Bushnell Elite 3200 5-15x40mm AO Riflescope

By Chuck Hawks

Elite 3200 5-15x40mm AO
Illustration courtesy of Bushnell

I have heard good things about Bushnell's premium Elite 3200 and 4200 riflescopes. Some of those good things have been written by Randy Wakeman in articles that you can read on the Scopes and Sport Optics Page of Guns and Shooting Online.

I have owned and used Bushnell scopes for decades, mostly from their lower priced Banner line. For a long time I have felt that Bushnell Banner scopes are hard to beat for value in an economical scope. But the Elite scopes are Bushnell's premium offerings, intended for a more upscale market. The Elite scopes first appeared under the prestigious Bausch & Lomb name, but were transferred to the Bushnell brand when B&L withdrew from the riflescope market, sometime shortly after the year 2000.

Based on their MSRP prices, I conclude that the Elite 3200 line is intended to compete with the likes of the Leupold VX-I and VX-II, Nikon Buckmaster, Redfield Golden Five Star, and Simmons Whitetail Expedition lines. This is pretty fast company in scopeland.

So when we decided to do a comparison article about three of the most popular .17 HMR rifles and needed scopes to go with the rifles, I decided that a Bushnell Elite 3200 should be one of those scopes. After an exchange of e-mails, Bushnell's Queen of Public Relations, Laura Olinger, kindly arranged for an Elite 3200 5-15x40mm AO scope to appear at my doorstep.

My first impression of the big Bushnell scope, before I even opened the box, was that it is, well, big. The black with gold lettering box these scopes come in is at least twice the size of any other scope box I have ever seen.

Once I had removed the scope from the Super Box, I realized that it was actually about average in size for a scope of this magnification. In fact, it is actually slightly smaller than the 4-12x42mm AO Simmons Whitetail Expedition, and much smaller than the 8.5-25x50mm AO Mueller Eraticator. (Just about everything is smaller than the big Mueller.)

Also stowed neatly in the box were the Bushnell Instruction booklet, product registration cards (you can also register online), and a deep lens hood/sunshade that should keep glare off of the objective lens unless you aim directly at a light source. The Elite Lifetime Limited Warranty states that materials and workmanship are guaranteed for the life of the scope. This warrantee is available to any owner of the scope; a sales receipt or warrantee card is not required.

Like other modern scopes, the Elite 3200 is permanently lubricated and sealed. It is fog proof and waterproof. The only maintenance required is to keep the external surfaces clean, including the exposed surfaces of the objective and ocular lenses. Clean the latter as you are supposed to clean a fine camera lens.

The Elite 3200 looks like a premium scope. All markings are in gold against the scope's matte black finish. This includes the "Bushnell Elite 3200" logos at the front of the objective and around the windage adjustment cap, as well as the feet and meter range markings around the circumference of the large adjustable objective ring and the power settings engraved on the power ring just forward of the ocular bell. "Made in Japan" in small letters is discreetly stamped on the underside of the 1" diameter main tube.

The multi-coated objective and ocular lenses reflect green, blue, and magenta light. Very pretty. (If I were a fortuneteller, I'd have my crystal ball multi-coated!) Note, however, that Bushnell does not claim "fully multicoated" optics.

While we are on lens coatings, a word about Bushnell's proprietary Rainguard external coating is appropriate. Bushnell claims that Rainguard provides a significant improvement in brightness and light transmission in inclement weather. To quote the owner's manual, "Rainguard is a special water repellant coating on which condensation forms in much smaller droplets than on standard coatings . . . These smaller droplets scatter much less light than the larger droplets on other coatings." Rainguard does, in fact, seem to work as claimed.

The main tube is of sturdy, one-piece aluminum construction. Other popular features include the afore-mentioned adjustable objective (AO) and Rainguard coatings, fast European style eyepiece focus, and 1/4 MOA click fingertip windage and elevation adjustments. The windage and elevation adjustment scale rings can be reset to "0" after the scope is sighted-in.

