Firearm History

Is the Mossberg 500 a ‘Best Buy’ Shotgun?

Bob Campbell holding a shotgun at low ready

When I picked out my first shotgun, my grandfather paid for it. Previously, he had enjoyed good luck with a couple of Mossberg .22 rifles. He also owned a Winchester Model 12. The Mossberg 500 I was eyeing was out of my budget, and I planned on working the summer to pay him back, so this was big to me.

As it turned out, the shotgun I chose, based on value for the buck, kept on giving service. It turned out so well, I have owned Mossberg shotguns ever since — for more than 40 years.

Mossberg 500 with wood furniture and bright blue finish
This Mossberg features wooden furniture and bright blue finish. This is a nice handling field gun.

Mossberg 500 Features

Beginning at age 12, I took on all manner of flying and scrambling game. I got to be pretty quick in quail hunting, took high-flying doves, and had a decent hit rate on running rabbits. The shotgun was a 12-gauge. Field loads with small shot didn’t kick much. Or, at least I didn’t notice the recoil, as the shotgun came with a nice butt pad.

The Mossberg 500, introduced in 1961, was a relative newcomer when mine was purchased in the 1970s. The present version features dual operating rails. They are smooth and the action is reliable and rugged. The shotgun breaks down easily for cleaning and it is a model of simplicity.

I remember that one of the things that drew me to the Model 500 was the tang safety. That’s the safety located at the rear of the receiver. I liked this better than the push button safety of most competing shotguns of the day.

The bolt locks directly into the barrel. The receiver isn’t part of the equation. This is simple and durable. It is a simple matter to change the barrel for a specialty tube. Slug barrels and rifled models are available. The modern 500 may be fitted with rifle sights or a shotgun scope.

While it is good to own a specialized shotgun for Turkey or deer hunting, the plain vanilla Model 500 with a spare barrel or two will do anything that needs to be done in the shotgun world. With a short riot gun barrel of 18 to 20 inches, the home defense-type shotgun barrel makes for a fast handling and effective problem solving.

Mossberg 500 Scorpion shotgun, right, profile with tan colored furniture
This is the formidable Mossberg 500 fighting shotgun named the Scorpion.

I have owned a number of Mossberg shotguns in several gauges. Among my favorite all-around shotguns is a personal defense-type with short barrel and synthetic stock. This piece is in 20-gauge. Among my personal favorites, at this time, is the little 24-inch barrel .410 version.

A few years ago, I had a smaller portion of respect for the .410 cartridge and regarded it primarily as a youth’s cartridge. After testing several hundred .410 shells — including buckshot and slugs — I came away with a different opinion. I can now understand the high opinion many old-timers had of the .410.

The pattern isn’t as wide as a 12-gauge, but with a skilled hand, the little gun has a decent pattern, recoil is very light, and the shotgun handles like a dream. An acquaintance told me that he preferred the .410 slug to anything else for keeping coyotes off the farm.

Mossberg 500 Cruiser shotgun with pistol grip, 12 gauge
This is the Cruiser version of the Mossberg 500.

I was a little surprised when I tested the .410 slug in tissue stimulant. The Winchester slug upsets and sometimes even fragments. It is deadly on coyote-sized animals, and the range is less than a centerfire rifle. I was equally surprised by the accuracy potential of the little Mossberg shotgun.

This shotgun features a sighting rib and simple bead, but the shotgun fired to the point of aim at 25 yards. It was simple enough to produce a three-shot group of 2–2.5 inches with Winchester slugs. This is an interesting combination to say the least.

As for buckshot, the impression was that .410 buckshot isn’t as powerful as 12-gauge. Sure, the total payload is much smaller and so is energy — muzzle energy and recoil energy — on both ends. The .410 buckshot penetrates just as much as 12-gauge buckshot.

MAgazine well of a Mossberg 500 showing a shell inserted
Mossberg’s under the barrel magazine allows rapid loading or unloading.

