Review: Leupold VX-3HD 3.5-10X40 Riflescope

The ‘hero’ of the Leupold riflescope line just got better

The new Leupold VX-3HD riflescope is, according to the author, the best VX-3 scope made to date, offering better resolution, clarity, and contrast in a light, rugged and affordable package.

If you ask the folks at Leupold about their most successful riflescope models, it doesn’t take much prodding for them to tell you that the VX-3 has long been the “hero” of the lineup. For many decades, the scope has been offered in numerous versions with many name variations as the scope evolved. If you were to peek into the gun safes of hunters who have been at the game for any significant period of time, chances are good that you’ll spot one or more rifles wearing a golden-ring scope, and odds are good that some will be a VX-3. There are several residing in my gun safe, and they have helped account for a lot of game animals taken over the years. Reasons for the VX-3’s popularity are easy to understand: the scopes have always rugged, dependable, and affordable, and they have always been backed by a legendary lifetime performance guarantee.

The newest model, the VX-3HD, represents the ultimate evolution of the line and is, in my opinion, the best version made to date – especially if you’re looking for an affordable scope that delivers superior low-light performance. I found out first-hand how well the scope performs under low-light conditions on a whitetail hunt in Texas last season using a VX-3HD 3.5-10X40 model. As so often happens, the hunt came down to the last minutes of legal shooting light. Despite the rapidly fading light, I had a very clear image of a nice 10-point buck in the scope and had no difficulty picking up the reticle, enabling me to make a tricky quartering-on shot.

Weighing just 13.5 ounces, the VX-3HD is one of the lightest scopes the author has ever tested in this magnification range, making it an ideal choice for mountain or backcountry rifles.

While it’s easy to get into an endless debate over the technical specifications of riflescopes – and I’ll get to the specs on this new scope momentarily – the factors that matter most to me in a hunting scope are brightness and clarity of glass, ruggedness, anti-fog properties, consistent tracking and return to zero, low-light performance and value for the money. I also like hunting scopes to weigh considerably less than an anvil, because it’s not entirely helpful to park a heavy scope atop a lightweight backcountry rifle. Those are the standards by which I judge a hunting scope, and the VX-3HD delivers in all categories. To see just how good the new VX-3HD scope is, I compared it to several competitive offerings with a similar power range, including its immediate predecessor, the VX-3i, and quickly discovered that the “HD” in the name isn’t just a marketing gimmick.

To my eye, the VX-3HD has noticeably better resolution, clarity, and contrast in low light than the VX-3i, and it compares favorably to scopes costing much more. When I asked Leupold about this, the short answer was “better glass” – but that’s oversimplifying things. There’s a lot more to this scope than meets the eye, no pun intended. The scope’s good low-light performance is due in part to what Leupold calls their Elite Optical System, a lens coating system that is designed specifically to provide enhanced light transmission and high-definition clarity in low light conditions. Hydrophobic Guard-ion coatings also protect against dust and water, and hardened lens surface coatings protect against scratches. Hunting in the Texas sun, I discovered that glare wasn’t much of a problem, and I noticed that the adjuster clicks on the elevation and windage turrets seemed more tactile and solid than on the VX-3i.

The VX-3HD line of scopes features Leupold’s Elite Optical System, a lens coating system that is designed specifically to provide enhanced light transmission and high-definition clarity in low light. Multiple coatings on lenses also guard against dust, water, and scratches.

Leupold currently lists more than a dozen different VX-3HD models ranging from a 1.5-5X20 scope to a 6.5-20X50 scope, with suggested retail prices ranging from $499.99 to $999.99, which places street prices roughly in the mid-priced range of the market. The 3.5-10X40 model I tested has an MSRP of just $499.99. Depending on the model selected, you can get scopes with one-inch or 30 mm tubes, side-focus adjustments, and a variety of reticle choices. These include standard duplex, illuminated Firedot, Boone & Crockett, Wind-Plex, and fine duplex reticles. There’s even one version, a 4.5-14X40, with a burnt bronze finish.

In range testing, the scope handled a standard box-tracking test handily, returning to zero nicely, thanks in part to cryogenically treated dual springs in the adjusters. Adjustments are in ¼ MOA increments, and the elevation adjuster uses Leupold’s ZeroLock system to lock dials in place and keep the controls from being accidentally bumped off their zeroed settings. Using the ZeroLock system is a simple process. Once you have your scope zeroed, use the small provided hex wrench to loosen the set screws on the elevation turret. Align the turret so that the visible value on the dial is set to zero on the standard turret (or 1 on a customized turret, assuming a 100-yard zero), and then retighten the screw. When you need to dial in adjustments, simply push a button on the turret to unlock it. Rotate the dial back to zero to lock it in place.

All VX-3HD scopes have an easy-to-use ZeroLock system, and each buyer is eligible for a free replacement Custom Dial System elevation dial (not shown) which is custom-matched to the shooter’s choice of ammunition and environmental hunting conditions to make it easy to dial in the correct elevation adjustment for long shots.

