Scope Review: Leupold VX-5HD 3-15x44mm CDS-ZL2 Rifle Scope

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 ranges 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 VX-5HD 3-15x44mm CDS-ZL2 has Leupold’s zero lock that lets you loosen the turret and place it 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 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. 

comments

  1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

    All my scopes are Leupolds, partly due to my grandfather’s insistence on their quality (he was a master engineer by profession), so I suppose I’m a bit biased as well. I’m sure there are other quality manufacturers, but I see no reason to fix what ain’t broke.

    I’m a Leupold fan for life.

  2. avatar Ralph says:

    Leupold remains a top choice for a good scope at a price that doesn’t cause heart palpitations. I also liked Nikon but it is out of the riflescope business. Vortex is good, but they are Asian-made. Leupold scopes are made in Oregon, which used to be part of America.

    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      “Leupold scopes are made in Oregon, which used to be part of America.”

      Does that mean Tom in Oregon is an immigrant? 😉

      1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

        I’m a Nomad.
        I’m just here for a while.

        I too am partial to Leupold scopes. I’ve had the pleasure of being in their factory. Those folks bend over backwards to get you the scope you want for your particular needs.

    2. avatar James Campbell says:

      The Trijicon 1-8×28 Accupower is nice for close work. True 1x and bright glass for low light shooting.
      I switch between the Leu Mk 5 and Trij Accupower on my AR-10. Mounted up both on SPUHR QD mounts so swapping takes a few seconds, and zero has never moved on the pair.

  3. avatar James Campbell says:

    Leupold scopes never disappoint.
    The Mk 5 HD 3.6-18×44 with a tremor3 reticle (illuminated) on my AR-10 (POF P308 SPR) is hands down my favorite scope.
    Just thinking about it has me wanting another range session with it.

  4. avatar UncleK says:

    I must be nice to have money.
    I’m happy with my Nikon 4-12×40 that I got for $99.
    Quite adequate.
    Sadly, Nikon had bailed on making any future scopes.

  5. avatar ChoseDeath says:

    Every piece of glass in my gun safe has a gold ring on it. Just an anecdote; my Father had a VX-II for about 35 years and it actually did break. He sent it back to Leupold, they wrote him an email giving their condolences they couldn’t fix his scope exactly how it was because whatever was broken, they didn’t make anymore. They fixed it as best they could, but since they couldn’t guarantee how long it would last they sent that scope back along with a brand new VX-II! I mean… beat that. I’m a Leupold customer for life.

  6. avatar Tex300BLK says:

    I’ve been completely floored with the image quality, brightness, and clarity of my VX5HD. I was running it on my 280Rem but my wife stole it to put on her 6.5 Grendel and I find myself constantly looking for excuses to take that rifle out in the field now.

    If you compare specs such as weight, field of view, etc… this scope compares very favorably to optics cost 2-3x more.

    The CDS is a much better solution than 99% of BDC reticles that are usually cluttered and only calculated to a generic bullet/cartridge combo. I really appreciate the locking turret and second rotation indicator on the elevation dial.

  7. avatar Yep says:

    That box test video is nauseating. Those horizontally spinning transitions are horrible

  8. avatar Duane says:

    I buy at least a Leupold in quality after having many lessor scopes fail over the years.

    You will not be disappointed in buying a better scope.

    I own several rifles that the scope cost more then the rifle.

    No matter how good you rifle is it isn’t worth anything if you scope fails and you can not hit what you are shooting at

  9. avatar Ron says:

    I’ve always liked that leupold style crosshairs sort of resembles a German post sight.

  10. avatar Greg says:

    “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.”

    Proof read much?

    1. avatar James Campbell says:

      Mr Arnold may be getting more “progressive” as he ages.
      Words and punctuation mean whatever he says they do.
      Rumor has it he took an Ebonics course last year.
      Trump/Pence 2020

  11. avatar RidgeRunner says:

    I have this scope on my Browning Hell’s Canyon 30-06, best groups I’ve ever shot. With Talley mounts, best scope/rifle Combo I’ve ever had.

  12. avatar edward kenway says:

    For the price a ranging reticle on this would be even better. One of my big gripes is seeing a wasted duplex reticle with no MIL/MOA markings on an adjustable scope. Back in the day I owned a nice Leupold Vari-X II 6.5×20 50mm adjustable on my Remington 700. It was something you could hunt and target shoot with effectively.

  13. avatar David says:

    These new 30mm scopes are nice but too heavy! According to Leupold this scope weighs 19.7 oz. Even though this scope has a larger power range than the 13 oz Leupold 4.5×14 one inch tube, it’s also 6.7 oz heavier – which computes to nearly ½ pound heavier. That ½ pound adds up in the field when you have to carry it up and over mountains all day. Even though this 3-15x44mm is a very nice scope — I’ll stick with the lighter scopes.

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