Gear Review: Leupold VX-R Patrol 1.25-4x20mm Riflescope

Leupold doesn’t quite know how to describe this new low-power variable riflescope: they named it the ‘Patrol’, but they list its product description in the ‘Hunting’ section of their  website. As if to further add to their confusion, they wrap it in a sleek gray digicam shipping carton that’s so tactically chic that it even says “Leupold Tactical Optics.” A small graphic on the box only adds to the confusion: “DUAL USE: Hunting-Shooting-Tactical.”

Leupold may not know how to describe this scope, but I do: for a tactical carbine or medium-range hunting rifle, it’s outstanding.  It does a lot of things well (really well) yet it’s not so expensive that you’ll resent the things it doesn’t.

Overview:

The VX-R Patrol is a fairly compact riflescope built on a 30mm main tube, with a range-estimating milrad reticule and a powered fiber optic red dot for instant target engagement. Its modest magnification range of 1.5x to 4x is optimized for shooters (hunters, law enforcement and 3-gun competitors) who need to engage targets quickly from dining-room distances out to 250 yards.

As befits a high-end scope (and a Leupold), it’s completely waterproof and fogproof, and its optical elements feature a dizzying array of proprietary lens coatings to minimize reflection and chromatic aberration, maximize light transmission, and prevent scratches or water damage.

It’s light and bright and crystal-clear, but there’s one thing it doesn’t let you do: you can’t quite look through it with both eyes open. Will this be a deal-killer? It’s entirely up to you.  This scope is more than quick enough for my uses, but then my targets don’t shoot back.  And thank God for that.

Reticule:

The VX-R Patrol uses Leupold’s ‘Special Purpose Reticle,’ a tidy-looking affair which has so many hidden features packed into it that I won’t attempt to describe them in one sentence.  Look for yourself:

The reticule looks bigger than this when you’re looking through it, but this picture shows the reticule at medium brightness and full magnification. At the range, this setting proved optimal for paper-punching accuracy and I was able to achieve repeated 1.1 to 1.2 inch groups at 100 yards with my pleasantly-accurate Armalite AR upper. It’s probably no coincidence that 1.2 inches is almost exactly the area that’s covered by the VX-R’s 0.3 mil central aiming dot at 4x magnification.

Starting at the outside of the reticule and working our way in, it’s a duplex crosshair with 2.5-mil hash marks, a 10-mil wide circle (5 mils from the center to the edge) and a .3-mil illuminated dot in the center. The reticule is in the second focal plane, so its apparent size remains constant while the target zooms larger or smaller under magnification.  To use the ‘mil’(milliradian) marks for range estimation, the scope must be maxed out at 4x.

I’ve been accustomed to measuring rifle accuracy in terms of ‘inches at 100 yards’ and it’s a bit of a cognitive shift to think in terms of mils.  This led to some missteps when I tried to zero the scope on my AR: I mistakenly thought that the scope turrets were 1/4 MOA per click, when they were actually 0.1 mil.  Since 0.1 mil subtends .36 inches at 100 yards, (instead of the .25 inches I expected) this meant I overcorrected a bit.  It all worked out quickly, once I realized my error.

I can’t always work through the entire mil-dot range calculation, but the VX-R’s 10-mil circle makes it easy: if a 2-meter tall target fits neatly inside the circle, it’s 200 meters away.  If the same 2-meter target only fills the top half of the circle, it’s 400 meters away and I probably won’t be shooting at it with a 4-power scope unless it’s really annoying me and needs to be shot.

And Speaking Of Magnification:

The VX-R Patrol is designated as a ’1.25-4x’ scope, but manufacturers often fudge the numbers when it comes to low power magnification.  The VX-R Patrol unfortunately suffers from this slightly-misleading marketing, since its actual magnification is 1.5-4x.

That magnification is adjusted by means of a short-throw adjustment ring just forward of the eyepiece bell.  It turns smoothly if somewhat heavily, because it’s got a lot of glass to move around in there and only a short turn to do it in.  Unlike many cheaper scopes, it cranks through its entire power range with only a 90 degree twist.  I’ve got an old Tasco 3-9 which takes more than 180 degrees of twisting, grunting and cursing to zoom from 3x to 9x, and in comparison the Leupold feels slicker than the focus ring of a Hasselblad camera lens.

The adjustment ring is grooved to give your fingers a better grip, but Leupold gave it a low profile and a fairly small knob; it’s hard to adjust it quickly.  If it were knurled as aggressively as the turrets it would be easier to grip.  But it’s not, and  you’ll probably want to get an extended throw lever for it like most 3-gunners use.

Although the 0.3 mil red dot blots out about 1.1 inches of the target at 100 yards, I don’t think it impaired my accuracy when shooting the AR.  Foghorn was disappointed that the $2,000 Swarovski blotted out a wider 1.5-inch area of target at 100 yards, and that it allowed only 1/2 MOA adjustments.  This Leupold gives slightly more precision than the Swarovski, and at a vastly lower price.

