Nikon M-223 Riflescope Review

posted on December 23, 2011

Specialized riflescopes are increasingly relied upon to perform tasks that go beyond simply providing the shooter a single aiming point zeroed to a particular fixed distance. With its new M-223 series, Nikon has taken such specialization to a new level. Not only is the product line designed for specific pairing with rifles chambered in .223 Rem. or 5.56x45mm NATO, it also offers distinct model variations for the different kinds of shooting applications where such rifles are typically used.

Quite purposefully Nikon developed these scopes to serve the growing legions of AR-15-type rifle owners, and because target-acquisition speed is a key common thread with such shooters, the company employs three different reticle systems to cover the gamut of tactical, competition and hunting scenarios. All three systems have been calibrated to work with the same general (non-brand-specific) loading, a 55-grain polymer-tipped bullet at a muzzle velocity of 3240 fps. In fact it even says so right on the scopes’ elevation turret caps. For the systems to work as intended, Nikon stipulates that the scopes must be set at their highest magnifications.

Two of the reticles address long-range shooting, but give riflemen different ways to engage targets at progressively longer ranges out to 600 yards and beyond. The BDC (bullet-drop compensating) system can be found on many Nikon scopes including its top-of-the-line Monarchs. The lower half of the BDC’s vertical reticle wire presents a series of “ballistic circles” that can quickly be superimposed over a target and are especially effective on moving targets. Alternately, either of the two points where a circle intersects the post can be used for finer, more deliberate aiming. M-223 scopes offer the new BDC 600, which boasts five ballistic circles alternating with hashmarks between them. When paired with the optimum 55-grain, .223 Rem. loading, this setup provides dead-on aiming points at 50-yard increments beginning at 100 yards with the central intersection and extending to 600 yards with the lowest circle. Two models, a 2X-8X-32mm and 3X-12X-40mm, are offered with the BDC 600, the larger scope also equipped with a side-focus turret for parallax correction.

Another long-range approach is taken by the NikoPlex, a conventional tapered-post reticle controlled for elevation adjustment by Nikon’s Rapid Action Turret, a target-style adjustment knob marked in 100-yard increments from 100 to 600 yards The shooter simply clicks to align the desiredn yardage indicator with a rear-facing witness mark, and the scope will provide a dead-on hold to that distance with the baseline 55-grain/3240-fps loading. The entire range of adjustment requires less than one full rotation of the turret. This system is likewise offered in 2X-8X-32mm and 3X-12X-40mm models.

The third M-223 reticle option is meant for short- to medium-range tactical and competition shooting. Available only in a 1X-4X-20mm unit, the Point Blank Reticle offers a dual-thickness configuration wherein thick outer posts step down to fine crosshairs with a dot at the center. The aiming dot subtends 3 minutes of angle (MOA), making the system ideal, according to Nikon, for rapid engagement of the metal targets used in three-gun competition. This scope is designed to deliver dead-on hits from zero to 200 yards with the recommended 55-grain polymer-tipped/3240-fps loading.

Although it may sound as if owners are practically compelled to shoot nothing but the aforementioned loading, that’s only the case if one wants to rely on the reticle systems for dead-on holds on known-distance targets. We saw how that works—but also how versatile the M-223 line can be—during range testing of two units, a 2X-8X-32mm NikoPlex mounted on a Para USA TTR and a 3X-12X-42mm BDC on an FNH SCAR 16S.

When we followed protocol and shot a Hornady TAP 55-grain polymer-tipped load at the specified 3240 fps, the results were telling. After zeroing both rigs at 100 yards, we proceeded to shoot composite 12-shot groups of three shots each at 100, 200, 300 and 400 yards, employing the two scopes’ alternate trajectory-compensation devices to allow dead-on holds. The FNH SCAR 16S/BDC 600 tandem produced a group that measured 6.6 inches and had vertical dispersion of 3.8 inches. The Para TTR/NikoPlex Rapid Action Turret setup fired a composite group measuring 4 inches but with a slightly greater vertical dispersion, also 4 inches. Clearly both reticle systems achieved the objective of facilitating dead-on-holds quite well and in fact better than we had anticipated. It was evident too that these scopes hold point of impact.

We also observed what happens when an M-223 owner uses ammunition other than the recommended loading by firing Hornady Superformance 53-grain V-Max—a perfect varmint load—started at the muzzle at 3465 fps. Both rifles were zeroed at 100 yards, but then at each of the succeeding distances their groups clustered almost 2 MOA high. However, that doesn’t mean one must revert to old-school holdover aiming. Nikon has been an industry leader in creating its online Spot On Ballistics Match Technology mini-site where shooters can obtain instant data specific to their shooting equipment. Users simply enter their BDC-equipped Nikon model, load particulars and preferred zero range, and the program will show the precise range for the crosshairs and each ballistic circle. While at the range we used a laptop to consult Spot On and Nikon also offers an iPhone app for Spot On access. After brief trial and error, we found that from a 230-yard zero, our SCAR/3X-12X BDC scope combo would produce dead-on hits at 100-yard intervals for each of the five ballistic circles, thereby providing positive aim points out to 700 yards. There are hundreds of factory .223 Rem. loads from more than 20 ammunition companies listed in the site’s pulldown displays, along with thousands of additional loads from calibers ranging from .22 LR to .577 Tyrannosaur, and users can also key in handload data. This resource makes it possible to realize the ballistic advantages of any BDC-equipped scope with virtually any ammunition, and will even assist owners who choose to mount an M-223 scope on rifles chambered for rounds other than .223 Rem. In addition, Spot On can provide wind-drift references, trajectory paths and ballistic tables, all easily printed from a computer.

M-223 scopes feature one-piece main tubes and are nitrogen-filled and O-ring-sealed. Their glass lens elements are fully multi-coated, and we found them to deliver vivid, sharply focused images easily seen even in low light. In a side-by-side exercise, light transmission of the mid-priced M-223s compared favorably with the company’s more expensive Monarch scope. And as stated, their adjustment clicks consistently moved point of impact a quarter inch at 100 yards. The click-stops were tactile without the least bit of a mushy feel that can result in user confusion.

Both of the tested reticle systems proved fast and easy to use, and can be counted on for reliable trajectory corrections. Because of the ballistic circles’ “see-through” effect, the BDC system does indeed promote rapid target acquisition. Dialing in the proper range setting with the NikoPlex’s Rapid Action Turret proved equally convenient and was both faster and more foolproof than counting clicks.

Nikon’s M-223 series scopes provide good value and can definitely serve long-range AR shooters with ambitions to be fast and proficient in changing circumstances and at varying target distances. 

Type: variable-magnification riflescope
Models: 2X-8X-32mm, 3X-12X-42mm (tested), 1X-4X-20mm
Eye Relief:
 3.7"-4.1" depending on model
Field of View @100 yds: 33.6'-8.4' (tested)
Dimensions: length 13"; weight 20 ozs.
Construction: one-piece main tube, fully multi-coated lenses, O-ring sealed, nitrogen-
Accessories: anti-reflective device w/2X-8X-32mm, 3X-12X-42mm
MSRP: $430-$450 (tested)


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