How to Get the Most out of your Mil-Dot Reticle

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Over the last couple of years the mil dot reticle has become less of an option and more the standard in tactical rifle scopes. Since its inception with the Unertl USMC sniper scope and later in various versions of the Leupold Mark IV scope, military snipers have come to know the mil dot reticle as a reliable means of determining distances to targets, establishing leads for moving targets, and for alternate aiming points for windage and elevation holds. Military snipers who are graduates of formal programs of instruction have spent numerous hours honing their ability to use the mil dot reticle and are comfortable and competent with it. Military snipers are easy to train on the mil dot reticle, as the military has been using the mil relation formula in one form or another for many years. As the WERM rule (width of correction = Range x mils observed), it has been the mainstay for determining adjustments when calling and adjusting indirect fire weapons such as mortars and artillery. On the other hand, so me Law Enforcement and civilian tactical and practical long-range precision shooters are a little hesitant sometimes of the mil dot reticle because of a lack of proper training. I hope this article will help remedy this problem.

Mildot Target FarThe mil dot reticle is a post and wire reticle with 10 mils (milliradians) between opposing posts and dots spaced 1 mil apart on the wires, minus the reticle intersection so as not to obscure the aiming point. A milliradian is an angular unit of measure that just happens to equal one yard at 1000 yards and 1 meter at 1000 meters. Knowing this fact we can, through the wonders of elementary mathematics, use this little critter to determine distance to an object when the size of the object is known. The sniper simply measures his target using the dots, then works a simple formula to obtain the target's distance or the distance to an item near the target.

How the milliradian became the unit of measure of choice is fairly interesting as sniper trivia. Back when the military was determining how to graduate their artillery pieces the techno-geeks settled on the milliradian as the unit of measure for their sights. Since there were 6,283 milliradian (2 PI for all you math whizzes) in 360 degrees they rounded up to 6400. The Soviets on the other hand rounded down and ended up with 6200 mils in a circle for their artillery sights, compasses, etc.

As the Marine Corps sniper program grew and matured during the late 70's, the snipers desired more accurate range estimation abilities than what the issue 6x30 and 7x50 binoculars and the 3x9 Redfield scope were allowing. The binoculars had hatch marks that were graduated in 10 mil increments with the actual hatch mark lines being 5 mils long (Steiner M22), which were all too coarse for obtaining much precision. Add to this that the Accu-trac system in the Redfield, using an 18-inch stadia line intended for deer hunting, left much to be desired for tactical shooting. We at the Scout/Sniper Instructor School used a "barber pole" to teach students to mentally break the reticles of the binoculars into finer sub-tensions than for what the binoculars were originally designed. This barber pole had 4" bands painted on it and we set it out at 111 yards where each band equaled 1 mil. This allowed the student to see what the graphics on the reticle subtended including hatch marks, numbers etc. For example, the base of the number 2 equaled a certain fraction of a mil and the tips of the number 3 equaled another number of mils. All of this was fine and dandy but a better way was needed.

Mildot Sizes

Although the mil dot system is both simple and accurate, as with anything else it does have limitations, especially if you haven't received formal training on them. The owner's manuals that usually come with the civilian scopes are very basic when they explain the use of the reticle. I've been teaching the use of the things for over 18 years and have seen most of the problems that students run into when first encountering mil dot reticles. Even high-tech devices such as laser range finders have limitations and disadvantages and low-tech mil dots are no exception. In this article I will cover some facets of mildot usage that will enhance your ability to use them.

The Mil relation formula

There are a couple of permutations of the mil relation formula floating around. At first look most of them strike fear in the hearts of most of us Neanderthal, knuckle dragger types, but they are really quite user friendly. Granted the formulas require you to use more than your fingers and toes, but we Marines can handle it! Well, here we go. The basic one is:

Height of item in yards (meters) x 1000/Mils read = Distance to item in yards (meters)

This formula is good when the sniper knows an item's size in yards. My only problem with this version is that cops often have to deal with small items such as vehicle wheels, small stickers on windows, headlights etc. This requires the officer to convert a 7" headlight into a decimal equivalent in yards before they can work the formula. And since most cops are fellow Neanderthals and are usually under a fair amount of stress to begin with, I prefer to teach the formula:

Height of item in inches x 27.8 (25.4)/Mils read = Distance to target in yards (meters)

The formula can be worked backward in training so that if the distance to the target is known we will know what the mil reading should be. This is handy for beginners learning to read mil dots. The formula for this is:

Size of item in inches x 27.8 (25.4)/Distance in yards (meters) = Mils

Knowing the sizes of items being measured is a matter of knowing your prospective area of operation and making a list of the sizes of standard items. Make sure you get both height and width of objects as you can mil both dimensions but the largest dimension mathematically will usually give the most accurate answer. Military snipers should have sizes of enemy vehicles, enemy weapons, average heights of soldiers, etc. An LE sniper should have sizes of traffic signs, bricks, license plates, etc. So carry a tape measure and a notebook with you and prepare to have people look at you funny as you measure curbs, traffic lights, mailboxes and other commonly found objects in your area of operation.

