If you’re discussing 12-gauge shotguns of the pump-action variety, there is an excellent chance that you’re talking about Remington or Mossberg. As the respective makers of the outstanding Model 870 and Model 500, Big Green and Mossy have the shared reputation for developing and successfully selling the two most popular pump-action shotguns in history. But which is the better shotty? The answer may surprise you.
Both shotguns have dual action bars, which means that the force applied to the bolt when pumping the forend is equally applied, right and left. This has long been a gold standard when it comes to pump-action shotguns, due largely in part to the rampant success of both Mossberg and Remington in this genre.
Screw-in choke tubes are fairly standard on guns from Remington and Mossberg in barrel lengths greater than 22 inches or so, and are included on certain special-edition, 18-inch tactical models. For the most part, 18-inch to 20-inch barrels come sans choke threading.
Of course, these guns are both available in a never-ending variety of configurations, layouts and barrel lengths, from hunting to tactical purposes. And there is a literally endless list of aftermarket accessories and gizmos that can be added to customize your pump-action experience to your preferred tastes.
Remington and Mossberg shotguns alike have seen extensive military use around the globe, and have been proven in combat for decades.
One of the biggest practical differences between the two shotguns lies in their extraction methods. Mossberg thoughtfully included dual extractors on the 500, as opposed to the single extractor on the Remington 870. With cheaper ammo, shotgun extractors can sometimes “jump” over the rim of the shell or even tear through completely. That’s bad.
Mossberg’s twin extractor setup gives the platform an extra level of reliability in this arena, especially when the gun gets hot or dirty in the field. Even if one extractor starts to slip, the chances of the other giving out as well are almost nil.
Remington chose to machine the 870 receivers out of steel, while Mossberg went with the lighter choice of aluminum. While the idea of solid steel may appeal to a certain segment of the market, there’s really no practical difference between the two. Few users will ever have the opportunity to stress a 12-gauge shotgun to the point where an aluminum receiver will bend or break. And there’s no guarantee that similar stresses wouldn’t harm a steel receiver as well.
It’s simply a matter of taste. Although, due to its choice in receiver material, Mossberg makes a lighter shotgun to carry around.
The Remington 870 is far more compatible with aftermarket screw-on magazine extensions. Some Mossberg 500 variants aren’t even able to accept an extension due to their construction, but it’s easy to add more capacity to any Remington 870.
One thing is for sure, though, the Mossberg is far easier to reload than the 870. A slight digression from our topic at hand will make everything clear as to why.
In competitive three-gun matches, the pump-action king is the lesser-known Benelli SuperNova, for many reasons. Foremost of these motives is the ease with which the SuperNova can be reloaded, due in part to its cavernous loading port and (this is the point) the ability of the lifter to stay in the “up” position on its own after the first round is loaded.
The Mossberg shares this automatically-staying-up-lifter feature, unlike the Remington 870, where the lifter has to be manually moved out of the way for each shell. This competition-style benefit means that stuffing shells into a Mossberg 500 in the heat of a dove hunt is slightly easier in comparison to the Remington 870.
Controls are King
For the most part, pump-action shotguns have a very limited set of controls: The trigger, a manual safety, and a release button that allows the user to unlock the action without first pulling the trigger. And the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 are no different in this regard.
Where they do differ, however, is in how these basic controls are executed. The Mossberg 500 series is the clear winner here. Mossberg places the safety on the tang of the receiver, which puts it in an ideal position to be ridden by the thumbs of both left- and right-handed shooters. And the action release? It’s conveniently located right behind the trigger guard, again within easy reach of righties and lefties.
The 870, in contrast, features a traditional push-button safety that is better suited for right-handers. And the action release is placed far towards the front of the trigger guard, and is impossible to activate without breaking a firing grip.
On paper, at least, it seems as though the Mossberg comes out ahead. Lighter construction, better control placement, easier to load, etc. However, that’s simply on paper.
In the real world though, it really doesn’t matter where your action-unlocking button is. In addition, it really doesn’t matter if you’re a half-second slower on your reloads because you use a Remington 870, or if your shotgun weighs a few ounces more than another model.
Think about this: If you are one of the millions of Americans who can’t remember life before his or her Remington 870—or Mossberg 500—came along, you’re not going to be held back by your shotgun no matter who made it. A lifetime of familiarization beats any specification sheet or online article telling you which is best any day of the week.
The fact remains—both the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 have won their places at the table, while putting food on it as well and remaining the defensive (and offensive) tools of choice for citizens and professionals around the world. You just can’t go wrong with either of these hardy workhorses.
We know you’ve got an opinion on this age-old debate, and want to hear it in the comments below! What say you? Remington, Mossberg or something else?