Budget 20-Gauge Pumpguns: H&R, Mossberg, Remington

We pit the Harrington & Richardson Pardner, Remington Express, and Mossberg Maverick Youth Models. Home defenders would be well armed with any of these pumps.

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Every day there is a headline of some deadly incident that could have been stopped with a shotgun. Home invasions and animal attacks are common in this dangerous world. The shotgun is formidable protection for prepared individuals who might be short statured, aging, or have a physical impediment. The 20 gauge offers a strong choice for most shooters. A string of twenty #3 buckshot pellets makes for a formidable way to stop a home-defense attack. Our calculations and best formulas show that the 20-gauge shotgun generates about three quarters the recoil of the 12 gauge versus the often quoted half the recoil but the 20 gauge delivers about three-quarters the payload at the same time.

20 gauge shotgun loads

We collected and tested three 20-gauge pump-action shotguns that happened to be marketed to younger shooters, but which the home defender can use as fast-handling hallway and interior-room guns right out of the box because of their shorter barrels and overall lengths and lighter weights. These included:

  • the Remington 870 Youth Model 25561 20 Gauge, $340;
  • the Harrington & Richardson Pardner Youth Model NP1-2S1 20 Gauge, $165; and
  • the Mossberg Maverick 88 Youth Model 32202 20 Gauge, $198.

For this use, we would purchase any of the three and feel well armed. Also, we ended up with a Best Buy, and we were not being easy on either of the less expensive shotguns. They simply had different characteristics folks should consider for themselves.

20-gauge shells

To evaluate the shotguns, we used three loads, including the Hornady 3-inch #6 nickel Magnum load ($12.72 per 10 shells at Brownells.com). Then, we shot Federal’s 3-inch #3 buckshot rounds ($6.45 for five shells from SportsmansGuide.com) and Winchester’s AA 2.75-inch 7⁄8-ounce # 7 shot ($9.49 per 25 shells from BassPro.com). This gave a good mix of light loads, buckshot, and a heavy field load. We also used Winchester’s 20-gauge slug ($3.48 per five slugs from BudsGunShop.com). All of these shells fed, chambered, fired, and ejected normally. We loaded each shotgun with Winchester birdshot first then progressed to the heavy Hornady field loads, firing 25 Winchester birdshot shells followed by ten Hornady heavy field loads and five Federal buckshot loads. Recoil was simply not a factor, although we did notice the Hornady was the most powerful load tested. This is a highly developed 20-gauge choice, in our opinion. Here’s how the rounds performed in each firearm.

20 gauge pump guns

Harrington & Richardson Pardner Youth Model NP1-2S1 20 Gauge, $165

GUN TESTS GRADE: B (BEST BUY)

This was the least expensive shotgun tested. Yet we would hesitate to call this shotgun cheap. The bottom line is that the Pardner never failed to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. The aiming rib was as good as the other shotguns, and the Pardner was easy enough to fire. It was the heaviest shotgun tested. This results in light recoil. The shotgun handled well enough, and after a bit of cleaning and removing packing grease, the shotgun’s action smoothed out. The Pardner is the only shotgun tested drilled and tapped for a red dot or scope optic.

Harrington & Richardson Pardner Youth Model NP1-2S1 20 Gauge

ACTION TYPE Pump, dual extractors, twin action bars
CHAMBER SIZE 3 in.
OVERALL LENGTH 40 in.
CAPACITY 5+1
WEIGHT LOADED 7.4 lbs.
BARREL LENGTH 21 lbs.
BARREL Blued steel
RECEIVER Blue steel
CHOKE Modified
BUTTSTOCK Checkered synthetic-recoil pad
BUTTSTOCK LENGTH OF PULL 13 in.
FOREARM Synthetic
SIGHTS Single bead
TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT 7.5 lbs.
WARRANTY 1 year
TELEPHONE (866) 776-9292
WEBSITE HR1871.com
MADE IN China

We ordered this shotgun from a local gun store and paid $165 plus sales tax, but you can buy it online at BudsGunShop.com (#72282) for $187 plus tax, shipping, and FFL receiving fees.

