Folks who want the most effective firearm for use in a home-defense situation may not like handguns for their relative lack of stopping power, and they may pass on rifles because of concerns about overpenetration through various building materials or capacity limitations mandated by where they live. What about the shotgun? Few instruments delivery energy at close range like a 12-bore cartridge, and a 20 gauge is no slouch either. Also, shotguns are capable of firing projectiles containing birdshot up through 36-caliber buckshot and slugs suitable even for bears. An experienced shotgunner can even change out the loads on the fly, as the situation demands. Yep, shotguns have limitations, too. Recoil can be substantial. And, compared to a pistol, a shotgun can be more difficult to work with in tight places, and they run out of ammo in a hurry. A wise admonition regarding the use of a scattergun is that if “you ain’t shooting it, you need to be feeding it.”
We found three samples of 12-gauge pump shotguns that we felt minimize the smoothbores’ shortcomings while maximizing their utility in home defense. The first is a Mossberg 590 No. 50674, $568. The second is Tokarev’s TX3 12HD, $250, imported by SDS Imports of Knoxville, Tennessee. We had the chance to look at this one at the 2022 SHOT Show. Check out our video of that on the Gun Tests YouTube page. Last is a more experienced Remington 870 Tactical. The Remington Firearms Company that made this shotgun about 10 years ago is no more. The firearms portion of the company sold at auction, and a new entity has the rights to produce it under the Remington name. This new corporation is back up and producing select versions of the Remington 870, but we could not find the style that we wanted, so we used one out of our collection. We found 870 Tactical shotguns like ours selling for about $500 on GunBroker.com, so they are widely available. Of course, we have made a couple of modifications we’ll document so you can assess which modifications would make a difference to you.
All testing was done at American Shooting Centers in Houston. We used Remington 3-inch 00 buckshot shells, Winchester 2.75-inch No. 4 buckshot shells, and a variety of 7½ birdshot shells, including Winchester AA loads. We tested for function with all loads and patterned the buckshot at 3 and 7 yards to check for choke efficiency.
A few of our general impressions include the following: The shotguns hit what we pointed them at and went bang when we told them to, making all three viable options based on the most important factor, reliability. Dispersion of the shot patterns was as expected, averaging 2 to 3 inches at 3 yards and 5 to 6 inches at 7 yards for the No. 4 buckshot loads. Also, we noted that 2.75-inch 00 buckshot loads have 12 pellets, and in our test, they shoot much tighter patterns than their magnum brothers and the 15-pellet load. Of course, energy was greater for the magnum loads — too much for us. Our times in shooting drills were slower and the magnum patterns were larger. We’ll stick with the standard buckshot loads. We also found that on the shotguns themselves, we liked a shorter length of pull (LOP), or at least the option to shorten the length of pull. Accordingly, we thought the Mossberg’s LOP, at over 14 inches, was one of the factors that slowed us down a bit when shooting the timed drills. Of course, we have other criticisms of and compliments for each gun below.
Gun Tests Grade: A- (OUR PICK)
Winchester, Ithaca, Remington, Mossberg and Benelli have all supplied major quantities of shotguns to military and police units over the decades. Benelli is the current semi-auto shotgun of choice for many of our military units. Mossberg and Remington appear to be the last two giants standing in the pumpgun world. Mossberg also makes a military variant of their pumpgun known as the Model 590A1. The Mossberg 500 and 590 use some plastic parts, but not the 590A1. One of the primary differences in the 590A1 is the weight of the barrel. They are massive things designed to be abused.
|Overall Length||41.0 in.|
|Barrel||20.0 in. long, matte-black steel, removable Accu-chokes|
|Overall Height||8.5 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||6.9 lbs.|
|Weight Loaded (#8 Buck, 8 rounds)||7.8 lbs.|
|Sight Radius||24.5 in.|
|Action||Matte black aluminum alloy|
|Stock Drop at Comb||0.5 in.|
|Stock Drop at Heel||1.0 in.|
|Stock Buttplate||Soft rubber|
|Stock Length of Pull||14.3 in.|
|Trigger Pull Weight||5.5 lbs.|
|Safety||Tang, 2 position|
|Warranty||10 years limited|
The Model 500s, with their differences in barrels, magazine tubes, and a few other items, are not as easily modified as the 590, so the slightly more expensive 590 is the way we went. There was a particular SKU in the Mossberg catalog that already had most of the mods we like, and we clicked the button in a hurry when we found one on GunBroker.com. Good home-defense shotguns are still hard to come by.
