In the November 2000 issue, Gun Tests evaluated two top-of-the-line tactical pump shotguns costing more than $1,000. These included on-board illumination and rifle-type sights often seen on guns of this type used in law-enforcement situations. But if you can’t afford such products, or you only need to defend your own bedroom door, are there other pump shotguns that might be up to the task?
We thought there might be, so with self-defense on a budget in mind we collected three 12-gauge pump shotguns suitable for home defense: the Remington 870 Magnum Express, $329; Winchester’s 1300 Defender, $321; and Mossberg’s 500A Persuader, $307.
We previously had tested similar versions of two of these guns in the April 1997 issue. The Winchester Defender in wood/blued finish won a two-way test with the wood/blued Mossberg 500 mainly because the latter showed some feeding problems—a fatal flaw in a self-defense unit. All the guns in this test featured composite stocks, along with other fine tuning. Overall, we found that for less than $330 MSRP, there were at least three very good shoulder cannons. With training and familiarity, nearly anyone could make effective use of these weapons.
In testing these basic pump shotguns, we were primarily looking for reliability with three different types of buckshot and two different types of slugs and ease of handling. But our first step was to spend time oiling and dry-firing each shotgun. If you have ever spent much time cycling a pump shotgun, then you know that these guns are intimidating weapons and great home gyms as well. Perfecting a smooth, quick pump stroke is the key to keeping the gun on target, and a lot of dry-fire practice will quickly build your wrists, triceps and quads. You need to pull the stock tightly into your body and make sure the slide goes all the way back and all the way forward with control in between.
There is some debate, however, where the butt of the shotgun should be placed. Rather than settle the stock into the crook of the shoulder joint like a typical shotgun mount, we used the Mount-lock technique preached by Hoffner’s Training ( 353-6484 or
The most punishing segment of this testing was group shooting from a rest at 50 yards with two different types of slugs. We found setting up a proper rest for pump shotguns to be different from that of supporting a semi-auto shotgun or fully stocked rifle. Resting the guns on the slide was necessary due to their short barrels, and as soon as the trigger breaks the slide is released, destabilizing the gun. Furthermore, whenever you fire from a rest rather than standing, recoil is concentrated in one direction only, in this case more upwards than back. This served to magnify the unpleasantness of blast. To offset these problems, we fired groups from a seated position by assuming a normal hold at the forend and grip, and gently rested the front end on sandbags. Our hold for all groups was 6 o’clock on a 12-inch bull.
All the guns in this test used a black polymer stock, which is weather proof. This can be an advantage if used on a boat or in the rain. But many of these shotguns may never see the light of day propped up in a closet. We think wooden stocks might have been quieter and transmitted less recoil. Also, wood stocks’ lengths of pull can be adjusted with a rip saw. In using the Mount-lock technique, length of pull needs to be short enough to allow the shooter to square the shoulders. We’ve even seen a number of shotguns ordered with youth-sized stocks to accommodate this stance.
Another universal observation is that each of the buttpads on these guns consisted of a very tacky rubber that can grab clothes and impede the placement of the butt-stock. We found that covering the buttpad with duct tape or soft Velcro allowed us to mount the guns faster and more accurately. Our staff rated all three buttpads to be about equal in shock absorption, but we couldn’t help feeling that although the Remington seemed to cycle the easiest, it also recoiled the hardest.
Recoil reduction and shock absorption has always been an issue with shotguns. The only mechanical device we’ve seen that works is a product by Hogue. This device, the O.M. series CompStock, is a recoil-compensating shotgun stock that would surely have made our slug shooting more comfortable.
During our shooting session with a wide range of shot, we noted that at greater distances, the brand of ammunition had less effect on patterns than size of shot. The three buckshot rounds we chose were Estate brand’s 9-pellet SWAT load and Federal’s Premium Personal Defense (in a gold box) filled with 0.27-inch-diameter No. 2 shot and this same company’s Classic Tactical load with 27 pellets of No. 4 shot. We patterned at distances of 7, 10, and 20 yards without chokes.
Here’s what we found.
Remington 870 Magnum Express
Our first impression of the $329 870 pump was how fast the slide can be cycled. The grip seemed much thinner than on the others, but this impression was mostly because of a difference in contour. The slide had a friendly contour as well. It was relieved so that a portion of it actually covered the receiver when the action was open, shortening reach considerably.
Sighting on the 870 is by a front bead mounted on a raised stanchion. The top of the 870 is not tapped for any form of scope mount, and like the Mossberg and the Winchester models, the top of the barrel is without a rib. Capacity of the Remington is only 4+1. This is the lowest among the trio, so we would consider ordering a longer magazine tube from Brownells to increase capacity to at least seven rounds. We liked the orange follower that allows for visual recognition when checking for an empty magazine tube. The 870 now comes with a locking device that secures the safety button in the On position. On Remington shotguns the safety is just above and to the rear of the trigger, requiring the use of the trigger finger to operate it. We found resetting the safety to be unwieldy, however. The lever to unlock the slide without firing a round is in front of the trigger guard and on the left side. It can be operated by moving the right forward and around the trigger guard or by dismounting the gun and using the right hand thumb. The former method is preferable because it allows for the least change in grip.
