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The Elite 4000 36X riflescope edges out Leupold and Weaver products in a three-way benchrest and varminting examination.

 

Tim Taylor, the character played by Tim Allen on the ABC sitcom Home Improvement, has a well-known fascination with power. If he could squeeze a blown 427-cubic-inch engine onto a lawn mower, he would do it. Thus, if Taylor were to select a riflescope from currently available models, he would naturally want the glass that offers “more power,” which would mean more magnification.

The highest-power riflescopes available as production units offer 36X magnification, and these models are often the choice of centerfire and rimfire benchrest shooters, some very skilled prone shooters, and some varmint hunters who want to tag dogs in the next county. Unquestionably, Leupold’s 36X model, the $958 Golden Ring BR-36x40mm No. 43879, which features an 1/8-minute reticle dot, is a favorite among shooters in all these segments. But two other manufacturers—Bausch & Lomb and Weaver—want bigger pieces of all these shooting pies, and they offer slightly less expensive 36X glasses of their own as alternatives to the Leupold. The Weaver T-36 Target Scope No. 49970 sells for $843, and the B&L; Elite 4000 Adjustable Objective No. 40-3640A retails for a suggested list of $851.

We wanted to see how these latter two pretenders to the throne fared against the market-dominant Leupold in a head-to-head tiff. In the past, we have found that products which have gained wide commercial acceptance are not always the best in their class when examined side by side with competing products, and that’s just what we learned here, in our opinion. For a variety of reasons, we believe the Bausch & Lomb product has a slight edge over Leupold’s Golden Ring, and both are slightly better than the current Weaver product. We must say upfront, however, that all three scopes are excellent products, and that our separation and ranking of them entailed some hair splitting. Here are the reasons for our judgments:

Leupold Golden Ring BR-36x40mm
Look down the line at any benchrest match and you’ll find U.S.-made Golden Rings all over the place. Some observers estimate that as much as 70 percent of the accuracy-shooting market uses Leupolds, and for good reason. Overall, the Leupolds are solid, bright products that adjust accurately and wear well.

The BR-36x40mm also costs a pretty penny: $958.90 suggested list, more than $100 than the other two items. Still, we recognize this cost factor wouldn’t deter shooters who are searching for hundredths of an inch of reduced group size if the Leupold were the best product in its class.

This is the shortest and lightest scope of the set, measuring 16 ounces in weight and 14.1 inches in length. This slight weight differential (2 ounces lighter than the B&L; Elite and 1 ounce less than the Weaver T-36) can help some guns make weight in light silo or benchrest classes. The Golden Ring comes out of the box with target turrets which can be zero-indexed, and a sun shield. Oddly, our sample didn’t come with scope covers, even though the lens bells are threaded for screw-on covers. Beaverton, Oregon–based Leupold & Stevens offers the scope with fine crosshairs and a 1/8-minute dot, the latter of which we tested.

Out of the box, the Leupold was disappointing for three picayune reasons. The first, as we noted earlier, was that the scope didn’t have covers. Next, those of us who grew up in trailer parks like to use the original product packaging to carry our purchases around (since many hard gun cases won’t accept deep-stocked rifles and tall ring-and-scope combos), and that wasn’t practical with the Golden Ring product. The two Styrofoam clamshell halves into which the Leupold fit didn’t accept the scope after bases had been secured to it. We wound up toting the Golden Ring in a padded spotting-scope case with snap-on plastic covers, which added another $35 to the scope’s bottom line cost. Also, the scope came with skimpy documentation. There was a single sheet that explained how to work the adjustable objective, but nothing about the eyepiece focus, installing the target turrets, availability of additional sun shields, or care and feeding of the lenses. In our estimation, Leupold probably assumes that if you buy a $1,000 riflescope, you already know what you’re doing. But in our experience, nothing should be left to chance in explaining how to get the most out of high-end products.

However, these irritations were forgotten once we began handling the scope. It has a deeply polished black finish with the trademark Golden Ring on the front bell. The engraved white-letter settings for the adjustable-objective ring were clear and easy to read. The adjustable objective moved smoothly and without gumminess, as did the rear-eyepiece focusing bell. The locking rings for both the adjustable objective and the rear eyepiece mated up with and locked in place the optics they were designed to secure. The detents in the adjustments were crisp and clear, but not stiff. The target turrets can be installed by unscrewing three Allen wrench-removable cover holders on the turrets. The appropriate wrench was supplied.

