January 14, 2020
By J. Scott Rupp
Leupold’s new VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm CDS ZL is one of the most practical, versatile and feature-packed hunting scopes to come down the pike in a long time. For starters, it checks all the boxes I look for in a hunting scope: It has a inch-tube so it’s light; its 40mm objective can be mounted low; it has a generous six inches of mountable tube length, providing plenty of room for getting eye relief right; and its excellent glass gives you great target resolution at first and last light.
It has all that, and then it gets better. It includes not only Leupold’s Custom Dial System but also a zero lock. If you’re not familiar with the CDS, when you buy a scope so equipped, you can go to Leupold’s website (hint, it’s under “Service and Support”) and design your custom dial by inputting key variables: cartridge, bullet type/weight, ballistic coefficient, muzzle velocity, altitude, temperature, zero distance and sight height.
You’re entitled to one free CDS when you buy a CDS scope, and Leupold will ship you a custom dial based on your variables. Data are shown at the top of the dial so you know which dial is which (you can buy additional CDS dials for different loads or rifles), and the side of the dial is marked with yardages.
For example, if you selected 100 yards as your zero distance, the base number will be “1.” Sight in at 100 yards, loosen the setscrews on the dial, remove it, then set it back on the turret so the “1” aligns with the index mark on the scope body. In the field, if that buck of a lifetime steps out 250 yards away, simply dial up to “2.5” and hold the duplex reticle dead on.
It’s a great system, and the zero lock makes it even more effective. As the elevation turret is target style—as in, uncapped—there’s always a risk that the elevation could be adjusted accidentally. With the zero lock, the turret won’t budge unless you press the silver button near the top. In experimenting with it I found it easy to reach and press from shooting positions, so I wouldn’t be concerned at all that it would slow me down in a field situation.
The scope also features a zero stop that prevents more than one rotation, which will keep you from getting “lost” on the dial. One full rotation of the turret provides 13 minutes of elevation, and that is plenty for any ethical hunting situation you could think of. For example, if you launch a 180-grain bullet from a .300 Win. Mag. at 2,960 fps, with a 100-yard zero that 13 m.o.a. of adjustment would hold you in good stead to just shy of 900 yards.
My sample came with the standard dial, and since I’ve used the CDS system before I didn’t want to make Leupold produce a custom dial on a scope I would have to return when I was finished. I mounted it on a sharp-looking Mossberg Patriot Revere in 6.5 Creedmoor.
As I mentioned, the Leupold has plenty of latitude to move the scope to where you want it without having to resort to clogging up your ejection port with a rail—and that’s becoming a rarity these days. After zeroing, I ran the scope through a box test, and it performed flawlessly.
The image was clear and bright, and while I didn’t test this in the field, the company’s Twilight Max Light Management System is designed to help you see better at the fringes of the day. Basically it eliminates stray light that makes it hard to see clearly downrange when the light drops.
The power rings on Leupold scopes are always spot on. Not too stiff, not too loose, and a projection and knurling on the power ring makes power shifts easy from shooting positions. And this particular power range is tailor made for hunting big fields, big mountains and big open plains. For all that power, the scope measures just 12.6 inches overall and weighs a mere 13 ounces—perfect for the hiking hunter.
Like all Leupold scopes, it endures the company’s Punisher testing process, so you know it’s tough, and it’s waterproof and fogproof—as well as guaranteed for life. Other VX-3i CDS ZL options include 3.5-10x40mm, 4.5-14x40mm side focus and 4.5-14x50mm side focus. The latter two have 30mm tubes instead of one inch, but they still weigh less than 20 ounces.
At a shelf price starting at $500 (depending on model), this has got to be one of the best deals in hunting optics.