Shotgun Sights — As Important as Rifle Sights, Far Less Understood

By Wilburn Roberts published on in Gun Gear, Optics

For practical use, there are several types of shotgun sights. In iron sights, these include the bead, aperture or ghost ring sight, and rifle sight. In optical sights, there is the shotgun slug riflescope and the red dot. The shotgun rib may also be called a sighting device and is an important consideration for sporting guns.

Meopta MeoRed red dot sight

The MeoRed red dot is a first class unit well worth its price.

The arguments over firing the shotgun by feel and handling versus aiming are many, but the bottom line is this, both techniques should be used. A moving target demands fast action, swinging, and firing by feel. A stationary target at longer range demands strict use of the sights. It is that simple. There are significant differences in the way shotgun sights are used. As an example, we usually get our eye on flying game and then use the shotgun bead.

In personal defense, the bead is picked up in a fast, flash sight picture as we place the muzzle on the adversary’s center of mass. Rifle-type shotgun sights are used by picking up the front sight in the field of vision and then bringing it into the rear sight for a careful aiming point. With aperture sights, shoulder the shotgun and look through the rear aperture of the ghost ring. The rear sight fades from view as the eye tends to center the front sight in the rear circle. The sights should be easy to use and not terribly complicated.

Shotgun Ribs

Few shotguns intended for pure combat use have ribs, but all double barrel shotguns have some form of rib. The rib isn’t necessarily elevated over the barrel; the purpose of the elevating rib is to cause the shotgun to fire high and center the shot pattern. The angled accruement—called the rib—is used to improve accuracy when firing the shotgun. The rib influences pattern placement by drawing the eye to the rib. Barrels are pitched upwards by the shooter taking aim across an elevated rib.

IAC Hawk 82 shotgun

The relatively inexpensive Hawk 82 shotgun features good combat sights.

Cosmetics are part of the rib, but the primary purpose of the barrel rib is to enhance accuracy and practical applications. Expediting fast and accurate shooting is the purpose of a proper barrel rib. The rib isn’t for aiming and rifle-like accuracy, but simply to lead the eye to the muzzle and bead front sight. Some ribs have dual beads for this purpose.

Eyes are focused on the target in the fast-moving shotgun game. The shotgun is mounted with the head down and the rib keeps the barrels from vanishing against bright sunlight. The rib provides the certainty of a visual line for aiming. While perhaps this isn’t the intended purpose, I have used shotgun beads on the barrel rib for excellent accuracy work to 25 yards with shotgun slugs.

Flat ribs, known as the straight rib, are most common. Some are designed to give the illusion of a longer barrel and a longer sight radius. Ventilated ribs are used to diffuse radiant heat. The eye makes a linkage with the aiming rib and heat dissipation is a consideration. When the shotgun is properly shouldered, the bore axis is running along the comb line and recoil is reduced. Above the shoulder, recoil is harder. The rib and comb height may be very important in trap and skeet shooting, and in a game shotgun, the rib may be an important consideration. The rib helps the eye find a visual path to the muzzle.

Bead front sight on a shotgun

The bead front sight is particularly fast and accurate when mounted on a barrel rib.

For slug accuracy, the shotgun may be fitted with a scope. The shotgun scope must be rugged and capable of taking a beating from recoil. TruGlo’s 4x scope has given good results. Be certain you have proper eye relief, and you will have a good option for hunting with a slug gun.

I have also used Red Dot sights for the shotgun. The TruGlo 30mm red dot has always given good results. When the range is short, we probably are short on time as well. For those who practice, the red dot sight provides an edge in speed and accuracy. The red dot sight will extend your range and perhaps make short-range shots even faster—providing you practice diligently with the red dot.

Which set of shotgun sights is best? It depends on the mission. For most game shooting, the simple bead is the best choice, especially when it rides on a sporting rib. For fast combat-style shooting, the ghost ring sight stands alone and affords the trained shooter excellent hit potential.

Optical sights give the shooter an edge in accuracy. A quality red dot such as the Meopta MeoRed is useful for game and also for combat shooting. You pay your money and take your chances, but there are many good choices.

Are you a clay shooter? Do you hunt with a shotgun? When using a sight on a shotgun, what would you recommend? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (4)

  • Jim in Conroe

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    When wingshooting upland game, you should never be looking at the shotgun barrel. Not the rib, and not the bead on the front of the barrel. The shotgun must be mounted consistently, with the head up. The focus is on the target and the gun is moved to point, not aim at, the target.

    When hunting a relatively stationary target, like a deer or a turkey, a sight can be used to good effect. I prefer a holographic site, like the eotech XPS.

    I always pattern my gun for turkey hunting at 25 yards with the shotgun load I will be using for the turkey, usually a 3 inch number five shell. I adjust the sight to center pattern, then check it with slugs at 50 yards.

    Reply

  • Cory

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    I have been an off and deer hunter for 15 years. Mostly walking large grass patches where the shooting is quick and fairly close. In doing this I’ve carried a shotgun loaded with slugs. I’ve been most successful with a bead sight on deer past 25 yards and inside 50. I wing shoot and small game hunt with this same gun, so that gives me extra trigger and shouldering time that proves to be helpful. Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve never come up empty handed with this set up. I have however missed several with traditional rifle sights. I chalk this up to lack of practice for the situation with this set up. I looked strictly for the front sight and paid absolutely no attention to the rear. As for ghost ring or aperture sights and scopes I have zero experience. Red dots I have used on a limited basis. Accuracy is improved off of a bench at a stationary target, for sure. I’ve only taken a shot at a deer on the move, once. This was at 10 yrs with a muzzleloader. It worked but this shot could’ve been made with about any sight system available! So overall I think the bead is a great and simple inside 50 yd choice for any load with some practice. The key being practice. Here in Ohio, most shoot a ribbed barrel all year for clays and small game. Then switch to a rifled slug barrel for deer. They wind up putting the barrel on the week before season and “sight it in” off of a bench. Then hit the woods and miss shots that seem to be “chip shots”. Then you hear, “how did I miss? I was shooting great groups last week. This gun is a piece of dung!” They don’t want to hear that the problem is them not the gun!

    Reply

  • RKC

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    I have not hear that before. Makes perfect sense.

    I will use it in the future.

    Reply

  • Woody W Woodward

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    When I introduced novice correctional officers to the Mossberg 500 I had them think of the flat surface of the receiver as a bowling alley and the front bead as a bowling ball. Place the ball in the exact center of the alley and line both up with the K5 of the target.
    [W3]

    Reply

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