Notably, the VX-3HD employs Leupold’s Custom Dial System (CDS), which means that each model is eligible for a free CDS elevation turret that lets you manually dial in the correct distance to your target, eliminating the need for holdover or the use of the stadia on bullet drop-compensating reticles on long shots. You simply go to Leupold’s website and enter the serial number along with relevant load, environmental and zero data, and Leupold will send you a custom dial. The Custom Dial System completely take the guesswork out of taking longer shots, so long as you dope the wind accurately, but it’s a good idea to employ the system while using a rangefinder such as the Leupold models that calculate true ballistic distance, which takes into account compensations needed for taking shots with steep angles of incline or decline. You can purchase extra dials for $80 each, and it’s a good idea if you spend a lot of time hunting near, say, sea level, but you also plan to use your rifle at high mountain elevations. Big changes in altitude can make a significant difference in the point of impact.

Like all Leupold scopes, the VX-3HD is waterproof and fog proof. Leupold uses a blend of krypton and argon gasses to purge each scope, and they are sealed and rated to remain waterproof to a depth of 33 feet and withstand changing atmospheric pressure. The scope is also extreme climate tested in harsh conditions and rated to perform in temperatures ranging from -40 degrees Fahrenheit to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Scope designs must also pass muster on the Punisher, a recoil simulation machine that duplicates a recoil force three times greater than that of a rifle chambered in 308 Win. Each design must survive 5,000 rounds of impact to pass the test.

The model tested by the author came with a removable throw lever that makes it easy to quickly zoom in for long shots and zoom back to low magnification for close shots. The scope has a 3:1 zoom ratio.

The VX-3HD also checks the lightweight box, thanks to its relatively thin but rugged aluminum housing. The 3.5-10X40, one-inch-tube model I tested weighs just 13.5 ounces, making it a great choice to pair with lightweight mountain or backcountry rifles. Another nice touch on this scope is the inclusion of a knurled throw lever to quickly zoom in on your target or zoom back out for close shots. Those who hunt in thick cover might not appreciate the throw lever as much, however, as it can become just one more thing to get snagged. Leupold had the good sense to make the throw lever removable if you don’t want to use it.

The VX-3HD 3.5-10X40 model I tested is a second-focal-plane design with a 3:1 zoom ratio and a matte black finish. It measures 12.67 inches in total length. The eyepiece diameter is 1.56 inches. The windage and elevation adjustment range is 55 MOA, and each full revolution of either of the low-profile adjustment dials spans 15 MOA. Eye relief varies by model. My test scope had 4.4 inches of eye relief at the lowest magnification setting and 3.6 inches of eye relief at the highest magnification. The field of view for this scope is 5.5 degrees, or 29 feet, at low magnification. The high magnification field of view is 2.1 degrees, or 11 feet, at 10X magnification. The fixed parallax-free distance is 150 yards. As noted, the scope is quite light and compact. In fact, it’s one of the lightest I’ve ever tested in this magnification range.

The VX-3HD’s excellent low-light capabilities helped the author down this 10-point Texas whitetail with only minutes of legal shooting light remaining.

The VX-3 design is a time-tested, proven workhorse in the field, and now it delivers a new level of optical clarity and sharpness with HD lenses. Best of all, the VX-3HD scopes, like their predecessors, are priced affordably and backed by one of the best guarantees in the business. For more information, visit www.leupold.com.

Like all Leupold scopes, the VX-3HD is waterproof and fog proof, and is rated to perform under the harshest conditions with a lifetime warranty.

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • David A Boerboom July 26, 2021, 12:06 pm

    Thanks for this article, it was great…. And, do my eyes deceive me; is that an old school focus back there on the ocular Bell? Wow.. I have been wanting a vx-3 HD, too…. I was planning on restoring, and updating my old school cool Marlin 336c, in .35 Remington… I was planning on restoring the wood, bringing out it’s natural tiger stripes, having the entire thing accurized (I won’t go into that), having the front sight and front barrel band delete with rear sight & barrel band delete, reblue the entire thing, introduce a chrome coating to the bolt, and some PVD finishes elsewhere internally… I was planning on mounting a vx3 HD twilight hunter 1.5-5×20 30mm CDS Firedot duplex…. But I was going to have the scope cerakoted in a “proprietary” color to mimic bluing… But now I’m thinking of going with an old school Weaver V…pre-65 … 1.5-4.5 … If I can win this auction. I LOVE 35rem… Yet another case of a phenomenal cartridge, that Americans wouldn’t realize, if it slapped them in the face. For most states… The aforementioned rifle and setup… Would be the absolute perfect rifle / cartridge.. for Whitetails, anyway… Yep… And “loaded right”, 35rem is all you need whatsoever for Whitetails out to 250, for sure.. expansions iffy at 300… 200gr FTX @ 2300 from a 20″ muzzle…. Yeah, that’s about perfect for Louisiana whitetail, anyway… HEY! Thanks again for a great article.

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