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Black Gold

by David Fortier   |  January 3rd, 2011 0

Leupold 1.5-5X 20mm & 3-9X 36mm Mid Range/Tactical Scopes

If there is one rifle that has distinguished itself during combat operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq it has to be the 5.56mm MK 12 in both its MOD 0 and MOD 1 formats. Time and time again, Special Forces troopers equipped with this lightweight sniper rifle have faced overwhelming numbers of the enemy and prevailed. The MK 12 MOD 0/1 is a highly accurized M16 variant with an 18-inch Douglas 416 stainless-steel match barrel (1:7-inch twist) that is free-floated with either a PRI (MOD 0) or Knight’s Armament (MOD 1) free-floating handguard mounted. But what is of interest to us here is the special scope used.


Developed for the MK 12 series of Special Purpose Rifles Leupold’s 3-9X 36mm MR/T is a perfect match for an accurate AR-type rifle.

Mounted in ARMS Inc. No. 22M Throw Lever rings is a compact 3-9X 36mm scope from Leupold, Dept. ST, P.O. Box 688, Beaverton, OR 97075; 503-526-1400; www.leupold.com. Two models were issued: the TS-30A1 and the TS-30A2. The difference between the two being the TS-30A2 features an illuminated reticle. Equipped with M3 turrets and a bullet drop compensator (BDC), these scopes are well suited to this rifle’s role. When mated to Black Hills’s MK 262 Mod 1 77-grain OTM (Open Tip Match) ammunition, the rig has proven effective out to 700 meters in actual combat.

Originally available only to the military, in 2004 Leupold introduced these scopes, along with two similar models, to the civilian market. Called the Mark 4 Mid Range/Tactical, or MR/T for short, this group of compact variable magnification scopes consists of four models based on a common 3-9X 36mm platform. Offered are models with and without an illuminated reticle with either M1 or M3 adjustment turrets. These models are growing in popularity, so I decided to take a closer look at them. To do this I requested examples of both M1 and M3 models.

As I removed them from their boxes, it immediately became apparent that these scopes are sized for their intended application. Overall length is just 11.3 inches and the objective lens is only 36mm in diameter. Both scopes are built on a 30mm tube milled from one piece of 6061-T6 aircraft aluminum with the only difference being their adjustment turrets. Leupold’s M1 turrets are tall, uncapped, competition-style turrets with 1/4-MOA adjustments. In stark contrast, the M3 turrets were designed with military use in mind.


The 3-9X 36 MR/T’s M3 turrets feature 1-MOA elevation adjustments and 1/2-MOA windage adjustments.

These uncapped turrets are much shorter and feature coarser 1/2-MOA clicks on the windage knob. The elevation knob features 1-MOA adjustments with all the elevation in (60 MOA available on the dial) with one revolution of the knob. In addition the elevation knob features an upper row of numbers. These act as a BDC. My review model was calibrated for 62-grain M855 Ball ammunition, and the turret increments were in 100-yard delineations from 100 to 800 yards.

Optically these scopes feature Leupold’s Index Matched Lens System. Actual magnification runs from 3-8.7X. Field of view (FOV) runs from 35.5 feet (at 3X) to 13.6 feet (at 9X) at 100 yards. Eye relief varies by almost .75 inch, depending upon magnification setting. At 3X there is 3.7 inches of eye relief. This shrinks to three inches at 9X. Two reticle options, Duplex and Mil Dot, are available on M1 models, but M3 models can only be had with a Mil Dot reticle.

Total adjustment range of the reticle (located in the second plane) is 90 inches at 100 yards. Models featuring an illuminated reticle sport a large rheostat mounted onto the eyepiece at approximately 10 o’clock. This features a total of 12 positions (including “Off”) of varying illumination intensity. Power is provided by one small DL1/3N three-volt battery. (This is the same battery used in an Aimpoint Comp M red-dot sight.) The finish on the scope is matte black with white markings. Overall weight is just 16 ounces.

