Mossberg 590
By Todd Burgreen

If someone asks for advice related to getting a long arm for general home defense purposes what comes to mind? The answers received will surely vary depending on the questioner’s perceived overall skill as well as providing insight into each respondent’s level of training and experiences. Many would offer up the utilitarian 12 gauge pump action shotgun as the best option. This is based on the shotgun’s simplicity, flexibility, reliability, price, and potency; especially considering ranges that typify home personal defense situations. This opinion would be juxtapositioned by others whose first instinct would probably be to go with a more modern rifle design most - likely an AR-15 or even an AK. What must be kept in mind is that not all persons are adamant about having multiple weapons in their inventory combined with lack of time/interest in training for increased proficiency across different weapon platforms. This makes them no less sincere in searching for a proper weapon.

In a nutshell, pump action shotguns have been around for a relatively long time and are often too casually dismissed; either as smoothbore relics associated with WWI trenches or police cruiser icons that have been surpassed by the excess of “black” rifles now on the market. Do not take this as an argument making the claim that the tactical shotgun supplants all other options. There are valid reasons why “umpteen” millions of AKs, ARs, and other assault rifles equip military forces around the world and not shotguns. However, the combat shotgun’s utility should not be doubted or held in disdain once its role is understood. The popularity and appeal of the shotgun is supported by the sales figures of Mossberg - a leading manufacturer of shotguns. A cottage industry of suppliers making accessories and refinements for shotguns further supports this point.

Whatever the label, i.e. combat/tactical/self defense, shotguns can be had in various forms ranging from double barrel, pump action, semiautomatic and for good measure even lever action. The inherent flexibility of a shotgun, especially the pump action, to digest a variety of cartridge types such as birdshot, slug, buckshot, non-lethal, low recoil, breaching, etc is its greatest attribute. This same adaptability can also lead individuals astray as to what is necessary versus desired in setting up a defensive shotgun. It has grown clear that not all accessories add to capability and could even be detrimental to efficient use of the shotgun for most civilian and even law enforcement roles. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) methodology can pay dividends in terms of budget and allowing for concentration on other priorities such as training for example. A case in point for this argument is the effective Mossberg 590 Special Purpose pump action shotgun.

The Mossberg 590 tested herein is a pump-action 12-gauge shotgun with polymer furniture, an alloy receiver, a bayonet lug and ghost-ring style sights. It measures 41.5 inches long with 8+1 capacity and 20-inch cylinder bore barrel chambered for 2 3/4-inch and 3-inch 12 gauge. The Mossberg 590 exudes an all business air with its Parkerized finish and ghost ring rear sight mated to a blaze orange front sight post. The Mossberg 590 reviewed herein came equipped with a standard pattern rear stock with a generous buttpad affixed to assist in dampening felt recoil. Weighing slightly over 7 pounds the Mossberg 590 has the heft of a rifle compared to a sleek 5.5 pound Over/Under field shotgun. This is not a negative considering it further assists with recoil management. Recoil with the 12-gauge Mossberg 590 is not prohibitive and one gets conditioned to it, but it is stout and anyone telling you any different should be scrutinized. The receiver of the M590 is of aircraft aluminum with the bolt locking into a steel barrel extension. The weapon is designed to facilitate maintenance under field conditions, with easy access to internal components. It has a removable end cap, spring and follower on the magazine for straight-through cleaning, and barrel removal is simple for detailed cleaning and maintenance. The receiver-mounted safety is convenient for right or left-handed shooters; simply push the button forward and you’re ready to fire. In addition, the Mossberg 590 features an anti-jam elevator for reliable feeding and dual extractors for positive shot shell extraction/ejection.

Enjoying a long-standing relationship with the U.S. armed forces, Mossberg proudly proclaims their stalwart Model 500 series is the only shotgun to pass the U.S. Army's Mil-Spec 3443E test. The government's "Mil-Spec 3443" is a brutal and unforgiving torture test designed to assist in determining a worthy combat shotgun. To meet the specifications, a pump-action shotgun had to fire 3,000 consecutive rounds of full-power 12-gauge buckshot with no more than two malfunctions and with the development of no unserviceable parts. Plus, it had to continue to function under the most extreme environmental conditions. The Mossberg Models 500 and 590 were the only shotguns to meet or exceed the standards.

The operating standard for the tactical shotgun has been pump-action fed by a magazine tube located under the barrel ever since John Browning showed the way with the 1897. There have been lever and bolt actions as well, but these did not impinge on the pump action’s popularity based on reliability, ruggedness, able to handle multitude of ammunition types, and ergonomics. While the semiautomatic has showed its capability afield for hunting, few have shown the “hell and back” reliability necessary to gain the confidence of users in a life/death situation.

