LIGHT 'EM UP: Why Illuminated Optics Are Replacing Traditional Reticles

Reticle illumination is a touchy subject for hunters, like antler point restriction or earn a buck rule, everyone has an opinion.  Very few people ride the fence on the issue, either illuminated reticles are mandatory for hunting rifles, or illumination is a scourge that should be erased from all optics, right now. Let’s take a few minutes to talk about some of the common arguments against reticle illumination, to see if we can clear up some misconceptions.


Argument one: “Illumination adds weight to my scope.

This one isn’t without a measure of truth.  Many scopes require an additional illumination control knob, as well as a battery, and some additional internal components to make the illumination function.  While that list sounds like we are talking about some serious weight, in reality, it totals less than one ounce.  So while it does add weight, it isn’t the kind of weight that is going to cause an issue for you walking to your tree stand therefore it really isn’t enough weight for it to be a consideration for most hunters.

Argument two: “If I need illumination it’s probably too dark and I shouldn’t be taking the shot anyway.”

This argument stems from misunderstanding the purpose of the illumination more than anything.  An illuminated reticle does nothing to illuminate your target.  When it’s too dark to see your target, you absolutely shouldn’t be shooting, but that has almost nothing to do with whether or not your reticle is illuminated.  A reticle is illuminated to provide contrast between the target and the reticle.  In many shooting conditions, a black reticle is a perfect contrast against the selected target, this is the primary reason for the off switch on the illumination control.

A grey/brown buck crossing a cut corn field an hour before sunset likely requires no additional contrast for the reticle to bebear with reticle visible.  However, that same buck slinking through the pine thicket just upwind of you on a bright afternoon casting dark shadows, and it may be difficult to acquire the reticle in that high contrast situation.  Even worse, have you ever tried to find a black reticle on a shiny spring black bear coat? Even during the height of daylight, that can be a challenge. (Note how the right sidebar of the reticle disappears in the shadows of the bear’s neck, while the red crosshairs remain clearly visible. Imagine the entire bear in similar shadows.) 


In many cases you want a very low level of illumination, as during low ambient light conditions, too much internal illumination can be detrimental to your low light vision.  The bottom line is illumination of the reticle is there to ensure that regardless of ambient light conditions or target color or shading, the reticle is clear and visible, solidifying your ability to make the shot when it counts.

Argument three: “Illumination just adds unnecessary cost to my scope.”

Again, this isn’t without some measure of truth.  Does it add some cost?  A little.  Is it unnecessary?  That’s something you have to determine on a case by case basis.  In the case of Hawke illuminated scopes, there is an additional features to the illumination that makes the upgrade significant.  Illumination can be done on one of two reticle designs, wire or glass-etched.  Glass-etched reticles are vastly superior to wire for several reasons, most notably is how much finer and cleaner they are when viewed through the scope.

Wire vs glass

A glass etched reticle, also cannot be broken.  Anyone who has shot enough has seen a wire reticle actually break within the reticle field.  As the reticle design is etched into the reticle lens, it is static and cannot physically be broken.  All Hawke scopes that are illuminated use the superior glass-etched reticles.  This superior design requires an additional cost, but even if you don’t plan to use the illumination, the glass-etched reticle is a feature with value to the shooter.

There are other points raised from time to time about reticle illumination but these three arguments are by far the most common that are brought up.  Once these points are discussed most people see that illumination isn’t the unnecessary, waste of money, and added weight that they thought.  Many people that try illuminated reticles never go back to un-illuminated models.


The next time you see a scope that interests you but you pass by because it’s illuminated, give illumination a try.  Of course the most important things to remember, just like our TV, phone, computer, or iPod, reticle illumination has an off switch.  Magically, you’ve transformed your scope into a non-illuminated model!

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