We have reviewed a number of Nightforce scopes in the NXS and high end ATACR range, but Nightforce also has a mid-grade line of scopes known as the Shooter Hunter Varminter, or SHV. The SHV was designed specifically to be a lower cost alternative to their combat proven NXS line and several versions are available with tactical features. Nightforce was able to reduce the cost of the scopes by focusing on limiting the available options, designing more simple controls and using a less complex manufacturing process. They claim that they were still able to use the high quality components which led to a scope that Nightforce says will out perform any scope in the same price category and many others that are much more expensive. As is our normal procedure, we figured there really was only one way to find out if that was true, and that was to test one ourselves. The SHV model we have for review is the most tactical of the SHV scopes, the SHV 4-14x50mm F1 with a mid-power magnification range, first focal plane reticle and external elevation knob.
The SHV comes in a standard Nightforce box with a good set of operating instructions and the normal little Nightforce baggy with lens cloth in it. There is also a set of cheap plastic lens caps that do not stay on the scope very well and a rubber bikini style lens cover that stay on better, though it is still a bit of hassle to keep track of in the field. The SHV does have a distinct advantage over the NXS line of scopes in that the entire eyepiece does not rotate when changing the magnification, so traditional flip up scope caps such as Butler Creek’s, can be fitted and used without problem, though none are included with the scope. Another noticeable absence from the SHV scopes is the lack of a sunshade, which the NXS scopes do include.
Flipping the scope over reveals that it is manufactured in Japan where a large majority of the Nightforce lineup is produced. Nightforce does manufacture some of their newer models in the USA, including the compact NXS scopes, the ATACR and the Competition SR line of scopes. We would love for the SHV to be made in the USA, but Japan makes excellent scopes as well and was no surprise given Nightforce’s existing product lineup. The contents of the packaging are about what you would expect for a $1200 scope and the initial impressions are were favorable for the scope.
The eyepiece is a ‘European Style’ fast focus eyepiece and is different than the NXS scopes. The entire diopter range is covered in 1.75 revolutions of the eyepiece and the resistance to the adjustment is quiet stiff. This makes it a little more difficult to adjust when needed, but it also helps keep it firmly in place once it is set. There is an indicator dot on the portion of the eyepiece that rotates which acts as a good reference point if you are adjusting the scope for multiple shooters. Though we need to mentioned that the dot gets covered when the eyepiece is adjusted “in” so it loses its reference effect. The end of the eyepiece does have a rubber ring around it to help minimize skin damage in the unfortunate event of a scope kiss during recoil. With the eyepiece adjusted all the way out, there is no slop and it does not move from side to side showing good design and construction quality. The main eyepiece housing itself is fixed and does not move or rotate and there is a ‘+’ and ‘-‘ sign on top indicating which direction the diopter adjustment should rotate.
Located at the front of the eyepiece housing is the magnification adjustment ring which has some moderate knurling on it to improve grip. There is also a throw lever available for the magnification ring that helps provide even better grip for adjusting the zoom. The resistance is not as stiff as the eyepiece but it is still firm enough to insure that it stays where it is set. The numbering on the zoom ring itself is in a bold font that is easy to read, except that it is located on the forward sloping portion of the ring which requires the operator to really tilt their head up and forward to be able to read the number. The F1 version of the scope, which we are testing here, has a Front Focal Plane reticle so the magnification setting is not critical as the reticle will always be the correct size for range estimation or hold overs.
In front of the magnification ring there is a bit over 2.3″ of scope tube area to locate your rear scope mounting ring. The tube diameter is 30mm with a good matte black anodized finish. The shoulder area of the scope has a rounded shape to it with flat tops where the three control knobs are located. As we typically do, we first took a look at the elevation knob as this is the most important knob and function on a scope for tactical use.
The elevation dial is an external style dial of moderate size with no external dust cap. There is some moderate knurling on top of the knob to help with the operators fingers getting a good purchase with which to turn the dial. There are two set screws in the top portion of the dial which can be loosened to allow the dial to be “slipped” to zero and then re-tightened. The adjustments on this scope are in MILs to match the MIL-R reticle and each click represents .1 MIL of adjustment. The numbering on the dial again uses an easy to read and large font for the whole numbers with a smaller sized font for each half MIL mark on the dial. There are 5 MIL of adjustment per revolution, which is half the amount found on the current NXS scopes. The factory indicates that there are 26.2 MIL of elevation adjustments for this scope and our sample scope here actualy had 30.3 which is plenty to take a 175gr 308 rifle from 100 to 1000 yards even without a canted base.