Yes, a shotgun can be viewed as limited in terms of range, but this is not necessarily a liability for civilians, law enforcement and certain missions in the military where range is not an issue with a premium put on CQB stopping power. British studies of the 1960 Borneo conflict and recent Joint Service Combat Shotgun Program associated with the decision making process to adopt the new shotguns show that “the probability of hitting man-sized targets with a shotgun was superior to that of all other weapons.” This is referring to buckshot with its multiple projectiles sent downrange capable of inflicting damage as far away as 75 yards. The British study compiled after battle statistics proving the shotgun the most effective short range weapon with a hit probability 45% greater than SMG and 100% compared to an assault rifle. Yes, the smaller individual buckshot pellets are comparable to a small caliber handgun in wounding potential, but multiple projectiles increase likelihood of more hits and damage.

There is something re-assuring about the power of a shotgun for any close range engagement, which is what most civilians and law enforcement face. In terms of personal defense, shotguns fire two primary types of projectiles: slugs or buckshot. There are various types of each, but we will confine our discussion to 1 ounce (437gr) “Foster” and Brenneke type slugs and #00 buckshot generally loaded with 8-9 .33caliber pellets weighing 54gr. each. This ability to handle different styles of projectiles is at the root of shotgun effectiveness and popularity with LE, military, and civilian users, which is even more accentuated by the Mossberg 590 pump action. Semiautomatic shotguns can be temperamental with low recoil or specialty 12-gauge rounds.

The Mossberg 590 was tested with Hornady Critical Defense #00 buckshot (eight #00 pellets) and Federal Premium FliteControl #00 buckshot (nine #00 pellets). The Hornady Critical Defense and Federal Premium buckshot loads utilize special wads for tighter buckshot patterns - thus longer effective range. Based on prior experiences and exposure to numerous shotguns and loads over the years these specialized buckshot loads are a primary choice; too much is given up in terms of increased effective range of buckshot if not employing the specialized wads keeping patterns tighter. Tighter patterns translate into more potent performance at ranges thought unrealistic for buckshot effectiveness. Buckshot loads have velocities ranging up to 1,600 fps giving muzzle energy over 2,000 ft/lbs to its multiple projectiles. The Mossberg 590 combined with Hornady Critical Defense and Federal Premium FliteControl #00 buckshot averaged spreads of 6 inches at 10 yards with the two buckshot loads. Further pattern testing produced spreads measuring a nominal 18 inches at 40 yards, 13 inches at 30 yards, and 10inches at 20yards.

Federal Premium, Wolf and Winchester 1oz.slugs were tested as well. These slug loads were designed for hunting, but work fine in any role including defense. Slugs generally leave the muzzle between 1,300-1,600 fps depending on particular manufacturer producing over 2,500 ft/lbs of energy and offer a ballistic track of +3 inches at 50 yards to give a 100 yard zero. Supplementing the standard slugs for testing with the Mossberg 590 was the innovative Winchester PDX 1 12-gauge loading combining a 1oz slug and three #00 pellets. The Winchester PDX 1 load harkens back to the “buck-n-ball” loads used by our forefathers against the British in the Revolutionary War and each other during the Civil War. The Winchester PDX 1 12-gauge loads stretch preconceived 12-gauge lethality notions even further with its combination of slug and buckshot. Range testing of the Winchester PDX 1 raised eyebrows with its performance combining the best of both worlds for the combat shotgun: 100 yard slug single projectile performance and a 16-inch buckshot pattern spread out to 30 yards with one of the holes being made by the 1oz slug. The Winchester PDX 1 had the same accuracy as dedicated slug only loads – 3-inch groups at 50 yards with added benefit of three #00 buckshot pellets allowing for shotgun multi-projectile performance. If only one load is possible for use in a combat shotgun, the Winchester PDX 1 may very well be it. It has the ability to eliminate the need for transitioning between buckshot and slug loads; thus transforming the need for the infamous “switch to slug” drills employed in many training seminars.

Low recoil Winchester and Federal buckshot and slug loads were also employed in testing the Mossberg 590. The Federal Premium low recoil buckshot loads also benefitted from the FliteControl wad technology producing buckshot spreads similar to the standard velocity Federal Premium buckshot loads tested. As expected the low recoil loads produced less perceived recoil than standard 12-gauge loads. While recoil is not prohibitive and one gets accustomed to it, anything that reduces a 12-gauge shotgun’s recoil without effecting weapon handling should seriously be considered by anyone who spends time training or deploying the combat shotgun in the field. The Mesa Tactical recoil reducing stock was installed with this in mind. The concept behind the telescoping stock system is simple: the shotgun’s factory stock is replaced by an adapter, to which a standard AR-15 grip and telescoping buttstock can be reliably attached. All of Mesa Tactical’s stock adapters are investment cast aircraft aluminum, which are then CNC machined before being anodized with a Type III Class 2 Mil-Spec finish. The Mesa Tactical Recoil Reducing Stock solves two of the biggest problems facing shotgun users: recoil and length-of-pull adjustability. The pistol grip configuration is beneficial and familiar to the scores of personnel familiar with the AR-profile. With the Mesa Tactical recoil reducing stock featuring the Enidine hydraulic shock absorber the majority of the recoil impulse is absorbed via the Enidine hydraulic buffer so there is no pain to the shooter’s hand or shoulder. Mesa Tactical literature states a 70% reduction in perceived felt recoil along with limiting muzzle climb allowing for faster follow-up shots if warranted or more than one adversary is encountered. The Mesa Tactical stock is adjustable from a minimum of 11.25 inches to a maximum of 15.25 inches by pressing a lever and pulling or pushing the stock to the desired length a-la the familiar AR-style collapsible buttstocks. This adjustability enables a better fit to individual shooters and adaptability if tactical vests or body armor are employed. The Mesa Tactical telescoping stock’s ability to reduce recoil and provide for length of pull adjustability enables even the smallest framed shooter to handle Magnum shotgun loads. This encourages more diligent practice and weapon assimilation. The Mesa Tactical telescoping stock facilitates the mounting of sling adaptors due to mounting points integrated into the stock’s construction.

