Gun Review: Mossberg 590 Pump Action Shotgun

I like things that work well. Whatever it is, it had better work every time. “It” can be anything – a car, tools, electronics, firearms, bank cards, whatever. I don’t have the time or the patience to deal with finicky possessions. A finicky firearm can be a nuisance, but it can also get you killed. So when it came time to choose my home-defense howitzer, I had my work cut out for me. Should it be semi or pump, full-size stock or pistol grip, 12-ga or 20-gauge? No matter what, I had to find one that performed to my strict level of standards. Period.

I recently purchased—and then sold—a Remington 887 Nitro-Mag Express. I was hesitant about purchasing another new Remington. While I’ve had great luck with 870 shotguns in the past, I was hearing negative comments about the brand’s quality as of late. To reduce the possibility of reliability “issues,” I was considering a used Remington. Until my neighbor offered to let me borrow his Mossberg 500.

I’d never even handled a Mossberg before; it’s something long-time Remington owners just don’t do. Imagine a Glock guy going to the range with a new S&W M&P. Lost souls would be figure skating in Hell, pigs would be radioing for landing clearance, and holding my breath would finally make my grandmother give me more candy.

The experience sent me deep into Mossberg territory. I settled on a Mossberg 590 12-ga with a 20” barrel. This gun was fully decked out and priced to go. It looked bad-ass. I had to have it. I took the Mossie to the gun range on the same day I picked it up. Instead of feeding it a couple boxes of slugs or buckshot, I took the advice of my local gun shop guru. I picked up a full 100-round case of #6 bird shot and headed over to the clay bird range.

The top gun behind the gun counter said doing so would “break in” the gun well. More to the point, if “anything is going to break, it will break within 100 rounds.” While I didn’t much like hearing “break” in a conversation about my new home-defense shotgun, I took his advice and gave it a whirl.

One hundred rounds and 100 clay birds later I made a few conclusions. First, this Mossberg would make a great dove hunting gun. Out of the 100 clay birds thrown (50 Report pairs for those who shoot clays), I probably hit 50 to 60. Not great and certainly not record breaking, but respectable for the first time out with a gun, and certainly respectable for a 20” barreled shotgun with an open choke and ghost ring sights! The second thing I learned was that this Mossberg had quite a few advantages over the 870 Wing Master I shot as a young teenager. Speaking of ancient history . . .

The Fortune 500

The Mossberg 500 was designed in 1960 and began production in 1961. The company made a slight modification made in 1970, changing the single action-bar setup to a double action-bar. The theory: two is better than one; two actions bars should be less likely to bind than a single action bar.

The differences between the 500 and the 590 are few but important, as they mean barrels cannot be swapped between the two models. The 500 magazines are closed at the muzzle end. The barrel is held in place by a bolt that gets screwed into a threaded hole into the mag tube. Model 590 magazines are open at the muzzle end, and the barrels fit around the magazine tube. It is then held on by a nut at the end. The Model 500 magazine facilitates easy barrel changes, as the barrel bolt only holds the barrel in place. The Model 590 magazine facilitates easy cleaning and parts replacement, as removing the nut allows removal of the magazine spring and follower.

There are two other primary 500-based models: the 505 and the 535. The 505 is a scaled down version, designed for young or small-framed shooters. The 535 is a beefed up 500/590, designed for 3.5” magnum loads. With the appropriate parts, the 500 can be a field gun, a slug gun, home-defense weapon, a  trap/skeet gun, or a .50 caliber muzzleloader. Over the years, Mossberg has also sold “combination” sets, with a single receiver and more than one barrel.

First Impressions…

For anyone used to shooting O/U or SxS shotguns, the Mossberg 590’s tang-mounted safety is in a familiar and logical location. I always had beef with the back of the trigger-guard safety of Remington shotguns, but it was never much of an issue. After shooting double barreled shotguns for over a decade, I don’t know if I could deal with a trigger guard mounted safety. Perhaps it would be OK with a pistol grip shotgun, but I decided on a standard stock about the same time I decided on semi vs pump action.

This 590 has a standard black synthetic stock and with a LOP (length of pull) of 14-1/2”. Although shouldering this weapon is comfortable and natural, smaller framed shooters or those who prefer a shorter LOP should try before they buy. Mossberg offers many stock options; get one directly suited to your size and preference. There are also many aftermarket stock options, including pistol grip, M4-style, and even thumb-hole variants.

At 7-1/4 pounds, the 590 is a tad heavy for a full day of field use. I can put up with a heavy CCW piece, but I’m a snob when it comes to hunting rifles and shotguns. Too many years of hunting with O/U shotguns have spoiled me. Regardless, I could live with the Mossberg 590’s weight knowing this particular firearm’s roll in life. In fact, the Mossie’s weight has it advantages, particularly when it comes to firing high-brass slugs and buckshot.

