Telescopic scopes are typically associated with precision rifle shooting. The magnified optics allow a degree of precision over longer ranges that isn’t possible with iron sights. They are also more effective in lower light conditions.
That’s not to say that iron sights aren’t accurate or effective. They are the best way to learn to shoot. They also allow you to handle and aim a firearm much quicker than a typical scope. You don’t need to position yourself with the perfect cheek weld and the right eye relief with them. Not to mention the time it takes to find your target through the scope. That kind of fast shooting is what you need from a shotgun with your best shotgun scopes.
You need to be able to track and draw a bead on a moving target. Then you have to calculate lead and take a shot. This is typically best achieved with a simple open sight. Often just a bead at the muzzle of the gun to give you a point of reference is fine. There are other options that might be useful in certain situations.
Really small, compact scopes can be fitted to shotguns as long as it has the right sort of mounts. This might be a solution to consider. Specifically if you want to use your shotgun for shooting slugs—single rifled projectiles—over extended ranges. Slugs are a great option for deer hunting in the woods. An optic might also be useful for turkey hunting. The tight chokes keep the shot pattern together out to forty yards. This makes an optic much more useful than it might be ordinarily.
Traditional scopes are an option. You just may miss the field-of-view you get from shooting over iron sights or a simple bead sight. This is especially true if you are used to shooting your shotgun with both eyes open. To ensure you don’t lose too much field-of-view try a scope with small objective lenses. They lend themselves to being shot with both eyes open. This drastically improves the shooter’s ability to track moving targets. It also negates the reduction of the field-of-view caused by using a scope in the first place. There are other options for your shotgun optic as well. These options aren’t strictly scopes. They will, however, give you improved field-of-view and aid fast target acquisition. When you are choosing an optic for your scope consider all these types everything.
Some reflex sights look a little like a small scope. They are built into a protective “tube” that makes them look a lot more like a scope. They are also commonly manufactured in an “open” format. Essentially, they are just a glass reflector surrounded by a plastic or metal frame.
These optics can be quite fragile. Modern materials and high-quality construction do mean they are adequately robust. Enclosed reflex sights are another option. These often look like miniature scopes but work like a reflex sight.
In one form or another, reflex sights often appear on modern tactical rifles. They are an improvement over iron sights. They are not, however, a new innovation. They have been around since 1900.
Reflex sights were perhaps most famously used Second World War fighter planes. That was before the technology to make them small, reliable, and long-lasting enough to use on service firearms. They are simple. Instead of having a reticle etched into the glass of a scope, they reflect an illuminated reticle onto a reflecting screen. Often the illumination is a red dot or another simple point of aim. LED’s are the typical source of illumination. At least, they have been since the 1970s. Before that reflex sights were usually only fitted to fighter aircraft and larger guns, such as anti-aircraft weapons. The power supply and reliability of illumination didn’t allow for them to be put on personal weapons.
The effect of the reflex sight is to create a point of aim that is visible and correct. This is a great advantage when it comes to taking quick shots. You don’t need to wait for the perfect cheek weld or eye relief.
Before 2017 there was only one place to go for a holographic sight, EOTech. They unveiled the first holographic sight in 1996. They held the patent for many years until Vortex Optics released a competing optic in 2017. Holographic sights work differently than reflecting a simple red dot onto glass like the reflex sights. A holographic sight uses a laser diode to illuminate a pre-recorded laser transmission hologram. In some respects, these holographic sights are as good or better than reflex sights. They are often let down by shorter battery life and lack of options.
They are also much bulkier and heavier than reflex sights. This isn’t a disadvantage if you are planning to mount one on your shotgun. Always consider the expense of a holographic over other options, though. They are much more expensive than most of the other sight options that you’ll find here.
A Prism sight is much closer to a traditional scope. Instead of a series of lenses, a prism sight functions similar to a set of binoculars. A prism can be used to make a very compact sight. It retains the functionality of an etched glass reticle like a scope. These reticles can still be illuminated. They will provide additional complexity that isn’t possible with reflex or holographic sights. That might be useful if you need a mil-dot or BDC style reticle. It will probably not be a priority if you want to mount an optic on your shotgun. They are worth considering if you want an optic with a bit more versatility.
Also, remember that prism sights can be cheaper than either the reflex or holographic options.
Mounting your optic
Do you plan on putting an optic on your shotgun? Then whatever type of optic you settle on, you need to be able to mount it. You won’t be putting an optic on an old side-by-side “scattergun.” Your shotgun will need to be equipped to accept an optic.
