Smart scope a Leupold winner

Paul Miller

Having just re-read an excellent article by Don Caswell on the Leupold Custom Dial System (CDS) (Australian Shooter, February 2016) I thought readers might be interested in a high quality scope in the VX-3i series of Leupold options. Speaking with Ken Stevens from Nioa, Australian importers of Leupold scopes, we agreed a scope in 4.5-14 magnification covers a huge variety of Aussie hunting selections from reasonably close quarters to longer range shots requiring considerable precision and lens clarity.

Ken suggested the 30mm-bodied model with side focus and CDS dial. Nioa provide this (after-purchase) laser printed dial free of charge with each of their CDS-capable models when the buyer supplies specific ballistic data for their rifle and cartridge combination.

The VX-3i series with matte finish are handsome scopes and this particular model with its 40mm objective allows for lower mounting on your rifle. It sat snugly in the 30mm medium rings I bought after-market for my left-handed Ruger Hawkeye in 25-06 several years ago. I previously had the earlier VX-3 6.5-20×40 but felt the 6.5 power was a bit high for close-range work so it now lives on my 220 Swift. The 4.5-14 power range seems perfect for this sensational dual purpose cartridge I use for harvesting the occasional deer and long-range feral game shooting.

The Custom Dial System is clever and easy to understand. With CDS scope installed, sight the rifle in with your most accurate and effective hunting load at either 100yds or 100m and provide Nioa ballistic technicians with the speed of your load, projectile weight and its ballistic coefficient. You also need to measure the height your scope’s line of sight is above the centre of your rifle’s bore.

Other conditions are factored in like the average elevation (yards or metres) you normally hunt at and average expected temperature. The better the information fed into the system, the more accurate the dial will be for your particular load and circumstances. For factory loads you provide those details but chronographing them makes a lot of sense to gain actual data as different length of barrels can have quite an effect on velocity and this is the most critical input for the CDS.

Finding a scope’s centre height to the bore’s centre line involves four steps and I provide this information courtesy of Sinclair International US, sourced online.

1: Measure bolt diameter and divide by two – example 0.700″ ÷ 2 = 0.350″;

2: Measure scope tube diameter and divide by two – 1.000″ ÷2 = 0.500″ (for 30mm tubes use 1.81″ and divide by two);

3: Measure the distance from top of the bolt in the rifle to bottom of the scope on the rifle – example 0.750″;

4: Add the numbers in steps 1-3 (0.350″ + 0.500″ + 0.750″ = 1.600″).

Most loading manuals and scope companies use 1.500″ as the default for their trajectory tables as it’s a common measurement, but if shooting at longer ranges like 500yds-plus then the above formula will give the CDS the ability to be even more accurate in trajectory across longer ranges, assuming you have the necessary skills to be shooting at game over these distances. Popping targets for fun or competition is one thing but humane despatch of any animal is another altogether and no matter the technology available, we need to be mindful of hunting ethics – a clean despatch is always the uppermost consideration.

When the Custom Dial System arrives, simply remove the factory dial used to accurately sight-in the rifle at whatever distance and store it somewhere safe. Put the new dial in its spot, align your zero with the mark on top of the scope tube next to the turret and carefully tighten the three screws holding it in place. If your zero is 100yds or metres, align the 1 with the mark ‑ it’s that simple – you should then be able to quickly dial the distance with the help of a rangefinder. For this system to work you need to know the exact gap you’re shooting at so a quality rangefinder is essential.

The Leupold 1200 TBR I use lets you choose a setting that best matches a particular load, then this amazing piece of equipment almost instantly calculates the true ballistic range when you press the button to find a distance. It does this at any angle up or down so you have a space you can dial into the scope that has allowed for the elevation.

Putting the system to the test was fun and involved placing targets at known distances and random ones in between. I tested the dial at all the known ranges and bullet placement was near perfect. I then shot the unknown distances, adjusted for those and again all results were right in the zone for a merciful despatch from rabbit-sized game and up. I limited myself to 400yds as that’s my personal boundary.

Looking at the new VX-3i and comparing it with my older VX-3 and Vari-X111 Leupolds was interesting. It was hard to tell the difference in quality of picture and sharpness – they’re all that good – the big advantage of this scope over the others is the CDS and lens coating that supposedly provides the highest level of protection to external damage.

The 30mm body also allows considerably more adjustment both vertically and horizontally at 110 Minutes of Angle compared to the current 25mm (one inch) VX-3i models that have between 55 and 65 MOA adjustment. This is only relevant if shooting at long ranges. For hunting purposes and the distances involved both scopes have plenty of adjustment, this scope being a fine hunting accessory with a balance of physical size and magnification capability. If you want to shoot long-range SSAA disciplines there are scopes better suited in the Leupold stable designed especially for these demanding fields.

This one has the standard duplex reticle but the new Wind-Plex version is also available which allows you to hold off by way of dots on the horizontal bar up to 10 MOA, an interesting idea worth searching online or watching on YouTube.

I prefer the simple duplex to any of the complicated range-finding or other reticles we’ve seen in recent years with a multitude of aiming points but the Wind-Plex is easy to use and relatively uncluttered and many shooters will love it.

According to Leupold: “The Extended Twilight Max lens system delivers the highest average light transmission in all wavelengths for exceptional contrast and low-light performance in all conditions. Edge blackened lenses reduce diffusion and glare to improve resolution and contrast. Second generation Argon/Krypton gas more effectively resists thermal shock and the dual spring precision adjustment system ensures match-grade repeatability and strength. Top it all off with DiamondCoat 2 external lens coatings for scratch resistance and you can see why VX-3i is the last word in riflescopes.”

So we can see the marketing people at Leupold are not backwards in describing their products. The reality is there are many things to like about this scope including the ability to mount it low on a hunting rifle, the opportunity to use it at longer ranges for casual target shooting with the 110 MOA adjustment, more than adequate eye relief, glass etched reticle in the second focal plane and matte finish to minimise potential for scaring your intended game.

The power range is a great compromise as stated earlier and the redesigned power ring is positive and comfortable to use. The same can be said for the turret/saddle-mounted focus. A lifetime warranty for any owner (not just the first) gives peace of mind for buyers of Leupold scopes in Australia, with the Nioa Custom Leupold shop and their highly trained technicians available, in the unlikely event of a problem, to fix and return your scope in the shortest possible time.

This CDS scope retails for about $1100 and includes provision for a complimentary custom dial, laser-etched to your exact ballistic requirements by the Nioa ballistic team who turn these around quickly once they have your data. You can also order extra dials for different loads for about $60 each.

This is a serious scope for hunters who demand the maximum from their equipment mechanically and technologically. It’s essential you use a quality rangefinder to eliminate guesswork and ensure the optimum accuracy this scope is capable of delivering in the hands of a competent shot. Excellent value and highly recommended.


Magnification: 4.5-14x40mm objective lens
Adjustment click value: ¼ MOA
Exposed turrets: No
Turrets resettable to zero: Yes
Finger adjustable turrets: Yes
Fast focus eyepiece: Yes and lockable
Lens coating: Fully multi-coated
Custom Dial System: Yes
Field of view at 100yds: (feet) 18.7’ at 4.5x, 4.4’ at 14.5x
Optimum eye relief (inches): low 4.4’, high 3.7’
Weight in ounces: 15.6
Sunshade: No
Bikini cover: Yes
Elevation and windage adjustment: Both 110 MOA
Reticle: Duplex or Wind-Plex
Reticle construction: Glass etched
Airgun rated: No
Warranty: Lifetime
Price: Approximately $1100 including one CDS dial

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