September 23, 2010
By Wayne van Zwoll
Leupold buys its historic rival and returns an honored brand to the woods.
By Wayne van Zwoll
The 3-9x40 Redfield is one of three new scopes to carry this historic name, which is now owned by Leupold. The Redfield line will be an economy brand with high-end features such as fully multicoated lenses.
Fifty years ago, the idea of Leupold selling Redfield scopes would have been unthinkable. These titans in the emerging market for optical sights were fierce competitors, their origins dating to the 19th century and men willing to take a chance on unsettled places and a young industry.
Born 150 years ago on a homestead near Glendale, Oregon, young John Redfield grew up restless. His parents had come west by ox-drawn wagon, surviving Indian attacks on their way to a new life on the frontier.
In his teens, John set out to seek his destiny in San Francisco, then in the wilds of Idaho and Nevada. He became a scout and a meat hunter for the Northern Pacific Railroad and, later, a U.S. deputy marshal--sustaining four bullet wounds during that tenure.
In 1909, John Redfield established Redfield Gunsight Company in Denver. Initially, John spent more time designing firearms than sights. He developed a gas-driven 7mm rifle and a pistol with collapsible stock. But demand for his sights--like the popular Sourdough Partridge front blade--soon kept his focus there.
His son Watt showed the mechanical aptitude of his father and later designed much of the machinery used to produce the company's sights. In 1916, the shop announced the ingenious dovetail scope mount that's since been widely appropriated. Easily adjustable for windage, it remains, a century later, among the most attractive, secure and versatile of scope mounts.
Meanwhile, Redfield receiver sights were hailed by both hunters and target shooters. During my youth, the Palma Target Sight retailed for $200, which was four times the price of a Redfield riflescope designed for hunting.
Redfield's hunting scope line emerged in the 1950s, when John bought the Kollmorgen line. Then it comprised 2.75X, 4X and 6X Bear Cub models. They were very good sights and featured 26mm tubes, for which Redfield supplied rings. A 3-9X Redfield scope came along in 1957 with a constantly centered, non-magnifying (rear-plane) reticle.
A long line of improved Redfields followed, from a low-powered, intermediate eye relief scope for top-ejecting 94 Winchesters to high-power variables with Accu-Range--an early and effective rangefinding reticle device. The 3200 target scope came out in 1968. I bought one, used, for $100 and with it won two state prone titles.
In 1970 the company introduced its Widefield hunting scope, with an ocular lens shaped like a television screen. The AccuTrac rangefinding reticle appeared in 1978.
Many shooters, me included, mourned the passing of this distinguished line. But the name was too valuable to let lie. ATK acquired it, along with Weaver and Simmons. All three optics brands soon changed hands again, landing in Irvine, California, at Meade--renowned manufacturer of astronomical telescopes.
Meade promised an overhaul of flagship Simmons scopes, but the other names languished. In 2006, Meade almost launched Redfield again using the technology it had employed to overhaul Simmons, but the announced products never reached market.
Now Redfield is back, the name having been purchased by its old rival, Leupold.
"The new Redfield is made at our plant in Beaverton, Oregon, alongside our VX series and other Leupold sights," says Leupold vice president Andy York. "The Redfield trio--we're offering three scopes--won't replace any Leupold products. Instead, they'll complement our line."
The 4-12x40 and 3-9x40 Redfields are indistinguishable from the outside, save for the numbers on the power rings. The finish is not quite satin, but it has a sheen and surface polish that put it a notch above matte.
These scopes, and the 2-7x33, wear new red logos, tastefully subdued, on the turret and objective bell. Three knurled rings on the eyepiece are the Redfield equivalent of Leupold's gold ring. They marked the early Kollmorgens too.
The optics are fully multicoated, and the adjustment turrets feature finger-click adjustments--all for a suggested retail of $160 for the 3-9x40, which astonished me as it's less than the company wants for a Leupold Rifleman.
On the Gun
If I had doubts about the optical performance and cosmetic appeal of the new Redfields, they were allayed when I attached a 3-9X to a Marlin XLR. To my mind, a 40mm objective is just the right size for a variable of this range. Even in low Leupold rings, the new Redfield cleared the rifle's barrel and rear sight handily.
At the range I spun the eyepiece, of traditional fine-thread design, until the reticle appeared sharp. I secured the lock ring, then trotted a target out to 35 yards to get the rifle on paper. Three sight adjustments later, I was punching holes within a couple inches of center. The manual clicks moved point of impact predictably.
The Redfield's reticle is in the rear plane, which means it does not change apparent size as you dial the magnification up or down. You can choose a plex or a rangefinding reticle.
I expected the plex would appeal to me the most, but this rangefinding reticle is unusually clean and very quick to use. Shooting plastic jugs in the woods as fast as the Marlin would cycle, I found the reticle had a nose for the target. It comprises the bars and center wire of a plex, but instead of an intersection, there's a small circle in the middle that subtends a foot at 100 yards on 4X--the magnification I use most of the time. A dot on the bottom wire, roughly halfway between the circle and the bar, lets you stretch to at least 400 yards without holdover.
I've had the scope on one hunt thus far, an unsuccessful trip for elk. On that jaunt, I took a bad spill and banged up the scope pretty good, but when I checked the zero later, it was still right on.