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High-Power Variable Scopes: 4- to 16X Burris Is Our Pick

We think the Signature Series has a slight edge over similarly powered products from Bausch & Lomb, Leupold, and Redfield.

The Burris Signature Series 4-16X, which
sells for $409.99, was our top-ranked scope
on the strength of its Twilight/Daylight
adjustability feature, which controls the
amount of light entering the scope.

The king of the variable-power hunting-rifle scope in terms of overall sales is the 3- to 9-power model. However, higher-power variables are gaining favor among shooters who want to place their shots with surgical precision at extended ranges. These include Western deer and elk hunters, whose only shot of the season may be at an animal three or more football fields away, Southern hunters who set stands over wide, long beanfields, and those traveling to the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan to hunt vast grain fields in frigid winter temperatures. They also include varminters shooting rimfires under 200 yards, and some silhouette shooters who are developing their holds.

These higher-power variables are found in a variety of power ranges, including 3- to 12-power, 4- to 14-power, and 4- to 16-power. The knock on these scopes has been that they are too large, too bulky, and too clumsy to be functional in the field, as well as too expensive. Hunters who don’t favor the more powerful optics will tell you that even a 9X setting is rarely, if ever, needed, and that they do all their shooting with scopes set at 4X or 6X. While these nay-sayers do make some valid arguments—most big-game animals are indeed taken at ranges under 250 yards, where lower power settings are adequate—performance shooters with refined shooting skills and accurate rifle/load combinations are able to take advantage of such higher-power optics.

We’ve had some experience hunting the West with scopes with a top-end power of 14X, and we’ve found the additional power isn’t generally needed. But when it is needed, it can make the difference between success and failure. These scopes are niche products, to be sure, but ones that should be given serious consideration when long-range shooting is a possibility.

To that end, we took four scopes in this classification and put them through a side-by-side comparison test to give Performance Shooter readers an idea of how the products stack up against each other.

Our test group included two higher-priced scopes, the Leupold Vari-X III 4.5-14X ($446.99) and Burris Signature Series 4-16X ($409.99), and two moderately-priced scopes, the Redfield Golden Five-Star 4-12X ($269.99) and Bausch & Lomb Elite 3000 4-12X ($269.99.)

How We Tested
All the scopes were mounted on a Remington Model Seven chambered in .308 using a Leupold one-piece base and rings. The goal was to use a hunting rifle/ammunition combination that has proven to be accurate under both range and field conditions. We fed the gun Federal Premium ammunition featuring the 165-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bullet, which consistently groups at 11/2 inches at 100 yards from the bench.

The scopes were tested for repeatability and tracking as follows. After mounting on the rifle, the gun was secured in a Lohman Sight Vise, which was resting atop a concrete bench. Each scope was carefully monitored as it tracked across a Leupold target featuring a 1-inch-square grid at 100 yards. We first bottomed each scope’s vertical and horizontal adjustments, then turned each horizontal and vertical click adjustment knob 24 clicks, recording the distance each scope traveled around our grid.

Once the adjustment-accuracy testing was completed, we zeroed the rifle/scope combination in at 100 yards to print approximately 2 inches high, to simulate sighting in a hunting rifle. We then fired two, three-shot groups at the scope’s lowest power setting, allowing the barrel 10 minutes to cool down between groups. The barrel was cleaned after six shots, and the test repeated using the scope’s highest power setting. We then removed that scope, mounted another randomly-selected model, sighted the rifle in, and repeated the test. Our goal was to see if the scopes permitted the rifle to both achieve its known accuracy potential under conditions that hunters would use when sighting in their own rifles prior to a hunting trip, and check for point-of-aim shifting.

To check the optics resolution, we produced a facsimile of an optometrist’s eye chart on our HP Desk Jet 500 computer printer in black ink, with successive lines in the alphabet smaller than the others and ranging from 36-point to 60-point type. The chart was placed on a wall illuminated with soft fluorescent lighting. The scopes were shaded to prevent glare from being a factor. We then had two individuals try to read each line until they reached one they could not complete at the 12X power setting of each scope. We found that each scope permitted easy reading of lines in 54-point type, or letters measuring about 1 inch tall, at this distance.

Parallax was checked at shooting distances from 50 yards to 400 yards over open country, with all distances verified with our Bushnell Lytespeed 400 laser-type rangefinder. We found that each scope was able to be adjusted satisfactorily to be parallax-free at distances of 50, 100, 200, 300, and 400 yards.

