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Reviews

Vortex Optics AR-BDC2 Reticle

A deeper look at the Vortex Optics AR-BDC2 reticle found on their previous generation Strike Eagle LPVOs. Short version: It's simple. It's functional. It works. I just wish it had a better manual.

I recently found myself in scope and reticle discussion where I shared my recent review of the Vortex Optics AR-BDC3 reticle and one of the folks I was conversing with asked for my thoughts on the previous generation of that reticle: the AR-BDC2. Since I just happen to have spent some time with the AR-BDC2 reticle, I agreed to the request and here we are.

It’s really hard for me to explore my thoughts on the AR-BDC2 reticle without comparing it to the AR-BDC3. To be quite frank, the AR-BDC3 made several improvements that are hard to ignore. Nevertheless, I’ll do what I can to subdue the urge to compare them (although I’m certain I will end up doing that as I write this) and to tame my bias for technical reticles over bullet drop compensation (BDC) reticles like the AR-BDC2.

AR-BDC2

I’m going to start with what I like about the reticle. First off, the reticle is clean. The just isn’t a lot going on so it’s easy to find the center dot thanks to the surround arcs. The illumination is superb and really helps one to see the reticle when against dark colored targets. My first comparison enters the room. I’ve grown very fond of the partial illumination found in the AR-BDC3 which only illuminates the center dot and the arcs. Granted the partial illumination is a double edged sword. The full illumination on the AR-BDC2 means the elevation and windage hash marks are easier to see and read when placed over a dark colored target. On the other hand, the partial illumination makes finding the center dot easier and slightly faster. While this may seem like a small detail without a lot of significance, it can make a difference in certain applications. For example, establishing a faster sight picture is very valuable in self defense and home defense scenarios. On the other hand, illuminated hashes make elevation and windage holds easier when taking shots at targets beyond 300 yards which is desirable in target shooting and hog eradication activities.

Yeah, okay. I’m sorry the comparisons are going to continue. The AR-BDC3 reticle added a ranging measurement tool which can aid with quickly target distance approximations. The AR-BDC2 doesn’t have this feature. While ranging isn’t the primary function of the scope, having a ranging tool for fast ranging estimates without having to rely on a spotter or having to switch from the rifle to a rangefinder and back to the rifle is pretty nice. Had I reviewed the AR-BDC2 reticle before spending time with the AR-BDC3, I wouldn’t have noticed the missing feature.

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.

Below the center dot are the elevation holdover sub-crosshairs and windage holdover hash marks 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 when the center dot is zeroed at 50/200 yards. With that common AR-15 load, the top elevation sub-crosshair corresponds to a 300 yard holdover. The top sub-crosshair is followed by three additional sub-crosshairs corresponding to 400, 500, and 600 yards respectively. Each of the elevation sub-crosshairs has one windage holdover hashmark to the right or left representing a 5 mph crosswind holdover. The furthest end of the sub-crosshairs can be used as a 10 mph crosswind holdover. The only exception is the first elevation sub-crosshair which ends at the 5 mph crosswind hashmark.

The reticle will also work for 7.62×51 NATO or .308 Winchester cartridges with either 168 grain boat tail bullets with an initial muzzle velocity of 2650 fps or 175 grain boat tail bullets with an an initial muzzle velocity of 2600 fps when using a 30/200 yard zero. However, the elevation sub-crosshairs now correspond to 285, 385, 485, and 600 yards respectively and the windage hashes and end of the sub-crosshair correspond to 7 and 15 mph crosswinds.

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 sub-crosshairs and windage hash marks and dots are easy enough to use. Time for another comparison. I find the windage dots and elevation hashes on the AR-BDC3 easier to use when paired with the .223 Remington or 5.56 NATO it was designed for for a couple of reasons. The AR-BDC3 adds number labels for the 400, 500, and 600 yard elevation holds. This makes finding the corresponding elevation hold faster since one doesn’t have to count down the elevation sub-crosshairs to find the right one. I also find it easier to hold a windage dot on a target than the windage hash. Additionally, the AR-BDC3 supports a wider range of crosswind speeds. Again, had I reviewed the AR-BDC2 before spending with the AR-BDC3 reticle I would have simply said the elevation sub-crosshairs and windage hash marks are easy enough to use and left it at that.

A recurring beef I have with BDC reticles in general is how they are marketed as up for any task. I won’t rehash that beef here since I covered that in my review of the AR-BDC3 reticle. Expanding on that, I’ve also found that reticle manuals leave a lot to be desired when it comes to providing owners (with varying levels of knowledge) clear instructions on how to property set up their rifle for the cartridges the reticle was designed for. I’m specifically complaining about the AR-BDC2 reticle referencing a generic 50/200 yard zero for 5.56 (or .223) and a 30/200 yard zero for 7.62 (or .308) and failing to mention sight height (this was improved a bit in the AR-BDC3, but it still left a lot to be desired).