Mildot Target NearSo as you can see the mil relation formula shouldn't scare anyone off. As a matter of fact there are ways to make the use of the formula even easier. Many data books such as the TRGT data book and others have charts developed using computer spreadsheets that allow the shooter to find the target size and the mil reading on the chart and it gives the shooter the distance without any hate or discontent. You can even make your own using the above formulas if you know how to use a spreadsheet such as MS Excel.

The EASIEST way to deal with this formula is to get yourself a The Mil Dot Master. This handy slide-rule type device does the calculations for the mil relation formula, corrects for target size when viewed at angles, corrects for slope, gives MOA/mil/in equivalence and even predicts the future. (You have to bury some chicken bones and some other stuff to get the last feature).

Reticle Focus

The first thing we will talk about is reticle focus. In order for the sniper to obtain precise mil readings the reticle must be properly focused. If the reticle is out of focus, the reticle will appear fuzzy and go in and out of focus as the eye attempts to zero in on it. Not only will mil readings be difficult to obtain but the sniper will also suffer eye fatigue over long periods behind the scope as the muscles of the eye attempt to maintain focus. Steps for focusing a scope's reticle are:

  • Look at a distant object (about 300 yards) and allow your eyes to become focused on it.
  • Quickly look through the scope at the sky or a blank wall and check to see if the reticle is immediately sharp and crisp. If it is, then no further adjustment is needed.
  • If your eye has to re-focus AT ALL on the reticle then proceed.
  • Grasp the eyepiece and back it away from the lock-ring. Turn the eyepiece several turns so as to move at least 1/8". It will take this much change to achieve any measurable effect on the focus. Then repeat step one.
  • If the image is better, continue to turn the eyepiece in the same direction. If it is worse, turn the eyepiece the other way and repeat the previous steps until the image of the reticle is sharp and crisp immediately upon looking into the scope.
  • Do this several times. Taking the focus past the point of best focus and back again will help to ensure you have the clearest setting. Then lock up the eyepiece by screwing the lock-ring back to the eyepiece.
  • Some scopes feature a quick-adjust eyepiece and therefore simplify this operation.

Target/Objective Focus

Mildot ExampleOne area that is often overlooked when ranging with mil dots is target focus. If the target is out of focus it will either read slightly larger or smaller than it should when properly focused.

There have been many occasions while working as an instructor where I have found students do worse on ranging with mil dots than with binoculars or even the naked eye. Most of the time this ceases to be a problem after they begin ensuring that both the objective and the reticle are sharply focused.

Ambient Light Conditions

As with all other methods of range estimation that uses the sniper's eyes, the nature of the ambient light conditions can affect the sniper's ability to obtain an accurate mil reading. Effects such as glare, mirage, haze/fog can obscure the target or alter how the sniper sees the edges of the target which will all cause inaccurate readings. In order to deal with this, a sniper must practice obtaining mil readings in all weather conditions and take notes as to corrections that he must make in those conditions. For example a sniper knows that in foggy conditions he needs to add .1 mil to his mil readings or in bright sunny conditions he has to subtract .1 mil on light colored targets due to glare. So practice obtaining distances with your scope in all conditions and confirm distances with a laser range finder. Keep notes as to how different light conditions alter your mil readings.

Hang on a minute!! Use a laser range finder to confirm distances? You are probably asking, "Then why the hell worry about mil dots if I have a laser range finder?" Well, have you ever had batteries die on you or have a piece of electronics go belly up? Also, have you heard of laser detectors? Besides, mildot reticles have other uses besides ranging. OK, now that we've cleared that up I'll continue.

OK, let's look at what we have up to this point. We've learned that we have to make sure our reticle and target are in focus. No problem here as we should have these items under control anyway. We've had to either learn a simple formula or buy a The Mil Dot Master. No big deal here either. All we are left with now is to figure out how to measure objects with the reticle. Let's see if there are any major obstacles here.

Reading the Dots

Mildot DiagramThe precision tactical shooter must be able to obtain accurate mil readings to the tenth of a mil. This is where it is important to know the sub-tensions on your reticle. For example, I know in my Leupold 3.5 x 10 M3 LR with the USMC stamped wire reticle pattern, the dots themselves are .25 mils and the posts are 1 mil wide when the scope is at maximum magnification (more on this in a minute). In Leupold scopes with round, dot-etched glass reticles the dots are .22 mils in diameter and the posts are .5 mils wide. This enables me to break the reticle down as in the illustrations above left.

The importance of being precise on your readings becomes evident when working at long range. For example, if a 40-inch target (the size of a kneeling man) is incorrectly measured at 1.5 mils it would range out to 740 yards where if the correct reading were 1.6 mils it would actually be at 693 yards. Assuming there is 5 MOA drop with a .308 between 700 and 800 yards you could be dialing on around 2 MOA too much elevation. At 700 yards that is 14 inches and may put you over the target depending on your aiming area. So here are some helpful tips when measuring a target.

  • Have a steady rest for your rifle. Just as steady as when you are firing. Lay the rifle on its side if you have to.
  • Use a post for one end of the measuring scale if possible. This will give you a clear point for one end of your measurement.
  • Make sure the target/reticle are focused.
  • Practice obtaining mil readings on targets at known distance. Using the formula given above determine how many mils a target should read then work on it until you can see that measurement in the scope.

