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Air Guns Illuminated scope reticles

Illuminated scope reticles

This report covers:

  • My personal experience
  • Maybe?
  • When
  • Research
  • Different types of illumination
  • Rheostats
  • Colors
  • Etched glass reticles
  • Thin reticles
  • Hunting
  • No-battery illuminated reticles
  • Summary

If all has gone according to plan I should be out at Industry Day at the Range today. Please remember that while I am at the SHOT Show this week I won’t be able to answer many questions.

Today I fulfill a promise to several readers who, after reading about the development of scope reticles, wondered about the illuminated reticle. Reader Siraniko actually wondered about the etched glass reticle, but since that is linked to the illuminated reticle, I’ll address it in this report.

My personal experience

I remember hunting roe deer in Germany in 1976. A roe deer (in Germany they are called Rehwild) is a small deer that’s the size of a large dog. They run 60-70 pounds in weight.

An adult male roe buck. This guy would be called a Kapitaler Rehbuck because he has such an ideal antler growth. This is the kind of guy that hunters pay big money to shoot.

I hunted from a high seat (a stand, usually in a tree about 12-15 feet off the ground) which most deer hunters in Germany did. That way your shots always go into the ground safely and deer are not accustomed to look up for danger. You should get into the high seat before sunrise, which means you are walking there in the dark or the very early dawn. One morning while walking quietly to my stand I saw the silhouette of a large male roe deer standing about 40 feet away. I could tell he was male because I saw antlers, and he had a good set for me to be able to see them so early. He would have been a prize.

I slowly raised my rifle and looked through the scope. I could now see his silhouette even better, but there was a problem. I couldn’t see the scope’s reticle. If only…

Yes, some people would have centered the deer’s kill zone in the center of the scope and fired, and it probably would have worked but my training kept me from doing it. In the classes I had taken to get my Auslaenderjagdschein (foreigner’s German hunting license) it was drilled into me to always make a perfect one-shot kill. Only twice in 13 deer did I ever need to take a second shot. I couldn’t take this shot, no matter how simple it seemed. If an illuminated reticle had been available it would have saved the day — maybe.


The first illuminated reticles were lights inside the scope tube that hit the phosphorescent reticle wires and illuminated them. The trouble is, they also illuminated the inner walls of the scope tube, making them shine back in the shooter’s eyes. This can be worse than not seeing the reticle because it can temporarily blind the shooter in the ambient darkness.

I have seen inexpensive scopes that still use this process today. They are worse than useless because of the blinding side effects of too much light. But there is a better way. Before getting to that, though, when did illuminated scopes come to the market?


According to Zeiss, they were the first company to offer illuminated scope reticles in 1994. At that time they illuminated only the central dot that is at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal reticle. That was deemed correct for hunting use. When scopes have their entire reticle illuminated they are considered for either tactical or sporting use.

Strictly speaking Zeiss is correct, but there was a much earlier type of illuminated reticle that airgunners enjoyed in the 1970s. Beeman offered certain Hakko scopes that had a window in the top of the scope to admit light. They were in their SS3L and SS4L series. That skylight did illuminate the scope’s reticle. And, at the end of the run for that scope, there was even a modification that gave the option of getting one with a battery-powered electric light, so I suppose that is the real first illuminated reticle, though it didn’t last very long.

But an illuminated reticle that uses daylight to illuminate the reticle is like dehydrated water pills. Just drop them into water and there you go!


I had to research a lot of this report’s material, but the Beeman short scopes with the illuminated reticle I was there to watch. I owned several. Nobody talks about them today, but I was there.

Stock Up on Shooting Gear

Different types of illumination

Most illuminated reticles are for use in the dawn and twilight times. I will cover the reason for that a bit later. But there is also daylight illumination, which is a reticle so bright it can be seen on a bright day, so long as the target is dark enough. This is for things like shooting in the woods where dark shadows make a plain reticle disappear.

Field target competitors sometimes use this for those targets placed in the shadows (deep inside a trash can that’s lying down?) when they can barely make out the kill zone on the target. This is not the time for guessing, but since field target competitors also use scopes of high magnification that tend to kill the ambient light, they need all the help they can get. They are in a real bind because they need both daylight illumination for some shots and twilight illumination for others.


Bring on the rheostat! This gives the shooter control over the brightness of the illumination to a great extent. I have not yet seen a daylight/twilight rheostat, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

I generally turn the light down as low as I’m able to see it, because the apparent size of the dot at the center gets smaller and that increases the precision of my aim. On the other end, when things are bright I turn the dot up as high as it will go, to be able to see it.