You’re most likely to mount an optic easily on a pump or semi-auto shotgun designed for tactical or hunting. Traditional side by side and over-and-under shotguns typically don’t have any mounts for an optic. Some small reflex sights such as the Aimpoint micro can be fitted directly to the rib of an over-and-under.
Many tactical shotguns are already fitted with rails for mounting optics today. That is because of the increasing popularity of three-gun competitions. There are others that require a new rail before you can mount your optic. Saddle rails that are designed to fit the action screws of a pump or semi-automatic shotgun. That will give you a Picatinny rail to mount your optic to.
Most small reflex, holographic, and prism sights, come with integral mounts. These allow for easy attachment to a Picatinny rail. If you are going to use a compact scope, you will also need to select appropriate mounts. A scope with a small objective lens is going to be the best option for your shotgun. You can mount it low and close to the axis of the bore. Normally, you need to be pressed against your shotgun’s stock and bore to use it correctly. With a mounted optic you often need to raise your cheek position slightly. This can create viewing problems, so avoid them.
Top 10 Best shotgun scope reviews and Recommendations
Whatever the mounting option you need, one of the following optics will work.
1. Vortex Optics Spitfire
This offering from Vortex Optics is a prism-style. It has an illuminated reticle and multiple brightness settings. It is compact and very robust. You would expect nothing else from a Vortex product. Vortex optics have not been around all that long in the grand scheme of things. Since their establishment in 2004, they have developed a huge range of fantastic quality and varied products.
The Spitfire would be a great option mounted on an AR-15. It will also work on your shotgun for hunting and practical shooting. It is a relatively affordable option. The reticle is illuminated. It is a simple double-ring style. This gives an accuracy of 1 MOA (moment of angle). It will not be a disadvantage when mounted on a shotgun. This reticle is illuminated and offers you multiple brightness settings. It will not be the sort of parallax-free performance you can expect from a reflex or holographic sight.
2. Hammers Slug Shotgun Scope
This optic is a true scope. It is a compact one. It has a series of lenses and an etched reticle. It features an adjustable magnification and a nice small objective lens. It can be mounted close to the bore without making you adopt an unnatural shooting position. The simple crosshair and ring make for a simple aim point. It would be perfect for deer or turkey hunting.
The name also suggests that this scope is designed for use with slugs. It will also work quite well with heavy shot. The finger tactile turrets are another nice, if somewhat unnecessary, touch. They do make the initial zeroing a bit quicker and easier.
If you are going to mount a true scope on your shotgun, also consider scopes such as the Trijicon Acupoint. You need the small objective lenses and simple reticles.
3. Tac Vector Optics Scrapper
The vector optics scrapper is a compact enclosed reflex sight. It offers a simple dot reticle with a 2 Moment of angle accuracy. It is small enough to be mounted on the rib of an under-and-over shotgun. You can also mount it on the Picatinny rail of a tactical shotgun.
Rifles might commonly offer sub-MOA accuracy. But, these very compact reflex optics you will often see with reticles that have a dot size of 2 or even 4 MOA. They are designed for close-range work. This is not a disadvantage. It is important to understand this before selecting a scope. A 2 MOA means that at 100 meters the 2 MOA dots will cover just over two inches. That is plenty accurate enough for shotgun shooting.
4. Aimpoint Micro T1
This is one of the smallest most compact reflex sights on this list. It is something that can be easily mounted on a shotgun without ruining your natural shooting position. Additionally, this optic is combined with a Larue tactical mount that offers quick detachable functionality. The mounts are machined with absolute precision. They can be removed and re-attached without losing zero.
The Aimpoint T1, especially included with the Larue mounts, does demand a higher price. They will also outperform a lot of the others, too. Actually, the price for this optic is still quiet competitive with the prices of competitors like Trijicon.
Twelve brightness settings and a 2 MOA dot give plenty of functionality. Also, the illuminated dot is compatible with night vision. That offers even more functionality for tactical applications as well as for hunting.
5. Trijicon MRO
Trijicon offers a whole range of very rugged optics. These include products specifically marketed for the military. The MRO or Miniature Rifle Optic would not be out of place on an AR-15 or sub-machine gun. It is also marketed to hunters, though.
