AR-15: Nikon M-223 Riflescope and More

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, Gun Gear, Reviews

I began hunting with simple optics by today’s standards. They worked well and one day, when I found a Lyman Alaskan for the Winchester 70, I thought things were pretty modern. Today, we rely on specialized scopes that do an excellent job in each niche and a few, such as Nikon’s M-223, are very versatile.


Black AR-15 and Nikon Riflescope on a gray-to-white background

This is a neat set up and a credible choice for any AR-15 rifle.

Nikon’s M-223 Riflescope is available in several variations. I have the greatest respect for Nikon;  I took the images in this article with a Nikon camera. I have used Nikon rifle scopes for many years, however, this one is the best yet. The M-223 is designed for .223 rifles—the AR-15.

Many use the AR-15, and we need good optics. You may order the M-223 with different reticle systems. So do your homework and decide which fits the need for target acquisition in your personal game, chore or hunting situation. Many value speed on target, and the M-223 delivers.

Black Nikon M223 riflescope showing adjustments on a light gray background

It is not easy to design an all-around optic for the AR-15, but this one does the business.

Nikon designed the scopes around the use of a 55-grain loading. That is the most common .223 load; however, the scopes are useful with a variety of  ammunition brands. The reticle, designed for long-range shooting to 500 yards or more, features lines for aiming at longer distances, represented by a wire below the middle reticle. That is not a line of wires to impede your field of view, rather they are small ballistic circles that represent the drop at certain, set yardage. It is a fast system to learn.

You can use the dots running targets, and they are brilliantly fast in option. You may set the scope at 50 yards to 100 yards or out to 600 yards. While 600 yards is beyond the capabilities of my local rifle range, 200 yards presented no problem, with excellent clarity and accuracy.

Black M223 marked with "M223" on a gray background

The M-223 is proudly marked, and the name is well suited to the scope’s use.

The M-223 is a solid choice for anyone using an AR-15, and I think those who have used Nikon products on hunting rifles will naturally gravitate to the M-223 for the AR-15. Nikon says the reticle subtends 3 MOA, which is ideal for the wildly popular three-gun competition.

Does it Work as Designed?

If you rely on Winchester white-box USA 55-grain FMJ for practice, you will be well served. Switch to the Winchester Ballistic Silvertip, and you are still in like Flynn. However, there are differences in ballistics across the board and differences in rifle-barrel lengths.

Hot air is less dense. I do not really regard ballistic coefficient (BC) as science because BC changes with velocity. Nevertheless, the M-223 certainly does the business when properly sighted in, just like any other scope. The ballistic dots are incredibly efficient; I love the concept and I fire mainly 55-grain loads, so it works for me.

Some time ago, I had a quality scope with a complicated, state-of-the-art drop compensator that required flipping a dial for 200- and 300-yard work. The M-223 is much better. Aim for 100 yards, 200 yards or 300 yards using the ballistic dots. And remember, I am very pleased with the system after only a few hundred rounds. A dedicated rifleman who goes to the range and works in a rifle will be even more satisfied.

At present, I realize the potential and am ready for gilt-edged accuracy at 100 yards, especially for varmints. The rifle and scope are better than I currently am able to shoot. Nikon offers factory website support for zeroing, which brings us to another question.

M-223 and Ammunition Compatibility

Is the M-223 compatible with anything other than 55-grain loads? In a word, yes; however, that demands more of the shooter. For example, I fired several rounds of 40-grain V Max from Hornady, a splendid, specialized varmint load. With the rifle sighted for 100 yards, that fast load fired about 2 inches high. However, it would be simple to sight in the rifle at longer varmint range; the ballistic circles simply would be not as useful. It is still an advantage over other scopes in most areas. The 77-grain loads are useful for long-range-sized game.

Black .223 carrying case with white and red lettering and 2 stacked tan boxes of ammo on a light gray background

The .223 is super versatile and demands precision optics for its best performance.

I used the Hornady BTHP 75-grain MATCH. Predictably, it struck lower on target. Those loads may not be fast, alathough they maintain rotation at long range and the wind effect on the nose is much less than a high-velocity bullet. They are effective and useful.

