3.5-15x NightForce Scope
(NP1-RR Ranging Reticle)
From LightForce USA

< 1999
By Scott Powers

LightForce USA is renowned for its scopes' incredibly bright optics and low light ability. Because of these important features, bench rest shooters in ever-greater numbers are turning to LightForce day telescopes.

Thanks to Bruce Baer, long-range rifle builder, and Jeff Huber of LightForce USA, I was able to review that company's NightForce day telescope. Though it is my opinion that these scopes are too large for the average tactical rifle, they would make excellent scopes for varmint hunting and long-range target shooting. As a tactical scope, though, I would envision it mounted on the larger long-range rigs, such as .300 magnums and .50 caliber rifles.

A caveat first. As you know, this site focuses on long-range precision shooting. Though the area encompasses competition, as well as military and law enforcement sniping, competition is not the main focus of the page. Even though I may comment negatively on the tactical uses of the NightForce scope, understand that the intended purpose of this scope is not for such use. Though some of my comments may not sound positive at times, it is not my intent to paint a negative picture of this scope. I wish to provide you with an objective overview of this product. Since many of our readers are looking for optics to be mounted on tactical rifles, I must include my thoughts on these issues. By no means, however, is this scope is unacceptable for its intended purpose! Quite the contrary.

My first impression on opening the box was "Oh my god, this thing is huge!" At 15.8 inches and 32 ounces, this scope is neither lightweight, or compact in size. It is big, as demonstrated in the comparison photograph below, of the Leupold Vari-X III, Tasco Tactical, and NightForce scopes. Baseball bat big. For this reason alone, I have reservations about its use on a tactical rifle, but that does not make it any less worthy in a purely optical sense. In fact, given the light-gathering abilities of this massive scope, a shooter into serious varminting caught shooting late in the day, would find this scope just the ticket.

Comparison Photograph - Leupold, Tasco, Lightforce

An overall description is in order. The NightForce 3.5x15 scope has a 30mm tube and a whopping 56mm objective. Many of you who have read my pervious reviews already know my feelings on overly large objective lenses, and here again, I remain firm. To me, this size objective is too large for "my" purpose, that being .308 caliber tactical rifle shooting. The large objective size raises significantly the center point of the scope in relationship to the bore. This requires the use of high scope mounts which in turn require high cheek rests just to get up to the level of the scope. This is something I dislike greatly, because one is forced to crane up to see through the tube. This situation is exacerbated with a straight taper bull barrel; one must mount this scope even higher, or risk having the objective bell press against the top of the barrel and disturb the barrel's harmonics. Moreover, ideally one wants his plane of vision to be as close to the centerline of the bore as possible. These large lenses make this impossible. That said, if one can live with a high mounted scope and have an adjustable or high Monte Carlo style stock, one can shoot this scope comfortably.

The NightForce comes with target turrets under protective screw-off caps. The turrets on this particular scope allow six minutes of angle (MOA) elevation per rotation. While this was a little disappointing to a guy used to 12 to 15 MOA per revolution on other scopes, the reticle design, which I address below, makes this a non-issue. The turrets are marked for 1/8th minute clicks, standard on most varmint/precision scopes today. Increments this small, give one a very fine adjustment at the cost of overall travel. Surprisingly, LightForce still managed to build in a full 80 MOA of elevation and windage into the scope. Outstanding! By way of example, the B&L Elite 4000, a very fine varmint scope with 1/8th MOA adjustment, has only 26 MOA of travel. No doubt, the 30mm tube allows LightForce some room for adjustment. I would not care to spin the dial endlessly in a tactical environment, since a change of 20 MOA could take all day, but for this scope's intended purpose, the six MOA turret is very good. In fact, the reticle may very well make long range shooting a "no brainer" with out any scope adjustment at all, but I am getting ahead of myself!

The turret clicks are refreshingly very definite for so fine an adjustment. As you dial in the elevation, you are given immediate feedback. Very positive and very solid. There is no doubt you have moved the turret exactly so many clicks. I liked this feature almost as much as the other, more noteworthy items of interest on the scope. This precision feel is a direct result of limiting the turret rotation to the aforementioned six MOA.

Lens protection is via a set of screw in scope caps made of aluminum. These are very sturdy, but not suitable for a tactical rifle due to their slow deployment. It takes some time to remove them. On the plus side, I can think of no stronger way to protect your lenses when covered. Were I to use this scope for Law Enforcement purposes, I'd invest in a set of Butler Creek flip-up caps.

