U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- While I am not typically a reviewer of optics, I had to make a special point to get the word out about this one because I am so deeply impressed. Leupold’s new Mark 5HD 5-25×56 has only been out for a short period of time, but I have been privileged to be among the first to test it. What follows here is my candid review and opinions on a scope that you would do very well to own.
I have drifted away from scopes in most of my shooting tasks as I am primarily an iron sight competitor and both a handgun critic and aficionado. I used to do a tremendous amount of long range shooting in the past and I regularly shot in matches at a thousand yards and even further for recreation.
I have since lost my interest in that angle of shooting due to the fact that I found it to be tedious on several levels. The long range culture changed after the 6.5 Creedmoor unfortunately rose to prominence and with its popularity came a new generation of wannabe snipers and gear-obsessed mall ninjas. I’ve said it before that I would rather have another zombie craze than continue the vapid pursuit of long-range gaming calibers and I stand by it today.
The reasons behind my departure from the long range community were certainly personal, but don’t think that I have regressed to the past and only shoot smoothbore muskets. I have always appreciated quality optics, however I have found that they never really have a place in my work. Most of my days consist of consulting for manufacturers big and small, producing content, and collecting data. These are all made more difficult the further out I get from my target and I frankly don’t have time for numerous huge articles that involve a scope, a rifle, ammo, and a trip out to a thousand yard range.
Don’t take what I’m saying as a long series of complaints. I just wanted you, dear reader, to understand that it takes a special scope to get me to sit down and hammer out two thousand words. What Leupold has done with the Mark 5HD is nothing short of extraordinary and it is a stand-out scope from virtually all that I have tested. Just because I don’t often write about scopes doesn’t mean that I haven’t tested most offerings out there from Trijicon ACOGs to Zeiss hunting glass. I know what I’m looking at and all I see here is peak quality.
The most striking thing about the Mark 5HD is that is a large, heavy piece of equipment. The scope itself almost dwarfs the compact .308 Win rifle in these photos and it is even more impressive with the included sunshade attached. In total the scope weighs a healthy 30 ounces without a mount and measures about 15 2/3” in length without the sunshade attached. Tube diameter is 35mm.
The model I received features .25 MOA adjustment clicks and a first focal plane reticle subtended to match. The reticle is called the PR-1MOA. This was actually a point that received criticism from a number of shooters that got their hands on my sample. I grew up shooting in Mil adjustments and only shot MOA in my earliest days when most scopes had such adjustments, even if the reticle had Mil subtensions. Most shooters now are divided along the Mil/MOA line and each has their own preference and will defend its merits aggressively.
Since I have been out of the long range game for so long, I arrived a place where I really couldn’t care what my adjustments are in as long as the reticle matched and the scope held zero. I was surprised how easily I was able to transition from fifteen years of Mil shooting into MOA. I have to say that MOA is slightly more precise in terms of mechanical adjustment, but it is a bit overwhelming in terms of getting fast holdovers. It is easier to measure out 2 Mil in my head than it is to do 6.88 MOA, but I suppose that is relative to the shooter.
While the Mil and MOA debate is ongoing and I will make no attempt to solve it here, the real selling points of this scope are the practical features and remarkable ease of use. Over my years as a shooter, I have experienced just about every problem possible and the occasional impossible one as well. The majority of problems I had with what I will call ‘early modern’ scopes is that they had easy to damage turrets that were prone to moving when bumped and lacked zero stops. I remember I was out hunting once and was just about to line up a shot when I noticed that my scope’s elevation turret was no longer set at zero. The problem was, I didn’t know which direction it was off due to the fact that it could spin either way. While the range is often safe and controlled, the woods are not and good glass can get ripped up very quickly.
The Leupold Mark 5HD does not have this issue, as the windage turret is capped and the elevation turret has a unique zero stop and a rotation indicator. The capped windage turret is no big deal as most shooters, myself included, typically dial elevation and hold for wind. The windage index line is cleverly placed higher on the tube at about 2 o’clock allowing the shooter to easily see it, unlike legacy options that index at 3 o’clock.
The elevation turret’s zero stop is mechanical and extremely effective. You must depress the button above the ‘0’ line and then rotate it for elevation. If you get lost in your tracking, you can simply rotate the turret back down and the turret will automatically click at zero and lock. This is wonderful and a feature that I found I was using heavily during my initial testing with this scope. The elevation turret has 120 MOA of travel while the windage turret offers 60 MOA.
So how did the glass perform over my testing? Well, it did a rather boring job and never had an issue. While the owners of several guns I used in testing did not permit me to photograph their rifles due to the fact they are paranoid basement-dwellers who believe that the serial numbers on their guns are somehow as worthy of protection as their social security number, I did take ample notes and will detail their guns below.
The first rifle I tested was chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum. The .338 Lapua is a beast of a round that has a large following in several communities. The rifle itself was a stock Remington 700 action dropped into a new AICS folding chassis. The barrel was Remington and he claimed the rifle was able to group to a half inch at 100 yards, which I believed to be a dubious claim considering the origin of the barrel.
