Musings on Shotgun Red Dots

Shotguns have often been left out of the conversation when it comes to sighting options. The general discussion being a bead is good enough, and it often ends there. Shotgunners certainly know that a good bead can be valuable and useful, but that doesn’t make it the end all be all. Neither are rifle sights or ghost ring sights. While both have their benefits, they all have issues in the fact that they are iron sights. Much like handguns and rifles, optics are invaluable on shotguns, and with shotguns, the discussion revolves around red dots

Red dots are only the start of the discussion, though. Today we are going to talk about a few of the musings I have about shotguns and their optics based on experimenting, shooting, and generally trying to outfit my guns to the best of my ability. 

Why red dots on a shotgun?

Shotguns have not historically needed a fancy sight system. That’s why beads have always been useful. However, things, as the man says, are a changing. We are seeing the advent and extreme popularity of loads from Federal and Hornady that are extremely tight patterning. Federal Flitecontrol, Hornady Critical Defense, and Hornady Black have changed the concept of shotguns and the name scattergun. 

Benelli M4 with range gear
Optics and shotguns are best friends.

Sure, they still spread, but modern wad technology has made that spread occur at much longer ranges. At 15 yards and closer, it’s typically a 50-cent-piece-sized hole in the target. You aren’t aiming a rapidly spreading load of buckshot anymore, and the extra precision offered by red dots is valuable for both modern buckshots and slugs. Even if you stick to more traditional and cheaper buckshot, a red dot is handy. 

Red dots also make aiming faster and work in all lighting environments. They promote a target focus, which is fairly natural with a shotgun. You can stare at the target through the red dot, which is extremely valuable at close range. The ability to focus on the threat allows for greater situational awareness. Red dots are a natural accessory on shotguns. 

What kind of red dots are good for shotguns? 

Red dots tend to be smaller these days, but there is still a noticeable difference between an Aimpoint Micro and a Trijicon RMR. With shotguns, you tend to want to stick to pistol-sized red dots, especially on shotguns with more traditional designs. Traditional being a tube-fed shotgun resembling an 870, 500, or Benelli. When it comes to AR or AK-type magazine-fed shotguns, the size can vary, but our focus is more on the traditional shotgun. 

Smaller red dots offer lighter-weight designs that take up fewer rails and have less demanding mounting requirements. That’s nice, but the real reason we use smaller red dots is that they are less likely to get in the way, and we don’t necessarily need a bigger red dot. We aren’t using magnifiers and don’t really need the benefits of a bigger red dot. 

Holosun 507C on shotgun
The Holosun 507C is my favorite shotgun optic.

Bigger red dots tend to get in the way when it comes to port loading over the top of the gun. When you attempt to throw a round directly into the chamber, you run into an issue where big dots sit directly over the loading port and get in the way. 

Also, when a bigger red dot spills over the top of the shotgun, it can get in the way of your side saddle. Pulling a shell out can be tricky when you keep bumping into the red dot as you reload from the side saddle. 

Finally, most pistol red dots sit rather low, and with the traditional shotgun stocks, the lower the optic, the better. It’s easier to see while maintaining a good cheek weld and getting a comfortable mount on the gun. 

What reticle design works best for a shotgun optic? 

A simple red dot works just fine, to be fair. I would prefer one that’s at least 3 MOA, and bigger can be better for the rapid-fire, close-range domination shotguns offer. Six and eight MOA dots are not too big. 

To me, the best reticle is a circle and dot, or even just a circle. Holosun’s pistol red dots with the multiple reticle system are an awesome option. The 507C, 507K, 509T, and more have a 32 MOA circle reticle, and that’s my absolute favorite for shotguns. The primary reason is that within 15 yards, I know that every pellet of my Flitecontrol load will land in that circle. 

Holosun 507K reticle
The 32 MOA reticle is perfect for patterning buckshot.

I have total pellet accountability with this reticle inside of 15 yards, which is further than the longest shot I can take inside my home. Other than that, the big reticle is easy and quick to see, and I know that as soon as I fill that big reticle with the target, I’m placing effective fire on the threat.  

Mounting Options 

The most common means to attach an optic to your shotgun will be a Picatinny rail. It’s the classic option that’s served us well for generations. It’s common and simple, and very effective. Most common pistol-sized red dots will have a low-profile rail mount that works decently. The downside to the design is that the combination of the rail mount and the rail itself will push the optic a little higher than what’s likely optimum. 

shotgun red dot with sync mount
The Sync mount is my favorite mounting system.

Picatinny works, but there are some better options. The second best option is the Scalarworks Sync mount. This mounts the optic very low on your gun and often replaces the existing rail or mounts directly to the drilled and tapped portion of your receiver. This situates the red dot quite low and makes it nice to use with traditional shotguns. 

Finally, the best overall option is a direct mount solution. This means the receiver of the gun is specifically cut for your optic’s footprint. Mossberg seems to be the only company making this a reality as of now, but it’s likely to grow in popularity. This removes the need for a mount and pushes the optic low enough that it can co-witness with your bead sight. 

red dots on shotgun
Red dots add a sting to your shotgun. Plus, they work day or night with ease.

Seeing Red

While you can probably get by perfectly fine with a bead sight, you shouldn’t have to. Red dots make shooting shotguns easier and faster, and they work in all lighting conditions. You get the precision of proper sights for longer-range shots without sacrificing close-range speed. It’s not exactly as simple as strapping any old dot on the gun, but it can be fairly easy when you put a little thought into the process. 

What do you think? Are shotgun red dots for you? Let us know below. 

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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