Gun Review: Mossberg Model 930 ‘Tactical’ Autoloading Shotgun

Image: Chris DummTTAG is no stranger to the Mossberg Model 930: the 930 SPX was rigorously compared to the FNH-SLP in 2011, and the 930 SPX was also the subject of its own review in 2010. This is not a review of the 930 SPX. The Model 930 is one of the lowest-priced autoloading shotguns on the market, and the only such budget boomstick to be made in America. Other semi-automatic shotguns might have illustrious police and military pedigrees, but none of them share the Mossy’s’s $499 street price or ‘Made In USA’ bragging rights . . .

OVERVIEW

The Mossberg 930 is a gas-operated semiautomatic shotgun with a tubular magazine. It’s chambered in 12 gauge for both 2.75″ and 3″ shells. The stock and fore-end are black polymer, the receiver and trigger guard are anodized aluminum, and the cylinder-bore 18″ barrel and magazine tube are phosphated steel. The muzzle wears a sharply crenelated breaching device with multiple elongated vents. This is designed to keep the barrel from bursting if you’re blasting through doorfranes with solid plaster or powdered metal breaching loads.

Image: Chris Dumm

I didn’t breach any doors during testing (I’m not sure that breaching loads would properly cycle the 930’s action anyway) but it’s possible that the breaching vents helped moderate the gun’s recoil, which was very mild by any standards. The breaching muzzle is of a larger diameter than the barrel, and seems to be pressed and soldered to the end of it. The white dot front sight bead is extra tall to stand up over it.

Image: Chris Dumm

A small cocking indicator protrudes inside the front of the trigger guard. When the bolt is closed and the hammer cocked, this rounded pin sticks into the trigger guard as shown here. It doesn’t protrude if the bolt is open or the hammer is already down, and this lets you do a silent press-check without taking your eyes off the target of your hands off the gun.

Image: Chris Dumm

A large tang safety sits at the top rear of the receiver, and if your shotgun has a straight stock like most 930s, it works extremely well. Unlike trigger-guard safeties, the Mossy’s safety knob is big, rugged and ambidextrous, and it’s always right there under your thumb. Rear is safe and forward is fire, and if you can’t remember that all you have to do is glance down at it to check.

The only drawback to tang safeties is that they don’t work well with pistol grips. It’s just not cool to remove your strong hand from the gun to manipulate the safety. Some Mossbergs come with pistol grips; avoid them for this reason and stick with a straight stock. If it’s good enough for Jerry Miculek’s 3-gun 930 SPX, it’s good enough for you.

The 930’s reciprocating bolt handle is large and aggressively textured, and the stock features a thick, soft recoil pad.

Image: Chris Dumm

More modern shotguns like Winchesters and Benellis have rotary bolts, like the bolt of an AR-15. The 930 is fairly paleo in this regard, and its bolt locks into the barrel extension using a single massive locking lug. The Mossberg 500 and Remington 870 pump-action shotguns use the same kind of bolt lockup.

When the 930 is fired, twin gas ports bleed off propellant gasses from the midpoint of the barrel. This high-pressure gas is directed against an annular gas piston, which surrounds the magazine tube. The gas forces the piston rearward, which presses in turn against action bars identical in function to those of a pump shotgun.

The action bars then unlock the single lug and force the bolt rearward out of battery. As the bolt moves rearward, it compresses a heavy mainspring within the buttstock. The empty shell is ejected, and the mainspring returns the bolt forward to chamber the next shell. Lather, rinse, repeat; it all happens so fast that you can empty the standard 4+1 round magazine in well under two seconds.

MAGAZINE CAPACITY

Many versions of the 930 are available, from long-barreled waterfowlers to the tricked-out 930 SPX. This test gun is the ‘Tactical’ variant with a straight stock, a large bead front sight, and 18″ breaching barrel. All of them except the XPS have a 4-round magazine capacity (without a plug) and one round in the chamber. Five total rounds is pretty weak sauce for a noob cannon that calls itself ‘Tactical,’ so I immediately ordered up a +2 magazine tube extension from Choate and upped the capacity to 6+1.

Longer extension magazines are available, but the +2 tube is the longest one that will fit under the 930 Tactical’s short barrel without sticking out past the muzzle. If you need more rounds than this, the 930 Tactical isn’t the right gun for you. You should look at the SPX instead, or an FN-SLP if you’ve got a bit more coin.

