German optics are legendary for three things: superior craftsmanship, outstanding optical quality and hefty price tags. Despite the well-deserved reputations of German offerings, many rank-and-file American hunters rarely give such optics more than a cursory look when it comes time to buy a riflescope, having been conditioned to expect prices well above their means. Conversely, for Americans willing to pony up for German quality, the trade-off has been learning to live with features that appeal to European tastes, but not necessarily their own.
Enter Leica’s new ER 5 line of German-engineered, American-made riflescopes, which have been designed with American hunters in mind at a price point many will find much more agreeable. By manufacturing the scopes in the United States, Leica is able to save on import duties and high German labor costs, which translates to lower prices for consumers.
The cost of an ER 5 is downright cheap for a German-engineered optic—six models comprise the line, with suggested retail prices ranging from $749 for a 1X-5X-24mm dangerous-game or 3-gun scope to $1,429 for a 5X-25X-56mm long-range rig. But don’t think the price hints at lower quality. Members of the ER 5 family are near equals to European-made Leicas.
For starters, all ER 5 riflescopes contain precision-ground HD glass that’s been fully multi-coated with Leica’s proprietary lens coatings. The result is 90 percent light transmission and a bright, crisp image on par with other top-end optics. Even under less-than-ideal conditions, image quality with the 4X-20X proved excellent over the course of two overcast, periodically foggy days of hunting in the Texas Hill Country. Just before noon on the second day, the fog cleared long enough for the ER 5 to pick up a band of Catalina goats sharp and clear on a distant ridge, allowing me to anchor a particularly handsome black and white billy at 240 yards.
The scopes are strong and rugged, too, built on one-piece, 30mm main tubes machined from aerospace-grade aluminum that’s been anodized for enhanced durability. In inclement weather, the ER 5’s fogproof, waterproof construction safeguards the internal integrity of the optic—even with the turret caps removed, which historically has not been a given with German riflescopes. An overnight stay in a freezer followed by a bath in a tub of hot water, sans turret caps, proved Leica’s waterproof, fog-proof claims to be true, with only minor external fogging that I could quickly wipe away.
Hunters on this side of the pond will welcome the ER 5’s finger-adjustable, .25-MOA windage and elevation turrets, as opposed to the metric-based milliradian system common in Europe (which equates to roughly 1/3 MOA per click). The turrets, a low-profile design that won’t interfere with sliding a rifle into and out of a scabbard on horseback hunts, provided audible and tactile confirmation of adjustment during testing. A side parallax-adjustment knob quickly brought targets at varying distances into the same focal plane as the reticle, making them appear as crisp as the crosshairs.
Of particular interest to long-range enthusiasts will be the ER 5’s quick zero-reset feature. Set it after zero has been attained by lifting up and disengaging the elevation turret, and then rotating the dial until the “0” mark aligns with a dot at the base of the turret. Push the dial back down to reengage the turret and provide an easy point of reference for reestablishing zero after dialing for long range.
Leica’s ballistic and magnum ballistic reticles, two of six available ER 5 reticle options, also offer holdover points along the lower vertical crosswire for long-range work. Armed with dope sheets customized to various rifles and loads by Leica’s online ER 5 reticle calculator, those holdover points proved to be spot-on out to nearly 600 yards from the bench in Texas, with no noticeable change in impact from one magnification setting to the next.
After returning home, I mounted a 2X-10X-50mm ER 5, which should retail for about $1,000, on a Ruger American rifle chambered in .243 Win. and headed to the range for additional testing. At 100 yards, the first three rounds of 75-grain Hornady V-Max Superformance Varmint grouped nicely at 1.25 inches, but the fourth and fifth shots in the five-shot group fell nearly 2 inches below point of aim. Although concerning, this was likely an aberration, as a second five-shot group held tight, as did all subsequent groups fired that afternoon. I left the range confident in the scope’s ability to hold zero.
Next, I “shot the box” to test how accurately the ER 5’s erector tube moves when adjusted. I fired two rounds and dialed the windage turret 32 clicks to the left, shifting point of impact 8 inches to the left. Maintaining my original point of aim on the target throughout, I fired two more rounds, dialed 32 clicks up, fired two rounds, dialed 32 clicks right, fired two rounds and dialed 32 clicks down. My final two shots landed virtually on top of the first pair, confirming that the adjustments tracked precisely.
Lengthy free tube space provides for versatile scope mounting and helps to fully take advantage of the ER 5’s 4 inches of eye relief. While the eye relief was superb at lower power settings, I found it to be far less forgiving at higher power, which is not uncommon as the diameter of the exit pupil shrinks. Still, I found myself frequently searching for the “sweet spot” on the stock as the power increased, especially above 12X with the high-magnification models, which could prove problematic in the field when speed counts.
The Leica ER 5 line is built to last with quality befitting a German optic. Once stateside hunters see what they’re getting with the ER 5 for the money, quite a few of these German transplants will make their way onto American hunting rifles this fall.