ABOVE: The Leupold VX-3i 6.5-20x40mm scope provides maximum brightness in all colors and intensified contrast across the entire field of view. Plus, the 30mm maintube is designed to dramatically increases windage and elevation travel while the side focus adjustment makes fine-tuning parallax effortless, as the author I noted.
Four years ago I was hunting in the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California. Let me give you a perspective on this.
The zone I was hunting has a statistical 6% success rate during our short deer season. There are some trees, but it's mostly chaparral, and shots on target are expected to exceed 200 yards. It would be wrong to equate a Southern Cal hunt as a desert hunt.
It is more of a semi-arid hill country hunt. For this hunt, I had elected to take my Winchester Model 70 afield. I have a Leupold low power scope on that rifle that I have used for years. On a hunt like this, you take what is given to you.
When I spotted a deer at 700 meters, I knew that I had only moments to take my shot. I shouldered my rifle and looked through the scope. The point of intersection on my reticle was actually larger than the body of the deer. (In fairness, the deer that we have in So Cal are really nothing more than German Shepherds with small antlers).
I simply could not ethically take the shot because I had no real knowledge if my round would hit vitals. I watched helplessly as my deer scampered over the next ridge.
I was taught years ago that zooming in on a target was problematic. Finding the target through a zoomed-in scope would be next to impossible, and watching your reticle bounce around with each heartbeat would make shooting too difficult. As a result, I have typically kept my low powered scopes on the lowest power.
All bets are off when I am shooting long distance competitively. I want the highest advantage possible to win. This typically means a really long, heavy, free-floated barrel; competition trigger; 20 minute of angle; Picatinny rail and the best optic I can find. When I'm shooting into the next zip code, I want the optical power to see as far into the distance as possible. I also want to be able to clearly see where my point of impact is going to be.
At this distance, we don't use holdovers. Well... up to a few hundred yards maybe. When we go out long, we adjust our scope based on "DOPE" so that the impact is where we are putting that reticle. Will my reticle be bouncing around as the vibration of the blood going through my arteries pulsates?
Yes... to a point, but that is the reason we take such a stable shooting position, because that helps minimize this. This brings us to the review.
When Leupold said they would be gracious enough to provide their VX-3i 6.5-20x50mm CDS Target scope, how the hell could I say no to that! I instantly got excited. At the Artemis Defense Institute we typically have quite a few guns lying around in various states of construction. One of those guns is a Remington 700 with a 24-inch heavy barrel. And guess what? There was no optic. Until this review.
The Leupold VX-3i 6.5-20x40 is a target scope, meaning it is designed for being able to view and engage targets from extreme distances. It also presupposes that the shooter might be in less-than-ideal conditions.
A detachable shroud extends from the forward end of the scope, protecting against ill-placed sunlight, as well as serving secondarily as lens protection. This is pretty standard stuff, but there have been instances in the past, especially during an all-day shooting event, that sunlight pretty much took out the possibility of an adequate sight picture.
The scope is long, and this is necessary for the extreme magnification that it can provide. It also has the obligatory turrets that are required for changing zeroes on the fly. In a hunting environment, there is really no value in having the ability to adjust your zero in the field. You simply don't have the requisite time. For a temporary target at distance, we need stadia lines in the reticle to visually change point of impact at distance. For more information on this, check the primer sidebar.
As the UPS driver asked me for my signature on his Star Trek Tri-corder, I twitched with anticipation. Sitting in front of me was an oversized box that I knew contained a high quality scope.
As is typical with Leupold scopes, the black matte finish looked outstanding. The Leupold VX-3i 6.5-20x40 has an interesting addition that I don't believe I have seen on other scopes: A focus adjust knob on the left side of the scope. This is a major improvement over the traditional setup. Most commercial scopes have an optical focus mechanism at the end of the scope. The problem with this concept is that, depending on the aggressiveness used to adjust the zoom, it is possible to knock the focus ring out of adjustment. By placing the adjustment knob to the left, this is no longer a problem.
