NightForce 1-8X ATACR Rifle Scope — Full Review

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.

The compact 34mm tubed 1-8X is packed full of features to maximize versatility and capability of whatever it is mounted on.

NightForce’s Innovation

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.

NightForce built a 1-8X ATACR to allow enough magnification to really reach out with carbines of any caliber. The size of the optic fits nicely on AR platform firearms.

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.

Illuminated center area of the reticle is 2 mils, which is about 7 inches at 100 yards. It’s large enough to be used for close range speed but the design does not obscure targets at a distance when the scope is zoomed in.

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.

FC-DM reticle design incorporates requirements for shooting at all ranges possible with the magnification available in the 1-8X ATACR.

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.

View through the scope on 8x at ~ 600 yards. Reticle details are clearly visible and would easily allow engaging relatively small targets.

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.

Large illumination knob makes operation effortless even in low lighting. Eyepiece adjustment and locking ring are found on the rear of the scope for adjusting reticle clarity.

Key Features

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.

Power Throw Lever (PTL) threads into the Power Zoom Ring to rapidly control magnification.

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.

Turret adjustments are clear and easily readable. Nightforce provided allen tool is used to reset turrets to zero once sighted in and install Power Throw Lever.

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.

Thread protectors are provided to cover the turret cap threads should the user opt to utilize the scope with the caps removed. Large markings make it clear which direction to make turret 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.

SPECS

  • 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

Range Time

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.

Read Clay’s Review of the Best Scope Ever Built.

For more information about NightForce scopes, click here.

To purchase a NightForce scope on GunsAmerica, click here.

About the author: Jeff Cramblit is a world-class competitive shooter having won medals at both the 2012 IPSC World Shotgun Championship in Hungary and more recently the 2017 IPSC World Rifle Championship in Russia. He is passionate about shooting sports and the outdoors. He has followed that passion for over 30 years, hunting and competing in practical pistol, 3gun, precision rifle and sporting clays matches. Jeff is intimately familiar with the shooting industry – competitor, instructor, RO, range master, match director. Among his training credits include NRA Instructor, AR-15 armorer, FBI Rifle Instructor, and Officer Low Light Survival Instructor. As a sponsored shooter, Jeff has represented notable industry names such as: Benelli, 5.11 Tactical, Bushnell, Blackhawk, DoubleStar, and Hornady. He has been featured on several of Outdoor Channel’s Shooting Gallery episodes and on a Downrange TV series. Jeff’s current endeavors cover a broad spectrum and he can be found anywhere from local matches helping and encouraging new shooters as they develop their own love of the sport, to the dove field with his friends, a charity sporting clays shoot, backpack hunting public land in Montana, or the winners podium of a major championship.

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Eric January 22, 2018, 1:35 am

    Will it be released in MOA turrets and a MOAR reticle?…I know about the NX8 but want one with ED glass.

  • Tim January 6, 2018, 10:40 pm

    Very nice. However, my Leupold Mark 4 CQ/T 1-3 x 14mm suits me just fine, and was less than half the price. I’m not being dropped in Afghanistan anytime soon.

  • Rson January 3, 2018, 12:30 pm

    Will it work with semi auto 30-06?

  • Tim January 3, 2018, 1:09 am

    I was really getting into the article and strongly considered a purchase until I saw the price. I choked when I thought about the other items I could purchase with that amount.

    • Daniel January 6, 2018, 10:11 am

      The NX8 is what you want to look at. $1K less.

  • Jim F January 3, 2018, 12:47 am

    I purchased a U. S. Optics SN-4 1-4x variable with an illuminated circle chevron reticle back in 2003. This was a couple years before the big boom commercially for low powered variables but something I had figured out and found U. S. Optics was already building. I’m sure the NF is a good piece of kit but it’s not revolutionary. Aside from the bump in power I can’t see that it’s superior to some of the other glass out there. My USO has been just terrific, getting lugged and shot around the world with no issues. Glad there’s another good tube in the mix now.

