If you listed the world’s top six scope makers, Leupold would have to be on that list – and near the top – right? For older shooters like me, a Leupold was often their first quality scope and, leaving aside their 36BR benchrest scope, their 6.5-20 Mk4 variable (later extended to 8.5-25) was a highly desirable item for any long-range shooter – until Nightforce came along…………..
When was that? 1998? The Nightforce 12-42 optic just blew everything else away. That scope was the game-changer for long-range shooting. But, in spite of the runaway success of the Nightforce, other scope manufacturers were slow to catch-on and Nightforce enjoyed an unchallenged market for many years. Now, we can get high-power variables from most of the leading manufacturers – including the European ones but, when was Leupold going to join the fray?
There were hints at the 2013 Shot Show of a new high-power variable and, at the World F Class Championships in Raton the same year, participants got the first glimpse of the VX-6. Initial reports were good but, by now, the game had changed again – in addition to their 10-60, March had introduced an unheard of 8-80, Nightforce launched their 15-55 and Sightron have a new 10-50. If the Leupold 7-42 is going to cut it with the serious F Class guys it needs to be good and priced right.
I missed this year’s Vegas Shot Show so I was really looking forward to handling the new Leupold at IWA. Would it be their stand centre-piece? Gold-plated in a glass case? “Er, sorry – we forgot to bring it…..” Honestly? Heck, the most exciting scope from Leupold in a couple of decades and………….well it kind of shows where target shooting ranks in comparison to military contracts and hunting.
Anyway, it’s here now – in my hands. Initial reaction? It looks right – if you know what I mean – not as chunky as a Schmidt, not long and slim like the new Nightforce, just right in fact – like the March and the new SV 10-50 Sightron. In line with the new breed of high-end optics, it sports a 34mm body-tube but, weight-wise it’s bang on the money at 26.5oz – the same as my 8-32 Sightron (the FTR shooters’ favorite) and lighter than the new Nightforce Competition 15-55 (28oz).
Are odd ounces that important? Yes they are – to weight-conscious FTR shooters, who may be attracted by this scope as an alternative to the March 10-60 – which is even lighter at a tad under 25 ounces. Putting together an effective FTR gun is all about making compromises – pick a 10-60 March over the 15-55 Nightforce and you can add an inch to your barrel! And inches matter – just as much as ounces.
At the time of writing this article, there is very little information out there on the VX-6 scope so I can’t tell you what reticles are available. My example has a fine crosshair with a tiny centre-dot and hash-marks (or stadia if you like – similar to the Sightron LRMOA) and of course it’s second focal plane – this scope is designed to be used on-range at known distances. To be honest, a simple fine crosshair is adequate for the serious F Class shooter but a few additions do no harm – providing it doesn’t get too confusing – like the Nightforce NP-1RR for example. The reticle’s aiming-mark must be blindingly obvious to the shooter. Some reticles can be very confusing, especially for snap-shooting comps.
Most competition scopes now seemed to have settled on, or around, 56mm for the objective and it is adequate, allowing excellent light-transmission, especially with the large diameter erector-tube permitted by a 34mm body-tube. After all, we shoot in daylight on high-contrast targets. I accept it may be totally different in the ‘field’ in low light.
We’ve established that weight is critical to the FTR shooter. What else? Well as always, price is a big factor. In addition to good optics and accurate adjustment, the Sightron’s popularity is undoubtedly due to the excellent value it offers but, don’t expect the Leupold to be in the same price-bracket. March broke through the £2000 barrier with the 10-60 and Nightforce followed suit with their new 15-55 Competition and, unfortunately, Leupold will be asking over two grand for the VX-6.
Why are some scopes more expensive than others? Good question. What makes a March worth more than twice the cost of a Sightron? To find the answer, you’ll need to talk to a March owner! Yes, there are features like ‘zero-stop’, locking turrets etc. which are nice to have certainly but, how much are you willing to pay for non-essential features? Target shooters don’t need illuminated reticles for example! Of course, as always, it’s up to the individual and, as other scopes climb over the two grand barrier, it just makes the 10-60 March seem all the more sensible and good value!