Variable Power Scopes

My last tip there brings up an interesting point in regards to variable power scopes with mil dot reticles. Most American variable power scopes do not magnify the reticle along with the target. In other words the reticle remains the same size as the target image zooms. This can wreak havoc if you try to measure a target at the wrong magnification, as the dots will only equal 1 milliradian at one magnification setting. Knowing what magnification setting your scope is set up to use the dots on is CRITICAL to getting accurate readings. Most scopes are set up to use their highest power setting and some have an index mark on the power ring. One problem I've noted with the variable power scopes is that the setting that the factory tells you to use can often be off a bit. I've had students be constantly off on readings by 1 or 2 tenths and get flustered as hell. Some of this can be due to out of focus reticles but many of them figure out that the index mark is off a hair. By using the barber pole I mentioned earl lier, you can find the EXACT point where the mil dots subtend precisely 1 mil. As a side note you can also find the point where the dots equal 2 mils and other readings.

Other uses of the Mil Dot Reticle

I think we've pretty much exhausted material on the mil dot reticle as a ranging tool. I will now go into its other uses in establishing alternate aiming points for moving targets, elevation/windage hold-offs and quick follow-up shots. As with any tool in our toolbox, the more we know about it the better off we are. If I can use a piece of gear for more than one purpose it becomes more valuable than a highly specialized piece of gear such as a laser range finder. (Although lasers make nice paperweights and Frisbees when their batteries die or the light conditions render them useless.) These other uses are just as valuable as the primary range finding purpose of the mil dot reticle.

Leads for Moving Targets

When a shooter is training on moving targets he should be taught to calculate leads for moving targets knowing the targets speed, time of flight of the bullet and the targets direction of movement. The formula is:

Time of flight (sec) x Speed of target (fps) = Lead from center-mass in feet
(full value lead)

Since it is easiest to establish a lead from a target's leading edge and we want a lead in mils we will then use the formula:

(Lead in feet x 12) ? 6
(Range x .01) x 3.4

We can now use our mil dot reticle to hold off instead of having to guess at target widths and other not-so accurate methods. This formula is a bit ungainly to use in tactical situations, and it doesn't take into account different shooters' reaction times, but it should be used in training to determine starting leads when engaging live fire moving targets. The shooter then fine tunes his leads and writes them in his data book.

Elevation/Windage Hold-Offs

Mil dot reticles can also be used for alternate aiming points for elevation and windage holds, as there are often situations where a sniper may not have time to dial on his elevation and sight settings. Snipers often have to deal with targets that appear unexpectedly, multiple targets at different distances, gusting winds of varying direction and the thing we all don't want to think about, a miss or an insufficient hit. In these situations the shooter often doesn't have time to deal with turret caps, 1/4 MOA target turrets, or in the case of the miss or insufficient hit, changing the sights. In these occasions, WHEN EXTREME PRECISION IS NOT A REQUIREMENT, it is better to establish an alternate aiming point with the mil dot reticle and hit the target.

Windage Hold-Offs

When the USMC Unertl scope first came out in 1981-82, it only had 4 MOA of windage in each direction. As anyone who has shot past 300 yards knows, that isn't enough windage to handle win drift caused by your buddy's heavy breathing from the next firing point. So we had to use the mil dots for windage. This is a simple feat if you just remember that 1 mil is 3.5 MOA. So if I need 3.5 minutes of right windage I leave "0" windage on the windage knob and hold 1 mil dot right of center mass. If I need 4 MOA then I hold a tad more than 1 mil dot. 2 mils? Hey, remember when we broke the mil dot reticle down for precise measurements when determining distances? It's the same deal with wind hold-offs. Break the mils into thirds and you have 1 MOA hold points; OK, so it's 1.13 MOA hold-offs, big deal.

Elevation Hold-Offs

Now let's talk about elevation hold-offs. In order for us to use a mil dot reticle for elevation holds we have to determine from what sight setting we will be holding off from. In most situations this will mean that we will leave a certain sight setting on the rifle when not set for a specific target. This is very similar to the military battle-sight zero concept where an M16A2 is zeroed for 300 meters, which allows the rifleman to engage targets from 0-325 meters by just aiming center mass. In US Army doctrine with the M24 sniper weapon system and M118LR ammunition (175 gr. Sierra BTHP @ 2600 fps) the sniper leaves his 500m zero on the scope with zero windage. Then by using the elevation holds in the chart below, he can get rounds on target without taking the time to change his elevation setting. Another use for mil dots is when we have to engage multiple targets at different distances and we have time to set it up. We know that if we have to engage a target at 600 yards then drop down to 300 yards and dr op another one all we have to do is calculate the elevation difference between 300 and 600 yards then dial on the elevation for 600 and hold low for the 300 yard shot. In this case I know that there is 7.5 MOA difference between the 600 and 300 yard shot. So after engaging the 600 yard target with my 600 yard sight setting, since it is the more difficult shot, I will then hold 2 mils under the 300 yard target and engage it. The .5 MOA error (1.5 inches at 300 yards) in hold is nothing to worry about in MOST situations.

Follow-up Shots

The last thing I will talk about in regards to the mil dot reticle is its usefulness when firing rapid follow-up shots when a quick correction in elevation or windage is required. In these situations a follow-up shot is needed quickly! If the first shot was a miss, it won't take the target long to figure out what is going on. If he is trained or just real smart, as soon as he hears the crack of the round or some result of its impact he is gonna move. But in many situations the target won't move due to ambient noise masking the shot or just plain stupidity as in the case of the FBI field SWAT snipers that got off 3 shots at a hostage taker without the perp figuring out what was going on. (In this case the sniper's shots were hitting a low wall in front of the rifle that the sniper didn't know was in the way. The third shot hit home after the sniper raised his position.)

