Shotgun: Mossberg M590-A1 12ga.

Mossberg M590-A1If you think bigger is better, you’ll love shooting 12-gauge, which is .72 caliber, and which is so ubiquitous that ammunition is both cheap and plentiful.  And if you’re going to get only one 12-gauge shotgun, get the $500 Mossberg M590 (Model #51663).  Everything on this gun is Military-spec, built to last and keep on working.  As many GI’s can testify, this is a shotgun you can take to war and back.

The beauty of a pump-action shotgun is its simplicity and reliability.  Malfunctions are hard to induce yet easy to clear (usually by just turning it on its side and racking the slide as hard as you can).  They can take a lot of neglect and keep working.  I opted for the variant with “ghost-ring” sights, which stand up from the line of the barrel, but which I have found are rugged and don’t really get in the way of anything, yet enable accurate shooting at longer distances.

This shotgun has a 20″ barrel (shortest legal barrel length is 18″) and the largest possible magazine in its frame, capable of holding eight 2.75″ shells.  It does not have a tight choke like sporting guns (which constrain the spread of the shot to keep the pattern accurate at longer ranges), but I have still taken it trap shooting and been able to reliably dust clay pigeons.  If you only keep one gun in your home for defense, this would be the one.  After all, as any defensive firearms instructor will tell you: The only reason to keep a pistol is to fight your way to a rifle or shotgun.  And given the hazards associated with overpenetration in a residential setting, a rifle is not something you would like to have to discharge in an emergency.

Theboxotruth.com features excellent penetration tests and anecdotes:  Even small caliber handguns can penetrate every wall in your house and keep going into your neighbors’, but buck shot will be stopped by a few walls.  Birdshot, for example, turns into a relatively harmless hail of BB’s after 70 yards or so even with no barriers.

If you do want to reach out and touch something at a distance, rifled slugs can be accurate out to 100 yards against man-sized targets.  With my M590 I chronographed Wolf Performance Rifled Slug ammunition — 2.75″ shells firing a 1 ounce slug (that’s 437 grains!) — at 1390 fps (with a stdev of 21 fps).  Those were relatively easy to shoot.  If you really want to hurt your shoulder or impress your friends, pick up Winchester Hollow Point Rifled Slugs.  I chronographed them at 1490 fps, but they are so painful to shoot I wouldn’t recommend them in this gun.  (Maybe in a good semi-auto where the gas system can absorb/dampen a lot of the recoil.)

One last feature of 12-gauge guns: You can pack a lot of interesting loads into the shells.  Hi-Vel has a number of examples.

7 thoughts on “Shotgun: Mossberg M590-A1 12ga.

  1. Gun Smith

    This is a very good weapon, but it should be noted that there a few differences durability-wise between this and the standard model 500 – mostly in the action parts of the receiver. While major components may look the same, the 590a1 mil-spec parts differ mainly in the degree of heat treating and other metallugical details. Dimensionally, the internal parts appear to be identical, and should interchange, but there would be the issue of mil-spec compliance.

    Now for the really significant differences – the trigger housing and safety slide button are both made from polyethelene plastic in the model 500, whereas the 590a1 has all metal parts in those two areas. Functionally the two models are identical, the only real difference being that the plastic versions are easier to break. I have replaced dozens of Mossberg saftey buttons with hand made aluminum ones over the years because the plastic ones always fail at the screw hole due to the sparseness of material in that area. I have never had to replace an aluminum safety button due to material failure.

    The trigger housing of the standard model 500 is subject to wear in the areas that the steel internal parts make contact with, and will usually be in good operable condition for many years unless the gun is subjected to impact directly to the trigger bow, or the gun is cycled an extreme amount of times beyond what the average shooter normally does annually. It literally takes hundreds of fired rounds to wear out a trigger housing, and other receiver parts will usually wear out or fail before this part. The big advantage of the 590a1’s aluminum trigger housing is impact and heat damage resistance over its plastic counterpart. Plastic does have one advantage over the aluminum in that it is somewhat friction reduced in situations where moving parts are in direct contact with it. It is this, “self lubricating”, aspect that makes plastics and attractive material choice, in addition to the lower production cost.