Harrington & Richardson Pardner Youth Model NP1-2S1 20 Gauge

The H&R Pardner is the least expensive shotgun tested by a considerable margin. This shotgun isn’t perfect, but it delivers a solid value if that is what you are looking for. The Pardner is finished in a dull-black bluing. There are brush marks on the receiver, and the barrel finish is a slightly different tone than the receiver, but it is acceptable. The line of the receiver and the barrel rib do not mesh seamlessly, but it is okay. The receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. We kept looking at the price tag and nodding our heads. What would be unacceptable on a $500 shotgun gave us no worries because function was what we had to have. The forend is credible, with useful checkering. The grip section is also nicely checkered. The plastic buttstock has the appearance of a cheap AR-15 accessory, but it works fine. The stock isn’t hollow and doesn’t rattle. The rubber recoil pad has enough give in it to absorb recoil efficiently. Takedown is the same as most pump-action shotguns: Take the barrel-retention nut off and move the bolt slightly to the rear, and then remove the barrel. The shotgun was supplied with a plug that reduced the magazine capacity to two shells. We removed the plug and used the shotgun as a 5+1 shooter. If we use the shotgun for hunting migratory game birds, we will replace the plug.

Harrington & Richardson Pardner

As we examined the shotgun, it was obvious the action is based on the Remington 870. While there is a humpback receiver, the internals are straight-across-the-board Remington of the type used since 1948 when the 870 was introduced. The crossbolt button moves right to left to place the gun on Safe. The safety locks the trigger.

The trigger action is heavy at 7.0 pounds. It is fairly smooth as it is pressed, without a catch or roughness. The shotgun is listed at most outlets as weighing 6.5 pounds. H&R’s website lists the Pardner at 7.5 pounds. As soon as we unboxed the H&R Pardner Youth Model, we knew it was heavier than 6.5 pounds and had more heft than the other shotguns we tested. The true weight is 7.4 pounds. This extra poundage played out in testing with two characteristics related to the weight. The first was that the H&R Pardner recoiled less than the other two shotguns, as expected. The second was that it tracked more slowly and handled more slowly than the other two shotguns. Let’s face it — while many adults find the short youth model and barrel ideal, the shotgun’s dimensions, but not the weight, are suited for youths when it comes to the Pardner. The Pardner would be heavy to handle for a teenager beginning his or her shotgun shooting, we believe. The Pardner uses Remington choke tubes and was supplied with a single Modified choke tube and a tool to change the tubes.

Harrington & Richardson Pardner Youth Model NP1-2S1 20 Gauge

The shotgun never stuttered during shooting; however, all was not smooth with the action. The action binded during firing. It did not tie up, but in the end of its travel, it was tight on the backstroke and also going forward. It smoothed in just slightly with dry fire and firing. Unlike a Remington 870 Tactical tested recently, the action was not occasionally tight. Instead, it was tight with every load and every stroke. Whether extended use will smooth the action up is the question. It was not unusable, but it was difficult to work. When firing, the action was not as smooth as the Remington and binded to an extent, yet the force needed to cycle the action was not that great. The stroke isn’t longer than the Remington 870’s. In fact, it was nearly identical. The Mossberg was only slightly smoother.

Harrington & Richardson Pardner Youth Model NP1-2S1 20 Gauge

The weight of the H&R Pardner and the effort needed to cycle the piece made it the slowest shotgun tested in rapid fire. As for shot patterns, there was no discernible difference between the shotguns. All gave good patterns consistent with Modified chokes with all loads. The single front bead of the Pardner gave acceptable aiming results.

Harrington & Richardson Pardner Youth Model NP1-2S1 20 Gauge

One of the raters noted that the Harrington & Richardson 20-gauge youth model was shipped all the way from China and might be full of packing grease. Fair enough, the senior rater said, let’s clean it. After removing the bolt and trigger group (which was easy for someone familiar with the Remington 870) and cleaning off the packing grease, the H&R Pardner was remarkably smoother. It wasn’t as smooth as the Remington, but it was smoother in operation than before the cleaning.

