Modern firearms discussions tend to forget about shotguns. While long range rifles, sporting rifles, and pistols are the where much of the current industry energy is placed, there is a huge subset of shooters that primarily use shotguns.
Shotguns are popular for competition, hunting, and home defense; in fact, many people recommend a shotgun if you choose to only own one firearm.
As shotguns are extremely viable options for a variety of different purposes, there are also tools and accessories available to help improve your accuracy and speed with a shotgun.
While shotgun accuracy is not always a primary concern, judicious marksmanship is always appreciated in any discipline of shooting.
Let’s explore what are the best shotgun scopes available to improve your shotgun marksmanship, and what situations you might want to use them in.
- Why Add an Optic?
- Hunting Applications with Shotgun
- Competition Shotgun Shooting
- Home Defense
- Our Recommendations for Shotgun Scope
- Final Thoughts
Why Add an Optic?
Most shotguns across the U.S. don’t have an aftermarket optic installed, so you might be wondering why you would even consider adding one.
When we look at most shotguns off the shelf, they usually come with a ribbed rail that leads to a bead on the front of the barrel with no rear sight; this can be an effective aiming method for moving targets when shooting bird loads, but like my daughter said when she held her first shotgun, “how accurate can your really be with no rear sight?”
There are those who are very successful without an optic on their shotgun, and trap competitions that traditionally disallow the use of an optic prove this. I argue that outside of competitions that disallow optics, why would you hinder your abilities to quickly and accurately put lead on target when there are phenomenal solutions at very reasonable prices.
Hunting Applications with Shotgun
Shotguns may be the most popular firearms used for hunting in the world. Shotguns can be used for waterfowl, upland birds, small game, deer, and others.
Due to the versatility of the shotgun, we should consider some of the constants shotgun capabilities before we spread into some of the specifics.
Shotguns are effective at relatively short ranges, and whether you are shooting slugs, buckshot, or lighter shot you should not expect effectiveness beyond 75 yards.
This is beneficial for those hunting near urban or suburban areas as there is less opportunity for an errant round to do undesired damage to unintentional targets.
Shotguns also tend to have relatively high recoil when compared to small bore rifles, and even some intermediate cartridge firing rifles.
This tells us that we need rugged optics with our shotguns, and ultra-strong magnification is not realistic or applicable to shotgun shooting.
When hunting deer, or other large game, you may be using a rifled barrel or possibly a smooth bore shotgun with ammunition designed to stabilize in such a barrel. With a rifled barrel, you will probably get a rear sight aperture to accompany the front sight post, but the smooth bore barrel will almost never have any aiming device other than the front bead.
This is not an ideal situation when you are looking to make an effective and ethical first shot on that animal. 4x scopes can help hunters have the confidence to take those shots up to 75 yards and be effective with various shotgun loads. Red dot and holographic sights can also help to improve the speed at which a hunter can get on target.
When hunting large game in areas that only allow shotguns, there are often higher numbers of hunters which tends to increase the pressure on skittish animals such as deer.
This means that hunters who find game within range might not have many other opportunities, and they may not have much time to take that accurate shot.
Optics can help to increase the speed that the hunter can get on target and improve the accuracy of that quick shot.
Whether turkey hunting, duck hunting, or pheasant hunting, there are benefits you might find from an optic.
Upland birds tend to move very quickly when up in the air, and birds such as grouse or woodcock might only give the shooter a handful of seconds to take an accurate shot.
Ducks or geese might be at the edge of your effective range, requiring a well-placed shot to put the densest part of your pattern on the bird.
Especially turkey can require some of the most accurate shots from heavy loads, and it is not uncommon to see magnified optics with heavy magnum shot loads.
Coyote and Varmint Hunting
Coyote and smaller varmints can be challenging for shotgun hunters as their highly developed senses tend to make close shots rare.
When reaching out to the edge of your maximum effective range, there are few reasons to make things more challenging by trying to hit a small target at 60 yards with only a brass bead on the front of your barrel.
