General disclaimer: I am more of a shooter than a hunter, As I get older, hunting appeals to me ever more and I do hunt, just not as much as I would like. Perhaps, my reticle ideas on the subect will morph as they go along, but I do spend a lot of time peering through optics in varying lighting conditions. I have been fairly consistent with what I like with reticles.
The key is to figure out what reticle features you need and what reticle features you don’t. Of the ones you do not need, you have to figure out which ones are unobtrusive and which ones get in the way.
For example, I once complained to Vortex that I was not happy with the state of basic hunting reticles out there and drew on a back of a napkin, what I would like. They surprised me by taking my basic sketch and making a reticle out of it, albeit with some modifications (they made it MOA based and changed a couple of dimensions; I am a mrad guy).
The reticle in question is G4-BDC that they use in the Razor HD LH scopes. Here is a snapshot through the 2-10×40 scope at about 5x:
I’ll walk you through my thought process to explain why I like this design.
First of all, when it comes to shooting at game, I am unlikely to take a long shot any time soon. I practice shooting from field positions a fair bit, but even with a good shooting platform, I am not sure I have the guts to take a 400 yard shot, but 300 is reasonable when conditions are decent. From less steady positions, this distance is lower, but I do a lot of offhand practice at 100 yards, so a 75 yard shot off hand unsupported is something I am adequately confident in even accounting for adrenaline and fatigue.
That having been said, I like to practice with my hunting rifle(s) and I think it is a good idea to practice at considerably longer distances than you are willing to tackle in the field. With that in mind, whatever addition features the reticle has to range use, must be something that does not interfere with field use.
There are many traditional hunting reticle designs out there with two most common ones being duplex and German #4 reticles. Here is a collage of reticle sketches I shamelessly pirated from Meopta website, hoping that they do not mind:
Middle is German #4. On the right is a duplex and on the left is their BDC reticle. You can clearly see how this BDC reticle started out as a wide duplex reticle that they added some additional features to. These are very stylized sketches. Even with simple duplex and G#4 designs there is a lot of variation in terms of line thicknesses and the length of the thin stadia in the center.
Now that most makers have been transitioning to glass etched reticle designs, there are comparatively few limitations in terms of feature sizes and spacings.
Between the two classic designs, personally, I prefer the #4 since I like that largely unobstructed half of the image on the top and I am not seeing any difference in terms of visibility or speed between #4 and duplex given same line thicknesses and spacings.
In general, the current trend on the market is for people to use reticles that are more complicated than they should and thinner than they should because so many only shoot in broad daylight at the range. In good light, when you are trying to shoot tiny groups off the bench, it all works great. Once the light changes and your shooting position gets a little wobbly that ultra thin reticle may not be optimal.
With all of that in mind, when I started thinking about a hunting reticle, I started out with the #4. Since I do spend a lot of time on the range, I wanted some means to shoot out to 600 yards or so without messing with the turrets and I wanted the aiming point to be reasonably fine. However, overall, the reticle had to be easily visible in any lighting conditions.
I shoot a lot of different calibers, but my primary hunting rifle is a Tikka M695 chambered for 280Rem. For when I do not anticipate longish shots, I also have an AR chambered for 458 SOCOM (the AR happens to have a Vortex Razor HD LH 1.5-8×32 on it with the G4 BDC reticle).
I also have a hunting weight rifles chambered for 308Win, 7.62x54R and 6.5Grendel which are all similar in terms of external ballistics. 280Rem is the flattest shooting of this bunch until I get a 300WSM barrel for my Fix rifle.
My go to bullet for the 280Rem is a 145 gr Bulldozer design by Badlands Precision which gives me a maximum 5 inch MPBR of a bit over 350 yards. Since I usually sight in my hunting rifles right around 200 yards, my practical MPBR is right around 300 yards which works just fine for me.
To reach to 600 yards, I need almost exactly 3 mrad with 200 yard zero, so my original vision for this reticle was to simply have two hash marks 1 mrad and 2 mrad below the primary aiming point and have the thick bar terminate 3 mrad below the primary aiming point. The thin bar would terminate half mrad below the primary aiming point, but I did not want a horizontal hashmark there to keep the eye naturally drawn to the aiming dot. That would give me some rudimentary range estimation at top magnification and simple to remember holdovers that can accomodate multiple calibers adequately well. Since most scopes of this type are FFP, my basic assumption is that all the shooting beyond MPBR is done at top magnification.
Now within 300 yards, I like to be able to hold for wind or for a slowly moving target, for which useful holds are 0.5 mrad, 1 mrad and 2 mrad.
Vortex has its own BDC reticle, so the G4 BDC design they came up with used the MOA-based dimensions that kept it roughly in line with BDC values they have been using on other designs:
I understand why they did it in MOA and the dimensions are consistent and make sense. I think using varying line thicknesses on the horizontal axis is a very nice touch and it naturally draw the eye to the primary aiming dot. I wish that dot was a touch bigger or illuminated, but as is, the reticle works quite well and I have used it in all sorts of lighting conditions.
Now, when drawing up a reticle, it is very hard to resist the temptation to start adding features: extra wind holds, ever more granular hashmarks, etc. For some shooting disciplines those are important, but for typical hunting applications, I think they an unnecessary distraction.
With this design, all I wanted to do was to add a couple of basic hold points to compensate for wind and drop. However, for hunting applications, I have very limited interest in compensating for wind or lead at distances beyond MPBR and the primary aiming point must be the one your eye is drawn to when you have to shoot fast. I am not a long range hunter (yet).
In the interest of full disclosure, I have talked to a bunch of people over the years about what I want out of a reticle of this type and I do not know if some other similar designs out there were influenced by that. A few similar designs came out in the years since I started getting vocal about that. However, the guys at Vortex were honest enough to admit that they were, so I can openly talk about that.
In all fairness, all of this is rather evolutionary in nature and I am sure other people have been thinking through similar things at the same time.