Are You Looking For The Best 3-12x Scope
As a recreational hunter, I have often been appalled at the advertising that surrounds riflescopes. Most of it, if not all of it, is geared towards selling you high end military grade equipment that is overkill for the most common situations in which a scope is used.
Don’t get me wrong. You’d still need quality glass that transmits light, allows you to see clearly in extreme conditions and holds true in heavy recoil for long range shooting with some rifles. But not everybody needs a tactical scope with 20x magnification all the time.
In many situations, a 3-12x scope will surprise you with its versatility and protean features. These scopes are lighter, easier to carry and can be used for everything from hunting to plinking cans and to blow the heads off an intruder trying to harm your family. The best part is that none of these is going to create a dent in your wallet.
I figured this was the right time to curate a list of the best 3-12x scopes in the market. The good news is that there’s no dearth of options to pick from. The bad news is that there’s a lot of clutter to navigate through.
Thankfully, having spent a better part of my life working behind scopes, I can help you cut through the muck and pick the best 3-12x scope for your gun.
[Editor Top Pick]
My first pick is the 3-12x 30mm scope from UTG, commonly known as Leapers. For over two decades now, Leapers has been associated with what one would like to call ‘Value for money’ scopes that have bridged the gap between cost effectiveness and practicality. This 3-12x compact scope is no different. It has a bunch of outstanding features that make life easier for you on the field, be it low light shooting or finding targets on a windy day.
Leaper’s Patented IE technology
Image Enhancement is a subjective term that is often misused to fool consumers into thinking that they’d be buying a scope that allows them to see vivid images in darkness. Not true! But Leapers has patented their IE technology that is integrated into their reticle system. The result is an amazing 36-color mode in addition to the conventional red and green. Dedicated color console that can be accessed via two soft buttons make managing the IE effortless.
Reliable Zero Locking
One of the problems with scopes at the lower end of the price range is the inability to hold zero. The UTG 3-12×44 scope will hold on to zero even on recoil-heavy rifles like the AR-10. That’s coming from personal experience folks. The in-built zero locking and zero resetting turrets make it incredibly easy to zero in on the object even at 100 yards and beyond. Also, the UTG 3-12X features a Side Wheel Adjustment Turret (SWAT) for parallax. That’s from 10 yards to infinity.
UTG’s TRE Reticle
In 2003, UTG introduced the mil-dot reticle completely changing the world of consumer grade scopes and making it comparable to military grade scopes. Since then, the feature has been incorporated into their range of scopes. So, with the 3-12×44 scope, you get 9 dots in each cross hair direction as compared to the four that you get in conventional scopes. For those who are unaware, that will enhance your accuracy greatly.
The Final word
If I were to sum this up, I would say that the UTG 3-12x scope is a lot of scope for the money. It can be used for all kinds of hunting (long and short range), is accurate, built for extreme weather conditions and comes with a bunch of best in-class features from UTG.
#2 – BSA 3-12X40 Sweet 17 Rifle Scope with Multi-Grain Turret
A decade ago, if someone would tell me that I could get a reliable cheap riflescope with variable magnification and a multi-grain turret for just under $125, I’d have the laugh of the day. But with optics being integrated into military equipment, the range of budget priced models to choose from has exploded with options. One of the bestselling and affordable riflescopes in this range is the BSA 12×40 Sweet 17.
This is just perfect for target shooting as well as hitting any varmint that’s making life miserable for your pets. But the versatility of the scope makes it possible to use it for short range hunting too in challenging conditions.
Multi Grain Turret
The Savage 17 HMR is one of the most popular consumer rifles for short range shooting. However, most of the scopes for the gun are way overpriced and prudence says that a budget priced scope would be a much better choice. In comes the BSA 3-12X40 that is calibrated for the .17HMR 17gr. and .20gr Bullets.
This is advertised as a multi grain turret. In simple terms, this allows compensation for the different grade bullets without having to readjust your turret or elevation knobs. Just fine tune the yardage and pop your targets right away. You can easily mount this on other guns too like the Savage 93R or on other 22 rifles.
Accurate and easy to zero in
There has been considerable debate about the reliability of scopes priced below the $200 price tag. But the BSA 3-12X40 Sweet 17 holds zero even while shifting to different ranges like 100-150 yards and then back to 100 or even lesser.
As strange as it might seem, you’d be surprised to know that the BSA Sweet 17 can even let you hit targets as far as 200 yards with a fair bit of accuracy provided you set up the rifle (zero the turrets). As far as zeroing in with the turrets is concerned, you cannot go wrong with it. It has a solid click while adjusting.
Clear Images, rugged construction
The BSA 3-12×40 is designed for infallible use in rugged terrain. A possible downside is that it is a tad heavy as compared to some other riflescopes used for the .17. But it is not impossibly heavy. A bipod should do you good for plinking and on the field, use the butt of your rifle to good use. For a lens at this price point, it is unbelievably clear and sharp. The multi coated lenses deliver images that are true to the color and the parallax adjustment is spot on.