Parallax is adjusted on the objective bell as is standard for this type of scope. The range can be set from 25 yards to 400 yards. After 400 yards, the ring is placed on infinity.

Eye focus on the scope is incredible. The focus ring is on the rear of the ocular. A slight turn either way will instantly bring the reticle into crisp focus. No probing around for the perfect focus here, one has it instantly with a twist of the ring. I can not think of any other scope I have looked through that is this fast to focus.

The ranging reticle is etched into the glass. The obvious advantage of this is that you will not be breaking it anytime soon. The second advantage, and one of the more notable items of this scope, is that the reticle is illuminated. The switch is placed atop the ocular bell. One can adjust reticle brightness from barely visible to laser light bright. My testing so far has shown that one can easily find the comfortable level that will allow shooting in the lowest light. In this area, I believe that the scope would be excellent for Law Enforcement purposes, at least for to moderate ranges. There will never be a time when one can not see the reticle against the target. Ever. I examined this feature quite extensively during bright daylight, aiming at very dark backgrounds -- such as shadows in tree lines, under parked cars and darkened windows -- where the reticle would normally be all but impossible to separate from the surrounding shadow. With the illumination of the reticle turned off, the cross hair would disappear against the dark background as expected. Dialing the up the reticle brightness, even in the brightest sunshine, would bring back the aiming point with sufficient clarity that one could easily make a shot. In the brightest ambient light, the reticle, when placed against a very dark shadow in the distance, could just be seen as a muddy red but crisp line.

Or course, during low light shooting, one must be very careful not to dial the illumination up too brightly. It can be quite intense and will over power one's ability to pick out the target, plus over-illumination will ruin one's night vision. One can easily set the illumination so that the reticle is just visible against the surrounding viewing area.

The reticle is a unique combination of vertical dots and dashes that represent changes in elevation. For them to work you will have to memorize what each aim point corresponds to in minutes of angle. This is not as hard as it may sound, but is somewhat complicated. The elevation correction of each dot and line are relatively linear. Starting from Zero, they are 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, and 22 MOA. While this might take a little while to memorize, it is no worse than doing the math with the much-touted mil-dot. Once mastered, this reticle should allow you to employ one's first shot much faster than with the mil-dot, but only if you have practiced extensively and have learned to dope the elevation via the reticle.

Let me use an example to make this point. You have just ranged a target at 600 yards. You know that with your 168 grain Sierra Match King bullet, fired from a .308 Winchester, you will need approximately 17.25 minutes of elevation dialed into a scope to hit point of aim. With the NightForce reticle, you ignore the elevation turret and just use a hold over corresponding to approximately 17 MOA. You aim dead-on using that point and fire. The target is hit.

Once you know the value of the vertically stacked dots and dashes, you can use holdovers to approximately 700 yards with the .308 Winchester cartridge. You will have to "guesstimate" at points between the given aim points, but this is not as big a challenge as it might seem. For shots over 700 yards, at least with the .308, you will need to start using the elevation turret as a shot at 800 yards will require, say, 28 minutes of elevation. Flatter shooting rounds will obviously allow you to use the reticle farther out before needing mechanical corrections. The alternative to the ranging reticle would of course be to simply dial up with the mechanical turret. This should get you to just under 1000 yards with (ouch) six spins of the dial. As police are unlikely to need to shoot at this range, this is a non-issue. Use the reticle and forget the turrets once you zero the scope.

Ranging is quite easy with the NightForce NP1-RR reticle. You have several options available to you. First, there is a series of circles running horizontally across the bottom of the reticle. These circles correspond to approximately 9.36" at the given ranges, which run from 300 to 800 yards. For police use, the NP1-PT reticle probably would be better, as the circles are equivalent to 10" which is a closer approximation of a man's head from chin to top. Simply bracket the head of the perpetrator in which ever circle fits, read off the range, move the aim point up to the correct hold-over and shoot. A very fast method indeed. Of course, we are not factoring wind into the equation yet, but I wanted to illustrate to you how the reticle works before we got into that.

Each circle has a horizontal line flush with its top. There is a second line running along the bottom of the reticle below the circles. This line is the base line. The vertical distance between the two lines is equal to 18.72" in the NP1-RR reticle and 36" in the police- oriented NP1-PT. You would either place the perpetrator's sternum to head between these two lines (NP1-RR), or bracket his belt line to head (NP1-PT) in the same manner and read off the range.

