The Leupold Vari-X III 3.5-10x Long Range M3
Versatile, repeatable, and strong

< 1999
By Scott Powers
Long Range M3
The Long Range M3 is functional, strong and compact.
Those wishing to mount this scope on a rifle with a straight taper
barrel will have no problem due to the 40mm objective.

A year ago I wrote an article for Sniper Country. The piece was my attempt to guide interested readers on such niceties as to how to choose a proper tactical scope based on their perceived and more importantly, real needs. One conclusion stated that a Law Enforcement sniper was better served by a variable power tactical rifle scope providing quarter (1/4 MOA) minute clicks for elevation and windage adjustments. No great revelation this! These units seem to provide far more precision and versatility than that found on scopes designed for military field use. Total precision is something I thought and still think a police officer needs. A military style scope typically has a ballistic cam, generically and universally called a BDC or ballistic drop compensator, a term I believe coined by Bushnell. The idea behind such an elevation turret centers around the less than ideal conditions in which the modern military snipers must engage the enemy. When faced with quickly moving targets at constantly varying ranges, the shooter does not have the time or inclination to count clicks on a turret that may take several revolutions to reach the desired range setting. Nor can he afford to be one complete turret revolution off in his range setting, a common occurrence with 1/4 MOA scopes and the uninitiated or stressed out shooter. To combat this, scope designers created turrets that require only one revolution to reach maximum range. These turrets are marked for range and are usually tuned to ballistically match a specific cartridge. The Leupold Mk4 M3 and its military brother the M3A are good examples. Their most popular turret is designed for use with a 7.62mm NATO caliber, specifically the M118 Special Ball.

I wrote that the Law Enforcement sniper would benefit from the precision provided by a quarter minute tactical scope. He would typically be called upon to engage targets from literally in his face to maybe 400 yards - with the national average being something like 75 yards. His becoming confused due to a 1/4 MOA target turret is less likely as the ranges are generally much reduced as compared to military sniping. My conclusion seemed to be based in what I thought was a common sense approach. I have seen several police rifles equipped with military style scopes, BDC turrets and fixed high magnification. This made little sense to me as these police snipers may have anywhere from several minutes to any number of hours available to adjust their equipment for the specific conditions of the disturbance they are called upon to settle. They hopefully will never face a screaming horde and never have the need to drop a platoon of angry and highly mobile combatants in short order. A quarter minute turret under normal police conditions is ideal. Also, due to the shorter ranges involved, neither fixed high magnification nor ballistic cams seemed to fit the bill. I felt that the gross adjustments of the military style scope, combined with too high a magnification was undesirable for LE shooters who traditionally require extreme precision while maintaining a good field of view.

Shortly after finishing that article, Leupold & Steven, Inc. of Beaverton, Oregon, released a new day telescope with the rather long moniker of Vari-X III 3.5-10x40mm Long Range M3. In one well designed package, Leupold blew my theory completely off the range. By combining specific features of their excellent Mk4 telescope line with that of their Vari-X III line, they have, in my view, created a rifle telescope that will be equally comfortable on the battlefield and in the field of Law Enforcement with little compromise to either. As the military becomes more involved in peace keeping, particularly in MOUT environments ( a hi-speed way of saying Urban terrain or Military Operations in Urban Terrain to be precise), the need for a lower power scope is obvious. Upon learning of this new scope development, I promptly squirreled myself away in a dark room out of the gaze of prying eyes - primarily those of my spousal unit - and quietly ordered one for myself!

Upon opening the box I was more than impressed with the appearance of the telescope. It is fairly light yet sturdy. It reminds one immediately of the Army's M3A but with a new twist, specifically variable magnification ring just forward of the ocular lens. With its 13.5 inch length and 40mm objective, this scope is both trim and business like, bucking the current trend toward big glass and heavy weight. A fighting scope to be sure! In the box I found three extra elevation turrets, in addition to the one mounted on the scope. Each turret was marked for a popular cartridge often found employed in the tactical field. The calibers are .223, .308 Match , 30-06 and 300 Winchester Magnum. A small Allen wrench is included to facilitate the replacement or adjustment of the turrets and the scope comes wrapped in the standard Leupold green felt cover. My First experience with this scope was thus far very gratifying and hinted at good things to come.