  • Buzz January 3, 2018, 12:19 am

    Oh come’on guys, I’ve got 2 NXS 5-22’s, an ATACR 5-25 F2 – but I don’t drive a Super Duty and I don’t have a side by side, or a ATV to fiddle fart on. And, I sure as h-e-l-l don’t have an iphone10. But, I do need one of these!

    • MK January 3, 2018, 10:12 pm

      Preach

      • Buzz January 6, 2018, 2:44 pm

        My next sermon is on Animist and Eco-Pagan religions vs. anti-hunting laws.

  • Scott A.Bush January 2, 2018, 11:35 pm

    2800 dollars….thanks but no thanks…I’ll stick with my Lucid!!

  • Pete January 2, 2018, 7:58 pm

    Are you kidding me! come back to earth night force most of us work for a living, thats 3 house payments for me

    • Frank January 3, 2018, 12:10 am

      Most of “us” can’t afford a Maserati either. Buy a Tasco if you don’t have the money and quit complaining about you financial limitations. Nightforce makes amazing optics, along with Schmidt Bender, Swarovski, Zeiss and U.S. Optics. Others are acceptable (Leupold, Vortex, etc.) Buy what you can afford and live with it. Happy New Year.

    • Harold January 4, 2018, 6:17 pm

      It’s called “Over Time”. Do you smoke or drink? STOP. You’ll save enough to buy one in a year.

  • ro January 2, 2018, 11:56 am

    PRICE….include the PRICE….what review is complete without the PRICE?…gee wheeze

    • Mad Dog January 2, 2018, 6:25 pm

      READ….Read the article….It’s the last line in the SPEC section….

  • Mark January 1, 2018, 9:43 pm

    I’m partial to the Swarovski Z8i 1-8×24 as it has a very generous “eye box” and is very lightweight compared to other scopes in this range. It can be had with a ballistic reticle (the BRT-i), but can also have a ballistic turret snapped on. I use it on AR-10s and AR-15s as well as bolt action guns, and I’m comfortable shooting at several hundred yards with it.

    I just wanted to mention this scope as the author acts as if this is a new range for scopes, but that’s certainly not the case. Schmidt & Bender have had a couple versions of this range for a few years, and Zeiss and Swarovski have followed suit over the past couple of years.

    Mark

    • jeff cramblit January 2, 2018, 2:24 pm

      mark,

      You are correct, several others do offer 1-8x scopes as well, and I expect to see more in the future. I’ve shot several of them and launched thousands of rounds looking through my Swaro and it is a fantastic scope as well, you have good taste. However, it is a second focal plane and unless you are shooting it on max power the hold over reticle is not correct and you have to run the numbers to for the difference. As I said, lots of folks with lots of different desires makes it hard for any manufacturer. Does anyone one need every single feature, who knows, I just found this scope to be the best I’ve shot in the last 20 years, I had to send it back when the review was done, but I have placed my order for one… just one shooters opinion though.

      • Lear55pilot January 2, 2018, 10:50 pm

        Hey Jeff – thank you for sharing as that is my new GO FOR IT scope for my new 300 Black. I have a BIG NF and love it but looks like I will love this one for aerial hog hunting! Happy New Year!

  • James January 1, 2018, 4:33 pm

    I’ve been on the fence about picking up a nightforce for about 2 years. I wish they made a 3-12X NXS FFP and sold it around $1500-2000 (not the SHV line either, I don’t want value, I want a deal). I can’t seem to justify dropping $1500 on a SFP scope nor can I imagine my glass should cost as much as the $2,600 SCAR 17s that I’m throwing it on. I don’t mind paying a premium but at least give me what I want. FFP NXS for $1,500. I don’t need the ATACR or the BEAST. This price has me ready to settle for a Leopold Mark 4 ER/T FFP.

  • Dr Motown January 1, 2018, 9:22 am

    At $2700, it costs 2-3x what your rifle does…better kill lots of ‘yotes and small predators to justify that purchase

    • Buzz January 2, 2018, 1:52 pm

      U need the Nightforce C452…. or if that’s too expensive… a Tasco,lol!

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