Letter Re: Advice on Pump Action Shotguns

Dear Mr. Rawles,
Regarding your recent comments on shotguns, I’d like to add the following opinion:
I own a gun shop and I get -many- people looking to buy their first shotgun. The first question I ask them (and probably a good question to ask ones self before making any purchase) is: “What do you intend to use it for?”. Different guns for different purposes. When they tell me they want an all around do everything shotgun (which is how the shy and low-key convey that they want a defensive shotgun), the choice usually come down to the Mossberg 500 and the Remington 870. Both are great shotguns. Both are used by the US military and both are found in law enforcement. Both have a fair bit of aftermarket parts and accessories (not all of them useful) available.
When customers ask me to choose between the Mossberg 500 and the Remington 870, I go with the Remington.
Magazine capacity – A standard Mossberg 500 (the one sitting on my desk right now is a inventory gun, 500BB in 16 ga. with a cut down barrel to 21 inches) holds 5 rounds in the magazine. To put an extended magazine on this particular gun, one must replace the entire magazine tube (and it’s guts), as the existing one is closed on the muzzle end and has a threaded hole in the center that the barrel retaining nut (“magazine cap”) screws into. If I take this commonly encountered gun and put an extended magazine on it I now need to get a different barrel as this one one can not mount properly with an extended mag.
On a Remington 870, I unscrew the barrel retaining nut (“magazine cap”) and replace the magazine spring with the new longer one and screw on the magazine extension. Re-install original barrel. Done. On later 870s it may be necessary to drill out two small ‘dimples’ at the end of the magazine tube that retain a superfluous magazine plug. Big deal. [JWR Adds: Brownell’s sells a special mandrel designed for pressing out these dimples. Every retreat group that has standardized with 870s should acquire one of these tools.]
Parts availability – The two most common shotguns are the Mossberg 500 series and the Remington 870 and all the aftermarket accessories people know this. If you were to make a list of all the Mossberg accessories available and all the 870 accessories available, the lists would be long, but the 870 list would be longer. More options.
Construction – Both guns are used my military and law enforcement, so you know that can take rough use. One common problem I see with Mossbergs is that the safety selector is plastic (on the mil-spec model they are steel); this causes enough problems that one of the more widely purchased aftermarket accessories for the 500 is a replacement safety made of steel.
Both guns (on current models) have plastic triggerguards. The Remington has one that has a built in locking device. Yesterday I had a fellow come in who had bought a used 870 with a locking device but no key. It wasn’t a problem, as he had not planned to ever lock the gun, but it turns out you can lock the gun by just turning the safety with a fingernail or, in his case, a cleaning brush while cleaning the gun. To -unlock- the gun, you need the key. That’s bad. Mossberg has wisely avoided this mistake.
One thing that makes a big difference for me is that the Remington receiver is steel while the Mossberg is alloy. It may not make a practical difference, but I just feel better with the heavier gun. Also, the 500 receiver is anodized and once the finish wears off, your only choices are stove paint, tape or shine.
Commonality – Both guns are extraordinarily common. Together I believe they account for the majority of pump action sales in the US. While both guns are used by military and law enforcement, the 870 is the hands down law enforcement favorite, and thus more likely to be found/recovered from ‘official’ sources.
One great advantage the Mossberg has is price: it’s cheap (or as I like to describe it “entry level priced”). The cheap shotgun you have -right now- is a whole heck of a lot better than the expensive shotgun that you were planning to buy in 3 months! Also, when compared to the Remington 870, spare barrels seem to be a bit cheaper on the used market.
For my “just in case” customers, I tell them:
• Remington synthetic stock 870 Special Purpose [Parkerized] finish 12 ga. with a 3-inch chamber with a 26 or 28 inch bird barrel with a full assortment of screw in chokes.
• Spare smoothbore rifle-sighted slug barrel in 20 inch.
• In reserve, a Wilson combat/Scattergun Technology two shot magazine extension, a six shell ‘side-saddle’, a clamp-on M1913 rail for mounting a small light on the barrel (I like and own the Surefire fore-ends, but the cost is prohibitive and they use very specific parts. A clamp-on M1913 rail allows for mounting a variety of lights, including a spare M3 or M6 pistol light, which one should already have).
• Usual spares, slings and support parts and tools.
Remington and Mossberg both make fine guns that possess the great feature of what I call ‘modularity’; the ability to be easily reconfigured by the end-user to suit multiple purposes with a minimum amount of tools and skill. I often tell my customers that they should think of the 500 and the 870 (and the AR-15) as ‘Lego kit’ guns; you can pretty much snap-on and snap-off parts and accessories as needed.
A very, very distant third choice for shotguns would be the classic Ithaca 37s. All metal, no plastic and bottom ejecting for left handed shooters. Used as a military gun up through Vietnam and the classic LAPD gun for many years.The NYPD has [also] used this gun for over 50 years (in everything from 13 inch to 30 inch) and I can tell you first hand that a lot of those original purchase guns bought when President Eisenhower was in office are still riding around the mean streets. You’ll never find spares and accessories like you will for the Mossbergs and Remingtons though.
Best, – RMV




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