Mounting the scope was easy. We fitted Bausch & Lomb medium-height rimfire rings on the Leupold’s standard 1-inch tube and slid the grooved bases onto an elevated sight base on the Walther. This was necessary to raise the big 40-mm adjustable objective lens above the barrel. There was plenty of adjustment room to mount many different kinds of bases and rings.

In looking through the scope, testers thought the Leupold was brighter than the Weaver and as bright as the Bausch & Lomb. A light meter test showed the B&L; product to be slightly brighter than the Golden Ring 36X. The Leupold was crisp edge to edge, and shooters could read 0.11-inch (8 point) type at 50 yards, the same as the other scopes. The Multicoat 4 optics didn’t show glare in most situations, even off the ocular lens. The scope was difficult to bring into eye alignment, a reflection of its small 1.1-mm exit pupil. All three scopes had this problem. The recoil test showed no appreciable changes in the scope’s tracking. Parallax wasn’t a detrimental factor in these scopes because of the adjustable objective lenses. We dialed in satisfactory sight pictures at every distance we tried between 50 feet and 400 yards with the Leupold. Likewise, we didn’t see point-of-aim shift in adjusting the objective lens. The submersion and freezing tests didn’t cause fogging. The scope’s 1/4-minute adjustments made for a large maximum adjustment range. Leupold publishes a maximum adjustment range of 54 inches at 100 yards, and we found that to be accurate, if not understated.

The Leupold showed some minor tracking and repeatability problems, we thought. Watching the scope track along a 1/4-inch target grid at 100 yards, we noticed that 24 horizontal clicks, which should have delivered a 6-inch total adjustment, actually produced a 6.5-inch change. Vertically, 24 clicks produced a 7-inch movement.

In the live fire around-the-clock drill at 50 yards, we saw a 16-click right adjustment, which should have moved bullet impact 2 inches, actually produce a 2.25-inch change. We then moved the sights up 16 clicks, and the corresponding adjustment was 2 inches. Sixteen more clicks to the left yielded a 2.5-inch movement. Sixteen clicks down should have put the bullet point of impact back at zero, but it was actually half an inch to the left.

Adjusting for nonexistent windage in the compass-points drill, we moved 4 clicks to the right, which should have dialed in a .5-inch movement, which it did. We then moved 4 clicks back and shot another round in the zero hole. When we moved 4 clicks up from that point, we got a 1-inch movement instead of a half inch, then got only a half-inch change back down to zero when we made 4 additional clicks. We made additional clicks to rezero, then clicked 4 left, which gave us a half-inch movement. After clicking back to zero, we then moved 4 clicks down, which gave us a .75-inch downward movement.

Weaver T-36 Target Scope
This item, made in Japan for the Onalaska, Wisconsin–based Weaver subsidiary of Blount, Inc., sells for $843 suggested list. If recent marketing and promotion efforts are any gauge, Weaver seems to have increased its efforts to wrest some of the benchrest and varminting business from Leupold, and the T-series scopes, including the 36X model, will compete very ably in those venues, we think. Like the Leupold BR-36x40mm, the T-36 is a solid, accurate product overall, and it comes in $100 less than the Leupold Golden Ring item. For some shooters, that money will be a factor.

The T-36’s dimensions are similar to the Elite 4000 from B&L;, measuring 1 pound 1 ounce in weight and 15.1 inches in length. The T-36 comes out of the box with target turrets which can be zero-indexed, and a 4-inch aluminum sun shield. The target turrets can be installed by unscrewing slotted cover holders on the turrets. Our sample came with aluminum scope covers, which are threaded to mate up with the fore and aft lens bells. Weaver offers the scope with fine crosshairs, which we tested, and 1/8- and 3/8-minute dots.

