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Testing the Leupold VX®-5HD 3-15x44 CDS-ZL2

Bill Gabbard


The big-bodied buck strolled into the field as if he were on a mission. He stopped and worked over a cedar tree that had rub scars on it dating back several years. Moving along another 20 yards he paused to eat. I put down the binoculars and picked up the range finder. 380 yards, pretty far away for me. After four or five minutes of feeding I decided that his course of travel wasn’t going to bring him any closer. I knew the 7mm Weatherby load using Hornady’s 154gr SST bullet would drop just a little over 16 inches at 400 yds, so taking a good solid rest I placed the crosshair of the old Leupold Vari-X III parallel with the top of his shoulder and squeezed the trigger on “Elvira”, my early 90’s Remington 700. I saw him crumble then recover long enough to run about 35 yds before collapsing in a heap. With Leupold’s CDS system I could have cut my time from decision to pulling the trigger in half, as their slogan says “Range, Dial and Shoot”.

For a recent article using the Savage 110 Ultralight in 7mm PRC, Shawn Skipper at Leupold was kind enough to loan us a new VX5 model with the CDS option. Being old school, as well as old, I have usually limited myself to shots where I could hold on the deer and make the shot. Working with this scope and watching some of my friends shoot at distances over 1,000 yards by dialing in their distance, along with the increased popularity of PRS matches, made me want to dig a little deeper into Leupold’s Custom Dial System.

The VX 5 series is built around Leuopld’s Professional-Grade Optical System. The image is clear and crisp all the way to the edges with optical clarity as good as any scope that these old eyes have looked through, and the tracking is excellent - just like we have come to expect from Leupold. The 3 to 15 zoom gives you the versatility to use this scope in the brush or out in the open. The light weight along with the handy size of the 44 mm objective lens makes this an ideal scope to use on a hunting rig. Initial mounting and zeroing of the scope went smoothly once I figured out that the CDS dial had to be removed to set the elevation.

dial on leupold scope

The CDS (Custom Dial System) is what separates this scope from others that I have looked at. With this system, you send a detailed list to Leupold including Cartridge Caliber, Bullet Weight, Bullet Type, Ballistic Coefficient, Muzzle Velocity, Average Altitude, Average Temperature, Sight-in-Zero, Sight Height. They then cut a set of dials for you to replace the original ones. The process of changing the dials is as simple as loosening the three set screws in the factory dial using the included Allen wrench and lifting the dial off and replacing it with the custom dial.

Once your rifle is zeroed in at the distance you gave them, it is as simple as they claim. The dials are clearly marked, and you turn the dial to the range of your target. You can order different sets of dials for different loads. This would be great if you used the same rifle for varmint and deer hunting. The first set of CDS dials are free on CDS equipped scopes and you can order as many sets as you need for different applications.

Tyler Price, a local shooter that competes in almost every local shooting event, joined me at the Owsley County Sportsman’s Club Range to try out the CDS system. After re-zeroing at 100 yds with Hornady’s 180 gr Match ammo, I dialed the CDS dials to their full extent back and then fired another shot. The second shot hit one half inch low from the first shot - well within the margin of error for the shooter. I fired one shot at 200 yds striking the 6-ring on an NRA target after dialing the CDS dials up past 300 and back to 200. Tyler proceeded to hit the 9-ring low at 200.


Bottom line - it appears that Leupold’s CDS system really works as advertised. I realize the additional turning of the dials probably didn’t help for precision shooting, but I wanted to see if the system was going to work when taking things farther than you would normally. The Leupold VX-5HD 3-15X44 CDS-ZL2 retails for $1099.99 and checks all the boxes, optical clarity, precise tracking, ease of use, and a CDS system that will probably make the difference when that old buck steps out at 400 yds and makes it clear that he isn’t coming any closer.

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