In the case of a well fired shot that missed or was off-center, the observer can give the sniper an alternate aiming point using the mil dots as with windage holds. If the shot was at 200 yards and it was 4 inches (2 MOA) low, the observer tells the sniper to hold 2/3 mil high and fire again. This is all assuming of course that the sniper calls the first shot a good shot. If he called the shot low, then the sniper should fire center again and pay attention to the fundamentals this time.

And you thought that all mil dots were for was range estimation, didn't you?

I hope this information has shown you that mil dots are a valuable aid for the precision tactical shooter/sniper. It may seem like a lot of information at first but as you absorb this stuff remember that much of it can be simplified with aids like cheat sheets, crib notes and through the use of devices like the The Mil Dot Master even us Neanderthals can handle mil dots. Those that can't or refuse to use them are missing out on a valuable tool. But that's OK. Those batteries in that laser are probably OK.

By Kent W. Gooch, CWO2, USMC (ret)

Tom | March 6, 2011 at 07:37 | Reply


Charle Taylor | March 6, 2011 at 23:01 | Reply

Thanks Kent, Well done, This Neanderhtal is soaking it all in. My Mark 4 LM/T is a little cooler to me now. Thanks

Timothy Garrett | March 16, 2011 at 03:54 | Reply

Hello, I am Sgt Garrett and I have been a Sniper since 2007. I was an M24 gunner for most of my carrer as a sniper. I have currently changed positions and I am now a Infantry Squad leader in Afghanistan and I carry a EBR with leupold tactical long range scope. My problem is that the optic is calculated for 168 grain and all I have is M118 LR. I know that the EBR and M118 LR do not get along well but surprisingly enough the ammo has been performing great but the unit I am with is limited to what we can get as far as an M3A for an optic. I was just wondering if anyone could give me a referance where to look for rough mil hold offs with a 500 meter zero. Any information you might be able to give would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.

Ralph Klopcic | March 17, 2011 at 09:12 | Reply

Thanks for the easy to understand explanations...I look forward to practicing these procedures in the field..

JERE ATCHISON | March 17, 2011 at 15:54 | Reply


randall | March 21, 2011 at 08:54 | Reply

how do you do mils to moa

Brandon | March 31, 2011 at 22:30 | Reply

Thank You....Great tut, I have a new outlook on my scope now and a few more skills to hone

Pathfinder 1 | April 12, 2011 at 13:38 | Reply

Excellent artical, well written and illustrated.
Here is a response for Sgt. Timothy Garrett:
The current crop of "mil dot" based reticles being mass marketed are as you said, "calibrated for specific calibers" and therefore not as versiltle as a true mil-dot reticle. Here are some reources to check out. Premier Reticles (real mil-dot scopes).Two more references 1- maximun Point blank Range (browse his in your computer, and 2- Use a ballistic software porgram to find the trajectory for your specific bullet weight,type and velocity you will know where the bullet is at evry point along the trajectory. (Sierra Infinity v6 software is recommended). You can install a custom caliber in the program and get data for your cartridge Armed with that data you are in a far better position to enhance you accutacy at long distance shots. Hope this helps. Thank you for your service to our country and good shooting

Jon | April 15, 2011 at 15:36 | Reply


It appears to me from article by Robert Simeone found here

At 100 yds, 1 MIL = 3.438 MOA.

So, you would divide your length in MOA by 3.438 to get MIL. Alternatively, you would multiply your MIL length by 3.438 to get MOA.

Unless I am missing something, this formula should hold for any distance.

HeadshotBy308 | April 25, 2011 at 11:43 | Reply

Well said basics,map and compass no batteries,mil dots no batteries. Kentucky windage Semper Fi, From a Recon Scout Sniper, and thanks for the refresher.

Carlos E Marquez | April 25, 2011 at 20:10 | Reply

You have a great detail about Mill Dot.
I am marine but neve knew how to use siper rifle, I bought a 1903 Remington rifle and I instlled a scope, so I am teaching myself how to use my new scope.

David A | April 26, 2011 at 12:04 | Reply

Sorry to digress,but mils do my head in, Could anybody out there, please tell me the correct ajustments, MOA from 300yds to 400yds, then how much ajustment from 400 to 500 yds ,and upwards by 100 yds each time to 1000yds on a T24 weaver, Im a F class standard target shooter in Australia, and havent gained full time access to my custom built rifle yet, hence these questions, Thankyou, 1am

Rich Lawrence | May 7, 2011 at 20:46 | Reply

SGT Garrett,I don't know your sight height, so I assumed 1.625". The data I have on hand for M118LR ammunition fired from an EBR lists the muzzle velocity at 2600fps, and the 100 yard velocity at 2408. For a 500m zero, both the Pejsa ballistic and the JBM ballistic models show similar results.
25m— 3.27"+, 3.43mil
50m— 7.78"+, 4.08mil
100m— 15.58"+, 4.15mil
200m— 25,82+, 3.38mil
300m— 27.92"+, 2.44mil
400m— 20.45"+, 1.34mil
500m— 0.0", 0mil
600m— -33..63", -1.45mil
700m— -84.05", -3.11mil
800m— -154.91", -5.02mil
900m— -251.99",-7.25mil
1000m— -530.41", -12.57mil

Hope that helps.