My Third experience with this new rifle scope was quite illuminating and has changed my view completely on BDC equipped scopes. Before I tell you about it, let me address an issue that arose during my Second experience. Strength! Through no fault of my own (my story and I am sticking to it!) my brand new Long Range M3 was dropped from a bench in my garage. I dove to save my precious new possession as it fell in what appeared to be slow motion. Everything seemed to stand still as my hands stretched out in a Hail Mary grab. All sounds seemed to cease as I entered THE ZONE. Sadly, my youth has abandoned me and the swiftness of my rescue attempt was somewhere between that of a darted elephant and that massive contraption with which they use to haul the space shuttle to the launch pad. The tableau was broken with the harsh sound of metal striking cement, followed shortly thereafter by the squishy thud of my 200 pound frame imbedding itself into the floor. The scope landed on the objective ring at a 45 degree angle as exhibited by the dent newly found there. The fall was just around 4.5 feet. Were I an engineer I could compute the G-load but it will suffice to say that it was not minor. After recovering from shock, I mounted the scope on my Remington 700P and drove dejectedly to the range to assess the damage. To my delight and surprise the scope seemed none the worse for wear as it tracked beautifully through a demanding series of tests which involved dialing up and down, left and right about 10 MOA between shots. I sent the unit to Premier Reticles of Winchester Va. for their mil-dot installation and they verified that the tracking was good to go. As well, they straightened out the objective ring free of charge. Their services by the way are very impressive. The Long Range M3 was returned to me within the same week it was shipped!

With rifle (see the September issue of Tactical Shooter) and scope safely in hand I was off to the September '98 Basic and Advanced Counter Sniper courses offered by Storm Mountain Training Center. Having been through this course the previous year, I thought it would be interesting to compare the precision ability of the Long Range M3 to a system I had used quite successfully in the prior course. That scope, a Bausch and Lomb Tactical mounted on a very accurate AT1-M24, was equipped with 1/4 minute adjustments and was very precise. Its one disadvantage was having to keep track of the elevation turret rotations as you might make several revolutions on the turret to reach the long range targets, then be expected to hit a close range target shortly thereafter. It was sometimes easy to forget how many clicks you had on when the turret read zero. In fact I missed at least one short range target when I saw my scope set to zero but didn't realize it was actually set 12 MOA up! The Long Range M3 on the other hand has a interesting elevation turret that provides 1 MOA clicks as well as a BDC. More detail on this below. Like its big brother, the Mk4 M3, this turret can only be turned one revolution. I went to the course believing that I would never be able to precisely zero my weapon at 100 yards due to the larger 1 MOA increments. In truth, I was most surprised to find that I could easily center my groups on the very tip of a one inch black triangle! With this kind of precision, I feel a police officer could easily direct a bullet exactly to his desired point of impact within the first 350 yards. Throughout the two week course I was continuously impressed with how well this new tactical scope performed on both short and long range targets. It proved to be very repeatable and the tracking matched the stated increments. In other words, if I moved the windage turret 1/2 minute left, the strike of the bullet moved one half inch at 100 yards. The scope performed as directed in weather ranging from 40 degrees and wet to 85 degrees in the shade.

LR M3 Elevation Turret
Elevation Turret. Note dual markings for minutes of angle and Range.
Windage is in 1/2 moa. Parallax is adjusted via the turret on the left.
The turrets are well designed and easily grasped.
All controls are highly visible and fall easily to hand.

The elevation turret on the Long Range M3 is unique in that the lower portion is marked for one minute clicks with numbered 5 MOA increments while the upper portion has markings for range in meters. This is an excellent idea as it allows the shooter to specifically match the trajectory to his chosen cartridge by dialing in the required minutes or, if using a 168 grain match load, by simply dialing to the indicated range in meters ala MK4 M3. An added advantage to this turret is that one can tailor the upper markings to match his particular ballistics. There is enough room to tape over the meter markings while leaving the minute increments exposed. Either system, dialing to a specific MOA or dialing to a specific range proved very fast. For example, I knew my come-ups well enough that I could simply dial in 19 minutes by quickly turning to the number 20 and backing off one click to get on at 675 yards.

Variable power has finally matured! The ability to dial the Long Range M3 down to 3.5 power proved itself time and again at close range. Moving targets can be challenging when fired upon with a scope of high magnification. A target can literally walk or run out of your field of view. The Vari-X III 3.5-10x40mm Long Range M3 provides you with the ability and strength of a fixed 10 power scope yet allows you to decrease the magnification as needed for those situations requiring a wide field of view. This is a real boon in urban and forested environments. The scope is so versatile that it could be used equally well on a hunting rifle, urban police rifle, forestry service rifle, or military rig. I feel that the variable power, combined with the well balanced and moderate size of this scope makes it ideal in any of these situations. I did not notice any significant shift of impact when changing the magnification settings - which tells me that variable scope technology has come a long way from its infancy. You can think of this scope as a variable Mk4 M3! It may not be completely as strong, but its versatility make up for the difference.

