Skip to main content

Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm CDS-ZL Scope Review

Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm CDS-ZL Scope Review

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.

Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm CDS-ZL

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.

Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm CDS-ZL
Leupold’s Twilight Max Light Management System is applied to the lenses for glare reduction and sharp imagery in low-light situations.

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.

Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm CDS-ZL

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.

Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm CDS-ZL
The power-adjustment ring is tactile and offers fair amount of resistance for precise magnification stops.

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.

Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm CDS-ZL
Wind-Plex Reticle

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.

Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm CDS-ZL
The magnification range comes by a versatile 3:1 zoom ratio erector system that is ideal for a range of field conditions.

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.

Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm CDS-ZL
In addition to the easy-to-read CDS turret with zero stop, the VX-3i is also available with a side-focus knob for parallax adjustment.

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
Current Magazine Cover

Enjoy articles like this?

Subscribe to the magazine.

Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Benelli Lupo Bolt-Action Rifle Review

Benelli Lupo Bolt-Action Rifle Review

It is unlike any other rifle on the market because it offers features no one else does; those looking for a rifle that fits like a custom-made firearm should look no further than the Benelli Lupo.

Surefire XSC Micro-Compact Pistol Light: First Look

Surefire XSC Micro-Compact Pistol Light: First Look

Small, lightweight and purpose-built for sub-compact carry guns, Surefire's XSC pistol light takes on EDC illumination segment.

Trijicon

Trijicon's New Specialized Reflex Optics (SRO)

The Trijicon SRO is specifically designed for pistol use. The wide field of view and clean, crisp dot makes it easy for users to find and track the dot in both target and competitive shooting applications.

Cameras Don

Cameras Don't Lie: Subsonic 9mm vs. .300 Blackout

In this segment of "Cameras Don't Lie," a subsonic-ammo showdown, 9mm vs. .300 Blackout fired from AR rifles.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

A guide on how to pair .223 and 5.56 NATO rifle barrel twist rates with bullet weights. Conventional wisdom says slower twist rates wouldn't properly-stabilize a heavy bullet. On the other hand, faster rates could over-stabilize lighter bullets. This is correct in theory, however, modern ballisticians have all but debunked the over-stabilization theory. All things being equal, it is better to have too much twist than not enough.Pairing Barrel Twist Rates with Bullets for .223 and 5.56 NATO How-To

Pairing Barrel Twist Rates with Bullets for .223 and 5.56 NATO

Keith Wood - November 17, 2018

A guide on how to pair .223 and 5.56 NATO rifle barrel twist rates with bullet weights....

The Hornady 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) is a 6.5 PRC - Magnumized 6.5 Creedmoor Rifle

6.5 PRC - Magnumized 6.5 Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand - August 01, 2018

The Hornady 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) is a "magnumized" 6.5 Creedmoor. It offers...

The Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm has a unique and versatile multiple-­zero system and an erector assembly unlike any other on the market. The Z5(i) is an excellent choice for an all-­around hunting scope.Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm Scope Review Optics

Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm Scope Review

Tom Beckstrand - September 09, 2020

The Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm has a unique and versatile multiple-­zero system and...

Springfield Armory's SAINT Edge Pistol may be the best AR pistol on the market.Springfield Armory SAINT Edge Pistol Review Handguns

Springfield Armory SAINT Edge Pistol Review

James Tarr - April 17, 2019

Springfield Armory's SAINT Edge Pistol may be the best AR pistol on the market.

See More Trending Articles

More Optics

The Sightmark Volta packs a lot of technology, features and performance into an affordable package. Sightmark Volta Red Dot Sight Review Optics

Sightmark Volta Red Dot Sight Review

Tom Beckstrand - June 29, 2020

The Sightmark Volta packs a lot of technology, features and performance into an affordable...

The Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm has a unique and versatile multiple-­zero system and an erector assembly unlike any other on the market. The Z5(i) is an excellent choice for an all-­around hunting scope.Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm Scope Review Optics

Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm Scope Review

Tom Beckstrand - September 09, 2020

The Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm has a unique and versatile multiple-­zero system and...

Tom Beckstrand explains why you should consider attaching an Aimpoint ACRO to a carbine.AR-15 Mounting Options for the Aimpoint ACRO Red Dot Sight Optics

AR-15 Mounting Options for the Aimpoint ACRO Red Dot Sight

Tom Beckstrand - October 06, 2020

Tom Beckstrand explains why you should consider attaching an Aimpoint ACRO to a carbine.

Despite their similarities, there are some distinct differences between red dots and lasers. By considering the pros and cons of each, you'll have a better idea as to which is right for you.Red Dot vs. Laser Sights – Which is Best for Pistols? Optics

Red Dot vs. Laser Sights – Which is Best for Pistols?

Richard Nance - June 26, 2020

Despite their similarities, there are some distinct differences between red dots and lasers....

See More Optics

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Guns & Ammo App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now