Thanks,for your service!


NICOLAS HERREROS | June 16, 2011 at 20:28 | Reply

Hello friends of the web ...
I wonder if I can help get information to use Mil-Dot, eg Miratelescopica 6-24x50 Bushnell Elite mounted on my Remington 700 Police, barrel 26 ', bullets reloaded (sierra 168grs) 2600 fps
The comments above is the total of my team ... and I like to learn to use the thousand, For a 100m zero at different distances example ... 150m, 200m, 250, etc.
Already many thanks for your help.
My best regards from Argentina
Nicolas Herreros
Hola amigos de la web...
Me gustaria saber si me pueden ayudar a conseguir informacion para usar Mil-Dot, ejemplo, Miratelescopica Bushnell elit 6-24x50 montado en mi Remington 700 Police, barrel 26´, con balas recargadas (sierra 168grs) a 2600 fps
Los comentarios anteriores es el total de mi equipo... y me gustaria aprender usar los mil, For a 100m zero, en distintas distancias ejemplo... 150m, 200m, 250, etc
Desde ya mil gracias por su ayuda.
Mis saludos cordiales desde Argentina
Nicolas Herreros

Ben | August 3, 2011 at 20:45 | Reply

ok Im just getting into shooting long range. I have the formulas down, I just dont get how my distances can be accurate at differnt scope focus? For example if my target is 1yd tall at 100 yds. How would I read mildots if when I focus, my target gets bigger therefore having a bigger mildot count? plz help this really has me stumped.

Ben Woodward | August 10, 2011 at 09:48 | Reply

Great article. I've got a few mil-dot reticle tactical rifle scopes, but have never really known how to make the most of the mil-dots. This was a very clear and concise guide, thank you.

Anthony Ulak | August 16, 2011 at 14:51 | Reply

I have a BSA MIL DOT 6-24x401R scope, and am wondering what the components of the scope stand for, and what they do.

Matt in Oklahoma | August 20, 2011 at 08:19 | Reply

Excellent article and very well articulated. Thanks!

Walt Easley | September 7, 2011 at 05:30 | Reply

Thank you Kent, for absolutely the best explanation of how the Mil-Dot system works and the "how to" use of it.
I think this is the first time I feel confident enough to try to use "all the little dots" in my scope properly!

I had just ordered the Mil-Dot Master and I also bought the new Bushnell Fusion ARC 1600 Binocular w/LRF and can hardly wait to get home and start trying out using my mil-dot scope correctly.

Thanks a great deal for your time, your service and sharing your knowledge of this subject.

Semper Fi

lenny | October 10, 2011 at 19:39 | Reply

Mil dots I should of stay wake in math class Spray and pray

lavalle | October 21, 2011 at 12:17 | Reply

Excelent atrical, it's been a while sience I last reviewed this information. Today I found I was remembering some critical data incorrectly. It is good to go back to school from time to time for a refresser course. Thank you

ARNOLD T. SERRATA | November 22, 2011 at 12:04 | Reply


Michael | November 28, 2011 at 14:16 | Reply

Thanks for a very informative article. I'll be trying to crawl out of the present Neandertal status. I'm just trying to get into this long range stuff so bear with me. I haven't gotten this all yet but I will! OK can you recommend a weatherproof sort of data book to start recording my yeahs and dammits? What do you use in your classes? Also do you use an erasable tablet of some kind with the formulae on it?
I will probably end up ordering a Mil Dot Master, but I refuse to give in until I can do this in my sleep.
Thanks again for all of this!

sheikh Iqbal | December 4, 2011 at 11:47 | Reply

How to take the uphill/down hill angle with the Mildot Master with the help of string and weight attached is the topic.I was looking for. A video of this will help me and many others would help. Like the Scope dope has a video. Thanks sheikh.

Bill Mullins | December 9, 2011 at 19:03 | Reply

Thank you for the excellent article. I am especially interested in using the mil dots on my SWFA SuperSniper 20X40 scope (I am in my 60s and my eyes aren't what they were). I am learning to shoot and hope to be able to do 4MOA @ 500 yds. I'll settle for 4 MOA @ 400.

I hope to be able to zero the scope for 200 yards and then hold over for 300 and 400 then hold under for 100 - and of course increments in between. I have an FNAR 308 Win/7.62x51 so 500 yards is not entirely unrealistic.

One thing I have noticed is that when I have the parallax adjustment right and everything is in focus I can read the range to the target from the markings on the parallax adjustment ring. That solves the range problem so all I have to do is calculate hold over/under. How do I calculate hold over/under? I have a chrony so I will know muzzle velocity with different loads. Can I calculate hold or should I just determine it empirically?

Is there a standard manual for using the mil dot reticule? I expect to need to engage targets at 400-500 yards within 3-5 years. I need to learn the formalisms of shooting out to 500 yards.

