A few years ago, Nightforce Optics set out to produce a line of scopes aimed at a wider consumer market; one that retained much of the durability and reliability of the company's combat-proven NXS scopes but at a more attainable price point. This line was born a couple of years ago as the SHV, named for its target audience: Shooters, Hunters and Varminters. The newest Nightforce SHV fills a void that even the NXS scopes don't: It features a first focal plane reticle. That scope is the Nightforce SHV 4-14x50mm F1.
You didn't hear much about Nightforce prior to 9/11. Sure, the company was around, but most consumers weren't familiar with the brand. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq did for guns and gear what the UFC did for martial arts: It exposed the pretenders.
When optics started seeing real-world use in harsh environments, the shooting community found out what worked and what didn't. When a scope goes belly-up during a match or while on the hunt of a lifetime, hearts get broken. When optics stop working in combat, however, lives get lost.
Shooters who relied on precision optics began turning to Nightforce scopes when it became clear that they were among the most durable on the market.
First Focal Plane Reticle
Before examining the Nightforce SHV F1 scope, let's explore what a first focal plane reticle is, and why it can be useful.
The vast majority of scope produced for the U.S. market place their reticles in the second focal plane. That means that when the scope's magnification is changed, the reticle maintains its size and therefore changes relative to the image in the scope.
Practically speaking, that means that second focal plane scopes with ballistic or bullet drop compensating reticles are only accurate at a single magnification setting- almost always the most powerful setting available.
Here's a real life example: My Nightforce NXS Compact 2-10x36mm scope uses a MIL-DOT reticle. The MIL values in that scope only correspond correctly with the target if the scope is on 10x.
How is that a problem? Well, lets say that a shooter lines up for a crucial shot on a bad guy or a once-in-a-lifetime bighorn sheep and, in the haste of the moment, forgets that the scope's magnification is set to 6x instead of 10x. He checks the range, correctly dopes the wind, and establishes the correct elevation and windage holds using the reticle. He shoots and misses. The sheep runs over the next ridge, all because the shooter's assumptions were based on the reticle's relationship to the target.
The potential problems become even more pronounced when using a scope with lots of magnification. With the trend toward hunting at extended ranges, it has become increasingly popular to use very powerful variable scopes afield.
Let's assume the shooter is using a Nightforce SHV 3-18x with a second focal plane reticle. A shot presents itself at 300 yards but with a strong full-value wind that requires several inches of hold-off. 18x is a lot of magnification and is not ideal for taking shots from most field positions, due to the excessive visible wobble of the image.
If the shooter dials the magnification down to 8x to take the shot from a seated position, the windage holds on the reticle will not be accurate. They only work on 18x.
Nightforce SHV 4-14x50mm F1
The Nightforce SHV 4-14x50mm F1 is the only scope in the SHV lineup that incorporates a first focal plane reticle. It is a large scope (14.8 inches long), well-suited to precision shooting with rifles at the heavier end of the spectrum- exactly the types of rifles most frequently used for long range shooting.
MIL or MOA Nightforce SHV versions are available using the MIL-R or MOAR reticles, respectively. The adjustments on the MIL version are in .1MIL increments while the MOA variants adjust via .25 MOA clicks. The 30mm tube provides an adjustment range of 90 MOA/26.2 MIL for elevation and 70 MOA/20.4 MIL of windage.
From a practical perspective, that means that a .300 Winchester Magnum firing a 190gr. bullet from a 100-yard zero shouldn't run out of elevation adjustment until the target range exceeds 1300 yards, and that's with standard (0 MOA) scope bases.
The elevation dial on this Nightforce SHV is exposed to allow for fast adjustments while the windage dial is covered to help prevent inadvertent movement. Personally, I prefer to dial for elevation and use the reticle for any windage corrections so this system works perfectly for me.
The elevation dial uses a Zeroset screw to lock-in the rifle's zero- the shooter can quickly return to zero by turning the dial clockwise until it stops and this can be done without taking one's eye off the target. Parallax adjustments are made by the knob at the 9 o'clock position (illumination adjustments are located on the same knob) and the graduations appeared to be correct for the ranges listed.
MIL-based Nightforce SHV scopes come equipped with the MIL-R reticle, which is what we tested, while Nightforce SHV scopes calibrated in Minutes of Angle use the MOAR reticle. Both feature a fine crosshair at the center as well as value marks for windage and elevation.