That being said, the 55-grain standard load is still ideal for the AR-15. Inexpensive FMJ loads are useful for practice, and the Winchester Varmint X load or Hornady Varmint Express in 55-grain are excellent loads. So use the 55-grain for ease of use and, if you are dedicated to other weights, take care in confirming zero.

The rifle scope is composed of aircraft-grade aluminum, and the tube is nitrogen filled and O-ring sealed. The glass is multi-coated, well, because it is a Nikon. Adjustment steps were solid, positive and confirmed they move the point of impact 0.25 inch at 100 yards.

Black Nikon M223 riflescope focused on the adjustment knob on a light gray background

The author found the range of adjustment excellent.

Frankly, sighting in the .223 rifle without noticeable recoil is so much fun that I played with the settings a good bit. The scope worked. Field of view is excellent.

For three-gun, varmint hunting or tactical use, this is the scope you need.

This is a great riflescope for getting things done. Do you have one? After reading this post, do you plan on giving it a try? Share your thoughts in the comments section.


Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell


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Comments (19)

  • Combat Bob


    Any ideas on how to set this scope up with a 16 inch barrel WITH tall tower front sigh? ?
    New shooter here.


  • DaveTheDealmaker


    I bought this scope to use for 3 gun matches. I like it very much for a basic scope. Great clarity and brightness, good eye relief distance. The reticle is a little large for greater that 100 yds but great for 100 in to close. Great scope for the money.


  • Braydon


    This is a great scope. Most of us, like yourself, started with an old hunting scope, that probably wouldn’t cut entry level standard today. The M-223 is a great cross between a standard hunting scope look with tactical uses.


  • flyer Bob


    There are many choices and many right answers. But if you have never heard of Leica (most Americans say “Duh?”) you can’t choose; and
    I was pointing out another philosophy. Buy one of the absolute best and be happy/satisfied. That’s my approach. Again, if you haven’t considered it (and done the numbers over a lifetime), you can’t fairly consider the options. Having said that, to each his own and I hope everyone gets more information on their choices. (Hey, I also drive 20 year old top cars – no payments – some folks have begun to realize in reality I am a cheapskate :-) )


  • flyer Bob


    There is a fallacy and logic problem here – and therefore the Leica scopes should be reviewed as well.
    I know many people who have a dozen or more rifles, each with a scope, in their gun cabinet. And they are still hunting for that perfect rifle or scope. I have one .308 and one AR 15 with Leica scopes and I am completely satisfied. My cabinet cost less than the total of many people who say they can’t afford what I have.
    There is a market, maybe small, for people who focus on quality not quantity. Not every store is Wal Mart though it sure seems that way. I still use 40 year old Leica cameras including the ones my dad had, except film is disappearing si I had to now go Leics digital.
    So there is a small but important place for the top end and the philosophy behind it. Thanks for your thoughts


    • flyer Bob


      Sorry for the typos I didn’t catch


    • Larry


      You bet Bob. I think everybody likes seeing what those super-scopes are capable of. I’m always looking for good deals at the shows and garage sales, and always trying out new combinations with what I find. This weekend I got a powerful itch to try out one of my favorite scopes that normally resided on my Dad’s old 1950’s era Marlin 336 .30-.30 passed down to me; a Weaver K-4 with (in my humble opinion) that wonderful modified post-and-crosshair reticle. What a great sight picture for these deep and dark Michigan woods up here where I live. I put her on my Mossie MMR and I really liked it too! Then I put her on my Marlin bolt action Model 81 .22 squirrel decapitator, and liked it even better. That old scope is just a great classic all-around piece of work. If I see any of them for sale at the gun shows I think I’ll grab them. I’ve seen them go for $25-30 bucks in great shape too. Them Leica’s will have to wait for awhile I guess. Take care.


  • Larry


    Very few comments made regarding the Leica’s probably because most people have a problem affording them. The original gist of this topic was concerning the value/performance of a Nikon that you can purchase at many places for under $200. (I got my Nikon 3×9 at Gander Mtn for $149 on sale, AND had a $30 refund coupon from Nikon. )
    Having said that– I definitely agree that if I was Bill Gates or Kid Rock, I’d like to have a Leica scope. Or a Nightforce, Or a Swarovski. My paltry budget puts me in the Nikon and BSA Sweet .22 class. But just wait till I win that Lotto……


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