At the firing line, all three guns functioned properly. Accuracy was varied, however. At close quarters all three shotguns were effective. The Remington 870 patterned all three buckshot loads in tight circles at 7 yards. In loads delivering from 9 to 27 pellets, it proved at or near the top of the pile. From 10 yards out to 20 yards, we began to see slightly more open patterns from the 870. At 7 yards the tightest pattern was from the Estate SWAT load (2.9 inches). The Federal Classic load spread 5.3 inches, and the Federal Premium Personal Defense load was widest at 8 inches.
For long-range engagement, we judged Federal’s Premium rifled slug to be best, with 5-shot groups ranging from 3.6 to 8.4 inches. This far outshone the Remington Slugger cartridge, which averaged just less than 10 inches at 50 yards.
Winchester 1300 Defender
With seven in the tube and one in the chamberm Winchester’s 1300 Defender, $321, offers the most capacity of our trio. However, the Mossberg 500A is also available with 7+1 capacity, but that model also features a 20-inch barrel. Other extras on the Winchester include a fiber-optic sight. Actually this 2.3-inch green-plastic tube merely clamps on, indexing itself around an abbreviated front post. This is a press fit, so you have to keep your eye on it and make sure it does not walk out of position. 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. The buttpad is ventilated, and sling studs are mounted under the buttstock and at the end of the magazine tube. The safety is above the trigger guard forward of the trigger. This makes for fast action when trouble starts, but re-activating the safety will take some work and likely a change of grip. Releasing the slide without firing is very hard to do and can only be performed by dismounting the gun and using the right-hand thumb.
We liked the extra capacity and easy sighting this gun delivered, but were disappointed in its long-range performance. With patterns ranging from 3.5 to 8.0 inches at 7 yards and 7.5 to 14 inches at 10 yards, we were satisfied with its close-quarters capability. However, it averaged 12.6 and 12.9 inches with our slugs at 50 yards and at 20 yards, slug patterns proved nearly 20 inches in width. A contributing factor could have been the heavier trigger (9.5 pounds), but it’s easy to lose sight of what we’re after in this case.
Certainly, a pistol that shoots 20-inch groups at 50 yards would be trashed immediately. But in a defensive shotgun all is not lost. Whereas we’d be willing to pay extra for more capacity in the Remington, adding a mild choke would certainly have a positive effect on this Winchester. This would, however, preclude the use of slugs. Otherwise, this high-capacity weapon should do well in most situations under 20 yards.
Mossberg 500A Persuader
During our dry-firing drills bent on breaking in the pump action of our test guns, we noticed one very impressive aspect of operating the $307 Mossberg 500A Persuader. Both the safety and the slide release could be operated without a change in grip and without having to dismount the shotgun. This was a big edge for the Persuader.
At the outset, the Mossberg would only hold 3 rounds. We knew there must be a block in the magazine tube, but were stymied as to how to remove it. With a quick call to Mossberg, we unscrewed the barrel bolt and simply tilted the gun upside down. Out came a wooden dowel, which some states laws require to limit capacity. We were confused because we are used to seeing a screw-off end cap, and none was present in this model.
Though the Remington had a lighter trigger at only 5 pounds, the Mossberg’s 7.5-pound trigger seemed smoother and more consistent. Perhaps this is why it proved extraordinarily consistent from the bench at 50 yards. Another reason might have been the front post, which is must easier to see in the daylight than Winchester’s fiber-optic front sight. The Winchester’s sight proved to be very fast, but the glow also means that the edges are not clearly defined. On the Remington the front post has some help being mounted on a stanchion, but the top of the receiver is rounded, with little or no visual cues for guidance. The front sight on the Mossberg is just a standard bead but there are index points available when trying to center it up. The top strap is clearly flattened and ribbed, setting up a basic relief directly above the safety.
Also, there are a series of screws to offer more hints of proper windage alignment. (The screws are plugs that fill holes for a scope mount.) Certainly this isn’t as good as Ghost Rings, but with only these simple guides, the Mossberg enabled us to shoot groups as small as 3.0 to 3.6 inches with the Federal Premium rifled slug. We even managed to average 5.4 inches with the Remington Slugger cartridge. The Mossberg shotgun also printed the tightest patterns. Whereas the Remington 870 kept pace out to 10 yards with all three loads, patterns at 20 yards favored the 500A across the board. Results at 20 yards were closer when firing the Federal Classic Tactical load, but patterns from the 9-pellet Estate 00 buckshot printed nearly one-third tighter when fired from the Mossberg Persuader.
Gun Test Recommends
Remington 870 Express Magnum, $329. Conditional Buy. If you do not mind lower capacity or plan to upgrade the round count as you go, then simply remove the word “Conditional” from this paragraph and buy the gun. We actually prefer a wooden stock, but either way you can get your shots off very quickly with this action.
Winchester 1300 Defender, $321. Conditional Buy. We were not thrilled with its slug shooting or the placement of the slide release, but with the fiber-optic sight and higher capacity, this should prove to be a very effective defensive tool.
Mossberg 500A Persuader, $307. Buy it. We felt the 500A had the best trigger and layout of controls. Accuracy proved superior. We might opt for the 20-inch model and get the extra two rounds. Drilled and tapped receiver is another plus.
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