Mesa Tactical’s SureShell shotshell carriers were developed in response to requests from law enforcement agencies and armorers for shell carrier solutions that retained ammunition reliably and could withstand the rigors of daily use and abuse. The SureShell shotshell carrier features an innovative rubber friction retention system and tough construction to endure years of use and abuse. Aluminum SureShell carrier yokes are milled from 6061-T6 aircraft aluminum, then bead blasted and Mil-Spec hard anodized for a rugged non-glare finish. A six shell carrier was installed on the Mossberg 590 via replacing both a standard Mossberg cross pin and screw in the receiver with ones provided by Mesa Tactical. The final accessory added was the Mesa Tactical Magazine and Barrel Clamps. This provides mount points for Picatinny rails, weapon lights and sling attachments near the muzzle of a tactical shotgun and were designed from CNC machined 6061-T6 aluminum, Type III anodized to military specifications. Threaded attachment points feature HeliCoil steel thread inserts for long thread life, even after repeated mounting and removal of accessories. The Mesa Tactical Magazine Clamp can be used to more securely retain aftermarket or factory magazine extensions, while at the same time offering flexible accessory mounting options near the shotgun muzzle. Some magazine clamps include a push-button quick release sling swivel, and clamps are also available with a 2-inch Mil-Std-1913 Picatinny rail that can accept standard weapon light mounts. The magazine clamp can also be used to mount one inch diameter weapon lights simply by clamping one side to the shotgun barrel and the other side to the light body.

The Mossberg 590 equipped with the Mesa Tactical stock and Sureshell shotshell carrier was evaluated via drills involving moving between barricades engaging shoot and no-shoot targets that were handled without issue. The key is to keep up a pace of reloading based on number of shots fired. In other words, shoot two reload two before moving from cover. One of the most crucial things to learn when operating with a shotgun is how to keep it from running empty. A BlackHawk bandoleer and forearm shell holders are two of the more successful ways found combined with a BlackHawk Omega tactical shotgun vest. The extra ammunition carried on the Sureshell shotshell carrier was treated as a last option; only resorted to if other ammunition sources ran dry. Another drill used was based on engaging several shorter range targets out to 35 yards before having to engage a designated target placed 90 yards away. This necessitated a switch from buckshot to slug before engaging; unless the above mentioned Winchester PDX 1 load was being used. A couple of key observations made with using the Mesa Tactical recoil absorbing stock is that it changes the ergonomics from Mossberg’s fixed stock arrangement. For example, the Mossberg ambidextrous safety located centrally behind the receiver is no longer as easy to manipulate with the thumb due to pistol grip configuration of the Mesa Tactical stock. Something similar was experienced with manipulating the slide release in the switch-to-slug drill described above. The Winchester PDX 1 “buck-n-ball” load combination makes the switch to slug drill irrelevant anyway. These items are a price I am willing to pay for the Mesa Tactical’s recoil reduction. Safety manipulation is too often turned into an on/off flip madness based more on perceived range rules than tactical soundness.

What is it about the pump action shotgun typified by the Mossberg 590 that continues to attract users? It boils down to the Mossberg 590’s simplicity and reliability combined with lethality due to it offering a better chance of hitting an adversary with its firepower “cone,” especially when compared to a centerfire pistol or rifle. No matter how many or rapidly these single projectiles are sent downrange against moving targets, rifle/pistol rounds are single projectiles with a minimal spatial cross-section, whereas #00 buckshot pellets disperse into a 6-inch pattern even at close range. The 6-inch diameter pattern translates into one square foot of area that a target can be struck. This firepower “cone” gets larger as the distance from the muzzle increases. This is the advantage offered with the Mossberg 590 and why it finds favor as a utilitarian weapon of choice.


OF Mossberg & Sons, Inc.
7 Grasso Ave
North Haven, CT 06473
(203) 230-5300

Mesa Tactical
(949) 642-3337

BlackHawk! Products Group
6160 Commander Pkwy
Norfolk, VA 23502
(757) 436-3101

Federal Cartridge Company
900 Ehlen Drive
Anoka, MN 55303
(800) 831-0850

Hornady Mfg. Inc.
3625 Old Potash Hwy
Grand Island, NE 68802
(800) 338-3220

Winchester Ammunition
427 N. Shamrock St
East Alton, IL 62024

Wolf Ammunition
PO Box 757
Placentia, CA 92871
(888) 757-9653

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (March 2012)
and was posted online on January 27, 2012


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