Best Optics for Your Shotgun [Ultimate Guide]

Shotguns serve as extremely popular and affordable hunting weapons.

Besides, let’s be real, that iconic chk-chk sound is enough to scare the pants off of any baddies.

Addams Family Shotgun
Striking fear into hearts everywhere!

Like any other weapon, the shotgun has evolved — but evolution has always been slight.

So it’s no wonder the shotgun sports more misconceptions than the rifle or handgun — such as the preposterous idea that shotguns can’t use an optic.

Multiple Shotguns with Optics
Multiple Shotguns with Optics

Straight up, a shotgun can greatly benefit from the presence of an optic.

Hunting and tactical applications both require the use of a great optic and shotguns are prevalent in both worlds. Like most things, the red dot or scope you choose depends on the task you are tackling. 

Meprolight Foresight on a Blackwater Firearms Sentry 12
Meprolight Foresight on a Blackwater Firearms Sentry 12

So, today, it’s all about shotguns and optics.

We’re going to take a look at how shotgun optics work, why you want one, and which is the best optic to have. 

Table of Contents

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Why Do I Want an Optic on My Shotgun? 

Put simply, an optic makes spotting a target a lot faster, more precise, and a heckuva lot easier to see in the dark.

Old debates still rage about sights on shotguns — mostly dealing with beads and ghost ring sights. These all come down to precision and speed. 

Ghost Rings and Open Night Sights
Ghost Rings and Open Night Sights

Here’s the thing though…red dots on shotguns kill that debate with prejudice.

A red dot is as fast as a bead and as precise as a set of ghost ring sights. 

For slug guns, the old deer sights mounted on the barrel were a common solution. While they worked, they offered a short sight radius, funky adjustments, and zero magnification.

A slug gun is essentially the longest walk to get a rifle, so why not add a magnified scope? 

Shot Placement (2)
Small target, big challenge.

You know you wanna increase your range, precision, and ability to hit a small target on a big deer.

Ok, so now you need an optic. But what makes one “good?” 

Well, admittedly, it varies based on the gun, ammo type, and the task you wish to accomplish.

Tactical shotguns meet different needs than hunting shotguns, so let’s break that down.

Tactical Shotguns

With tactical shotguns, the smaller and lighter the optic, the better.

Red dots rule the roost here.

Tactical shotguns run buckshot and, in a pinch, slugs. A red dot gives you the capability to use both. 

Mossberg 930 Tactical charging
Mossberg 930 Tactical–A perfect candidate for a red dot!

Lots of types exist, but smaller red dots are often better, specifically MRDS designs. These stand as the best choice for tactical shotguns.

Through trial and error, I learned that full-sized red dots often get in the way when it comes to reloading. 

shotgun speed reload keanu
Shotgun Quad Load with Keanu

Full-sized models often prevent emergency port reloads, blocking the way when you go over the top to toss a round into the chamber.

You admittedly can always go under, but you are cutting off a means to reload. Also, with semi-auto shotguns, I’ve yet to find one in which an under the gun port reload is faster than an over the top. 

Safariland Shotgun 2 Shell Holder
An over-the-top emergency reload.

Side saddles also present a problem with full-size red dots.

Sometimes the optic or the mount obstructs the side saddle, inhibiting ammo removal for a reload. It’s not a universal problem, but worth mentioning.

Meprolight Foresight on a Blackwater Firearms Sentry 12
A full size optic often isn’t ideal–but the Meprolight Foresight is the exception!

MRDS or small red dots present a lightweight option that can be mounted ultra-low.

I like my shotguns light, as they already tend to be heavy weapons. A lightweight optic keeps things balanced. 

AR-15s and their popularity essentially mandated these high mounts on optics. As a result, tall optics give you a chin weld over a cheek weld.

Spoiler alert, a chin weld on a shotgun sucks

Really High Optic Mount
Really… really tall mounts exist.

Most dedicated mounts call for an MRDS or a compact red dot, and it’s best to plan your optical solution around that. 