The Weaver comes packaged in a 4- by 7- by 17-inch box filled with red foam rubber, which is cut out to accept the scope, the sun shield, and the target turrets. Another solid foam rubber sheet fits over the embedded metal items. The foam rubber allowed us to keep rings mounted on the scope, which would enable a shooter to slip the scope off the rifle after shooting without completely losing zero, if he indexed the rings to the mounts. Also, there’s room in the box to keep lens-cleaning solutions and papers where they won’t be contaminated.

The scope came with some documentation. There were two sheets that explained how to work the eyepiece focus, sight in, and keep the scope maintained, but there was nothing about installing the turrets, working the adjustable objective, explaining what parallax is, and similar topics.

Once we began handling the scope, we were impressed with its cosmetic execution. The scope has a matte-black finish with engraved gold-letter settings for the adjustable-objective ring. They were clear and easy to read. The adjustable objective moved smoothly, as did the rear-eyepiece focusing ring. The Weaver didn’t have a locking ring for the adjustable objective. The rear eyepiece mated up with and locked in place easily. The detents in the adjustments were crisp, but stiff. In fact, without the target turrets on, shooters found that adjusting the scope was hard to accomplish while they looked through the scope.

To mount the scope, we fitted Leupold medium-height rimfire rings on the Weaver’s standard 1-inch tube and slid the grooved bases onto the Walther. There was plenty of clearance for the 40-mm adjustable objective lens above the barrel and ample room on the body tube to mount nearly any bases and rings you desire.

Looking through the scope, testers thought the Weaver wasn’t quite as bright as the Bausch & Lomb and Leupold products, which was borne out by our light meter test. Like the other scopes, the Weaver was crisp edge to edge, and shooters could read .11-inch (8 point) type at 50 yards. The multicoated optics didn’t show much glare or flare. Because it has a small 1.1-mm exit pupil, the scope was difficult to bring into eye alignment, a problem with all three scopes. The recoil test showed no changes in the scope’s tracking. Parallax wasn’t a detrimental factor because of the adjustable objective lens. We saw a satisfactory target picture at every distance we tried. Likewise, we didn’t see point-of-aim shift in adjusting the objective. The scope’s 1/8-minute adjustments delivered much more than the company-spec 20 inches of maximum adjustment range at 100 yards, we found. We got about 36 inches of adjustment. The submersion and freezing tests didn’t cause fogging.

The Weaver showed some tracking and repeatability problems, we thought. Watching the scope track along the 1/4-inch grid at 100 yards, we noticed that 45 horizontal clicks, which should have delivered about a 5.5-inch total adjustment, actually produced a 6-inch change. Vertically, 43 clicks produced a 6-inch movement, or about half an inch more than called for.

In the live fire around-the-clock drill at 50 yards, we saw a 16-click right adjustment move bullet impact 1 inch, right on target. We then moved the sights up 16 clicks, and the corresponding adjustment was 1.25 inches. Sixteen more clicks to the left yielded a 1-inch movement. Sixteen clicks down put the bullet point of impact back at zero.

Adjusting for imaginary windage in the 50-yard compass-points test, we moved 8 clicks to the right, which should have dialed in a .5-inch movement. Instead, we got a full inch of adjustment. We then moved 8 clicks back and shot another round in the zero hole. When we moved 8 clicks up from that point, we got the expected half-inch movement, then got a half-inch change back down to zero when we made 8 additional clicks down. We then clicked 8 left, which gave us three-quarters of an inch of movement instead of half an inch. After clicking back and shooting another zeroing shot, we then moved 8 clicks down, which gave us a half-inch downward movement.

Bausch & Lomb Elite 4000 36x40mm
This Japanese-made item, marketed by the Overland Park, Kansas–based subsidiary of Bushnell, sells for $851 suggested list. For many years, B&L; has played catch-up to Leupold in the benchrest and varminting segments, with about one out of every ten shooters using them. Based on our findings, we think that percentage among 36X models should rise because of the Elite 4000’s merits. Like the Leupold BR-36x40mm and the Weaver T-36, the B&L; product is good overall, and like the Weaver, it comes in $100 less than the Leupold Golden Ring 36X.

The Elite 4000 was the heaviest product in the test, weighing 1 pound 2 ounces and measuring 15.2 inches in length. The Elite comes out of the box with target turrets which can be zero-indexed, and 4-inch and 6-inch aluminum sun shields. Our sample came with screw-on aluminum lens covers. B&L; offers the scope with fine crosshairs, which we tested, and a 1/8-minute reticle dot.

