Leupold VX-3i 1.5-5x20mm Riflescope

By Chuck Hawks

Leupold VX-3i 1.5-5x20mm Riflescope
Illustration courtesy of Leupold & Stevens, Inc.

Here is what Leupold has to say about their VX-3i riflescopes:

"America's favorite riflescope just got better. VX-3i brings legendary Leupold Gold Ring performance to a new level. Twilight Max Light Management System provides maximum brightness in all colors and intensified contrast across the entire field of view. Dual Spring Precision Adjustments perform with match grade precision. The easy turn power selector can be quickly turned, even with gloves on while watertight seals ensure fog free performance for a lifetime."

"Light management means delivering usable light to your eye and forming a crisp, high contrasting image. Lens coatings are applied that maximize light transmission in blue colors, since your eye is more sensitive to blue in low light. Red colors are also maximized, since they dominate scenes in typical hunting situations and finally the balancing colors to develop the highest possible contrast. Glare is controlled with special mechanical structures. The end result, you can see antler tines in dark shadows long after the competition has gone home."

Our friends at Leupold supplied a VX3i 1.5-5x20mm riflescope for our recent Winchester Model 94 Sporter .25-35 test rifle. We used Weaver bases and medium height rings to mount the scope and everything went together easily, as expected.

Conveniently, the mounted riflescope cleared the rifle's buckhorn rear sight, which we were able to leave in place. This is one advantage of a riflescope with a sensible objective lens that does not require a front bell.

The VX-3 (now VX-3i) series has been the backbone of Leupold's riflescope line for several years. These fine scopes are built on one-piece, one inch diameter main tubes, as one inch mounting rings are more widely available than rings for 30mm tubes. Nevertheless, they have an excellent 117 MOA windage and elevation adjustment range and the fingertip adjustment knobs are protected by metal caps. The eyebox is generous, as is the eye relief (3.7" at 5x and 4.4" at 1.5x) and the mounting latitude.

These factors are often overlooked by less experienced riflescope manufacturers, but not by Leupold, where almost all of the employees are also hunters and shooters. (How can workers making riflescopes in places where the private ownership of firearms is illegal or very strictly controlled--think Red China and Europe--really understand the products they are producing?)

VX-3i scopes are designed to be extremely durable, but also lightweight. They therefore have a less detrimental affect on the balance and handling of the host rifle, which is especially important with a slender, fast handling rifle like the Model 94.

4.5x, the actual maximum magnification of this scope, is sufficient magnification for shooting Class 2 and Class 3 game out to about 300 yards. This is beyond the maximum point blank range (+/- 3") of most big game hunting cartridges and loads.

The VX-3i 1.5-5x20mm riflescope is a good match for any of the traditional lever action rifle calibers (.25-35, .30-30, .303 Savage, .32 Spec., .357 Mag., .35 Rem., .38-55, .405 Win., .44 Mag., .444 Marlin, .45-70, .450 Marlin, etc.). It is also ideal for most MSR/AR-15 rifle calibers, as well as medium and big bore caliber rifles and safari rifles in general. For example, we used the previous generation VX-3 1.5-5x20mm scope on our Winchester Model 94 Sporter .30-30 and our E.R. Shaw Mk. VII .338 Federal bolt action test rifles.

Features and Specifications

  • Product #: 170675
  • Reticle: Duplex
  • Finish: Matte black
  • Main tube diameter: 1.0" (25.4mm)
  • Actual Magnification: 1.6x-4.5x
  • Objective clear aperture: 20mm (0.8")
  • Linear field of view at 100 yds.: 68.0' (1.5x), 23.8' (5x)
  • Eye relief: 3.7" (5x) - 4.4" (1.5x)
  • Windage and elevation adjustment range: 117 MOA
  • Lens coatings: DiamondCoat 2
  • Focus: Lockable fast focus eyepiece
  • Twilight max light management system
  • Twin bias spring erector system
  • Accessories: Leupold scope cover included
  • Country of origin: USA
  • 2017 MSRP: $519

As far as I can tell, the previous VX-3 and new VX-3i scopes work about the same, although Leupold has redesigned the zoom control ring for easier operation and made other changes. The scope is repeatedly purged and then filled with Leupold's second generation Argon/Krypton gas for the ultimate in thermal shock resistance and internal fog-free operation.