Next, we checked for point-of-aim shift with the scope mounted on the rifle and secured in the Sight Vise. To do this, we zoomed the adjustable objective from lowest to highest power to see if the aiming point changed on the target.

We measured brightness subjectively, at dusk. To do so, we had three experienced open-country big-game hunters view objects through each scope at both the lowest and highest power settings, with the scopes sitting side-by-side. In another test, we pointed each scope at a bright light (not the sun) to see if we could see glare or flare in the optics.

As our final test, we dunked each scope in a warm-water bath for 45 minutes, then cooled the scope in a 0-degree freezer for 1 hour. Water intrusion into the scope body would show up as fog or frost.

We want to say up front that all four of the scopes we tested are quality products, and it was difficult to separate them based on their optical performance. Instead, our reasons for ranking them as we did entailed using our hunting background to spot field features that we think could help the field shooter. Here’s what we found:

Burris Signature Series 4-16X
American-made Burris scopes have had a strong following among handgun hunters for many years, yet the company’s rifle scopes have lagged behind many other brands in terms of sales and consumer acceptance, industry sales records show. In recent years, however, Burris scopes have started to find favor among rifle hunters as they discover the quality of the product line.

The 4-16X was the second-most expensive scope we tested, with a price of $409.99—as much as many of today’s better production-grade hunting rifles. Still, serious hunters realize that without a topnotch scope, their chances of success are seriously inhibited, and most will not shy away from paying a premium for quality.

The Burris is the largest and heaviest scope we tested: 15.4. inches in length and a weight of 23.7 ounces. Part of that weight derives from the scope’s 44mm objective lens, which was the largest in the test group, and it is the only scope we tested that climbs to 16X. Burris Signature Series scopes are the company’s top-of-the-line product, and incorporate state-of-the-art optical design, glass, and multi-coatings on all exposed lens surfaces. Our test model featured a plex-type reticle.

The Burris Signature Series scope contain what the company calls its Light Collector feature. With it the shooter can control the amount of light entering the scope. It is designed to give the shooter the optimum sight picture during all light conditions. In low light conditions, the adjustment ring (found on the scope’s bell, just behind the resolution adjustment) should be turned toward the Twilight setting. At midday or periods of high glare, the ring should be turned toward the Daylight setting. The Twilight setting permits more light to enter the scope, while the Daylight setting decreases the amount of light entering the scope. In our testing, we found that the feature indeed does permit additional light into the scope during low-light periods, something we found beneficial when trying to use the higher-power settings early and late in the day. It’s a feature we liked, and one not found on the other scopes we tested.

The Burris scope comes with a set of tight-fitting scope covers, which we liked. It also comes with a well-designed instruction booklet, which makes it easy to understand the scope’s features and how to use them. Only the Redfield Golden Five-Star scope came with a similar booklet among the scopes we tested.

Our test scope came in a black-matte finish, ideal for hunting. The painted white lettering settings for both power and the adjustable-objective ring were easy to read. The adjustable objective itself has settings from 50 yards to infinity, and moved around the settings smoothly. The same can be said for the rear-eyepiece focusing bell, and the power-setting ring. Each adjustable ring features a roughened ring, making it easy to grip and turn while wearing gloves or when the scope was wet and slippery, another positive feature. The locking ring for the rear eyepiece mated up well with the rear-eyepiece focusing knob. However, the Burris scope did not have a locking ring for the adjustable-objective ring, a feature we would have liked but one found on only one of our test scopes, the Redfield Golden Five-Star.

The windage and elevation adjustment knobs are of common design, with a slot designed to accept a coin used for making each click adjustment. We like this design, and found the Burris click adjustments to be smooth and easy to make.

Testers found the Burris to be one of the brightest of the four scopes we examined, on par with both the Leupold and Bausch & Lomb products and slightly ahead of the Redfield. We found it presented a crisp sight picture edge to edge at all power settings. We could clearly read 1-inch-tall letters on our optical chart at 50 yards at 12X, the same as with the other scopes. Glare was not a problem. The recoil tests showed no apparent changes in the scope’s tracking. The adjustable-objective feature eliminated parallax as a problem, and we had no trouble dialing in a good sight picture at all distances we tried between 50 and 400 yards. We did not see any point-of-aim shifting as we rotated through the power settings. We found no fogging problems following the submersion/freezing testing.

