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In my continuing effort to come up with a workable home defense strategy, some time back I bought a shotgun. Actually, let me be more specific. Sometime ago, I bought a shotgun to keep a borderline-homicidal, certifiably-crazy, martial-arts expert former roommate of mine from killing me.  Curious? Well it was a curious story, and bears directly on my sad personal history with shotguns. To wit…

I was probably 13 or so when my dad gave me my first real firearm, a .410, single-shot, break-open shotgun. With a full-choke, it was just this side of useless for anything in the way of self-defense. Too long to maneuver, too hard to load, and too few rounds to be anything but one step better than throwing some large, heavy object at a perp. Unless you used it as a baseball bat, and I’m not sure it was well-suited to that task, either.

As the story goes, I grew up, moved out, got an apartment, went through a succession of roommates and girlfriends. Without going into a lot of (sordid) detail, let’s just say that there was a “love triangle” involving my former (crazy) roommate, his ex-gf, and me. She and I found comfort in each other after he cheated on her. ‘Nuff said. So anyway, he took umbrage (love that word) with his ex and his best friend seeing each other (even though he’d cheated on her and was ready to dump her when he got caught). The situation became fraught with tension, as he began stalking her, and driving by my place at all hours of the night.

The situation was past tense (sorry) and people – mental health professional-type people – convinced me that the situation was, shall we say, fraughter than I thought. One shrink convinced us to lie low on the relationship thing or a month or so to allow him to cool down. Didn’t help. And so my dad bought me my first pawn shop gun (with my money, natch), a used model 916 12 gauge pump made by Smith and Wesson.

Well…made “by” Smith & Wesson turned out to be something of false advertising. S&W yearned to get into what they thought would be the lucrative shotgun market and faced a “build or buy” decision to do it. They opted for “buy,” and bought the Nobel factory, lock, stock, and badly out-of-date tool & dies. The shotgun they produced was, to put it mildly, a piece of crap. Junk. Total waste of money. It almost single-handedly destroyed S&W’s rep. And I owned one, but lived blissfully unaware of the gun’s sorry past.

Years passed. The threat from my crazy ex-roommate evaporated (along with my relationship with the girl, I’m afraid). I moved away. Got married. Had  a child. And finally had the opportunity to take my shotgun and go bird hunting. Where it promptly jammed. Took it into a gunsmith. He laughed. Said it wasn’t worth fixing at any price. Recommended that I sell or trade it for a used Remmington Wingmaster 870, and told me, no matter how bad a shape the 870 might be, he could rebuild it and I’d have a great gun.

So I did. I went to a pawn shop, found an 870 that looked as if it was in good shape, and traded in my S&W for it. Beauty. Took it straight to the gunsmith. He approved of the gun, and got to work. four weeks and $120 later, I had my rebuilt 870. Oh joy! Oh rapture! and just in time for dove season. I again trudged out into the wilds of the Texas Panhandle to shoot me sum dove. The doves might as well have been lonesome that day for, despite my best efforts, my Wingmaster kept jamming on me. Frustrating. And I experienced an unpleasant  sense of déjà vù as I took it back to the shop. “Ooops. Sorry. Just needs a little more adjustment.” I should have known better.

Time marches on. And so did I. Caring for a dying family member. Divorce. Lots of life changes. So then comes the opportunity to write for TTAG. One day I say to myself, “Self, lets hie thee to the gun range and allow your pater familias to shoot yon Wingmaster 870 of which you are so pleased.” No sooner than we started shooting, than I discovered…more problems with jamming. And I don’t mean the kind that requires either musical instruments or bread.

Being some miles away from home base and the original gunsmith at this point, I take the weapon to my new gunsmith nearest my dad’s hacienda. I leave the gun. They opine that it sounds like an easy enough fix. One week later, I get the news: I get spend ANOTHER $40 on my Wingmaster. I ask, innocently enough, “what was wrong with it.” The gunsmith, waxing prosaic (see – I’m not the only one), offers, “Well…your shotgun is nearing the end of it’s useful life. It’s just about worn out.”

Pause with me whilst I total the amount paid for said gun + rebuilding it + repairing it, as I realize for this money, I could have purchased a brand-new Wingmaster.

So I ask him, “I use this gun for self-defense. How much longer will it be of use to me?”

“Oh,” he ponders, “about three more burglars.”

So there you have it, shotgun fans. I have an expiration date of “3 bad guys” on my shotgun. So it looks as though I’ll be selling it soon, and hopefully get enough out of it to be able to afford a NEW one this time. One that I can rely upon in case I’m facing one more burglar than my current shotgun can handle.


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  1. I will have my Mossberg 590A1 review coming soon… if you're interested that is. I like the 870, but I too have found that they jam way too much! I also dispise the location of the safety. I shot a Winchester 1300 for many years until I gave Remington another try 2 years ago (when they released the Nitro Mag 887), but that is a big heap of junk as well (but a cool looking heap!). My Mossy (the one I reviewed at least) was used professionally for 4 seasons of "3-Gun" competitions. She works flawlessly and looks extremely bad-a$$… stay tuned!

  2. Eager to read the 590 review!

    My late-90s 870 Express (same as the Wingmaster, just cheaper and uglier) has functioned flawlessly through many hundreds of rounds, and so have several friends' Mossberg 590s. My own Mossberg 500, a very used gun-show purchase from twenty years ago, had the occasional habit of disassembling itself under fire. Even after a few trips to Ye Olde Gunsmythe Shoppe, I don't entirely trust it and I've removed it from front-line defensive duty. It is probably as worn out as your Remington was.

  3. I haven't had any trigger time on an 870, but from what I hear, the Wingmaster is an excellent general purpose shotgun due to the amount of parts available for it. Get one with a long barrel and and a hunting stock for hunting, and then get a short barrel and maybe a pistol grip for protecting you and yours. Does anyone who has had trigger time on both the Mossberg 500 and the Remington 870 have a preference on where the action unlocking switch is? The Mossberg's is behind the trigger guard, while I believe that the Remington's is in front of the trigger guard.

  4. Having owned 2 Mossberg 500s and one 870 I find them about equal shooting-wise. The Mossberg, however, wins on both price and on location of the safety (on the tang vs the Remington's cross-bolt on the trigger guard.) My current Mossy fell into my hands nearly new and when it did there was no reason to keep my well-used 870 so onto Gunbroker it went.

    Biggest advantage to the Remington is that you can add more rounds to the tube magazine Because of the Mossberg's barrel design you're stuck with whatever the factory put on it.


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