Low powered scopes like 1-6x and red dot sights can greatly enhance your effectiveness as a marksman when hunting any of these types of critters.
Competition Shotgun Shooting
Most types of competitive shotgun shooting disallow optics due to the great benefit they provide, but you can find use for red dot sights in 3-gun competitions with an open class category.
Most shotgun engagements in a 3-gun competition are at closer ranges, but when you are competing against the clock, a red dot or holographic sight can help put you on target faster while keeping wide open field of view unobstructed.
When you are defending yourself, or your family, any shot you take inside of your home must be accounted for. Shotguns make excellent home defense tools due to the controllable penetration, but many people overestimate how forgiving the pattern from a shotgun can be.
When shooting a target less than 15 yards away, the shot from a shotgun does not have much time to spread, so marksmanship is still something the home defender must be concerned with.
Electronic sights help to put the shooter on target quickly, even in low light conditions where the front of the shotgun barrel might not be visible.
Our Recommendations for Shotgun Scope
There’s a reason this red dot sight shows up on so many buyer’s guides. This little sight is rugged, affordable, and compact.
The TRS-25 gives the shooter a crisp dot while keeping the shooter’s peripheral vision unimpeded for fast shots that hit the target while maintaining a high level of situational awareness.
The optic is resistant to both drops and recoil, which can be very important when firing heavy 12 gauge loads. This optic is also weather and water resistant, so you won’t find it fogging up or failing when hunting in the field.
The optic is also able to be mounted very low. After installing a weaver rail on your shotgun receiver, this red dot can be placed anywhere on the rail that is comfortable for you due to the unlimited eye relief and parallax free operation.
Because this red dot sight can be found for under $60, and it continues to impress those in need of a bargain optic, the TRS-25 is absolutely recommended for any application a shotgun might be used in.
Trinity 4×32 Scope
This scope ships with a mount that is designed to mount directly to your Remington 870 with no modifications.
This is helpful as the Remington 870 is one of the most popular shotguns available, and many shotguns require drilling and tapping to attach an optics mount.
Once you have the scope mounted to your shotgun, you will find it useful for a variety of situations.
The most popular use for this scope would probably be deer hunting. The fixed 4x magnification gives what many consider to be the perfect amount of zoom for those shooting medium sized targets at up to 75 yards.
The scope is rugged and shock proof, specifically designed to handle the recoil of 12 gauge slugs.
The lenses are coated to resist glare and fog, which is a nice touch on a scope for this price, especially because the mount is included already.
The one user complaint with this scope is that it does have a short eye relief, so you may need to fiddle with the mounting location on the rail to get the most comfortable cheek to stock weld for yourself.
TRUGLO TruBrite 30 Hunter
This scope offers an excellent combination of value and performance that gives the shotgun hunter everything they need, with nothing they don’t.
Whether you are hunting deer, varmints, coyotes, or hogs, you will be satisfied with this scope on top of your 12 gauge.
This scope has a variable zoom from 1x-4x, which gives you all the best options you might need in shotgun hunting.
The scope has a simple duplex reticle with a circle to help with making in scope adjustments.
The 30mm tube collects extra light, extending your shooting time, and the coating on the lenses helps to improve contrast and clarity in scope.
Another scope specifically designed for the needs of the hunter with a shotgun, we recommend this scope for use with slugs, sabots, or buckshot.
Nikon Prostaff P3 Shotgun Scope
This scope gives the deer hunter the best opportunity for success possible.
While many of the optics on this list have increased magnification, this scope has the option of up to 9x magnification and it also has a feature lacking in almost every other shotgun optic on the market;
Nikon has created a reticle specifically designed for the 12 gauge shotgun shooting hunting slugs with bullet drop compensation up to 200 yards.
While we don’t recommend taking a shot at a deer at that range, it is impressive that a manufacture has made the effort to assist the shotgun hunter in this manner.
