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Unlock Your Shotgun’s Potential: Choosing the Perfect Red Dot Sight

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Of all the firearm platforms available, shotguns have continued to be a staple amongst enthusiasts for hunting, defense, and recreation. As manufacturers continue to update their designs to fit the modern age of firearms, shotguns are commonly upgraded with modern comforts and a level of modularity that’s typical of contemporary rifle platforms. This makes it incredibly easy to enhance your shotgun with accessories, and the one we’ll be focusing on is the red dot sight.  

Red dot sights are often considered one of the mainstays for fast target acquisition and precise point of aim. Today, it’s common to see them on just about every firearm platform, ranging from handguns to most rifle setups. In other words, red dots are a solid addition to any platform, including shotguns.  

Whether you have a 12-gauge or a 20-gauge shotgun, a red dot is almost always a worthwhile upgrade. But, with so many options to pick from, it can be a challenge to find the one that best suits you. Fortunately, that’s the topic we’re going over today.  


Understanding Red Dot Sights for Shotguns 

Most shotgun models come standard with some form of iron sights. The type of sights your shotgun has will vary from model to model. Most standard shotguns will often have a bead sight. Front bead sights often don’t have a rear sight to line up with. While sights like these don’t work well on other platforms, they work great on shotguns since they shoot multiple projectiles that spread (unless you’re shooting slugs). Other models might have variations of iron sights like standard open sights and ghost ring sights. 

While useful, they aren’t always the quickest to acquire, nor do they allow you to focus solely on the target. This is where the red dot sights come into play.  

Red Dot Sight Benefits 

Red dots offer better target acquisition speed, accuracy, and situational awareness, but one of the immediate advantages you’ll find with a red dot sight is the reticle. 

Many modern red dot sights can project different reticles, making them more useful in different scenarios while also being easier to see. Additionally, they make it easier to shoot with both eyes open. Doing so grants you better access to your peripheral vision, allowing you to see more of what’s around your target. Likewise, it’s quicker to put a zeroed reticle on a target than lining up iron sights. 

Mounting an Optic to your Shotgun 

A common question for new enthusiasts is whether you can use a red dot on a shotgun. Of course you can, so long as your shotgun has a mount or can support one. While almost every tactical shotgun comes equipped with an upper picatinny rail, many traditional pump action and semi-automatic shotguns don’t. This doesn’t mean that you’re out of luck, though.  

A lot of shotguns have a space along the top of the receiver to mount an optic. This can look like a set of screws or a vent rib. Models like the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500/590 often have threaded screws along the top of the receiver for optic mounts. Other models have a vent rib, which is a raised section that runs along the top of the barrel. There are several mount options for each, ranging from picatinny rail sections to dedicated shotgun red dot mounts that match your optic’s mounting footprint. If your shotgun doesn’t have any mounting space, you can opt for a sidesaddle, as some come with an added upper picatinny rail for mounting optics.  

If you’re running a pump-action shotgun, we recommend taking a look at our pump-action shotgun parts guide. In addition to going over all the core components of your shotgun, it also goes over some aftermarket parts that may benefit you. 

Something to keep in mind is that not every shotgun is capable of mounting optics. If you’re interested in a getting a shotgun AND have the intention of installing a red dot on it, be sure to check and see if the shotgun you want can run optics.  

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Choosing the Best Red Dot Sight for Your Shotgun 

Factors to Consider 

As we mentioned earlier, there’s a lot to consider when picking out a red dot for your shotgun. In most instances, a red dot sight is great, but they aren’t always the best for every purpose. For example, if you’re using a shotgun for defense, hunting, or recreation, a red dot will be a welcome addition to your setup.  

For sport/competition shooting, though, they aren’t always allowed. Many competitions prohibit the use of red dot sights on shotguns. While this rule varies depending on the competition, it’s something you’ll want to be sure of before buying an optic, since they can be a costly investment.  

Another thing to consider is the reticle. We briefly touched on reticles earlier, but they’re more important than you may think. While the standard dot reticle of most red dot sights is great at providing a point of aim, they don’t provide any additional targeting data like circle-dot, chevron, and open circle reticles. These reticles offer more in terms of ranging stadia and bullet drop compensation. While you don’t really have to worry about bullet drop when shooting buckshot, there are reticles that can help you estimate holds for slugs, helping you to maintain your accuracy as far as possible. 


Red Dot Options 

Now, there are a lot of red dot options available, so it’s important to make sure your optic is a quality one. Here are a few of our top picks for shotgun red dots. 

Primary Arms Optics: Our reflex sights are some of our most popular options and would make for an excellent addition to your shotgun. One of our most anticipated optics is the new GLx® MD-21s Red Dot Sight. It’s the first full size red dot offered in our GLx® line of optics. It comes equipped with a built-in solar failsafe system, pushbutton controls, and either a 2 MOA dot reticle or our ACSS CQB Reticle.  

On shotguns, it’s common to see smaller mini-reflex sights being used for better weight reduction. If you’re looking for a mini reflex, the GLx® RS-15 is a good fit. It has a large window, push-button controls, and a top-mounted battery tray so you don’t lose zero when you change batteries. It also comes with our proprietary AutoLive® motion-sense technology for even greater runtime. 

