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Field Test: Leupold VX-3HD Hunting Scope

The VX-3HD riflescope line is rich in practical features but remains affordable.

Field Test: Leupold VX-3HD Hunting Scope

Leupold VX-3HD hunting scope. (Photo by Adam Heggenstaller)

I could tell Shawn Skipper was excited, and it wasn’t because he had just returned from a successful elk hunt. (I think it was elk. Skipper hunts so much that it’s difficult to keep track.)

"Big news from us," he said, "and you’re going to like it."

By "us," Skipper meant Leupold. He serves as the company’s industry relations manager and therefore keeps me abreast of the latest product developments coming from headquarters.

"We’re giving the VX-3i line a bunch of upgrades and calling it the VX-3HD," he dutifully reported. "I know you’re a fan of the VX-3i, but these new HD scopes are even better …"

I interrupted him with a groan. Recently I’d come to notice that scope "upgrades" meant larger main tubes and objective lenses. Several VX-3i scopes had been favorites of mine because they were compact. Before I could pose the question I was afraid to ask, Skipper continued the conversation.


"Don’t worry, we’ll have a bunch of scopes with 1-inch tubes in the line. The zoom range and most of the objectives are staying the same."

We could still be friends.

While I recognize the benefits of 30mm main tubes, mainly increased adjustment capability and a larger magnification range, I don’t find them necessary for the majority of my hunting. The tradeoff of a larger, heavier and in some cases quite bulky scope aren’t worth the extra clicks and power. Call me old-fashioned; I like 1-inch scopes on hunting rifles.

I ordered the 2.5-8x36 mm VX-3HD, and I’ve hunted with it on bolt-action rifles and lever guns for almost a year now. Skipper was right; Leupold did upgrade the line in several ways while keeping it practical and affordable.

Leupold VX-3HD Hunting Scope
The CDS-ZL dial has a locking button that prevents it from accidentally moving from the zero position. (Photo by Adam Heggenstaller)

The VX-3HD scopes are built around Leupold’s Elite Optical System, which considers every aspect of the view presented by the scope. The glass formula, arrangement of the lenses and their coatings are all taken into account when assembling the scope.

The result is not only better light transmission in low light, but also improved clarity, resolution and glare reduction. The Elite Optical System "handles" the available light and makes it most useful to the eye. In addition, the VX-3HD has Leupold’s Guard-Ion lens coating to protect the exterior glass surfaces from dirt and debris while helping them shed water.

One of the most notable upgrades is the VX-3HD’s CDS-ZL elevation-adjustment dial. The Leupold Custom Dial System (CDS) has been available for about 10 years now, and it keeps getting better. Provide the company with load, rifle and environmental data, and it will etch a dial with marks that correspond to the elevation adjustments needed for various ranges.

Instead of having to look at a drop chart and count clicks to make the necessary adjustment, simply turn the dial to the number that denotes the range to the target (3 for 300 yards, 3.5 for 350 yards, and so on). It’s a slick, practical system that eliminates guesswork while in the field—as long as you provide Leupold with solid data—and I’ve made good use of it while hunting elk, mule deer and coyotes.

The ZL portion of the dial’s name refers to the ZeroLock function, and this is where the VX-3HD receives an improvement. Built into the rear of the dial near its top is an oval button. When the button is engaged, the dial is locked at the zero position to prevent accidental movement. Unlocking it simply requires pressing the button with your thumb while you pinch the dial to make an adjustment. It’s a small but very notable enhancement that offers peace of mind.

The CDS-ZL dial isn’t useful only for 300-yard-plus shots. Hunters using muzzleloaders, slug guns and centerfire rifles chambered in straight-wall cartridges all can benefit from having elevation marks at closer distances. And they can get this advantage in reasonably sized VX-3HD scopes.

While the 2.5-8x36 mm hits a sweet spot for deer hunting, there is a 1.5-5x20 mm VX-3HD and several higher-power models up to 6.5-20x50 mm. Interestingly, the standard 3-9x40 mm configuration is absent from the line. Leupold offers a 3.5-10x40 mm VX-3HD instead.

Leupold VX-3HD Hunting Scope
A short but sturdy throw lever aids quick changes in magnification. (Photo by Adam Heggenstaller)

Most VX-3HD scopes come with a checkered, cylindrical throw lever that mounts to the magnification ring for quick changes in power. I’ll admit I had planned on removing the throw lever to maintain the scope’s streamlined shape, but its low profile didn’t get in the way during the first few months that I tested the VX-3HD so I kept it. Plus, the lever really did make it faster to zoom up and down through the magnification range.

I was glad I had it when a buck came trotting through an overgrown clearing at just more than 100 yards from my stand. I could have shot the deer with the scope on 2.5X, but the throw lever made going up to 8X so quick that I didn’t have to.


This occurred after three days of snow, sleet and rain, and the VX-3HD weathered it all with no problems. The scope is waterproof, fog-proof and shock-proof. The one I’ve been testing answers adjustments precisely, and it’s been right at home on .30-30 Win. and .45-70 Govt. lever actions.

The VX-3HD ranges from $499.99 to $999.99 (, with the pricier models having features such as an illuminated reticle, side parallax adjustment knob, and yes, a 30 mm tube. The line offers a scope for just about any hunting situation, but I think I’ll stick to the 2.5-8x36 mm. Did I mention it’s built on a 1-inch tube?

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