I needed a high-quality, variable riflescope with a large magnification range. The scope would be mounted on an MG-Arms Ultralight in 7mm Remington Magnum. I could have gone to several manufacturers, but I went for Leupold. I did this mainly because my Dad swore by their products 60 years ago, and they’re still known for great their optics and low light performance today. Nostalgia + good reputation.

I’ll be using the MG-Arms Ultralight in Mozambique as a plains game rifle. That means I’ll be shooting at ranged anywhere from 30 yards in the dense forests to 400+ yards out on the Zambeze delta floodplains. With that wide range in mind, I went with the Leupold VX-5HD 3-15x44mm CDS-ZL2.

This model has the ideal magnification range needed and weighs just short of 1 1/2 lbs., a weight that won’t throw off the balance of the Ultralight rifle.

Eye Relief

There was one other feature that I really needed and that was plenty of eye relief, especially if I have to crank the magnification up to maximum. I am an inveterate stock crawler and if I’m shooting at 300+ yards, I will likely be in a prone position. Both stock-crawling and prone-shooting makes ‘idiot marks’ (scope bite) more likely.

The eye-relief on the Leupold VX-5HD 3-15x ranges from 3.7 in (15x) – 3.82 in (3x), which is plenty generous. Even for me, that should be plenty to avoid those semi-circular cuts.

Duplex Reticle: A Piece of Leupold’s, and the Author’s, History

Courtesy of Leupold.

I like being a part of shooting and hunting history. The reticle on the VX-5HD definitely provides that opportunity. I was first introduced to this reticle in 1963 at the age of 5 and used it to take my first whitetail near San Saba, Texas. Back then I didn’t know it was a brand new innovation; I just knew it was what my Dad thought was a good scope and ‘cross-hairs’ combination.

Introduced in 1962, Leupold’s Duplex Reticle has provided consistently good performance for hunters. I actually think that Leupold’s claim that the thicker posts on the outside, and narrower posts in the center of the field of vision, draw the shooter’s eye to the target. However, I’ve used this reticle style for a very long time, so it is also possible that my brain/eye is trained to use this particular aiming mechanism.

Custom Dial System – Elevation

Once the shooter has determined the ballistic settings needed for a particular cartridge load and gun, they can request one free custom laser engraved dial from the Leupold Custom shop with your exact ballistics and conditions. This is what the ‘CDS’ designation of the Leupold VX-5HD 3-15x44mm CDS-ZL2 reflects.

By loosening a few tiny hex bolts, removing the original turret dial and replacing it on your zero’d scope with the new custom CDS elevation dial with yardage marks the hunter is prepared to spot, range, adjust and dial without having to worry about holdover. It just makes shooting much easier.

My review scope has the standard, out-of-the-box turret system. However, the eiqlw have Leupold’s zero lock that lets you can loosen the turret and place them back on ‘0’ once you have the scope set to your preferred sight-in.

This allows adjustments to be made while shooting or hunting, without having to count clicks or worrying about forgetting the original ‘zero’ value. And, yes, when not using the ballistic turrets as I should, I have forgotten the original ‘zero’ multiple times while hunting and on the range.

My VX-5HD had MOA scale dials for both the elevation and windage, and the parallax turret on the left side of the tube allows adjustments from 75 yards to infinity.

Recoil Simulation

“Each scope design has to survive 5,000 impacts on the Punisher, Leupold’s recoil simulation machine. The force of each impact is 3x the recoil of a .308 rifle. If the scope doesn’t perform in any way during the tests, we make adjustments to the design and test it again.”

So says the Leupold about the testing they put their rifle scopes through.

Just for grins, I consulted a chart of recoil energies for various calibers. If accurate, the above value means that each Leupold scope should withstand the recoil from around 10,400 – .300 Winchester Magnum, 3900 – .458 Lott or 1800 – .600 N.E. discharges. If Leupold’s claim is accurate their scopes have no chance of ever coming apart at the seams from recoil.