The reticle is Bushnell's standard Multi-X, their version of the Leupold Duplex. This is a good general-purpose reticle, particularly for big game hunting. For a high power scope that will be used on a varmint rifle, where shots at small targets at long range will be the norm, I would prefer a finer reticle. The option of a fine Multi-X or just a fine crosshair would be appreciated on a 5-15 power scope. In fact, I suggest that a fine Multi-X reticle be made standard on all Elite scopes from 4-12x on up, with the standard Multi-X optional.

The eyepiece focus, zoom, and AO rings turn smoothly with what I would call average effort. The AO ring has a positive stop at infinity, a feature I appreciate, and the zoom ring has positive stops at the 5 and 15 power settings. The AO and eyepiece focus rings are lightly knurled, and the zoom ring is heavily knurled for a positive grip. There is a rubber ring at the end of the eyepiece to protect eyeglasses.

The adjustable front objective eliminates parallax between 10 yards and infinity and also fine focuses the scope. If the yardage is known, such as at a rifle range, just set the correct distance opposite the index mark. If the distance is unknown, focus by eye until the target is sharp and clear.

A quick check revealed the following specifications for the Elite 3200 5-15x40:

Actual magnification - 5-15x; Objective lens aperture - 40mm; Field of view at 100 yards - 21'-7'; Weight - 19 ounces; Length - 14.5"; Eye relief - 4.3"; Exit pupil - 9-2.7mm; Adjustment range - 50 MOA; Product number - 32-5156M; 2004 MSRP - $440 ($309 in 2005 from Midway, U.S.A.).

I quickly mounted the new Elite 3200 5-15 scope on my dedicated scope test rifle, a synthetic/stainless NEF Handi-Rifle in .223 Remington caliber. This rifle is equipped with a Weaver base and Millet rings that make swapping scopes an easy task.

In the case of the big Bushnell Elite, mounting was simple. There was enough tube length between the adjustment housing and the ocular and objective bells to allow me to easily set the scope for the correct eye relief. And since Bushnell had sensibly selected a 40mm objective lens for this model, extra high rings were unnecessary. Bore sighting was accomplished indoors by means of my Bushnell Magnetic Boresighter.

Once mounted, I was eager to compare the optics of the Elite 3200 to some of my favorite scopes. From my gun safe I selected rifles wearing a Leupold VX-II 3-9x33mm AO, a Weaver Grand Slam 3-10x40mm, and Simmons Whitetail Expedition 4-12x42mm AO for visual comparison. These are among the scope lines that a potential Elite 3200 buyer might consider, and all feature fast eyepiece focusing, which is partly why I picked them. I chose a weathered wooden fence and woodpile approximately 100 yards distant as a test target, as they provided plenty of detail to resolve. The Weaver Grand Slam, a big game scope rather than a varmint scope, was at a disadvantage in that it did not have a focusing front objective, which is why I chose a test subject about 100 yards distant. Viewing conditions were perfect, as it was a bright overcast day and my viewing position was shaded.

All scopes were set at 8x, so that the target remained approximately the same size when viewed through each scope. After studying that view from a braced sitting position for at least a half-hour, I concluded that there wasn't much to choose between the optics of these four scopes. Certainly the Elite 3200 is competitive. In fact, based purely on this subjective visual examination, I would rate the Elite 3200 and the Whitetail Expedition about tied for first place, at least under these relatively undemanding viewing conditions. Perhaps it is significant that these were also the biggest of the four scopes. In a high contrast situation with a lot of glare, low light, or inclement weather the results might be different.

The first day the Oregon winter weather permitted found me at the Isaac Walton Rifle Range south of Eugene, Oregon. The day was sunny with a high of about 51 degrees F. and only an occasional light breeze. I was using my usual handload for the Handi-Rifle, a 50 grain Sierra Blitz bullet at a MV of 3200 fps. The initial shooting was done at 25 yards at a standard Outers bullseye target.