In the beginning red illumination was all that was available. Then green came out. Those are the two colors that my type of colorblindness — red/green — finds hardest to see. And that is the most common type of colorblindness. But the illumination colors in most scopes are corrected for this, I think, because I can usually see both of them fine. 

Leapers came out with 36 different colors and shades of colors so people like me should have no difficulty seeing one or more of them. I have toggled through their pallet of selections a couple times  but I stick with either red or green, depending on the target and environment.

Etched glass reticles

Etched glass reticles are etched into glass chemically then filled with a black particulate that’s often black chrome. Then luminescent material is added to the portion of the reticle that is to be illuminated. That’s how the central dot can be illuminated without the rest of the reticle lines lighting up.

Once all that is done a flat piece of glass is bonded on top of the reticle glass. That results in a piece of glass that’s about a quarter-inch thick.

Thin reticles

The reason people like etched glass reticles is because they can be made thin without fear of breaking. Remember spider silk and how difficult it was to transition to steel wire because it had to be thick enough to not break? Etched glass is very rugged. Now, please ask BB if he has ever broken a wire scope reticle. Time’s up. Yes, he has. It isn’t common but about 20 years ago I did have a wire scope reticle break. I know it was wire because I disassembled the scope to see.

Another thing an etched reticle can do is float in the image. It doesn’t have to be attached to anything on the sides of the scope. You will recall from an early scope ring report that once the erector tube was put inside the scope tube the reticle wires no longer had to move. The entire erector tube moved.


And now I will tell you that the best scope with the best illumination can prolong your hunting day about 15 minutes at either end of the day. Those are the times when game animals are most likely to be moving. Said a different way — never hunt after a night with a full moon because you won’t see a thing. Game animals feed all night long.

But be careful. In some states your illuminated reticle might have you hunting outside the legal times, regardless of whether you are in-season or not. This is a state issue and my only advice is learn the law and follow it. Game wardens get up early, too!

No-battery illuminated reticles

Trijicon now uses a length of fiberoptic cable and the light from a tritium lamp to illuminate its reticles. Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. It’s the stuff that makes handgun sights glow in the dark. It has a half-life of about 12 years.


Well, that’s all I have for this report. If you have any questions I’ll try to answer them, but please remember I’m at the SHOT Show this week.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

54 thoughts on “Illuminated scope reticles”

      • Shootski
        I worked for a company just like FedEx and UPS, Airborne Express. Only they specialized in overnight freight delivery.
        Talk about pressure to,
        1. Get the plane out on time, to land on time at the sort center in Ohio.
        2. In the assigned time slot.
        3. In coordination with about a hundred other aircraft in the middle of the night.
        If my plane was late, it could delay every other plane that was to get freight transferred from it and sent it on to the city of destination by morning.
        If you missed the entire sorting session, they rented a private jet to forward priority items. Like a belly full of freshly grown food items or legal papers for a court session.

        According to them a properly packaged item should be able to withstand a six-foot drop onto concrete. A typical fall from an aircraft baggage compartment or the sorting facility conveyer system. Think any airgun is packaged that good?

        The longer a package is in the system the greater the chance of damage occurring.
        I can see it now. A TX200 turned into a distressed chunk of wood with some scratched up metal protruding from it, the barrel. It’s partially wrapped in some torn up cardboard. retaped to hold it together. Another box with a caved in rifle case and a third box with a dented scope. 🙁
        Fortunately, I have to sign for it, so it won’t get left in the rain and mud at my gate.
        Fingers crossed!

        • Bob M-

          Hoping for the best for your rifle. It is interesting to say the least what some people regard as adequate packaging. My wife is assembling a set of Christmas dinnerware thru EBay. One 10” dinner plate had a single wrap of thin bubble wrap- not taped to the plate- and 3 small air pillows in a 4”x16”x16” !!! Yeah, that was going to work. Obviously, it arrived in pieces. I figure the plate was already damaged somehow before packaging so the seller decided to make the best of it and collect on the insurance.

          • I just received an Anschutz 6702 Diopter rear sight. I ordered it mid November on Ebay, came from Bulgaria. The sight was shipped in a standard plastic mailer envelope with no wrap or padding of any kind. Somehow made it from Bulgaria to Chicago(three weeks in Customs) then to me in Texas undamaged.

          • Most people involved in insured shipping will give it the shake test before accepting it. Packages go through hell being thrown all over the place at every transfer point.

