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Reviews

Vortex Optics Dead-Hold BDC Reticle

The Vortex Optics Dead-Hold BDC reticle reminds me of a duplex reticle with extra flair. It's a simple and functional reticle suitable for general purpose target shooting and hunting.

As promised in my review of the Vortex Optics Diamondback 3.5-10×50 riflescope review, this is my review of the Dead-Hold BDC reticle that was included with it. Unfortunately, this is going to be one of those reviews that is going to take some effort to keep my biases in check to give it a fair objective shake. I suppose the best way to approach that challenge is to measure the reticle’s functional effectiveness or efficiency against the applications it is marketed for. As I do that I will do my best to disclose opinions that may be tainted by my personal biases.

According to Vortex while paraphrasing, the reticle features a customized dot design that helps eliminate guesswork on holdover and windage corrections. Again paraphrasing, this reticle is good for hunting/shooting at varying ranges where estimating holdovers is a concern. That is a broad claim which is similar to the marketinging claims for plenty of other bullet drop compensation (BDC) reticles. It’s important to keep in mind that this reticle design is exclusive to the Vortex Diamondback riflescope product line which is composed of good quality value priced scopes. This doesn’t mean I won’t be critical of the reticle. However, I think it should be kept in mind when comparing it’s features to other reticles available in competitive products.

First disclosure: I’m not a fan of BDC reticles. While they certainly can help with holdovers and do reduce guesswork, I find them to leave a lot to be desired in terms when it comes to precision applications. For that reason, I hold a strong preference for technical or Christmas tree style reticles. I share this bias with readers so they can be aware of one strong bias that I am attempting to keep in check as I write this and hope they read this with a critical eye. Thankfully, this reticle isn’t marketed for precision applications.

I would describe this reticle as a duplex crosshair reticle with some flair. A duplex reticle is essentially a fine crosshair, that’s a thin vertical and horizontal line that intersect in the middle of the field of view, that connects to a wider post on the outer end of the field of view. The point at which the fine line joins the wide post provides a reference point that can be used for the largest holdover values. From the center intersection out in either direction along the horizontal line are three vertical hash marks evenly spaced at 2 MOA values between the center and the outer post. These hash marks can be used to reference 2, 4, 6, and 8 MOA windage holdovers where the 8 MOA value is the point where the fine line connects with the wide post. From the center intersection down along the vertical line, we find three hash marks, the first measuring 1.5 MOA, the second measuring 4.5 MOA, and the third measuring 7.5 MOA from the center. The point at which the fine line meets the bottom post is spaced 11 MOA from the center. These vertical reference points are intended to be used as elevation holdover estimates for easy to remember distances. The value of those distances depends on the cartridge and the zero sight in distance.

While the primary function of the hash marks is to provide reference points for holdovers, they serve a secondary function. They can be utilized to measure targets of a known size at a distance. The MOA measurement and the known size can then be used to calculate an estimated range. In my opinion, the functionality provided by these hash marks add a lot of utility and value over a plain Jane duplex crosshair reticle.

Can you feel the “but” impatiently waiting to be typed out? Don’t worry it’s coming. Before that, let’s first let’s look at distances represented by the hash marks on the bottom half of the vertical line.

The manual provides six different distance reference tables with different suggested zero distances for the cross hair center. The idea behind these is that a number of cartridges tend to have similar enough trajectories to be lumped into a single class which can share a similar distance reference and setup. The classes are:

  • Class A: High power big game rifles (e.g., .30-06, .308, .270)
  • Class B: High power big game and magnum rifles (e.g., .300 Win Mag, 7mm Rem Mag)
  • Class C: High velocity, small caliber varmint rifles
  • Class D: Modern black powder rifles
  • Class E: .22 LR rimfire rifles
  • Class D: Slug shotgun and traditional black powder rifles

Sounds magical doesn’t it? Well, let’s look at those distances before sending the jury off for a verdict.