Ghost ring sights are far from new to me, but I’d never used them on a shotgun. On the Mossberg 500 that I’d borrowed, the only aiming device was a gold-bead. Even with that simple setup, I was able to put four out of five slugs on a 5” target at 25 yards. The bead sights are adjustable and easy to use, but the rear aperture is quite large. Long-range shots need practice and a steady hand.

At the Range…

Successful clay bird shooting proved that ghost ring sights are not prohibitive for shooters looking to hit moving targets. While they’re not as easy to use as gold-bead sights, the ghost set-up’s rear ring allows relatively quick target acquisition. Since my initial purchase, I’ve taken the 590 dove hunting on two occasions: once for myself and once as a backup for a junior hunter.

Most Mossberg 590 buyers will never use the shotgun for migratory bird hunting. They can rest assured knowing that the 590 works equally as well with slugs and buckshot in a tactical role. Out of the box, the 590 shoots slugs and buckshot with deadly accuracy. Even though I’ve never hunted with slugs, I could hit 50 yard and 100 yard targets with relative ease. With a scope, in areas where only shotgun hunting is allowed, a Mossberg 590 would be a fantastic deer hunting gun. Again, not the gun’s intended use, but possible.

I can’t imagine most home-defense situations occurring at anything more than 25 yards, so I did a good amount of testing at these ranges and less. Using Remington Slugger and Winchester PDX1 ammo, I was again impressed with how well this gun shoots. While not a MOA precision rifle, the 590 is certainly MOI (minute of intruder). With Winchester’s PDX1 ammo, you can bet anyone on the business end of this 590 will (or should) think twice about making any rash decisions.

On a side note, the PDX1 ammo worked great. For those unfamiliar, Winchester PDX1 ammo is a combination round – containing both buckshot (three rounds of copper plated 00) and a 1-oz slug. I was a little skeptical about its performance, but the target above looks exactly like the target pictured on the PDX1 box. Take a close look and you can see the small #00 sized holes on the perimeter of the target. The spread is acceptable and is probably perfect for this distance. At 25-yards, the #00 spreads too wide to be truly effective, although the slugs still shoot accurately.

Shooting high-brass all day, I became very fond of the thick rubber butt-pad. Recoil with high-brass is present, although not punishing. If you forget to hold the stock tight to your shoulder, then you’ll get a not-so-gentle reminder to do so next time. As I mentioned earlier, the weight of the 590 helps with recoil. Standard 2-3/4” birdshot is barely noticeable as far as recoil goes, and I would say that it is lighter on recoil than my old Remington Model 11 (which is a copy of Browning’s semi-automatic A5).

The trigger on the 590 is a tad heavy and it stacks, but the break is crisp. Again, considering the shotguns intended role, it’s a non-issue. Shooting slugs out of a 20” non-rifled barrel is far from what I consider to be “accuracy driven.”


Cleaning the 590 is a straight-forward affair. The magazine nut unscrews, allowing the magazine spring and the barrel to be removed. The trigger group simply requires one pin to be pressed out with a punch. The bolt, action bars, slide, and other parts are easily removed and cleaned.

The only gripe I have with the 590 is the heat-shield. Cleaning and oiling behind the heat shield can be difficult, and requires four Allen-head screws to be removed. For hunting or use in humid areas, I would likely leave the heat shield off. For home-defense or 3-gun competitions, the heat-shield is fine.


I doubt the Remington vs Mossberg debate will end any time soon. But here’s the bottom line: I’ve had zero feeding or extraction issues with the Mossberg 590 pump action shotgun over 1000 rounds. Simply put, this Mossberg works and works well.

Ratings (out of five)

Style * * *
I would prefer the phosphate coated version, but this one was a great bargain. Very little bling factor – nothing fancy and nothing shiny. The heat shield adds a little “tacti-coolness” for those looking for that, but it can be removed.

Ergonomics * * * * *
The 590 will fit almost everyone. Right handed and left handed shooters alike will appreciate the tang mounted safety. The magazine release is behind the trigger guard and away from ones fingers as you work the slide back.

Reliability * * * * *
Never had a single problem so far, and I don’t expect to have any anytime soon. The pump-action is great. You can switch from buckshot, to slugs, to birdshot without worrying about cycling issues or setting adjustments.

Customizable * * * * *

I held off for a while, and then added a Tac-Star 6-round saddle mount. I keep this puppy loaded with #4 and #00 buckshot in the magazine, and keep 6 rounds of PDX1  in the saddle. You can get foregrip lights, rail and rail attachments, 100’s of stock options, etc.

Overall Rating * * * * *
For home defense, the Mossberg 590 is hard to beat.  The action is not as smooth as my old 870, but it works perfectly.