If you study YouTube and practice really hard, you might be able to ‘ghost load’ an extra round on top of the 930’s shell lifter without smashing your fingers. I kept my digits intact, but I couldn’t pull off this trick without hopelessly jamming the gun. The 930’s 6+1 rounds won’t win you a 3-gun competition (and neither will its short barrel or cylinder bore) but it’s good enough for me.

Image: Chris Dumm

Extended magazines like the Choate are a simple and affordable ($60) modification for the 930, and they don’t require any 922(r) compliance bullshit because the 930 is US-made. Most other autoloaders (modestly-priced Turks, CZ Utility Shotguns and Benelli M4s) are imported. They can’t legally be converted to more than 5+1 capacity without installing a bunch of additional US-made parts. I know the chances of getting in legal trouble for a noncompliant Benelli are slim, but even silly federal laws have the weight of the ATF and the federal courts behind them. With the 930, they’re a headache you won’t have to worry about.

I removed the Mossberg magazine cap, spring and follower and replaced them with the higher-capacity Choate components. The +2 magazine tube extends past the breaching vents and nearly to the end of the crenelated muzzle. I was concerned that muzzle gasses might scorch or cook the tube, but they don’t even dirty it when firing.

The barrel clamp comes with the Choate magazine kit, and it’s not just a cosmetic accessory: it provides the only forward sling attachment point after you take off the stock magazine cap. It also stabilizes the otherwise-unsupported magazine extension and keeps it from unscrewing itself. Unfortunately it slides forward slightly under recoil no matter how hard I crank it down and Lock-Tite it, and this quickly wears a few shiny spots into the barrel.

The extension tube and spring fit perfectly, but the plastic Choate follower was garbage. It immediately shoved itself through the shell cutoff and into the receiver. This solidly jammed the action. That was fun to disassemble, and I (eventually) pulled the crappy plastic follower out and put the metal OEM follower back in. Problem solved.

HANDLING/ERGONOMICS

Even with the magazine extension fully loaded, the 930 handles quickly and balances just under the loading port. The magazine extension gives it the weight of a long-barreled waterfowl gun, but the moment arm is shorter and the barrel swings more quickly.

The broad, smooth trigger breaks at an unexpectedly light and clean 4.0 pounds, and it’s one of the best mass-produced shotgun triggers I’ve shot. It’s lighter and more ergonomic than my late-90s Remington 700, much cleaner than my Nixon-era Mossberg 500, and several pounds lighter than my friend’s brand-new Benelli M4. I was surprised that the 930’s trigger was just as user-friendly as the ‘Lightning Pump Action’ safety trigger on a brand-new Mossberg 500.

Image: Chris Dumm

The 930, like most auto-loading shotguns, carries its main recoil spring in a (very strong) fixed tube inside the buttstock. This means the 930’s shoulder stock can’t fold or collapse, but Mossberg includes sets of shims that let you raise or lower the drop at heel to fit you better. I’m shaped such that I shoot high with most standard shotguns, and I had a hard time getting my eye down behind the barrel. I used the shim that dropped the heel by .25″, and the 930 now fits just about perfectly.

Image: Chris Dumm

The bolt handle, as I mentioned, is large and very aggressively textured. It’s a bit too rough for un-gloved hands, and it starts to tear your fingers up if you’ve got to rack it a lot of times. I guess it’s better to be a little too grippy than a little too slippery, especially in the wet or the cold. Besides, it never bothers you when you’re shooting, because you hardly ever touch the bolt handle anyway.

Recoil of the Mossberg 930 is very mild and slow when compared to pump-action shotguns. The gas venting, the compression of the mainspring, and possibly even the muzzle ports all combine to make 2.75″ buckshot kick like wimpy trap loads. Light practice loads barely kick at all, which is why they sometimes have trouble cycling the action all the way.

Mossberg autoloading shotguns don’t generally go in for pistol-grip styling, because they don’t work well with Mossberg’s tang-mounted safeties. The straight stock has a nice curve to the grip, however and the comb didn’t bash me in the cheekbone the way some guns do.

The recoil impulse is very mild, but the stock design doesn’t transmit it to your shoulder with the same straight-line geometry of a more modern design like the Benelli M4. Muzzle rise is just slightly higher, and recovery time will be just slightly longer between shots. When it came to buckshot mag dumps I couldn’t keep up with a former SEAL and his Benelli, but that says more about the shooters than it does about the guns. (Note how I avoided the word ‘operator’ there. SEALs are operators; I’m just a guy who gets to go shooting a lot.)

