Tim Pilbeam reviews the military-spec Nightforce scope with an innovative reticle, testing how it copes with the switch to a hunting application
Have you seen the recent Nightforce advert showing one of its telescopic sights with a neat hole drilled in the side of the main tube? This hole was caused by an enemy round, but the serviceman stuck some gaffer tape on it and continued to use it as the only thing affected was the zoom adjustment. What a great story, and a superb demonstration of how strong the Nightforce telescopic sights are – so when one turned up at my front door, I was eager to try it.
To my surprise, it was a compact little thing that came out from the packaging. It made most of my normal hunting scopes look like monsters. But why send me a 2.5-10×32 when most popular telescopics nowadays have at least 40mm objective lenses? I made a quick phone call to the importer RUAG, who told me this model is also useful for running targets such as wild boar owing to its ability to quickly acquire a target when fast shots are required.
I saw from the promotional literature that I had a 2.5-10×32 NXS Compact – “Small package, big performance” – and I could immediately tell that it was a very well built unit. Weighing 19oz, it is a rugged construction apparently made from a solid bar of aircraft-grade aluminium, as opposed to the extruded or formed material used in many scopes. Most of the Nightforce scopes are designed for the larger military calibres, and the walls of this 30mm tube are two or three times thicker than many other makes.
The ocular lens focus can be adjusted and then locked off by a separate ring, and the 2.5-10x zoom is easy to grab hold of. Despite the ability to shoot out to 600 yards, there is no parallax adjustment as it is not needed. This is apparently due to the 32mm objective lens giving a tremendous depth of field. At 2.5x magnification, the exit pupil diameter is an impressive 13.3mm, reducing to a low 3.3mm on 10x power.
Moving onto the ‘knobbly bits’: It has elevation and windage adjustments of a massive 100MOA (0.25in per click), no doubt aided by the 30mm tube. When adjusting, it is hard to feel the individual clicks but also stiff to turn. To the left there is a brightness adjuster for the illuminated reticle. To turn it off, turn it back to the start position. If you leave it on, there is no auto-off function, and the batteries last for at least 720 hours (30 days).
The Velocity reticle has a series of horizontal lines numbered ‘3’ to ‘6’, corresponding to 300-600 yards, with lines between each number indicating 50-yard increments – but this only works on 10x magnification. The centre cross-section of the reticle is zeroed for 200 yards and there is a small line above it that indicates a 100-yard aim point. With regard to windage, there are small vertical indicators on each of the range lines that show 5mph hold-off points. Information on the Nightforce website allows you to input various ballistic data for all types of ammunition. The data will inform you how accurate the various range lines are, bearing in mind that anything within 1MOA out to 300 yards is more than suitable for hunting.
In the field, I started to ask the same question that you probably are: Is this really a hunting optic? The sight picture is very bright, especially on low power, and it is very easy to pick up and focus on the intended target. The 100-yard marker line that sits above the cross of the reticle is thinner than the zero point and not easy to see in woodland, even when on full illumination – a potential problem if you have a running boar bounding across you 50-70 yards away. I have mentioned this as the manufacturer states “quick acquisition of target” and “useful for running boar”, which in my view will be within 100 yards on most hunting situations. The 200-yard main reticle is thick and bright enough, but I doubt you will be undertaking a quick shot or anything running at that distance.
I moved out from 250 to 550 yards in winds of 15-20mph. The holdover markers – both elevation and windage – were spot-on for the ammunition used. Back to maximum hunting distances, the 250- and 300-yard markers were easy to use. The reticle lines are quite thin and not the easiest to see against a dark background, but using the illuminated reticle helped greatly. I think I would have it on when shooting around any woodland.
I invited my experienced shooting colleagues to have a shot; they soon adapted to the reticle, achieving 10in groups at 550 yards in tricky conditions. It was way beyond responsible hunting distances, but a clear demonstration of the scope’s capability.
At night, even though I am used to very fine reticles, I had the illuminated reticle permanently on (unusual for me as I cannot normally get on with them). Even at 200 yards, I was quietly impressed with its light-gathering ability, with the most comfortable shots taken on 4-5x magnification despite the narrow objective lens.
To sum up, this is a high-quality optic that may be able to cross over from tactical applications to hunting but may be better suited to practical target competitions. For woodland stalking or driven boar, a 200-yard zero is not ideal, and at a price tag of £1,250 this is a premium piece of kit – although a compact and effective one, capable of a wide variety of shooting disciplines. In my view, though, that price can buy a very respectable hunting scope that sacrifices a clever reticle for a larger objective lens and a better zoom range. As for its long-range capability, I saw how the clever ‘Velocity’ reticle was able to cope with military or police applications out to 550 yards. Having said that, they have larger targets to aim at than the essential shot on a wild deer or slinky Charlie.
Many thanks to RUAG for providing the Nightforce NXS 2.5-10×32. For more information, call 01579 362319 or visit www.ruag.co.uk. For ballistic and reticle information, visit www.nightforceoptics.com.