As expected with a tactical shotgun, you want something that is well-built, reliable, and can take a beating and keep kicking. 

Trijicon SRO Vs RMR side by side
Trijicon optics like the RMR (left) or SRO (right) are well-trusted.

Hunting Shotguns 

With hunting shotguns, you’ll see a lot more freedom with the optics selection.

Choosing the right optic comes down to what you are hunting and how you are hunting it.

With typical buckshot, I go back to red dot sights. 

Again, mini red dots and smaller red dots work best.

Holosun 507C on a Benelli M4
Holosun 507C on a Benelli M4

With a hunting shotgun, you don’t necessarily need a go-to-war-grade optic. You still want a quality optic, but you don’t need an RMR to hunt deer. 

The same goes for birdshot. (Although it’s likely rare to see an upland bird hunter or trap shooter armed with a red dot equipped over/under.) We’ll talk about an option for those fine folks a little later, though. 

Lastly, we have slug guns.

Slug guns offer a unique challenge optics-wise. A red dot could be a solution, but when hunting an animal that often blends into the environment, magnification proves beneficial.

Hunter with dogs and shotgun
The only high visibility thing on the hunt might just be you.

Slug guns work well with lightly magnified optics to deliver the maximum benefits of a shotgun slug. These smaller, lower-powered optics are lightweight, and the magnification can range from 1-4X, 2-7X, 3-9X. 

In my experience, 1-4X seems to be a good slug optic. However, with little experience in this arena, I reached out to a friend who lives in an area where rifle hunting is prohibited.

My buddy swears by a 3-9X optic on a slug gun.

Aero RECCE Optic
The Trijicon 1-4x Accupower in a 30mm BOBRO QD mount. Obviously not on a shotgun but you get the idea…

The Top Shotgun Optics 

1. Holosun 507C V2

If I had to pick one optic for my defensive shotgun, it would be the Holosun 507C — preferably the V2 model with big buttons.

Admittedly many will see this as a controversial choice in the world of MRDS optics. To be fair, Holosun is making waves with their optics. 

Holosun 507C on a Benelli M4
Holosun 507C on a Benelli M4

The 507C uses the same pattern as the Trijicon RMR for mounting and includes a Picatinny mount adapter.

It’s a very robust and tough optic that meets and exceeds the needs of most looking for a home-defense optic. But what really makes this model shine is the reticle selection. 

You get three reticle options. One is a simple red dot, another is a 32 MOA circle, and the final is a 32 MOA circle with a dot.

Holosun 507C on a Benelli M4
Holosun 507C on a Benelli M4

For shotguns, the 32 MOA circle is an awesome choice. I use the 32 MOA circle on my Benelli and patterned my load inside of the circle. I know at 15-yards, every pellet will be inside that circle with my chosen gun and load.

Why is this important?

Pellet accountability and precision inside the home ranges which gives me a greater degree of confidence.

Pros: 

  • Amazing reticles
  • 50K battery life
  • Solar backup
  • Great price
  • Comes with Picatinny mount 
  • Sideloading battery

Cons: 

  • The auto setting will not adjust to compensate for weapon mounted lights

2. Trijicon RMR 

The Trijicon RMR set the standard for durability, design, and power.

It’s the most widely accepted and adopted mini red dot for pistols and rifles. Let’s not forget, the United States Marine Corps even pairs them with machine guns. 

RMR Type 2 RM06 3.25 MOA
RMR Type 2 RM06 3.25 MOA

You can find the RMR in a variety of designs and even different reticle sizes.

The 7 MOA amber model would be an excellent and eye-catching shotgun option. Hint: A bigger reticle is easier to see which lends itself to speed. 

That being said, the 3.25 MOA model, 6 MOA model, or even the 9 MOA model would also work well.

RMR Type 2 View
RMR Type 2 View

Any RMR is going to be a winner. After all, these are, without a doubt, go-to-war optics. Literally.

The RMR also brings a massive aftermarket for mounts and accessories that shouldn’t be ignored.