It is also ridiculously easy to re-focus, depending on the eye pro you have on. I have noticed a slight variation in my visual acuity, depending on the particular pair of sunglasses I have on. Typically, it is not enough for me to mess with the focus adjustment on regular scopes. With the side adjustment knob on the VX-3i, it becomes so easy there is no excuse for not having a clean, crisp viewfinder.
There were, however, a couple of things that gave me initial pause about this beast. First off, as I mentioned, it is big. That translates to a fairly high height over bore. I realized quickly that my traditional low-rise rings would not stand a chance of creating enough clearance for this scope.
I was a little concerned that even mid-rise rings would be too shallow for the Leupold VX-3i 6.5-20x40mm scope. I went ahead and put on some high-rise Night Force rings (because we happened to have a pair here in the shop and made sure that I used a cheek pad for extra height on the comb of the stock).
Also, (and this turned out to really be not much of an issue after the scope had been mounted) there is very little eye relief on the scope. Well, that is not really a fair statement.
There is a very narrow band that allows for proper eye relief. When you look through a scope, you want to see a full field of view. If you see black around the visual picture, you are either too close to the scope or too far away. What you are looking for is an image that appears to only be limited to the physical dimensions of the scope housing.
Typically, when someone pulls a scope out of the box, they hold it in their hands and look at an object in the distance. I am no different. The first thing I noticed is that I had to be about three to four inches away for a proper sight picture.
Most of my other scopes allow for a variance of a couple of inches greater. This seemed like it might create a bit of a problem in the field, but once the scope had been mounted to the rifle, the eye relief proved to be a non-issue.
Once mounted on the Remington, the rifle instantly took on a new feel. With the Leupold VX-3i 6.5-20x40 running along the action and extending far down the heavy barrel, the Remington took on the look of a true long distance rifle.
Since we are ... well, boys, ... my instructors played with the rifle at our shop, taking dry fire shots from sniper positions at different targets from our offices across the street. The scope seemed to operate well in this "tacti-cool" environment.
Monday was proving day at the range. For long distance shooting we head down to northern San Diego County to the famous Pala Range. Pala is a semi-private range built on the side of a long sloping hill on the Pala Indian Reservation. Aside from being a really nice and friendly range, it also happens to literally be across the street from the Pala Casino. A morning of shooting is accentuated by a lunch at the buffet.
One of the other really cool things about Pala is the fact that they have preset steel targets set up out to 880 yards. While not extreme long distance, this is about as good as it gets in Southern California without having to head out to the desert and BLM land.
We set up on a traditional shooting bench and opted to forego the Harris Bipod that I have mounted on the rifle. Instead, we used a shooting bag. I set up a paper target at 100 yards and opted to also use a steel target at 100 yards as well.
I settled in behind the rifle and, with the magnification set at zero, found the red steel 100-yard target. Target acquisition was quick and easy, and a slight adjustment to the focus knob made the image crisp and clear.
Now, I had bore sighted the rifle back at the Artemis Defense Institute, so I had an idea that it would be quick to zero, but you never can be sure.
My first shot at 100 yards was well over the red target. Yep, I had forgotten about the 20 minute of angle rail on the rifle. Sigh. Taking off the Leupold VX-3i 6.5-20x40 turret caps, I adjusted my elevation down about 20 clicks. My second shot was a solid "ping" on steel.
I then moved over to my paper target. Checking to make sure that the scope rings and mounts were still tight, I fired a three-shot group into the bullseye of the target.
All three shots fell within a minute of angle square and were exactly three inches high of the bullseye and about four minutes of angle to the left. Adjusting the windage knob, I fired a second three-shot group and brought the cluster directly above the bullseye.
Cool. Now it was time to start going out to distance. I brought the rifle out to the 300-yard steel target. At this distance there should be no need to adjust my scope. I sighted in on the target. Just for fun I started zooming in the scope. Wow.
A large image of a red steel target quickly filled my field of view. One shot, and the distinct "ping" of lead on steel rang out. OK, I said. Let's now see what the Leupold VX-3i 6.5-20x40mm scope does out to 600 yards.
