The Truth About Mil Dots
By: Michael Haugen
|Leupold M3 Ultra||X|
|Leupold M1 Ultra 10x||X|
|Leupold 16x Ultra||X|
|Leupold MK 4 series||X|
|Tasco SS (all models)||X|
|Bausch & Lomb Tactical||X|
Of course, there are several others but this should give you an idea.
Let’s get to the “meat and potatoes” of the issue, which is how to employ a mil-dot reticle. Of course, most shooters know that the mils are used for basically two reasons, to estimate range and to hold for wind. First, we will look at the more important of the two, range estimation. I have read many articles on using this system, everything from reprints of the service manuals to someone’s personal interpretation. Here is what we teach in the Army. First when mil’ing humans the mil will be derived from the crotch to the head, not from feet to head. The reason for this is that the majority of people’s height is derived in the legs not the torso. The common human torso is approximately 1 meter (39”) from crotch to head. Now before I get hate mail about this issue, let me say that for field sniping this measurement will suffice. I usually use either the center of the reticle or one of the heavy posts as a starting point, it is easier to hold and therefore read. Once the starting point is set then look up and read the mil’s. Mil’s need to read to the 10th of a mil (ie. 1.6, 2.3, etc) in order to be accurate, which by the way is the point here ACCURACY. Estimation of range is the hardest skill a sniper can acquire. There are areas where the sniper can “swag” (scientific wild ass guess) something but, range estimation needs to be as accurate as possible. Once you have the mil reading then you plug that into the formula.
1000 = range in meters
A word here about meters verses yards. We normally use meters, however you must be able to calculate the difference. As I have said you can (and should) mil humans from crotch to head but you can also estimate range by mil’ing from shoulder to shoulder and side to side of the head. CAUTION HERE, never use the shoulder to shoulder method on targets past 600 meters and NEVER use the side to side of the head past 400 meters. In reality the side to side should only be used close up or when there is absolutely no other target available. While on that note, let me mention something else. I have read articles where people are talking about mil’ing targets out past 1500 meters. Just let me say that mils are extremely difficult to read on humans past 1000 meters from 10x optics. Higher power optics will increase this range somewhat but mirage and environmental conditions will make readings inconsistent and unreliable (note: the mil-dot reticle must be made to function at the desired power if using a Premier Reticle). The formula for mil’ing from shoulder to shoulder and side to side of the head is as follows;
500 = range in meters
**Shoulder to Shoulder method
250 = range in meters **Side to Side of the
Okay, we have discussed using the mil-dot reticle against human targets and at this point it is relevant to mention that the mil-dot reticle can be used to determine range using other items as well. First, you must know the height or length of what you are measuring. As noted above we used the number of 1 meter as a standard and 1000 as a constant. If you are measuring something that is 2 meters (78”) than the constant would be 2000. If the target was say a varmint about 10” high (9.75”) you could use 250 as a constant. You can do the math for anything else you are trying to determine range.
Now onto the next subject, holding off for winds. Like most subjects in sniping, a lot has been written about winds. Normally determining wind speed is the subject of the article and the result is a “dial on” solution. With the mil-dot reticle, you can hold off for the winds in increments of usually ¼ mil. Anything smaller that ¼ is too finite to really deal with. Now I know snipers (usually students, me included) who use things like “light and heavy” ¼, ½, ¾, and 1 mil. For one thing this measurement or aiming point is not definable, two what exactly is a light ¼ mil? It is either ¼ mil or it isn’t. Another thing is that in sniping we generally accept a 2 moa standard for the weapon, shooter and ammunition in existing environmental conditions. That is to say that in any given situation the sniper should be able to hold 2 moa. So, what is the difference between a ¼ and a ½ mil? The answer will come back “a hit or a miss”. While that is true a lot of the times, it usually a function of shooter error rather than a bad hold or call. What I mean is that if the rifle were benched and fired using a ¼ mil hold and then a ½ mil hold the result would not be enough to miss (1/4 mil is 1 inch at 400 yards). Back to the wind holds. Once you have determined the wind speed you can easily convert that to a mil formula and use that as a hold. Of course the best answer is to figure that all out before hand (or just get the chart) and have it available for reference. Before anyone gets too excited, this of course will be dependent on the caliber, bullet weight, velocity, range, wind speed and direction. If you have figured out the minute of angle value for specific winds using your specific weapon/caliber you can convert those figures (best method) into mil hold offs. The last part of this particular aspect is that ALL HOLDS ARE TAKEN FROM THE CENTER OF THE AVAILABLE TARGET. Not from the leading edge or anywhere else. This primarily due to standardization between the shooter and spotter, which I will go into shortly.
