Everyone’s heard of a canted reticle, but why is it important? How do you check your scope for this problem? We’re going to tackle this subject in today’s article! The issue here is that a canted reticle is annoying to look at. We tend to incorporate right angles and symmetry into our lives everywhere we look. Surfaces are almost always vertical or horizontal. So when something is out of whack, it’s noticeable. It jumps out. Many people might mount their scope up and notice the reticle is off a few degrees. Many more will address it, improperly, and further compound the problem. We’re going to talk about all of it and how to address it if it’s a problem your optic has!
First off is the issue of “cant” itself. Basically what this means is that when you get behind the rifle, and the rifle is level, the reticle will be crooked. So the crosshairs wind up not being plumb with gravity. It’s irritating to look at. However, the real significance is in the ballistics. We wrote an article on the effects of cant error on the ballistics of your rifle. If you haven’t read that, you can do so here to gain some insight into why this is an issue worth addressing. That article was written in reference to the rifle itself being canted as the shooter fires. However, if the rifle is plumb, but the reticle is off, you will have the same problem. Mainly, because you will likely try to resolve the canted reticle issue by rotating the gun until it looks right!
The solution might seem simple here. I thought it was when I first got started in precision shooting and the scope I purchased had a canted reticle. Many people will just rotate the scope in the rings until the reticle is plumb. It’s easy enough to do, right? Hang a weighted plumb line, point the scope at the line, twist the scope in the rings till the reticle is plumb and tighten the rings! Easy as pie. Well, that’s both correct…and wrong at the same time. If you have a scope with a canted reticle, leveling the reticle with a plumb line will remove the cant error from the reticle. So if you’re a hunter that doesn’t dial different ranges and you do all your shooting with hold overs and hold unders…you can level the reticle. However, if you’re a target shooter that dials elevation, or windage, for distances other than your zero…you’re screwed.
Here’s why: the reticle of the scope is typically a small piece of glass that a laser etches the shape of the reticle onto. That piece of glass moves up and down, and left to right, as you twist the turrets on the scope. The problem becomes how the reticle moves. If the reticle was installed crooked, and you add elevation by dialing your scope…it doesn’t move how you think it does. It will not travel perfectly parallel to the lines on the reticle. It will travel vertically and horizontally along the elevation and windage assemblies. If you’ve leveled the reticle, and the elevation and windage assemblies aren’t plumb with gravity and perpendicular with gravity, when you move the turrets you will add/remove both elevation and windage. You might only want one or the other, but you’ll get both. Here’s an illustration to help you visualize what’s happening.
What’s the Remedy?
The easiest way to check is to mount the scope and make sure the scope body and turret housing are plumb with gravity. When you’ve done that, level the rifle (and the scope) so that they are level with gravity and look at a vertical line. The edges of buildings are typically level with gravity so in a pinch, you can use that. Or, you can hang a plumb line, and check the reticle against the plumb line. If it’s level, great! If it’s not…you have a problem.
Unfortunately, there are only two ways to deal with this. You can remount the scope and level the reticle so it is plumb, at which point you lose the ability to dial the scope after you zero the gun. Your only other option is to see if the manufacturer will repair or replace your scope. Honestly, there are plenty of scope manufacturers out there that produce optics with plumb reticles. Several have outstanding warranty and support service, like Vortex Optics! If you have an issue, my first suggestion is call the manufacturer, or the shop you purchased from, and see what they say. If the scope manufacturer is unwilling to fix the problem, I suggest you sell it for whatever you can get out of it and put the money towards a quality optic.
Just because an optic is affordable doesn’t mean it automatically loses quality control. Vortex Optics has an excellent warranty and will replace scopes with canted reticles. I’ve also heard, but never had the need to check myself, that Bushnell has good support in this area. Remember, a canted reticle means all your adjustments of windage and elevation are screwed up. You’re adding and subtracting both windage and elevation when you have a canted reticle. That’s just not acceptable. Proper tracking of the optic is the most important feature in a precision rifle optic. The reticle being plumb is pretty critical here. Many manufacturers have a tolerance of +/- a few degrees of reticle cant. That’s not necessarily an issue if the reticle is off by 1 degree. However, if it’s off far enough that you notice it with the naked eye, it’s probably off quite a bit!
Tips for a Level Reticle
It all starts with mounting. If you haven’t mounted the scope properly, you can’t tell if the reticle’s off or if you just mounted the scope cock-eyed to begin with! There are a few methods to mounting the scope so that it’s level. For starters, always level the scope based off the flat section on the bottom of the turret housing. Optics are meant to use that space to level the scope body with the rifle you’re mounting it on. You can use a few methods to mount your scope using that flat section such as: feeler gauges, a deck of cards, or a leveling tool like what SPUHR offers!
Only after you have mounted the scope itself so that it is level can you ascertain whether or not the reticle is plumb with gravity. As we mentioned earlier, that’s easy enough to do. With the scope mounted, aim the scope at a plumb line hung with a weight. Check that the rifle (and scope that’s mounted to it) are level, then look through the optic and see if the reticle is plumb with the plumb line. If it looks good, you’re all set! If it’s way off to the point where you can see the error with your eye, you have a problem!
So we’ve discussed what a canted reticle is, and how to check for it, and what your solutions are for remedying the situation. If you’re hunting, or shooting with a carbine, and don’t have any plans to engage targets beyond what you can hit after establishing a good zero, this isn’t a big deal. If you plan to shoot farther and will be dialing elevation and windage corrections then this is something you have to be leery of. Remember, you can’t just twist the scope in the rings to fix it. This is something the manufacturer has to address. If they are unwilling, I would look at a different scope brand because there are several out there willing to fix the problem and provide good customer service. If you have anything to add, or a question, drop it in the comments below!