Aiming ReferenceClass AClass BClass CClass DClass EClass F
Center100 200 200 100 50 50
1st hash200 300 300 125 60 75
2nd hash300 400 450 200 90 100
3rd hash400 500 550 225 120 125
Bottom post500 600 650 140
Distance estimates in yards based on firearm class and aiming reference

Okay. I admit it. I’m having a hard time holding back my bias. It’s evident in my not so subtle sarcasm and whimsy. Here is the thing. These tables make a generalized assumption in the initial muzzle velocity, projectile’s ballistic coefficient, and scope mounting height. While these are fair generalizations and distance estimates, there is a fudge factor that would be unwise to ignore especially if taking shots at the that require the use the 3rd has mark or bottom post. Depending on the size of the target that can mean the difference between a good hit, a miss, or even worse a bad hit.

The other drawback here is that once the best zero distance and distance estimates for the elevation reference points are determined, they still have to be committed to memory (or written down in a reference card). I suppose some may find this easier than memorizing MOA drop values at different distances and using a technical reticle. However, it seems to me like a lot of mental mapping for me unless the distance estimates end up lining up nicely like they do for class A and class B firearms.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s easier for the average shooter to commit estimated distances and the corresponding elevation reference hash to memory. With that assumption in mind, wouldn’t it make sense to space out the windage reference hashes in such a way that one can commit wind speed estimates to memory? Maybe. Maybe not. I have a hard time understanding why one approach is taken for bullet drop compensation, but another is used for wind drift compensation. In order to use the windage reference hashes, the shooter is forced to make a wind call and determine the appropriate MOA holdover adjustment to apply based on the target’s distance. This can be done by recalling DOPE (data on previous engagements) values from memory, referencing DOPE notes/cards, or using a ballistic calculator. In my opinion (bais alert), I think it’s easier to recall the MOA drop and drift value for a target distance of 300 yards and a 7mph wind, than it is to recall the MOA drift value and reference hash for the same. But, again, that’s just me and my bias.

One final complaint I have with this reticle is the lack of combined elevation and windage reference dots towards the bottom that create the Christmas tree effect in reticles. I won’t deny my bias is showing again, but that’s not the whole story. These reference marks are also found in BDC style reticles like the Vortex AR-BDC3 reticle and are extremely useful at applying high value combined elevation and windage holdovers. Let’s assume we have a 500 yard shot to take with a .308 rifle (class A firearm) when a 10mph wind is present. For this we would have to use the bottom post an elevation reference and then make about a 4.75 MOA windage adjustment. That pretty much makes the point of aim hang quite a bit in the open space of one of the bottom quadrants of this reticle depending on the direction of the wind. Granted, the reference hashes take a bit of the guesswork out of the combined holdover making way better than good ole Kentucky windage. Even so, this type of hold isn’t easy, especially under stress.

One might be asking, “Is Uncle Zo being unfair?” “After all, Uncle Zo said it was important to keep in mind that the Dead-Hold BDC reticle was designed for use with value priced scopes.” The answer is yes. I have been a little unfair. I can’t help it. Talking about reticles gets me riled up.

Let me take a step back and consider this reticle in the context of typical value priced scopes commonly found on hunting rifles like the Diamondback scope I acquired with this reticle. These scopes are generally lightweight scopes with a 1″ main tube and a magnification range around 3-9x. From what I’ve gathered, the vast majority of these scopes in this price point include a duplex crosshair reticle. Compared to that the Dead-Hold BDC reticle is at least one order of magnitude better in terms of functionality and utility.

Yes, I’ve ranted a bit. Okay, I’ve ranted a lot. However, this reticle can be used to very effectively place good hits on game animals and targets. My only caution is to take the time to get to know the ballistic trajectory of the typical loads used and map those drop distances to the elevation hash marks before taking shots at distances that approach the upper end of the ranges this reticle was designed for.

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