As we all know, there is a wide gamut of different scope offerings on the market today and it is difficult to filter through them all and review the scopes that we feel are most applicable to the various sniper roles in service today. We have had our eye on this Leupold VX-R Patrol 3-9x40mm scope for a couple of years now as it seemed to have all the right features for a good scope for DMR (Designated Marksman Rifle) use. We finally decided to pull the trigger and bring one in to conduct a review on and to see just how well it would work in this role. Of course, as is Murphy’s Law, just after we placed our order, Leupold decided to quit offering this specific scope and has replaced it with the VX-Freedom AR 3-9x40mm. Based on what we discovered during this review, we feel it is unfortunate that they discontinued this scope. The newer VX-Freedom AR version is fine, but there are several things we prefer on the discontinued ‘Patrol’ version over the Freedom AR version. Regardless of our disappointment that the scope has been replaced, we are going to complete the full review anyway as there are still plenty of these scopes on the market right now and much of what we say here applies to the new version as well.
Leupold packaging has not changed in years, so there was no real surprises when the scope arrived. The scope comes nicely packaged in a traditional Leupold box. Included with the scope is a nice reticle manual that covers all of their tactical reticles, an owners manual, a set of bikini style lens covers, a sticker and a small Allen wrench for slipping the knobs. The scope size and proportions are nice and lithe as the 3-9x scope size keeps it compact and the 30mm tube gives the scope very pleasing lines. The traditional Leupold gold ring on the bell housing and gold colored accents are all missing, as is the tradition on their tactical series of scopes. This is one of the things we do not like on the replacement Freedom AR version of this scope, as it has the gold ring, which can be covered with flip up caps, and some gold accents. Just not as purposefully minded as this Patrol version.
Of course, as is the case on all Leupold scopes, it is made in the USA. Leupold remains one of the very few scope makers that is committed to building their scopes in the USA. This became very apparent when we visited their factory. But just because the scope is made in the USA does not mean it is automatically a good, that is why we test the scopes. We have seen the quality control and the manufacturing processes at the factory, and we were impressed and it does help instill confidence in their products. But in the end, what really matters is how it performs in the field.
Like most of the industry, Leupold has moved away from the fine focus eyepieces and have gone to a fast focus eyepiece like is found on this VX-Patrol scope. The adjustable ocular eyepiece has some nice serrations on it to help provide grip when adjusting the diopter to the shooters eye. The full adjustment range is covered in almost exactly one full rotation, which is quick, and it allows the reticle to be focused sharply. There are no indicator marks on the eyepiece so there is no way to repeat a setting if it is changed. It would require refocusing it by watching the reticle. The adjustment is smooth through the entire range with a good even amount of force required.
The ocular lens housing also does not have any rubber ring on it to mitigate damage in the event the shooters gets their eye too close to the scope during recoil. But there is a generous amount of eye relief (3.7 – 4.2″) that should help prevent that from happening. Typically the eyepiece will have a Butler Creek styled flip up cap in place anyway. We were surprised to see that there was a tiny bit of anodizing missed on the very edge of the eyepiece with some bare aluminum exposed (visible in the photo below). This should not have passed quality control, but does not effect the usability of the scope.
At the front of the eyepiece housing, there is a moderate taper down to the zoom power adjustment ring. The numbers on this ring are printed on a surface that angles nicely back toward the shooter to help them easily see the numbers while behind the scope without much head movement. The scope only has a 3x magnification range which gives the ring ample space in which to provide an individual marking for every zoom power. The zoom ring also has a thumb protrusion and serrations on it to aide with gripping it. The indicator hash mark is also printed on this raised protrusion which allows for a taller hash mark that is again very easy to see from behind the scope.
The zoom ring itself adjusts through the entire range with a very precise and smooth feel. There is a moderate amount of force required to adjust it, which holds it in place once set. The shooter orientated markings and tall hash are all nice features as the zoom power matters on this scope. The reticle is located on the second focal plane, so the TMR reticle will only be accurate when the scope is on 9x. A first focal plane reticle would be nice on a DMR scope as it can then be used for hold offs no matter what power it is set to. On a DMR it will be set on a lower power at various times. The reticle can still be used at lower settings, such as 3x. Just recall that each big hash mark now represents 3 MIL instead of 1 MIL when it is on 9x.
In front of the zoom power ring, the 30mm scope tube extends 1.9″ for which to mount the rear scope ring. The 30mm tube provides some additional adjustment range as well as some added strength, and we fill it adds to the appearance of the scope as well. It just seems to look good. Well, the looks of a scope is low down on the priority list, but it doesn’t hurt! The shoulder where the adjustments are located is a smaller sized shoulder with squared of surfaces and low height.