There were some minor tracking problems with the Burris scope, though we found this to be the case with each scope we tested. Burris advertises 1/4-inch adjustments at 100 yards. As we tracked around our 6-inch Leupold target grid at 100 yards, we found that 24 horizontal clicks, which should have moved the scope 6 inches, actually moved it only 51/2 inches. The same 24 clicks on the vertical adjustment produced another 51/2-inch movement. This didn’t present any real problems when sighting our test rifle in, however.

Bausch & Lomb Elite 3000 4-12X
Bausch & Lomb’s Japanese-made Elite 3000 scope series has begun to eat into the market of serious big-game hunters in recent years, thanks to a combination of top-quality optics, functional design, and a competitive price. The Elite 3000 4-12X we tested was priced at $269.99 in the 1996 Cabela’s Spring Shooting catalog (where we obtained all our prices for comparative purposes.) That made it tied with the Redfield Golden FiveStar for the least-expensive scope in our test, and well behind both the Burris ($409.99) and Leupold ($446.99) products.

The Elite 3000, with a 40mm adjustable-objective lens, measures 13.2 inches in length and weighs 15.2 ounces. It has a standard gloss finish. A nonglare matte finish, which is more desirable for hunting in our view, is not available on this model. The gold-colored lettering on both the power ring and adjustable-objective ring are attractive, but we found the lettering on the AO ring to be more difficult to see than white lettering found on the Burris scope. No locking ring is available for the adjustable-objective lens.

We found both the adjustable-objective and rear-eyepiece focusing rings rotated as smoothly as any of our test scopes, and are easy to adjust when wearing gloves or the scope is wet, thanks in no small part to the ridged hard-rubber rings on both adjustment knobs. The B&L product also comes with an easy-to-understand instruction booklet. The scope also comes with a set of scope covers, which are good for protecting the lenses during transport and storage, but do not fit tightly enough to prevent moisture from getting on the lenses during serious rain or snow.

Testers found the B&L scope to be as bright as the Burris and Leupold products, and slightly brighter than the Redfield scope. The B&L image was crisp edge-to-edge, and shooters could easily read the 1-inch type at 50 yards at the 12X setting. The multi-coated optics didn’t show much flare, and glare was not a problem, either. The recoil test showed no changes in the scope’s tracking. Point-of-aim shift was not noticeable when we adjusted the objective, and parallax was not a problem, either. The submersion/freezing test produced no fogging.

The B&L scope does not have a coin slot built into its click-adjustment knobs, an oversight in our view. The raised knob provided for making the click adjustments proved difficult to use in cold weather, forcing the rifle to be moved off the sand bags when adjustments were being made. We also found the B&L product exhibited more tracking problems than the other scopes we tested, although again these inaccuracies did not prevent us from zeroing the test rifle to our satisfaction. As we tracked around our 6-inch Leupold target grid at 100 yards, we found that 24 horizontal clicks, which should have moved the scope 6 inches, actually moved it 7 inches. Another 24 clicks on the vertical adjustment produced a 61/2 inch movement. However, this didn’t prevent us from sighting our test rifle in.

Leupold Golden Ring 4.5-14X
Leupold scopes are synonymous with quality in the world of big-game hunting, a reputation earned over decades of use. Generally speaking, they are well-designed, ruggedly built in America, and last forever.

In this category, shooters will pay for the Leupold reputation. The Vari-X III, the company’s top-of-the-line hunting-scope class, 4.5-14X AO we tested was the most expensive unit in our group, with a price of $446.99. In all, there are six different 4.5-14X Leupold Vari-X III models available. Two units with 50mm objective lenses are priced at $519.99, while two units without the adjustable-objective lens are priced at $434.99. Our test unit had a 41mm objective lens and standard Duplex reticle. A heavyduty Duplex reticle is also available.

The Leupold was the most compact unit we tested, measuring 12.4 inches in length and weighing in at 14.5 ounces. The scope came with adequate documentation, which helps the shooter work the product quickly. Though it is packaged in a soft felt wrapper and sturdy box, it did not come with scope covers, the only scope in our group that did not have this nicety.

Our test scope has a vintage Leupold appearance. Its deeply-polished black finish was broken by the trademark golden ring wrapped around the objective bell. The engraved gold lettering on both the objective and power setting rings is easy to read. Both of these adjustment rings turned smoothly and evenly, even in cold weather and when wet. The Leupold’s adjustable-objective lens adjusts all the way down to a marked 25 yards, the closest focusing of all our test scopes, and extends to infinity.