Pedro | December 10, 2011 at 15:22 | Reply


russ | December 14, 2011 at 14:33 | Reply

First off, great article. Second, I'm looking for some clear definition for the POI using a Mil dot with different zoom settings. My scope is zeroed at 100 yard on zoom power setting of x12 and the recticle is on the second focal plane. If i want to shoot at 400 yards, and not adjust the elevation I should be able to hold off low just under the second mil dot. Now if i change the zoom up to x24 would I multiple the hold off (hold just under 4th lower dot) or divide it by two (hold off just under the first lower dot). I've been looking all over the web and have not found anything on this topic. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

JBevan | December 20, 2011 at 22:02 | Reply

You guys need to really understand DOPE, I shoot the same type of ammo, but if different lot numbers i get varied results. Buy in bulk or reload and measure and weigh everything. You need to shoot your rifle, software gets you in the ball park, but move your target, vary your power, mark your shot and see where power settings are. Cold bore each range and fire 5 shots at same range see what placement is and log log log. Write weather, all variables, you cant go wrong, but i can take 2 identical remington 700's with the same scope same ammo and get different results at long range as far as MOA and sight adjustment. No two things are made the same, learn yours. it takes sending projectiles down range to get what your looking for, or else everyone could shoot.

Oz Pete | January 20, 2012 at 06:39 | Reply

Nicely written article and some very good advice.

But to use the mildot reticule and turret properly throw out imperial units as the first step. Stick with metres and centimeters. Then it's extremely fast and simple, nothing to calculate.

Kent Gooch | February 16, 2012 at 14:54 | Reply

Wow! Had no idea this was still floating around out there. Hope it helps.

HogTravis | March 5, 2012 at 18:20 | Reply

JBevin hit the nail on the head. You guys cant short cut this stuff. If you really want to be good at long range you gotta devote some serious time. First read read read about EVERY aspect of long range shooting you can find, and read it over again (not just this article). Take notes, learn the formulas on paper first, practice them over and over, memorize them. Then get a balistics program just to start with. Go shoot ONE rifle a lot, in every different condition you can, record all your real dope in a rifle data log, then FORGET about the balistics program. By the way this will take so long most of you will never do this. But theres no short cutting precision, sorry. Oh and real men shoot prone : )

Tyler B. | March 5, 2012 at 18:30 | Reply

Very good explanation of the mil dot system. This is exactly what I've been looking for. Thank you.

But One thing I would like to mention though, is the fact that I was able to derive where you came up with 27.8 as a conversion unit while calculating with a target height in inches and found that it is precisely 27.777... or 27.8 rounded to a tenth. But if you actually use the precise 27.777... by using a calculator (input 1000/36 for the number) in your calculation, you will find that for a 4 inch target(the length band on the barber pole) with a length of 1 mil dot in your scope should actually equal 111.1... yards, and not just 111 yards. That's about 1 tenth off which, from my stand point, could address why your students were constantly off a 1 or 2 tenths with certain scopes, as you have said.

I am not trying to sound sophisticated or anal about anything. just thought i'd address that issue with your students (when I stumbled upon it while trying these calculations for myself with a calculator and paper).

qaiser mehmood | March 31, 2012 at 06:19 | Reply

hi i see this page very nice thanks

JackRussel | April 17, 2012 at 06:42 | Reply

Amazing how the use of crappy inch, yards, miles make something as easy and straightforward as mil dot, looks complicated ?

PW | May 20, 2012 at 13:57 | Reply

Great article for real snipers. I use the mildots improperly I now know from reading this as mostly use a .22 with subsonics for rabbits. I shoot day time walking upwind across fields/hedgerows with a stand up rest taking rabbits from 25M to 200M, don't have time to calculate anything as rabbits eventually work out you are there so have practiced using mildots at different ranges on a 100M zero and just worked out what dots for what range.

This article will help me with my .222 for foxes from a hide I need to setup as pheasants are going into pens next month.

Sohrab Copperhead | May 23, 2012 at 13:15 | Reply

thanks a ton... i am a lucky shot, during my time of military service (in a not so friendly country in ME) i was issued an iron sight AK47, but i managed to keep using PSO1/SVD system many times, i learned to zero the scope at 400 meters and even one time shot a poor jackal on a second shot at that range, that led me to excellent opportunity of using and teaching the PM2/HS.50 to my fellow goat shepherd squad members, simply because i was the only one who could read the English manuals of the weapon system and the only one who could deal with the numbers... so far i was using mil dots for range finding only too, i knew they are for more uses but i had no knowledge of how back then, pity now that i know i am far away from seeing another PM2 again... but anyway... this article was quit instructive...

Steve Hugel | August 26, 2012 at 04:23 | Reply

Hello Mr. Gooch. I remember your writings from Precision Shooting magazine sir. Good article. I have been a student of math vs. long-range shooting for many years now and love just about every aspect of it. From the postings I'm seeing here many of these guys have a lot of studying to do. In an effort to help with some of the questions here, there are really just a couple math concepts that need to be understood.

1) Reticle subtension is ~inversely proportional to magnification in second focal plane optics, i.e. as magnification decreases, reticle subtension (measurement) increases. In other words as one poster asked if a mil reticle is setup for 10x in say a 6.5-20x optic then at 20x it will be 1/2 the subtension, etc.

2) The mil-ranging formula itself defines rangefinding with any multi-stadia reticle (or turret), as well as downrange zeroing with same. Think about it. When viewed through an optic/reticle a bullet drop is really the same sort of dimension as a target size. Understanding this concept takes some study time devoted to all 5 variables in the equation.

