Reviews

Vortex Optics AR-BDC3 Reticle

A deeper look at the Vortex Optics AR-BDC3 reticle found on their Strike Eagle LPVOs. Short version: it's a well designed and executed BDC reticle.

Figured I’d do a follow up to my review of the Vortex Optics Strike Eagle 1-8x24mm riflescope and dive a little deeper into the AR-BDC3 reticle. It should seem odd that I mentioned I’m not a fan of this reticle while I raved about how the scope was a great entry level scope. After all those statements are contradictory since the AR-BDC3 reticle is currently the only option available on the Strike Eagle LPVOs.

Before getting into this, I’m going to start by reiterating that I have a strong preference for technical reticles (commonly called Christmas tree or tree reticles) over BDC (bullet drop compensation) reticles. While that bias is definitely present when I say I’m not a fan of this reticle, there are some things I don’t like about this reticle as well. However, taking that bias out of the equation I do think this reticle is actually a pretty good BDC reticle especially given the price point of the riflescope this reticle is found in.

AR-BDC3

Starting with the good bits, I really like that this reticle isn’t busy and it doesn’t have a lot of very fine dots or hash marks. As a result, it takes virtually no effort to find the center dot. Furthermore, the illumination is excellent. When the reticle is illuminated, finding the already easy to find center dot is even easier. This is because the center dot and the surrounding arcs are the only parts of the reticle which are illuminated. The red illumination naturally draws the eye to the center of the reticle. This feature really shines when working with targets at close ranges. This alone makes this reticle a solid choice for home defense and defensive rifle competitions that don’t include an extended range element (since I haven’t started getting into the actual BDC features yet).

It’s important to understand that the BDC features I’m about to get into will only work when the scope is set to its maximum magnification setting. This is because the reticle is found on the second focal plane and means that reticle proportions are fixed to a specific magnification setting. Attempting to use any of the BDC features at a lower magnification setting will yield misses down range.

A really nice feature on this reticle is the ranging measurement tool located at the top of the reticle. The measurement tool works by placing the base of a silhouette target on the base hash mark (the lonely horizontal line floating below the numbered hash marks at the very top of the reticle) and then using the top hash marks in relation to the top numbered hash marks. If the top of the target lines up with the top mark with the 3 next to it, then the target is approximately 300 yards away. If it lines up with the hash mark with the number 4 next to it, then the target is approximately 400 yards away and so on. Silhouette targets are about the same size as an average human adult male. This tool is great for quickly ranging silhouette or average adult size male targets, but only those targets. Even though the measurement tool has limited application, it’s still a great tool to have handy when it can be used.

Below the center dot are the elevation holdover hashes and windage holdover dots which, according to the reticle user manual, are specifically calibrated for 5.56 mm / .223 loads using 55-77 grain boat tail projectiles with a 2700-3000 fps muzzle velocity. With that common AR-15 load, the top elevation holdover hashmark corresponds to a 300 yard holdover. The following numbered elevation hash marks correspond to their value times 100 yard holdovers. That is 4 corresponds to 400 yards, 5 corresponds to 500 yards, and 6 corresponds to 600 yards. Each of the elevation hash marks has three windage holdover dots to the right or left representing 5, 10, or 15 mph crosswind holdovers with the larger values represented by the dot furthest from the elevation mark. The only exception is the unnumbered 300 yard elevation hashmark which only has 2 dots to either side representing a 10 or 15 mph crosswind holdover. Assuming the ballistics of the selected load match the ballistic calibration of the reticle, this reticle should allow the shooter to quickly find and apply the correct holdover to a target given a known distance and crosswind value. From a usability perspective, the holdover hash marks and dots are very easy to use.

Holdover MOA Subtensions

So overall looking at the AR-BDC3 reticle, I tend to think it’s actually a well designed and executed BDC reticle. This is why I generally don’t hesitate to recommend the Strike Eagle to folks who are looking for a quality value priced LPVO for their AR-15. However, I think it’s important to point out the reticle’s limitations because it is very good for a lot of things, but it’s not good for others. This leads me to the things I don’t like about this specific reticle (which are in addition to the things I don’t like about BDC reticles in general).

I really don’t have issues with the reticle itself. My issues lay mostly with how this reticle (and riflescope) is marketed and documented. I’m going to start with the marketing issues.

Here is how the earlier generation of the Strike Eagle (with the predecessor AR-BDC2 reticle was marketed:

Optimize the versatility, functionality and quick-handling attributes of your AR-15 with the Strike Eagle 1-8×24. A true 1X on the low end of its 8X zoom range, the Strike Eagle 1-8×24 intrinsically adapts to a wide range of scenarios, letting shooters engage targets from point-blank out to extended ranges. Home defense, competition, recreational shooting, feral hog “removal” and any task between, this scope is up for whatever you want to throw at it. And it does so at a price that will have you feeling like you ripped us off

Vortex Optics Official Website

And this is how the current generation of the Strike Eagle (with the AR-BDC3 reticle is marketed):

Optimize the versatility and quick-handling attributes of your AR with the redesigned Strike Eagle. A true 1x on the low end, Strike Eagle zooms to let shooters rapidly engage targets near and far, and an AR-BDC3 reticle aids in rapid shooting while providing holdover and ranging references from 0-600 yards. Plus, with a thread-in throw lever, you’ll be on target even faster, shot after shot.