We did our best to find a 590 that matched our 870. The model 50674 has a seven-shot magazine tube and a 20-inch barrel with a factory-installed Accu-choke. Our sample came with a single Cylinder-bore choke tube. Mossberg offers 10 different 12-gauge choke tubes ranging from Skeet to XX Full Turkey. Three of those are extended versions that are ported as well.
The 590 did not require our use of any flat files on the sights because the barrel comes with a tall front sight soldered to the barrel. That front-sight blade had a large orange strip running up the face, which was very visible. The sight is also mounted in a dovetail and further retained by a set screw. We found replacement sight kits on the Mossberg website priced at $109. We did not find any replacement blades. The rear sight mounts directly to holes already tapped and drilled on the top of the receiver. No Pic rail here. The large ghost ring is well protected via wings on the sides and is adjustable for windage and elevation.
The bolt release on the 590 is at the left rear of the trigger guard. Easily depressed with the middle finger of the right hand, it only requires a fraction of an inch more movement to perform the same maneuver for southpaws. The safety is mounted on the top rear of the receiver, making it very accessible to left- or right-handed shooters. Not only is it easy to manipulate, the status is easy to verify.
We haven’t found any feature analogous to what the bolt stop of the Remington 870 will allow in terms of changing shells, but the Mossberg carries its own advantage. Our 870 requires that rounds be cycled through the chamber to unload it in a hurry. With time available, the shooter can cycle the bolt one at a time, ejecting the shells into the receiver and picking them out through the ejection port. In contrast, the cartridge stop on the 590 can be depressed toward the receiver wall, thereby releasing single shells onto the elevator, where they can be removed. We will also note that this was a bit difficult for 60-something arthritic hands on some of our shooters.
Disassembly is as easy on the Mossberg as on the Remington — make sure that the chamber and magazine are empty, unscrew the cap on the magazine, and pull the barrel off, gently twisting back and forth as you go. Here, we saw a couple of differences between the 870 and the 590. The 590’s barrel has metal loops attached to the bottom of the barrel. The mag tube extends through and is supported by these loops. The plug on the mag tube also impinges on the forward loop, requiring them to be at specific lengths. From what we see, if the user wishes to change the length of the barrel, he would also need to change to the corresponding mag tube, and vice versa. The Remington barrel can extend past the end of the mag tube, thereby allowing the change of one to not require alteration of the other. The barrel and the mag tube on our sample were just about perfect, and we wouldn’t touch them. The Mossberg barrel even has a bayonet lug on it.
The polymer buttstock has a good recoil pad on it, but it has the same style comb as the original Remington stock. Luckily, the higher sights, as with the 870, served to position our face a bit higher to access the sights. That kept much of the recoil away from our shooters’ faces. The lower part of the fore end is shaped into five different flats, each of which offered M-Lok slots. The upper portion curves out into grooves, shaped well for fingertips. Our only real gripe is the texture, or lack thereof, on the fore end. It was a bit too slick for our tastes. We operate a shotgun vigorously, and our hand was sliding around on the front.
This Mossberg 590 ate every type of ammo we tried to feed it, every time. The front-sight blade is very visible, partly because it is very high. Accordingly, we had to aim a bit lower at close range on precision shots. That is not a problem at all, the shooter should always know his sights. We were pleasantly surprised at the tight pattern for both buckshot loads at 3 yards, even with the Cylinder-bore choke.
Our Team Said: We thought the M-Lok fore end was a great idea, but it was just a bit too slick for us. We felt that slowed down the times on our speed drills slightly. The rest of the shotgun worked perfectly. It has almost the full list of features as on our personalized 870 and is about half the price of the tricked-out Remington.
