Nightforce ATACR 4-16x42 F1 Rifle Scope Review

By Brady Walter

When Len sent me the tracking info for the new Nightforce ATACR 4-16x42, naturally I was pretty excited to get my hands on it. Reviewing this optic would include a few ‘firsts’ for me: first experience with a 34mm main tube, first extended amount of time using a front focal plane scope, and probably most importantly, first time using MIL/MIL turret/reticle configuration. Before getting any further, here are the specs directly from the Nightforce website for reference.

Initial Unboxing, Impressions, and Opinions
Initially handling the scope, two words come to mind: short and stout. The heft, or rather density, of the scope caught me off guard. Three physical attributes triggered this: 34mm main tube, large diameter turrets and lastly, it is a relatively heavy scope with respect to objective diameter and length. None of these should be considered negative, but I feel they are worth mentioning.

Next, I checked the controls and mechanical features of the scope. Zooming from 4x to 16x was smooth and firm and the entire ocular end of the scope rotates when changing power settings. The parallax knob felt a little light when rotating, but seemed to hold well once stopped. I believe the FFP ATACR’s are the first products where Nightforce labeled the parallax knob with specific range values. The MIL scopes are listed in meters and the MOA scopes are listed in yards. Parallax has many variables and these should be used for reference only. The ‘DigIllum’ illumination button is housed in the parallax knob and is distinguishable by the gold color. This type of illumination isn’t new to Nightforce products as it has been used on previous BEAST and NXS compact scopes. It is simple to interface and you can toggle between different intensity settings and colors (red, green) by actuating the button. The general consensus is the ‘DigIllum’ is superior to the rheostat or analog version used on larger NXS scopes and provides a very clean/sharp reticle illumination.

Nightforce ATACR 4-16x42 F1 rifle scopes are available at The Long Range Hunting Store - HERE.

The elevation turret is exposed and has the new ‘ZeroSet’ feature as opposed to ‘ZeroStop’. As the name implies, this is basically a zero stop with lockable button that engages when dialing to zero. Once engaged, the button must be pushed to unlock the turret to dial up or down. The stop will lock from either direction, allowing the user to dial down 2 MIL or 5 MOA depending on model. As an example, on my rifle with a zero MOA rail, I had 14 MIL up and 2 MIL down once the ZeroSet was properly set up. This is a nice feature and I prefer it to a traditional zero stop; more on that later. While exercising the elevation turret, I was a little disappointed to find a very noticeable ‘tight spot’ when dialing. It was 2-3MIL wide and took a little more effort to dial through this area on the turret. I know Nightforce has a 100% inspection rate and all scopes are function-checked prior to leaving, so I can only assume the friction was within tolerance. It is noteworthy the resistance in this 2-3 MIL band did decrease the more I used the scope and is hardly distinguishable anymore.

The windage turret is well thought out and comes capped from the factory. If you prefer to run the scope with an exposed windage turret, Nightforce provides a beauty ring that covers the exposed cap threads. As you would expect, the turret is waterproof with the cap removed. Both windage and elevation graduations feel precise with audible feedback with no slop when cogged. When compared to each other they did feel different, however, neither of which were bad. Turret ‘feel’ is highly subjective, so I will leave it at that.

Figure 1: Elevation turret (Left) and windage turret (right). Note the beauty ring is installed in the photo.

Finally, I should mention the high quality Tenebraex covers that are included with the scope. The objective cover is installed by threading into the bell and it flips/locks up like most other covers on the market. The ocular cover is a bit more complex since the entire scope eyepiece rotates when zooming. This cover fits over the ocular bell and is tightened with a small hex fastener. Once secure, the lid portion of the cover can rotate independently of the ocular lenses in both the open and closed position.

