Wondering what type of scope to use? Should you use the first focal plane vs second focal plane for hunting? This is a common question and with the first focal plane growing in popularity it begs the questions… that one of them must be superior for hunting.
We’ve done the research and put together this article to help you make a decision on which scope you may want to start using for your next hunting trip.
First focal plane vs second focal plane for hunting: Which is best?
With the wide variety of opinions out there it’s difficult for anyone to determine which type of scope is going to be better for hunting. You’ve probably got some friends and one of them uses first focal plane and the other uses second focal plane so it just ends up being more confusing.
Here’s the thing… you can use either plane type because they both have their place and benefits for hunting. We’re not going to leave you in the dark with that answer. Instead we’ve put together details on how each plane type benefits hunting differently and a sort of pro’s and cons. This should help you make a decision on which type of scope to use and the one that fits your style of hunting.
First Focal Plane
First focal plane scopes are newer and are designed for tactical shooting and hunting at long distances. If you find yourself hunting at long distances where the targets distance from you is unknown you’ll benefit more from using a first focal plane scope.
On these scopes the reticle is usually etched on the front end glass so that it doesn’t change with magnification. It appears to get larger in size when you zoom in since the cross hairs look larger as well. This benefits someone using a mil-dot reticle or any range indicators on their cross hairs.
Since the range indicators will remain constant when zoomed in it allows hunters to make more precise adjustments for bullet drop and distance to make sure their shot hits the target. On a first focal plane scope the mil scale is the same at x2 as it is at x10. So you can imagine how convenient this is when your game appears far off in the distance.
Even though there’s plenty to brag about with the first focal plane it isn’t without its issues. A FFP scope tends to be a little more expensive than SFP scopes. You can still find great FFP scopes for the money but they’re usually going to be more expensive than a matched model in the SFP.
These scopes aren’t able to achieve the same level of magnification of a second focal plane scope. They also tend to have slightly less clarity at maximum magnification. This usually isn’t an issue for tactical shooters and hunters since they typically do not require extreme magnification.
We would like to address some of the rumors about first focal plane scopes. One of the more common rumors is that these scopes are more fragile and break easier. This is absolutely not true and these type of scopes are just as durable as second focal plane scopes. The second rumor is that they don’t perform well in low light conditions. This isn’t true as well and it will depend on the model scope you’re using on how it performs. This goes for both planes.
Second Focal Plane
Your second focal plane scopes are the old tried and true. They’re the most common scope type you come across and hunters have been using this type of scope for a very long time. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the best or better than the first focal plane. There’s a reason we develop new technology after all.
These scopes place the reticle behind the erector and next to the magnification ring on most optics. This keeps your cross hairs the exact same size as you change your level of magnification. The target you’re looking at gets larger or smaller while the cross hairs remain constant (see above image).
If you want to use mil-dot or MOA scopes this makes things more complicated. These type of reticles are only accurate on a specific power. Most second focal plane scopes will have an accurate reticle scale at maximum zoom. Not every scope will be this way however so make sure to read your manual.
These scopes are better designed for hunters that find themselves shooting game at 100 yards or less. That’s why it’s important to assess your style of hunting and the situation you usually find yourself in before deciding which scope plane to use. If you’re using multiple scopes we recommend using a quick release scope mount to quickly alternate between them.
The other reason to choose the second focal plane is if you’re a long range shooter. We realize that sounds like a counter argument to the above statement for short range hunting but here’s the reason why. The specific long range shooter who’s competing at 1,000 yards in a bench rest style will want the highest magnification level as possible.
They need to be able to see their target as clearly as possible and SFP scopes offer x50 magnifications and other crazy high end magnification settings. During this type of competitions its typically preferred to also have a thin cross hair which the SFP provides.
Dual Focal Plane
There’s also the much lesser discussed dual focal plane scopes. These scopes are much more difficult to create but they offer both functions of the first and second focal planes. These scopes will mostly be used for competition shooting but they are definitely interesting. If you want to see one in action make sure to watch the video near the top of this article.
Which Should You Hunt With?
OK, so by the point you should have a decent understanding of how each focal plane works and you’re likely already leaning towards one of the two options. When it comes down to the first focal plane vs second focal plane for hunting it depends on your hunting style and personal preference.
Typically a hunter with targets 100 yards or less will benefit from the second focal plane and someone hunting targets at twice the distance or 200 yards or more may want to consider using the first focal plane.
We recommend getting your hands on one of each type in person and testing them out. Check around with your friends and see if they have a scope you can just look through and test. Even visit a local store if needed.
I hope you enjoyed this article and were able to learn something about the different focal plane scopes. As you grow as a hunter you’ll likely end up owning both type scopes and using the one that will benefit you the most for that hunting day.
You can find both scope types in decent price ranges. There’s no need to buy a scope with extreme magnification for thousands of dollars. You can find scopes in either focal planes for $100 – $300 that will be excellent options. We review scopes throughout the site so look around at some of our other articles and we should be able to help you find a suitable optic.
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