Vortex Optics Official Website

The way I’m interpreting these is that the scope will let a shooter do anything and everything with their AR. There are a number of issues I have with this. First is that a lot of folks I know don’t do a lot of research, which isn’t Vortex’s fault at all, and that research consists of a recommendation and a quick read of a product description. The same folks rarely read the user manuals even after purchasing a scope, again this isn’t Vortex’s fault either. In my opinion, the descriptions could be more specific to market it at carbine length AR-15s chambered for 5.56 NATO since that is specifically what the reticle is calibrated for. I’d probably have less of an issue with this if Strike Eagle scope variants were available with other reticles.

I am glad to see that the latest generation marketing message removed all of the enumerated applications and the claim that “this scope is up for whatever you want to throw at it“. While it can certainly work, it doesn’t excel at everything. Do I think it’s a good choice for a home defense rifle? Yes. Good for competition? I think it would excel at competitions where targets are placed within 200 yards, but it will be suboptimal for competitions requiring precision work at extended distances. What about recreational shooting? Will work fine with .223 loads, .308 and other loads will require a bit of homework to figure out the ranges the elevation hash marks correlate to and the wind speed the windage dots more closely represent. Feral “hog removal”? Sure, but might not be optimal for engaging hogs at extended distances.

Before getting into using this reticle for extended ranges, I’d like to mention my issue with the documentation. The reticle manual mentions this reticle will work well for rifles zeroed at 50 yards using popular .223/5.56 loads and .308 loads, but also refers the reader to the scope manual for sighting techniques. The scope manual then instructs the reader to zero the scope at the preferred distance and mentions 100 yards being the most common distance or a preference for 200 yards for long-range applications. While all of this is correct, it can be confusing when the scope manual doesn’t even mention the 50 yard zero the reticle is designed for.

Additionally, while the reticle manual contains information about using the elevation holds for two specific .308 loads, it makes no mention about using the windage holdovers with those .308 loads. The table below compares the 10 mph windage dot MOA subtensions against the actual drift of a .308 load with a 168 grain boat tail projectile with a 2650 fps muzzle velocity as per the first .308 load suggested in the manual. It should be clear that the windage holdover dots do not line up well with the actual drift of the projectile and will likely result in misses at extended distances depending on the size of the engaged target.

Distance to Target in YardsElevation Hash10 mph Windage Dot MOA SubtensionActual MOA DriftDifference in Inches
285Top3.32.223.2″
38544.83.116.8″
48556.44.0712″
60068.15.2817.8″
.308 Winchester 168 gr .462 BC 2650 FPS

To me, this data seems to beg the question, how do the elevation holdovers hold up? The next table explores that with the same .308 load. Spoiler, the elevation hash marks hold up really well.

Distance to Target in YardsElevation HashHash MOA SubtensionActual MOA DropDifference in Inches
285Top2.42.53-0.4″
38545.65.65-0.2″
48559.59.271.2″
600614.614.073.3″
.308 Winchester 168 gr .462 BC 2650 FPS

While the elevation holdovers hold up really well, the windage holdovers do not work well at extended distances. One of the things I’ve learned from limited experience with long distance engagements is that wind calls and holdovers are critical at extended distances. While the reticle and scope can work with .308 loads at extended distances, it requires the shooter to mentally map the elevation and windage hashes to less intuitive values. For example, the windage dots are more representative of 8, 15, and 23 mph crosswinds. Again it’s doable and usable, but this is information that should be included in the manual.

Since the reticle is calibrated for .223, I would expect the holdovers to line up better with the actual drift and drop of a .223 projectile. Let’s do the same exercise for 77 grain boat tail projectiles with an initial muzzle velocity of 2720 which is within the projectile parameters presented in the reticle manual. I’ll be being the 10 mph windage holdover first.

Distance to Target in YardsElevation Hash10 mph Windage Dot MOA SubtensionActual MOA DriftDifference in Inches
300Top3.32.881.3″
40044.84.033.2″
50056.45.35.8″
60068.16.78.82″
.223 Remington 77 gr .372 BC 2720 FPS

The windage dot subtension and actual drift line up much better for this .223 projectile, but we can see the difference opens up at extended distances. Let’s look at the drop.

Distance to Target in YardsElevation HashHash MOA SubtensionActual MOA DropDifference in Inches
300Top2.42.91-1.6″
40045.66.25-2.7″
50059.510.22-3.78″
600614.614.9-1.9″
.223 Remington 77 gr .372 BC 2720 FPS

Interestingly enough, the elevation holdovers line up better with the .308 load I explored than with the .223 load. I think this is because the suggested .308 loads are much more specific than the suggested .223 load range.

Looking at the difference between the holdover mark reticle subtensions and the actual trajectory drift and drop bleeds into my general complaints regarding BDC style reticles. Without rehashing that entire post, I’ll just wrap it up by indicating that BDC reticles are great for applications where a coarse point aim is good enough to get the job done. They do require a bit of homework when using a cartridge load that the reticle wasn’t calibrated for (refer to the discussion on the .308 load) and that recalibration will require the shooter to perform some additional mental mapping when engaging targets at extended ranges. BDC reticles, in my opinion, aren’t well suited for precision work at extended distances. The Vortex Optics AR-BDC3 reticle is no exception to this and the coarse 1/2 MOA turret adjustments on the Strike Eagle LPVO diminishes its suitability for extended range target engagement.

With all of that said, I’ll reiterate the AR-BDC3 reticle is well designed and executed. I think works exceptionally well for close range scenarios. It’s functional for extended range scenarios, but it’s suboptimal for extended range scenarios under time pressure or extended rage scenarios requiring precision work.

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