Next is using the mil-dot reticle for holding off for elevation changes. Same technique is applied here. Once you have figured out the elevation changes for various distances you can convert them to mils and use the reticle to hold over or under. A word of caution should be given here. As you know the longer the range the more exact the call and hold has to be, so it should be understood that mil hold overs should NOT be use at extended ranges usually exceeding 700 meters. This technique is best used in conjunction with a point blank zero (my previous article) such as 500 meters (or yards). What this will do is allow the sniper to engage targets from approximately 175 meters to approximately 700 meters. Again a note of caution, this is for military snipers who can use it to suppress targets. Obviously, this system is NOT inherently accurate or capable of precision target engagements.
One of the more useful aspects of the mil-dot reticle is that of engaging moving targets. This is done by incorporating leads, which then (just like shooting skeet) are used to engage a target. Without going into the leads themselves, the mil-dots allow the shooter to establish a definable aiming point for which to engage the target. There are several aspects that must be considered here when engaging moving targets. The first is target speed. Typically people will walk, jog, run or sprint. This makes target speed determination extremely difficult, especially if there is a considerable distance involved. Of course, the best answer is to wait until the target is stopped, but if that isn’t an option then leads will have to be used. The second aspect is terrain. If the terrain is uneven, the target will move up and down again making the shot difficult. The next item is masking or vegetation through which you bullet will have to pass. If the team is in a hide with moderate vegetation between them and the target, then tracking and engagement will be extremely difficult. The last aspect is environmentals, namely wind and temperature. If there is substantial wind then the lead will have to either be added to or subtracted from the lead. It is possible to have to hold behind the target in order to hit it. The end all here is that if you are in the business that may require engagement of moving targets of any and all varieties, then you have to practice in like conditions (sounds familiar doesn’t it?).
Finally, this article is ending. The last subject connected with the mil-dot reticle is shooter – spotter dialogue. This is the single most important aspect of sniping. I have seen excellent individual snipers who when teamed together could not function. The team’s dialogue must be understandable to both members, complete, short and concise. If you are a part of unit in which you may have to work with a variety of snipers or spotters then it is extremely important that there is a standardized dialogue within the unit. The basic elements of the dialogue are;
Warning (alerts sniper or spotter to possible action)
2. Target location (short and methodical)
3. Target description (short but detailed enough for the other to identify)
4. Target status (what is the target doing)
5. Distance determination (a variety of methods, military spotters will issue “mil’s?”
6. Range confirmation (either confirmation through secondary system or re-milling)
7. Index (sniper either dials range on or prepares to hold)
8. Wind call (spotter determines wind speed and direction and tells sniper to either dial it on or to hold)
9. Fire command (usually this is automatic after the wind call, if the sniper hasn’t fired within 9 seconds the spotter gives hold and recalls wind)
I guess I have said enough about this issue. I hope this benefits someone out there (good guys). As anyone knows who deals with this profession, regardless of the equipment, methods or techniques a sniper must practice and practice often. Most shooters spend all of their training time on a range shooting paper. Although this is needed, snipers must train in all of the other aspects and none are as important as range estimation. Let me close on this note, laser range finders and all of the other whiz bang gadgets are nice but what will you do when the batteries go dead?
Last updated: April 05, 2003