By Trampas Swanson

While attending the firearms industry’s largest event known as the SHOT SHOW in Las Vegas, NV earlier this year, I discovered the newly released Black Force series of scopes from Nikon Optics. Having used Nikon products for over 30 years, I have always associated the company with affordable and functional hunting scopes and binoculars. The new Black series would mark the company’s first attempt directly into the 3 Gun / Tactical market by designing optics built from the ground up to be mounted on the AR platform for short, medium and long range application.

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Initially offered in 1-4×24, the Nikon Black Force series incorporates your choice of MOA or MRAD tactical style reticles with optional illumination. Best of all, the price range for this new series was advertised as having a MSRP of $399, so it won’t break the budget. As I walked around the display booth and spoke with the very knowledgeable show floor representatives for Nikon Optics, it was clear to see everyone involved was very optimistic for this new direction for their company. Having watched Nikon’s progression in the industry over recent years, I could respect the time, energy, resources and investment made by this company to modernize and expand their company’s presence in the industry. Curious to find out more about this series of optics firsthand, I put in a request to write an article on one of these new scopes. Within a few weeks, I had a new 1-4X24 Black Force 1000 scope by Nikon on my office doorstep for testing and review.

First Look

The specific model scope which arrived for testing was Nikon’s Black Force 1000 1-4×24 adjustable optic featuring a glass-etched, illuminated reticle in the second focal plane. This scope is designed to perform well as a close to medium range engagement optics utilizing Nikon’s SPEEDFORCE reticle which is a horseshoe illuminated reticle with BDC circles and hash marks. These tactical-style reticles are offered with either X-MOA or X-MRAD measurements with either non-illuminated or illuminated reticles in the X-MOA and illuminated only in the X-MRAD. A 10-point intensity setting knob allows you to adjust illuminated reticles to your preference with an “OFF” setting in between each intensity level. When the X-MOA or X-MRAD reticles are applied with Nikon Spot On Ballistic Match Technology, the company claims they can be easily used to adjust to most shooting situations and calibers offered in the program.

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I must admit, once I read more about what Nikon was offering with these Black Force optics combined with what I could see right out of the box, I was immediately impressed while still being a bit skeptical of something being too good to be true. This optic was lightweight with a compact design and a very large and forgiving eye relief. What I found out over testing would answer these questions for me as I spent time actually using the Black Force 1000.

Specs Quick Look

  • Magnification: 1 x-4x
  • Objective Diameter: 24 mm
  • Eyepiece Diameter: 44 mm
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Adjustment Graduation: 1/2 MOA
  • Overall Length: 10.5″
  • Weight: 16.4 Oz
  • Reticle Type: Nikon Speedforce
  • Reticle Illuminated: Yes (10 settings)
  • Battery Type: CR2032
  • Additional Specs: Glass etched with reticle
  • Fog proof
  • Waterproof
  • Anti-reflective multi-layer protective glass coating
  • Designed for AR/MSR style rifles

Range Time

I started off my first testing session by mounting the Black Force 1000 on a recent AR-15 build I completed thanks to the help of the great folks at Sons of Liberty Gun Works and Blown Deadline. This M4 style AR was built for fast handling and quick shots on the move which would be perfect for testing a lightweight, compact optic such as the Nikon. After a quick bore sighting and 11 rounds down range to zero the optic at 50 yards, I began shooting from the standing and kneeling positions braced and offhanded. I really liked how easy the turrets were to adjust and dial the scope in quickly while setting up my zero. I have found some scopes to have turrets so stiff it felt as if I would need a wrench to turn them.

In addition to the easy to turn turrets, I liked the fact they were covered similar to their hunting scope line versus a target style turret that can be accessed on-the-fly. My reasoning for this is simply because once I zero a red dot or short range optic, I rarely make any further adjustments using the turrets. Everyone following my zero comes in the form of hold over to make faster shots on target without having to figure in clicks of elevations of adjustment.

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Moving from position to position fluidly between 3 round strings of fire, the Black Force 1000 optic felt like it melted into the design of the rifle. The scope sat low over the bore but gave me enough room to sink my check onto the buffer tube and get a great sight picture. As I began to shoot 5 round strings of fire on the move both forward and laterally, the scope tracked well and allowed me to keep targets clearly in view and score solid hits from 5 to 25 yards on reduced sized torso targets.

Since this was a virgin rifle, (which meant no previous data on it), I would need a second rifle to run so I had a base line for the scopes performance. For this task, I choose a rifle I had been recently testing for a separate upcoming article which had performed flawlessly at a wide range of distances, the SIG SAUER M400. This rifle was sent on loan to test a wide range of ammunition and accessories from the company, and it would make a great second rifle for my testing. After a half hour of down time to switch the optic to the new host rifle and zero it, I was ready to start working on some accuracy drills.