1st Range Session
Naturally, I chose my most accurate and consistent rifle for the task of reviewing the ATACR. It is a bone-stock Savage LRP chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, and has served me well. Shooting 140 gr. Berger hunting VLD’s over H4350 yields ½ to ¼ MOA performance that has been verified at distance. The scope was mounted in 34mm Nightforce medium rings and properly torqued to spec with a Wheeler Engineering Fat Wrench. Bore centerline and reticle were aligned using the ‘RingTrue’ reticle alignment tool from HIGHPOWER optics. If you are not familiar with the product, it is a simple and effective way to mount a scope plumb with the bore centerline.

Nightforce ATACR 4-16x42 F1 Rifle Scope Review

After rough bore-sighting I was on paper and a few shots later was near the bull with a ½ MOA 3 shot group. Final adjustments for a 100 yard, zero-offset zero yielded the following group. Note all shooting for this review was conducted using a bipod for front rest and bag for rear rest.

Figure 2: 3-shot, 100 yard zero.

Zeroing the windage turret is as simple as loosening a setscrew and indexing the turret. It was now time to set up the ‘ZeroSet’ feature. Instructions in the manual were simple to follow and the turret is relatively easy to setup properly – I was able to do it my first try. My only complaint about the ‘ZeroSet’ is the use of a #0 Phillips head driver once the cap is off. I dislike Phillips head drives of all shapes and sizes and see this as an oversight by Nightforce considering the MIL/LE and general abusive market this scope is tailored towards. It requires an extra tool in the field in addition to the standard hex wrench used (the screwdriver is provided, however). As a person who moves optics around often I can see how the heads could be damaged from multiple resets over time if one were to get carried away and over torque the fasteners. After looking closer at the design, the 4x counter-sunk hex screws are in a relatively thin piece of metal where the required counter bore of a hex-style fastener wasn’t permissible. I’ll give them a pass since I believe this was a design constraint. I feel this is a relatively small complaint and shouldn’t deter someone from running this scope.

Figure 3: Elevation turret removed exposing ‘ZeroSet’ internals.

Once setup, the ‘ZeroSet’ is a very nice feature. You have a hard stop like a traditional zero stop at -2 MILs (or -5 MOA on the MOA version) as well as the lockable zero at your actual zero value. A hunting scenario where having the added ‘down’ adjustment is advantageous would be re-zeroing once you arrive to your hunting destination if you don’t want to reset the ‘ZeroSet’ feature; you could dial down a few clicks if needed (I live near sea level and elk hunt at 8,500 feet, for example). Another scenario would be moving the scope from multiple rifles and needing to adjust down slightly for differing zeros. Again, I feel this type of zero stop provides more flexibility than a traditional hard stop.

Once the scope was zeroed and the turrets adjusted, it was time to do some shooting at extended ranges. I set up a steel target at 500 yds for the first round of fire. Using Shooter app, my dope indicated 2.6 MILS up and 0.4 MILS right. Keep in mind this was my first exposure to a MIL-based scope and my initial reaction was “that’s it – only 2.6?!?” I did some quick math to verify the solution and everything checked out of course. The first three rounds at 16x yielded the below group shown in Figure 4. The red circle is roughly 4 inches in diameter for reference.

I decided to leave my dope alone and dial the scope back to 4x. One of the main complaints I hear on various forums against FFP scopes is the reticle is too ‘thin’ at low power and too ‘thick’ at max power. I found the reticle very usable at 4x with the firing solution dialed (basically holding point of aim at center of target). The subsequent 3 shot group was fired at 500 yds using the optic at 4x zoom (Figure 4, right photo).

Figure 4: 3-shot groups at 500 yds; 16x and 4x respectively.

Conversely, I didn’t find the MIL-R reticle to be overly thick for precision work on 16x either. In my limited experience with the scope, my opinion is that a FFP optic makes a lot of sense in this magnification range. The only time I had an issue with the reticle thickness was during initial sight-in using Caldwell Orange Peel targets due to the black-on-black effect of the target/reticle combination.

2nd range session
My second session started by reconfirming zero and conducting a tall target test to confirm scope tracking. I was hesitant to do this exercise because I know the manufacturer performs a tracking test prior to shipping. However, my background in engineering doesn’t allow me to trust suppliers or manufacturers, so felt it was worth the effort. Figure 5 is a picture of the tall target set at 100 yards; it was setup and the vertical/horizontal lines were made with a carpenter’s level once in place.

