written by ILya Koshkin, December 2017
Fairly frequently, my blog posts here are a result of a question I receive in an e-mail or a private message on one of the forums I frequent. This is one of those.
The gentleman asked what I would choose to use on a SCAR 17 out of the three options he has access to: Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44 non-illuminated, Nightforce 4-16×42 ATACR F1 and NightForce NXS 2.5-10×42. I am sure he can get a hold of other scopes, but these are the ones he owns.
He also mentioned that he views the SCAR 17 as more of a DMR rifle than anything else so a 6 ounce weight difference is not something he cares about too much.
His Mark 6 has Tremor 2 reticle, ATACR has Mil-R and I am not sure which reticle he has in the NXS.
Since weight has been mentioned, NXS 2.5-10×42 weighs in at 19 ozs, Mark 6 weighs in at 14 ozs and ATACR F1 at 30 ozs.
First, to do away with the obvious: any of these three scopes will work quite nicely. These are fairly high end designs. However, we all have our preferences and I have mine, so I will go through them the best I can. While I do not own a SCAR, I do own an AR-10 with a Fulton 18″ 308Win barrel and I have tried many scopes on it as I do my tests.
First, we have to think about the reticles: if you want to hold for both elevation and wind with the reticle, then some sort of a Christmas tree or similar design is the way to go. Since both of the Nightforces do not come with such a reticle, I am going to assume that dialing elevation is either an acceptable or a preferred method. The Mark 6 does have Tremor 2, which works, but I am not a huge fan of Horus reticles.
Mark 6 and ATACR F1 are FFP designs, while the NXS is SFP. Generally, for shooting at unknown distances, I am firmly in the FFP camp. However, on moderate magnification scopes where you would be mostly using the reticle subtensions at top magnification where they are accurate, SFP works fine.
Another thing to note is that the Mark 6 is a non-illuminated design. To me, in this price range, that is a problem and really is the biggest issue I have with the Mark 6 (and I am really looking forward to testing the new Mark 5 3.6-18×42, which has illumination at a much more reasonable price). Also, I really do not like how Tremor2 looks at lower magnifications, so to me that effectively disqualifies the Mark 6.
Between the two Nightforces, it becomes a more difficult call. There is an 11 ounce weight difference, which to me is noticeable on an eight pound rifle. Both track well. ATACR F1 is optically better, but the 2.5-10×42 NXS is no slouch either and is easily my favourite of the NXS line.
The final selection really depends on the engagement distances and that is something I did not ask. If the plan is to shoot out to the practical limit of 308Win in a 16″ barrel (i.e, out to 900 yards or so), better optics and higher magnification and FFP reticle of the ATACR make it a better choice. However, if the plan is to incorporate a lot of positional shooting, then the lighter and handier NXS acquits itself admirably. Same for shooting inside 500 yards or so. I am not a magnification hog, so to me 10x is perfectly is sufficient.
Ultimately, this being a 308Win and me being a precision guy at heart, I would recommend going with the Nightforce 4-16×42 ATACR F1. I am willing to tolerate a little more weight with a bigger caliber, for a 5.56 DMR, I would likely lean toward recommending the NXS 2.5-10×42.
In the interest of full disclosure, the set-up I have on my LR-308 when I am not testing anything on it is SWFA SSHD 10×42 with a Meopta MeoRed set up in a 45 degree mount to make sort of a “poor man’s 1x/10x setup”. While on a 6.5 Grendel that has similar exterior ballistics my default setup is Elcan Spectre TR 1x/3x/9x.
However, I also know that I tend to use less magnification than most people out there, and that plays into my recommendations. Had the NXS been a FFP model, perhaps I would have leaned that way, given lighter weight. For example, one of my favourite scopes currently on the market is Burris XTR II 2-10x 42. Optically, the NXS is a little better, but the Burris is FFP and has been just about beyond reproach mechanically in my experience.
This is a bit of a side topic, but it is worth mentioning: mid-range scopes are getting quite good. If I were starting from scratch today, that XTR II would be sitting on my LR-308, and I likely wouldn’t bother with the more expensive designs. With higher magnifications, XTR II glass starts showing its limits, but the 2-10×42 is a peach.
If I wanted a little more magnification, I would likely go for the Vortex PST Gen II 3-15×44 FFP . I generally like the Gen 2, but the 3-15×44 is the best of the line and really compares well even against more expensive designs.
My favourite general purpose precision scope out there is Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50, but at $3k you have to be wiling to spend some money to buy one (and I am in the process of setting one up on my lightweight bolt action Fix rifle from Q). For everyone else, PST Gen 2 3-15×44 offers a lot of the functionality for one third of the price. I can’t afford to put a Tangent Theta on everything, so I decided to look at the PST Gen 2 3-15×44 and XTR II 2-10×42. The more I look at them, the more satisfied I am with the performance. If I decide to spend some money, I can swap the Gen 2 for the Tangent Theta and clealry gain performance. However, I am struggling figuring out what a clear upgrade to the XTR II 2-10×42 is. There just aren’t a whole lot of high end scopes in this price/size/configuration range.