Focusing the Riflescope Reticle

By Al Voth on March 21, 2016

Focusing the reticle (crosshair) of a riflescope is an often overlooked part of setting up a new scope. Far too many shooters just start using the optic as it comes out of the box or don’t follow the correct procedure when performing the initial focus. The result is eye strain and a loss of accuracy.

While rifle scope prices can range from $50 to $5,000 every one I’ve ever seen has a means of adjusting the reticle focus. It’s that important. And that makes it worthwhile learning how to do it correctly. Fortunately, every manufacturer (as far as I know) uses the same basic system to achieve this focus; a simple rotation of the scope’s ocular lens.

Ocular Lens Assembly

To set the focus correctly, I like to get outside where I can see a clear patch of uniform sky. Start by loosening the lock ring which prevents the ocular lens assembly from rotating. Then bring the optic up to your eye and look through it at that patch of sky you’ve selected. Look specifically at the reticle and observe it’s color and clarity. But do this only for 2 – 3 seconds. If you look for a longer period of time that fabulous eyeball of yours will do its best to compensate for an out of focus condition, even a small one.

The reticle should look dark black and razor sharp. If it’s not, lower the scope and rotate the ocular lens ½ turn in either direction. Then take another 2 – 3 second glance through the scope. Is the reticle sharper or not? If it is, keep going in the same direction making ½ turn adjustments until you pass the point of sharpness. Then rotate back in the opposite direction, resorting to ¼ turn adjustments until you bracket the sweet spot. If the initial adjustment made the reticle look worse, go back one full turn and keep making small changes as outlined above, until everything looks good.

Now it’s time to give your eye a rest. Set the scope aside and just look at objects around you, from near to far, for a few minutes. Then take one last quick look through the scope. The reticle should be clear and properly focused. If not, make further adjustments. When everything looks fine, snug the lock ring back down against the ocular lens assembly to keep it from moving.

Be sure to do this focusing while wearing whatever eyeglasses you’ll have perched on your nose when shooting. If you wear prescription or shooting glasses when pulling a trigger, use them when setting up your rifle scope as well. And it’s always a good idea to check that focus from a shooting position, especially if you shoot from prone. This is because you’ll likely be looking through a different part of your eyeglass lens from a prone position, and that can change your reticle’s focus. Change your eyeglasses and you may have to reset this focus. Other than that, setting your reticle focus takes a little time, but you only have to do it once.