Many people tend to select an optic for their rifle build, but every once in a while something comes along that changes the paradigm. With the release of the Nightforce NX8 1-8×24 F1 riflescope, I decided to build a rifle to compliment the optic.
A few of the features that make the NX8 stand out are the very compact size and light weight, a true 1x and daylight bright illumination system, a versatile 8x zoom range and the bomb-proof Nightforce reliability. Considering these features, I looked through my stable of rifles and decided a new build was in order. This new rifle had to be light, accurate, reliable and fast in order to be able to compliment the capability of the little scope. With these criteria in mind, I went shopping for the parts needed to construct such a rifle.
Small parts aside, the main part selections were:
- PROOF Research 16″ 5.56mm Carbon Fiber AR Barrel, 1/8 twist with CAMGAS Mid+2 gas system – the barrel is the heart to the rifle, and I needed something very accurate, lightweight and reliable. This is a lot to ask for, but I’ve been fortunate to see behind the curtain at PROOF and their manufacturing capabilities are incredible. The barrel is a work of art with extremely clean machining and finish work, while saving weight with the carbon wrap.
- Silencerco ASR Muzzle Brake – the muzzle brake helps tame the little recoil left, but also allows the mounting of a Silencerco Omega or 556K when I want to go suppressed.
- BCM KMR-Alpha 15″ Rail – I’ve used many of these rails and like the thin profile, clean lines and durability when getting beat on. With mounting hardware the rail system weighs only 11 ounces.
- Aero Precision M4E1 Upper and Gen 2 Stripped Lower – both forged parts that would be the base to work together. The machining is clean, anodizing nice and the fit was snug without needing a mallet to get together or pull apart. The Gen 2 lower also has a tension screw for the rear lug of the upper receiver.
- Geissele Super 3 Gun Trigger – this trigger is wicked fast when shooting at close range, but is able to be precise for longer shots. The best way to describe it is a single stage trigger with a little pre-travel and a rolling break.
- Mil-Spec BCG – simple and effective, I didn’t want a lightened carrier as I chose to go for a fixed gas block. The heavier carrier can help with reliability when the rifle gets dirty.
- Magpul STR stock – instead of a lightweight stock, a slightly larger and heavier stock helps with the balance of an optic on top, while also having a larger cheek weld surface when staying on the gun and using the scope.
After the carbine was assembled and the scope in hand, it was time to mount it up and head to the range. I am a firm believer in the idea that a perfect scope and amazing rifle are useless if there isn’t a solid link between the two. The Nightforce UniMount provided that solution, allowing for the scope to project forward for a proper mount to me, while also being lightweight and strong. The mount itself is constructed of 7075-T6 aluminum, while the clamping jaws and bolts are made of titanium. This mount does have 20 MOA of bias built in, which for scopes with limited elevation travel will allow for maximum elevation travel for long range shooting. On a carbine, the 100 MOA/30 Mil-Radian available would be more than adequate with or without the 20 MOA cant.
For mounting, I took the time to ensure the reticle was level to the rifle, that the scope position was ideal for many positions (such as prone, kneeling and standing), and that everything was torqued properly. Proper torque is often overlooked, but it helps prevent issues such as a wandering zero or perceived inaccuracy. To help save ammunition, I removed the upper from the lower, removed the bolt and bore-sighted the rifle. Being able to look down the bore at my 100 yard target and then match the center of the reticle on the target creates a basic alignment to start from, instead of just sending rounds and hopefully get lucky.
Now with everything properly mounted and bore-sighted, I loaded some Norma 55gr Tac 223 ammunition into a magazine and settled behind the rifle. I fired 3 rounds, and was able to see them print a group low and right of the target. I used the Mil-Radian hash lines of the FC-Mil reticle to get corrections needed, dialing the elevation and windage up and left respectively. Next I fired another 3 rounds, finding that they were a little over half of a 1″ paster width to the right. With that, I dialed 1 additional click of the .2 Mil-Radian adjustment to the left and fired 5 rounds at a new dot. I should have placed larger dots for the zero, as the center dot is slightly larger than 1″ at 100 yards, but I was able to make it work. Due to the lower magnification and the center dot covering the specific target I was not able to see impacts. After finishing the 5 shots, I was rewarded with all 5 rounds inside of the 1″ paster. I was pleasantly surprised that this rifle/optic/ammo combination was performing so well out of the gate.
As it was the first range session, I also tried an assortment of other ammunition for accuracy and POI deviation, as well as shot over a chronograph to obtain speeds to build ballistic profiles. With the Applied Ballistics app on my phone I can keep track of the performance of a variety of loads for each rifle I have at my disposal. Knowing the offsets for different loads, suppressed/un-suppressed variations and even different lots if there are major deviations, I can create very predictable ballistic solutions for longer range engagements. While this rifle isn’t a long range rifle, my expectations are that it could be used reasonably to 600 yards or even further depending on conditions.
Since the range has a 300 yard berm with a steel plate, I decided to do a quick profile for the Hornady 73gr ELD-M load and check the data with rounds down range. The calculator said 1.5 Mil-Radian for drop to 300 yards, which is conveniently marked in the reticle. I simply held above the target that exact amount and proceeded to smack the steel gong without issue. My next workout on this initial session was to run a few magazines of my 55gr FMJ ball reloads to ensure the gun would run while being shot fast and hot. I setup a couple cardboard USPSA targets in a short range pit for this. Without any specific plan, I turned the scope to 1x and cranked up the illumination to work the scope as a non-magnified red dot. From about 3-20 yards inside the pit, I had no problems quickly acquiring the target through the optic and placing rounds where I wanted, whether head shots or center of mass (don’t forget to account for offset!) After shooting 5 magazines faster than I probably should have, I let the gun cool down while I broke down my setup at the range for the day.
My final exam with this scope and rifle combo was a run through the infamous “short” course of the Stillwater Tactical Team Challenge. The short course is one component of the match, essentially a very high round count jungle run with your partner; where each shooter will fire over 150 rounds each of rifle and pistol at different parts (each person shoots half with rifle, half with pistol and switch in the middle). With no walk through, you only know that red targets are for the carbine shooter (white for pistol) and they can be from about 40 to 200+ yards away, hidden in brush or out in the open. For nearly the entire carbine portion, I was between 2-4x to keep my field of view open, but leaving some magnification for better shot placement. My partner and I both ran NX8s, and we not only hit every target, but had the best finish time with several minutes remaining.
My impressions of the optic are that it is a fantastic carbine scope. Between the size, weight and performance, it offers a capability upgrade over a simple red-dot. From 1x with a bright reticle, to 8x with an intelligent reticle, I was able to easily put rounds on target with speed from very close to several hundred yards. I found that at 1x it was a very flat image that did not have distortions or create any issues in going fast. From 2-6x, the optic is easy to stay behind and drive the gun hard with. From 6-8x, it gets a little tight in trying to stay behind the glass, but that’s almost a given considering the extremely short size of the optic. Considering the platforms I’ll use the NX8 on, having a superb 1-6x and a decent 6-8x is a trade off acceptable to me. The short size, lightweight, first focal plane reticle and daylight bright illumination are a capability enhancement for any carbine it finds a home on.