Our Team Said: After test firing the Pardner, we find it to be a reliable shotgun worth its price. However, there were demerits and trade-offs. The weight of the shotgun is the same or greater than most 12-gauge shotguns. We were selecting winners based on light weight and fast handling, an advantage of most 20-gauge shotguns. The trade-off was that recoil is the lightest of the test, as might be expected. Overall recoil is light even for a 20-gauge shotgun. Also, the Pardner isn’t the smoothest shotgun of the test, but the catch in the action was noticeable. However, it did not compromise reliability, and the shotgun could be fired relatively quickly. But it was not in the Remington’s class as far as speed. We rated the Pardner down a grade based on the catch in the action that made firing quick follow-up shots more difficult. Function was not stopped, just slowed. We did not rate it down on weight because half of the raters found the weight was an advantage in shooting heavy field loads, while the other half found the weight to be a drag. The Pardner is a viable shotgun and offers good protection for a pittance.

Remington 870 Youth Model 25561 20 Gauge, $340

GUN TESTS GRADE: A- (Our Pick)

The Remington had advantages out of the box. These included ideal weight and a smooth action and trigger. When we compared the Remington 870 20-gauge Youth Model to the other shotguns, however, the Remington did not dominate. As an example, the other shotguns each have a magazine capacity of four shells. When you already have a limited magazine capacity and you are keeping the piece at home ready with the magazine loaded but not the chamber, this may be important. Despite its higher price, the Remington shotgun is not drilled and tapped for a red dot or shotgun scope. This was somewhat overshadowed by the Remington’s performance on the firing range. This was the smoothest shotgun tested and one that ran combat drills very smoothly indeed. We would purchase the Remington for home defense.

Remington 870 Youth Model 25561 20 Gauge

ACTION TYPE Pump, dual extractors, twin action bars
CHAMBER SIZE 3 in.
OVERALL LENGTH 40.5 in.
CAPACITY 4+1
WEIGHT UNLOADED 6.2 lbs.
BARREL LENGTH 21 in.
BARREL Blued steel
RECEIVER Blued steel
CHOKE Modified
BUTTSTOCK Wood laminate with recoil pad
BUTTSTOCK LENGTH OF PULL 13 in.
FOREARM Wood, laminate
SIGHTS Single bead
TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT 6.6 lbs.
WARRANTY Limited lifetime
TELEPHONE (605) 347-4686
WEBSITE Remington.com
MADE IN USA

Remington 870 Youth Model 25561 20 Gauge

This is a recent price from Cabelas.com. There is a synthetic-stock version of this shotgun. However, with the wooden stocks listed for the same price, we preferred the shotgun here. One of our contributing raters found the shotgun at a local shop for $340 retail, so we did not bother to order a shotgun on line and pay shipping.

Remington 870 Youth Model 25561 20 Gauge

Our first impression of the Remington 870 as we unboxed it was its light weight. This shotgun weighs 6.2 pounds, 0.2 pound over its listed 6.0 pounds. That is just a difference in wood density. The shotgun features a 21-inch barrel with a rib and front bead, same as the H&R Pardner. The fit and finish of the Remington is superior without the brush marks on the H&R shotgun. However, the rib isn’t serrated as far back as the H&R’s was. Surprisingly, the receiver is not drilled and tapped for a red-dot or scope. The barrel and the receiver mesh better than the H&R, and the overall level of fit is superior to either the Harrington & Richardson Pardner or the Mossberg Maverick.

Remington 870 Youth Model 25561 20 Gauge

The green-hued stock is well done, and its fit to the shotgun is good. The forend is checkered for a better grip, and the semi pistol grip stock is also checkered. The rubber recoil pad is solid and rated down from the cushioned recoil pad of the H&R. The Remington is supplied with a single Modified choke tube. The Remington 870 features a crossbolt safety. The shortened stock is a good option for youths and short-statured adults. Just the same, our mix of adult raters did not have difficulty with the Remington 870 shotgun.