The Final Word
A few minor niggles aside, the BSA 3-12X40 Sweet 17 is one of the most likely contenders for the best 3-12x scope. It elbows out some of the most hyped and high priced competitors to enter this list at the #3 position.
#3 – Simmons ProTarget TruPlex Reticle Side Parallax Adjustment Riflescope
After much deliberation, I picked the Simmons ProTarget riflescope as the final addition in this list of the best 3-12x scopes. Like I said earlier, there’s no dearth of choice of models to pick from. But priced under $150 and with features like side parallax adjustment, three separate BDC turrets and surprisingly clear optics, the Simmons ProTarget is a very good choice for anyone looking for a cheap and reliable best 3-12x scope in the market.
Multiple BDC Turrets
The Simmons ProTarget 3-12x riflescope comes with three BDC turrets in the pack. One of them is a standard turret while the other one is calibrated for the .17 HMR. The scope is also available in two other magnifications 3-9x 40 & 6-18x 40 which come with a turret calibrated for the .22LR. So, if you have a CZ452 or a .22 Rugger, then this one will fit right in. The zeroing in is incredibly easy and accurate.
You have 1/4-MOA SureGrip™ windage that has a very audible click. It does not feature Simmon’s popular TrueZero windage system. But at this price point, this works better than many other scopes that I have tried so far.
Some people refuse to touch anything that does not have a mil dot reticle. But unless you are using a mil-dot calculator and are willing to spend some time with the math, a duplex or as Simmons calls it, a Truplex reticle works unbelievably well. The crosshair is fine and clubbed with the bright pair of lens on the Simmons, you get amazing accuracy with your targets even at 150-200 yards.
Last but not the least; the Simmons TrueZero is one of the most compact rimfire scopes that I have seen. It does not look bulky on most rifles, is constructed durably and is fog, water and shock proof. The optics are multi coated, has a decent eye relief and holds zero even when used on rifles like the Henry 17cal.
The BDC compensator can be better. But once again, it all boils down to what you are willing to spend for your glass. At the price point, the Simmons works brilliantly. I have used it to hit targets within a 3 inch range at 200 yards which I believe is more than what anyone would ask for.
The Final Word
With multiple BDC turrets, a durable design and reliable accuracy across the magnification range, the Simmons TrueZero is a great choice for the budget minded shopper looking for a good quality scope. Is it the best 3-12x scope in the market? Maybe not! But in many scenarios, you’d be hard pressed to find a better choice.
#4 – Vortex Optics Crossfire II 3-12×56 Adjustable Objective Hog Hunter
It would be fair to say that no other company has managed to garner as much positive press in recent times as Vortex has. That’s partly because of the incredibly good quality glass that they use for their budget-priced scopes.
Add variable magnification and a clean reticle to this and you have a scope that you can plop on your rifle any day and bet that you’d hit the target more often than not. One of their most popular offerings is the Crossfire II 3-12×56 and this versatile scope can give a lot of higher priced scopes a run for their money.
Low Dispersion Glass
Being a Vortex, let’s talk about the glass before I even mention how well built the scope is. There are two things that differentiate the Crossfire II 3-12×56 from other scopes in this price range. The first one is Vortex’s XD extra-low dispersion glass. This will let you see crystal clear images up to 200-350 yards away. Now, that may seem like an exaggeration to a lot of people.
But put this scope on your rifle and you’d be shocked out of your shoes at how clear the visuals are. The distortions are minimal and the chromatic aberration is corrected. To add to this, there’s the XR fully multi-coated lens which allows every bit of light to be put to good use giving you the edge while shooting in poorly lit terrain.
Durable Aluminum Construction
I firmly believe that you get what you pay for when it comes to riflescopes. But despite being an entry-level offering from Vortex, the Crossfire II 3-12×56 is built like a tank. The aircraft-grade aluminum housing is resistant to scratches and corrosion and the argon filling keeps it impervious to water and fog. A single piece tube constructed from aircraft grade aluminum ensures strength and shockproof performance.
The Dead-Hold BDC reticle
The Crossfire II 3-12×56 is highlighted by the dead-hold BDC reticle in most places. This is a modified version of a conventional reticle with hashmarks on both, the horizontal as well the lower end of the vertical axis. It improves the accuracy in ranging, ballistic drop compensation set as well as hold over especially on the Second focal plane.
The Final Word
With easy tracking, great image quality and a rugged finish, the Vortex Crossfire II 3-12×56 scope is a meaty choice and one of the best contenders for the 3-12x scope in the market currently. The pricing makes it a great scope for your backup rifle too.
