By Joe W Gorman
Asked how he conceived of the statue of David, the celebrated artist Bernini offered an arrow-straight answer: "You start with fine marble and a several chisels. Then you carve away everything that isn't David." Of course his response was in Italian. I think. So I'm taking the translator's word for it. Similarly, the making of a great and affordable tactical-scope would seem to follow a similar course: Start with rugged aluminum and quality glass and then chisel through the potential options from magnification to objective bell size to reticle and internals'options so that everything that is not 'affordable tactical-scope' is removed.
Saying a tactical scope must be rugged is like saying a race car must be fast: you just take it for granted. I'd consider that to be must-have #1. To my chimp brain, clarity of glass would be must have #2. Lastly, a tactical scope HAS to be able to give the shooter long-range low-light reference capability. Wait, it also has to be matte finish. Because it's 'tactical.' Yep, gotta be matte.
Leupold, as a company, has to balance the desires of the engineers with the bottom line of accounting to offer a value at this price point. So if you want a knob adjuster machined from unobtanium on CNC lathes programmed by Peruvian monks, it's gonna cost you. For a 'the-sky's-the-limit' priced scope, designing seems easier. You simply don't make any compromises. However, I'm sure Leupold sells a lot more mid-range product than the top-tier scopes they make. The considerations that get folded into the mid-range equation have to be exact: too many features and you have to cut your costs on basic materials, too few features and your competition will steal your sales. The calculus must be perfect.
Leupold's VX-R Patrol 1.25x4 is offered in both their hunting and tactical lines. I think that makes sense: at a svelte 11.5 oz and sporting a profoundly unobtrusive 20mm exit aperture on a rugged 30mm tube, the VX-R Patrol 1.25 x 4 is sized to stay out of your way in the woods, on the prairie and where people are wont to shoot at you. The 30mm aluminum tube along with the Index Matched Lens System and the Diamond Coated glass, claim to synergistically offer superior light transmission which should extend hunting time. Both elevation and windage allow for 90 m.o.a. of adjustment, according to the product spec. That's pretty impressive. Motion sensor technology saves batteries when you forget to turn off the scope. Like I'd ever do that!
A new generation of Argon/Krypton waterproofing promises to keep the glass clear from internal fogging et cetera. Actually the last generation was pretty good at this as my 20-year-old Leupold VariXIII target scope is as fog-free today as the day I unboxed it. There are also engineer-geeky improvements to this line that you can proudly boast about whilst pontificating around a roaring hunting-party campfire, stuff like cryogenically treated springs.
As you might reasonably glean from my earlier prioritization, this whole 'light transmission and clarity' thing is important to me. When you see a bright, razor-sharp image, like say, though a 4x32 Trijicon ACOG, you don't forget it. It's like God granting you eagle eyesight. Stick a lesser piece of glass up to your eye after viewing an ACOG and the lack of clarity becomes something a perfectionist might obsess over. And lose sleep over even, with deeply-seeded feelings of optical inadequacy. A therapist's couch is probably right around the corner with issues like this.
The ACOG - my personal yardstick of how a compact, tactical scope should present an image is just itchin' for a toe-to-toe match up with the scrawny 20mm objective-belled Leupold VX-R Patrol 1.25 x 4. So how does the Leupold VX-R Patrol 1.25x4 compare to the ACOG? The clarity of image, at all magnifications is very, very good. Is it as good as a 4x ACOG when dialed up to 4 power? Almost.
It is pretty dang close. Which is remarkable given the size of the objective lens. Also, let's not forget, the Leupold VX-R Patrol 1.25 x 4 is roughly one-half the price of the ACOG. This comparison is not fair by any standard. Still, while the VX-R Patrol 1.25 x 4 might have been bettered in the image presentation department, it was never knocked out. It never even got wobbly knees. This perfectionist could live happily ever after with this glass. What about the colors man? You know; handling of low-light detail that allows differentiation between a sun-dried weed patch and coyote fur 100-yards out at dusk? Here the Leupold VX-R Patrol 1.25x4 does very, very well too. Leupold's coatings and matched lenses allow that low light detail and hue to be seen and that's a very good thing.
Remember all the hoopla surrounding the Tasco Super Sniper 10 x 42 scope of the early 90s? It was really a great scope for a reasonable price. It wasn't particularly great at this dusk color test. I like how this VX-R Patrol 1.25 x 4 handled the subtlety of hue. I could follow mister coyote into brown grass hollows with the VX-R Patrol 1.25 x 4. Must be the choice of lens coating and what bands of light are prominent within those coatings? I dunno the technical part of this, but I like the image.
Lastly, the eye relief of the Leupold VX-R Patrol 1.25 x 4 is more than twice that of the ACOG! I never got scope bit by the ACOG but I was concerned with the amount of stock pressure into my shoulder. The Leupold's long eye relief and generous eye-box make this scope easy to use in a hurry. Plus I can dial it down to 1.25 power and the ACOG doesn't allow that.
The reticle on the VX-R Patrol 1.25x4 features a center-lighted dot. This is helpful obviously in low light situations when you might otherwise lose the center of the reticle. The battery is stored opposite the windage adjustment knob and the center of the cover is the on/off intensity control knob. Pushing the knob will increase or decrease the intensity of the dot until you see the dot flash, letting you know you are at the end of the adjustment range. Subsequent pushes start going the other way with respect to brightness. Holding the button down for 3 seconds will turn it off. Or just leave it be. The motion sensor will turn the dot off after 5-minutes of not moving.
