This calls for a celebration. NightForce may have just unveiled the holy grail of Illuminated Low Power Variable (ILPV) optics with its new 1-8X ATACR. The military and 3-Gun competitors have been searching for the perfect low power illuminated scope for the last 20 years.
Many ILPV scopes have been offered over the last 20 years, but none met all the requirements needed to bring the low power variable to its full potential. Perhaps that was the true issue was too many people trying to define requirements and no manufacturer could satisfy everyone. Welcome to the new world. NightForce may have achieved this.
Taking a quick look at the niche this scope is designed to fill, means it has some big shoes to fill. The perfect ILPV should fill all the optics needs other than those met by dedicated long-range precision/ sniper type optics.
The true value of the low power variable is in its extreme versatility. The ILPV should allow the user to engage targets from point blank to over 600 yards. At the 1X end of the power range with the illumination on, it should allow engaging close range targets at speed just like a red dot optic.
At the upper end of the power range, it should have the magnification, clarity, and reticle to allow engaging targets out at the outer limits of a 5.56’s capability. The ILPV also needs to be able to perform throughout the range between those power extremes.
Bearing these parameters in mind let’s see what the 10-inch long, 24-ounce, 1-8X ATACR has packed inside to meet the mission requirements.
Attacking the Competition
On the low end of the power range, we have a true 1x that allows shooting the optic with both eyes open. This allows greater peripheral vision and faster target acquisition. The illumination is adjustable and is bright enough for use in full daylight conditions, similar to a traditional red dot optic. This combination is critical for close range target engagement.
Another critical factor that the ATACR got right, is that it is a first focal plane scope. This keeps the reticle size correct in relation to the target regardless where the scope is set in the magnification range. This allows correct holdovers and target engagement at all power settings.
The FC-DM Reticle
The FC-DM reticle in the ATACR is just what the doctor ordered for this type of an optic. A reticle designed with provisions for holding over for distance and wind corrections is imperative.
This key feature has been done wrong so many more times that it has been done properly. A reticle based on a specific bullet, caliber, or cartridge has always been a less than optimal plan. Those types of reticles only work in one instance, out of one barrel length, at one velocity; far too many variables to accurately engage targets at distance.
Why NightForce Chose Mils
The standard for military long-range shooting has always been “mils”. Mil-Radian to be more precise, but more commonly referred to as mils. Mils are simply a unit of measure that can be applied regardless of what type of gun or cartridge that’s being used.
For years mils were overlooked when dealing with reticles for low power scopes. Mils were considered a long-range thing. Who needed them for a close-mid range scope? Turns out it was the best answer, and the reticle in the ATACR is an outstanding mil based reticle design.
The FC-DM reticle addressed many common issues found on other reticles. The .06 mil thick lines are the right thickness. They are thick enough to be seen easily at the powers where holdovers start to matter. Yet they are thin enough that when engaging targets at a distance that it allows seeing the target to get a proper hold, instead of obscuring it.
The reticle also has 10 mils of elevation hold over built into the grid. This allows engaging targets out at the limits of 5.56 and 7.62 carbine capabilities without having to dial elevation on the turret.
Aim Small, Miss Small
When shooting extended distances, often wind errors become the greatest variable a shooter has to overcome. NightForce has provided plenty of wind dots into the reticle for holding wind corrections, even when far down the elevation grid.
Again, like the thickness of the stadia lines of the reticle, the wind dots are properly sized. While engaging targets at a variety of distances the dots always allowed seeing the targets when making the shots.
Due to this being a first focal plane scope the details of the elevation/ windage grid are very small at low power, this keeps the view clear and open when shooting the illuminated center of portion of the reticle. All that is really needed is the center to be illuminated for the close fast shooting.
The illumination is controlled by a 10 position knob on the left side of the scope. There is an off position between each illumination setting. The illumination works in bright daylight and also has settings that go down low enough to be utilized with night vision devices.
The battery compartment for the illumination is located under the illumination setting dial. The battery is rated for 140 hours of continuous use. The scope has an auto shutdown feature on the illumination in case you forget to shut it off. This can reset by simply switching the illumination off and then back on.
The details of the reticle really don’t start becoming visible and being useful until you get above 3 or 4x. This isn’t a concern as holding over for elevation will typically be done at higher powers.
The windage and elevation turrets are also based in mils. The adjustments are actually in tenth mils for more precise adjustment when sighting in and dialing corrections. The turrets have 12 mils of adjustment per revolution.
The Devil’s in the Details
The turrets come with installed caps to protect the turrets and prevent inadvertent adjustment of the point of impact. The design of the scope allows for use of the scope with the caps removed by remaining waterproof even with the caps removed.
The low profile turrets keep the overall size of the scope as small as possible for a 34 mm tubed optic. The scope fits nicely on a 5.56 or a 7.62 carbine; it doesn’t add so much weight or size to adversely affect handling of a short, light carbine.
As useful as the reticle is in engaging targets at varied distances, I also wanted to know how the scope would perform when dialing adjustments. The quality of a scope can often be determined by its tracking and ability to return to zero after adjustments.
After a number of adjustments in full mils, tenth of mils, multiple iterations of reseting it back to zero, shooting 3 round groups at each setting and repeating it all again, the groups returned to the original zero point each and very time. No issues were found with the tracking on this scope at all.
- Overall Length- 10.08 in.
- Weight- 24 oz.
- Parallax- Fixed at 125 meters
- Eye Relief- 3.74 in.
- Elevation Adjustment- 30 mils
- Windage Adjustments- 30 mils
- Field of View- 1X @ 100 yds.= 97 ft.
- Field of View- 8X @ 100 yds.= 12.5 ft.
- MSRP: $2,800
Shooting evaluation was done at a variety of distances since that is the ultimate purpose of this scope. Up close I shot the VTAC 1-5 drill, posting times in the mid 3 second range, having no problems engaging white targets on a bright day, the true test of the brightness of the illumination.
Engaging targets from 1-100 yards on low power identified no concerns; wide field of view at 100 yards allowed rapid transitions between targets, as the next target always seemed to be in the field of view.
Mid-range shooting was done on a variety of different sized targets ranging from 200 to 500 yards. The reticle design proved it had been well thought out and allowed engaging targets as small as a 6-inch circle at 485 yards with no issues, larger targets were no challenge.
The long range testing was done on an USPSA target at 700 yards. After a little work to establish elevation and windage holds, the target was easily engaged shooting prone off a bag. The scope allowed clear sighting on the center of the target with no issues. The windage dot covered barely more than the width of the A zone on the target.
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