Gear > Optics

Redfield Revived

Given the present state of the economy, an American-made scope for $129 should have no trouble finding its place in the market.

American hunters didn’t invent brand loyalty, but as a group they’re as passionate about it as anyone. Show me a hunter and I’ll show you a favorite Browning, Federal, Filson or Danner, or a favorite cartridge (.30-06, anyone?). Here’s another name hunters favor: Redfield.

The Redfield Rifle Scope Company was founded by John Hill Redfield, an ingenious man whose story is not unlike those of John Browning or Samuel Colt or Bill Ruger. He died more than 65 years ago, but Redfield products have been carried by American hunters for generations. Anyone loyal to the brand he created will be happy to hear that, beginning this month, they can once again buy new, American-made Redfield riflescopes. That’s because in 2008 Leupold & Stevens, the venerable American sports optics company headquartered in Oregon, purchased the rights to Redfield, then planned and executed a renaissance of the once great American brand.

That development is itself an interesting story. But first, a little history. Born in 1859 on 160 acres in Glendale, Ore., John Hill Redfield was one of eight children of John and Adelia Redfield, who had migrated west in a covered wagon some years earlier, fending off Indian attacks along the way. As a boy John loved hunting and exploring, and it was his taste for adventure that took him as a teenager to San Francisco, then Nevada and to unknown parts of Idaho. While away, he became a deputy U.S. marshal—and for the rest of his life carried the scars of four bullet wounds as testament to his service. He also became a gambler of some repute. And his skills as a marksman served him well as a meat hunter for the Northern Pacific Railroad.

In 1893 Redfield returned to Oregon and set up shop as a gunsmith. But he was inspired by the mining boom in Colorado, and a little tinkering in his shop produced an innovative rock drill. He moved his family to Denver in 1906 and his drill earned him notoriety. It wasn’t his only invention, either. Others included a timed shotgun that fired at regular intervals to keep coyotes at bay around sheep herds, a water-powered washing machine, an astronomical instrument and several guns.

In 1909, he launched the Western Gun Sight Company in a small building behind his home on Gilpin Street in Denver. Redfield sights proved superior to the competition, and soon John’s son, Watt, began working full-time for the company.

During World War I, Redfield designed the JR & SR rotary dovetail mounts for telescopic sights for U.S. Army special units—the foundation of the very Redfield mounts we all know and use today. In 1932, the company was renamed the Redfield Gun Sight Company. In 1944 John died and Watt took over.

Many optical advances followed, including centered reticles, internal adjustments, second-focal-plane reticles (which hold their size throughout magnification changes) and one-piece tubes. Probably the most famous Redfield product was the Widefield riflescope, introduced in 1970. It's distinguishable by its oval objective lens, which is wider than it is tall. It’s akin to a TV screen and provides upwards of 30 percent more field-of-view than conventional scopes. I still have mine, a 4X that to this day sits atop my dad’s old Marlin 336.

All that history dovetails nicely with the company that this month begins selling new Redfield riflescopes. You see, two years before John Hill Redfield started his business, Fred Leupold and Adam Voelpel launched Leupold & Voelpel in Portland, Ore., the very company that eventually became Leupold & Stevens, makers of the popular line of riflescopes we all know today.
But how Leupold & Stevens acquired the Redfield brand is a tale with a lot of plot twists.

In 1998, the original Redfield Rifle Scopes Inc. ceased operations in Denver. Through the 1980s and ’90s, the company had found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the competition. Like others, it began marketing scopes with foreign components, and sought toward the end of its life to re-enter the high end of the market with its Ultimate Illuminator series. But it was too little, too late. Competition had surpassed Redfield.

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3 Responses to Redfield Revived

Jim wrote:
June 14, 2012

Scott, i really enjoy the history you gve on redfield. a couple clarifications, imply redfield was involved in the scope biz in the 40's/50's (Many optical advances followed, including centered reticles, internal adjustments, second-focal-plane reticles (which hold their size throughout magnification changes) and one-piece tubes.) Redfield did not enter the scope biz until 1956, when it bought the rights to Kollmorgen's Bear cub line. And, the demise of Denver's Redfield facility was due in part to foreign competition, but also due to the fact that their facility was found to be the source of groudwater contamination, and they were embroiled in liability and legal actions for that. I think it is more correct that they "surrendered" to both foreign and domestic forces that were eroding profitability. Just wanted to offer the clarification, and encourage you to keep up the excellent writing. Jim

horsethief wrote:
March 22, 2011

After zeroing an AccuRange 3-9x40 Redfield Revolution, my 300 Weatherby produced a sub-1" group @ 100yds. This scope is everything I thought and hoped it would be. The next scope I get will be another Redfield. I am recommending it to anyone looking for a great scope.

leadnut wrote:
January 05, 2011

Dumped my Nikon Prostaff that couldn't hold a 6" group bench rested for a Redfield 4-12X40. Now I shoot 1.25" groups with a Marlin 338 express... my all time favorite rifle!! Optics are excellent for the price and gathers a lot of light for those evening oppurtunities. And, made in USA. If you don't believe it call Leupold. Some salesman don't have their facts correct and are saying its Chinese... wrong!