        • Bob M,

          Airborne Express was one of a number of companies that tried to recruit me when I retired for the second time. Sad what happened with the new CEO and a company that had been going like gangbusters.
          I watch this site regularly: https://aviation-safety.net/
          Some “fun” reading….
          Currently following the Yeti Airlines crash (likely SLOW Stall Spin) on circle to land approach; NOT a Naval Aviator!


          • I have not stayed in touch with the company since I retired.
            Sad story, things were great then the German postal company DHL wanted an inroad to the US and the ground delivery department of Airborne Express was sold out to them. The aircraft division remained independent, and ABX Air was born with a 7-year contract to deliver DHL freight. 7 years later it ended and almost put ABX Air out of business .and so did DHL they did not want to be an overnight delivery company and lost business, I believe.
            I believe ABX Air organized several other freight companies and operate out of the Wilmington Ohio airport. It has an outstanding maintenance support facility, being an ex-Airforce base.
            The key to overnight freight delivery was to provide storage space at the hub for companies shipping with them. Orders were simply removed from their warehouse and placed on the aircraft.
            Really enjoyed working with them until we became responsible for Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767 extended 300 series service checks and maintenance, but it was part of the companies survival.

          • Interesting website, thanks shootski.

            My first look was at the geographical database for where I am, ie France, but here, the AviationSafetyNetwork shows no fatal accidents.
            So, it seems that one has to take the information with a large pinch of salt! 🙂

            Still, I found it interesting to see a surprising number of accidents listed elsewhere on their website.

  1. Hey B.B.,
    I hope you enjoy the SHOT show!
    I do have reticles that can be illuminated in my UTG BugBuster scopes…but I’ve never used them; I’ve never even put a battery in them to ensure that they work. Back in my hunting days, I would have; and I could see how they could be useful. But now that I’m retired, I try to NEVER get up before dawn. 😉
    Since I just shoot for fun, I’m generally shooting when the light is good; and if it’s dark out (which it often is; I tend to get the urge to shoot airguns at 11 PM or so *shrugs*), I just shoot on my indoor range (which has its own light).
    I found the section you wrote for Siraniko about the etched glass reticles to be particularly interesting; thank you for that. 🙂
    Blessings & prayers for safe travel to you,

  2. So, I am not alone in preferring a small dot in the center for hunting, pest control actually.
    A dual reticle, with small mil-dots in the center reticle and a small red dot in center.
    Kind of like three stages of aiming. I don’t care for a completely illuminated reticle either. just a small center section. Too distracting.

    • “Too distracting.”
      Bob M,
      I hear you on that; my first scope with an illuminated reticle has a control for brightness; but even at the lowest setting it was too distracting. I like duplex reticles; and if I could have one with just the center dot illuminated that would be just fine by me. 🙂
      Blessings to you,
      P.S. I pray your TX200 arrives intact!

      • Davemyster,
        Appreciate that because things just got more depressing. The TX200 was out for delivery today, bouncing around the truck all day and they failed to deliver it. So, another delivery attempt will be made tomorrow and ?

    • Bob M,

      My MEOPTA has a Mil Reticle and a Christmas Tree. It is First Focal Plane (FFP) so at low power the Stadia lines, dots, and tree are fine but even at 30x they don’t look all that different. The top of the reticle is empty of all markings. The image at twilight is amazing and you can turn on the red reticle to give you a center dot and spaced away from that dot the 4 legs of a very small cross; so everything is not blazing in your eye. On the low (1) setting I find no loss of Night Adaptation nor a bloom that washes out the image through the scope. I wish they had Night Vision settings.


      • Shootski
        I would hope so for a long-range precision competition scope. Hope it came with lens cleaning rag and covers too, for what it costs.
        Did it resist being put on a simple airgun instead of something like a Ruger Hawkeye Long-Range Target Rifle? 😉

        • Bob M,

          It went on my DAQ OUTLAW LA .308 1:10 without complaint. But then that DAQ isn’t quite a simple airgun.
          I do need to find out if one of them will work on the SIG ASP 20’s without being destroyed.

          (B&H does deals)


          • Shootski
            Totally acceptable match there. I read that a shotgun scope is recommended for the 308.
            So, if it is holding up well on the DAQ it may work on the Sig ASP 20.
            Too bad most shock absorbing scope mounts give up some accuracy. Although it may be unacceptable for target shooting it may be OK for hunting?
            If you have not already researched the scope, there is a review here… everydaymarksman.co/equipment/meopta-optika6-5-30/ Not a direct link.