The main improvement seems to be in the new Twilight Max light management system. As explained by Leupold, this is a triad of three performance elements: effective light transmission, glare reduction and contrast/resolution.

The VX-3i has blackened lens edges and internal baffles to reduce internal reflections (plus, of course, full multi-coating and DiamondCoat 2 external lens surface protection). Superior optical design and proprietary lens coatings take resolution and contrast to the highest limits to allow resolving low contrast details.

We did our test shooting of the new Model 94 .25-35 rifle in the middle of a summer day, so some of these advantages did not come into play. However, the accurate and repeatable Leupold windage and elevation adjustments certainly make sighting-in a test rifle with three different types of ammunition easy. Believe me, we have wasted much time with riflescopes lacking precise adjustments, but never with a VX-3.

Focusing the VX-3i to the shooter's eye is accomplished by turning the ocular bell and, once focused, securing the setting with a knurled jam ring. This is the traditional method of focusing American made riflescopes, although we must admit that in this area we prefer a separate, European style, fast focus ring, which is especially convenient if more than one shooter must use the rifle.

Our test scope came with the standard Leupold Duplex reticle, the first and still the best of its type. We prefer simple, easily seen reticles and the Duplex is exactly that. No calculating or interpretation required. Just sight-in your hunting rifle for the maximum point blank range (MPBR) of your cartridge/load, stalk within range, put the intersection of the cross-wires in the center of the animal's heart/lung area and gently squeeze the trigger.

As far as I could tell by looking through the VX-3i test scope, the optics are at least a good as I have previously come to expect from Leupold VX-3 riflescopes. Flare is very well controlled.

Color rendition is natural. Contrast and resolution are very good. Distortion and the various types of optical aberrations are well controlled. The bottom line is this scope provides crisp, clear views of the target and, as the magnification is increased, resolves details invisible to the naked eye.

A light kicking .25-35 caliber rifle does not subject the scope to severe recoil stress, but Leupold extensively tests all of their production scope models (as well as their competitors' scopes) to destruction. Leupold scopes simply withstand the shock of recoil better than any other brand of riflescope, period.

Leupold's smooth, very hard, matte black anodized external finish is probably the most durable in the industry. This keeps the scope looking new for many years with minimal upkeep and minimizes scratches if the scope is mounted on different rifles. Here at Guns and Shooting Online, where we test many rifles and often move scopes from one to another, the latter is a serious consideration. I can attest to the durability of Leupold's finish.

Leupold avoids the flashy logos and brand names splashed all over some of their competitors' riflescopes. The test scope wears the signature Leupold gold ring around the objective and a small, round, "old gold" colored Leupold symbol on the left side of the adjustment turret. The approximate magnification settings are marked on the zoom ring in small, but legible, white numbers. That's it, there is nothing to detract from the understated, elegant appearance of this scope.


The VX-3i scopes essentially represent the middle of the Leupold Gold Ring riflescope line. Since I first owned a VX-3, it became my first choice in riflescopes. I also use VX-1 and VX-2 scopes and they provide excellent performance in their respective price categories, although they don't have quite the same full spectrum of advanced features offered in the VX-3i scopes.

The more expensive Leupold riflescope lines admittedly offer wider zoom ranges. The VX-3i scopes have about 3:1 zoom ranges, which is all I have ever needed or wanted. (In terms of optical design, the wider the zoom range the more difficulties it creates.) The more expensive VX-5 and VX-6 lines, for example, offer 5:1 and 6:1 zoom ranges respectively. This is great is you really need such zoom ranges, but in a long lifetime of hunting, I never have.

Nor am I a fan of ballistic adjustment dials, ballistic reticles and other such bells and whistles often found on many riflescopes from all manufacturers today. In my experience, anything that complicates a hunt is undesirable. Sight your rifle for the MPBR of your cartridge and load and concentrate on the animal and the stalk, not your scope's reticle or making adjustments and compensations before you shoot. Simpler is better, especially in the field!

I have probably seen more Leupold VX-3s on high grade, custom built rifles that any other riflescopes. These expensive rifles are generally ordered by very experienced, knowledgable hunters and built by the finest practitioners of the gun making art. This should tell you something.

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Copyright 2017 by Chuck hawks. All rights reserved.