AR-BDC2 MOA Subtensions

Let’s take a look at how the elevation and windage hold subtensions fair with a 30/200 yard zero for a .308 Winchester with a 168 grain projectile.

Distance to Target in YardsElevation Sub-crosshairMOA SubtensionActual MOA DropDifference in Inches
285Top2.4-0.237.5″
385Second5.62.910.4″
485Third9.56.5214.45″
600Bottom14.611.3219.68″
.308 Winchester 168 gr .462 BC 2650 FPS (30 Yard Zero)

So essentially, an owner who reads with manual and zeros the center dot at 30 yards and then uses a 308 Winchester cartridge with a calibrated projectile weight and initial muzzle velocity will be missing the target at extended distances all day long when using the elevation sub-crosshairs. What happens when the same owner uses a 200 yard zero?

Distance to Target in YardsElevation Sub-crosshairMOA SubtensionActual MOA DropDifference in Inches
285Top2.42.210.54″
385Second5.65.331.04″
485Third9.58.952.66″
600Bottom14.613.755.1″
.308 Winchester 168 gr .462 BC 2650 FPS (200 Yard Zero)

In this case, the owner will still be shooting a little high, but depending on the target size will be hitting the target in most cases or at least still be on paper at 600 yards.

What about windage?

Distance to Target in YardsElevation Sub-crosshair7 mph Hash MOA SubtensionActual MOA DriftDifference in Inches
285Top21.551.28″
385Second2.62.181.62″
485Third3.52.853.15″
600Bottom4.53.74.8″
.308 Winchester 168 gr .462 BC 2650 FPS (200 Yard Zero)

Let me preface my thoughts on the results, by saying that the subtension values I placed in the table are not found in the documentation. They are actually half of the value of what the horizontal subtension measurement labeled in the documentation. Took me a while to figure out the measurement was from the left to the right hash mark on the same sub-crosshair rather than distance of the hash mark to the center of the sub-crosshair. When I used the full value, the calculations resulted in huge misses that had me thinking either the documentation was wrong or the ballistic calculator I was using was broken. Neither was the case, it was just the documentation didn’t directly provide the measurement I was looking for. This somewhat illustrates my gripe about the reticle documentation leaves something to be desired.

The results give me the impression that the windage hash marks are mostly usable unless the targets are very small. The bottom sub-crosshair windage hash starts getting a bit wide, but the shooter can compensate by holding on the target’s edge rather than the center. It’s coarse, but functional.

Let’s do the same exercise but for 223 / 5.56 starting with a 50 yard zero.

Distance to Target in YardsElevation Sub-crosshairMOA SubtensionActual MOA DropDifference in Inches
300Top2.42.91-1.6″
400Second5.66.25-2.7″
500Third9.510.22-3.78″
600Bottom14.614.9-1.9″
.223 Remington 77 gr .372 BC 2720 FPS (50 Yard Zero)

This is the same results we saw with the AR-BDC3 (both reticles share the same elevation subtensions). Verdict, it will work unless the targets are very small. Albeit, the shots will be low. What if we use a 200 yard zero?

Distance to Target in YardsElevation Sub-crosshairMOA SubtensionActual MOA DropDifference in Inches
300Top2.42.67-0.81″
400Second5.66.01-1.64″
500Third9.59.98-2.4″
600Bottom14.614.66-0.36″
.223 Remington 77 gr .372 BC 2720 FPS (200 Yard Zero)

Still going to be shooting low, but the difference between subtension and actual drop is even smaller.

Let’s look at the 5 mph crosswind hash.

Distance to Target in YardsElevation Sub-crosshair5 mph Hash MOA SubtensionActual MOA DriftDifference in Inches
300Top21.441.68″
400Second2.62.022.32″
500Third3.52.654.25″
600Bottom4.53.356.9″
.223 Remington 77 gr .372 BC 2720 FPS (200 Yard Zero)

The differences here leave a bit to be desired with this particular cartridge load. The difference is acceptable at 300 and 400 yards, workable at 500 yards, but a bit too much for me at 600 yards. Personally, I’d like the manual to provide a narrower definition (or examples) of 223 or 5.56 cartridges that this reticle is calibrated for.

Overall, the reticle is fine. It’s simple and it’s functional. At the same time, I think the AR-BDC2’s younger brother, the AR-BDC3, has some noteworthy improvements. That said, I personally wouldn’t rush out to replace the older generation Strike Eagle with a current generation one that has the updated AR-BDC3 reticle.

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