Stith sold its Master, Double and Bear Cub scopes, then Kollmorgen offered them under its own name from 1956 until Redfield took over sales. Kollmorgen, which made periscopes for the U.S. Navy as early as 1916, already had some of the features associated with Redfield scopes, including the three rings of “double-diamond” knurling on the ocular housing. Kollmorgan, by the way, is still in business today, making periscopes and other electro-optical devices for the U.S. Navy and others. Nick Stroebel in “Old Rifle Scopes” gives credit to Kollmorgan rather than Redfield for constantly centered reticles.
Regardless, Redfield made quite an impact in its first decade of offering riflescopes. In 1962, it announced the variable-power Bear Cub 3-9X with a constantly centered non-magnifying reticle. Redfield put the crosshair in the second focal plane, resulting in the size of the reticle remaining constant in relation to the image being viewed, as opposed to first-focal plane European scopes.
The Accu-Range system was added in 1966, and it was the first easy-to-use rangefinding system built into a riflescope. Accu-Range-equipped scopes had a range estimator shaped like an ascending tombstone that gave the shooter the range when a 27-inch target fit between the stadia lines in the upper portion of the scope. Then came the Wideview in 1969, literally changing the shape of riflescopes. They were big, bad, shiny and, well, rectangular. The Wideview had to be better because the ocular looked like a TV—or so I thought as a teenager. But even then it was hard to dispute that Redfield was, if not king of American-made riflescopes, certainly one of the princes.
The ownership of Redfield in recent years is, well, convoluted. In the late 1990s, long after the Redfield family had sold the firm, tests on the groundwater near the Redfield plant revealed contamination, and that was just the start. Redfield’s physical plant, with a half-century of chemical manufacturing waste in the ground, padlocked its doors. By then, quality control, too, slipped to abysmal levels. (I had a fixed 24X fine wire with a dot that looked like a disgruntled employee had carelessly left a nasal ejecta near the junction of the wires.)
Blount bought the name in late 1998, but then sold the Redfield riflescope business to Meade Optical (the telescope manufacturer) in 2002. Meade developed a line of Redfield scopes and planned to make them in California, but a series of setbacks resulted in the Redfield riflescope trademark going to Leupold in 2008.
Many thought Leupold purchased the rights to Redfield Optics (the bases and mounts are still owned by ATK) to prevent competition from a great American name. But Leupold’s Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Technology Andy York had much bigger plans. York saw the possibility of bringing it back to American shooters as an American-made product. A lot of riflescopes are sold between $150 and $200—and Leupold refuses to go offshore on riflescopes—so Leupold scope prices pick up where Redfield’s top out.
For informed observers the Redfield Revolution announcement—in particular the affordability—was a bit of a shock. Why would Leupold seemingly cut its own throat by offering a quality product that uses many of the features, the same workers and tooling, that turned Leupold into the premier brand of American-made riflescopes? Basically, margins are lower with the Redfield Revolution scopes, but York believes the success of the scopes will make it worth it. In other words, he hopes to make it up in volume. Judging from orders taken in January, York was more than right.
“We only build to one level of quality,” said York, “and we would much rather compete with ourselves.” Rather than a hindrance to Leupold, York explained, “As our premium products get better and drive the quality and innovation throughout the line, the lessons learned and technologies developed for our top optics have made our more affordable products better, too. As we upgrade one generation, we can use that to eventually bring the others up as well.”
Leupold tried to present some of the lines and heritage of Redfield with scopes that are based on its existing models, but it’s mostly in the aesthetics. Limited options are one of the keys to the low price, and there are four introductory variables with 1-inch-diameter tubes: 2-7X 33 mm ($130); 3-9X 40 mm ($150); 3-9X 50 mm ($200); and 4-12X 40 mm ($210). You can have any color you want so long as it’s matte-black anodized aluminum. Also, there are only two reticle patterns, a conventional duplex called the “4-Plex” and the Accu-Range. The latter will cost you $10 more.
So for $130 to $210 what are you giving up? You don’t get argon gas inside the tube, you’ll just have to make due with nitrogen, which has served well for decades. The anodized finish is perhaps a bit more coarse than higher-end Leupolds, saving time in polishing but not really doing any harm, as the finish is even and well-applied.