    This does not mean that the aluminum part is impervious to wear, on the contrary, milled or cast steel would have been a better material choice. Since the trigger group parts are all steel and being moving parts that are harder than the part that contains them, they will develop wear patterns on the contacted surfaces of the aluminum housing. Mossberg probably decided on the aluminum casting since it keeps production cost and overall weight of the weapon down, yet it still passes the military specifications. It is important to remember that no matter what material is selected, moving and stationary parts in a mechanism will always be subject to friction and will wear each other out eventually.

    There are a number of designs that could have passed the mil-spec requirements and been in contention for the contract that Mossberg is enjoying, but for reasons only the manufacturers know, none were submitted. A couple of pump action shotguns that in my opinion are superior to the Mossberg 590a1, when equipped in similar trim and options are the Remington 870 and the Ithaca 37 military and police versions. Why do I think they are better than the Mossberg? RELIABILITY, ENGINEERING, and FEATURES. While all are pump action, the Remington and Ithaca are all steel and always have been. These two guns are also built to more exacting tolerances and the biggest advantage of all – They are almost never in my shop for repairs due to broken parts. I cannot say the same for the Mossberg guns. The Remington 870 action is the best in combat reliability as the Ithaca 37 can be a bit prone to jamming problems when internal parts become very worn. That being said, the Ithaca has one huge advantage in a combat situation, it is the only pump shotgun still in production that is capable of “slam-fire”, or in other words, you can hold the trigger down and pump the action repeatedly and as the gun cycles it will fire and keep doing so until the magazine is empty. Why is this an advantage? When confronted in a defensive situation against multiple hostiles it provides a decisive edge because you can put more lead on target faster with this gun than any other, including submachine guns.

    So, in my experience, when it comes to reliable means to deliver the maximum amount of firepower, my first choice would be the Ithaca 37, followed closely by the Remington 870, then the Mossberg 590a1. Which one do I own? The Remington – because they never seem to break. Are there other combat shotguns that are available? Of course, there are semi auto and even a couple of select fire full autos, as well as several other pump guns, but when it comes down to basics, it is hard to beat the reputation, controllability and capability of a 12 gauge pump shotgun in a defensive situation.

    Just like the, “old fashioned”, revolvers in the realm of handguns, the gun that works and keeps working when others jam, break, or fail to chamber ammunition, is the “old fashioned” pump shotgun.

  2. craig nelson

    Gun Smith — I’m zeroing in a shotgun right now and was probably going to get the 590a1. You forgot to mention the heavier barrel in addition to the metal parts. I may now go for the Remington 870 cop version after reading this. Best overall and most objective overall comparison of the “big three” I’ve seen. Thank you.

  3. federalist Post author

    Noted here: An extended-magazine shotgun loaded with 8 rounds of 000-buck shot can put out twice as much 9mm lead as a fully-automatic uzi, and more accurately!

  4. federalist Post author

    Guns and Ammo has a good article on the home defense shotgun. They emphasize the importance of keeping a stock on the gun and going as short as you legally can with the barrel.

    One caveat: They tangentially suggest that even birdshot is a legitimate defensive load at close ranges. While birdshot will certainly do a lot of damage and make a big mess, it will not reliably stop an aggressive attacker because it lacks enough mass to penetrate to critical organs. Stick with their recommendations of 00 or 000 buckshot loads.

  5. Hans Gruber

    I appreciate the frankness but have a contention in that for every argument FOR a Remington 870, is a vote FOR a Mossberg 590A1. Funny, I’ve read that Remington 870’s are more prone to jam. See? It’s six or one half dozen of the other. Both are used in law enforcement, and both are used by the U.S. Military. Even if it is true that ONLY Mossberg submitted an entry for Mil-Spec 3443, the fact is they did submit one and it passed. The others did not and it is not ingratiating that Remington et al. didn’t for whatever reason. So then all power to Mossberg for stepping up to the plate.

    There is one unavoidable fact and that is the Mossberg 590A1 competes directly against the higher end models of the Remington 870 (e.g. Police model), but is priced much lower. They are almost priced at the same level of the much inferior 870 Express line.

    So if price isn’t a factor, and you want to enjoy the tradition and the pride of owning a product from a company with nearly two centuries of history then buy the better Remington 870’s — Police, and Wingmaster models. Not to mention all the aftermarket goodies that you can get for it.

    However, don’t think you’re getting a far and away superior shotgun because the Mossberg 590(A1)’s can do the same thing for a lot less.

  6. Pingback: Mossberg 590 vs Remington 870 | Survival Thrive

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