Leupold 4.5-14x40mm VX-3I Side Focus CDS-ZL Riflescope

A riflescope that ensures the continuance of Leupold’s proud heritage.

Leupold 4.5-14x40mm VX-3I Side Focus CDS-ZL Riflescope

Leupold 4.5-14x40mm VX-3I Side Focus CDS-ZL Riflescope.

There’s movement downrange, and it’s a predator answering the call. Adjust for distance, settle the crosshairs, disengage the safety and when the time’s right, make the shot — or not.

There are dozens of variables weighed before every press of the trigger. Many are mentally rehearsed and remedied while waiting from your shooting position. Others require instant identification and response. Changes in the wind, distance, elevation, speed and angle of the target’s approach and its demeanor all affect whether now is the time to squeeze off a round.

It’s the kind of high-speed internal calculus that defies explanation to those who don’t hunt, yet makes the sport so addictive. If the equation is overly complicated, however, it’s a challenge to find a timely firing solution.

A well-designed hunting optic streamlines the equation. Some of the fashionable gizmos, knobs, buttons to push and stadia lines that look like a road map to Cincinnati can drain concentration when time’s at a premium.   

Deep Roots

Leupold’s been in business for 113 years and has built an enviable reputation for the kind of precision equipment professionals can rely on. Its baptism in the riflescope business came after World War II when a member of the family that still owns the company had the optic riding on his rifle fail during a hunt.  

That legacy is the catalyst that drives the company to provide quality optics for sportsmen. Today its riflescopes are combat-proven and technologically advanced enough to provide accurate targeting for marksmen at once-unthinkable distances yet, when necessary, connect close at high speed.

There is no shortage of features and options available in its consumer, military and law enforcement lines. Yet, the company remains true to the pursuit of game and filling tags — where complexity isn’t necessarily a virtue. Leupold’s 4.5-14x40 mm VX-3i Side Focus CDS-ZL is part of that heritage.


This scope isn’t glamorous by any stretch of the imagination. The profile’s clean, something hunters who beat through the brush can appreciate. 

The main body has a diameter of 30 mm. Its tube, turrets and internal metal scope parts are made from aircraft-grade aluminum to ensure rugged build and long-lasting performance. 

Sounds great on paper, but Leupold knows some of the best theories fall apart with shooting stress. So the company tests all its scope designs on a machine aptly named the Punisher. The Punisher tortures each optic set to the recoil energy generated by a .308 Win. Cartridge — and it must survive exposure 5,000 times to pass muster.

Image Transmission

Tradition, and physics, has it that a larger objective lens collects more light. The generality holds true if other variables in an optic remain constant. Still, modern science has introduced better glass, increased transmission, improved coatings and more. 

The 40 mm size is more generous than some hunting riflescope objectives but smaller than most tactical/dedicated long-distance options. To put the VX-3i to the test, I glassed a dark corner of a forest at 100 yards at 4.5X before a clear morning’s sunrise. Logs and other debris under the trees were evident, as color true as anything is at that time of the day and contrast was generous. Identifying an animal, whether on the move or stationary, is no problem. At 14X, minutes later, things dimmed a little, but there was more than an adequate picture for hunting and delivering an ethical shot.

Part of that performance comes from the company’s Twilight Max Light Management System. For obvious reasons, the company doesn’t release exactly how it works or the lens coatings and formulas. Leupold claims to increase usable hunting light by up to 20 minutes. It also reduces up to 85 percent of stray light glare, a huge bonus when it comes to contrast and color rendition. 

Edge-to-edge clarity was uniform, with no noticeable fringing or fuzziness toward the outside of the sight picture. There was no discernable chromatic aberration, even at 14 power. A scratch-resistant coating tops exterior glass to minimize the chances of damage. 

Water and Fog

All Leupold riflescopes are waterproof and shockproof. To check the claim, this scope went into a freezer where it chilled for 24 hours. It came out the next day, and ice collected quickly in the 89 percent humidity. With an ambient temperature of 85 degrees, it quickly started to thaw, though, and once the ice cleared off the lenses — and moisture was wiped away — the image was crystal clear. 