If you want an American-made solution with a traditional dot design…the RMR delivers. 

Pros: 

  • Rugged and strong
  • Plenty of reticle options
  • Outstanding reputation among armed professionals
  • Solar dual-fuel option available 

Cons:

  • Bottom loading battery 
Best Pistol Red Dot

3. Burris Fastfire 3

I’ve written about the Burris Fastfire 3a lot. Hands down, it’s my go-to red dot when it comes to reviewing guns. 

If a gun doesn’t include sights, I toss a Fastfire 3 on it and go.

Burris Fastfire 3
Burris Fastfire 3

Despite a deceivingly low price, this optic features a quite robust design. It may be simple, but I like it that way. 

Using three brightness levels, the Fastfire also offers an auto setting with either a 3 MOA or 8 MOA dot. The 8 MOA option is usually pushed for shotguns and handguns since it delivers more speed.

But, I’ve used the 3 MOA model on shotguns without issue. 

Burris Fastfire 3 on a Mossberg 930
Burris Fastfire 3 on a Mossberg 930

Burris produces specific mounts just for shotguns that work brilliantly. Speedbead mounts place the optic between the stock and the receiver and work with traditional shotgun stocks. 

The SpeedBead is a great choice for bird hunters and trap/skeet shooters who want a modern take on the bead sight. (It also works for tactical shotguns, too!)

This design sits the optic low enough to replace the bead and provides the user with an 8 MOA dot.

Burris SpeedBead mount
Burris SpeedBead mount

Burris makes these for a ton of different shotguns outside of the standard Remington 870/Mossberg 500 world.

Guns like the Remington 870 are popular but don’t come tapped and drilled for an optic. The Speedbead and a Fastfire 3 allow for a low mount that’s well out of the way. 

Not to mention, the Fastfire is affordable.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Modular
  • Perfect for shotguns without an optics rail
  • Top loading battery

Cons:

  • Not proven enough for duty use
  • Only three brightness settings 

4. Aimpoint T-2/H-2/S-1 

The biggest contender for crossing the line between hunting and tactical use is Aimpoint.

At first glance, the T-2, H-2, and S-1 appear the same. Okay, so they are quite similar but they do feature some slight differences. 

Aimpoint Micro H-2 Gun Digest
Aimpoint Micro H-2 (Gun Digest)

Want something tactical? The T-2 is your model. Equipped with night vision settings and a submersible depth of 25-meters, it screams tactical.

But be prepared…this is the most expensive model of the three. 

809
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Hunters will want to opt for the H-2 model. It’s tough and rugged like the T-2.

But it lacks night vision compatibility and can only be submerged to 5-meters.

745
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The S-1 offers up a bigger 6 MOA red dot. Designed to attach to the rib of a shotgun barrel (not a scope mount), Aimpoint engineered this optic to sit as low as possible.

For this reason, it better accommodates hunters — more-so than tactical shooters. It can also stand a submersion up to 5-meters. 

745
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

All three deliver a small size, which has the shotgun community cheering. With mounts from KE Arms and Aridus, they sit nice and low and provide you with a stronger tubular red dot design.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and compact
  • 50k battery life
  • Lots of mounts available
  • Extremely strong

Cons: 

  • Expensive 

5. Meprolight Foresight 

I know I said that full-sized red dots are not the best for shotguns, and I stand by that in 99% of cases.

However, Meprolight Foresight is the exception to the rule.

Meprolight Foresight on a Blackwater Firearms Sentry 12
Meprolight Foresight on a Blackwater Firearms Sentry 12

A techy solution, the Foresight links to your Android or iOS device.

What does that all mean for you? 

It allows you to program up to 10 different weapon zeroes in one optic. Swap between loads for different purposes on the fly!

Bullpup Scorpion and Meprolight Foresight in the wild
Bullpup Scorpion and Meprolight Foresight in the wild

An advanced optic?! Sign me up!

This option brings easy zeroing via your phone, an integral mount, and a rechargeable battery. 

