Core Stories

Leupold VX-3 Survives Season in Alaskan River

Alaska Tested. Alaska Approved.

In North America, at least, it’d be difficult to find an environment as wild as the Alaskan bush. The Last Frontier is known, respected, and in some cases feared for its unforgiving terrain. Those that choose to accept the challenge of hunting its wildlife-rich backcountry require rugged gear – products that are as tough as they are – because equipment failure in Alaska can result in something far worse than a ruined hunt.

Many of the local outfitters and guides swear by our products when it comes to optics – we’ve long been known for reliability, dating back to very first riflescope we built in the 1940s. Few, though, have been privy to the rugged reliability of a Leupold riflescope in the way that assistant hunting guide Don Hunley has. Not everyone, after all, drops their riflescope in a raging Alaskan river – and even fewer folks wind up finding that very same scope months later. This is that story.

Back in October 2017, Hunley was winding down a 10-day hunt on the Alaskan peninsula, where he was hoping to help his client get a shot at one of Alaska’s more dangerous critters, a brown bear. The hunt had been arduous, wet, and ultimately successful – his client killed a respectable bear just before shooting time expired. The bruin went down at the mouth of a creek that fed into an estuary, and Hunley and his client began the long process of packing it out in a light rain under a setting sun. It was after 11 p.m. before Hunley began what would thankfully be his last 600-yard trek to the shoreline where a skiff would be picking them up. With him, as always, was his Zoli over-under double rifle, topped with a Leupold VX-3 1.5-5 riflescope. Brown bears are one of many potential threats hunters must brave in the Alaskan backcountry, and guides are always prepared for the worst-case scenario. Thing is, when he finally got to the skiff and sighed with relief as he handed his pack over to one of the guys on the boat, he noticed something important: His scope was gone.

Hunley had secured the optic to the rifle using a quick-detach mount – not a Leupold one, mind you – and had somehow dislodged it during the very final leg of his 600-yard haul. He knew the scope had been attached for most of the trip, as he’d briefly looked at it before putting it on his back and beginning to hike. The skiff’s captain agreed to delay departure long enough to let him do a cursory search for the optic. The riflescope, however, was gone. Hunley tried to backtrack, but he was walking in 6-inches of water that was full of eel grass – finding the scope seemed to be a lost cause. With much disappointment, he wrote it off and climbed aboard the skiff, glad, at least, that his client had killed a fine bear on his scope’s last hunt.

Months passed and spring 2018 brought new opportunities and new hunters. Hunley was again along the Alaskan peninsula, very near to where he’d helped his previous hunter kill his brown bear last fall. He and his current client had been glassing and hiking for hours, and Hunley had even taken the time to share the story of his lost Leupold – making it all the more surprisingly when, just before dark, he spotted a small black object in the sand on the shore of the estuary. Bending down, he picked up a still very recognizable Leupold VX-3 1.5-5 and knew immediately that it was the very one he’d lost months earlier – its quick-detach mount, which had quickly detached at precisely the wrong moment months before, made it easy to identify. By his estimation, it was found about 600-800 yards down river from where it had originally been lost – enduring more than 350 tide cycles throughout the Alaskan winter.

Hunley, his hunter, and the rest of the party were amazed at the dumb luck – how could he possibly have found the scope again after all that time? More so, however, they were astounded at the condition it was in, given the circumstances.

The power selector? It still turned freely like a new scope. The glass? Still fog free, even after seven months of being blasted by Alaskan tidal action. Though that sandblasting did beat the exterior up a bit, there was no corrosion – the same couldn’t be said for the mount. Our legendary reputation for ruggedness had been challenged by Mother Nature herself, and the scope held its own. Hunley contacted us with his story, and the scope eventually returned home to Beaverton, Oregon, where it’ll join countless others like it that survived impossible conditions that would have destroy the competition. Our scopes are built to survive on the battlefield, in competition, and on the hunt – without letting you down. For Don Hunley, it was a case of Alaska tested, Alaska approved.

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