What is the difference between first focal plane and second focal plane... and which is better for hunting? Technically, it's a matter of the rifle scope reticles inside the focal planes, which means the answer isn't as simple as it might seem. First, let's look at the reticle definition and reticle types to see what we're dealing with.
What are Rifle Scope Reticles?
Reticle definition: A reticle is a series of lines inside the scope that are used to measure the scale and bring your target into focus. There are a few different reticle types, the most common of which include:
- Original. One vertical line, one horizontal line. Nothing more, nothing less.
- German #__. Thick reticle lines at the 3, 6, and 9 o'clock positions, but a thin line at 12 o'clock.
German reticles are always numbered (the most common are German #4 and German #1).
- Duplex. Thick reticle lines for both horizontal and vertical.
- Dot. This one really doesn't need much explanation, as it is just a dot in the center.
- Christmas Tree. Features hash marks along the 6 o'clock plane that get progressively longer (resembling a Christmas tree).
You've probably heard these called crosshairs as well, which are essentially the same thing. Inside the scope is a lens that has reticles etched onto it, but it's the positioning of this lens that is under debate. The question here is whether the reticle-etched lens should sit before or after the zoom mechanism. Now let's take a look at the difference between first and second focal plane.
What is the First Focal Plane? Scope Meaning
When the lens is positioned in front of the zoom mechanism (closest to your target), this is referred to as the first focal plane. When you zoom in or out, the rifle scope reticles will become either larger or smaller relative to your zoom (because you're viewing the reticles through your zoom lens). The benefit of this configuration is that regardless of what magnification you need to use, the reticles always offer the same predictability. This means that your hash marks will always be accurate - 0.2 milliradians (MILs) are always 0.2 milliradians whether you're zoomed all the way in or all the way out.
What is the Second Focal Plane?
When the lens is positioned behind the zoom mechanism (closest to your eye), this is referred to as the second focal plane. In this case, when you zoom in or out, the rifle scope reticles stay the exact same size because they are not affected by the zoom (as zooming occurs further down the scope). This is the preferred configuration for hunters, as the reticles don't grow or shrink as you zoom in or out.
That said, if you're using a second focal plane configuration where the rifle scope reticles include hash marks, you can only use the hash marks with one magnification setting. For example, if you need to adjust for 1 minute of angle (MOA) it's only 1 MOA at a specific magnification...not all magnifications. This makes things tricky if you're trying to adjust for wind drift or bullet drop.
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All in all, there is no clear winner here unless you talk to different types of shooters, who are guaranteed to have an opinion based on their objective. Hunters are likely to prefer second focal plane, while tactical shooters will prefer front focal plane. In the same light, long-range shooters will prefer front focal plane, and close-range shooters will prefer second focal plane.
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