Why I Love Christmas Tree Reticles

A few days ago, I wrote a post explaining what BDC reticles are and why I don’t like them. To be fair, given the right rifle and ammo combination BDC reticles are actually really accurate and excellent for fast multi-target transitions. I just don’t care for the dependence on the right rifle and ammo combination. At any rate, I figured I’d change my tune a bit and talk about Christmas tree reticles and why I love them. They are, by far, my absolute favorite type of reticle.

Christmas tree reticles refers to a type of reticles that provide MRAD (or MOA) reference marks for quick wind and distance holdovers. The windage holdovers included increase as the distance holdovers are larger. This creates a Christmas tree shape of reference marks (see the image below for reference). The main reason these reticles are my favorite is because as long as scopes with these reticles are properly zeroed and the shooter knows their DOPE for the rifle and ammo combination then the reticle can be used to quickly engage multiple targets at various ranges. Granted it’s not quite as fast as a properly calibrated BDC reticle, but it Christmas tree reticles (in the right hands) will give BDC reticles a run for their money and aren’t dependent on a specific cartridge and barrel length combination.

Athlon APRS FFP IR MIL Reticle

The most frequent complaint I hear about this style of reticle is that they are too busy. My limited experience has taught me that more often than not that complaint comes from folks who haven’t spent much time behind one of these reticles. Are these reticles busier than others? If one considers a large number of reference points busy, then the answer is a resounding yes. However, how “busy” it is doesn’t really matter after spending a little time behind it.

Consider this example, I’m engaging a steel target at 600 yards and I’m dealing with a 15 MPH right to left crosswind. Referencing my DOPE (data on previous engagements) or using a ballistic calculator, I determine that my elevation hold is 3.1 MRAD and my windage hold is 1 MRAD. Using the tree reticle (pictured above), I would place the cross hairs on the target and quickly raise the rifle to place the target on the 3 MOA elevation hashmark on the trunk. At that point, I move the rifle right to the first large reference dot (1 MOA) and hold that reference mark just below the top of the A-zone (estimating the .1 difference of the elevation hold) before slowly squeezing the trigger during the natural rest of the breathing cycle.

Given that scenario would a BDC reticle be faster? Not really, assuming the BDC reticle has a 15 MPH reference mark. I might have avoided having to hold high on the A-zone, but the time required to properly align the target to the reticle would have been about the same.

But now consider the same target, with a 12.5 MPH right to left crosswind. Given the DOPE I’m referencing that translates to a 0.8 MRAD windage hold. Behold the tree reticle has a minor (small) dot that represents a 0.8 MRAD hold. All I would have to do is adjust the hold to use the minor mark and engage the target. A BDC reticle with a 15 MPH reference mark would likely have a 10 MPH reference mark but not a 12.5 MPH mark, which means I would have to make an educated guess to hold the 15 MPH mark towards the left edge of the A-zone before engaging the target. Again the required time to engage would be very similar.

So right about now, it might look like there is very little difference between the BDC reticles I don’t like and the Christmas tree reticles I claim to love. If you are, in fact, thinking that way, you aren’t wrong. However, the assumption I’ve made is that I am engaging a target with a properly matched rifle and cartridge load to the BDC reticle which is not the case of the DOPE data I’ve used for the examples. The DOPE data I’ve used actually corresponds to Hornady Match 285 grain 338 Lapua Magnum cartridges out of a Savage Arms 110 HS Precision Rifle.

Reconsidering the last scenario with the DOPE data I’ve been using, the MOA elevation hold is 10.5 MOA and the windage hold is 2.8 MOA. Good luck trying to figure out what reference mark to use on a BDC reticle and where to hold it. And that right there is why I think Christmas trees reticles are superior and why love them. They simply don’t care about the rifle and ammo combination and as long as the shooter has good ballistic data they will work under any conditions.

I didn’t mean to write another post attempting to talk bad about BDC reticles. I honestly think they are great options given they are matched up to the right rifle and ammo combination. In fact, another thing BDC reticles have going for them is they tend to be more available in good quality value priced optics than Christmas tree reticles. Even so, I will always opt for a tree reticle over a BDC reticle when possible. 

Categories: Opinion, Rifles

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2 replies »

  1. This is an excellent article, just as your other articles doing a deep dive into reticles. If people would pause for a moment to consider what you’ve said it would save them a lot of time, money, and frustration.

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