The B&L; was packaged in a 4- by 7- by 17-inch Styrofoam box, which is cut out to accept the scope, the sun shields, and target turrets, and other items. There was enough room in the box to keep rings mounted on the scope, which helped maintain zero between scope changes. There’s plenty of room in the box to keep lens-maintenance products handy and dust-free.

The scope came with slightly better documentation than the others, we thought. There was a booklet that explained how to work the eyepiece focus, sight in, maintain the scope, install the turrets, index the adjustments, and work the adjustable objective.

We liked its cosmetics. The scope has a polished-black finish with engraved white, green, and gold-letter settings for the adjustable-objective ring marked in yards and meters. They were clear and easy to read. The adjustable objective moved smoothly, as did the rear eyepiece focusing ring. Like the Weaver, the B&L; product didn’t have a locking ring for the adjustable objective. The rear eyepiece locked in place easily. The detents in the adjustments were crisp, smooth, and easy to work. We had no trouble adjusting the scope while in position.

We fitted Bausch & Lomb medium-height rimfire rings on the scope’s 1-inch tube and slid the grooved bases onto the Walther. There was plenty of clearance and more than enough room on the tube to mount whatever bases and rings you prefer.

Looking through the scope, testers thought the Bausch & Lomb was bright, which was supported by our light meter test. The B&L; scope was one-third stop brighter than the Leupold and two-thirds stop brighter than the Weaver. The B&L; image was crisp and flat edge to edge, and shooters could read .11-inch (8 point) type at 50 yards. The multicoated optics didn’t display much flare. Because of the scope’s 1.1-mm exit pupil, it was difficult to bring the downrange image into eye alignment. The recoil test showed no changes in the scope’s tracking. Parallax wasn’t a detriment, nor did we notice point-of-aim shift when adjusting the objective. The scope’s 1/8-minute adjustments delivered 40 inches of adjustment at 100 yards, somewhat more than the company’s advertised 30 inches of maximum adjustment range. The submersion and freezing tests didn’t cause fogging.

The B&L; showed less tracking and repeatability problems than the other scopes, we thought. Watching the scope track along the 1/4-inch grid at 100 yards, we saw that 42 clicks (both horizontally and vertically) produced 6-inch changes in point of aim—a consistent 1/7-minute movement.

In the live-fire around-the-clock drill at 50 yards, we saw a 16-click right adjustment move bullet impact .75 inch, a quarter-inch less than we expected. We then moved the sights up 16 clicks, and the corresponding adjustment was 1 inch, plus we got another unexpected 1/4 inch of rightward movement. Sixteen more clicks to the left yielded a 1-inch movement. Sixteen clicks down put the bullet point of impact back at zero.

Adjusting for nonexistent windage in the 50-yard compass-points drill, we moved 8 clicks to the right, which should have and did dial in a half-inch movement. We then moved 8 clicks back and shot another round in the zero hole. When we moved 8 clicks up from that point, we got the expected half-inch movement, then got a half-inch change back down to zero when we made 8 additional clicks down. We then clicked 8 left, which gave us half an inch of movement. After clicking back and shooting another zeroing shot, we then moved 8 clicks down, which gave us a 0.6-inch downward movement.

PFS Recommends
As we noted in the beginning, these products are very closely matched—as products in this price range should be. We prefer the Bausch & Lomb Elite 4000 36x40mm Adjustable Objective No. 40-3640A because it adjusted slightly more consistently than did the Weaver T-36 Target Scope No. 49970 and the Leupold Golden Ring BR-36x40mm No. 43879. Also, the B&L; has an edge over the Weaver because it seemed slightly brighter.

Comparing the B&L; to the Leupold, we think having 1/8-minute adjustments on the Elite is better for most accuracy shooting than the Golden Ring’s 1/4-minute clicks. We would more readily click in a 1/8-inch change to compensate for a slight pickup of wind than we would a 1/4-inch movement.

Also, the Bausch & Lomb Elite 4000 costs more than $100 less than the Leupold—which is an edge that’s hard to ignore.

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