Most, if not all, range-finding reticles on variable scopes are useable only at a specific power. With the NP1-RR it is 15x, and the NP1-PT is 10x. Simply put, both reticle styles need to be set at maximum magnification to accurately range. This is very likely a disadvantage for police, because it temporarily limits the field of view. Nevertheless, once ranged, dialing down the power to obtain a wider field of view would be possible and recommended.

All variable power scope with ranging reticles are the same and I have problem with them all. To make use of the range-finding capabilities of the scope, one must dial up to maximum power, minimizing the field of view and losing track of what else is happening. Of course, once one dials magnification back down to regain the view, one loses the ability to use the holdover built into the reticle design. A good argument can be made that if the target is under 100 yards, the above is irrelevant. Just put the magnification at the desired level and shoot for zero. The real problem arises when shooting at longer distances, with the trade-off between rangefinding and field-of-view, which can be quite a hindrance on running or moving targets. Neither of these problems are insurmountable, however. They just take practice and situational awareness to overcome. Understand that I like variable power scopes quite a bit, but I believe that a good fixed power scope of proper magnification (an article in itself!) is simple, fast, and idiot proof.

For those who prefer the mil-dot system, NightForce offers this reticle option. I do not have any further information on NightForce scopes equipped with the mil-dot reticle, but under my rough calculations, if the scope comes with the current 80 MOA of mechanical elevation, one should be able to dial up to roughly 975 yards from mechanical zero. It might be necessary to use a tapered base, depending on actual zero. Also, if the scope is of the variable-power variety, one will have the same problems with trade-off between range-finding and field of view.

Windage can be compensated for by the same method as elevation on the NightForce scope. Personally, I think that this method borders on "Kentucky" windage, at which I used to think I was quite good until trying to hit Coke-can sized prairie dogs in variable wind last year at the Prairie Dog Conference. You may, in time, find the use of the provided horizontal dots and dashes for wind correction easy. As for me, I will rely on good old mechanical correction. The target turrets are quite precise in feel and easy to follow. Adjusting for a 9 o'clock, 12-mph wind at 600 yards is just a simple matter of dialing in 4 minutes. You can precisely tune your fire with the windage turret and I see no good reason to rely on your ability to memorize the reticle for this. To hit at a maximum range of 1000 yards with a 20 mph full value wind, you would need to spin the turret almost two full revolutions, approximately 11.5 minutes. This is not unacceptable and is easily tracked, but if you prefer not to use this method, shifting right or left via the provided dots is easily accomplished.

In all the NightForce "Varminter" scope with the NP1-RR ranging reticle is an outstanding piece of engineering and equipment. Still, at $825 this scope will not be for everyone. It is quite sturdy, has excellent clarity, and has a limited lifetime warrantee. If one plans on long range varminting, static competition, predator hunting, benchrest competition, or just drilling holes in paper while looking through some of the clearest glass available, this scope certainly fits the bill. Resolution is quite good by any standard. Viewing targets at range is like looking at them up close through your TV! Just remember the warnings about the high mount necessary to clear the barrel.

I believe that this scope is not ideal for tactical shooting, due to its size. Moreover, I think that in the police role, the NP1 reticle design is probably redundant and unnecessary, even distracting; more of a "gee whiz" accessory than useful, especially for a police officer trying to end a hostage crisis from 75 feet. The reticle is cluttered, and can be confusing when under stress. Still, I would not totally discount the scope for tactical use. It has superior low light capabilities and its illuminated reticle gives the operator far more leeway into the darkness than standard reticles offer, with the scope's resolution making late evening shots a more doable proposition. The main downside to the NightForce scope would be its total size and overly large objective lens. If the shooter is comfortable with these aspects of the scope, he most likely will enjoy years of excellent use from this optic!

Interested shooters may order the NightForce line of optics from Bruce Baer by calling (717) 423-6152, or by contacting LightForce USA at (425) 656-1577 and asking for the name and number of the nearest dealer.

Statistics for NightForce Varminter with the NP1-RR ranging reticle

Objective Lens :
Field of View at 100 yards :
24.5 @ 3.5x or 6.9 @ 15x
Weight :
32 ounces
Length :
15.8 inches
Eye Relief :
Exit Pupil :
16mm @ 3.5x or 4mm at 15x
Click value :
1/8 MOA (.130")
Adj. Range :
80 MOA
Available powers :
1.75-6; 2.5-10; 3.5-15; 5.5-22; 8-32; 12-42; 26 (fixed); 36 (fixed)
Accessories :
Three-inch sunshade

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