While the payload is half, with #3 or #4 000 buckshot pellets compared to 10 with the 12-gauge — and the .410 cannot handle the heavier 00 — the pattern is excellent from the .410 barrel. The few 000 buckshot pellets penetrate just as much as the same shot from a 12-gauge, they are simply less of a payload. This makes the .410 a suitable, home defense shotgun for those that cannot take the recoil of the 12-gauge.

Let’s face it, for the occasional shooter, the 12-gauge with buckshot is a beast to handle and fire. The .410 is docile. Either way, you must know what you are doing, of course. However, the .410 is more easily mastered.         

For most of us, the .410 is a light, handy, and friendly little shotgun for all-around field use. For heavy game and duck hunting, of course, the 12-gauge is the choice, but I like this variant of the Mossberg very much. As for the 20-gauge, the 20 carries about 75 percent of the payload of a 12-gauge with about three-quarters the recoil.

The 20-gauge is an interesting gauge and makes for a great outdoors shotgun. You give up a lot less with the 20-gauge than with the .410 compared to the 12-gauge. For small game it may be the best all-around choice.

When it comes to deer-sized game, the gloves come off and we need a hard hitter. We are no longer firing a spread of shot and catching a small moving animal in the spread. We need to center the load of shot. The 12-gauge is a superior choice. With new loads, such as the Winchester Razor, the 12-gauge is more formidable than ever.

The Maverick 88

The Maverick 88 line is the ‘Q ship’ of the Mossberg family. It is like the Model 500 but with differences intended to make production more economical and to allow the Maverick line to compete with imports. The Maverick uses a cross bolt safety that some prefer.

Forend and barrel of a shotgun
Field grade Mossberg 500 shotguns feature a nicely made vent rib.

As for the heart of the Maverick, it is a Mossberg. Like the Colt 1991A1, Springfield GI, or Winchester Ranger line, this is a no-frills firearm built to sell at an attractive price point. As a truck gun or a youth’s gun, this is a great choice at a good price.

Field Use Long Term

I have used the Mossberg 500 longer than any other shotgun. The pump action is smooth, and the bolt locks up reliably. The tubular magazine never gives any trouble, and the shell elevator is a model of good design. The barrel may be quickly changed, and the lockup cannot be faulted.

I like the original tang safety best, but there are those who like the crossbolt safety. If you are among these shooters, then the Maverick 88 is a good choice. When all is said and done, the Mossberg is one shotgun that gives the shooter his or her money’s worth and a little more.

The Cruiser

A shotgun without a buttstock is a neat trick for a truck gun or house gun. The Mossberg Cruiser would never work if it were a rifle. But the shotgun is made to handle by feel. The shotgun points well and you must learn to keep the shotgun under the arm and control it.

Mossberg’s top of the receiver safety
Mossberg’s top of the receiver safety is among the few ambidextrous shotgun safeties.

The Cruiser should be loaded with a low-recoil load such as the Winchester PDX for best results. The Cruiser is reliable and a great problem solver. Shotguns very similar to the Cruiser are kept on fishing boats to deal with the occasional large shark that comes in with the fish. After all, the shark snapping at the crew on the deck isn’t easily thrown back into the sea. The shotgun is decisive and doesn’t tear the deck up badly. The 12-gauge is often kept at ready at the zoo just in case. Whatever the need, the 12-gauge is a great problem solver.

Tactical Choices

Mossberg offers several tactical shotguns, including the Scorpion and models with modern Magpul furniture. These shotguns offer excellent ergonomics. Like a working man called to war, these shotguns make for real protection and are as reliable as a machine may be.

Mossberg has something for everyone, from the inexpensive Maverick to the well-appointed field guns. Take a hard look and you will find a great value. But the Mossberg 500, that is a must-own gun. Do you have a Mossberg 500 story? Share it in the comment section.