  3. BB,

    I know you will check out the Leapers/UTG booth. Please try and find out when/if we can expect they will put etched glass reticles in their BugBuster line. Personally, I would like them to bring back the low fixed power BugBuster scopes with etched glass reticles. These would be superb for hunting sproingers in the woods.

    I have several Leapers scopes, including a non-illuminated SWAT Compact from way back, but the BugBuster line has become my favorite. I really like these little scopes. I find that I do not need anything really high powered. When I was hunting, I liked the Weaver 12X scope for long range shooting and a Weaver Quick Point for deer in the woods.

    These days I have an Hawke 2-7×32 that has superb optics, but it is still not a compact BugBuster.



  4. When FM gave himself a Ruger 10-22 for his eighteenth, it came with a Bushnell scope. Recall the optical tube was small diameter; don’t remember the other specs such as magnification power etc. It worked well enough for a few years until the reticle wires literally “went south.” Did not think the scope could be repaired so FM shot the Ruger over fixed sights after that.

    Maybe the time to install a Bug Buster on it has arrived.

  5. B.B.,
    LabRadar is at: 14441 VE-2. Hope you have them on your list for representing airgunners everywhere!
    MEOPTA Sport Optics 10124 VE-2 Is hopefully on your list.

    Enjoy the show. Wish I still qualified to attend, may need to send my LEO daughter.


  6. Is it possible to add phosphorescent paint to the reticle and illuminate it with an UV LED that is invisible to the eye?
    This way, have no illumination of the scope tube and no need for precise fibre optic alignment.
    I’m sure this has been tried and patented somewhere.

    • Mel83 and Readership,,

      A UV LED is just the “modern” replacement for a Black Light source. UV spectrum light is used to cause things to Fluoresce. As soon as the UV light source is switched off the object stops glowing. With a phosphorescent object it truly glows in the dark for a period of time without any additional photo electro stimulation beyond the initial period of charging.
      Most folks are confused about the four different types of cold luminance.
      Luminescence: the emission of light produced by means other than heat.
      1. Fluorescence: the prompt (only while exposed to the stimulus) emission of light by an object exposed to electromagnetic radiation.
      2. Phosphorescence: the continued emission of light without heat after exposure to and removal of a source of electromagnetic radiation.
      3. Chemiluminescence: the emission of light as a result of a chemical reaction; no electromagnetic stimulation or charging required.
      4. Bioluminescence: the emission of light by living organisms.

      So a phosphorescent paint/coating on the Reticle replaced the Radium of the early telescopes.

      With my Radium Reticle equiped scope the amount of time (seconds) you shined your flashlight into the eyepiece (ocular) determined how bright and for how long your reticle would glow. That avoided the problem associated with the lighted fluorescent reticle that B.B. talked about. The current paint (mostly no “harmful” radiation) is more for the solution of recycling problem and detector false alarm problem than danger to the user.
      Painting only the reticle side toward the user avoided problems with counter snipers seeing your glow. As did the off label use of ARDs.

      Hope that helps everyone.


        • thedavemyster and Readership,

          If you have a more recent scope with illumination two more things to consider.
          1. Red light preserves more of your Night Adaptation as does wearing the darkest sunglasses or deep red lens goggles (preferably goggles) for the full top, bottom and side coverage during the daylight hours. Also no white or blue light after dark if at all possible.
          2. If you have a scope with illumination turn it on and look into the objective (in front/usually the BIG one) lense in a darkish room and see what your target sees; dim or bright setting doesn’t matter.
          Surprised? Really Stealthy huh!


      • You got that a bit mixed up. Both Fluorescence and Phosphorescence are light emissions from excited atoms. But the Phosphorescence has a longer duration because the electronics involved undergo a “forbidden” transition from triplet to singulet.

        Both Fluorescence and Phosphorescence can be induced by UV light, radioactivity and other things.

        • Mel83,

          I have no argument about the Electrons and your statement.
          I think this is the age old battle of Chemistry vs Physics one more time to the nth! Lol!
          When the quantum yield or quantum efficiency is used to measure the probability that a molecule will fluoresce or phosphoresce.
          For fluorescence and phosphorescence is the ratio of the number of molecules that luminesce to the total number of excited molecules. For highly fluorescent molecules, the quantum efficiency approaches one. Molecules that do not fluoresce have quantum efficiencies that approach zero.
          Phosphorescent quantum efficiency is the opposite of fluorescence in that it occurs in the n→π∗ excited state which tends to be short lived and less susceptible to deactivation than the π→π∗ triplet state. Intersystem crossing is also more probable for π→π∗ excited state than for the n→π∗ state because the energy difference between the singlet and triplet state is large and spin-orbit coupling is less likely to occur.
          But my point was only that one (fluorescent, like the old tube lamps) needs a source of stimulation to Stay lighted and the other will stay lighted and decay over time even after the source of
          initial stimulation is removed.
          This of course is way beyond what airgunners and other scope users need to or typically want to know.

