“We’ve zeroed the ARs for 100 yards, but feel free to verify zero and take them out as far as you'd like,” Leupold’s Shawn Skipper announced. Skipper is Leupold’s PR man and was one of the folks running the Leupold Optics Academy in Eastern Oregon. We had spent the previous few days testing Leupold’s target scopes and the Hornady A-Tip bullets, and the chance to work with a 1X red-dot scope was a breath of fresh air. A few rounds on paper from the prone position, and it was time to have some fun.
The modern rifle shooter–with few exceptions–relies heavily on the magnification of a riflescope, increasing the size of the image as if it were much closer than it is, and giving both the target and the aiming point (most often a crosshair) on the same focal plane. The fans of iron-sighted rifles, usually represented by the lever-action devotees and the hunters of dangerous game, carry the torch, but the majority of modern rifles carry an optic of some magnification level or another.
Being both a fan of older lever-action rifles and a hunter who enjoys dangerous game more than anything else, I practice shooting iron-sighted rifles quite often and am also well-versed in the world of red-dot or reflex sights. You see, an iron-sighted rifle requires the shooter to focus the rear sight, front sight and target simultaneously, and as our eyes get older, this task becomes more difficult; the lens inside the eyeball becomes less flexible as we age. Even with 1X magnification–giving a wide field-of-view but little magnification–the use of a single focal-plane optic makes life much easier. I’ve used the smaller red-dot units on the big Nitro Express double rifles with excellent results, as well as some the scope-sized red-dots on European driven hunts, and can attest to their effectiveness.
A rifle’s front sight can be as large as 12 MOA, which will cover up a 12-inch circle at 100 yards; while they have worked for a couple of centuries now, they can pose a challenge in a good number of situations. Reduce the diameter of the aiming point, and you can refine the potential for accuracy; the Leupold Freedom RDS offers a one-MOA dot, perfect for precision shooting. The Freedom RDS is also equally at home on a good turkey shotgun as it is on an AR, allowing for the proper placement of shots on birds at 40 yards and even more. Not all red-dot sights are created equal, and I was very impressed with the design and features of the Freedom RDS for several reasons. Let’s take a closer look at the unit, and what sets it apart from the competition.
A 34 mm main tube houses a crisp, bright, one-MOA red dot, which is activated by the push of a button located on the left side of the unit. The top and right sides have the .25-MOA adjustment for elevation and windage, and the scratch-resistant lenses at the front and back are wonderfully clear. Leupold ships the unit in an AR-ready aluminum mount–simply tighten the three large Torx-head screws on a Picatinny rail and zero it–yet the unit can be mounted in 34 mm rings on your favorite turkey shotgun or other long gun. The intensity of the red dot is controlled by pressing the Leupold “L” logo button on the left side of the unit; there are eight different intensity settings, and when the highest or lowest setting is reached, the dot will blink.
On the BDC model, the elevation turret has two .05-inch set screws, in order to set the elevation dial once the unit is zeroed. Compensated for the popular 55-grain load for the .223 Rem., the BDC dial is marked for distances in yards. Range the target, say 250 yards as an example, dial the elevation turret to read “2.5”, and hold right on the target. I had great results with this feature at the Leupold Optics Academy event I mentioned in the opening paragraph, taking the .223 Rem. out to the 350-yard plate and making solid hits each time. The turret is marked for ranges out to 550 yards. Even in the bright sunlight of the Oregon high desert, the dot on the Freedom RDS was bold and easy to acquire, and with unlimited eye relief, the unit allowed for fast target engagement. Range, dial, squeeze, rinse and repeat.
Running on a single CR2032 battery, Leupold indicates that at the middle-of-the-road intensity level, the unit will give over 300 hours of operation. When the battery is low, the dot will blink upon turning the unit on. Leupold has equipped the Freedom RDS with its Motion Sensor Technology (MST for short); if the unit remains motionless for five minutes the dot shuts off, and comes back if the unit is moved. Turning off the illuminated dot is as easy as turning it on; the user simply holds the button on the left side of the unit down for three seconds. When you reactivate the unit, it remembers the last setting and automatically returns to that setting. And, should you go past the desired setting, just hold the button down for two seconds, and the illumination will reverse intensity direction, giving you a short-cut to the desired level of intensity.
At just 7 ounces (without the mount) the Freedom RDS isn’t a heavy unit, though it is heavier than the smaller, handgun-type red dot sights. I found it an excellent choice for an AR-style rifle, whether in a home-defense situation or at a range where you may be engaging targets at longer distances. Unlike some other red-dot units, I didn’t find the ‘bleached-out’ image when looking toward the rising or setting sun (this has been an issue on dangerous game hunts with a red dot), and I can happily report that the unit held zero very well.
The Freedom RDS gives 80 MOA of elevation and windage from that big 34 mm tube, and at just over 5 inches long, it doesn’t take up a ton of room. Again, eye-relief is not an issue, so the Freedom RDS is very forgiving and flexible with regards to mounting. And it comes with Leupold’s lifetime guarantee, whether you’re the first or 21st owner. If you want a single focal plane optic for your rifle that doesn’t limit your field of view and can be used for both hunting and home defense, the Leupold Freedom RDS warrants a good, long look.
Leupold Freedom RDS Specifications
MSRP - $389.99 without BDC turret, $519.99 with BDC turret.
Weight: 7.2 ounces
Length: 5.3 inches
Tube diameter: 34 mm