Once these concepts are understood, the long range shooting world is at your fingertips, sort of. Again great article sir!

Lowprone | August 31, 2012 at 10:18 | Reply

People, you really need to learn how to master this system, because the first time you break out
the laser rangefinder you bought at Cabellas, your gonna get engaged by a dedicated counter
sniper or possibly a crew served weapon system.

Nick dadamo | October 5, 2012 at 15:34 | Reply

Hi this is nick in uk Manchester , great info I am struggling I shoot longe range from 100 to 600 yards I have 308 with 155 scenars 26 inch heavy barrel and 223 with 69 scenars has 20 inch varmint sps barrel . My 308 has Nightforce NP R 2 reticle M O A scope and 223 has sightron 6-24 x 56 mildot reticle . I am lousy at Math is there a reticle calculator or something I could buy ? I have seen some items but they don't ship to United Kingdom and I am looking for a log book to record my data can anyone help ? I am not police nor military . Cheers nick dadamo

oak | November 14, 2012 at 08:43 | Reply

I have just purchased my first rifle and a tasco 3x9x40 with a "true mil dot" has any one used this reticle if so could u drop me an e-mail

Alfred | December 17, 2012 at 19:38 | Reply

Since you asked, and for some reason I couldn't let it pass by, do research. This article is one of many excellent descriptions of the "mil-dot reticle". I would also suggest searching for another article regarding "cheap rifle scopes". Hopefully, it will be a fun learning experience for you. It becomes a fascinating journey for some folks.

jhunnie s norcos | December 24, 2012 at 05:58 | Reply

iam somuch like this kind of tutorial abuot sniping techniques with mil dots

ron stewart | January 1, 2013 at 05:28 | Reply

thanks a lot the difference between the mil dot and a minute which is four clicks how many mills in a click?

Pete | January 14, 2013 at 07:50 | Reply

Very good read. Interesting observation about Variable Scopes
and the effect on reticle. I think I did ok by purchasing a
Fixed 10x with mil/dots(Springfield) in lieu of the variable!(plus the
fixed was much lower in price) Pete

red | March 2, 2013 at 23:14 | Reply

awsome read! but why not just get a balistic reticle and kill things

Jim | March 20, 2013 at 17:01 | Reply

I have found a math problem with the range formulas you have on the article above. I divided the 36 into 1000 and came up with the 27.78 which is correct for yards, but for meters, the formula should be size of object(in.) times 25.64, not 25.4 as stated. I arrived at the 25.64 by dividing 39 into 1000 as was done for the yardage. This will give a much more accurate range for the meters.

PapaJ | March 20, 2013 at 17:24 | Reply

I have found a mathicatical error in the formula for finding the range in meters. By dividing 39 into 1000 you get 25.64, not 25.4. By using the 25.64 x size of object(In,) / mils read you get a more accurate range in meters. I came to this conclusion when I found that by dividing 1000 by 36, I got the result of 27.78, henceforgth, I divided 1000 by 39 (which is the length of a meter) and got the answer of 25.64. Try it, don't just take my word for the math.

Gene | June 7, 2013 at 13:00 | Reply

A meter is 39.370079 inches. The .37 makes a difference in the result. 1000/39 is 25.64. 1000/39.370079 is 25.39999983236 or 25.40 round.

Steve | June 24, 2013 at 03:58 | Reply

For people used to the Metric System, life is simple: an object of 100 mm spanning 1 MilDot is 100 m away. No conversion factor required. For the Empirical System users there is strictly speaking no conversion required either; an object of 10 inches spanning 1 MilDot is 10,000 inches away. So just add three zeros. The problem is, the later doesn't mean much to the ES user because, under the (medieval) ES, yards are used for such distances. So that's what you get when you use not 1 unit (meter) to measure daily-life-distances, but 3 (inches, yards, miles), with no decimal relation between them. It complicates life unnecessarily.

PS: a millimeter, centimeter or kilometer are no independent units. They are merely 1/1000, 1/100 and 1000 times a meter.

James | July 4, 2013 at 19:42 | Reply

I invested in a first focal plane reticle and wanted to confirm that because the reticle changes magnification with the change in the variable power on the scope. I can just use the calculation as written referenced in your article. correct?

John Sweeny | August 4, 2013 at 21:18 | Reply

The 25.4 is correct. There are 39.37" in a meter. Redo the math and the 25.4 is good. 27.7 is a repeating decimal and can be ended at an 8 at any number of decimals you want.

michael mulholland | August 14, 2013 at 12:44 | Reply

stupid question?? re: windage holdoff(from the article)....'needing 3.5 minutes of rt. windage you would hold one dot right of center mass'...meaning use the first dot left of the crosshairs to move the shot to the right???? I'm new to this and I'm confused maybe...Thx-Mike

Shane Smith | September 20, 2013 at 14:00 | Reply

Kent, excellent article! Thank you for the info. I will have to read it over again a time or two to soak all of that in, but I will definitely be practicing these concepts.