Perched on top of the shoulder is a smaller sized external elevation knob that Leupold calls the P5 and is the same that is found on their discontinued Mark AR line. It is a lower profile knob with only a single layer of markings on it. The knobs are calibrated in MILs and each click is .1 MIL. There is some aggressive knurling on top of the knob, providing a very good gripping surface. The width of the knob is pretty standard for an external knob and the height of the knob is shorter. For a compact DMR or compact sniper rifle style scope, the knobs are very nicely shaped. You can also have Leupold make a BDC knob for the P5, or just get one from us that is already made up for the .308 168gr Match load.
There is 6 MIL of adjustment per revolution which will take a .308 175gr from 100 to about 700 yards in that single revolution. After that, you will need to mentally keep track of what revolution you are on as there are no horizontal hash marks below the knob to help track revolutions. Something that we found interesting was that the Leupold web page indicates that this scope should have 65 MOA of adjustment, which equates to 18.9 MILs. But when we tested our scope it only had 17.5 MIL. We thought that was odd and then when we looked at the specs for the new Freedom AR version, they said it only has 60 MOA of adjustment, which equates to…yep, you guessed it, 17.5 MIL. We are assuming the web page had it wrong for the Patrol scope.
The clicks themselves are very nice with a good muted sound and positive feel with each click. There is also little to no slop between clicks which is always a positive on any scope. The markings are small in order to fit on the knob, but the font is clear and easily readable. One thing we are not a huge fan of, are the small set screws that are used to tighten the knob to the internal post. Those little screws are known to sometimes work lose if you neglect them, and the small sized Allen is prone to strip the screws if forced too hard. We would love to see the same knob with the single big set screw that was available on the M1 knobs. There are also multiple “U” markings around the top of the knob to show which way moves the bullet impact up.
On the right hand side of the scope the windage knob is found and it is also a P5 knob, making it the same size and shape as the elevation knob. This is one area where the new Freedom AR version of this scopes deviates. On that scope the windage knob is actually capped and while it is finger adjustable, it is not nearly as nice as the P5 on this scope. The markings go up in each direction and overlap at 3 MIL, which allows the .308 175gr to shoot in a direct 10 mph crosswind out to well over 1000 yards before it overlaps on the numbers. The clicks are the same nice clicks and there is both an L and R on the knob to indicate which direction to turn for each.
Opposite of the windage knob there is another knob that almost appears to be an adjustable objective. It is not. Instead, this is the illuminated reticle control and it does not operate by turning it. If you do twist it counter clockwise, you will remove the knob and find the battery underneath. Instead, to turn on the illumination, you press the botton on top of that knob. Its quick and its simple, and there are 8 levels of brightness. When you first press the button, it turns on to the same level as was set when it turned off. Then each click will adjust it to the next brightness level. When it reaches the brightest level, it will blink 5 times, and then the next time you press the button it will adjust to the next lower brightness setting, and so on. Only the very center of the reticle illuminates with a single red dot. We like this for a DMR rifle and it can work well on a sniper rifle as well. Though holdoffs will be difficult in low visibility. The control also has motion sensing so that if the scope is not moved for 5 minutes, it’ll shut off. Then as soon as the scope moves again it instantly comes back on. To turn it off normally, you just hold the button down for at least 3 seconds and it turns off.
In front of the shoulder, there is another 2.0″ of tube length for which to mount the forward mounting ring. The total mounting space front and rear is not a ton, so if your long action doesn’t have a single piece rail, it may be tricky to mount up this scope. The tube then tapers up nicely into the bell that houses the objective lens. The bell is threaded to mount a sun shade that is not included with the scope.
The overall appearance of the scope is compact and elegant, we really like it. The finish is a very matte black with very little reflective properties, ideal for a tactical rifle. We have not handled the Freedom AR version side by side, but it appears to be a tad bit more reflective than the all business look of the Patrol. This is a good looking scope, unless you are a fan of the big huge ultra high power scopes with all the wizbang gizmo’s on it, in that case, it’ll look minimalist and spartan.
The reticle is known as the Firedot TMR, which is just the good ol’ tried and true Leupold TMR (Tactical Milling Reticle) with an illuminated dot in the middle. This dot gives it the “firedot” part of the name. The TMR is a good reticle with taller hashes at 1 MIL and smaller hashes at the .5 MIL marks. There are also very large hashes way out in the thick stadia which indicate the 10 MIL mark. The TMR has been around for a long time and was one of the first reticles intended to improve on the old MilDot reticle.
The optics on the scope are nice, though do not expect it to compete with the ultra high dollar scopes. The lens coatings and glass quality combine to give good resolution and sharpness from edge to edge. For the price category of the scope, we are happy with its optical performance. Now it was time to mount the scope and see how it performed at the range and with our other tests.