Remington 870 Youth Model 25561 20 Gauge

In dry fire manipulation, we found the Remington to be very smooth in operation. This continued to be the shotgun’s greatest advantage throughout the test program. Prior to firing, we field-stripped the 870 and removed the magazine plug. We are concerned with home defense in this test, and making the change made our rapid-fire testing more realistic. While we have a good idea of the merits of each of the shotguns in field use, the primary focus was on personal defense. When firing the Remington, it showed different characteristics than the H&R Pardner. None of the shotguns exhibited a difference in patterning. Shotguns are sometimes individuals as far as patterning goes, but in this case, from 10 to 20 yards, there was nothing to choose between.

The Remington generated more recoil impulse than the H&R Pardner as a function of the 870’s lighter weight. It was about equal with the Mossberg with birdshot loads. With buckshot and slugs, the Remington kicked less than the Mossberg. The hard recoil pad, we felt, wasn’t ideal for controlling recoil. We began with the shotguns at low ready and quickly pressed the shotgun into the shoulder and addressed one, two, or three silhouette targets. The Remington got on target and delivered a center hit faster than the other shotguns. The action is smooth and allowed fast follow-up hits. The impression was that the Remington was delivering five 20-gauge shells in the time the H&R Pardner took to deliver four. Results against the Mossberg were much the same. The speed to an accurate first shot and the accuracy of delivery at real speed were excellent. Price aside, we found the Remington to be the best performer in the test. The shotgun isn’t perfect, however. Recoil was not uncomfortable, but it was more noticeable than the H&R Pardner and similar to the lighter Mossberg Maverick shotgun. We would have liked the option of mounting a red-dot scope.

Our Team Said: In the end, we rated the Remington 870 down a half grade based on a receiver that was not drilled and tapped for a scope or red dot mount and for the harder recoil pad and lower magazine capacity. The Remington 870 magazine holds four 20-gauge shells. The other shotguns held five rounds in the magazines. This shotgun would be Our Pick if price were not a consideration, and the Remington 870 20-gauge youth model isn’t expensive.

20 gauge pump action shotgun

Mossberg Maverick 88 Youth Model 32202 20 Gauge, $198

GUN TESTS GRADE: B+

The Mossberg is a true youth model with a short stock and a 12-inch length of pull. The distance between the buttstock recoil pad and trigger face is ideal for most youths and some adults. The shotgun was smooth enough as far as the action. The forend had wobble in it, and we did not like the action-bars’ attachment to the forend. The Mossberg Youth Model has several advantages, including light weight. It tips the scale at only 5.25 pounds. The rib features dual sighting posts, which the other shotguns lack. A trade-off is that recoil is the greatest of the shotguns tested. With most field loads, this recoil isn’t noticeable. For home defense, the Mossberg is a fast-handling piece for the whole family.

Mossberg Maverick 88 Youth Model 32202 20 Gauge

Mossberg Maverick 88 Youth Model 32202 20 Gauge

ACTION TYPE Pump, dual extractors, twin action bars
CHAMBER SIZE 3 in.
OVERALL LENGTH 37.5 in.
CAPACITY 5+1
WEIGHT UNLOADED 5.25 lbs.
BARREL LENGTH 22 in.
BARREL Blued steel
RECEIVER Blued steel
CHOKE Modified
BUTTSTOCK Checkered synthetic recoil pad
BUTTSTOCK LENGTH OF PULL 12 in.
FOREARM Synthetic
SIGHTS Dual bead
TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT 6 lbs.
WARRANTY 1 year
TELEPHONE (800) 363-3555
WEBSITE Mossberg.com
MADE IN USA

Mossberg Maverick 88 Youth Model 32202 20 Gauge

This was a recent price at SportsmansGuide.com. The Mossberg Maverick arrived with a 22-inch barrel capped with a Modified choke tube screwed in and a full-length rib. Despite the 1-inch-longer barrel, the Mossberg’s overall length was the shortest of the test. Unlike the other two shotguns, the Mossberg featured dual sighting beads. When using a shotgun for game shooting, dual beads allow the shooter to use a figure-8-type aiming point in certain situations. The dual bead is more of a field feature than a home-defense advantage, but it is nice to have for the price. The rib and receiver meshed well, and the shotgun’s finish was fine, just a tad better than the H&R, but nothing to get excited about.

