January 08, 2019
There’s been a revolution happening in riflescope design over the last decade driven primarily by the growing interest in long-range shooting. More shooters than ever are competing in PRS matches, and that has prompted optic manufacturers to add features to their scopes like front focal plane reticles, tactical turrets with zero stop functions, larger zoom ratios, and oversized main tubes. But how practical are those long-range scopes for big game and varmint hunting? Optics manufacturers will assure you that their tactical scopes work just fine on hunting rifles, and in theory they do, but do you really want to carry a scope that’s a foot-and-a-half long and weighs as much as a Government 1911 on the top of your mountain rifle? Doubtful.
Leupold has finally developed a scope that offers all the features long-range shooters demand that is practical for use on lightweight hunting rifles.
The company’s new Mark 5HD 3.6-18x44 scope comes with a beefy 35mm main tube, an impressive 1:5 zoom ratio, and its latest PR-1 MOA front focal plane reticle. The tactical-style elevation turret offers three full revolutions of adjustment and a zero stop. A capped windage turret is resettable and the dial displays both the number of MOAs of adjustment and the direction of travel (right or left).
A large parallax adjustment knob is located on the left side of the scope and shares this location with the battery compartment and illumination adjustment knob, if applicable. To access the battery compartment simply unscrew the tethered cap. That cap also acts as they illumination control knob, and there are seven different brightness settings with intermediate off positions between each setting.
Leupold’s is now offering three MOA-based reticles in the Mark 5HD line that include Impact 60, PR-1 and PR-1 illuminated. I tested the latter that offers 1 MOA stadia lines to simplify elevation and wind holds. The top portion of the modified crosshair reticle and both the left and right horizontals offer 1 MOA stadia marks out to 20 MOA, and the lower portion of the reticle offers single-MOA lines out to 40 MOA for making holdover adjustments. Leupold product line specialist John Snodgrass, who helped design the Mark 5HD line of scopes, said that the reticle is optimized for use in the 12-16 power range because that’s ideal for use with clip-on night vision devices. When the scope is dialed to that power range, the MOA stadia lines more or less fill the field of view. But “optimized” doesn’t mean that you can’t read the figures throughout the range of magnification. You’d expect to find many of the above features in a tactical scope.
What you may not expect, however, is to find an optic with all of these features that weighs well under two pounds and measures just over a foot in length. In fact, the Mark 5HD, despite its impressive list of standard equipment, is actually slightly shorter than Leupold’s VX-Freedom 3-9x40 hunting scope. Weighing in at just 26 ounces, this scope is noticeably lighter than tactical options from competing brands, yet doesn’t sacrifice features to reduce mass. The Mark 5HD is a real rarity among riflescopes — a tactical optic that doesn’t feel oversized and unwieldy on your favorite deer rifle.
Testing on the Range
Leupold included two different mounting options for the test scope including a Mark 6 IMS 35 mm right hand 20 MOA mount as well as a pair of Mark 4 35mm aluminum picatinny/Weaver rings. I first mounted the optic to a Rise Armament RA-303H S Series rifle in 5.56, choosing that particular gun because it offered a level of accuracy that would allow me to determine whether or not the scope’s elevation and windage adjustments were properly calibrated. Additionally, the RA 303H-S’s hybrid design lends itself to both long-range precision target shooting and hunting — just as Leupold envisioned the Mark 5HD.
The first features you’ll notice on the Mark 5HD are the wide field of view, a generous eyebox and exceptional image clarity. At 100 yards I could make out intricate details on the face of the target, and the viewed image was clear even at the edges. Leupold scopes are known for their long eye relief, Snodgrass told me, and the Mark 5HD carries on that tradition by offering a substantial 3.6-inches of eye relief. Position yourself behind the Mark 5HD and you’ll immediately notice that the dials can easily be read without lifting your head from the rifle. By closing my right (dominant) eye, I could easily read the large, clear numbers on the elevation, parallax and illumination dials even without lifting my head from the shooting position with my left eye.
Determining revolution setting is simple because the scope offers both tactile and visual indicators; on the first revolution the elevation lock release button remains extended, but on the second turn the lock release drops to fit flush against the turret. On the third revolution, the tab recesses within the turret and a small silver tab elevates on the top of the dial. Once you’re familiar with the sequence you can immediately determine whether the turret is on the first, second, or third revolution without lifting your head from the gun. Additionally, the clicks are audible and positive without the mushy elevation adjustments that plague some optics.