Merando | October 17, 2013 at 18:54 | Reply

What is the best way to find the correct magnification on a variable scope? I'm using a trijicon 5x20x30 scope

JMartin | December 15, 2013 at 13:09 | Reply

I purchased a SWFA Super Sniper 10x42 from a friend of a friend. There doesn't appear to be any way to focus the reticle or the target. Does anybody have any experience with this scope?

P-223 | December 27, 2013 at 03:59 | Reply

Excellent and detailed article. I'm a mil dot lover myself and I haven't seen a breakdown this detailed on the web. Had to read it several times and Favorited. Will be keeping me busy at the range this weekend practising these concepts! Have a feeling my shot will get better

P-223 | December 27, 2013 at 04:01 | Reply

Posted a detailed thank you to this article but doesnt seem to be posted? Just in case, an excellent mil dot article, i'll be practicing these concepts at the range this weekend. Thank you

James Megee | March 7, 2014 at 10:59 | Reply

bought my first Mark 4 3.5- 10 I am trying to focus reticle , I was trying to follow your instructions using white wall in my room to focus, question is, do you set magnification on lowest setting or Highest setting to achieve this ? Your input would be greatly appreciated

James Megee

martin schultz | April 25, 2014 at 23:03 | Reply

for those really wanting to get the drift of using mils go to, after you understand the formulas go to the range at the same sight and hone your skills

John S | November 10, 2014 at 18:00 | Reply

Thank you for the excellent information on mil-dots. I spent 30 days at Ft Campbell in 87 behind my M-21 at the sniper school there. I was using an earlier Unertl that only had a few sets of stadia lines. For target ranging, I simply cammed in the target. I wish we had gotten into more on range estimation. I'm currently using a M700 SPS with Leupold MK4 LR/T with the TMR. This greatly simplifies things.
I think I'm understanding this correctly. I can figure drop or windage for the F168gr round by converting inches of drop or windage to mils. I use the known inches/mil and divide it into the amount in inches of drop or windage. Once I know my distance to target, I simply make the adjustment in mils to move the crosshair. Please correct me, if I'm wrong. Math has never really been my thing.
Thank you for your service,

Al Champion | November 17, 2014 at 08:08 | Reply

You article is Great, explains a lot . I have been using the mildot but 3 yr.s, 2nd FP scopes. I'm an inches
and feet user. The Mil-Mil configuration is looking better and better, I will have to become metric oriented.
Mildots are a great tool, we need to be proficient with this Great Tool. I basically hunt deer and coyotes.
Thanks for your service and the helpful I formation

Flint | December 2, 2014 at 15:59 | Reply
Thought I would share this. Calibrate your scope at the range with a grid target after learning this.
If you have a variable power scope and the calibration (cal.) for the subtensions of the reticle is say 14x on a 6.5-20 power scope you can determine the hash mark spacing at say 6.5x, 8x and 20x. by using the following formula.
Divide the cal. (14x) by the desired power, say 6.5x or 20x and then multiply the cal. subtension size by this answer. You can now make a chart for hold over or even ranging.
Here we go. 14x/20x=.7, 14x/8x=1.75 and so on. Now take the answer, say .7 for the 20x. Multiply the answer against the cal. subtension size.
If the subtension, (mil-dot) spacing is 3.6” at 14x it will be 3.6 x .7= 2.5” @20x. 3.6” x 1.75= 6.3” @8X and 3.6 x 2.1=7.56” @6.5x
If you want to range with this concept you convert the standard ranging formula of: target size x 27.77 (100/3.6) divided by Mils. (.1-1) = distance in yards.
Use the different power conversion number as the multiplier against the known target size.
We get the multiplier by dividing, 100/conversion number. At 20x the new size is 2.5” so 100/2.5=multiplier of 40. So now we have target size x 40 rather than 27.77 and we then divide that by the mil dot. for distance in yards at 20x rather than 14x.
A 10” deer head spaced at ½ mil at 6.5x power is how far away? Put this info on a chart beforehand. Let’s say you already know the deer is 300 yards away because you have been hunting here before or ranged it. But just for example: 14x/6.5x=2.1, 3.6x 2.1=7.56” conversion, 100/7.56=13.22 multiplier, Target size, (10”) x 13.22/Mil. (.5)=264 yds. If it were .4Mil=330 yds. .3Mil=440 yds.
Some elevation may be needed.
How much you ask? Let’s say your 30. 06 drops from your 2” high sight in at 100 yards to -7” low at 300 yds. We know that each hash mark is 15.3” apart @ 100 yds. at 6.5x so let’s figure here ahead of time not in the stand.
7”/ 3 (300 yds.)= 2.3” (MOA) of elevation @100 yds. needed to make up for the 7” drop zero at 300 yds. 2.3” /15.3”(@6.5x) between each dot = .15 mil, the size of 3 cross hairs each measuring .05M.
Depending on the subtensions for your scopes reticle. See manufactures’ info.
Sound overdone, well this can help you understand that a little adjustment at 6.5x goes a long way compared to say 20x. At 20x the same 7” correction looks like this. 2.3”/2.5” = .9M almost a full mill.
When I refer to Mil in this case I mean the hash marks of the reticle.

Duplex scope for your pistol: say a 2x-6x cal. at 6x. Whatever it take to determine the subtension (cross hair, hash mark space or dot size) from the manufacture. 6x / 4x =1.5
1.5 x 6”= 9” 2x = 6/2=3, 3x9”=18”@2x power

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