Both models look good, and I quickly mounted them onto ARs. Big scopes are currently the rage, but these compact models were designed for a specific application. Their small size makes them relatively easy to mount onto an AR without adding excess bulk or weight. These scopes were developed with a military application in mind, and in this regard, a large objective lens is not necessarily a desirable item. Sunlight glinting off an objective lens is one way a sniper can accidentally reveal his position. This is one reason why the Russian/Romanian/Yugoslavian/Chinese sniper scopes deployed against our boys have relatively small 24mm objective lenses with retractable sunshades.


New from Leupold is the Mark 4 1.5-5X 20mm MR/T. It is small, lightweight, and provides rapid target engagement from close to medium ranges.

Both Leupold models worked well shooting at distances out to 330 yards. I particularly liked the M3 model I mounted onto a PRI 6.8mm SPR. This handsome rifle performed extremely well with the small quantity of 6.8mm ammo I had on hand.

One complaint I have always had with Leupold’s Tactical scopes, however, still holds true. Their adjustments, both with M1 and M3 turrets, are very mushy feeling and kind of roll along. Choosing turret type comes down to the type of shooting you’ll be doing. For target-type shooting choose the M1 turrets; for field shooting choose the M3 turrets. While the magnification ring adjusted smoothly on both models, I found the rheostat large and bulky with no distinct clicks in-between positions.

Optically the scopes performed quite well. Color rendition was extremely good, and I experienced no troubles regarding internal flare. Resolution in the center of the image was good, but it did degrade towards the edges. Set at 6X this scope generates a 6mm exit pupil, so low-light performance is also quite acceptable. Run head to head against a Russian PSO-1 issued on the SVD sniper rifle, the Leupold 3-9X 36mm MR/T is both more advanced and a more flexible design. Put to the test in weather down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit no problems of any kind were experienced.

My thoughts? For an SPR-type rifle in 5.56mm, 6.5 Grendel, or 6.8x43mm SPC, Leupold’s MR/T would be a fine choice. Magnification is more than adequate for use out to 700 yards o
r so. I’m currently putting together an SPR project rifle, and it will wear an illuminated reticle Leupold MR/T with M3 turrets.

First Look At A New Leupold
Leupold gave me an opportunity to take a first look at a new model it’s introducing for 2005. A new addition to the MR/T line, it’s a Mark 4 1.5-5X 20mm. Designed to bridge the gap between red-dot sights and conventional higher magnification riflescopes, it’s intended to provide both speed and precision.

Built on a 30mm tube, this model is just 9.4 inches long and weighs only 15 ounces. Actual magnification runs from 1.5X to 4.5X. FOV varies from 65.7 feet at 1.5X to 23.7 feet at 5X at 100 yards. It is a very small and compact unit, but what sets this Leupold apart visually are the new M2 turrets. Lower profile than even the M3 turrets, they feature 1/2-MOA adjustments on both windage and elevation. While 80 MOA of adjustment are available when zeroing, the elevation turret offers 30 MOA in one full revolution. With only one revolution available there is no chance of accidentally getting one rotation off. Happily the M2 turret adjustments on my review sample were much more distinct than those found on M1 or M3 turrets.

As this is a tactical scope intended for use from point blank to 500 meters,

Leupold developed an entirely new reticle for it. Called the Special Purpose reticle it consists of three heavier posts connected by fine stadia. The bottom vertical stadia are delineated in 2.5 Mil increments out to 15 Mil. This allows it to be used as a BDC for use at extended ranges. The horizontal stadia are also delineated in 2.5 Mil increments out to 15 Mil for hasty lead or windage compensation. In the center of the reticle is a large circle 10 Mils in diameter.

Keep in mind the model I had to test was a prototype, so Leupold may well change the reticle. I hope it does because the rest of the scope performed quite well. I really liked the M2 turrets and the optical performance was quite good. With a better reticle this scope will be a real winner.

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