Turkey hunting is one of the particular areas where an optic on a shotgun can be very useful. The rugged construction of Trijicon products makes it a particularly good choice for use outdoors. Bad weather, mud, and grime could cause a lesser optic to fail. This optic is marketed towards turkey hunters. Trijicon even suggests that the MRO “is a favorite among turkey hunters for a reason: it’s fully ruggedized, waterproof and gives you fast target acquisition every time”
This optic also boasts a large objective aperture. It maximizes the field of view. It also allows you to shoot with both eyes open. That is exactly what you want when you are shooting a shotgun.
6. EOTECH 512
Until 2017 EOTECH, was the sole producer of holographic scopes. This is one of their current offerings. It is bulkier than some compact reflex sights. If I was going to mount an optic on my shotgun, I would choose something different.
However, what this does offer is a 1 MOA reticle. Almost all other options reviewed here give a 2 MOA dot instead. This won’t make a huge difference to you on your shotgun. You may want something that offers a little more accuracy. You may also need something that can be switched between a shotgun and a rifle. In that case, this might be the better choice.
It won’t mount quite as low to the bore as some of the other compact reflex sights. But given all the shapes and sizes of modern shotguns, that might not be a disadvantage. There are plenty of tactical shotguns built similarly to an AR-15. They have modular stocks and raised check pieces. In that case this might be the right pick for you.
7. Aimpoint CompM4
This is a particularly rugged reflex sight by Aimpoint. It will perform under the harshest of conditions. Designed for military applications, it features multiple brightness settings. Its single dot reticle comes with several options that are compatible with night vision.
This optic also offers a particularly impressive battery life. It provides 80,000 hours of operation in daylight conditions. You get up to 500,000 hours on lower brightness and night vision settings. That’s all from a single AA battery. Its impressive ruggedness and long battery life makes this scope a great option for military hunting purposes.
8. Sig Saur Romeo
This is a slightly cheaper option than some of the higher-end reflex sights. Sig Saur designed this sign to offer excellent rugged performance. It also has an innovative motion-activated red dot. The dot will only activate when you pick up your gun. This saves those embarrassing moments when you realize you didn’t switch your sight off and have let the battery run out.
The price might be the best feature, though. It comes in well under the price of some of the other options on this list. You won’t sacrifice performance for price, though.
9. Bushnell Red Dot
This Bushnell optic retails at a bargain price. It can often be found for a lot less than that. It features a low mount perfect for shotgun shooting. There are eleven brightness settings. You also receive a rugged, waterproof, nitrogen-purged construction. It will not fog up in damp conditions.
The sight features a 3 MOA red dot. It still offers sufficient precision for the needs of the average shotgun shooter. Yet it isn’t quite as precise as the rest of the products in this list. One particular advantage of Bushnell is their fantastic warranty and customer service.
10. Monstrum Ultra-Compact Scope
This is another true scope. It is a very compact one that wouldn’t be out of place on a shotgun. It gives you three times magnification. That is different than the other reflexes or holographic options on this list. It does mean that this optic won’t be as suitable for shooting fast-moving birds or ground game. It should really be reserved for static or near static quarry. It would be an excellent option for using with slugs, though.
The scope features an integral mount. There is also an illuminated reticle with range finding sub-tensions. They roughly match NATO 5.56 mm ball ammunition. That match won’t be an advantage to the shotgun shooter. The scope is designed with small carbines in mind. It will also function perfectly as a slug scope on a tactical or hunting shotgun. Its very compact size makes it a great choice for keeping your gun fast and mobile.
The products reviewed above differ greatly. They are all worth a mention, however. The compact scopes and prism optics are more suited to use with slugs or heavy loads. The reflex and holographic options could be pressed to wing shooting with practice.
My number one choice from this list would be the Vortex Spitfire for slug shooting. It’s small and compact enough to easily be shot with both eyes open. You won’t lose any field-of-view. It offers added precision and a bit of magnification for taking aimed shots. Additionally, the Vortex quality and warranty are a great asset to this optic.
Whatever you choose, don’t discredit open sights. They can be a great help. In many situations, open sights are still the way to go.
Geoff has a background in professional game and deer management, he has put his years of experience to good use and now lectures at Hartpury College, one of the UK’s leading providers of land based education. He specialises in training game and wildlife managers who will go on to work in professional game management, conservation and other outdoor professions. He has been teaching at colleges for eight years and in that time has worked at some of the most prestigious land based colleges in Britain.
He has also worked in lead instructor roles at outdoor education centres and as manager of outdoor centres in Norfolk and Scotland and has also operated his own bushcraft and survival skills training companies for many years. He specialises in providing training in bushcraft, survival skills, wild food, and woodcraft.