Shotgun Sights: From Tip to Dot

Shotguns, boy, do I love shotguns. I understand a lot of people don’t, and I think a lot of that comes down to misunderstanding how to use the shotgun and what it is for. I could do an entire article on just that, but today I’ll keep it to shotgun sighting systems. For the uneducated, this might seem like an unneeded topic, and sadly the mythos of the shotgun has led some to believe sights aren’t necessary on a shotgun.

Shotgun Sights Matter

The idea that you don’t need to aim a shotgun is a silly one. The assumption that your shotgun is firing a wall of lead with every trigger is a common misconception. Shotgun ammunition does not spread that wide or that fast. There used to be a rule of thumb that shot spread one inch for every foot it travels. With modern buckshot and shotguns, that just isn’t true anymore.

Shotgun business end
A good shotgun is a close-range dominator.

When you get into specialized defensive loads, they tend to get tighter and more efficient. Rounds like Federal FliteControl used a specialized wad to decrease the spread, and within home-defense ranges, it’s essentially a slug. You have to aim to be effective. You are responsible for every shot fired, and firing an unaimed shot is just plain silly.

With that in mind, we have to consider our sighting systems. Shotguns have numerous sighting systems available to them, and today we’ll cover the more common sight types available to shotgun wielders.

Bead Sights

Bead sights are the most common shotgun sights on the market. They adorn tactical guns, hunting shotguns, trap guns, and many more. When I say bead sight, I mean both a littler Marine brass bead or any kind of single, small circular high visibility fiber optic or similar sight. This is as basic as a sighting system gets.

Shotgun bead sights
Bead sights will work fine for shot, but not well for longer-range munitions. They are the bare minimum of shotgun sights.

Bead sights work and have worked for hundreds of years. They are simple, easy to see in most environments, and provide enough reference to put a load of buckshot mostly where you want it. These bead sights are simple as it gets and tend to be pretty bombproof and quick on target. For bird hunting or clay pigeons, I wouldn’t use anything else.

They provide no rear reference point, however, and for any shots outside of close range, things can be tricky. In low light, even with a flashlight, they can be tough to see and use efficiently. They don’t offer the best precision for slug use or even for shots outside of 15 yards with buckshot. Bead sights work, but that’s about it. Some beads are better than others. I’ve found the Defender Tactical HighBall and XS Tritium sights to be excellent.

Laser Sights

Laser sights are neat and can be fun. I like laser sights on pistol grip-only shotguns and firearms, specifically the Crimson Trace Laser Saddle. That being said, I don’t use them for defensive shooting or on defensive shotguns. They are fun and reserved for plinking and not much else.

front view of Travis Pike aiming shotgun mounted with a Crimson Trace Laser saddle, with red beam visible.
The smoke generated by shots fired will occasionally show the laser which is pretty sweet.

Lasers are dependent on dim environments to be easily seen and used. They can only be used at exceptionally close ranges and require you to try to find a laser dot while dealing with a moving threat. Lasers don’t offer enough benefits for me to consider them for serious use. There could be an argument for those with bad sight, but a red dot would likely serve that person better.

Not everything needs to be tactical or hunting-ready. Some guns and gadgets can just be fun.

Ghost Ring

Ghost ring sights have slowly become the defacto option on tactical shotguns, especially on higher-end guns. Mossberg and Benelli have leaned heavily into ghost ring sights, and it’s easy to see why. These are probably the most precise sight of iron sights for shotguns. They allow you to adjust your sights and squeeze out every yard from a slug or a round of Flitecontrol.

A ghost ring sight setup is a front blade style sight mixed with a rear peep sight. Unlike rifle peep sights, ghost rings tend to be wide open and easy to get behind. Ghost rings are a very accurate method to throw lead at targets. However, they can be fragile.

shotgun sights, rear peep and ghost front
Ghost rings (left) can be fragile and a set of ears is welcome to protect them. Ghost ring front sights are similar to rifle front sights.

Mossberg and Benelli both add wings to protect their little ring sights. Ghost ring sights are a little slower to get behind and to get on target. Plenty of people are crazy fast with ghost rings, but they’d likely be faster with an alternative sight option. One such option that falls into the ghost ring family is the Aridos Crom with the Haught mod. This cuts the top half off a ghost ring for more of an open-sight design.

Rifle Sights

Rifle sights have fallen a bit out of favor as of late, and that’s a shame. These sights used to occupy the barrel of many an 870 and Ithaca 37. Rifle sights refer to an open rear sight and a front rifle-style sight. These open sights are often mounted just to the barrel. One of the reasons they’ve seemingly fallen out of favor is there is no way to retrofit a shotgun without some machining tools to make dovetails.

shotgun rifle sights
Rifle sights on the barrel are my favorite iron sights. A good front sight is easy to see and precise.

Rifle sights allow for a mixture of rapid sight acquisition and precision shooting. It might not be as precise as ghost rings, but it’s dang close. The open design also allows you to get behind the sights faster and get buckshot on target when and where it’s needed. Rifle sights are plenty robust and easy to learn to use.

Rifle sights are my favorite iron sights by far, and I’ve grown to appreciate them as I’ve used them more and more. Enough so that I want one of my more modern shotguns to get a dovetail and Trijicon pistol sights to act as open rifle sights.

Red Dot

Red dots are the superior option for shotguns. They are, without a doubt, the fastest, most precise, and easiest-to-see sighting system available for shotguns. They allow you to focus on the target and watch the threat while maintaining perfect alignment. Red dots have gotten smaller and more shotguns have become open to their implementation.

shotgun red dots
Red dots are the tip-top of shotgun optics.

Mossberg has cut their latest slate of shotguns with cuts to accommodate a red dot and attach it directly to the receiver. Most shotguns come outfitted with rails for red dots, and a number of companies have produced simple but effective mounts to make life easier.

Red dots are the superior option and have become quite rugged. Red dots like the Holosun 507K or 507C feature a 32 MOA circular reticle that allows you to pattern your chosen load of buckshot into the circle. Red dots are the way to go.

Shotgun Sights

Understanding shotgun sights is an important step in knowing how to properly use your shotguns. Sights play an important role with shotguns and don’t let fudd-lore tell you differently. Does our audience have a preference for shotgun sights? If so, share 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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