I found the Nightforce SHV reticle to be ideal for precision shooting at distance and used it out to nearly 700 yards on steel and paper targets. Only the center crosshair section of the reticle illuminates which means that users will have to use the dials to make elevation and windage corrections in low light conditions. Eleven different brightness settings are available.
In addition to practical shooting, I wanted to run this Nightforce SHV scope through a series of tests to ensure that it would perform as-advertised.
Testing Reticle Values
The first order of business was to ensure that the reticle's values were correct and that they remained correct across the entire magnification spectrum. In order to test this, I took a page out of Nathan Foster's excellent treatise on Long Range Shooting: a chart was carefully drawn using a sheet of butcher paper, with horizontal marks at 3.6-inch increments. 1 MIL equals 3.6 inches at 100 yards, so hanging this chart at precisely that range should allow us to bracket the 1 MIL hash marks on the reticle to the corresponding horizontal lines on the paper.
When I headed to the range, the Nightforce SHV reticle proved to be right on the money. One less thing to worry about.
I also wanted to test the mechanical integrity of the Nightforce SHV scope's adjustments. Shooting at long range often requires dialing all over the map to account for the various factors of external ballistics- a scope must be able to consistently track according to the advertised value of the adjustments in order to be useful.
The de facto standard for testing how a scope tracks is called "shooting the box." A shot is taken, the scope is adjusted X number of clicks to the right, another shot is fired, adjust X clicks down, take a shot, adjust X clicks left, shoot, X clicks up, shoot.
The result should be four shots in the shape of a box, establishing that the scope's adjustments moved an equal amount for the number of clicks made. This assumes, of course, that the rifle is of sufficient accuracy to evaluate the scope and that the shooter doesn't cause any problems.
Shooting the Box
For this test, I decided to shoot the box three times: Twelve shots that, upon completion, established four three-shot groups on the target. Not only am I testing the Nightforce SHV scope with three times as many shots and adjustments, I have a group of shots on the target to ensure that the rifle is fulfilling its obligation.
As it turns out, I got sloppy with the trigger a couple of times while shooting the box but, because I fired twelve rounds instead of four, I was able to confirm that the scope's adjustments were repeatably precise.
The third test (devised by gunmaker D'Arcy Echols) was used to evaluate two different factors: whether the scope tracks in a straight vertical plane and whether the scope maintain's its integrity at the end of its adjustment range.
A scope that wanders vertically, rather than tracking directly upward, can be catastrophic to long-range shooting the same way that a canted rifle or non-perpendicular reticle can cause issues at distance.
Another issue often seen is that some scopes will do everything right at 100 or 200 yards while mystery misses will occur at longer ranges. This happens when the scope's reticle moves to the far end of its adjustment range and is not held by sufficient spring tension. The internals of the scope essentially bounce around inside the scope and a rifle capable of .5 MOA accuracy at 100 yards becomes a 5 minute rifle at long range, where accuracy is needed the most.
To ensure that neither of these problems will occur with the Nightforce SHV scope, I created a very large target consisting of an inverted "T." The target is placed at 100 yards, and a group is fired with the reticle carefully bracketed to ensure that the "T" matches the right angle of the crosshairs.
The elevation dial is then adjusted upward to the maximum distance allowed by the scope, and a second three-round group is fired. If everything is in order, the second group will be on the same vertical plane as the first group and will be of comparable size. If the top group is off to one side or uncharacteristically bad for that rifle, we have a problem.
I fired a three-shot group before dialing-up to what would have been a 1200-yard point of impact with my 175-gr. .308 match load. The "1200 yard" group was just as tight as the control group and less than an inch to the left indicating only the slightest deviation from the vertical plane that, candidly, could have been the shooter's fault.
I've yet to encounter a Nightforce product that I wasn't impressed with, and this Nightforce SHV was no exception. My only criticism of this scope is that the eye relief is not as generous as I'd like. With the .308 it was not really a problem, but on a rifle with serious recoil it could become an issue.
The Nightforce SHV 4-14x50mm F1 scope is a solid all-around choice for long range shooting with mechanically reliable adjustments, an excellent reticle, and impressive image quality. I've been looking for a scope for a screaming-fast .22 centerfire wildcat that I recently built, and this scope may be just the ticket.