September 23, 2010
Competition shooter Rob Horton gives the Burris SpeedBead a turn. Though he shot a perfect score with and without the sight, Horton thought the optic offered several improvements over conventional sights.
Shotgun-mounted optics are old news. Deer and turkey hunters have been putting scopes and red dots on their guns for years. But when was the last time you saw a duck or dove hunter or clays competitor unlimbering an optic-equipped scattergun for an afternoon of shooting? I cannot ever remember seeing one in the field.
Burris has sought to change all that with a new optic specifically designed for wing and skeet shooters. The SpeedBead is a modification of the FastFire, a tiny non- magnifying, red-dot reflex sight that weighs less than an ounce and measures just under 2 inches long, an inch wide, and an inch high. With both eyes open, shooters simply put the 4-MOA red dot ahead of the bird and press the trigger. The SpeedBead offers some key improvements over past attempts to pair shotguns and optics and could put more birds in the bag and add a few points to the scorecard. But don't take my word for it.
I am no shotgun shooter--my efforts at wingshooting are the source of endless mirth for my hunting buddies--and my opinion is of little value. So I rounded up four friends with varying degrees of shotgun experience and put a SpeedBead-equipped Benelli Cordoba in their hands. The little 20-gauge gun, complete with ported barrel, recoil-reducing stock design, and extended chokes, is set up for high-volume dove shooting, and it works equally well for skeet shooting. The shooters first fired a round without and then a round with the SpeedBead installed. Then we all sat down and compared results and opinions.
The first shooter shot perfect scores with and without the SpeedBead. That's not surprising considering that 15-year-old Rob Horton is a National Skeet Shooting Association Sub-Junior All-American. Horton has placed in numerous competitions and was the national champion in his age class at last year's National Skeet Shooting Championship. He shoots five times a week, burning through 100 to 250 rounds every session. Horton knows his way around a shotgun but had never used a red-dot sight.
"The Cordoba is a good gun, and I think the sight took it to the next level," Horton said. "The system worked extremely well and is about as good as a shotgun sighting system can get."
Horton shoots with both eyes open and without a front bead in competition, and he thought the red dot was a little faster, allowing him to pick up targets quicker. The only problem he experienced was at position eight on the low house bird; the sight's frame was in perfect position to obscure the target. He also suggested removing the Cordoba's front and mid beads so the sight picture is less crowded and less distracting.
"Some shooters might use it on a competition gun, and I would put it on a hunting gun in heart beat," Horton said.
The next two shooters, Rudy Hicks and Charles Lankford, have decades of bird-hunting experience under their belts and have spent time shooting trap, skeet, and sporting clays. Both Hicks and Lankford picked up a couple of birds when using the SpeedBead, and their opinion of the sight was practically the same. Both thought the sight was simple, easy to use, and faster than conventional beads, especially in hunting situations.
"At the speed the skeet were traveling, you only had a second or two to shoot," Lankford said. "The bright dot really allowed you to concentrate on finding the target, and you didn't have to find the dot like you would a shotgun bead--it found you."
Lankford did suggest that the lens color should be changed to a shade that enhances the appearance of orange targets.
Scott Teeple is a novice shotgunner, having shot doves and skeet a handful of times, but as a full-time SWAT officer, he is no stranger to red-dot reflex sights. He was a big fan of the SpeedBead as well, adding a few Xs to his scorecard.
"I tend to pick my head up off the stock, and if you do that, you can't see the red dot," Teeple said. "It forces you into good shooting form, and it is much faster."
What makes the SpeedBead so unique is its mounting location; it is not mounted on top of the receiver like the other units out there. A mounting bracket is sandwiched between the stock and the receiver, and the sight attaches to that so it sits just above and behind the receiver's rear hump. The red dot appears just over the front bead and allows the shooter to get his head down on the stock. Most receiver-mounted sights require a less comfortable and consistent "heads up" mount. Because there is no magnification, the sight is parallax free out to 50 yards, so a perfect mount is not as critical as with conventional sights.
Eye relief averaged around 3 inches, and the mounting bracket did not interfere with the trigger hand's grip. A light sensor matches the dot's intensity to lighting conditions and limits the controls to a simple on/off switch.
The SpeedBead was a cinch to install, requiring the removal of the buttstock. Drop and cast spacers can be easily modified to accept the two pins that hold the mounting bracket in place. The wedge screw is tightened to hold the bracket firmly against the receiver, and mounting spacers are used to get the dot close to the front bead. Fine windage and elevation adjustments can be made with a provided screwdriver and scale disk.
The downsides are a battery that can fail at the most inopportune time and the sight's durability. I have quite a few friends that use these sights on competition rifles, shotguns, and pistols, and they have found them to be tough as nails. But duck hunting is a different matter. The sight is not waterproof, but it is water resistant. And while the sight could help cross-dominant shooters, beginners could get "sucked in" by the dot and aim instead of swing.
While I'm no expert on wingshooting by any means, I have experimented with quite a few reflex sights and am inclined to say that Burris has created a workable, useful, and innovative optic. Burris currently makes mounting brackets to fit Benelli, Beretta, Franchi, Remington, and Stoeger shotguns.