  7. Wishing a blessed Martin Luther King Day to all.
    Once a year, on this day, I read his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:
    It’s a bit long, about five and a half pages, but these three paragraphs capture the gist of it:
    So I am here, along with several members of my staff, because we were invited here. I am
    here because I have basic organizational ties here.
    Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

    So I have not said to my people, “Get rid of your discontent.” But I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action.
    Now this approach is being dismissed as extremist. I must admit that I was initially disappointed in being so categorized. But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice? — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist? — “Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist? — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a mockery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist? — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?

    There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.”
    They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

  8. My take is that if it’s too dark to see the reticle without illumination, then it’s too dark to see what’s behind the animal you are aiming at, and thus not safe to take the shot.

    I’d rather spend the extra on better glass or better mounts than on gimmicky features and to my mind illuminated reticles are to scopes what those “glowie-thingies” are to iron sights.

    • Bob Ryan,

      IF you can’t ensure what is in the possible field of fire (behind and in front of your target) i’m with you 100% on the no shoot decision for hunting.
      I will tell you that there are in my experience lighting angles that allow clearing the field of fire but make precise shot placement on the target near impossible without that small & dim dot/cross of lighted Stadia.


      • Shootski,

        I don’t doubt you.

        My experience of illuminated reticles is limited to a Bugbuster 3-9×32 and a Chinese 6-24×50, both of which have illumination of the whole crosshairs which tends to wash out the tube even at lower intensity settings. That messes with ones night vision . Neither scope is suitable for hunting in low light conditions because of that.

        A dimly illuminated centre dot would doubtless be a big improvement, but some manufacturers charge as much as a 25% premium for such a feature. Worth it to some, but I personally wouldn’t make enough use of it to justify the outlay.

  9. Shootski,
    Surprisingly I never really had much interest in aviation. To the surprise of many airport watchers on the other side of the fence. I just fixed them.
    Never really cared how fast they can fly or how much ‘horsepower’ it had and such.
    Interesting link above. I do recall trying to decide if a pilot blowing all 4 main landing gear tires on landing because he forgot to turn on anti-skid before stomping on the brakes was an aircraft accident or aircraft incident?
    It was definitely a hassle. I did not have 4 spare wheel / tire assemblies.

    • Bob M,

      Never blew a tire and none of the aircraft I flew had the luxury(?) of an anti-skid system. Probably just an incident. Although how long an aircraft stays in a down status played a role in the old days. Did you at least have two wheels and tires? Did it require unloading the aircraft to tow it off the runway or did they just drag it off on the rims?
      Lastly did you all nickname the driver BigFoot? Lol!

      Holding my thumbs for your TX 200,


      • Oh, they do rely on those accessories. I believe the last words from the pilot to the copilot were “I have control.” when they touched down too far down the runway. They were pulled off the runway and I borrowed wheels from other airlines to return it to the ramp. Then, if I remember right, I had to replace them again to return the wheels. Inventory control. No news story, none of the freight got upset about it or screamed. I believe it was an incident because they were on the ground, and no one was hurt.

  10. Everyone,

    I have written a report on the Industry Day at the Range, but I cannot insert photographs or publish it. It appears that my editing privileges have been suspended. I have not been informed of any changes to this blog, but at the present I am just a reader like the rest of you.

    There is a report on Industry Day awaiting publication and the photographs have all been taken and edited, but at present I am powerless to do more.

    I hope this is just a mistake that can be corrected.

    It’s getting late here in Las Vegas and I am going to bed. When I know more I will let you know, if I am able.

    Tom Gaylord

  11. Obviously the technical support of the blog from Pyramidair leaves a lot to be desired. How many times I received an answer without being notified by an email the recent years; I don’t want to know since I have embarrassed some of you, thinking I don’t care to respond.
    Anyway let’s hope for something better from now on.

  12. The New Year’s Resolution all companies/organizations/governments need to make and live by is “Constantly Do Better, Fix Problems Quickly.” FM realizes that is an Utopian notion which will come true only when the Winter Olympics are finally held in Miami. The Florida one, that is.

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