We used our old work horse .308 Remington 700 for our tests and and used a set of low height 30mm Nightforce steel rings mounted on the steel Warne 20 MOA canted rail that is attached to the rifle. The smallish 40mm objective lens and the single piece rail allowed for us to easily find the proper place to mount the scope. With everything assembled and ready to go, we headed out to the range to see how the Patrol would work. As is typical during the winter in Montana, the weather was below freezing and overcast, though the snow wasn’t.
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At the range, one of the first things we noticed was that the reticle was thick. In fact, it was thick enough that at 100 yards the center crosshairs almost completely obscured a 1″ orange dot. Obviously, for precision shooting, this is not ideal. But for combat engagements on a DMR or SPR style rifle, a thicker reticle is desired to help with reticle visibility against all types of backgrounds. Combined with the small red dot at the center, it would certainly help for rapidly picking up your aiming point. For our tests here, it meant we would really have to concentrate to get good accuracy for our tests.
If you are not familiar with how we test rifles and scopes, go ahead and read our article about it here. For this test we were shooting HSM 175 HPBT Match loads which perform well in this rifle. Once the scope was zeroed at 100 yards we began the testing as we normally do by shooting the box test using a 1.0 MIL box. The tracking was solid with groups properly placed at each corner and the proper distance apart.
Next was our adjustment size test. Our first group measured about .65″ with some slight vertical stringing. It was good to see that we could still get some decent accuracy even with the low 9x max magnification and the thick reticle. We then dialed in 6 MIL of left and fired our second group. The second group was even better and touched on almost exactly .5 MOA. Finally we dialed 6 MIL of right back into the scope and fired a final round to insure that the adjustments came back to the original setting, which it did as the 4th round was right in the middle of the original group. The distance between the two groups was 22.5″ which equates to 6.25 MILs. At 100 yards 6 MILs is exactly 21.6″ which means there was 4.2% of error compared to where the adjustments should be. Due to group size errors, we allow for 5% to be considered a passing grade and consider anything under 3% to be excellent. While our results were not considered, excellent, it did pass without problem.
Testing the optical quality of a scope is a very difficult thing to do without lots of very expensive and technical equipment. But one quick and easy test we like to do is to see how well you can see .30 caliber bullet holes at 100 yards when the scope is at 10x. The max magnification on this scope is obviously only 9x, but we were pleased to see that the bullet holes were easily visible and with good clarity and sharpness.
Our next test is to check for reticle drift when adjusting the scope through its entire adjustable objective range and zoom range. Since the VX-R Patrol does not have an adjustable objective, it is fixed at 150 yards, that left only testing for drift during magnification change. Since the zoom range is only 3x, meaning the max zoom power is only 3x greater than its lowest zoom, we expected no problems. It is normally with the very high zoom factor scopes that this really becomes a problem. After mounting up our bore sighting grid on the rifle, we aligned the crosshairs with a grid intersection point and then watched intently as we went from 3x to 9x and back several times. Sure enough, the reticle stay planted on its aiming point without any drift.
Our final test is watch the tracking of the reticle through large ranges of travel. Shooting the box test covers some of the same things here, but we want to be sure that when we dial in up adjustments, that the reticle does not move left or right slightly. This is done with the same bore sighting grid mounted to the rifle. We align the reticle with a grid point and then dial in at least one full rotation of adjustment to make sure the crosshairs stay right along a vertical line as it moves up. Then we do the same with the wind. The results again were very positive as it tracked right along our gridlines.
To wrap up our tests, we always ask “So where do we stand with this scope? Would we take it with us into combat?” Then we take into account what we paid and other scopes in the same class. With those criteria in mind, we concluded that we liked this little scope. Its compact, affordable, and has a single purpose. It is not intended to be a long range sniper optic, but rather it is tailored to the mid range DMR or SPR rifle. It fits that role well as we like the feature set. The small red dot, instead of the entire reticle being illuminated, is good for long battery life and works well for its purpose. The knobs are nice, the scope compact, and the optics are good. Of course, looking at it in the same DMR/SPR role, we have to point out the biggest obvious flaw: the reticle is on the second focal plane. With a DMR/SPR, the scope will often times be set on a lower magnification, and if the operator is adept at using hold offs using the reticle, it can mess them up. Of course, a DM will likely being using a parallel bore zero concept that is now popular, and in that case, the reticle markings are not nearly as important.
So with all of these factors considered, we do give this little scope the SC Endorsed tag, but just barely. We like the scope, though it could be improved. The new VX-R Freedom AR version should be very similar and even a little more affordable. But some of the little things that we have already mentioned about that scope, we do not like as well as this Patrol. Maybe Leupold will bring an updated version of this Patrol back.
Sniper Central 2020