Field Tested: Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x50mm CDS

but Leupold introduced the VX-3i, the latest edition in the VX-3 series of riflescopes, this year to dominate in low-light situations.

by Eric Conn



Designed specifically to offer stand-out low-light performance, Team HuntStand put this exciting new design through its paces with impressive results. 

Connleupold1 600As any seasoned hunter can attest, big game animals seem to show up when the light is at its worst, either at the beginning or end of the day. In the past that’s where lesser scopes suffered, but Leupold introduced the VX-3i, the latest edition in the VX-3 series of riflescopes, this year to dominate in low-light situations. The new scope features Leupold’s Twilight Max Light Management system, featuring coatings that help bring out the reds and blues of the color spectrum, the two colors that are most crucial in failing light. When the light’s at its worst, the VX-3i is designed to be at its best.

Connleupold2 600The Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x50mm reviewed here featured the Custom Dial System (CDS) turret for rapid long-range elevation adjustments. The scope comes with a standard ¼-MOA turret, but the Leupold custom shop will build you a yardage-based turret when you send in specific load data.
Focused Low-Light Performance
While it does borrow some of the midday, high-light performance in order to increase low-light transmission, I shot the 4.5-14x50mm variant of the scope in both conditions and found it to be incredibly sharp in either case. For the hunter it’s an acceptable tradeoff, since such a high-percentage of shots are taken in failing light. The edge-blackened lenses also help to cut down on glare if the sun’s directly overhead on cloudless days, and as always Leupold’s glass is second to none when it comes to clarity and contrast.

Connleupold3 600To set eye relief on the VX-3i, simply loosen the focus lock ring and then turn the entire eyepiece until the crosshair becomes sharpest for your eyes. Once you’ve got the focus set, tighten the focus lock ring back down.
To see just how well it’d perform in a real-world scenario, I mounted the VX-3i to a Bergara B-14 Woodsman in .270 Winchester, an ideal combination of caliber and scope for anything from whitetail to western mule deer, elk and black bear. I sighted the rifle and scope in, then tested a variety of loads from Federal and Hornady for accuracy at 100 yards. To get a feel for the low-light capabilities of the VX-3i, I shot it at midday and in diminished light, including in an afternoon downpour.

Connleupold6 600Tested with four different loads from Hornady and Federal Premium, the VX-3i and Bergara B-14 Woodsman in .270 Winchester handled them all with relative ease. Hornady’s American Whitetail with InterLock bullet produced an impressive group of .44 inches at 100 yards.
Customized Long-Range Accuracy
The VX-3i utilized for testing featured a Wind-Plex reticle, allowing for quick in-scope windage adjustments, and a Custom Dial System (CDS) turret for elevation adjustments. The beauty of the CDS turret is that, once you’ve decided which load you want to use for hunting, Leupold’s custom shop will make you a load-specific turret that features yardage instead of ¼ MOA markers. That’s a pretty handy feature if you’re like me and don’t care to bring an abacus into the field with you. In any event, the turret gives you plenty of MOA adjustment out past 1,000 yards.


Before you have a custom dial made, however, I’d recommend sighting in first, then shooting multiple loads with your rifle of choice. Since barrels are like people and often have a personality all their own, your rifle may like different loads. Shoot several brands and bullet styles, as I did for testing, then have a turret built for whichever load performed best (and fits in your budget).

ConnLeupold4 600Once you’ve got your rifle and VX-3i on paper at 25 yards, it’s time to shoot at 100 yards. I recommend a paper target with 1-inch squares, which allows you to know how far your in-scope adjustments need to come. While MOA does not equal inches, four clicks (¼ MOA each) amounts to roughly 1 inch at 100 yards.
Getting Dialed In
One great feature on Leupold scopes is that they’re incredibly easy to mount and dial in. I ordered scope rings and mounts from Leupold for the VX-3i, which are the Remington 700 style for the Bergara rifle. Once you attach the bases to your rifle, you’ll use a wooden dowel to turn the rings, locking them in place. You can then attach the scope and move it forward and back to fit your body and eyes.