Beneath the actual dial are some horizontal reference lines to help the operator keep track of the number of rotations that have been dialed in. The SHV 4-14x50mm F1 and the 5-20x56mm with external elevation knob, have what is called a Zero-Set feature. This is not exactly the same as the Zero-Stop found on the NXS, but it behaves in a similar fashion. Once you have established your zero on the rifle, the operator will then loosen those two set screws at the top of the elevation knob, slip the knob to zero, and then press down on the knob to bottom it out, and then re-tighten those screws. By bottoming out the knob, it prevents it from rotating any further down and effectively acts as a zero stop feature. It is not as definitive as the Zero-Stop on the NXS scopes, but it is simple to set and it works.
The clicks themselves are a very nice click with a very good tactical feel and a muted sound. There is very little, if any, slop between those clicks and they give a very positive and high quality feel to the knob. By limiting the number of adjustments on the knob to 5 MIL per revolution, it gives the clicks a larger space to be more precise in their feel. What you give up in single rotation capability, you gain back in better click feel. The direction arrows are up on top of the knob and not really visible from behind the scope, but the direction that the numbers count give a good enough visual reference as to which direction is up. Most all scopes rotate in the same direction these days (counter clock-wise is up), but there are still a few that are either the opposite or available with up in either direction.
The windage knob is actually different than the elevation knob, which we do not actually get to say very often. It is a smaller knob in both height and diameter and it has a dust cap that covers it. Typically the knobs are either exposed, or covered, as a set, but there is some merit to an arrangement like this and the dust cap can be removed at anytime. If the situation demands a rapid engagement, chances are that the operator will not be dialing in any windage anyway, so why not keep the windage knob covered and prevent accidental adjustment until a deliberate adjustment is needed when the team is setup and ready? It still has 5 MIL of adjustment per revolution but the numbering only counts up in one direction, right, which is not our preferred setup. Though we admit that this is still a perfectly functional way of doing it and used on many other scopes. Each of the clicks is the same very nice click as the elevation knob. To slip the wind knob to zero involves using a coin or screw driver to remove a large screw on top of the knob and then lift the knob and place it back on the post at zero. It is different than the elevation knob with its two set screws and we would prefer that the setup be the same for simplicity sake, but again, it is really not a huge deal. The only direction indicators on the wind knob are on top which cannot be seen from behind the scope.
On the opposite side of the scope from the windage is the dual controls for both the illuminated reticle and the adjustable objective. On the inside portion of the knob, closest to the tube, is the adjustable objective with markings going from 25 yards to 500 and then infinity. That entire range is covered using half of the dial which seems to be about right as there was enough precision to focus the scope without difficulty at all the ranges we tested it at. There is some knurling on the AO control knob to help with grip which is needed as typically only finger tips can be used as they reach over the illumination brightness control. It does rotate smoothly and with an even amount of pressure through the entire range.
The illumination control is stacked on top of the adjustable objective knob which makes for a fairly tall knob, but it is well laid out and controlling the separate functions is simple enough. The illumination knob has 11 different brightness settings with an off detente between each one allowing for the preferred brightness setting to be instantly selected without having to cycle through the entire range. This is now the standardized way of doing it, and for good reason. The detentes, or clicks, are very pronounced leaving no uncertainty that the next setting has been selected. The illumination on the reticle itself only consists of the very interior portion of the crosshairs which you can see in the photo above. Holdovers and range estimation will not be possible if the light is too low and the rest of the reticle is not visible, which could be a factor. Though with such a small portion of the reticle illuminated, it should prolong battery life. We did, in our carelessness, accidentally turn the illumination knob a time or two when dialing in the focus during our testing.
The reticle on our evaluation scope is the Nightforce MIL-R reticle, obviously calibrated in MILs. Each of the large hash marks is a full MIL whereas the small hashes are half MILs. There are 5 MILs above the horizontal on the vertical stadia and a full 15 MILs below, though because it is a FFP reticle, the bottom three MILs are not visible when the scope is zoomed all the way in to 14x. On the horizontal stadia there are 5 MIL on either side of the vertical and for the last 1 MIL there are small hashes every .2 MIL. Additionally there is an inverted T scale in the lower right quadrant with hash marks every .1 MIL. This can be used to help with even more precise measurements when doing range estimation using the MIL Relation formula. The reticle can be a bit busy with the inverted T and many different hash sizes, but it is not too bad and provides all the tools needed to be effective.
