Review: Leupold VX-3HD 4.5-14x40mm

posted on July 9, 2021

I sat on a protrusion of volcanic rock, with the trade winds blowing the red dust in little dust devils, watching the side of a steep, rocky hill for the first sign of deer. My guide—an experienced gentleman known simply as “Uncle DonDon”—assured me they’d feed across the slope we were watching just before dark. While the entire exercise seemed silly to me, what with the swirling winds and all, DonDon was right.

Hunter glassing for Axis deer in Molokai, Hawaii

The man was all business, and he simply uttered a distance rather than try and talk me to the deer. “Two Fifty,” I heard, and DonDon pushed his chin forward in the direction he wanted me to look. I spotted the axis deer doe—so prolific on the Hawaiian island of Molokai—and dialed the elevation turret of the VX-3HD to 250 yards, settled the rifle, made a wind adjustment of just over a minute on the horizontal bar of the reticle and broke the trigger of the Nosler Model 21. I couldn’t see the hit due to the recoil, but the sound of the AccuBond striking flesh was unmistakable.

Nosler Model 20 Rifle with Leupold VX-3HD Riflescope

Hunting on Molokai was a unique experience, what with the terrain which runs from the iron-rich hills peppered with thorny trees and brown grasses making the western side of the island so reminiscent of Africa, to the emerald green of the eastern side which could easily double for Scotland, especially when the rain clouds reduce visibility to near zero. And when viewed from the coast, one cannot help think of Jurassic Park. With one buck and three does allotted, I’d certainly have a chance to put the new Leupold scope through its paces.

The Leupold VX-3 line—including the VX-3i variants—has long represented a fantastic value to the hunter and/or shooter, and the newest iteration packs even more features into the scope. The VX-3HD line includes models which are light, rugged and well balanced, including what may be the best value for a hunter looking to cover all the bases: the 4.5-14x40mm. With its 30mm main tube, this scope offers a wider range of elevation adjustment than its one-inch counterparts, as well as better light transmission.

Leupold VX-3HD 4.5-14x40mm

The ¼-minute adjustments are crisp, and the elevation turret uses the CDS (Custom Dial System) with a zero lock to make sure you return to zero quickly when you want. For the hunt I was on, Leupold provided a custom elevation turret for the .27 Nosler with the 150-grain AccuBond load; instead of ¼ MOA graduations, it was marked simply in yardage. We sighted on the evening we arrived, in 25 mph trade winds. In spite of that wind the scope tracked perfectly, and I was properly zeroed within four shots (the last just to verify). We ‘slipped’ the turret, setting it to zero, and throughout the hunt I would simply ask my guide for the range, dial that distance and do my part to hold steady.

Leupold Wind-Plex Reticle

The windage adjustment on the VX-3HD 4.5-14x40mm is capped, but have no fear, the model I used in Hawaii had the Wind-Plex reticle, making wind deflection adjustments a breeze (pun fully intended). With a set of one-MOA hashmarks on the horizontal hair—out to 10 MOA on either side of the vertical hair—I dialed my elevation adjustments, but for the wind correction I used the graduations on the crosshair, making for quick and simple adjustments in any hunting situation. As the VX-3HD line is comprised of second focal plane scopes, the calibration on the horizontal hair will only work properly at maximum magnification.

I like Leupold’s choice of a 40mm objective lens for a couple of reasons. First, it’s large enough to give a nice bright image in all sorts of differing conditions, and second, it’s small enough to allow the scope to be mounted low to the bore for the best sight alignment. While I enjoy the brightest image possible, I despise a scope which has to be mounted so high that the comb sits against my jaw rather than my cheek, and though I've tried all kinds of add-on comb risers, I prefer my scopes as low to the bore as possible.

Hunter with Axis Deer Taken on the island of Molokai, Hawaii

The VX-3HD 4.5-14x40 weighs in at a mere 16 ounces, making it a perfect choice for a mountain rifle, or for those who take the balance of their hunting rifle into consideration. There is just shy of 6 inches of mounting space, offering considerable room for mounting the scope even on magnum receivers. The .27 Nosler has a decent amount of recoil, but there was no concern about getting ‘bit’, as the VX-3HD offered plenty of eye relief. I got to use this scope in bright midday light, where it offered wonderfully crisp images, in that murky first light where it allowed me to place the shot properly and most importantly see if there were any potential obstructions in the bullet’s path, and at last light where the VX-3HD gave us additional time to hunt. In fact, I took an axis deer doe at the very last light on day one, and might not have taken that shot with a lesser scope.

With a price tag of $749.99, Leupold has packed an awful lot into this scope, and I’d wager you’ll be seeing this model on top of a good many ‘all-around’ rifles, where a hunter will keep it dialed down to 4.5x for the deer woods (the good old fixed 4x was the staple at one time), yet at the top end of 14x, you could make the case that it is enough magnification for any hunting shot. While no lens system is perfect, this scope had very few aberrations; colors are real, the image is crisp edge-to-edge, and the side focus makes the shooter happy at any distance. I am still a big fan of the VX-3i line, but Leupold has definitely improved things in the VX-3HD series.

Want to read more from Philip Massaro? Check out the following articles:
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5 Reasons to Learn How to Reload Ammunition
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 5 Reasons the .300 Win. Mag. Rules the Roost
• Bolt-Action Rifles: Push-Feed vs. Controlled-Round-Feed
• Scope Magnification: How Much is Too Much?
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• 4 Ways to Fine-Tune Your Rifle During the Off Season
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• An Ode to the Ruger Mini Thirty
• Boattail vs. Flat-Base Bullets
• How to Build a Custom Rifle
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