I was able to get 12 MIL of elevation and 5 MIL per side of windage (10 MIL total). Firing sequence was as follows:

The results can be seen below; 3-shot groups are circled for clarity. There are three outliers in my exercise that require explaining (designated by red ‘X’). The first two are on the vertical line (12 MIL). My first shot went right, so I stopped to evaluate. After reviewing my setup, my rifle/scope wasn’t properly leveled. For every subsequent shot following my first shot I made sure to confirm my elevation turret was level using the ‘RingTrue’ alignment tool previously mentioned. The second outlier in the vertical direction was either a very hot barrel or user error (possibly both). The final outlier was on the left-hand side of the windage test. Again, I don’t think I allowed enough time to let the barrel cool because once I took a break, things settled in again. Shooting conditions were mid-eighties, so keeping the barrel relatively cool was a challenge.

Figure 5: Tall target test results. 3-shot groups circled for clarity

Nightforce ATACR 4-16x42 F1 Rifle Scope Review

The elevation, windage, and parallax turret features are solid on this scope. The low profile elevation turret has the ZeroHold option with easily read etched white numbers. The windage turret comes with a removable protective cap, and a trim ring is provided to protect the threads if you like to run it with cap removed and dial for wind. The parallax knob is marked from 45 yards to infinity and has a center push button DigIllum illumination including both red and green options with adjustable intensity. The battery is located underneath and is easily replaceable.

So now time for some long range shooting/testing of the ATACR 4-16x42 F1. My son and I grabbed the steel, portable stands, Vector IV range finder, rifle and other gear and headed to our favorite long range shooting spot east of town. We set up steel from 850 yards to 1500 yards with one lone target at 1780 yards. It is just the way it worked out with terrain and the ridges on the land we shoot at.

My main objective here was to test the 16 power magnification at longer ranges. First up was the closest target at 850 yards before I moved out to the longer stuff. My data said to dial 4 mils up and the wind was left to right at about 4-6 mph, so I held .5 mils for wind. First shot was a solid hit on the right edge of plate. I added a hair more wind and sent two more rounds that hit closer to center of the plate. The next plate was at 1320 yards, so I added another 4.2 mils for a total of 8.2 mils of elevation and held .9 mils of wind for the first shot. The bullet missed just right. The next three shots were fired while holding 1.2 mils for wind and all hit the 24” plate. With the scope on 16x and the Badger FTE brake, I could watch my own trace into the steel and clearly see the hits on the white spray painted steel. I had similar results at the 1500 yard target, drilling it 3 out of 5 times. At this point, I was even more impressed with the optical quality and performance of the scope!

The real test for me was the 1780 yard plate. I dialed in the 14.2 mils of elevation that my ballistic app, Shooter, told me would hit the target. Wind was a good 5-7 mph left to right now, so I decided on a 2 mil wind hold and loaded a round. My son was spotting too and told me to send it. I fired the shot and could watch the trace run into the target, a 36” chunk of steel. Elevation was good, but my round carried just right. I added .3 more for wind and fired a second time. I was rewarded with a hit on the right edge of the plate at about 4 o’clock. The wind was doing tricky things shooting across a few ridges, but I wound up with 8 hits out of 12 shots. I couldn’t see the actual impacts with the 16x scope at 1780 yards, but could watch the trace into the target and confirmed the hits when we were done and loaded up the steel.

I have used this scope at the local 200 yard range, in the field shooting steel out to in excess of one mile, while hunting coyotes, and in long range hunting of various varmints. Overall, this scope does it all. The optical quality and performance in a 16-power scope is unparalleled in my opinion. To be able to engage and hit targets out to one mile in changing wind and weather conditions has made a believer out of me! I truly believe that running a front focal plane scope has improved my game. Well done, Nightforce! Well done.