper systems, including the Horus H59 reticle. It provides moving target, windage, range, speed shooting elevation holds and more. Be forewarned, though, the 12 horizontal lines, 120 horizontal hash marks on the main stadia and additional holds to engage effectively out to 1,500 meters are intimidating at first. The company’s TReMoR 2 is similarly versatile, and despite its slightly different design, probably also capable of bringing in the cat and taking out the trash at night.

When Buying

If you’re choosing a new riflescope and considering all the different reticle options, technology and precision manufacturing have leveled the longevity playing field between a wire reticle and etched glass versions. The big difference, though, is the amount of detailed information the latter can provide.

The final decision is yours, but if you’re all about precision at long distance, etched is a good choice. If you’re never shooting past 1,000 meters or rarely have time to dope the wind anyway, you might save some cash and stay wired.

And, there’s a whole new breed out there now with a different flavor of reticle that relies on batteries and a display. The Sightmark Wraith features night vision, and a host of different “crosshair” options. The video below gives you a quick look at its on-screen reticles.