And, honestly, the Foresight is one of the most fascinating optics I’ve ever used.

Pros:

  • Versatile as a shotgun
  • Over 2 dozen reticle options 
  • QD mount
  • Super easy zeroing 

Cons: 

  • Full-sized optic
  • Expensive
  • Rechargeable battery
699
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

6. Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9x40mm Riflescope, Sabot Ballistics Reticle 

Leupold’s VX Freedom line is a popular set of optics at a moderate price. 

The Sabot Ballistics reticle comes tuned for both muzzleloaders and slug guns with drop compensation out to 300-yards when the optic is zeroed at 100-yards.

Leupold VX Freedom 3-9x40
Leupold VX Freedom 3-9×40

Pro tip: make sure to tune this BDC to your load, though.

Leupold uses a Twilight management system that gives you 10 additional minutes of visible light.

In my experience, most deer are moving as the sun sets and the sun rises. 

Leupold Sabot Ballistics Reticle
Leupold Sabot Ballistics Reticle

All in all, the Leupold VX Freedom with the Sabot reticle takes a slug beyond typical slug range.

Sporting heavy praise, if I was a slug shooter, this would likely be my choice. 

Pros: 

  • Great Price
  • Slug based BDC 
  • Magnified 
  • Rugged and reliable 

Cons:

  • Needs a dedicated optics mount and rings 
300
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

7. Swampfox Tomahawk 1-4X 

Low Power Variable Optics rule the rifle world.

On a slug gun, a verstaile, lightweight 1-4X LPVO makes a lot of sense.

The Tomahawk 1-4X from Swampfox is as simple as it gets. For a slug-shooting shotgun, it’s an excellent option.

Swamp Fox Tomahawk
Swamp Fox Tomahawk

First off, a 1-4X magnification range is suited for slug ranges and allows for both brush hunting and open ground. The small size of the optic also keeps it nice and light.

Hands-down, the best reticle for slugs is the spear duplex reticle. Plus that duplex reticle comes with an illuminated dot in the center. 

Spear Duplex Reticle
Spear Duplex Reticle

This simple setup makes for an easy slug gun zero and will get you on target quickly. Bonus: the unobstructed view is also very nice.

Most LPVOs place a heavy focus on the AR platform, but the Tomahawk’s reticle design is simple yet perfect for slug guns. 

Pros:

  • Simple reticle 
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Easy to use
  • Priced just right

Cons:

  • Needs a dedicated optics mount and rings 
279
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Conclusion

Optics on a shotgun may sound far-fetched but these devices actually enhance the weapon’s capabilities making target acquisition faster and easier. In short, a quality optic on a shotgun will land precise shots where you want them every time.

Burris Fastfire 3 on a Mossberg 930
Burris Fastfire 3 on a Mossberg 930

Optics and shotguns just make sense, and they are an awesome addition to your shotgun. 

What optics do you use on your shotgun? What works for you? What doesn’t? Let us know below. Need a shotgun to slap your new optic on? Check out the Best Tactical Shotguns for Home Defense!

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3 Leave a Reply

  • Robert Pettis

    T.p., Another delightfully insightful read. Thank you. R.P.

    2 weeks ago
  • Kevin Anderson

    I feel like the Trijicon TrijiDot is a worthy mention here, for the O/U crowd. It’s not an optic, hence not getting mentioned in this article, , but it *does* have a sapphire lens and fiber optics light collection, for a huge improvement over the standard rib beads in that type of gun. I couldn’t believe what a well executed piece of equipment it was, and immediately improved my acquisition speed for clays.

    2 weeks ago
    • Mark

      I'm with you, Kevin. The trijidot is very reliable fiber optic sight that doesn't cost more than any of my shotguns, doesn't get in the way of tactical reloading, and I don't have to worry about a battery dying. I have some type of fiber optic on my Slug gun, duck guns, and self defense shotguns. I know all of them work when I need them and they're all accurate.

      2 weeks ago
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