In front of the shoulder area of the scope there is an additional 2.25″ of tube for which to mount the forward scope ring. The forward tube then tapers up into the bell housing where the forward 50mm objective lens is housed. The tube, like all modern tactical scopes, is made of aluminum with a matte black anodized finish. The tube is a two piece design, like the NXS, with the forward half threaded into the forward part of the shoulder. As has been proven with the stellar reputation of durability that the NXS scopes have established, a two piece design can be extremely rugged. One of the ways that Nightforce mentions they saved costs on the SHV scopes is by not over engineering and over building the scope like they do with their other lines. The SHV still appears to be plenty rugged and the overall quality of the scope appears to be very high, as it should be for a $1200+ scope. The scope looks good and has some very nice features, but we still needed to test the scope to see how it performed operationally.
For our practical tests we mounted the scope to our Remington 700P test mule chambered in 308. We used a set of Nightforce Ultralite 30mm rings of “low” height on top of a Warne 20 MOA canted base. This setup mounted very easily and kept the bell of the scope about .25″ off of the barrel. For our shooting tests the weather was about 33 degrees (F) after a light snow had fallen the night before. While this is not what we consider cold, it is still cool enough to stiffen the controls on some scopes but the SHV remained just as easy to adjust settings as when in warmer climes.
If you are not familiar with how we do our testing, please take a look at our How We Test page. All field testing was done using Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr which this rifle routinely shoots sub .5 MOA with. After the initial zero we ran the scope through a box test using 2 MIL sides to our box. As we expected, the results were excellent with the corners precisely placed and the final rounds right back on top of the originals showing very good repeatability.
After the box test we tested the accuracy of the click sizes by firing an initial group and then dialed in 6 MILs of left adjustment, fired the second group, and then dialed 6 MILs of right back in and fired a final round to check tracking and repeatability again. Once again, the last round was right on top of the first group, and in fact, that total group still measured under .5 MOA. The distance between the center of the two groups was 21.93″, or 6.09 MILs. This equates to 1.5% of error. Because of the error that is introduced into the test due to group sizes and other factors when shooting a rifle, we consider a result that is less than 3% error to be accurate for a long range tactical scope, the SHV passed with no problem.
The windage and elevation adjustments performed well on the scope and the optics on the scope are nice with a clear bright picture and good edge to edge sharpness and contrast. It is very difficult to compare optical quality, but sitting it next to a Vortex Gen2 PST the optics are very similar on the two scopes and they are both high quality.
For the last operational tests we used our optical boresighting device to place a grid mounted to the rifle in order to check for reticle drift when changing both the magnification as well as the adjustable objective controls on the scope. Testing the magnification yielded excellent results with the reticle not drifting or moving at all through the entire 4-14x zoom range. When we tested the adjustable objective we did notice some reticle movement when we adjusted the focus from 25 – 100 yards, but then it became solid when going from 100 to infinity. We have seen this behavior in other scopes and while it raises some eyebrows, it really is only moderate concern as most of the movement happened on the very close in distances. We wonder if the manufacturers perhaps set the low end focus at 50 yards instead of 25 if it would help in these regards. Overall though, for the intended purpose of the scope, the performance was solid at the ranges it will be used at on a tactical rifle.
Evaluating the scope as a whole, it performs well and it is a nice alternative offering from Nightforce to complement their other very respected high end scopes. The scope performs very well and has some desirable features including a zero stop, even if they call it a Zero Set. There were no surprises with its performance and the clicks are especially nice. The capped wind knob offers a bit of uniqueness versus some other scopes, and it is available with, or without, the illumination. The magnification range of 4-14x is only a 3.5x range which is distinctively less than some other competitors that offer a 4 or 5x zoom range. The scope is solid, offers the right features, but is priced at the top of the range for other scopes of similar quality and that have the same or even more features. It is certainly a good offering and you know that you can trust that Nightforce will stand behind their product, but it is grouped in a very tight field of competitors. Even with that said, we have no reason not to give it the SC Endorsed tag as we know we can trust it when in need.
Sniper Central 2017