Bead sights are likely the most produced shotgun sight ever created. They adorn the barrel of side by sides, over unders, pump guns, semi-autos, and more. For decades they were the standard option for shotguns. Compare that to the AR-15. If the AR-15 evolved at the same rate as the shotgun, we’d still have A1 sights and carry handles. Bead sights, much like carry handles, work but are far from perfect. In fact, they kind of suck.
Well, Bead Sights Don’t Always Suck
I use the title bead sights suck to get those juicy clicks. In a lot of roles, they are a perfect choice. If you are shooting birds and clay pigeons, then a bead sight makes a lot of sense. To be fair, bead sights can work for tactical and defensive shooting. They’ve done so for over a century. They work well in optimal scenarios, but how many scenarios are optimal?
They have lots and lots of faults. Darryl Bolke said it best in an article for Lucky Gunner.
“The bead sight is essentially the bare minimum, and you will get bare minimum performance from them.”
Some Beads Can Suck More Than Others
I typically prefer Mossberg shotguns over Remington. However, when it comes to choosing a bead sight, Remington does it better. Some bead sights can suck a lot more than others. Mossberg mounts their beads sights directly to the barrel, but Remington places their bead sight on a pedestal. That extra height makes a huge difference.
Mossberg’s bead sights have the effect of making it appear the gun is shooting high. The old sage advice used to be to aim at their belt buckle to hit them in the chest. Remington pushes their sights upwards on a pedestal to take care of this problem.
Some shotguns use a front rifle sight setup which is rather handy. It’s better than a bead but still far from perfect. Other bead sights, like the XS big dot tritium sights, are better than a standard tiny bead but still don’t fill the gap.
So What’s the Problem With Beads?
They lack precision. “BuT iTs A sHoTgUn.” Yeah, I know, that doesn’t mean aiming isn’t necessary. My load of buckshot clings tightly together in the home ranges, and I want to steer that shot to a lethal area. Bead sights give you a point of reference but don’t provide a consistent, fast, and easy to acquire sight picture. Without a rear reference point, it’s tough to be precise.
It’s easy to look over the bead, or to be too far to the left or right of the bead when you aim, which causes accuracy issues. I want to have proper alignment when I send that load of buckshot downrange. I want as much accuracy as possible. If the threat inside my home is behind cover and I can only see a small portion of them, then I want to know that my buckshot will hit that small portion.
On top of that, being able to see the bead, especially in the dark, can be difficult. In a fast-moving gunfight, in the dark, I’m looking for a minuscule gold bead and relying on it.
So What Can We Do?
There are lots of alternatives out there. We have the classic ghost ring sights. They are great, give you a rear point of reference, and easily to align. With a proper, big, and easy-to-see front sight, you won’t have issues hitting your target.
Ghost rings are great, but the pistol-style sights by Trijicon and XS are probably the better iron sight choice. They aren’t as common and require a rifle-sighted Remington. Sadly, they don’t seem to have escaped the boundaries of the Remington guns.
The all-time best option for a shotgun is a red dot sight. A miniature red dot sight, like the kind you see on handguns, is perfect for a shotgun. It’s easy to see, gives you a target focus, and allows you to engage rapidly and accurately. The red dot reigns supreme on handguns and rifles, so why not shotguns?
Bead sights on shotguns can work, but we’ve pressed the performance on handguns and rifles and seem to be stuck in the 1900s on shotguns. On tactical shotguns, we should demand more than the bead sight. All tactical shotguns in 2022 should be drilled and tapped for a red dot or rail to attach one.
C’mon, it’s 2022, and the shotgun is a long gun. Why are we still using teeny tiny bead sights?