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Holosun: Holosun practically needs no introduction, as they’ve been producing great red dot sights for a long time. One of their most popular optics is the lightweight AEMS. Holosun’s AEMS can switch between three reticles: a circle dot reticle, 65 MOA open circle, or a 2 MOA dot. For shotguns, the 65 MOA open circle reticle works incredibly well, providing a good point of reference for most shell spread patterns. Plus, the AEMS comes pre-equipped with shake awake technology, integrated flip caps, and, depending on the model, a solar failsafe unit.  

Holosun produces quite a few mini-reflex sights and pistol red dots as well. Some solid options are their HE509T and HE508T. Both optics are similar functionally, but the 509T is an enclosed-emitter system, while the HE508T has a more traditional open-emitter design. Like the AEMS, they come with equipped with multiple reticles. For these optics, they feature either a 2 MOA dot, a 32 MOA open circle, or a circle dot reticle. Regardless of which one you go with, they each have 50,000+ our battery lives, shake awake, and solar failsafe units.  

Trijicon: Trijicon is another brand that needs no introduction. They’ve been providing the firearms industry with incredible optics for decades. We’re specifically taking note of three of their optics, the MRO, RMR, and SRO. The MRO offers a large field of view thanks to its larger objective lens, and it also has a battery life that lasts up to 50,000 hours. It’s worth noting that an upgraded variant, the MRO HD, is also available. It has upgraded glass quality and has a circle dot reticle instead of the standard 2 MOA dot.  

In addition to the MRO, the RMR and SRO are both solid options. Both optics are incredibly similar functionally, with their main differences being the lens shape (The RMR has a more rectangular lens, and the SRO has a larger and rounder lens). The RMR comes with either a 1, 3.25, or 6.5 MOA dot, while the SRO can have either a 1, 2.5, or 5 MOA dot. Both options have a low profile, long battery life, and are certain to be a fantastic addition to your shotgun.  

Other Optic Options 

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Holographic Sights 

Holographic sights can be a solid option for your shotgun. Most holographic sight options have larger open reticles, usually a circle dot or a variation of it, that lend themselves to shotgun shooting. While they aren’t a red dot sight, holographic sights are a type of reflex sight. Our article on reflex sights vs. red dots highlights all the differences between reflex sight derivatives.  

EOTech: EOTech is a producer of high-quality holographic sights, and their EXPS and XPS line of optics are great for shotguns. There are a few distinct differences between both optic lines. For instance, EOTech’s EXPS line comes standard with an integrated QD mount and side-facing buttons. XPS optics have a fixed mount with rear-facing controls. Both optics can have night vision settings, depending on the model, and they both utilize CR123 batteries that provide the optic with up to 1,000 hours of run-time. Likewise, they both feature a circle dot reticle, though other reticle variations are available as well.  

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Prism Scopes 

While not a red dot sight, prism scopes can be an addition to your shotgun as well. Prism scopes have a few benefits over traditional red dot sights, the greatest of which being their reticles and compatibility with astigmatism. Whereas red dots use collimated light to form a reticle, prism scope reticles are etched into the glass of the optic. Essentially, they have the crisp reticles of traditional variable power optics while keeping the same compact form-factor as red dot sights.  

Although prism scopes can have magnification, you don’t really need magnification on a shotgun. However, this makes them a perfect candidate for 1x prism scopes. Some great options are our SLx® and newer GLx® 1x MicroPrism™ scopes. The SLx® 1x MicroPrism™ is one of our most popular optics. It comes with our ACSS® Cyclops® reticle and is available in either red or green.  

The GLx® 1x MicroPrism™ is the newest edition of our MicroPrism™ line of optics. While sharing a similar profile with the SLx® model, our GLx® microprism offers better glass clarity and push button controls instead of a rotary knob. This optic also features the ACSS® Cyclops® reticle.  

Something to note is that the ACSS® Cyclops® reticle pairs are exceptionally well with shotguns. Assuming you’re zeroing your optic at 25 yards, the center chevron has holdover points for bullet drop (if you’re shooting slugs), while the outer horseshoe approximates the spread pattern of 00 Buckshot ammunition. If you’re looking for a do-it-all shotgun optic, then a prism sight is a good choice. 

Which is best?  

Every optic mentioned would be an excellent choice on your shotgun. There isn’t a best optic for shotguns, since ultimately, it comes down to your personal preferences and needs. Each optic would be great for defense, hunting, and competition; however, some might not fit your needs.  

Take, for instance, the reticle. If you don’t want to run a complex reticle and want a low-profile dot, a mini-reflex sight would probably be better for you. If you want to kit out your shotgun with a more durable full-size optic, that’s capable of housing complex reticles, full size options like the GLx MD-21s, AEMS, MRO/MROHD, and EOTech models might better suit your needs.  

A prism scope would also be a good fit for you. Etched reticles are clearer and easier to see, especially if you have astigmatism. There are many other benefits as well and our guide on prism scope advantages goes in-depth on prism scopes and what makes them so great.  



Shotguns are still, and will continue to be, one of the most popular firearm platforms available. Their versatility lends themselves to multiple applications. While they perform well in their base configurations, the addition of red dot sights or other reflex sights can greatly enhance your shooting experience. 

If you’re looking into getting a shotgun for home defense, our guide on tactical shotguns for home defense will help you get started. It highlights some of the different tactical models available, as well as the parts and accessories needed to turn your shotgun into a tactical one.  

Exploring red dot sights and other optic variants can transform your shotgun into a more effective tool to better suit your needs. We highly recommend upgrading your shotgun today to improve its performance for every scenario.