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Working from kneeling and prone positions off a barricade, I comfortably engaged targets from 50 to 150 yards using the Nikon Black Force 1000 set on 4X zoom. Using some quick data gathered from my previous shooting with the other rifle combined with a few things I pulled off of Nikon’s Spot On application, I used the reticle’s hash marks to help with my hold overs. Due to the unique shape and design of the reticle, there was a degree of learning curve needed but nothing too difficult to adjust to. After a few weeks of testing the Nikon Black Force 1000, I came to be able to use the SPEEDFORCE reticle quickly and efficiently to score good hits on target both from the static and moving positions out to 200 yards.

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Overall performance from a bench rest, the SIG M400 could hold 1.1 inch 5 shot groups on average using the Black Force 1000 at 100 yards. Over the various range sessions, I ran several “box drills” in which I would fire a round, make a vertical adjustment up, fire a second round, make a horizontal adjustment right, fire another round, make a vertical adjustment down, fire a fourth round and then finally, adjust back to the left and fire my last shot, forming a rough, one inch box on the target. Given the dynamic of this optic and what it was designed for, I was very impressed with how it tracked.

I will note, a lot of testing was done in extremely bright sunlight which made seeing the reticle clearly a bit difficult. I had to use the illuminated reticle set on 9 and somethings 10 to be able to immediately see the reticle as soon as it came into alignment with my eye. The button-style CR2032 battery held up well and did not fail over the 2 months I used the scope for testing. In darker environments such as indoors in the late evenings, the thin reticle was hard to see without illumination, but super clear and visible on a very low setting such as 2 or 3. This would be perfect if you decided to use this optic on a rifle for home defense.

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Additional points of interest I would like to point out from my experience with the Black Force 1000 that I don’t normally comment on are the fog proof and anti-reflective multi-layer protective glass coating on the lens. Recently, I have noticed a lot of top end optics we have tested in The Swamp claiming to have similar coatings but shine like a new penny in the bright Florida Sunshine. On top of this, it is typically hot, muggy and humid during our test sessions. These rifles are pulled out of the back of a cold, air conditioned Suburban and immediately put into action, similar to a rapid deployment situation. I have seen optics immediately fog up from the climate change and greatly hinder the field of view for the shooter. This becomes frustrating and potently dangerous to the end user. Companies that print this on the side of their scope boxes only to have the products fail are doing nothing but simply lying. I was very happy to see the Nikon Black Force 1000 hold up well and constantly provide a clear and crisp view regardless of the hot humid days or even when pushing through a small rain storm. These intangibles are often over looked or taken for granted when shooters only look at the name on the box or the price tag.

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Final Thoughts

Overall, I like the trend that Nikon Optics is setting for 2017 in giving shooters on a budget rock-solid scope options. I found the Black Force 1000 as well as several other of the new 2017 scopes all offered a lot of features usually reserved for higher priced scopes while fitting the budget of the average shooter. Retailing at right around $399, the Nikon Black Force offers a solid variable option at the price of most mid-priced 1x red dots.

Ten years ago, when I was still working on the Sheriff’s SWAT team, if you had told me that I would be impressed by a sub-$400 scope made by a hunting optic company like Nikon, I would not have believed you. Now being older, wiser and more in-tune with what makes a product valuable, I am very open to breaking from the traditional big names of the tactical industry. This change of mindset is mostly due to a more even playing field of precision machining and lower cost of operation among manufacturers.

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With that being said, I’ll be perfectly honest, most of the time if you find me on the range with my “go to” rifle, you’ll find a $2000 AR chambered in 5.56 with a $1600 optic which offers a 1-6×24 variable range. My reasoning for this set up is simple: I’m in the industry, I have access to great products at reduced pricing and I set up everything on my gun to be able to endure jumping out of an airplane and other tasks that I’m too old and out of shape to do.

Outside of this rifle, I own over a dozen other rifles on the AR platform that I use for teaching carbine courses among others. These rifles are built on strict budgets with the intention of reliable functioning for training others and skill building. I have spent much more money than the cost of the Nikon Black Force scope and have often gotten far less results than what I have recently obtained using this new optic. It’s my intention to start incorporating Nikon Black Force 1-4×24 scopes into future rifle builds due to their performance and reliability in the settings I use them in. My days for running point on drug raids are behind me and now spent teaching others from lessons learned and experience earned. I still need a durable and accurate optic but without the 5lb weight of an optic ready to make a moon landing.

If you are in the market for a budget friendly tactical or 3 Gun short to medium range optic for your new AR platform build, I urge you to check out a Nikon Black Force scope for yourself. You don’t have to be a professional shooter to appreciate the value of what Nikon offers with their new line up of optics for 2017. Check out the complete line of Nikon products offered here at 1800GunsAndAmmo.com to find out what works best for you. Until next time, be safe and enjoy shooting!