Big game moves in the twilight. There is a reason they call the hour around sunrise and the hour before sunset ‘The Golden Hour’, as in those two hours of the day deer and elk are on the move.For years, scope makers have been improving the quality of their lenses, the coatings on the lenses, and increasing the diameters of the objectives trying to maximize light transmission through the scope to the hunter’s eye.
Scope objective lenses have progressed from 36mm to 40mm to 50mm in the quest to funnel light during the golden hour. As this has happened, scopes have needed to be mounted higher and higher off the bore centerline. Unfortunately, this move has often repositioned the shooters face too high off the comb of the stock where they lose their ‘spotweld’ and accuracy suffers.
Enter the VX-3L line of scopes from Leupold. The clever engineers at Leupold threw convention aside, and engineered a scope that has a 50mm objective lens, but sits as low on the rifle as a 32mm objective would. This combination of retained ‘spotweld’ and superior light gathering makes this scope an attractive proposition.
Let’s take a look at how they did this. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say:
Obviously, they took a ‘bite’ out of the bottom of the scope housing and the lens, then devised a method of clamping and sealing the objective lens with screws rather than a threaded retainer. Brilliant!
Let’s take a look at everything that comes with the scope as we open the box.
Top to bottom, you have the box, a nice neoprene scope sock, product registration card, a Leupold window sticker, an allen wrench, some tags, a manual and an explanation of the CDS system with a certificate for a custom laser engraved elevation turret knob.
My deer rifle is a Ruger 77 MKII, chambered in the often overlooked .260 Remington cartridge. Atop this rifle is mounted ‘old faithful’, a Leupold VariX-III 2.5-8x 36 scope that I got my first Elk with back in 1984. This scope has treated me well, even though it’s been abused, beat up, dropped, dragged, bumped, rattled and rubbed. It shows the scars of hard hunting and riding in trucks.
I wanted to upgrade the magnification on this rifle to take advantage of the flat shooting caliber, and I had another ‘brush gun’ that I wanted to put a scope on. This led me to the VX-3L line of scopes for the .260, and I settled on this one, model 59265, from Webyshops.com.
In addition to the superb VX-3 glass, the low sitting capability of the ‘L’, this scope also features the ‘CDS’ system. The elevation turret of the scope is not a cap covering the adjustment, rather, the cap IS the adjustment knob. Unlike other externally adjustable scopes, this adjustment knob sits in low profile to the scope making it less likely to snag on things, gouge you in the back, get caught up in the sling, or bang against the transfer case lever in your truck.
A call to Leupold will get you a custom engraved knob matched to your hunting load. You simply zero the rifle at 100 yards, and if you find a target at 400 yards, you simply turn the knob to ‘400’, hold your crosshairs where you want the bullet to hit. No multiple crosshairs messing up your sight picture, no trying to remember if the third or the fourth crosshatch is 300 yards, no cheatsheets taped to butt of your rifle. Brilliant.
I mounted the VX-3L on the same rings that the old 36mm scope sat on, and it fit like a glove.
As you can see, the objective hunkers down nicely over the barrel using the same rings that were used on the 36mm scope, and still allow enough room for cleaning and maintenance.
Here is another view that shows the overall aesthetics of the rifle with the scope mounted. The matte finish goes well with synthetic stock, and the low profile of the mounting flows well. The distinctive shape of the objective lens also lets others in hunting camp know that you have superb taste in optics, if you’re into that sort of thing.
After mounting and leveling the scope, it was time to sight it in.
I set up at my 100 yard range, and set up 4 conventional rifle targets on a 3x5 board. I optimistically put a dot in the center of the board, and proceeded to dial it in.
I hit 8” low and 7” left on my first shot. I adjusted the scope 32 clicks up, and 28 clicks right. I fired once more, and hit ¾” low and ¾” left. One more shot proved I was good, and two more provided a nice tight group in the bullseye. Frankly, this group is usually better than I do, so I’ll post a picture.
The crosshairs are a regular duplex pattern, which is my favorite. Here’s a picture of the sight picture through the scope.
Here’s what it looks like looking at a pear tree on 3.5 power at 130 yards.
And here’s what it looks like at 10 power looking at the same tree.
The glass is great on this scope. Clarity and focus is crisp and clear from center to edge. Objects seen at dusk and dawn that are mere shadowy figures illuminate like you lit them up with a flashlight when seen through the scope. Deer and elk spotted coming out of the timber at dusk are no longer just vague shapes, but you can spot and count the points on the antlers, and determine if you have a shot clear of other animals.
If you are upgrading to a VX-3L from a lesser scope, it is like buying an hour of the best hunting time every day. You literally gain 30 minutes of visibility in the morning, and another 30 minutes at night. Those minutes are priceless.
The 3.5-10 power setting is a great compromise for the Northwest hunter, who may be hunting in brush and heavy timber and needs a low power scope for those situations, yet may pop out into a clearcut and need the 10 power for that bull at 300 yards or beyond. The CDS system, when utilized and tested at the range, would give a hunter some ethical confidence for that monster bull that’s at 400 yards.
The only fly in the ointment in this combination doesn’t have anything to do with the scope, but rather accessories. Here in the Northwest, hunting season means rain, sleet and snow. A fella that isn’t running scope covers is likely to find his objective opening full of water, snow, leaves and fir needles at that all important time when he needs to whip up his rifle and that the shot at the big bull. I’m a fan of the Butler creek flip up scope covers, which are available for less than $20 a set. Due to the unique shape of the objective lens, these are not available. Leupold makes a fine set of flip up scope covers for this scope, but the price is staggering: $164.00 list, $120.00 at my local sporting goods store, or $100.00 online on sale. The scope does ship with a nice neoprene scope sock that I figured would do well to keep the scope from getting dinged up in the safe or the pickup. However, it may have to do as a cover while hunting if you have a hard time pulling the trigger on a $100+ set of covers.
Leupold’s reputation of standing behind their product is legendary, and has been tested and proven to be superb by yours truly in the past. The combination of great glass, a low mounting height, a versatile power range, the CDS system and Leupold’s dedication to quality and standing behind their product make this an excellent choice in a rifle scope. Even if you have to buy crazy expensive scope covers.
Mark Spreadborough writes from his family homestead in Kalama, Washington, where he lives with his wife, son, daughter, dog and cat. When not writing, shooting, hunting, fishing or working on his property, he goes to his day job as a HVAC repair mechanic.