A few years ago, an essential feature of any scope was a generous range of elevation adjustment. With a 308 Win. for example, if you wanted to shoot out to 1000 yards you were looking for 36 to 40 MOA above your 100 yard zero. Few scopes with one-inch body tubes were able to offer that range of adjustment but, with the advent of 30mm and now 34mm body-tubes this is less of a problem. Not only that but development of the 308 cartridge by the FTR shooters has brought that elevation requirement down to 28-30 MOA and much, much less for Open shooters. With just 55 MOA of elevation adjustment, the
VX-6 isn’t over-generous but of course, tapered scope-rails are now readily available for most rifles if you need more MOA. Windage is adequate at 45 MOA.
Talking of adjustment and thus turrets, this is one feature of the new Leupold which didn’t turn me on. I like ‘chunky’ turrets and I don’t like turret-caps. Turret-caps have to be taken off and put back on and inevitably get lost on range in the heat of competition. It’s just another thing to have to do. Turrets themselves should be deeply knurled so that cold wet or gloved hands have no problem making adjustments. They should be ‘positive’ to turn – almost to the point of stiff – so that they can’t be moved accidentally. Unfortunately, the Leupold falls down a little on its turrets. They’re positive enough but look a bit like you’d expect to find on a cheap Chinese scope. Guys – stick some of your Mk.4 turrets on there and ditch the dust-caps!
One interesting feature – the elevation turret offers 1/8MOA clicks but the windage is in 1/4MOA. Apparently this is in response to consultation with F Class shooters and I suppose it does make some sense but, for me, it’s just something else to remember in the heat of competition. Personally, I’d be happy with 1/4MOA all round but, if you cover all bases, no one can complain…….
All other controls – from the side-focus, zoom-ring and European-style ocular focus-ring are spot-on and move with a reassuringly precise feel.
One other accessory that is essential to the ‘shoot in all weathers’ competitor – the rain-shade – sometimes referred to as a sun-shade but not where I shoot. Keeping rain off the lenses is essential and particularly the objective lens. The ocular (eye-piece) is right there in front of you so it’s easy to wipe. Leupold don’t include a rain-shade but it does come with cheapish protective covers. These aren’t the see-through type or flip-up covers – just the ones you slip on after shooting or when rifle cleaning. A two grand scope deserves better.
OK, let’s get out on range and do some shooting. For F Open, I rely on an 8-32 Nightforce NXS with the NP-2DD reticle. My other rifle uses an 8-32 Sightron with LRMOA reticle and is a good bit lighter than the NXS so ideal for an FTR rifle. I’m always recommending the Sightron to new shooters – it’s excellent value and yes, for me, 32 power is perfectly adequate for 1000 yard shooting. But, maybe that’s because I’ve never known anything better!
OK, I do have a fixed-power 40X Leupold BR scope on a long-range benchgun but that doesn’t really count – in benchrest, the target is centred then five shots rattled-off ASAP – about 12 to 15 seconds usually. No time to weigh-up the sight-picture – the main requirement is not too critical eye-relief so you pick up the target instantly between shots. I did try an 8-80 March but found the eye-relief far too critical for rapid fire.
I’m anxious to compare the Leupold sight-picture with my NXS and conveniently, we have a 1000 yard F Class shoot this very weekend. I was hoping to actually shoot the comp. with the Leupold but the supplied 34mm rings – the excellent Tier One three-screw variety – won’t fit the Davidson rail on my F Class gun and I just couldn’t get hold of a set of 34mm Davidson rings in time. So, the Leupold is mounted on the Pic. rail of a ‘donor’ gun, simply to give it a stable platform to sit on. (This actually turned out to be a fortuitous move – the weather was horrendous for the F Class shoot!)
