Optics performance. It’s something that we in the precision shooting community discuss frequently and seriously, but in all honesty, we don’t have a standard of what constitutes optics performance. It’s all well and good that we peer through an optic in an effort to evaluate its glass. We manipulate the turrets to garner some sort of level of quality and precision. If we are more dedicated, we’ll conduct a tall target test, meant to verify that tracking of the optic is precise. As you know, testing and evaluating an optic goes far beyond these things, and Leupold is fully aware of that—hence they created the Leupold Training Academy. Located in northern Oregon, the facility in northern Oregon is dedicated to the development, testing and engineering of their optics by employees and others who are fortunate enough to receive an invite.
Leupold Optics Academy
The academy resides near Madras, Oregon, tucked in the hills with a breathtaking view. It’s always amazing to encounter a new shooting venue; those of you who travel with your guns understand. If you do not partake in that freedom, I highly encourage you to venture into new territory. Get away from your home range and try something new.
On-site is a building that serves as a mini Leupold HQ. The place is adorned with all things Leupold, from signage to decals, special wooden artwork depicting the inner workings of the various optics and even drawer handles that are crafted of optic bodies. It’s immediately obvious that they really use the place, and it’s not just an occasional visitor center.
We convened for a short overview, covering the products that we’d be working with while at the academy: Leupold’s industry-leading MK5 HD 5-25x attached to Browning’s X-Bolt Target Max chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. It’s a straightforward, lightweight setup with an out-of-the-box rifle available to the masses. No custom work or parts. Just optics and bipods. Hornady dropped off their gold standard 140-grain ELD-M cartridges. If your rifle won’t shoot it, something is likely wrong with it.
On the line, we find our rifles laid out and ready to go. After some initial instruction on what we’d be doing and how to use the Kestrels for our tasks, we confirmed zeroes—an absolute necessity if you want to do serious precision work. The Leupold team had set them up, but each shooter needed to do their own check.
The Leupold staff headed up by Colby Ingram, Nic Kytlica and John Snodgrass proceeded to give us explanations of the academy and its goals. The performance of their optics goes beyond the manufacturing facility. The understanding of what works and doesn’t work can only happen in real-world use and its aches and pains. The staff running the academy’s workings are all real shooters and are indirectly involved with the development and design of the optics. Proof of this is in the PR2 reticle that we were utilizing in our MK5 HD optics. This reticle has quickly become one of my, if not my favorite, reticles due to its simplistic approach with only the necessary “information” or markings for precise shooting.
The PR2 utilizes .25-mil marks instead of .20-mil for both the windage and elevation stadia, along with broken subtension lines. This removes 20% of the lines in older designs and results in a much cleaner image that doesn’t obscure the view and is void of the information overload that is possible with other reticles—especially with less experienced shooters. This reticle validated its worth in spades during our time at the range.
Confirmations at 100 yards gave us initial impressions of what the Leupold/Browning combo would be capable of, or did it? My groups weren’t great, and that situation can sabotage a shooter out of the gate. It’s a weird thing about precision shooting, sometimes the short game isn’t indicative of the long game. I would be reminded of this in short order.
Our first “long-range” distance was 308 yards. Our instructor gave us the commands guiding us on what to input into our Kestrels. We used them for every shot, an exercise in repetition that builds retention. I was in the number one shooting position, breaking the ice with a solid impact on the left side of the orange circle. One of the aspects that I love about precision shooting is the continuous learning cycle and this is never more apparent than when shooting in tricky winds, something the Leupold Academy is not short on. Already the wind was pushing the bullet around. A quick increase in wind speed on the Kestrel would remedy that. All the way down the line, shooter after shooter impacted the target.
More learning ensued on the next target, which was at 416 yards and called for 1.9 mils of elevation. I dialed up the MK5 HD and pressed the trigger. Great wind call with a very low impact. Remember, the bullet never lies. It will always tell you what’s going on with your gear. Seems I only dialed to 1.4 mils. It was a rookie move but it happens more than you know.
Going REALLY Long
From the prone position, we pushed the Leupold/Browning/Hornady combo all the way out to 1,720 yards. I think this was the ragged edge for the X-Bolt rifle, as the misses were all over the place—I could see them clearly through the Leupold. Also, winds had picked up. My final impact had been at 1,525 yards in a three-round string.
We ventured into PRS space by shooting off of the many obstacles and barricades that were on hand. Tires, tank traps, rocks and walls were utilized, giving the newer shooters a solid introduction to what makes precision rifle shooting so much fun and the other challenges involved. There is no limit to the possibilities when you have good kit on board. I found the spinner to be the most aggravating. I don’t get to see them much, and when I do, it’s always like starting from square one.
Final Day Shots
The next day we ventured deeper into the property to shoot at animal-shaped steel at various distances and angles using natural terrain and supports along with tripods and bipods. High-angle shooting is tricky and doles out lesson after lesson to those with the heart and mind to accept the curriculum. The long-distance gongs were the icing on the cake. We ran the Brownings hard on both days with barrels reaching nuclear temps, and they never skipped a beat.
People frequently ask me, “What rifle and optic should I buy?” At that point, I mentally scroll through my historical experience Rolodex and provide options. After my time at the Leupold Academy, I can without a doubt highly recommend their MK5 HD, if for no other reason than that I know how it was designed and tested. The Browning absolutely shined too. The out-of-the-box, jack-of-all-trades rifle coupled with the right glass and ammo brought new and lasting insights into what is necessary for precision shooting. For more information, visit leupold.com.
This article originally appeared in the August-September 2023 issue of Ballistic Magazine. Get your print or digital copy or subscription at OutdoorGroupStore.com.
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Source link: https://www.athlonoutdoors.com/article/skill-school-leupold-optics-academy-puts-shooters-on-target/ by Sean Utley at www.athlonoutdoors.com