Nikon M-223 3-12X42 Riflescope Review

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When the "black rifle" craze overwhelmed the tactical market a few years back, the hunting industry was reluctant to jump on board. Many hunters didn't feel a need for it in a hunting situation, questioned the accuracy of the rifles and some just plain didn't like the looks of the AR style. Through word of mouth, education and manufacturing competition resulting in an increased selection of quality rifles, more hunters have accepted AR rifles as a viable alternative. The inclusion of the AR platform on the shelves of the outdoor store retail giants eliminated any residual doubt that these rifles are here to stay and are now part of the hunting culture.

If you talk to an AR shooter, one of the first benefits that they will likely tout is that of all the cool AR-specific accessories that can be attached to the firearm. Some necessary, some novelty, but none more important than a quality scope. Nikon, long known for building quality optics for hunting has embraced the AR market with open arms and designed a riflescope, the M-223, specifically around the most popular AR cartridge, the .223 Rem./5.56mm NATO.

With AR rifles being built for short and long range use, Nikon followed suit with a current offering of six different M-223 models to meet the consumers needs. I had the opportunity to test the M-223 3-12x42 on a Stag Arms Model 6 Super Varminter long range AR style rifle.

The Nikon M-223 3-12x42 Riflescope

It is apparent that Nikon didn't cut corners on their M-223 product line. The Nikon M-223 3-12x42 riflescope is nitrogen-filled, waterproof, shockproof, fogproof, o-ring sealed and loaded with features only found in top-of-the-line riflescopes such as a one-piece main body tube, side focus parallax adjustment, quick focus eyepiece, Ultra ClearCoat optical system allowing 95% light transmission, four time zoom, four inches of constant eye relief and Nikon's full lifetime warranty.

One of the most visible and undoubtedly most useful features is the Rapid Action Turret Technology. This system is based on the ballistics of a .223/5.56mm 55-grain polymer tipped bullet traveling at 3240 fps and allows the user to quickly adjust for elevation, effectively setting the crosshairs for a distance of 100- to 600-yards with less than a single revolution of the turret. For setting a 100-yard zero, you simply sight in the rifle using the proper ammo at 100 yards, pull up on the Rapid Action Turret which then turns freely, align the "100" to the index line and push the turret in to set. Once the zero is set, dialing in the yardage allows the shooter to hold the crosshairs on the target at any range up to 600 yards without worrying about "hold over."

The quick adjusting turret allows a dead-on hold out to 600 yards.

The 1/4-MOA positive click reticle adjustments make sighting in the scope an easy process and the one-piece, aircraft grade aluminum alloy main body tube ensures that it stays on target even with a rifle producing heavier recoil than the relatively soft-shooting .223 Rem.

Sighting in the M-223 riflescope is painless with positive click 1/4 MOA adjustments for elevation and windage.

When shooting long range, a quality zoom becomes even more important. The 4-time zoom of the 3-12x42 version allows the user to get the sight picture they need. The zoom performed smoothly and having the magnification reference numbers visible from the shooting position was a nice feature.

The zoom ring was smooth and the rear-facing numbers could be referenced quickly while shooting.

Hunters and particularly varmint hunters often find themselves in the situation of shooting at long ranges in low light at targets that are built to disappear into their surroundings. The M-223's UltraClear Coat optical system provides the theoretical maximum 95% light transmission and in testing resulted in a clear, bright sight picture even during the last few moments of twilight. The included flip-up lens caps kept the lenses free of dust and scratches until ready to take a shot.

The large optical lens was effective at gathering light for shots at twilight active game.

With a roomy 4-inches of non-critical eye relief, there is little worry that you will go home from the range or woods with a crescent-shaped wound on your face from mounting the gun improperly during a hurried shot. Since the eye relief is constant (doesn't change when zooming) there is no need to mount the gun differently based on magnification. The non-critical aspect eliminates the annoying situation of having part of the sight picture black out if the eye is not exactly a certain distance from the lens.

Parallax is something that many shooters don't take into consideration, but when shooting long range it becomes increasingly important for optimum accuracy. The M-223 3-12x42 includes a side focus parallax adjustment and having the range visible from the shooting position seems like a minor enhancement but is essential when needing to make a quick adjustment.

The parallax adjustment was quick and easy and locked into place.

The turret and parallax settings are viewable from the shooting position and
allows the shooter to stay in the gun and on target even when making adjustments.

The Nikoplex reticle is simple but effective. It is a crosshair configuration with thick outer lines stepping down to thinner lines in the middle which reduce the amount of target that is covered. The thick to thin design also leads the shooters eye to the center for quick target acquisition.

Nikon also introduced the M-223 mount designed specifically for the M-223 riflescopes. This mount fits the Picatinny rail found on most ARs. The lightweight and strong alloy construction keeps the scope in place in the often rough hunting environments without adding a lot of weight. It was also designed with a 20-MOA incline to give long range shooters enough elevation and allows for a comfortable shooting position.

The M-223 mount holds the scope high allowing for enough elevation for long range shooters.

The matching M-223 mount fits securely on the standard AR Picatinny rails.

Specs and features are great but they have to be able to perform in the real world. I headed to the range with a box of the recommended .223 Rem. ammo to see if the M-223 scope could back up Nikon's claims of quality and accuracy. I sighted the rifle in at 100 yards and then used the Rapid Action Turret to quickly set my zero to this distance. Once locked in, I moved the targets to 200 yards and 300 yards and adjusted the turret accordingly each time. With no thought of hold over and the crosshairs centered on the targets, three shots were taken at each distance. The scope performed as promised and produced groups with only one shot sneaking outside the 10-ring.

The Nikon M-223 3-12x42 was obviously well designed and performed exceptionally well. A clear sight picture, easy adjustments (even with gloved hands), precision and durability make it a scope that will undoubtedly serve many hunters well that embrace the now popular AR-style hunting rifles.

The Nikon M-223 3-12x42 has a ESP (estimated selling price) of $459.95. It is also available with Nikon's BDC reticle for an ESP of $479.95.

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Three shot group from 200-yard target with turret set to 200.

Three shot group from 300-yard target with turret set to 300.

Larry R. Beckett Jr. is a full time freelance writer, photographer and videographer. His greatest joy is spending time fishing, hunting and hiking with his wife and son. Larry discovered his enthusiasm for the outdoors at a young age and devotes much of his time trying to instill that same enthusiasm in future generations.


numbnutz's picture

I'm not a huge fan of AR's

I'm not a huge fan of AR's being used for big game hunting but for varmits they seem to be great. Nikon makes a great product. I have a Nikon scope on my 30-06 and love it. I'm sure the line of scopes for the AR's are just as good. One thing I like about Nikon is the warranty that comes with their products. In order for a company to get my business they have to stand behind their products and Nikon and Leupold do with their outstanding warranties. If I had an AR I would look very hard at this line of scopes for it. I have a few friends that hav AR's and will have them look into these scopes when they're in the market for a new scope. Thanks for the great article.