Review - Nightforce SHV 5-20x56 Rifle Scope with New Exposed Elevation Turret

By Tim King

My introduction to Nightforce optics happened only several years ago as I first became addicted to long range hunting. I had recently found and delved into a world of information about long range shooting and hunting that I could have only dreamed of. At that point I had never even heard of Nightforce, and at the time local stores didn't even carry the brand.


It is amazing how fast long range shooting and hunting has become legitimized and accepted into the mainstream. It seems this is due largely to the new breed of amazingly accurate laser rangefinders and incredibly precise optics. This is of course where Nightforce made its name and holds its own. Nightforce has become the benchmark by which all other long range specific optics are evaluated.

For those unfamiliar with Nightforce, they make fantastic optics that never fall short of the hype. Yes, these are expensive scopes, but they are heirloom quality investments that are battle tested and trusted by the elite. Your great-grandkids will thank you for spending the extra money now to have the best.

Since purchasing my first NXS 3-15X50, I have owned and used almost every model of Nightforce scope. I have liked most things about each one of them and disliked very little about any of them. In the same time I have owned and used many scopes from other manufacturers such as Schmidt and Bender, Leupold, Bushnell, Burris, IOR, Sightron, Zeiss, Swarovski, Vortex and Nikon.


After trying the new SHV 4-14X50 F1 I was excited to hear that Nightforce had added an exposed elevation turret to the SHV 5-20x56 . I was eager to evaluate and review this new optic as it seems to be the most versatile power range. I like that Nightforce is making an effort to offer a line of optics within reach of the budget minded long-range shooter and hunter. The SHV line of scopes is great; they are smaller and lighter than the big brothers the NXS but they don't give up much in capabilities.

The scope I received from Len Backus at the Long Range Hunting Store was packaged very well and shipped promptly. There is no doubt that he could have shipped this scope anywhere in the world and the scope would have arrived intact. Upon opening the scope box I found a beautifully matte finished SHV 5-20X56. The SHV line has the same great quality and included accessories as the NXS with the exception of the sunshade. I was very excited to take this new scope out and put it through its paces.


Initial Impressions and Features
The SHV has a very flat matte finish that feels almost abrasive, as if it was sandblasted prior to being anodized. When held up next to a Leupold VX3, the Leupold seemed almost shiny in comparison. The SHV scope has a fast focus eyepiece, which is a nice improvement in my opinion over the NXS scopes. The power adjustment ring is more along the lines of other manufacturers' scopes, where the rear ocular lens does not rotate with the power adjustment ring as it does on the NXS line of scopes. I appreciate this because when using flip up scope caps a stationary ocular lens is much more convenient than the NXS rotating eyepiece. The power adjustment ring did have its downfall however. It was quite stiff to turn and could use a lever or traction aid, as is present on the Leupold and other brands. (Editor's Note - Nightforce offers a Clamp-On Power Throw Lever for the SHV line). I would also prefer the label for the power setting to be on the rear of the power adjustment ring rather than the front so it can be viewed while in the shooting position.

The exposed elevation turret is a huge improvement over the previous SHV scopes. This is the feature I have been waiting for since their introduction. When I first tried the SHV 4-14X50 F1, I realized what a big improvement this feature really was, as it was the first SHV with the exposed turret. The turret has a nice solid feel and good tactile, audible adjustment clicks. It is also very simple to reset the turret to zero once the scope has been sighted-in on the rifle.

The Zero-Set feature is quite nice, and I think easier to set and possibly more intuitive than the setup of the NXS Zero-Stop. Like the Zero-Stop, the Zero-Set stops the turret from rotating down past zero. The capped windage turret seems useful for hunting if you are worried about accidently bumping your windage knob in the woods or in a scabbard. The windage turret itself has the same solid tactile, audible clicks as the elevation turret and is easy to reset to zero with just a coin. I would prefer that Nightforce put the same exposed turret on the windage as the elevation turret, however the current setup seems well suited for hunting applications.