It took less than a minute for it to be fully operational. Range sessions took place after the test. During shooting, the sight picture remained unclouded, mechanical adjustments remained true and palpable. 


Each click of the windage and elevation dials results in a 1/4 moa shift in point of aim. As they turn, feedback is positive and palpable. However, it’s not the kind of unmistakable “bump” you get from most long-distance setups. But then that’s not this optic’s primary mission. If there was anything audible, I certainly couldn’t hear it — although that may be more of a product of my early shooting years without proper hearing protection.

The point of impact moved predictably and as advertised. I held aim on the bullseye throughout the test, walked the outskirts of the target, and shots printed correctly until the scope came back to zero on dead center. There were no hiccups throughout the session. A Savage chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor was used for the exercise.

The CDS-ZL elevation knob is a great feature. Depress the button and you can dial for elevation. Then, without looking, come back to the original zero where it locks back into place. The mechanism ensures things don’t inadvertently get out of alignment while trudging through the woods.  

The total adjustment range in the CDS-ZL is 14.5 moa. There is one full 360-degree rotation possible, and owners can order a dial customized for holdovers on their rifle and load.

To adjust for windage, you must remove a protective cap. Unlike the CDS-ZL (Zero Lock), its not an elevated turret. That adds to the scope’s streamlined profile, although none of the dials are domineering enough to habitually grab onto branches. 

Parallax is adjusted on the left side of the body and can be set anywhere from 75 yards to infinity. It’s clearly marked and the current setting is visible to the shooter.  

Leupold's CDS-ZL system provides a generous amount of elevation adjustment — 14.5 MOA. That's enough to cover hunting distances to 700 yards, depending on the rifle's chambering.
Leupold's CDS-ZL system provides a generous amount of elevation adjustment — 14.5 MOA. That's enough to cover hunting distances to 700 yards, depending on the rifle's chambering.


The Wind-Plex reticle is functional and straightforward. It looks like a standard duplex, but one that’s grown 10 windage hash marks to the left and right of the crosshair. That makes sense for this scope’s function because you can dial for elevation fast up top and hold for wind, which usually changes continuously.  

This is a second focal plane optic, so unless you’re ready to do some serious math on top of everything else, calculating distance by hash marks is going to be a challenge. It’s the more traditional setup for hunting, anyway.

For sportsmen experiencing those unfortunate age-related changes in their vision, like yours truly, the diopter is fully adjustable and locks into place. Rotating the eyepiece gets things crystal clear and tightening the polymer ring against it keeps it in place. 

Key Facts

The field of view on low magnification at 100 yards is 18.7 feet. Dial it up to 14 power, and the figure drops to 7.3. 

Total windage and elevation adjustment possible is 113 MOA. Eye relief, low power to high, runs from 4.4 inches to 3.7 inches. The scope weighs 15.6 ounces and measures 12.6 inches in length. 


This isn’t the kind of glitzy optic that grabs headlines. Some shooting disciplines require specific features for their optics to perform, like quick windage adjustment. Do you really want that knob exposed to the bangs and bumps of climbing into a blind? 

I have, however, adjusted elevation for distance when the animal doesn’t have a chance of picking up my scent in the second or two the change takes. So the CDS-ZL’s locking ability and accessibility are a bonus. 

And if you’ve always eyed lighted reticles with suspicion, you’ll like the unpowered Leupold version in this scope. It’s a warm gold on dark backgrounds but shifts a contrasting black in bright light, which visible in most hunting situations. 

Everything for hunting’s fast-changing conditions is there — nothing more, and nothing less. Add Leupold’s full lifetime warranty, which covers the optic forever, even if the owner isn’t the original purchaser, without paperwork. I think it’s a solid choice for anyone in the market for a new riflescope. MSRP: $844.99. Contact: www.leupold.com


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