Choosing A 12-Gauge Shotgun: Three Pump-Gun Winners
Though it was close, we narrowly preferred the Winchester 1300 Defender over the Remington 870 Express Magnum and Mossberg 590A1 Persuader slide actions.
We normally compare products on an A-B-C basis, covering all the functional aspects of Gun A completely before moving on to Guns B and C. However, there are instances when another method of comparison makes more sense, that is, a point-by-point evaluation. We normally reserve this kind of comparison when guns are closely matched, and only minor, or even picayune, differences separate them. Such is the case in this evaluation, a comparison of three affordable 12-gauge home-defense shotguns.
Our test products were the Remington Model 870 Express Magnum Synthetic 12 gauge No. 25077, $345; the Mossberg Persuader Model 590A1 No. 51411, $443; and the Winchester Defender Model 1300 Pistol Grip & Stock Combo, No. 512907308, $354. All three guns were matte-black synthetic stock pumps with 3-inch chambers, with 18- to 18.5-inch barrels and weights around 7 pounds.
Remington cautions the potential buyer that the gun won’t accept law-enforcement accessories like the 870P line will. The consumer gun we tested came with 3-inch chambers, fit six in the magazine tube (plus one in the chamber for a total of seven), and measured 38.5 inches in overall length. The receiver is milled from a solid billet of steel, and the front end utilized twin action bars. It had an LOP of 14 inches, a drop at comb of 1.5 inches, and a drop at heel of 2.5 inches. We didn’t detect any noticeable cast in the buttstock.
With those similarities in mind, we then broke the guns down by major functional area and tried to decide which one we liked the best:
The use of the controls ties in strongly with the gun’s reliability, but we found we could adapt to any of the three systems with practice. However, we formed likes and dislikes about the placement of the controls anyway.
One impressive aspect of operating the Mossberg was that we could work both the safety and the slide release without changing the shooting-hand grip and without having to dismount the shotgun. To rack the slide, we pulled the trigger finger off the trigger and depressed the action lock lever with the middle knuckle of the right hand. Lefties had it even easier; they could pull the trigger finger off the trigger and release the button without having to shift the hand on the grip. The Mossberg tang safety was likewise ambidextrous, positive, and easy to get to.
The Defender Speed Pump was a bridge between the Mossberg and Remington. Its disconnector release button sat behind the trigger guard, in the same position as the Mossberg. Its safety was a crossbolt-style block, but it was located in front of the trigger guard. We liked the location of the Winchester’s safety better than the crossbolt located behind the Remington trigger guard, but less than the Mossberg’s big tang-mounted piece. Also, we liked the Mossberg action lock lever’s feel better than the Winchester’s. The Defender’s button was too hard to find and depress with the middle finger for righties. Lefties had a little more trouble with the Winchester disconnector release button than the Mossberg lever.
We liked the Remington’s controls the least, though they worked fine with practice. The action bar lock, located on the left side of the lower receiver in front of the trigger guard, was easy to find and manipulate with the trigger hand (right-handed shooters), but that move required the shooter to push his trigger hand forward and cover the trigger guard with the palm of the hand, and we would prefer not to move that hand off the pistol grip. Also, we would rather hit the Winchester’s crossbolt safety button on the front of the trigger guard rather than behind the trigger guard, like the Remington. Winner: Mossberg
The Winchester’s trigger, which included a steel shoe, broke at more than 9 pounds of pressure. It was also soft and creepy, in our view. The steel Mossberg trigger also broke at 9 pounds, but it had a cleaner feeling as it moved from its full-cock to discharged position. The Remington trigger, also steel, had the best feeling from cock-to-break and also the lightest let-off, 6 pounds. It was easily the best of the three, in our view. Winner: Remington
Winchester claims its Speed Pump design is faster than other systems, and after testing these guns, we might agree. Winchester says that after the gun is fired, the lugs of the rotary bolt begin disengaging from the barrel extension. Then, recoil forces assist the slide in moving rearward.
Held with the muzzle up, an empty, unloaded Defender would unlock itself, while the other slides stayed put. The Remington required 2 pounds of starting effort to begin moving rearward, and the Mossberg needed 6 pounds of force.
To begin cycling forward, the unloaded Winchester needed 7 pounds of force, while the Remington required 6 pounds and the Mossberg 9 pounds.
In shooting three quick shots, we were marginally faster with the Defender than the other guns, but individual pumping action and strength might negate any speed advantage, we think. Winner: Winchester
Stocks and Accessories
The stocks are similar in that they are composite plastic with the same basic measurements (as noted above), but there are subtle differences that separate the guns.
The pistol grip on the Mossberg is about a half-inch shorter than the Winchester and about an inch shorter than the Remington. Of the three, we preferred the longer grip area of the Express; we simply thought it was the most comfortable. Mainly, it allowed the shooter to have a flatter reach to the trigger, rather than having to cock the hand down to reach the trigger. However, the Winchester came with a pistol grip, which gave it flexibility the others couldn’t match. With the pistol grip on, the gun measured only 29 inches in length and weighed only 5.5 pounds.
Also, the molded-in checkering provided a better grip surface on the Winchester and Remington guns, we thought. The Winchester, however, had a noticeably better buttpad than the others, in our view. Its ventilated design was much softer, and the edges were already rounded off.
Out front, the Winchester had the shortest forend, a 6-inch-long ribbed composite piece. When the action was closed, 4 inches of naked slide were exposed. The Mossberg had a longer ribbed composite forend, 8 inches, and when closed, 4 inches of slide were exposed. In both cases, it was possible to grasp the slide instead of the forend.