The Red Dot:

The 0.3 mil red dot has eight brightness settings, controlled by a single switch on the left side of the turret housing.  At its dimmest setting it’s invisible except in near-darkness, and its brightest setting is easily visible against a bright backdrop in direct sunlight, yet without any annoying ‘twinkling’.

The red dot switch is in the same position where some scopes put their parallax adjustment dial, and Joe Grine unscrewed the switch/battery cover instead of simply pressing it to turn it on.  It’s an easy mistake to make, because the button is disguised with a subdued gold ‘Leupold’ logo and it doesn’t look like an on/off switch at all.  It’s easy to manipulate the switch with your left hand while maintaining your cheek weld and keeping your right hand on the grip.

The ‘Leupold’ logo button also contains the single CR-2032 coin battery.  These batteries are often slammed for not offering enough power or longevity for bright red-dot optics (and this is often a legitimate complaint) but the VX-R Patrol has no problems when it comes to battery life, because the dot turns itself off after being motionless for five minutes.  Then (the cool part) it turns itself back on when the scope is moved.

So I have no idea how long the batteries last.  I’m still using the first set.  You should keep a spare battery in the pistol grip storage space, but it might be years before you need it.

Size And Weight:

At 9.5 inches and 11.5 ounces, this scope is smaller and more compact than most low-power variable ‘tactical’ scopes.  Without rings it weights about the same as an Eotech XPS3, and it’s two inches shorter and five ounces lighter than Foghorn’s uber-pricey Swarovski.

This is all to the good, but if you want to keep your rifle light and handy you’ll still need to be prudent when you choose rings and bases.  I made poor choices (driven by cost and time constraints) and ended up with a scope/mount package that weighs a chunky 22.5 ounces.

AR-15 Mounting Options:

This scope practically begs to be mounted on an AR-15, but doing it requires some special considerations. First off, you can forget about co-witnessing any iron sights through this scope: as with any magnifying optic, the front sight is hopelessly blurry even at the lowest magnification.

Next you can forget about mounting any kind of backup rear sight behind it, unless you use a QD mounting solution. The rear of the eyepiece bell is slightly behind the charging handle, and even with the tallest rings there’s barely enough room under it for a folded-down Magpul BUIS.  With a long riser like I used, there’s no room at all.

The VX-R’s trim length and generous eye relief don’t require a forward-offset or ‘cantilever’ mount, but a comfortable shooting posture will require really tall 30mm scope rings or a riser base, or possibly both.  An A3 flattop rail and medium rings put the scope far too low.

And if your AR has a fixed A2 front sight like mine, you’ll really need more than high scope rings or you’ll find yourself looking right at the back of it.  I bought high Warne rings that weren’t quite high enough, and then I lost the receipt and packaging.  I couldn’t exchange them, so instead of dropping $40-$50 on a higher set I spent $10 on a UTG riser platform.  I know: ‘UTG’ doesn’t have the same tactical street cred of ‘LaRue Tactical’, but it was cheap and in stock and it raised the scope to the Goldilocks position.  I saved some money, but I added an ugly half-pound of metal to my rifle.  Don’t do what I did.

One last thing: if your AR is lucky enough to wear a VX-R Patrol, you’ll definitely want to accessorize it with an extended latch for the charging handle. Finger clearance under the scope is pretty tight, as this picture shows:

Mr. Knuckles?  Say hello to Mr. Eyepiece.  This is not an introduction you want to make rapidly or under stress.

Adjustments:

The VX-R Patrol is not a target scope.  The tactical-style turrets move the reticule by 0.1 mils per click which, as I discovered, is not quite as precise as the 1/4 MOA clicks we’ve grown up with on most hunting scopes.  You won’t be tempted to snipe varmints from long range with the VX-R, because the plague-ridden cranium of a Kansas prairie dog is barely one click wide at 300 yards.  And also because 4x sucks for long-range varmint hunting anyway.  I’ve tried.

The turrets twist and click into place with a delightful mechanical precision, however, and their heavily knurled ‘tactical’ knobs make your fingers feel like they’re in SEAL Team 6.  They’re also clearly indexed so you know how many mils of holdover or windage you’ve got dialed in, and you can return them to zero without having to re-sight the rifle.

Zeroing the index marks, however, requires the itsy-bitsyest hex wrench you’ve ever seen.  You might mistake it for a heavy-gauge sewing needle, and the retaining screws themselves are hidden in the knurling.  The process is a minor pain in the ass, but it’s still simpler than performing the same procedure on a Soviet POSP Dragunov scope.

I neglected to ‘shoot the box’ because I was having too much fun, but within the accuracy limits of my 1.2 MOA test rifle, the VX-R’s turrets did indeed move the POI by a consistent .1 mils (about a third of an inch) for each click.

