The PoliceOne Firearms Corner
with Ron Avery
Product Review: Nightforce Optics
It’s November 2006, late in rifle Mule Deer season in Northwest Colorado. In the pre-dawn chill, we saddle our horses and assemble our gear. An early snow has fallen, leaving a thin, unbroken white mantle on the rolling sagebrush and oak brush covered mountains.
We are in the land of trophy mule deer, for which this area of Colorado is famous. This is a wild, raw landscape; breathtaking in its scenery.. Yet this land is a test in itself; unforgiving on horses, men, and equipment.
We mount up and begin our hunt, climbing steadily up an incline. The horse’s hooves stumble for purchase on the snow-covered ground. I ride light in the stirrups, ready to disembark if my horse slips and falls. As we near the top of a steep climb, we let our horses take a brief rest.
We glass the surrounding country.
We see several good bucks, but they are not what we are looking for. So we mount up and begin to scout some likely pockets of cover. As we start another uphill grade, my horse slips on the snowy surface and scrambles madly to regain its balance. I bail, taking my rifle with me as I go. I manage to clear the horse and get out of the way in case it tumbles. As I step back, I trip on a sagebrush root and fall to one side. I manage to mostly protect the rifle and scope as I go down but the scope takes a moderate impact against the ground during the fall.
We continue our hunt for the morning but I tell my partner that I don’t feel comfortable with the rifle as I am not sure if the impact shifted my zero. Around noon, we head back to camp and I break out my backup rifle. I later harvest a nice buck with my backup rifle.
After the season, I took the first rifle out and shot it at the range. I did not think that it had taken that much of an impact but, to my surprise, the scope would not hold zero.
Now, occasionally a rifle and scope will take a bit of abuse while hiking up a steep mountain slope if you slip and fall. I have seen scopes fail when rifles fall over when leaned up against an object and then they get bumped. I have seen rifles and scopes subjected to recoil forces for many rounds finally fail.
What I wanted was a scope that would stand up to a lot of shooting, hunting, and tactical conditions in rough country without having to be pampered.
Enter Nightforce Optics
Early in 2008, I was able to acquire four Nightforce Scopes for testing and evaluation and for use in our Practical Shooting Academy. Nightforce has acquired a considerable reputation for scopes that are built to stand up to the kind of abuse that everyday usage in rough conditions can throw at them. They are being used by .50 caliber shooters for thousand-yard shooting and beyond, special operations snipers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and top competitive shooters looking for a scope that is as consistent as a high quality timepiece in terms of toughness and repeatability, time and time again.
My criteria for testing are simple. I use the test items as a routine part of my everyday life as a professional shooter, trainer and outdoorsman. I take them with me as I travel around the country. I put them in many different conditions over time and test them in those real world conditions. With temperatures over 100 to down below zero, bumping around in trucks over dirt trails, horse scabbards, 4 wheelers and a lot of shooting. I typically take up to a year to do a test of equipment to see how they shake out over time.
I tested the NXS 1-4 X 24, 2.5 -10 X 24, NXS 3.5-15 X 50 and the NXS 5.5-22 X 56mm optics. All of these scopes came with a zero stop feature that allows the shooter to set the zero and lock it in. This feature becomes important when the shooter is doing a lot of moving up and down with the turret and becomes confused as to how many revolutions they may have done. Simply by dialing back down, the turret will stop at the established zero point. This also works if you have had your turrets accidentally move on you during transit or someone else dials your scope while handling the rifle. This is a must-have option in my opinion.
Nightforce scopes are built here in the US. They are built to a standard of toughness that is far and above what you will typically find with other optics companies. They are bigger and usually heavier than comparable optics from other manufacturers, although the 1-4 and the 2.5-10 are very compact.
After shooting all of these scopes in our long gun courses, as well as out in the field under a variety of conditions, I have to say that their reputation for toughness is well deserved. Box drills with the optics always came back to the same point of impact with monotonous regularity. After numerous excursions on horseback, on foot, in vehicles etc. that covered many miles, the scopes always held zero, despite taking some abuse that would have done in a lesser quality scope.
The quality of the glass is superb and I feel it definitely contributes to a feeling of confidence when shooting under different lighting conditions at different ranges. Targets appeared very clear in the optics and I had no trouble seeing the reticle, even against different backdrops such as sagebrush, pinyon pine, desert rock or forest cover.
During the testing phase under field conditions, I harvested an antelope at just under 500 yards in Wyoming, a mule deer and another antelope in Colorado and a bison. Being able to dial the scope in and make shots at different distances, under tight time constraints, really brought home the value of Nightforce Optics to me.
The 1-4 X 24 was part of a military design for close quarter shooting and comes with the FC-2 reticle. This reticle consists of a circle/dot in the center with a tapered line on each side. The reticle is illuminated with graduated settings for different lighting conditions. It is ideal for close quarters shooting situations yet has capabilities built into it for shooting at extended ranges as part of the reticle design. The only downside I found with this scope is that the illuminated reticle is not bright enough for daylight use under bright conditions and appears black even at the highest settings. This comes into play when looking for a sunny location into a shaded area such as under bushes or trees. The reticle is thick enough to be seen without the illumination however, and the other attributes of the scope help to more than compensate for this deficiency. This scope would be an excellent choice for a patrol rifle. It is fast enough to be used indoors and can really reach out for precision shooting at extended ranges.
The 2.5 – 10 came with the NP-R2 illuminated reticle. This reticle is graduated in 2 MOA increments. Nightforce scopes have the option of choosing reticles with either mil dot or MOA reticles. I prefer the MOA reticles over the mil dot reticles as it becomes very easy to do the math in my head for distance measurements and comeups etc. This scope is very compact and fits well on either a designated marksman rifle in semi-auto or bolt gun. If you want a compact scope that is the equal of other 3.5-10 power scopes in terms of light gathering, along with superior glass and ruggedness, look no further than this one.
The 3.5-15 X 50 mm and the 5.5-22 X 56 are really designed for long distance shooting. Both came with the NPR-1 reticle, which is divided into 1 MOA increments for elevation and 2 MOA increments for windage. A full 110 MOA adjustment make these scopes very versatile in the field when shooting at extended ranges.
If I had to pick one scope for precision rifle shooting, I would pick one of these two. They represent, to me, almost all of what I would want in a long range scope for rough conditions. They are currently deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq with military units and are generally held in high regard.
Nightforce scopes are more expensive than other scopes on the market. However, it is money well spent in my opinion. They are significantly tougher than other scopes that I have worked with in the past. If I was looking for a battle tough, compact scope for a patrol rifle or designated marksman rifle, I would go with the 1-4 X 24 or the 2.5 – 10 scope with zero stop feature.
For a true precision rifle, the 3.5-15 X 50 with the NP-R1 reticle and zero stop gets my vote.
Nightforce just came out with a new model 3.5X15 scope that has the reticle in the first focal plane so you can use the reticle at any power. This was at the request of the U.S. Military.
Nightforce scopes represent a combination of high optical quality, sensible reticle design, truly repeatable turrets and toughness that makes them one of the best values in scopes on the market. You will be well served with a Nightforce Optic on your long gun.
Nightforce Optics can be found at www.nightforceoptics.com.