Leupold Mark AR 3-9x40mm Tactical Riflescope
By Chuck Hawks
The Leupold Mark AR 3-9x40mm Tactical scope is essentially a Mark 2 Tactical that has been tailored specifically for the ballistics of the common .223 Remington 55 grain FMJ spitzer bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 3100 fps. In general construction and optical quality, it is essentially the same as the rest of the Mark 2 line of tactical scopes and the Mark 2 Hunter scope. In fact, it is externally identical to the Mark 2 Hunter. Like all Leupold riflescopes, it is proudly made in Beaverton, Oregon, USA.
The finish is overall matte black. The only visible markings are "Leupold Mark AR" in white letters on the left side of the adjustment turret and small white numbers on the zoom ring indicating the magnification. The latter are angled to face the shooter. Also, there is "+ 0 -" engraved on the ocular bell to indicate which way to turn for focus. Focusing requires loosening a locking collar and turning the entire ocular bell until the crosshair is correctly focused, then re-tightening the locking ring. Repeated around the front of the objective bell, in tiny black letters that are very difficult to read against the black background, is the legend "Mark AR 3-9x40mm."
Basic features include Leupold's proprietary Multicoat 4 lens system fully multicoated optics, aggressive knurling and a tactile bump on the zoom ring, Leupold's nitrogen sealing process for fog/water proofing and finger tip ½ MOA click windage and elevation adjustments. The BDC elevation knob is of the target type, while the windage knob is Leupold's low, or hunter, type. Of course, the Mark AR is tested to the same standards as all other Leupold tactical scopes and backed by Leupold's world famous customer service, the best in the industry.
Here are the basic specifications of the Mark AR 3-9x40mm riflescope with mil-dot reticle.
The Mark AR is equipped with a Mil Dot reticle and a BDC elevation knob that is specially adapted to the .223/55 grain load. This elevation knob has the usual graduations around its circumference and, in addition, numbers from 1 to 7 above them. Those numbers multiplied by 100 equal yards; that is, 1 = 100 yards, 2= 200 yards and so on. There are also three little setscrews around the knurled rim of the elevation knob.
The way the system works is to zero the rifle to hit dead-on at 100, 200 or 300 yards. In our case, we chose 200 yards. Once the rifle is properly sighted-in, loosen the three setscrews; the dial can now be rotated freely, without changing the adjustment. Turn the dial until the appropriate range reference number (in our case "2", representing 200 yards) lines up with the index dot on the back of the adjustment housing. Re-tighten the setscrews. The BDC dial is now ready to use.
Here, taken directly from Leupold's BDC instructions, is how to shoot using this system:
Once you have sighted-in and set the BDC dial, simply turn the dial to the appropriate distance and hold precisely where you want the bullet to impact; the BDC accounts for all elevation compensation. For a 400 yard shot, rotate the dial in the "up" direction until the "4" is aligned with the reference mark on the back of the adjustment housing and hold directly on the target. The same is true for distances falling between yardage marks; if you have a 350 yard shot, simply set the dial directly between the "3" and the "4".
We mounted our Mark AR scope on our dedicated scope test rifle, which is a .223 and also serves as a predator rifle. This is a single shot, break-open action, NEF Handi-Rifle. We used Leupold's excellent QRW detachable rings to mount the scope to the rifle's Weaver (cross-slot) base. These are precisely machined, steel rings and scope mounting went smoothly.
Fortunately, we use 55 grain bullets as our standard .223 fodder, in this case Hornady's Varmint Express varmint load with 55 grain V-MAX bullet. This is loaded to the industry standard MV of 3240 fps from a 24 inch test barrel. It actually delivers a little less velocity from the 22" barrel of our Handi-Rifle and a lot less from the attenuated tubes of most AR-type rifles. Presumably, that is why Leupold designed their BDC system for a MV of 3100 fps. In any event, it proved to be close enough for our purposes.
We did our test shooting at the Izaak Walton outdoor rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility offers solid bench rests and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. As usual, we bore-sighted the scope and then did our preliminary sighting-in at 25 yards. Then we moved back to 100 yards and centered the rifle's point of impact approximately 1.4 inches high at 100 yards, which should put us on at 200 yards. Final corrections were made at 200 yards, where we refined our 100 yard sighting to put the bullets into the "X" ring. In the course of this zeroing process, we confirmed that the scope's adjustments were accurate and repeatable.
To check the BDC system, we then dialed the Mark AR's elevation knob down to "1" (or 100 yards) and shot a couple of groups to confirm that the rifle was now hitting the point of aim at that distance. It would have been nice if we'd had a 300 yard range, but we simply do not. Anyway, as far as we can tell, the BDC system works fine and we would not hesitate to use it in the field. Of course, in the field, you will need an accurate laser range finder to get the maximum precision from the system. The scope's mil dot reticle can be used to estimate range if the target is a known size, but it is still an estimation. Better to use a rangefinder and know for sure.
In operation, the Mark AR's fingertip windage and elevation adjustments click and are easy to use. There is a stop at the end of the focusing travel so you don't inadvertently unscrew the ocular bell. The zoom ring is smooth and has plenty of friction to prevent accidental power changes.
Optically, the Mark AR is the same as a Mark 2 3-9x40mm or the Mark Hunter. For those not familiar with Leupold tactical scopes, the Mark AR is like a 3-9x40mm VX-II hunting scope. Flare is well suppressed and the optics are bright and clear with good contrast. There is only a small decrease in resolution at the edge of the field of view and it ordinarily will not even be noticed when aiming at a target. Color rendition is very natural. The Mark AR provides the clear, natural view of the target you expect from a Leupold scope.
If you own an AR-type rifle or have a .223 sport/utility/predator rifle, the Leupold Mark AR 3-9x40mm is the scope for you. The BDC system is simple and works well. If you do not have a laser rangefinder, Leupold offers some excellent examples that nicely complement the Mark AR scope, some of which we have reviewed on the Scopes and Sport Optics page. Visit www.leupold.com for information about the entire Leupold line of riflescopes, flashlights, binoculars, spotting scopes and laser rangefinders.
Copyright 2009 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.