Second Focal Plane

I’ve shot both first and second focal plane scopes and I’m not certain I have a favorite. On the one hand, having the subtensions remain the same regardless of where I turn the magnification means that I can use the stadia lines for holding out to various ranges.

However, when shooting at longer distances, using higher magnifications, it is also great to have the reticle lines remain thin rather than covering up increasingly larger portions of game animals. So, I guess, take your pick, but this scope is equipped with second focal plane, so my subtensions will change with changes in the magnification.

Waterproof and Fogproof

Legend has it that after missing a buck because his riflescope fogged up, Marcus Leupold yelled, “Hell! I could build a better scope than this!” Whether or not the story is legend or truth, Leupold introduced its first riflescope, the Plainsman, in 1947. Before that time, the company was known for instruments for measuring such things as stream flow rates, water levels, surveys etc.

Every Leupold scope made at their factory in Beaverton, Oregon is water and pressure tested. 

The Plainsman riflescope was touted as the ‘first truly fog-proof scope built by Americans.’ With the Plainsman and subsequent models, Leupold became known for scopes that stayed clear under extreme, and varying, environmental conditions.

Range Workup

I realize accuracy should have more to do with the rifle and ammunition combination. However, I’m finding that my eyes have grown to need really clear optics for acceptable accuracy at longer ranges. The following target was one group obtained at 300 yards, shooting from a 4StableSticks, standing field rest. Needless to say, the Leupold scope really helped me to be able to focus on the aiming point.

The Leupold VX-5HD also demonstrated great precision in the box test. I could have helped it out a bit by allowing the barrel on the 7mm Ultralight to cool a bit more between shots, but I didn’t. This reflects the riflescope’s precision as I adjusted either the elevation or windage by 10 inches in each direction. The scope tracks and tracks well.

This video of the Box Test was recorded using a Longshot LR-3 – 2 Mile UHD Target Camera.

As I mentioned, the Leupold VX-5HD 3-15x44mm CDS-ZL is mounted on the ‘Plains Game’ rifle I’ll be using in Mozambique. The clarity, precision and minimal weight of this riflescope are perfect for this application. Leupold is described as making very tough optics as well. I hope I don’t have to test that aspect out, but if I do, I trust that their reputation does indeed reflect their level of performance.

Specifications: Leupold VX-5HD 3-15x44mm CDS-ZL2

Magnification: 3x – 15x
Objective Lens Diameter: 44mm
Eye Relief: 3.7-3.82 in
Field of View: 38.3 ft (3x); 7.9 ft (15x)
Tube Size: 30mm
Focal Plane: Rear (second focal plane)
Max Elevation Adjustment: 75 MOA
Max Windage Adjustment: 75 MOA
Parallax Settings: 55 yd – ∞
Length: 13.53 in
Weight: 19.7 oz
MSRP: $1234.99 (Retail: $949.99)


Ratings (out of five stars):

Glass Quality * * * * *
I found the light gathering and transmission of the Leupold VX-5HD to be excellent. As mentioned, my aging eyes were able to easily pick out targets up to 400 yards (the maximum distance attempted) away; this result was due to the scope’s sharpness and clarity. And no one handles low light situations at dawn and dusk better than Leupold. That gives you useable hunting time.

Durability * * * * *
I am scoring this based on my past experience using Leupold scopes, as well as the company’s reputation for making tough optics. I have many friends and family members who swear by Leupold optics. My upcoming trip to Mozambique will be the real test.

Precision * * * * *
All of the dials, rings and turrets – magnification, diopter, elevation, windage and parallax – were very positively detented and smooth. The scope is finished beautifully with clear adjustment markings and solid controls.

Overall * * * * *
The Leupold riflescopes I have used in the past have never let me down in terms of clarity, durability, precision or ease of adjustments. If my range session is anything to go by, I expect the Leupold VX-5HD 3-15x44mm CDS-ZL to perform at least as well as my previous Leupold products. I am looking forward to running this scope through its paces in Africa.


Mike Arnold writes for a number of outlets; links to other articles can be found here.

Except where noted, all photos and video courtesy of Mike Arnold. 

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