#5 – Nikon M-Tactical 3-12x42SF Riflescope
The first time that I came across Nikon’s M-Tactical series of optics is during a trekking expedition in Borneo. A friend was using the Nikon binoculars (See also our article about the best binoculars) for birding and watching animal life at dusk and I was stunned to see the clarity and the light transmission even in near darkness. Back home, I was itching to mount one of those on my rifle and head out to the woods for the upcoming elk hunt. In came the Nikon M-Tactical. It is available in eight magnification ranges. But I chose the sweet 3-12x as always.
If I were to sum this up in one word, it would be ‘Flawless’! At just under $400, you are getting an unbelievably sharp, bright, lightweight, rugged and durable riflescope. So much so, that you’d be cursing yourself for not getting one of these. And I’ll give you my reasons for it.
Well, this needs no special mention. The Nikon M-Tactical 3-12x42SF retains all the features of Nikon’s riflescopes that make them a great pick for all kinds of shooting conditions. The optics are Nitrogen Purged and fog, water and shock proof.
They are coated with a bunch of compounds in several layers that give you up to 95% light transmission. This means that the images are sharp and bright right until dusk. If this doesn’t give you an edge while hunting, I don’t know what will.
On the field, you will not be struggling to dial in or reset the turrets. Nikon’s Spring-Loaded Instant Zero-Reset turrets make life easy and all you have to do is dial in at 100 yards, lift the knob, rotate to zero and engage. The ¼-inch adjustments have a distinct feel to it and this holds on to zero even on a recoil monster. A quick focus eyepiece and excellent eye relief make using the Nikon M-Tactical 3-12x42SF a breeze even in extremely challenging conditions.
Distance Lock Reticle
The standout feature of the Nikon M-Tactical 3-12x42SF is the distance lock reticle BDC from Nikon. There’s a lot of literature from Nikon on how this changes the way you shoot your targets. But to sum it up, when you club it with Nikon’s Spot On App, it shows the same aiming spot across the magnification range.
This is because unlike the earlier models from Nikon, this is a first focal plane riflescope. By the way, if you are not using the Spot On App, it is highly recommended that you try it now.
The Final Word
Works great with different rifles and ammos, is clear, sharp, accurate and hands down, the best 3-12x scope in this price range. In fact, it is way better than many of the scopes in the $1000-2000 price range, in my opinion.
The Best 3-12x Scope Buying Guide
The 3-12x magnification range is a very under estimated one for a scope. Most people, especially who are new to scopes are swayed by advertorials or are just prejudiced towards more power on the gun. But as I have repeatedly quoted, you only need as much power as you are going to be using for your shooting.
Here’s a small buying guide that will help you pick the best 3-12x scope in the market.
Since most 3-12x riflescopes are intended for short range shooting (not beyond 200 yards), it would be impossible to expect the optical quality of lenses that are priced as high as $2000. For example, a Schmidt & Bender or a Swarovski. Instead, look for glass that has excellent light transmission. The Nikon Monarch 3 in this list transmits almost 95% of the light and if you are shooting game in challenging light conditions, this can make a huge difference in landing a buck and returning home empty handed.
The standard is a good quality reticle with hash marks that are spaced evenly along both the axes. Different manufacturers use different terms to describe their reticles. One of the most popular ones is the Mil Dot reticle which allows you to use a mil dot calculator to position the crosshair exactly where you want it while accounting for the drop.
But other reticles like the duplex or the truplex are equally good, especially for shooting varmint or plinking cans. When shooting long range, the tried and tested ‘Hold for wind’ and ‘Dial for elevation’ rule still works best.
The construction of the riflescope does not receive as much attention as it ideally should. However, it is one of the most important features especially if you intend to use it for hunting. Nitrogen or Argon purging is an essential. This keeps the optics impervious to fog and water.
The other feature to watch out for is the ability of the scope to hold zero even when mounted on recoil monsters. For a long time, the rule of thumb was that any scope priced under $500 would be unreliable on a rifle that recoils. But off late, there has been considerable improvement in this regard and you can easily find a cheap riflescope that holds true to zero.
Most riflescopes now feature easy adjustment turrets that are positioned for fingertip access. Also, they have very audible clicks usually in ¼ MOA increments which takes the guesswork out of adjusting even while shifting across yardage. Only the Nikon has a spring loaded Zero reset turret which is the easiest one to use.
Unless I have had the opportunity to test the scope myself, I always check out reviews on Amazon to see what customers have to say about the scope. Along with Amazon, I also check out user forums where the general consensus is less likely to be biased or rigged.
Most of the other features like an illuminated reticle, locking turrets and zero stop are overhyped in my opinion and will hardly make a difference to your target shooting at this magnification range.
That’s about it folks. I hope that this helps you to pick the best 3-12x scope for all-shooting. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts, recommendations and feedback. Until next time, adios!