Range Data: Drill 1Process: Fire one shot from low ready at a 10-inch plate. Distance: 8 yards.
|Shotgun||Average Time (seconds)|
Range Data: Drill 2Process: Fire one shot at each of two 10-inch plates at 8 yards. Plates were 6 feet apart.
|Shotgun||Time to First Shot (seconds)||Split Time (seconds)||Total Time (seconds)|
Shot-Pattern Sizes: Shotshell 1
|Shotshell||2.75 inch, 3 Yards||No. 4 Buckshot, 7 Yards|
|Mossberg||1.52 in.||5.91 in.|
|Remington||2.92 in.||4.41 in.|
|Tokarev||2.05 in.||4.21 in.|
Shot-Pattern Sizes: Shotshell 2
|Shotshell||3 inch Magnum, 3 Yards||No. 00 Buckshot, 7 Yards|
|Mossberg||2.12 in.||4.59 in.|
|Remington||2.35 in.||5.56 in.|
|Tokarev||2.18 in.||4.93 in.|
Value Guide: Self-Defense Shotgun Rankings
|EAA AKKAR Churchill 612 111375 12 Gauge, $320||May. 2022||A||Best Buy. Has a comfortable pistol grip stock. The Akkar Model 612 has the smoothest operation.|
|RIA Meriva Chrome MR25-P101-MC 12 Gauge, $230||May. 2022||B||Reliable. The chrome finish and the ability to mount a combat light are good features. Rough pump action.|
|Legacy Sports Citadel PAX FRPAX1220 12 Gauge, $229||May. 2022||C||A heavy trigger action, difficult disassembly, and -1 round capacity put the PAX at the bottom.|
|Black Aces Tactical Pro Series S Max 12 Gauge, $420||Mar. 2021||A||Best Buy. The lightest shotgun tested. Despite this, recoil was not objectionable.|
|Toros Copolla T4 12 Gauge, $895||Mar. 2021||A||Our Pick. Compared to a Benelli M4 recently tested, the T4 comes out ahead.|
|Panzer Arms BP-12 BP12BSSB 12 Gauge, $650||Mar. 2021||C||A robust design. Overall, this is a shotgun we liked less the more we fired it.|
|Benelli M4 H20 Tactical 11794 12 Gauge, $2000||Feb. 2021||A||Our Pick. The Benelli provided excellent results. It is pricey but very good.|
|Remington V3 Tactical 83441 12 Gauge, $850||Feb. 2021||A||Best Buy. We liked the extended controls, fast handling, and reliability. XS sights are a plus.|
|Beretta 1201FP 12 Gauge, $500||Feb. 2021||B||The 1201FP is fast on target and controllable. Semi-auto inertia action makes for less recoil.|
|Rock Island Armory VR80 12 Gauge, $600||Feb. 2021||B||The VR80 may be great for 3-Gun shooters because it will handle the same as the AR-15.|
|Winchester 1200 Speed Pump 12 Gauge, $225||Oct. 2020||A||Best Buy. The Speed Pump is smooth, reliable, and provided good results.|
|Remington 870 12 Gauge, $275||Oct. 2020||A||A classic home defender well worth it on the used market, at this price.|
|Winchester SXP Marine Defender 12 Gauge, $255||Oct. 2020||B||Has many good points, including the chrome finish on major components. Accepts a red-dot sight.|
|TPS M6 M6-100 22 LR/410 Bore, $487||Jan. 2020||A||The M6 follows in the footsteps of the previous M6 design and does it it better.|
|Rossi Matched Pair 410/22 22 LR/410 Bore, $182||Jan. 2020||A||This Matched Pair 410/22 is lightweight and simple to operate.|
|Savage Model 42 Takedown 22440 22 LR/410 Bore, $425||Jan. 2020||B+||The Model 42 follows Savage’s tradition of combo guns, and this gun has some fine attributes.|
|Mossberg Retrograde Persuader 50429 12 Ga., $384||Sep. 2019||A||The Mossberg 500 Retrograde is a beautifully finished shotgun. There are no shortcomings.|