In contrast, the Remington forend, 9 inches in length, used a shape more like a conventional shotgun forend, with a bell-shaped cross section rather than the cylindrical ribbed style on the others. Also, when ready to fire, the Remington showed only 1.8 inches of slide, making it next to impossible to mistakenly grab the rail area.
Also, the Mossberg and Winchester buttstocks included molded-in studs for rear sling swivels, and the Winchester also included a screw-in stud on its magazine cap. The Mossberg was threaded to accept a stud in its cap, but the screw-in stud itself (part no. 36) wasn’t included with the gun, that we could find. Winner: Winchester
Accuracy and Patterning
Though other factors, such as the trigger, come into play in assessing accuracy, the sighting system has the most bearing on the problem. Basically, all three of these guns have only the most rudimentary sights, which if fine for how they will probably be used, with shotshells.
As is, the accuracy of the guns shooting slugs wasn’t stellar. The Mossberg enabled us to shoot 25-yard three-shot groups around 4.5 inches with the Federal Premium rifled slug. The Remington notched 6.9-inch groups, followed by the Defender at 11.6 inches.
The Mossberg also printed the tightest patterns, though at close quarters all three shotguns would be effective self-defense choices. Firing at 10 yards with the Federal Premium Wing-Shok loads (3-inch magnums filled with No. 2s), we shot 9.6-inch-wide patterns with the Persuader, followed by 10-inch spreads by the Winchester and 11.5-inch Express patterns. But we can’t necessarily say which pattern is best.Winner: Mossberg
In terms of materials, the Mossberg and Winchester guns had aluminum alloy receivers, while the Remington’s was steel. The Remington and Mossberg had alloy trigger guards, while the Winchester’s was plastic. The safety buttons for the Remington and Winchester guns were steel, while the Mossberg’s was alloy. We like the Remington’s use of a steel receiver and buttons and metal trigger guard. Winner: Remington
Weights, Measures, Capacities
The 38.5-inch-long Remington Model 870 Express had an 18-inch Cylinder-choke barrel and weighed 7.25 pounds. It had an LOP of 14 inches. The Mossberg Persuader had an 18.5-inch Cylinder-choke barrel, an LOP of 13.9 inches, and an OAL length of 39 inches. The Winchester Defender employed an 18-inch Cylinder-choke barrel, measured 39.5 inches in overall length and had an LOP of 14 inches.
Dimensionally, then, we don’t see that one gun has an advantage over the others. However, the Winchester holds seven in the magazine, Remington six and the Mossberg five.Winner: Winchester
During our shooting tests, we noted above that we didn’t have any failures to function. However, when we were examining the controls, we were able to get two of the three guns to jam.
It occurred as we were loading a full magazine into the Mossberg and Remington guns. To ensure we were getting all the rounds in we could, we kept stuffing shotshells into the loading ports. We were able to get six-and-three-quarters shells into the Remington, which in turn locked up the carrier assembly and wouldn’t allow the shell to eject nor the action to cycle. It took a screwdriver to pry out the lodged shell.
Ditto that on the Mossberg. Five shells went in smoothly, but the sixth lodged in the magazine mouth, preventing the elevator from moving. We had to screw off the magazine cap, remove the barrel, and jiggle the action to free the shell.
Admittedly, we know we’re not supposed to “overload” the magazine, but it wasn’t possible to jam the Winchester in this manner, which gave it a major edge in our evaluation. Winner: Winchester
The Winchester’s green fiber-optic front sight proved to be very fast in the dark, and because it could be snapped on and off, it gave the shooter flexibility to use it or not. If not, there’s a gold front bead for aiming. The top strap is not prepared for a scope mount, but at least the top of the receiver is flattened and lined to reduce glare and introduce a basic reference for using the front sight.
On the Remington, the front post is mounted on a stanchion, but the receiver is rounded, except for a flat area that measured only a quarter inch in width. This doesn’t help the shooter index the receiver to the sight, in our view.
The front sight on the Mossberg is a standard bead, but the top strap is flattened and grooved. Also, unlike the other guns, the Mossberg is already drilled and tapped for an alternative sighting system, such as a Ghost Ring. Winner: Mossberg
The Remington Model 870 has an MSRP of $345; the Mossberg Persuader costs $443 MSRP; and the Winchester Defender goes $354 MSRP. But real world pricing suggests shopping around. We found the Remington retailing for $296 at Personal Security Zone, <www.personalsecurityzone.com>. The Mossberg 590A1 had a $310 price tag at Clyde Armory <www.policeguns.com>. The Winchester listed for $310 at Reeds Family Outdoor Outfitters <www.reedssports.com>.
Gun Tests Recommends
You can buy any of these shotguns and get an affordable, functional self-defense product. However, here’s what we would buy:
• Remington Model 870 Express Magnum Synthetic 12 gauge No. 25077, $345. Buy It. This gun excelled in two areas, its trigger quality and materials (steel receiver). On the downside, we didn’t really like its controls placement, and we inadvertently jammed the action by trying to insert too many shells.
• Mossberg Persuader Model 590A1 No. 51411, $443. Buy It. This gun had the best-situated controls, a receiver prepped for better sights, and it showed the best accuracy with slugs. We also liked its metal parts and heavy barrel. But, it, too, could be jammed by inserting too many shells.
• Winchester Defender Model 1300 Pistol Grip & Stock Combo, No. 512907308, $354. Our Pick. This combo offered the best mix of speed, capacity, and resistance to jamming, and this package also came with a pistol grip, which makes it a smaller, lighter payload than the other guns. If the Winchester Defender had a slightly larger action release button and came drilled and tapped for sights, it would become even more formidable.
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