The Best Rifle Scope Ever Built: NightForce ATACR 7-35X

in Authors, Clay Martin, Long Range Archive, Long Range Shooting, Specialty Publications

The Best Rifle Scope Ever Built: NightForce ATACR 7-35XAt this year’s SHOT Show, “Sniper Jesus” told me the new Night Force ATACR 7-35X was the best deal going in optics. I have anxiously been wanting to put this to the test. I begged, borrowed, cajoled, harassed, and arguably stalked NightForce for a review sample. Arguably stalked is a loose interpretation or so my lawyer tells me.

Earlier this week a box arrived from Orofino. And you know what? It was absolutely worth the wait.

The Best Rifle Scope Ever Built: NightForce ATACR 7-35X

As a former soldier, I have a bit of a love/hate with NightForce glass. They have always had a great reputation for glass clarity, durability, and mechanical precision. When I was in the service, they also had a reputation for complete inflexibility, even for the boys in SOCOM. I personally called the last time a new version came to the U.S. Army, on our brand new .300 Win. Mag. MK13s. Could we get rid of this reticle and second focal plane madness, and have a Horus? We will pay for the difference, checkbook is right here. No? Schmidt and Bender will. Talk to you later.

The Best Rifle Scope Ever Built: NightForce ATACR 7-35X

The problem tended to be, NightForce really liked building things to Squeal Spec. And the Squeals refused to step away from the second focal plane. Learn the difference between first and second focal plane, here.

So, Night Force has fixed the reticle part of the problem, in a grand fashion. Ray Dennis, the founder of NightForce, bought Horus Vision. And the offerings now in First Focal Plane (FFP) fill the majority of their catalog.The Best Rifle Scope Ever Built: NightForce ATACR 7-35X

NightForce ATACR 7-35X F1

So it’s been a few years, and I was really excited to try one of the new models out. It did not disappoint. The clarity of the glass is on par with anything else in the world, and I do mean anything. I was serious in the previous mention of Schmidt and Bender, it’s what we used my last few years serving. It has been called the gold standard of clarity, but I would put this NightForce up against it or anyone else. It could take on Zeiss and Swarovski.

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SPECSThe Best Rifle Scope Ever Built: NightForce ATACR 7-35X

  • Model: ATACR F1
  • Magnification: 7X-35X
  • Tube Diameter: 34mm 
  • Length: 16 in.
  • Weight: 39.3 oz.
  • Click Ratio: .250 MOA; .1 Milrad (tested)
  • Eye Relief: 3.26 in. – 3.58 in.
  • Power Throw Lever: Standard
  • Illumination: Digillum
  • Elevation Feature: Zero Stop
  • Manufacturer: NightForce

Mechanically, this scope was so good it validated my testing protocol for tracking. I didn’t invent this method, but I can pirate ideas with the best of them. It’s hard to make a square and level target, so I don’t try. I set up the most stable target I can, and then draw a straight line using a 4-foot level. My line is square to the Earth that way, no matter how it looks to the eye. Then I use calipers to measure and mark lines every 10 centimeters, the distance of 1 milradian at 100 meters. Using my most accurate rifle and trusted ammo, I shoot at the bottom line. Without changing my point of aim, I dial 1 mil on the elevation turret, and shoot again. So on and so forth until I run out of target or travel in the scope. In testing the ATACR, I had it attached to my Tikka T3 TAC A1, and used Hornady 140-grain ELD Match ammo. I like testing this way, because I am actually shooting. My eyes can’t detect a 1-percent incorrect movement just by looking, and I seriously doubt many others can. The NightForce crushed the test, tracking perfectly through 15 mils and back down. The line on the test board was so perfect it was shocking.The Best Rifle Scope Ever Built: NightForce ATACR 7-35XThe Best Rifle Scope Ever Built: NightForce ATACR 7-35X

The Best Rifle Scope Ever Built: NightForce ATACR 7-35XThe 35X is a very high maximum magnification for a tactical scope. I was concerned that maybe it would introduce problems focusing or adjusting parallax at zero range. This was absolutely unfounded. The clarity was perfect, both at 100 meters and 1000. In fact, sitting here at my desk, I can easily focus on a light switch 10 meters away.  How Night Force accomplished this is a miracle of innovation. The range of magnification is really growing on me too. In my experience, I never tend to use my scope much below about 8 power, and probably used it the most in combat between 12 and 14. That offers a wide field of view, and a reticle that is still big enough to use easily. The only real reason I have seen to go below 8X on a precision rifle is if your glass sucks, and you are using clip on night vision. There is threshold where your lens errors make using a UNS ( Universal Night Sight) impossible. Everything else, more power tends to be better. So having a floor of 7X is awesome. For most of the sub-1,000 meter shooting I did this week, I kept the scope on about 20X. It is really nice to have the option of 15x more for observation, or if you had to dial some mils on and take a very long shot.

The power balance is awesome, and it will likely set a new standard for tactical scopes.