For this I consulted my tables and my DOPE, which is an acronym for Data On Previous Engagements. Basically, this is a record log of what a projectile does at distance, based on specific record-keeping of ballistics and other variables.
Based on a 600-yard shot and understanding what the projectile would do given the previous performance of the rifle — but guessing on how the scope would work — I made the adjustments necessary to the elevation knob on the scope.
The goal is not to "hold over" the target. The goal is to adjust the scope so that the reticle will always rest square on the target at the known distance.
One shot, and the distant "ping" range out. Ha! OK. Let's go out to 880!
Here, I noticed for the first time, the target finally appearing smaller in my scope, but it was large enough that my reticle did not completely cover the target. After adjusting the scope, and again adjusting the focus, I decided to fire a single shot purposefully to the right of the target and into the hillside. The rifle recoiled and returned to the target.
After what seemed like an eternity, a small puff of dirt exploded to the right of the target. Proper elevation had been dialed in.
Now to see how the windage worked. I took aim at the distant steel target and fired. At this distance, especially with other shooters now engaging their own targets, I did not expect to hear anything. I had to rely on not seeing a dirt plume. As the Remington returned to the target. I waited ... nothing. I fired a second shot. Again ... nothing.
The third time I purposefully aimed to the right again and fired ... a dirt plume at distance. Awesome. Two solid hits.
Col. Jeff Cooper once said that the only interesting rifles were accurate ones. This is a true statement, but you need to be able to actually see a target to determine a rifle's accuracy. The Leupold VX-3i does the job. Without, any hesitation I would recommend this scope for distance target shooting. As a scope for hunting? Sure, it will do the job, but honestly I would prefer a different reticle for going afield.
For engaging targets at known distances, however, this thing is gold. Any long distance shooter knows that the key to accurate shots is eliminating as many variables as possible. We "accuse" our rifles, we make sure we have the stablest platform available, we focus on our breath and our heart rate, and yes... we ensure that we have a scope that not only holds its zero but allows us the mechanical integrity necessary to adjust and engage a target with confidence.
After throwing about 20 more rounds down range at different distances, it was getting about time to head over to that buffet. I reset to a 300-yard zero and aimed back at the 100-yard target.
One smooth trigger press, and "ping." Still holding a perfect zero. Nice job Leupold!
A projectile traveling from a rifle does not fly in a straight line. The barret is angled upward ever so slightly, so that the projectile travels in an arc toward the target As the velocity of the projectile degrades, the weight of the projectile starts pulling it toward the earth.
Think of a cannonball being shot at the enemy from 100 yards. If the enemy turns out to be at 1,000 yards, you might still be able to hit them, but you will have to elevate the cannon so that the cannon-ball follows an arc toward them.
Of course, you also have to be worried about projectile travel left and right as well. This can be a result of wind and or humidity. Oh, and did I mention that if the target is higher than you or lower than you that can effect trajectory, as well as relative altitude?
Now for a measurement concept, we use something called a "minute of angle." Books have been written about the mathematics regarding ballistics and minutes of angle, but for the purposes of this article let's limit it to this: Minute of angle refers to a 1.0472-inch box at 100 yards. Our goal with virtually any precision-shooting instrument is to get a grouping of three shots to sit inside that 1.0472-inch box at 100 yards.
Now, as we engage targets beyond 100 yards, we have two options. One option is to have what are called stadia lines pre-built into the reticle. They are based on a specific projectile size and weight ratio and a known rate of arc. They allow us to simply put a lower stadia line on the target at a known distance and be able to reliably engage that target. This is fast and works well up to say, 400 yards. They problem is what do you do if the target Is not at 100, 200 or 300 yards? What if the target is at 225 yards? Or even 1,300 yards?
For precision shooting, we like to adjust the point of aim manually, by turning the dials on the scope to elevate the reticle precisely to the point necessary to have the projectile engage the target. Who would have thought! Math actually works!