Our testers thought the Leupold’s brightness was on par with the Burris and Bausch & Lomb scopes, and was slightly better than the Redfield in our test group. It is crisp edge to edge, and shooters could easily read 1-inch type at 50 yards on the 12X setting. The recoil test showed no apparent changes in the scope’s tracking. Parallax was not a problem.

We were able to dial in good sight pictures at every distance we tried between 50 and 400 yards. We also saw no point-of-aim shift when adjusting the objective lens. The submersion/freezing test caused no fogging.

Like the other scopes in our test group, the Leupold’s tracking was not precisely accurate, we found. Moving across our target grid at 100 yards, we found that 24 clicks with the 1/4-inch click-adjustment windage and elevation knobs moved the scope 61/2 inches horizontally and 7 inches vertically. However, this did not adversely affect our ability to zero the rifle.

Redfield Golden Five-Star 4-12X
Redfield’s American-made scopes were very popular with hunters many years ago, then fell into disfavor because of manufacturing problems. In recent years, however, the company’s hunting-scope line has made a resurgence, offering well-made products at competitive prices. The topof-the-line Golden Five-Star 4-12X we tested was priced at $269.99 in the 1996 Cabela’s Spring Shooting catalog, tying it with the Bausch & Lomb Elite 3000 for the least-expensive scope in our test, well behind both the Burris ($409.99) and Leupold ($446.99) products.

The Golden Five-Star, with a 40mm adjustable-objective lens, measures 13.8 inches in length and weighs 16.8 ounces. It has a nonglare matte finish suitable for hunting. The gold-colored lettering on both the power ring and adjustable-objective ring are attractive, but we found the lettering to be more difficult to see than the white lettering found on the Burris scope, especially in dim light. A locking ring secures the adjustable-objective lens.

We found both the adjustable-objective and rear-eyepiece focusing rings rotated smoothly, and are easy to adjust when wearing gloves or when the scope is wet, thanks to roughened rings on both adjustment knobs. The Redfield scope comes with an easy-to-understand instruction booklet. The scope also comes with a set of Butler Creek flip-open scope covers, which are an excellent hunting product and the best scope covers on any of our test scopes.

Testers said the Redfield scope was not quite as bright as the Burris, Bausch & Lomb, and Leupold products. However, they said this difference in perceived brightness was minimal. The Redfield projects images that are crisp edge-to-edge, and shooters could easily read the 1-inch type at 50 yards at the 12X setting.

The multi-coated optics didn’t show much flare, and glare was not a problem. The recoil test showed no changes in the scope’s tracking. Point-of-aim shift was not noticeable when we adjusted the objective, and parallax was not a problem, either. The submersion/freezing test produced no fogging.

The Golden Five-Star scope has a coin slot built into its click-adjustment knobs, which were the largest of our test scopes. They proved to be easy and smooth to turn. Also, the Redfield product displayed the least amount of tracking problems. As we tracked around our 6-inch Leupold target grid at 100 yards, we found that 24 horizontal clicks, which should have moved the scope 6 inches, actually moved it 61/4 inches. Likewise, 24 clicks on the vertical adjustment produced a 61/4 inch movement. Obviously, these small errors in adjustment didn’t cause any real problems when sighting in.

Performance Shooter Recommends
As we stated in the beginning, these products are very closely matched; any one of them would satisfy most serious big-game hunters, depending on personal likes and dislikes. For our money, we think two scopes have a slight edge—the Burris Signature Series 4-16X and Bausch & Lomb Elite 3000 4-12X AO. We think the Burris’s Light Collector feature adds brightness, especially at higher power settings. Its chief downside, in our view, is its larger overall size and weight, which could be a consideration if lots of hiking in rough country will be done. The Bausch & Lomb Elite 3000 4-12X AO is a bright, well-designed, compact product, and at a price of $269.99 is a great value, in our view. That said, the Leupold Vari-X III AO 4.5-14X is an excellent product that ranks on par with the B&L scope, but at a price that’s $177 more (40 percent higher) than the Bausch & Lomb. The major drawback on the Redfield Golden Five-Star 4-12X was that it didn’t seem quite as bright to our testers’ eyes as the other three scopes in our test group. Still, for $269.99, the Redfield Golden Five-Star 4-12X is worth a look.

Also With This Article
Click here to view "Scope Specifications."
Click here to view "Contacts."


-By Bob Robb





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