After you’ve tightened down the scope rings, you can set the eye relief by loosening the rear lock ring and turning the rear eyepiece until the reticle is completely in focus. This makes customizing the scope/rifle setup simple and pain free. This particular model also features a parallax adjustment dial on the left side of the scope. The dial doesn’t feature yardage delineations, but there is sloped gradient to indicate focus adjustments from close range out to infinity.

Connleupold8 600
While you can bore sight your rifle without one, I recommend using a laser bore sight to save on time and money spent on ammunition. For the review of the VX-3i, I used LaserLyte’s MBS-1 laser bore sight, which fits snuggly in the barrel and allows you to line up your crosshairs and laser at 25 yards. Built with impressive internal components that make fine-tuned adjustments a cinch, the VX-3i was sighted in with just three shots.
Laser Bore Sights
Although you don’t have to, I prefer to use a laser bore sight to at least get myself on paper at 100 yards. This saves countless rounds of ammunition, a spendy commodity these days. Once I’ve matched my reticle with the laser at 25 yards, I then moved to paper at 100. You’ll want to set your scope to max magnification (in this case 14 power) and make adjustments on your turret until you’re where you want to be. My preference is to be 2 inches high at 100 yards. One nice update to the VX-3i is a larger contoured magnification selector knob, which allows you to make quicker power adjustments, especially when wearing gloves and/or chasing game in the field.

Connleupold10 600The VX-3i tested comes with a parallax adjustment dial, which more or less adjusts focus of the target at a given distance. While the dial does not include yardage, it is marked with a sliding scale that indicates distances from near to far, with infinity marked at the far end.
As I sighted the rifle in and tested accuracy on four different loads, I appreciated how accurate the adjustments were on the windage and elevation turrets. Lesser-made optics won’t adjust properly, but the VX-3i was bore-sighted and dialed-in with less than three rounds fired. It held zero throughout testing and the ¼ MOA adjustments held true. That speaks to the quality engineering and construction of internal components, something I’ve come to expect from Leupold.

Range Ready
I tested the VX-3i and Bergara Woodsman with four different loads: Hornady’s 130-grain SST Superformance, Hornady 140-grain American Whitetail, Federal Premium 140-grain Trophy Bonded Tip, and Federal 130-grain Fusion. Each load was exceptionally accurate, producing average groups well under an inch at 100 yards. The first load I tested was the 140-grain American Whitetail, which features Hornady’s InterLock bullet. It produced a best group of .44 inches, which indicates both an impressive rifle and an impressive scope.

Connleupold7 600Not only did I put the VX-3i through its paces from bags in the prone position, I also put it to work in typical field hunting positions at varying ranges. While a bench or sand bags help remove the shooter from the equation and test the accuracy of the rifle, scope and ammunition, it’s essential to practice shooting from the kind of field positions you’ll experience afield—sitting, standing, kneeling and from sticks.
From Bench To Field
While accuracy testing is typically done at a bench or, in this case, from a set of bags in the prone position, it’s important to practice marksmanship and get familiar with your VX-3i using field positions. If you plan on shooting off sticks, practice with sticks in the field. And since light conditions play such a pivotal role in hunting, make sure you get out there in less-than-ideal light. For testing, I set multiple steel targets at varying distances, then practiced timed drills in which I located, ranged and made a steady shot from a field position or from sticks. While it’s hardly the adrenaline rush of hunting, it at least simulates the steps you’ll take to make a clean, ethical kill, including making magnification adjustments. It also proved to me the simple yet astounding effectiveness of the VX-3i.

Connleupold5 600Since weather and light conditions are always changing, and you may be required to make a long-range or close-up shot on game, you need a scope for hunting that can do it all. Leupold’s VX-3i is an ideal hunting scope because it retains a crystal clear sight picture in all light conditions, but especially when the light fails. It also has blackened lens edges and coatings that reduce midday glare, and a CDS turret makes even go-long shots makeable.
At the end of the day, the VX-3i proved to be every bit as capable as advertised in diminished light. I honestly didn’t notice a decrease in image quality during high-glare, sunny conditions, either. The turret system on the VX-3i is simple to use, works consistently, and is backed by Leupold’s unbeatable gold ring, full lifetime warranty. For an elite-quality, long-range scope that carries an MSRP below $800, that’s an incredible deal.



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