Boresighting should get the bullets on the paper at 25 yards, and in this case it did. I then carefully fired a single shot at 25 yards, using the scope's minimum magnification of 5 power. To my surprise, the bullet hit in the 10 ring, so I made no adjustment to the scope. If the bullets land in the 10 ring at 25 yards, they ought to at least hit the paper at 100 yards. Shooting at 25 yards also gave me a chance to check the AO for parallax correction at short range, and it worked fine.

The next step was to shoot some 100 yard groups, where I switched to Outers Scorekeeper targets--my favorites for sighting-in scoped rifles. I set the zoom ring to 12x for the 100 yard shooting, as I liked how the target looked through the scope at that setting. When I readjusted the AO for 100 yards, the target was sharp and parallax undetectable. The fingertip windage and elevation adjustments on the Elite 3200 scope made adjusting the scope convenient, and the 1/4 MOA clicks had a reasonably precise feel.

The first group at 100 yards landed 3" over the point of aim (the center of the center bull on the Scorekeeper target), with the bullets nearly touching. To check the accuracy of the 1/4 MOA adjustments, I intentionally dialed-in 12 clicks (3") of down elevation and fired another group. That second group hit about 2" below the first group and about 5/8" to the left. That is a 33% error in the elevation adjustment, but it is not an unusual amount of error for a hunting scope. The lateral movement is a bit more irritating, but also not unusual.

For the third group I came back up 12 clicks (3") to see if the group center would return to its original place. Unfortunately, it did not. The third group hit near the top of the target, about 4" above the first group and about 6" above the second group. 6" means a 100% adjustment error, since 12 (1/4 MOA) clicks should move the group 3", not 6", at 100 yards. I hate it when things like that happen, especially during a review for Guns and Shooting Online.

For the fourth group, I dialed in 16 clicks (4") of down elevation to try to get the point of impact back to where it started, which was 3" above the point of aim. Perhaps surprisingly, the adjustment worked correctly (zero elevation error), and the group indeed landed 3" above the point of aim and about 7/8" to the right.

To see if that was a fluke, for the fifth group I went 12 more clicks (3") down. This time the bullets would have landed in the lower edge of the 1" bull (a drop of 3 1/2") had they not been about 3/4" to the right. This is well within expectations, with only about a 17% elevation error--and that could have been due to my shooting.

For the sixth and last group in this series, I went back up 12 clicks (3"). The center of impact moved 3" higher, finishing 1/2" below the first group, and back on the center line. No elevation error at all.

Why the elevation adjustment "went wild" after the first two groups and threw group three so high, I don't know. And why it started tracking correctly after that wild third group, I also do not know. Perhaps the recoil settled something in the system.

Note also that adjusting the elevation knob had caused a minor windage error, first to the left, then to the right, and which finally disappeared altogether for the last group. Interaction between the elevation and windage adjustments is very common in hunting scopes, and this Bushnell was actually no worse (and perhaps better than) average in that regard. Again, I suspect that the cumulative effect of the recoil of the preceding shots may have settled the system. Perhaps if I had mounted the scope on a more powerful rifle, a .30-06 or something like that, the recoil of the first shot would have immediately eliminated all the error in the system.

Throughout this testing, the good optics of the 5-15x40mm Bushnell gave sharp, clear views of the target, and made precise aiming relatively easy. Eye position is fairly critical at high power, which is typical of scopes in this magnification range.

In summation, the Bushnell Elite 3200 5-15x40mm AO riflescope is a good optic for ultra-long range hunting. When I was checking the scope's discount retail price on the Midway, U.S.A. web site I noticed that their customers gave this scope a four-star rating (out of a possible 5). I concur; I also consider it a four-star scope.

After the .17 HMR varmint rifle comparison article for which I requested this scope is completed, I am supposed to return the big Elite 3200 scope to the nice folks at Bushnell. But they may have a hard time getting it away from me!

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Copyright 2005, 2014 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.