I’m primarily a hunter, and I prefer the scopes on my hunting reticles to be functional, but free of clutter. The PR-1 is the epitome of that concept. At its lowest power, the scope’s reticle looks similar to a duplex. The stadia lines and numbers are still visible, but only slightly so. You can easily make fast shots at close ranges without a messy reticle distracting the shooter’s eye. Increase magnification and, as the reticle increases in size, the stadia lines become more visible and easier to use, which is ideal. Leupold also included a power selector throw lever that can be added or removed, based on the shooter’s preferences.
Snodgrass suggested that I remove the windage and elevation turrets for zeroing, and that’s what I did. After bore sighting, I zeroed the gun with the turrets removed (a nickel fits securely in the slot on the posts and allows for quick adjustments). Once the gun was zeroed, I dropped the windage and elevation turrets in place with the witness mark lining up with the zero position and tightened two screws on each turret.
Next, I began tracking adjustment travel. I fired a shot and then moved the dials 1 MOA up and down, left or right depending on the axis I was testing. This test immediately flushes out any weaknesses in an optic’s “quarter-MOA-per-click” assurance, and I’ve been surprised at how many expensive scopes don’t track as promised.
That wasn’t the case with the Mark 5HD. The scope produced a single, straight line in any direction of adjustment, and the distance of travel was very close to one MOA. These figures can be affected by shooter’s abilities and the accuracy of the rifle, but after seeing the same results on successive tracking tests there’s no question that the Mark 5HD delivers the precision adjustments it promises. If you raise elevation quarter-MOA at 100 yards you can expect the bullet holes to be stacked with a very accurate rifle. After testing the turrets, I ran the same test using the scope’s stadia lines as reference points and found the results were the same. At 100 yards each successive line moved the point of impact about one inch, just as promised.
After I finished the test with the Rise Armament rifle I switched the Mark 5HD to a Remington 700 AWR .30-06. The rifle sports a 24-inch barrel and weighs roughly seven pounds — about the average for most bolt-action sporting rifles — and I wanted to see how the scope would handle on a rifle that was built for the field. First came the same tracking test performed above, this time I fired two shots per MOA to verify what I was seeing. The result was the same as above. I can say without reservation, this optic tracks properly, and if you’re a serious long-range shooter you shouldn’t consider any optic that doesn’t do so. With Beefy Mark 4 rings on the Remington the scope wasn’t going anywhere.
With the optic still mounted on the Remington bolt gun I fired a series of shots off-hand at targets out to 45 yards. The goal of the test was simple — I wanted to see how the rifle handled with the scope in place and also to determine how well the Mark 5HD served for fast shots at close game — the type of thing you’d encounter in the eastern deer woods or when firing at a coyote that’s slipped in close to the call unseen. With its wide field of view and sensible reticle the Mark 5HD performs perfectly well in situations where you must acquire a target quickly. And, despite all the Mark 5HD’s long range features it’s not too heavy nor too large to logically mount on most bolt-action rifles.
The last test that I conducted with the Mark 5HD was a low-light visibility test which required nothing more than sitting with the optic in-hand as darkness fell. This scope comes with Leupold’s Twilight Max HD light management system. Unlike other scopes, many of which offer “maximum light transmission,” the Twilight Max system is optimized to capture light in the blue and violet spectrum — just the type of light you’ll encounter at dawn and dusk — and to manage that light so the shooter sees a clear picture.
Competing scopes are designed to optimize the green and yellow light that’s common at midday. That’s fine for target scopes that are rarely used when the ambient light is at its worst, but any scope that champions itself as a dual-purpose hunting and tactical optic absolutely must have lens coatings that properly manage violent and blue light. Leupold’s engineers have mastered this, and the Mark 5HD’s clarity is superb at all hours of the day. Additionally, this scope accomplishes this without incorporating a massive, bulky objective lens (which requires correspondingly tall scope rings) into the design. 44mm is large enough for across-the-board clarity if you’ve got the right lenses and coatings. The scope that I tested, with its illuminated reticle, offered even better visibility in low-light conditions. But you won’t have to worry about this scope being visible to game — the matte, non-glare finish won’t reflect sunlight and spook your quarry.
Snodgrass told me that the Mark 5HD was designed to be a high-end tactical riflescope for serious PRS shooters that doubled as a hunting optic. I’ve heard that before, but this time I believe Leupold has accomplished just that. Even in the expansive riflescope market the Mark 5HD has very few peers in terms of versatility. It’s constructed with all the features serious shooters demand and it is engineered to be compact and light enough that it makes sense on your hunting rifle. No matter the target, the season, or the time of day you can count on this optic to work. MSRP for the Mark 5HD 3.6-18x44 with illuminated reticle is $2,989.99. That’s not cheap, but the Mark 5HD is durable enough to last a lifetime and allows you to buy one optic for both your long-range shooting and hunting needs.
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