I tested the rifle with his Nightforce first and it did not group very well. It produced groups at 100 yards of about 2” using his handloads which were 300gr SMK over H1000 in Hornady brass. The .338 Lapua doesn’t have shoulder-breaking recoil, but it is stiff. This, however, was not a factor in the groups I was getting. I backed it out to a distance of 950 yards and the rifle again struggled to keep rounds on target.
I decided to stop shooting what were obviously novice handloads and switched out to a couple boxes of Black Hills 300gr Match. The groups immediately shrunk to about 1” at 100 yards, but it was still not great. I switched out his scope for the Mark 5HD and the results were stunning. Using the Black Hills load, I was able to shoot groups as small as he claimed at about a half inch. My results at 950 yards were also markedly better. Switching my ballistic calculator over to MOA resulted in first round hits at all distances inside the max range of 950 yards.
The next gun I shot is the one I fired the furthest, despite it being a ‘normal’ caliber. I slipped up and forgot to call my friends at SIG, so I had to borrow a SIG 716 G2 DMR in .308 Win from the .338 owner’s brother. You can read my initial review of that same rifle right here in this AmmoLand article.
The rifle was set up with as a hog hunting gun and had a rather cheap scope on it. While the SIG action runs extremely clean, this gun was the textbook definition of filthy and I worried that it would malfunction as a result. I decided to do the only reasonable thing and literally hose it off out in my yard. While the gun arrived in FDE, it came out black after a rinse.
I attached the Mark 5HD and got it zeroed at 100 yards with SIG SAUER 175gr Match loads. The gun grouped just like the review sample I had last year, which was pleasing. I ventured out to a place where I could fire at 1,300 yards and set about getting the rifle on target.
The only problem with shooting that far is that you have a hard time seeing bullet impact. I had a hell of a time getting the scope to stay zeroed on the SIG rifle and thought it was because of the temperature swing, which went from below freezing to about fifty degees within a couple hours. Turns out I just had not tightened the mount down enough. My problems went away instantly and I was able to make repeated hits at the maximum distance available to me. Yes, for those drinking the 6.5mm Kool Aid, you can certainly make hits at distance with the .308 Win. It’s not even that hard in point of fact.
Long range shooting isn’t that hard when you have a basic skillset and most rifles are accurate enough to be of service at extended distance with a quality optic. The Mark 5HD allows the shooter to get the most out of their rifle, be it an inexpensive Savage or a high end custom rifle from my friends at Precision Rifle Company.
The rifle pictured is my own .308 Win. The rifle has a 13.5” barrel and is a ¼ MOA gun at all ranges the bullet has gas to get there. The short, stiff barrel is extremely rigid and allows a compact profile while being an absolute hammer. Using the right powder and bullet type, you lose nothing in velocity to a 26” barrel. Sounds crazy, but it’s real. My typical ammunition is a 168gr or 178gr Hornady bullet loaded at 2600fps. I used to load slower at 2400fps, but thanks to new powder you don’t have to give up your gains. I have a special handload for this rifle with a 78gr Lehigh bullet that clocks 3500fps, is sub-MOA at 500 yards, and is virtually recoilless. The gun shoots.
I designed a critical part of my rifle here when I was in college and it is the key to the accuracy it gets in such a small package. This part almost interfered with my mounting of the Mark 5, but it ended up just fine. While I’ve owned a number of high quality scopes over the years, this one made my rifle into a totally different animal.
Once zeroed, the rifle acted like it had eyes and was simply refused to miss out to 950 yards. Out that far, I switch to a 225gr bullet in thick Lapua brass. While these are going relatively slow, they take advantage of the profile of Hornady’s ELD bullet and enable me to cheat velocity with ballistic coefficient and what other shooters say is witchcraft. The loads I use with these heavy bullets are compressed and high-pressure, so I’d not recommend trying it unless you want to risk blowing up your gun. In case you were wondering, the rifling twist I have is 1:10 and yes, they do stabilize just fine.
The Leupold Mark 5HD was a relentless performer for me. I was dialing elevation just about all day shooting my .308 and clicked back to zero every time. The magnification ring was easy to move and using the reticle became second nature. I have never had an easier time using an optic and everyone who put their eye to it came back a bit green with envy. If you are in the market for the best glass you can own, look no further than this beast.
Some may cringe a bit at the $2599.99 MSRP, but you get what you pay for in this life. While you could certainly own several cheaper scopes, you’d be sacrificing on each. Using a quality mount, you can easily switch this top choice between rifles. I had no issues doing just this on the dozen rifles I’ve used this scope with in the course of testing for my reviews. Look for this glass to appear in articles of mine this year where the utmost precision is demanded. The bar has indeed been set high with the Leupold Mark 5HD.
About Josh Wayner
Josh Wayner has been writing in the gun industry for five years. He is an active competition shooter with 14 medals from Camp Perry. In addition to firearms-related work, Josh enjoys working with animals and researching conservation projects in his home state of Michigan.