You can purchase the Nightforce SHV 5-20x56 Rifle Scope With New Exposed Elevation Turret right HERE at the Long Range Hunting Store.

The reticle in this scope is fantastic; I love the MOA sub-tensions. This appears to be the same reticle used in the MOA versions of the NXS scopes. The model I received for review also included reticle illumination on the center crosshairs, which I personally did not find very useful. Other shooters might like the illuminated reticle, however I have never found a use for it while hunting. In low light conditions the lighted reticle seems to distract from my being able to see the target, and does not seem to help my eye. On the SHV scopes, only the 2 MOA x 2 MOA center portion of the reticle is illuminated, unlike the whole reticle illumination of the higher end Nightforce scopes. This would help minimize the risk of having too much light from the reticle wash out the image in extremely low light situations.

For those who like illuminated reticles, the illumination dial is conveniently located on the parallax adjustment knob on the left side of the scope. There are eleven different brightness settings with an off in between each setting. Users can set the reticle to their preferred brightness level and then with one click forward or back they can turn the illumination off completely.

I would have preferred to add an exposed windage turret instead of illuminated reticle. The reticle is marked off in one MOA increments with a center crosshair that is 2 MOA wide and 2 MOA tall with a 1 MOA gap before the markings begin. I found the reticle quite helpful in measuring wind corrections at distance. The only downfall for me is that the reticle is in the second focal plane and must either be set on 20 power or 10 power to be useful in measuring and calling corrections. I have come to personally prefer first focal plane reticles.

Setup and Sight-In
I mounted the scope in Burris Signature rings to protect the finish from ring marks, and added a bubble level to insure I was not canting the rifle while shooting. Bore sighting was simple; after the first shot I simply used the reticle to measure the vertical and horizontal correction needed and dialed them in. The next shot was right on target and left a nice clean group.


From my previous experience with Nightforce optics including other SHV's I was not worried at all about this SHV holding its zero. After sighting the scope in I chose to do some load development on my new 30 Nosler to see how well the scope held up to recoil. Luckily for me, the scope has generous eye relief and did not force me to get too close to the heavy recoiling .30 caliber magnum. After about 50 rounds of 212 gr ELD-X bullets on heavy charges of IMR 7828, the scope was still holding zero perfectly. It was time to take the scope for a test drive.

Dialing to Shoot Varied Distances
I'm not particularly interested in the debate over which method of range compensation is better - dialing or reticle hold over. I find that dialing is the most precise way to account for elevation adjustment and that is the method I use. Of course the new addition of the exposed elevation turret is perfect for my style of shooting. I was more than happy to put it through its paces.

After running some numbers in the ballistic calculator I set out to the range with a truckload of AR 500 targets and a fresh box of hand loads. I set up targets between 100 and 780 yards, later moving my shooting position back to create a 1000+ yard range. I began engaging targets from the closest to the furthest to confirm my drop sheet.

To be honest, the exposed turret was a joy to use with its large visible markings to display MOAs. I was able to reach out to 600 yards on the first revolution of the turret, but there are only 10 MOA graduations per revolution of the turret. This is my one complaint about the exposed elevation turret. I would prefer a high speed turret with 20 MOA per revolution or even 15MOA. This would allow me to dial out to 900 yards on the first revolution of the turret.

The scope returned to zero flawlessly with each range adjustment. I was able to dial and shoot at each of the distances and return to zero with no problem. Fortunately the wind was very tame on the day I decided to do drop confirmation. The mild crosswind needed no more than a slight hold off of center with the reticle.

The image through the scope was pleasant to look at. The glass was clear, and the image appeared bright and had good contrast. I placed a 10 inch steel target painted yellow on a hillside covered in dead yellow grass nearly 800 yards away. The target was completely invisible to the naked eye, however, looking through the SHV the image appeared clear and the target was easily visible, even at dusk. When looking through the 5-20x56 SHV side by side with a NXS 5.5-22x56, I did not notice much of a difference at all in the optical clarity. If I had to find a difference I would say that the NXS has a slightly brighter image, but it is not much at all. I would guess that the glass comes from the same plant because the optical clarity was so similar. After my first day at the range with the SHV I was content to say that the scope wins my seal of approval. The only complaint I had on day one was having only 10 MOA per revolution on the elevation turret.