Though, coming from Nikon, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Nikon has been creating firearm scopes specifically for hunters for years now.
You will find hunter friendly features like fog and moisture resistance, shock resistance, and lens coatings that improve the image quality.
This scope also offers generous eye relief to improve comfort for the shooter, which will also improve accuracy on those longer shots.
For either home defense or 3-gun competition you need an optic that allows you to easily acquire the target quickly while maintaining your full field of view and awareness. This sight gives you all those features, with some others that you will enjoy.
This sight boasts up to 50,000 hours of operation on a single battery, meaning you can set it up next you your bedside table and forget about it for a couple of years.
In addition to that, there is a solar panel that will use daylight to further extend the life of the battery, meaning that if you only shot this optic during the day you could conceivably have infinite power to the optic.
This reflex sight also uses the popular 1 MOA dot surrounded by a 65 MOA ring that allows for both precision at range and quick acquisition on fast moving, close range targets.
TRUGLO Gobbler Stopper
This optic was designed with one purpose in mind; helping you hit more turkeys.
Available in either matte black or a camouflage pattern, the scope offers a 3 MOA dot reticle that has been specifically designed for targeting turkeys at 30 yards.
The optic also offers the ability to switch between a red and green dot, depending on the light conditions at the time. The front of the optic holds a sunshade that will reduce shine and glare but can be flipped up when desired.
One of the most surprising parts of this optic’s design is noticed when seeing it in person; this red dot sight is very large with it’s 30mm tube that is designed to collect tons of light while giving the hunter the greatest field of view in the optic as possible.
The main body of the scope is made from a single piece of CNC machined aluminum for maximum durability in the conditions a turkey gun is expected to be in. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor heavy recoil has a chance a damaging this optic.
Sightmark Core SX
For the hunter that wants the benefits of variable magnification on their shotgun but needs to keep a close watch on their budget, this is tool for the job.
Offering up to 7x magnification, and a bullet drop compensating reticle, this scope does have some of the features normally reserved for higher priced optics.
Another benefit is that the scope has a one-inch main tube that will help widen the field of view and collect light during the waxing or waning minutes of the day.
While you should not expect the same level of clarity in this scope’s lenses as you would from higher priced products, users do report surprisingly high-quality glass on this optic.
While the glass may not be able to compete with the level of clarity found on much more expensive scopes, the price tag of less than $100 makes this an attractive option, especially when you are unlikely to be putting glass on targets over 100 yards.
Primary Arms Silver Series Compact
Those familiar with Primary Arms are all too familiar with the ACSS reticle that is featured in this scope.
Hailed by many professionals as the best designed reticle in the industry for both accuracy and ease of use, it is one of the gold-standard features found in quality optics today.
Besides the innovative reticle in the optic, this 1x prism scope offers the shooter unlimited eye relief, a parallax free field of view, and incredibly rugged construction designed to withstand the abuse of any situation.
This sight gives the shooter all the benefits of a red dot sight, with the benefits of a scope’s reticle in one package; something that was not possible on previous red dot technology.
This scope will find itself at home almost any shotgun whether it is for hunting, competition, or home defense.
In addition to the best prism scope available, this might be the best all-around shotgun optic.
While there are plenty of different applications for the shotgun today, there are tools to help make that shotgun even more effective. Depending on your purpose, you might value certain features and benefits over others.
Whether you are shooting slugs, buckshot, or bird shot, whether you are hunting or defending your home, there is the best shotgun scope or red dot to make your shotgun more effective.
Please use this guide to help you find your way through the hundreds of available options and take the guess work out of picking the right scope for your shotgun.
Eric is a former paratrooper and current Army officer with over 15 years of combined military service. He has combat deployments to Bosnia and Afghanistan. He is was trained as an Army Small Arms Weapons Expert in 2006 and has trained at the Mid-South Shooting Academy. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience with he firearms community, and can be found at themilspecguy.com.