Superscope: The Nightforce ATACR

Photos courtesy of Nightforce Optics

Although Nightforce has been around since 1992, you may never have come across one of its scopes. That's because they're built in small numbers (built to order, in fact, although Cabela's and a few other dealers carry a selection ready-made) and the primary Nightforce market is not hunters, although the company makes a number of excellent big game scopes.

What Nightforce has staked out is tactical, competition, and long-range shooting. Trust me, if you go to a benchrest meet, or an NRA F-Class shoot, or a sniper school, or a range where the .50 BMGs bellow and thunder, you will see Nightforces aplenty. In fact, among this crowd, there are two kinds of shooters -- those who have Nightforces and those who want them.

What sets these scopes apart are two things: They are tremendously strong -- immune, as far as I can tell, from recoil and just about everything else.* And they are repeatable. Their big adjustment knobs will send a bullet exactly where you tell it to go time after time after time. Their ergonomics are superior to most everything else. The adjustment knobs are marked in big letters that even a coot like me can read, and there are windage and elevation direction markings that you can see from any angle, including prone.

I should add that Nightforce's customer service is superior, and then some. If you have a question or a problem and get in touch, things happen fast.

A couple of months ago I bought an NXS 5X-22X, which was originally developed for long-range military shooting (read "sniping") but is now used for a variety of purposes. It blew me away; so much so that I asked Nightforce if I could try out the most recent addition to the line, the ATACR, a 5X-25X-56 scope that is by far their most advanced. It's big -- a 34mm tube and a weight of 38 ounces -- but not long, measuring a shade over 14 inches.

The large-diameter tube gives it a whopping 120 MOA elevation adjustment and 60 minutes of windage. There is a choice of two reticles -- the MOAR, which is minute of angle, and the MIL-R, which is mil-dot. Of the two I much prefer the MOAR because it's easier for me to think in minutes of angle than milradians, and because it's simpler. Both reticles are illuminated, which is standard for Nightforces.

What leaps out at you about the ATACR is its optical quality. With most new scopes, you have to compare them side by side with two or three other of similar price to see how much better they are, if indeed there is any difference. Not so here. The first glance through the ATACR was a revelation -- a huge, bright, virtually perfect image, absolutely flat and distortion free right to the edges.

One of Nightforce's distinguishing features is called ZeroStop, and it's based on the premise that if you keep cranking a scope up and down, sooner or later you're going to lose track of where you are altogether. ZeroStop is designed to give you a reference point that you can never lose. Here's how it works:

When you sight the rifle in (I zero dead-on at 200 yards.) you then remove the elevation cap and loosen what Nightforce calls the "clutch," a disc that engages the elevation adjustments. Depress the clutch, tighten it, replace the cap, and the scope will return to that point when you crank it all the way down. You don't even have to look; just turn the knob until it stops and you're back dead-on at 200 yards.

If I want to shoot at longer yardages I go 10 clicks up for 300, 32 for 500 (there is no 400-yard line at my range) and 42 for 600. You can do this over and over until you run out of ammo and the scope will repeat perfectly every time.

The real-world price for the ATACR is $2,328. This is a lot of money. But for it, you get something that will do things other scopes can't do as well, or can't do at all. The Nightforces I see are mounted on the rifles of people who are not rich (or if they are they're hiding it well) but simply decided that what these scopes bring to the game is worth the sacrifice.

*Two Nightforce stories: While in tactical use, a Nightforce NXS was hit just ahead of the power selector ring by a 7.62x39 bullet. The slug pierced the scope wall and the erector tube, freezing the scope at 15X but otherwise having no effect. The sniper wrapped duct tape over the hole and continued to use the scope for three more days.

Kenny Jarrett was visited by a Nightforce salesman who, to demonstrate the scope's toughness, pounded it on Kenny's desk throughout his sales pitch. "It didn't hurt the scope," said Kenny, but it chewed up my desk pretty good."