Optically, the Leupold should be the equivalent of anything out there – I mean, even cheapo Chinese scopes now have ‘shootable’ optics – but I would like to see what an F Class target with its CD-sized V bull looks like at 42 power – would it make it more hittable? Would it be easier to make adjustment decisions? Would it be crystal-clear? One of the very first optical lessons I learned – bigger doesn’t necessarily mean clearer and I’ve noticed that many F Class shooters prefer use their March 10 – 60 scopes at around 40 power.
Just to make things a little more interesting, we also took along a cheapo Fox Chinese 8-32 scope – amazing value at £125 from Fox Firearms but how will the image stand-up against these two heavy-weights? With all three scopes mounted on rifles supported by bi-pods and bag-bags, we focused-in on our F Class target 1000 yards away. There were many old black patches on the target but just one solitary white 18mm patch – see pic – which would be revealing.
Initially, the three scopes were set on 32 power – the maximum for the NXS and the Fox.
Four pairs of eyes were doing the testing and, it’s fair to say, we couldn’t split the NXS and the VX6 – the tiny white patch was bright and clear with a defined edge. The Fox image was equally as bright and contrasty but the edge of the spot wasn’t quite so well defined but honestly, we were all seriously impressed by the quality of glass in this budget Chinese scope!
Now, it was time to wind the Leupold up to full power. Would this simply enlarge the image or would it also soften slightly? It was impressive. Crystal clear and sharp and now, at 42 power other detail on the target-face was discernable – like the older peeling black patches etc. The Leupold would be very shootable at max power. Field of view at 1000 yards on 42X is about 27 feet, so you might even see the targets either side of you – very useful! I should mention that the weather was very good for this type of observation test – a bright, sunny, clear day with just the lightest breeze.
The other essential with a competition scope is accurate adjustment – wind-on one MOA and hopefully your bullet moves one MOA. Of course, the vagaries of the wind tend to nullify any small errors but, it’s nice to know that your scope does what it says on the turrets but who bothers to check?
Here’s what we did. A shot was fired at 100 yards at a blank target then 20MOA of elevation wound-on (160 clicks remember) and a second shot fired using the same aiming mark. The distance between the two shot-holes should be…….well, what should it be? One MOA is approximately equal to approximately 1.047 inches so, 20 MOA would equal 20.94 inches. It measured 19.875 inches. I repeated the test horizontally for windage and the distance between the two shot-holes measured 19.75 inches – about a 5% error in both cases. Did you expect it to be better? Well, check your own scope – you may be in for a surprise – in my experience, it doesn’t get much better than 5%. I found a very well-known scope with a 10% error! Not so much of a problem – if you are aware.
Finally, we have the ‘zoom’ check. I’d actually stopped bothering with this in scope tests as I’d never had even cheap scopes showing an error when sighting in at one setting then shooting at another but, not so long ago, I actually overheard an experienced shooter having concerns about this. The test is simple. Pick a repeatable aimpoint (i.e. one you can easily make out at 7x magnification) and fire a shot. Wind-on to full zoom and take another shot. See pic for the result – the 6mm shot-holes are touching – well within the parameters for a quarter MOA rifle and no windflags.
So, after some very non-scientific but I think, realistic testing, I have to conclude that the Leupold VX-6 ticks most of the boxes – my only minor gripe being the turrets but, I could live with that. I could ramble on about eye-relief, lens coatings, twin erector-tube springs and the like but all this stuff is pretty much a ‘given’ for high-end optics anyway.
In conclusion, this is a very fine long-range target scope, which should definitely appeal to serious F Class shooters and must be considered alongside the 10-60 March and 15-55 Nightforce Competition scopes. Also, the Leupold lifetime ‘no quibble’ guarantee is the best in the business – if you can’t make up your mind, this could be the deal-maker.
The recommended retail price is £2250 and GMK – www.gmk.co.uk are the UK importers.