February 27, 2020
By Tom Beckstrand
I hunted in Colorado last fall and was reminded that really good equipment doesn’t have to cost a bunch of money. Lower prices frequently mean fewer features and less capability. That is not the case when reviewing Leupold’s new VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm scope with Wind-Plex reticle. Even if I had a lot of money to spend, this would still be one of my top picks for a hunting optic.
Leupold.com suggests that the retail price of the VX-3i with 4.5-14x magnification starts at “$844.99.” That number is expensive for a hunting scope. However, surfing around the internet reveals that the same scope is available from select retailers for around $560. That doesn’t make it cheap, but it does make it an excellent value.
The VX-3i series have similar optical performance when compared to Leupold’s old Mark 4 scopes — at half the price. I can see no difference in resolution between the two product lines. I also think the VX-3i scopes have better coatings than the old Mark 4 scopes because there is a slight increase in low-light performance. I compare the VX-3i to the Mark 4 because the U.S. military still issues some Mark 4 scopes and many law enforcement agencies around the country have been using them for decades. Getting that kind of recognized and vetted performance for under $600 is a big deal, in my opinion.
Added to the enhancements made to the optical performance of the VX-3i scope are some huge improvements made to the mechanical qualities, specifically tracking. This significant improvement is what’s allowed Leupold to put their Custom Dial System (CDS) on the scope.
Manufacturing changes over time. Just as cell phones and computers are much more capable and economical than they were a few years ago; So are the computer-controlled machines in use by manufacturing today. Leupold’s precision manufacturing gets better every year, so the turrets that they make today are more precise than even the ones they made just 5 years ago.
The result is a sub-$600 rifle scope that tracks better than a $1,600 scope made 10 years ago. Since tracking is a scope’s ability to adjust in precise and repeatable increments, this becomes a compelling feature for anyone that wants to dial an elevation correction.
Not only do the turrets do an excellent job tracking, the owner has a couple of options. Each of these scopes ships with an exposed and locking elevation turret that adjusts in .25-minute of angle (MOA) clicks. All that’s required to hit (when using a good ballistic calculator) is a quick twist of the turret. Once the shooter fires, a quick spin of the turret will take it back to the original zero where it will stop and lock. I can’t think of another scope that has a quality zero stop and a zero lock that’s anywhere near this price range.
The scope I’ve been hunting with sits atop a .270 Winchester, so I took advantage of the CDS system and had Leupold make a custom turret for it. Some information is required to get an accurate turret made, but it’s included in the cost of the scope, and is worth the effort.
To get an accurate CDS turret made, the following information is necessary: bullet weight, bullet brand, bullet type, ballistic coefficient (BC), muzzle velocity, temperature and elevation. The temperature and elevation will vary at your hunting location, but as long as the actual conditions are within 20 degrees in temperature and 2,000 feet of elevation, the custom CDS turret will be accurate out to 600 yards or so.
The scope I hunted with was one of the first VX-3i models that features the CDS turret. It was a great companion to have on a hunting rifle because once Leupold has the necessary information, they engrave a turret that allows the shooter to dial the distance to the target. The resulting elevation adjustment will be dead-on. There is no need to mess with a ballistic calculator or a range card in the field, which is nice because animals don’t usually stand around so that you can make the perfect shot. If the target is 250 yards away, spin the turret to “2.5” and let her fly.
As much as I think the CDS turret is a great feature to have on any hunting scope, Leupold’s Wind-Plex reticle is equally important. The reticle subtends along the horizontal axis in 1-MOA increments. From the center of the reticle, there are 10 MOAs in each direction.
Hunters in the West and Midwest might argue that 10 MOA of wind hold in the reticle isn’t enough. There’s a ton more windage adjustment available if the shooter is willing to dial down from maximum magnification and do some simple math.
For example, the scope I had was a VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm. At 14X it has 10 MOA of adjustment in each direction. At 7X, that same scope and reticle has 20 MOA of adjustment in either direction. These are second focal plane (SFP)reticles, so when the magnification gets cut in half, the value of each subtension mark doubles. Further, if the wind is howling, dialing the scope all the way down to 4.5X gives approximately 30 MOA of wind hold on each side of the reticle.
Even with the Wind-Plex reticle, knowing the correct wind hold is either going to take a lot of time, attention and field experience or some savvy use of a ballistic calculator. Any free ballistic calculator app that’ll download to a smartphone can calculate a wind hold given muzzle velocity, BC, distance to the target and wind speed. A prepared hunter could have a range card for wind done by calculating wind holds in 5 mile-per-hour (mph) increments out to the furthest distance one is willing to shoot. That is something that could be done before ever leaving the house to head out and hunt.
The ability to have a scope that has a side-focus turret, a vetted optical system with improved coatings, turrets that are repeatable and accurate, zero stop, zero lock and a reticle that allows for basic wind holds is a relatively new combination. Getting all that for under $600 is unheard of. (Don’t be scared off by the $845 suggested retail price.)
Like any Gold Ring scope that Leupold makes, the consumer gains the added comfort of knowing it is made in America and comes with a lifetime warranty that’ll likely never require use. In an optics world that sees more and more options available every day, I take comfort in products that offer the performance I desire from a source I trust.
Leupold VX- 3i 4.5- 14x40mm (30mm) Side Focus CDS
- Power: 4.5X-14X
- Objective: 40mm
- Tube Diameter: 30mm
- Elevation Adjustment: .25 MOA per click
- Windage: .25 MOA per click
- Reticle: Wind-Plex
- Length: 12.6 in.
- Weight: 13 oz.
- Eye Relief: 4 in.
- MSRP: $845
- Manufacturer: Leupold, 800-538-7653, leupold.com
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