Ruggedness:

My pockets aren’t deep enough to torture a Leupold scope to death in the name of journalism, but I didn’t make any effort to treat this scope with kid gloves.  It got rained on in the woods, and I wiped the lenses dry with my t-shirt to no ill effect.  I tried to drown it in my bathroom sink, where it instantly sank like the Yamato.  It didn’t mind the dunking, even though I’d accidentally poked out (and carefully put back) the rubber gasket/pressure switch that activates the red dot.

Did I drop this $520 scope onto concrete, or try to pound tent pegs with it?  Uh, no…but I wouldn’t worry: if anything ever does go wrong, Leupold stands behind a lifetime warranty for the mechanical and optical components, and a 2-year warranty for the electronic bits.

Handling:

When you crank the magnification all the way down and turn the red dot all the way up, the VX-R Patrol functions almost like a reflex red-dot.  The slight magnification means you can’t really shoot it with both eyes open when you’re down in the scope, because you’ll get cross-eyed.  Target acquisition and engagement is extremely fast, helped by the enormous 13mm exit pupil and the wide 75-foot field of view at 100 yards.

When you max out the magnification and dial the red dot down to medium/low, the VX-R functions as a medium-power scope with a high-visibility dot you’ll use a lot, and the aforementioned range-estimating milrad reticule that you probably won’t.

Fit And Finish:

“It’s a Volvo” used to say everything you needed to know about automotive safety.  “It’s a Mercedes-Benz” said everything about precision engineering.

This scope is a Leupold.  It’s bloody perfect.  Let’s move on.

Price:

The VX-R Patrol has a street price of around $520, which puts it in the middle of the pack for high-quality ‘tactical’ style optics.  Burris makes very nice 1-4x tactical scopes which retail for about $300 at the lower end, and 4x ACOGs sell for $650 or more.  IOR and Swarovski (and many others, including Leupold) sell top-shelf tactical scopes costing $1300 and up.  Way up.

Conclusion:

The Leupold VX-R Patrol is a credible alternative to an ACOG or to a red-dot/magnifier combination for defensive and competition uses.  It’s simpler, lighter and much cheaper than any of them, and it’s also an excellent, if slightly pricey, scope for hunting fast-moving critters out to medium range.

I’ll never be able to tell you how handy this scope would be for sniping insurgents in Fallujah or Kandahar, but at any realistic tin can/zombie/defensive engagement distances this scope goes like stink when it’s dialed down to minimum magnification.  It’s not quite a red dot, but the sweet spot is so huge and the reticule so visible that you really won’t notice much difference in speed.

You will notice a big difference in accuracy, especially at ranges beyond 25 yards.  If you can already shoot 1 MOA or thereabouts with an unmagnified Eotech, you’ll have no need for a scope like this, but with eyesight like that you probably don’t spend much money on scopes anyway.

It performs exactly as advertised, and it can be counted on to keep doing it for decades.  At a street price of $520, it would be nice if it were cheaper.  (What wouldn’t?)  But that price is something of a bargain because its real  competition is exotic scopes that cost three to five times as much.

If the Leupold is a little too rich for your blood, the Burris 1-4x TAC30 is cheaper ($300 street) but it’s also an inch longer and six ounces heavier.  When all else is equal, dollars buy you ounces, and I’d love to test these two scopes side-by-side to see what else they buy.  That will have to wait for another time and another test, so until then…

Specifications
Type: Medium-power variable riflescope, 30mm main tube, 20mm clear objective aperture, 1.5-4x magnification.
Reticule: Duplex crosshairs w/10-mil circle and illuminated .3 mil dot.
Length/Weight: 9.5”, 11.5 ounces without rings or base.
Finish: Matte black
Parallax: Not specified, but none detectable out to 100 yards at 4x.
Turrets: Exposed, finger-adjustable, 0.1 mils per click.
Eye Relief: 3.7 to 4.1 inches.
Price: $520.00 street.

RATINGS (Out Of Five)

Clarity * * * * *
Hard to judge by itself, but outstanding sharpness edge-to-edge in the image and reticule at all magnifications.

Brightness * * * *
Objective clear aperture is small (20mm) for its 30mm main tube, and it doesn’t gather much more light than most compact 1-inch tubed scopes.  It could be brighter, but then it would be bigger.

Durability/Reliability * * * *
Not as heavily armored as an ACOG, Aimpoint or Eotech, but much more rugged than I will ever need.

Controls * * * *
The single-button red dot control is not the most intuitive, but the positive 0.1-mil clicks are delightful.

Fit And Finish * * * * *

Overall * * * *
Lack of both-eyes-open sighting is its only drawback, and not a very big one. I could send it to Foghorn for 3-gun competition testing, but I might never get it back.