The FireDot allows me to do the instinctive, both-eyes-open, follow-thing that Aimpoints allow me to do when it's set to the lowest power (provided you're in the scope's sweet spot with respect to eye relief). That's why red dots are so popular with people who need to take a quick shot at moving targets: that red dot commands your attention and registers on some level of your brain while the analytical level sizes up your target in a multitasking cerebral synaptic symphony! I've used my Aimpoint/AR combo to nail running jack rabbits past 120 yards! The VX-R Patrol 1.25 x 4 still jjhas magnification at the lowest setting so the both-eyes-open target acquisition is a little skewed compared to a 1X Aimpoint but it is do-able.
Speaking of optics yardsticks, the Aimpoint is my yardstick for clarity of red dots. Some dots look fine in strong daylight but can exhibit streaking/smearing in low-light. How does the FireDot measure up against an Aimpoint's dot? Well against my 20-year-old 5000-2X Aimpoint, the Patrol's dot is remarkably crisp. Id say the FireDot is just as clear and sharp. Truly, Leupold did a great job with the incorporation of a dot into the reticle of an otherwise great piece of glass. I never lost the FireDot in bright sunlight when dialed up.
As far as lending itself to precision shooting, I'd say the dot obscures about a 2-inch circle at 100-yards (maybe a little less). So if you have a tack-driver rifle that shoots 3/8-inch groups at 100-yards you probably wouldn't be in the market for a 1.25x4, it's not a bench rest target scope for Pete's sake! For the SIG716 that I ended up testing this scope out on, it worked very well as the SIG can shoot (1'groups at 100-yards) so I never felt hindered by the dot size when shooting at targets larger than 2”. When shooting at 100-yards I did dial back the dot intensity as far as I could, something I do with my Aimpoint 5000 when shooting for precision as well.
As previously mentioned, tactical scopes need to have some method for gauging elevation and windage for distance shooting. The VX-R Patrol 1.25x4's hybrid mil-dot reticle with a 10 m.o.a. ring and the fire-dot center provides mil-dot steps (although spaced at 2.5 mils) for wind correction, range estimation and range compensation for M4s and M14s. Cool huh?! So, you could, in theory, engage targets out to 1,000 meters. In theory.
Mounted on the SIG716 Patrol by way of the Leupold Mark 2 Integrated Mounting System (IMS), the VX-R Patrol 1.25x4 looks comfortably at home. In fact, its matte aluminum tube looks almost like a factory add on. And while it certainly looks the part of practical scope'its performance is even more impressive. With a CTG laser boresighter, I was able to print on paper on the first shot. A couple more shots and I was more or less zeroed.
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A quick note: the geometry of the VX-R Patrol 1.25x4 mounted on a Leupold MKII mount on the receiver rail is interesting. The center of the scope is approximately 2.6 inches over the bore. When I crunched the numbers of this setup it was interesting to note that a 40 yard zero equates to a 40/280 yard zero with a 147 grain FMJ (standard 7.62mm NATO load) never rising or dropping more than 4 inches from 0-310 yards. Pretty cool from a 16'barreled patrol rifle.
I ultimately decided to let the reticle do the work and backed off to 100-yards to zero on the dot. Testing repeatability of clicks was demonstrated by turning 8 clicks right and 4 clicks up, firing a 3 shot group, clicking back to zero and firing another 3-shot group. Then I repeat with 8 clicks left and 4 clicks down etc. The VX-R Patrol 1.25x4 passed this test. Zero was reestablished. Removing the Leupold mount from the SIG716 and then remounting it, provided a near-zero return (showing less than a 1/2 inch delta at 100-yards).
As I get most of my gear as loaners from the manufacturers, I'm a little reluctant to abuse stuff. I figure once I send back a box of broken glass and smashed metal they'd rightly be a bit reluctant to send me more gear, which limits what I can do to loaners. Seems like I should be able to treat this scope like a rental car. Come to think of it, I'm even nice to rental cars. I try to be careful about my personal gear, but I have never had a shot fired at me in anger so any abuse I might accidentally apply would quite likely be lame or contrived.
As far as durability is concerned, I'm sure it's as durable as any other scope in this price/range category. Hefting it, I think maybe the Trujicon ACOG might be top dog in the whoops, it fell down the concrete stairs'competition. That said, my 20 year old VARIXIII works fine and has been on many hunts/range trips and suffered a few scuffs and scrapes with no ill effects on performance. I was gonna Marine-Proof test it and throw it off a bridge, keep it overnight in a bucket of salt water, bake it in the oven at 400 degrees and drag it behind the jeep for 10 miles. I thought better of it.
While there are many competing products in the price range of the VX-R Patrol 1.25 x 4, it stands out by meeting all the necessaries of a tactical scope throwing in a cool FireDot to boot and at a reasonable price. The Leupold name has earned the trust of hunters and tactical shooters for many decades for good reason. The quality is top tier and this piece of glass appears to be built to last. I don't know if it's the absolute best buy at this price range but I can confidently say it is a great value and you won't regret getting it.
Is it durable? Sure seems to be. Is it Marine-proof? Ah, well nothing is. Besides, a severe impact will break any scope. Only time will tell if the VX-R Patrol 1.25 x 4 will one day roll off the tongues of tactical shooters the way Leupold Mark 4 did years ago. At this point it sure seems like all the ingredients are there for a long field life.