Having a pint at an English pub is an occasion governed by rituals many hundreds of years old, even down to the most obscure details such as how one holds one’s mug. The mugs come equipped with handles, but it’s considered poor form to use one-possibly because Sir Walter Raleigh or William Shakespeare never did. So, years ago, when I first grasped a mug of English ale, a local politely but firmly corrected my grip. “The handle,” he intoned, “is there not to be held.” So it is with shotgun beads: They’re there not to be looked at. Instructors call them “miss-me” beads. Aim with the bead and you can kiss the target good-bye. So why do shotguns have beads at all?
Why It’s There
Our eyes can only focus at one distance at a time. Rifle and pistol shooters know that to hit with iron sights, they have to let the rear sight and the target blur while they keep the front sight in sharp focus. Try that with a shotgun-as many people do-and you’ll miss. Here’s why “drawing a bead” on a target is the worst way to shoot a shotgun: As long as you’re looking at the target, your eyes guide your hands, which in turn direct the barrel to the right place. As soon as you glance back at the barrel to measure your lead or check your “aim,” your eyes stop feeding your hands the data needed, and the gun stops dead.
To hit with a shotgun, you must keep your eye on the target while the barrel of the gun registers as a blurred smudge in your peripheral vision. That’s where the bead comes in. Don’t think of it as a sight; it’s more like the red handkerchief you tie on a long 2×4 sticking out of the bed of your truck. It serves as a reference, as a flag or marker, so you’re aware of the muzzle as you bear down on the target. You should never carefully measure leads, but the front bead can help you see in an instant when you’ve got the right gap between barrel and bird.
**The Best and Brightest **
Obviously, the brighter the bead, the easier it is to spot out of the corner of your eye. That’s why so many shotguns these days have fiber-optic beads. Derived from the bundles of tiny plastic fibers that transmit telecommunications in the form of light, fiber-optic beads gather ambient light and transmit it to the end of the sight, creating a startlingly bright dot that looks almost battery-powered.
Sporting clays shooters, whose game involves long leads against cluttered backgrounds, love the way a glowing bead gives them a strong visual reference point. Turkey hunters (who are supposed to look at the bead because they do aim) adore them. Trap and skeet competitors stick to traditional white beads.
How about fiber-optic beads for wingshooting? In some situations, such as pass shooting and waterfowling on dark mornings, a glowing bead can light your way to a limit. I can remember my first dove hunt years ago, when after running out of shells for my 12-gauge (never mind how many boxes I’d brought), I gratefully accepted the loan of a 20-gauge Ithaca/SKB tipped with a Raybar sight-the precursor of fiber-optic beads-and a box of dove loads. Immediately I started dropping birds. The bright dot on the muzzle seemed to trace a line through the doves as if I were marking them out of the hazy sky with a highlighting pen. I had the same experience with a HiViz sight on a much more recent waterfowl trip to Alberta. On the other hand, I wouldn’t put anything as garish as a fiber-optic sight on a fine double, even if it meant I’d never miss again.