TEN YEARS AGO, if you said a high magnification scope needed to have a first focal plane (FFP) reticle, people looked at you like you were crazy. Few understood why having a reticle that could be used to accurately hold over or hold off in mils or minutes at any magnification was a good thing. I can still hear second focal plane (SFP) proponents saying, "You want to mil at maximum magnification to get the most accurate measurement possible, so why would you want anything other than a second focal plane reticle?"
The developments that caused the whole FFP versus SFP debate to swing in the FFP reticle's favor are the ballistic calculator and the military's adoption of scopes with a maximum magnification at or above 15X.
ABOVE : Second focal plane reticles are most useful at 10X and lower for applications like hunting and recreational shooting.
Ballistic calculators suddenly made it possible to have accurate holdovers at any distance after an hour or so at the range. Shooters realized that being able to hold over at less than maximum magnification allowed for faster shots on multiple targets due to the increased field of view.
While the 5-25X scope is now pretty common in the military and on the long-range shooting scene, 10 years ago maximum magnification hovered around 10Xto 12X. Back then, putting a reticle in one of the new scopes that only subtended correctly at 25X meant that it was rarely useable because any heat or humidity quickly generated mirage that grossly distorted the image.
FFP reticles solved that problem by allowing the shooter to use the maximum magnification that the conditions allowed while still having a reticle that accurately measured mils or minutes for holdovers and holdoffs. Dialing the power down helps reduce mirage, and a FFP reticle still remains usable for holdovers. Suddenly, shooting accurately became a much faster proposition because it was no longer necessary to dial for each target.
ABOVE : First focal plane reticles appear to get bigger as the magnification increases. Second focal plane reticles stay the same size regardless of magnification.
The problem occurring now is that FFP reticles are getting pushed into scope s that absolutely shouldn't have them. FFP reticles make sense in scope s with high magnification (top end above 10X) that will most often be used to hit targets past 500 yards, but make no sense in scope s that will most often be used at closer ranges at less than maximum power.
Scopes that top out at 10X or less should have SFP reticles because they are most often used inside 500 yards. A 3-9X or 2.5-10X scope likely sits atop a hunting rifle or ah AR and will se e use on game or targets much closer than 500 yards. Being able to se e the reticle clearly at 3X or 4X (where it will most likely be used) trumps the need to accurately hold-over at 7X or 8X. Besides, a couple of MOA or half a mil gets pretty tiny the farther away we get from 10X.
Scopes on hunting and defensive rifles should spend most of their time at low magnification. When we need our rifle, there's plenty of time to turn magnification up but never enough time to turn it down. Always start low. A FFP reticle in this scenario will be hard to see and likely useless if we're in a hurry.
The hunter's quarry also tends to move around, making lower power and the greater field of view a prime consideration when deciding on optics. If the greater field of view is key criteria for scope use and the target will likely be inside 500 yards, second focal plane reticles are definitely the way to go.