RELIABILITY

For a defensive shotgun, heavy loads (buckshot and slugs) have to be 100% reliable because that’s what you’re going to be throwing downrange when things go all stinky bad. Nobody uses #8 birdshot for defense, but you still want your shotgun to function pretty well with it for fun and practice. Buckshot and slugs don’t kick much from the 930, but none of us can afford to shoot them all the time.

Mossberg 930s have a generally good reputation for reliability, but Internet lore (and experienced 930 owner Nick Leghorn) told me to expect lots of feeding failures with light loads while the gun broke in. I put about 45 rounds of buckshot and slugs through the 930, and about 200 rounds of #6 and #8 birdshot. This hasn’t been enough to fully break in the gun, but it’s a good start.

Functioning was perfect out of the box with the heavy loads, as expected. Birdshot loads fed and fired properly, but they failed to eject if we limp-wristed the gun. With an extra-firm grip they work pretty well for recreational shooting, but not great. Federal birdshot seemed to work better than Remington, but with a firm shooting stance I still had a total of about 10 FTEs. I also had one freak malfunction where the 930’s extractor ripped away a segment of the shell rim and jammed the gun solidly. This wasn’t an extractor failure (on the contrary, it did its job with commendable vigor) but an ammunition failure.

5% FTEs with light birdshot is not cool, but this gun is still in the break-in process and its functioning is improving over time. Foghorn had the same issue, and says that his 930 eventually worked perfectly. In fact, when he came to Portland last summer he had me buy him a pile of #7 and #8 birdshot to shoot in the Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun Invitational.

FAVORITE FEATURES

  • Simple, intuitive and positive controls.
  • Excellent shooting comfort and adjustable-drop stock.
  • 100% reliability with defensive loads, straight from the box.

LEAST-FAVORITE FEATURES

  • Small magazine capacity out of the box.
  • Slightly tricky magazine loading, until you get the feel for it.
  • Long break-in period for reliable functioning with light birdshot.
  • No interchangeable choke tubes, so you’ll have to shell out for an extra barrel if you want to hunt with it.
  • No place to mount a weapon light unless you go aftermarket like I did.

SUMMARY

The Mossberg 930 Tactical is a compact and quick-handling defensive shotgun, and it’s well suited to this intended role. It costs a lot less than the 930 SPX because it lacks the excellent LPA sights and extended magazine that make the 930 SPX so great. Shooting comfort is fantastic, and so is reliability with defensive shotshells. Birdshot reliability is still questionable after almost 250 rounds, but it’s improving.

If you want a solid defensive semi-automatic shotgun and you’re not planning on getting into 3-Gun shooting, the 930 Tactical is a good choice. It’s ruggedly–and American–made, so you can up the magazine capacity without any 922(r) hassles. I recommend doing this immediately; some magazine extensions are a cheap as $40.

However, it’s not every gun for every shooter. It won’t be a good hunting shotgun unless you shell out bucks for a longer barrel with interchangeable choke tubes, and it won’t be an ideal 3-Gun shotgun unless you pay more for ghost-ring sights.

Specifications:

Caliber: 12 gauge (2.75” and 3”)
Barrel: 16.75” Cylinder bore with permanent 1.75″ breaching muzzle.
Sights: High-profile white dot front sight, no rear sight. (The receiver is drilled and tapped for whatever you want.)
Finish: Matte black
Overall Length: 39”
Overall Weight: 7.5 lbs
Action: Gas-operated, semi-automatic
Trigger: Single-stage, 4.0 lbs
Capacity: 4+1 (stock), 6+1 (with aftermarket Choate magazine extension)
Cost: $500-550 street price (plus $60 for the extended magazine)

RATINGS (out of five):

STYLE * * * *
Combat shotguns look mean as hell, and that razor-sharp breaching muzzle makes it look even meaner.

ERGONOMICS * * * * *
Quick handling, positive controls and the best shotgun trigger I’ve pulled in years. And I love the adjustable stock spacers.

RELIABILITY (buckshot/slugs) * * * * *  (light practice loads) * * *
Perfectly reliable with defensive ammo; practice loads are hit and miss.

CUSTOMIZE THIS * * * *
It’s not a 10/22, but it’s a ‘Wal-Mart Standard’ firearm with a wide selection of accessories.

OVERALL RATING * * * *
I love it, but I hope it will be broken in soon with cheap birdshot.

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