Nightforce NXS Rifle Scopes

10 March 2001
By Mike Miller

If you look at today's sniper riflescopes you will find very few that are not modified hunting riflescopes. Hunting scopes are not designed to be what I like to think of as "Rock Tuff." Cost is always a major concern when building hunting scopes, so some sacrifices in quality occur to keep the price down. That is fine for hunting because, in most cases, lives are not on the line. A problem exists, though, when you take that "hunting quality" scope and place it on either a Police or Military Sniper Rifle. A failure is not acceptable when lives are at stake.

One company that saw this problem and came up with a solution is Nightforce. Nightforce has come up with a new line of variable power scopes they call the "NXS Series." NXS stands for Nightforce Extreme Series. That is a catchy name. Could the scopes live up to it? I decided to find out.

I called Jeff Huber of Nightforce and arranged a test of the three scopes they make: a 3.5-15x50mm, a 3.5-15x56mm, and a 5.5-22x56mm - all three of which come with a lit reticle feature. The scopes are available with three different reticle styles: a mil-dot, a two minute-of-angle marked mil-style, and a reticle with holdover marks. In all honesty, I am a mil-dot and Mildot Master believer, so that is the only reticle I tested for range finding. I have learned to quickly read the number of mil-dots, find the target size, and use the Mildot Master (a slide rule type of device for getting the range to target). My goal was to check the quality of the work, not evaluate different reticle types.

I started my tests by using the scopes under all types of light conditions. The light transmission was excellent in all, with the 3.5-15x56mm having a slight edge in low light conditions (all of the scopes were tested at minimum and maximum power). It was interesting to find out that the scopes could see in standard city night time and country moonlight conditions as if it were daytime. The lenses on these scopes are better than any other scope I have used in the same price range, and as good as I have seen! No color distortion or blurring of the edges; just clear optics in all conditions. Knowing now that the optics were very good, it was time to beat the scopes up.

The next test was one Jeff Huber suggested. First, I zeroed each scope on a rifle. After that, I turned the adjustment knobs up and down and side to side for over an hour each before returning the scopes to their zero settings. Then I shot groups... and the zero had not changed. In short, the scopes tracked perfectly.

My third test was something I have never seen before and needs some explaining. I shoot many different rifle and scope combinations and I have noticed that many times scopes from the same manufacturer will not track equally. If I use scope A on rifle A and then use scope B on rifle A, the adjustment to get from one hundred to one thousand yards may not be the same - even with the same make and model scope. This can be a problem for a sniper team because adjustments will be different between the two rifles for the same firing solution.

The test I ran to check if this problem existed was to take all three scopes and zero them at one hundred yards on the same rifle. In this case I used a NorCal Precision built 300 Winchester Magnum rifle and Black Hills 190 grain ammo, since this combination has shown its ability to group 1/2 minute of angle at one thousand yards. After the scopes were zeroed at one hundred yards, I moved to one thousand yards, shot groups, and recorded the settings. This was completed with all three scopes, on the same day, and under the same conditions. All three scopes used twenty-five minutes of adjustment to get from one hundred to one thousand yards. When the targets were compared, it looked like the same rifle/scope were fired for all three targets. These scopes track like micrometers! The adjustments were crisp, firm, and precise. If you try this with your own equipment, you have to have the same conditions for it to be valid, as wind and temperature have great effect on a bullet's ballistics/impact at one thousand yards.

Having had many personal experiences with variable power scopes shifting point of impact under different power settings, I took a great deal of time testing for this. I beat up the power settings the same way as I did the zero adjustments earlier - turn the power up and down and shoot groups with different power settings between shots. I could find no change in impact, no matter what the setting. The scopes were set up on what is commonly called a "bore sighter," and the power settings were changed to see if the scopes moved under the different power settings. No reticle movement was observed.

Pulling out the side focus knob activates the reticle illumination feature. The switch takes a hard pull to turn on, so it's very unlikely to be turned on by accident. It is adjustable for brightness, but you have to have a Jeweler's screw driver to do so. Hence, it is unlikely that you would adjust this in the field. This is my only complaint about the scope. A lit reticle is a nice feature for police, but most military units have steered clear to avoid detection by Night Vision Devices.

The side focus feature is similar to a Leupold MK4. It worked flawlessly from fifty to the farthest distance tested, one thousand yards. No change of impact occurred when the focus knob was changed.

Durability is the final key to a sniper scope and this scope has it. I used one scope to drive several small nails into a 2x4 to see what would happen. The finish got marred, but the scope worked perfectly afterward. One of the reasons for the durability is that Nightforce uses a new type of lens bedding compound to secure the lenses. This compound is only new to scopes, though, as it has been used for several years in other fields. It is extremely strong but remains flexible. Most companies use another type of bedding compound that is strong but does not allow flex. The new compound allows the scope to sustain, without mechanical damage, impacts that would shatter other scopes' lenses. The scopes used in this test are now over a year old and show no signs of the compound failing. In this time, I have used one of them on three different Barrett fifty-caliber rifles and one H.S. Precision .338 Lapua Magnum rifle. On the H.S. Precision .338 Lapua, I took off the muzzle brake and fired the heavy recoiling rifle to see what effect the jarring would have on the scope. The scope held up fine, but my shoulder needed an ice bag. I do not recommend anyone shoot very many rounds through a light .338 Lapua rifle (especially the 300 grain Sierra Bullet at 2850fps, as I did) without a muzzle brake.

Part of durability is the scope's ability to survive different temperatures and bad weather. I used all three scopes in the rain, fog, cold, and desert with nothing negative to report, other than how the changes affected my old bones. I have no doubt that the scopes are waterproof.

In answer to the obvious question of what my overall conclusions on the NXS are, I called Jeff Huber and told him to send me a bill because I was not going to send the scopes back. They are that good!

For further information contact Nightforce USA.

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