The Long Range M3 is provided with a third turret opposite the windage knob. This is used for parallax adjustment and is very similar to that found on the Army's M3A (Mk4 M3). All three turrets are low, very wide, and easily gripped by a gloved hand. They have a large knurled surface at their edge to assure good contact. I feel these turrets are an improvement over the Mk4 M3 in that they are easier to grip and require no external caps. They provide a little more height in comparison to the M3A without going to the extreme of a target turret, which can be cumbersome during a stalk. The turrets can be reset by loosening three set screws in each cap. As mentioned, there are no separate covers provided or needed, as the drums under the caps are sealed. The Long Range M3 comes in matte black and weighs 19.5 ounces. Its 40mm objective lens will allow mounting to any rifle/scope mount combination without hassle and will avoid the trouble one experiences when going to large objective lenses in the 56mm range. The glass is provided with Leupold's excellent proprietary multi-coating and transmits light quite well. It is clear and distortion free to the outer edges of the glass. Viewing is bright and crisp. On a semi-moonless and rainy night I was able to see and hit targets at ranges bordering 400 yards. This is quite acceptable and came as somewhat of a surprise. These targets were backed with a tree line and were in deep shadow. While I can not claim the Long Range M3 is a night vision device, it was sufficiently clear to gong steel on a drizzly night with 20% luminosity.

If I could find one fault of this otherwise outstanding tactical telescope, it would be that Leupold oddly made no provision for a sun shade. The objective glass is recessed somewhat, but when engaging a target with the sun at its back there is a risk of reflection and detection. There are several methods to deal with this, so the problem can be minimized, but I would hope that Leupold will consider adding a sunshade to next year's model. This issue notwithstanding, the Vari-X III 3.5-10x40mm Long Range M3 provides an outstanding value for the money, combining Vari-X III quality and MK4 M3 features at a reasonable cost. Current retail prices range from $550 for the duplex equipped version to $700 with the mil-dot ranging system. Premier Reticles offers the mil-dot equipped version at very competitive price, approximately $675. Premier will also install the Marine Corps mil-dot system on your Duplex scope for $118. For another $25 they will add a luminescent material to the heavy wire posts that will glow for 20 minutes once charged via flashlight. I had this option added and it is quite effective out to at least 300 yards, the farthest I tried it. Beyond this range it may be problematic to center the target in the heavy outer posts. The luminescent material gives off just enough glow to pick up the posts in total darkness and does not seem to hurt night vision in any way. It is certainly more convenient than the field expedient cylume glow stick "peanut" method used occasionally in the military where you wrap a miniature glow stick in tape and wedge it in the ocular end. While functional and expedient, that method, if improperly done can allow someone to pick up the sniper by the light of the stick transmitting through the tube.

If you are looking for total performance at an equitable price, I would highly recommend the Vari-X III 3.5-10x40mm Long Range M3. It is backed by Leupold's excellent lifetime warranty, which is probably the best in the business. While theoretically not a strong as a fixed power scope, my own experience has indicated that the LR M3 has what it takes. I fully expect to see this scope show in force during the ensuing years at tactical meets, real life call-outs, and even the deep woods as hunters look to improve their equipment and take advantage of the trends being brought about by the tactical shooting community! I feel the military would be well advised to evaluate this scope also as it very well may meet future urban needs. If you have been holding out for a premium piece of glass with which to top that tactical rifle, this versatile (and obviously strong!) scope just might be the ticket. It is the first variable magnification tactical scope I have ever been truly comfortable with. Being an ex-infantry grunt, I didn't think - until now - that a scope with a lot of moving parts could hang tough enough for the, um... shall we say, less than pleasant attitudes troops sometimes exhibit when dealing with equipment? This scope seems up to the task. Just look at the chip in my garage floor!

LR M3 Mounted
The complete rifle recently returned from a successful visit
to Storm Mountain Training Center's sniper course.
The LR M3 proved reliable, user friendly, and precise.


Specifications

Scope :
Vari-X III 3.5-10x40mm Long Range M3
Actual Magnification :
3.3(3.5x) 9.7(10x)
Optimum Eye Relief :
4.6" @ 3.5x. 3.6" @ 10x
Unrestricted Objective Lens Diameter :
1.575in - 40mm
Weight :
19.5oz - 553gram
Max. Adj. Elv. & Windage @ 100 yards :
65in
Field of view @ 100yd :
29.5(3.5x) 10.7(10x)ft
Length :
13.50in
Max. Mount Ring Spacing :
6.20in
Objective Length :
4.30
Objective Diameter :
1.80in
Eyepiece Diameter :
1.60in
Tube Diameter :
30mm


Contact information

Leupold & Stevens, Inc.
PO Box 688
Beaverton, OR 97075
Tel: (503) 526-5195

Premier Reticles, Ltd.
920 Breckinridge Lane
Winchester, VA 22601
Tel: (540) 722-0601


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