AR-15: Nikon M-223 Riflescope and More

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

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.

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.

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, although 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 riflescope 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.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (19)

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 🙂 )

  4. 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

    1. 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.

  5. 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……

  6. I use a Leica ERi 2.5-10×42 on my SIG M400 Hunter (AR15); and a Leica ERi 3-12×50 on my M1A for hunting. These scopes featuring German optics are astounding – some of the best in the world bar none; and they work perfectly with the Leica Geovid rangefinder binoculars which not only measure range but give you instantaneous ballistics for the scope corrected for temperature, pressure and angle, and allow you to select ammunition type or input your own on an SD card. Yet I never see any write-ups on these stupendous scopes anywhere. I think they need to be reviewed widely. The quality and engineering are in line with the Leica cameras.

  7. Nikon M223, and M308. I have both . M233 on a 223 bolt 223 savage and S&w mp15 222. The m308 on a bolt 308 savage and AR TYPE 308 . Outstanding . I have pushed the 800 yards to 1000 yards. I would rec to anyone. I got the rapid turret on both.

  8. Correction: it’s the M-223 4-16x42M BDC 600. And if you decide to shoot with varying magnifications the Zero remains constant but the values change for the drop marks on the reticle. This is easy to adjust for using the spot-on app

  9. I use the 6-14 variable power version of the M-223 on my heavy barrel AR and commonly shoot at ranges between 100-500yds using hand loads of Sierra game king 65 grain SPBT bullets. This scope is fantastic for all of these varying distances. Just use their spot-on app and you can get the distance for each mark on the reticle for any weight bullet. The program has most bullets and BC’s already integrated. Just select the one you use along with the muzzle velocity you’re attaining. You can even add in local weather conditions and elevation to the app. In a word – awesome. I write the info on a circular card and stick it inside my lens cap for quick reference. Love this scope.

  10. I’m not surprised about the extraordinary service. It was usually the same with any of their cameras, lenses and accessories. Great outfit.

  11. Nikon did their homework on the M-223. There is another Nikon that is very good. A P-223 3×9, along with a set of P series mounts are on my M-4.
    My local shooting range is limited to 100 yards and the rifle can shoot outstanding groups with this set-up.

  12. Nikon has a useful app called “spot-on” which allows you to make use if the BDC reticle for any load…. Factory or handload. I use the app for a standard mil-dot reticle scope and it works great as well. I have a small picture of my reticle at commonly used magnifications taped to my butt stock. Really slick app for something like five bucks!

  13. Yep- I sure could choose some different things for when the SHTF, but for the money the Nikon would suffice. Being retired military I gotta balance what I’d like with what I can afford. And for the moment, the S ain’t hit the F yet, so for just general plinkin’ and dinkin’ I really can’t find a performance situation that the Nikon can’t deal with. And to top it off, it sits on a $599 Mossberg MMR that shoots MOA all day long with Federal Eagle’s.

  14. Most scopes BDC markings are generaly for a single twist, weight of projectile and within a speed , no big deal; you just place the correct dial settings for other rounds on or within your weapons stock.
    Clarity is important and has a rating system, light also has specifications and what happens with power selections as too low/bright lites and coatings gathering or blockage helpfull to know.
    The repeatability of zero test by targeting corners by adjustments alone moving from corner to corner until return to central targetting, does it move impact point?
    BDC HAS its good points but does a change in power settings affect point of impact?
    Just wondering.AS i do not have that specific model but my Nikons all top
    notch, each still have some features that differ.
    Am not realy a fan of BDC scopes, although new electronic range finder bullet and windage and horizontal angle compensators are extremely accurate, I still prefer to use my own skills and just as long as no poor shot placement results I will gladly admit to the miss.
    I prefered the style of man versus animal and look upon scope and binocs
    as aids to aging eyes and as such I take my limitations as a challenge to overcome.
    Somehow having a piece of equipment more responsible for the kill than I goes against my grain.
    Not against them for others each to own and heck from youth WE USED
    wwII binocs with range and and even size of targets prefigured in between lines.
    For a toy or even a hunting pursuit weapon, Nikon says inexpensive in cost but not cheap in quality.
    As a choice for mounting on an AR for SHTF, I can think of many better choices; Choices that cost at least the equivelent of 1000 Lake Citys “best rounds”.

    grn rounds more than this Nikon.

  15. The Nikon scopes simply amaze me. I have several, and all seem to compare very well with the MUCH higher priced scope “icons” I also have. In particular I find the light gathering ability of my $149 Nikon 3×9 superior to my $400+ 3×9 Leupold. Their brand of mounts are excellent also, but seem to be too expensive. My gunsmith says that he has a very low return rate for defective products for Nikon scopes, in comparison with other higher priced scopes. I just wish it was made here in the USA .

    1. Larry,
      Nikon has great customer service. I should know. My rifle with a P-223 attached, fell off a shooting bench, landing on the scope.
      Called Nikon, they said send it in for repair. I wrote a letter telling them about how the damage occurred, that it was my fault.
      Nikon sent a brand new P-223 to replace the damaged one. I expected a bill for repairs but got a new scope instead.

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