All of the controls are simple and positive. My test model has a Horus reticle in it, but that won’t be everyone’s choice. As full rotations of elevation are completed, numbers appear from under the turret. Very handy for not getting lost in the moment. It is embarrassing to engage a close range target and miss by 10 mils, but it has happened to the best of us. The zero stop was easy to adjust, if a little bit involved. NightForce recommends a torque wrench capable of 4-inch-pounds for this task. That is a little scary for someone that has broken an anvil, but it worked out just fine.The Best Rifle Scope Ever Built: NightForce ATACR 7-35X

Durability is a cornerstone of the NightForce legend, which is not something I can really speak to. I’ve only had the scope a short while. I will, however, defer to my friend Tom Beckstrand. He has been to the factory and swears that before a scope leaves the quality control room a final test is conducted. The scope is beat from 5 directions with a rubber armored steel block. Then rechecked to ensure the zero didn’t shift. That tells me pretty much what I need to know. I would never willingly do that to a scope I own, nor would I expect one to survive. These boys are serious about building tough scopes.

If illumination is something you need in your scope, Night Force has answered that as well. And for once, you don’t have to choose between red or green. The ATACR does both, with a very simple press of a button. I have never been big on illumination in scopes like this, but I must admit. The green works very well in low light, and the red is bright enough for daylight.The Best Rifle Scope Ever Built: NightForce ATACR 7-35X

In the interest of full disclosure, I only own one NightForce product, a spotting scope that I won a few years back. I have made my living with a firearm in one capacity or another for the last 20 years, and I own zero scopes at this price point. But after this week, I will be buying this ATACR, even if I have to sell half my pistols to do it. I have been issued many nice toys, and the ATACR 7-35X bests them all. Including a Schmidt and Bender PMII.

This isn’t the best scope for the money. It is the best rifle scope that has ever been built in the history of man.

The ATACR 7-35 certainly isn’t cheap, but you only have to buy it once. If you are serious about long-range precision rifle shooting, this is the scope for you.The Best Rifle Scope Ever Built: NightForce ATACR 7-35X

For more information about NightForce optics, click here.

For more options of long range scopes, click here.

To purchase a NightForce optic on EuroOptic, click here.

About the author: Clay Martin is a former Marine and Green Beret, retiring out of 3rd Special Forces Group. He is a multi-decade and -service sniper, as well as 3-Gun competitor and Master ranked shooter in USPSA Production. In addition to writing about guns, he is the author of “Last Son of The War God,” a novel about shooting people that deserve it. You can also follow him on twitter, @offthe_res or his website,

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  • Brian August 9, 2020, 8:05 pm

    Very well done review Mr. Martin.
    Wondering what your thoughts are on the Horus Tremor3 reticle?

  • Jake Liang July 22, 2019, 3:18 pm

    What mount did you use with this scope?

  • Jesse December 23, 2018, 6:29 pm

    I have this scope as well as the schmidt bender 5-45x 56. The schmidt is better than the nightforce 7-35x 56. Why not compare it to the schmidt 5-45×56 as opposed to their older design.
    With that said , the nightforce is a nice scope and I do like it.

  • Richard February 2, 2018, 12:50 am

    The March 5 – 40 did all of this years ago and better. NF has been playing catch up and now volume dominates the market.

  • Jarrod October 12, 2017, 7:53 am

    Nice, but it’s still playing catch up to the March 5-40×56 FFP.

  • Omar Abdelrahman September 28, 2017, 5:48 pm

    PRS lists vortex Razor HD Gen II as the best; Nightforce came in 3rd. The Athlon Cronus is probably the best value.

  • Dale Andersen September 28, 2017, 4:40 pm

    The article lists the Nightforce F1 Atacr as a 32mm tube, I want to say that it is a 34mm tube!!! Looks like a great scope!! While I like F1 scopes, several that I have looked at, the reticle is so small that you can’t accurately use it until you get to the higher magnifications. How is this scope/reticle on say 7 to 15 or even 20 magnification???

  • Donald Blaufuss September 28, 2017, 12:00 pm

    The tube diameter is 34mm not 56mm.

    • Laura Kovarik September 28, 2017, 12:23 pm

      Thank you for the correction! Our fault — we meant “56mm for the objective.” And “34mm tube diameter.”

  • Mark September 28, 2017, 11:04 am

    I have only owned one Night Force scope. I will not buy another, I have some Simmons ATV scopes on 22cal rifles that are clearer. I put my money into Burris optics, clearer, solid build, and customer service that can’t be beaten. They had a scope advertised that did not exist at the time, advertising said that it had an illuminated center dot. I purchased it, and no dot. I called and they paid the shipping and installed the illumination in a 6-24 Signature series scope, that’s customer service. And their glass has always been amongst the clearest available.

  • Richard Amberg September 28, 2017, 5:00 am

    At last, the ultimate scope and the ultimate opinion! An extremely informative article that narrows the selection of “the scope” to just one. NO IFS, AND, OR BUTS. I rest my case. Thank you.

  • Riley September 21, 2017, 4:19 pm

    That durability test you mention about beating the scope in 5 different directions while checking for zero-shift. That is actually a pretty common test in the industry. I know for a fact Burris/Steiner does that as well with every scope that leaves the factory.

  • mark September 20, 2017, 12:14 pm

    Nice review, I have one with the MLR reticle, and it is also amazing. Buy once. cry once.

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