Mossberg Maverick 88 Youth Model 32202 20 Gauge

The Mossberg Maverick features synthetic hardware. The molded checkering is well done and received high marks. The Mossberg Maverick youth model features dual operating rods for the pump action. The forend had a lot of play and wobble. It is an inexpensive gun, but the cheaper H&R Pardner did not have this wobble. We tried tightening the screws that hold the operating rods to the forend, but had no success.

During dry fire, the action was not as smooth as we would have liked. It was compared against the H&R several times, and these guns were fired more than the Remington as a result. We knew the Remington was smoother than either of these. The goal was to discover which of the less expensive guns had the smoother action. We did not have a clear winner. The Mossberg may have had a smoother action over the Pardner, but the wobble in the forend abrogated any advantage.

Mossberg Maverick 88 Youth Model 32202 20 Gauge

There was some discussion of the safety location of the Mossberg Maverick Youth Model. One of the raters made no secret that his personal home-defense shotgun is a Mossberg 590, and others keep the Remington 870 at home ready. He asked why in the world did Mossberg move the safety from the ambidextrous location on the rear of the receiver? After all, this has been a highly touted advantage of the Mossberg 500 over other shotguns. As another rater pointed out, we do not consider what may be in the engineering board’s mind, and the Mossberg Maverick features a safety in front of the trigger guard, while the Remington 870 and the Harrington & Richardson featured a safety behind the trigger guard. The trigger finger moves forward to take the safety off and then moves back to the trigger. As we fired the shotgun, we found the Mossberg Maverick Youth Model 20 gauge may have an advantage in safety design over the other shotguns. The problem was the safety was stiff to operate, even after a couple of dozen manipulations. We do not see a youth or a man or woman with weak hands operating this safety without difficulty.

Mossberg Maverick 88 Youth Model 32202 20 Gauge

The Mossberg Maverick Youth Model in many ways was the only true youth model, as the stock was designed for youths and the length of pull was the shortest of the three shotguns tested. This is the lightest shotgun tested at 5.25 pounds, and as a result, it is a light and fast-handling item, and the efficient recoil pad kept felt recoil manageable. The Mossberg Maverick did kick harder than the other shotguns. This was most noticeable with buckshot and slug loads.

winchester 20-gauge 3/4 ounce slug

In the end, the Mossberg was worth the money, but it had a couple of drawbacks. The safety is too stiff and the forend is loose and wobbly, which affected the action. While billed as youth models, the Remington and the Harrington & Richardson Pardner are more like scaled-down 12-gauge shotguns. The shorter stock of the Mossberg truly makes it suitable for young teens beginning their shotgunning interests. Also, the light Mossberg makes carrying and handling the shotgun a joy. As for recoil, it isn’t a factor until you load buckshot and slugs. Then, the Mossberg delivers more felt recoil than the other shotguns.

As for the safety’s stiffness, we filled the safety with lithium grease and worked it 200 times. It smoothed up, and this eliminated a demerit for the Mossberg, albeit with a bit of elbow grease expended. We found no easy fix for the Mossberg’s loose stock.

Our Team Said: If you are purchasing a shotgun for use as a true youth shotgun by a teen or person of small stature, the Mossberg Youth Model is the best choice in this test.

shotgun patterns

The H&R Pardner is a Best Buy by a narrow margin. If you are an adult wishing to use an affordable 20-gauge shotgun for home defense and you have limited funds, the H&R Pardner is acceptable. The Pardner recoils the least because of its heftier weight. Also, it never failed, costs little, and was drilled and tapped for a scope or red dot sight.

If you are willing to spend a little more, we’d go ahead and buy the Remington over the other two. It was very smooth and well mannered, and would be Our Pick among these three shotguns.

Written and photographed by Gun Tests staff, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.

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