After sighting in and walking it through its paces on the prairie, I decided to take the rifle into the woods and test the scope's ability in a darker environment. The Black Hills of South Dakota provides some deep woods hunting action that would test the scope's low light ability. I also wanted to test the lower magnification range of the scope in a close quarters situation.

By the way, I believe that the 5 to 20 power range is the most versatile of any scope magnification range. I own several lower and higher magnification scopes and I believe the 5-20 to be the most useful across the board. With the scope set at 5 power I had a very large field of view and was able to quickly scan the surrounding area for targets within the woods. The scope seemed to be at home both in the woods and on the prairie and was a joy to use in either environment.

Taking it to a Competition
I had almost finished writing this review when I decided I would take the new 5-20 X 56 SHV to a long range pistol shooting match called WY-SHOT. This is a long range specialty pistol match in Gillette, Wyoming hosted by none other than Ernie Bishop. This seemed like the perfect theater to put the new exposed elevation turret to the test. Having never fired a specialty pistol before, I was excited to try a new shooting discipline while reviewing a new optic.


The course of fire consisted of 52 steel targets divided into seven stages. The targets ranged in distance from 99 to 994 yards. Shooting was to be done from field positions, either seated with a tripod, over a backpack or prone with a bipod. Each stage was timed based upon the number of targets and their given distances. It was necessary to have a scope that would be able to dial repeated elevation changes in short order. Some stages required engaging targets at closer distances, then longer distances, and then returning to closer distances, dialing backwards on the turret.

The exposed elevation turret was a great help in dialing back and forth between different targets, and the Zero-Set helped return to zero after each stage. I did not have a good understanding of the Zero-Set feature at first, but after some instruction it seems very intuitive. After you have established your 100 yard zero you simply loosen the set screws on the elevation turret, turn the turret to zero without making any clicks, and push the turret down till it bottoms out. After tightening the set-screws again, the turret is effectively set to zero and you will not be able to dial past zero in the heat of the moment.


After shooting the first stage, it was apparent that a capped windage turret was a handicap in this type of environment. The winds on day one and day two of the match were horrible! The wind gusted from zero to almost 30 mph each day with constantly changing vectors. The match was challenging to say the least.

At the furthest target I had to dial 20 MOA of windage and still required a hold off to hit the target. In a match type setting with wind like that, an exposed windage turret is a must. I removed the windage cap from the SHV and left it in my pocket the entire match, which was the perfect solution to the problem.


The windage turret itself functioned perfectly. It was easy to read and grasp, even with shooting gloves, and it had the same solid tactile audible clicks as the elevation turret. Since the windage turret is totally sealed and waterproof even with the cap off, I could just leave the cap in the gun case when I was worried about shifting winds.

Even so, the SHV performed flawlessly in the match, and I had no other complaints. I fired close to 200 rounds of ammo over the two days, dialing constantly from one target to the next without a single malfunction. I even put the scope to the test on a few prairie dogs that showed themselves before and after the match, and the scope performed quite well at dispatching the critters.

The Nightforce SHV 5-20X56 exposed elevation turret scope is a joy to use. The scope is robust, well made, with quality optics and is up to any shooting, hunting or varmint task, as its name implies. The exposed elevation turret is the perfect addition for long range hunting and will help a great deal next hunting season. I would not hesitate to recommend this scope to any friend of mine who was looking for a budget minded long range hunting scope. You can pick one up at the Long Range Hunting online store. God bless, and good shooting!

About The Author:
Tim King is a minister at a church in the Black Hills of South Dakota. He spends his free time hunting, shooting, reloading and machining his own rifles. Tim has been enamored with the shooting sports since his childhood and has had an affinity for long range shooting for the past decade, having spent much time in research and experimentation with long range rifles, optics and ammunition.
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