  • Mossberg 500 Scorpion shotgun, right, profile with tan colored furniture
  • Mossberg 500 with wood furniture and bright blue finish
  • Bob Campbell performing a combat load to the Mossberg 500 shotgun.
  • Forend and barrel of a shotgun
  • drilled and tapped receiver to mount an optic
  • Close up of the action of a Mossberg 500 showing solid lockup
  • Cutaway drawing of a 20 gauge shotshell
  • Closeup of the Mossberg 500 crossbolt safety
  • Young man shooting a Mossberg 500 pump action shotgun
  • Mossberg’s top of the receiver safety
  • Bob Campbell at an outdoor range shooting a field shotgun
  • Young man shooting a Mossberg 500 pump action shotgun with a spent shell in the air
  • Mossberg 500 Cruiser shotgun with pistol grip, 12 gauge
  • MAgazine well of a Mossberg 500 showing a shell inserted
  • Two pump-action shotguns
  • Mossberg 500 shotgun with synthetic furniture
  • Mossberg 500 field shotgun, left, profile
  • Mossberg 500 shotgun with the barrel removed
  • Bob Campbell holding a shotgun at low ready
  • Sharp fitting of the Mossberg 500 shotgun pump action
  • Wood stocked .410 pump-action shotgun, right, profile

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (27)

  1. I have a question: I use the .410 2 1/2” self defense shell in my S&W governor, will that shell work in the Mossberg .410?

  2. I just happen to have the Maverick 88, and it’s a great shotgun. I use it for my home defence weapon, as well as my 1911, and do not feel under gunned in any way. For the price you can’t go wrong, sure you can get a more expensive shotgun, However the Maverick will work when you need it to.

  3. I recently bought a Mossberg 500A SS Pistol grip from a HNL gun store, w/c they said they acquired from an estate sale, the SG looked great, but I was hesitant to shoot it as the safety was sticky. Called Mossberg to have it checked out and tuned. Could not believe that they did not have the S# on file. I should have clued on to this, on how bad their customer service would be. Any way I got an RA# and sent it in. Had them install their Flex stock. On getting it back, found out that it was missing the shell holder on the butt stock (as illustrated on the owner’s manual), called them, they said it was a separate order. I ordered the shell holder, and had to pay double the cost of the item for shipping. Shell holder came, no screws, they said get #6 screws, 1″, get it from your hardware store. Got it, and it was the WRONG SIZE! Long story short- MOSSBERG IS THE WORST FOR AFTER MARKET SERVICE OF THEIR PRODUCTS! USE YOUR LOCAL GUNSMITH!

  4. I purchased my 500 many years ago with synthetic furniture and two barrels….29″ field barrel and 18″ tactical barrel. Later, I added accessories such as a TacStar pistol grip, 24″ barrel with picatinny rail, and a red dot. Being able to reconfigure my 500 for the range, clays, stumps, or home defense has been so much fun over the years. My 500 has been such a great gun, I later added Mossbergs 590 shockwave w/ CT to my collection. Now my 500 is usually in the 24″ and red dot configuration.

  5. I’ve had 410 cruder versions bout 5-6 years. Love it. Cannot find another anywhere. I want another. HEIP! THANKS DAVE.

  6. I bought a Maverick 88 when they first came on the market. With Mossberg’s reputation and the Maverick’s low price, stores COULD NOT keep them in stock. No prepay or holding was allowed and on days when shipments came in, there were people waiting and the stock was again sold out by mid-morning. I finally got one and have found it to be an easy handling, smooth operating shotgun. That said, why does Mossberg treat their Maverick as a stepchild? It is rarely advertised and when I inquired about that at Mossberg’s space at the NRA Annual Meetings, the reps blew it off as if they weren’t supposed to talk about the Maverick. What gives? Is Mossberg ashamed of it? It is a well-made reliable gun at a great price point. So, what’s not to like? I don’t get Mossberg’s attitude toward it.

  7. i have been deer hunting with a 500A for over 30 years , easy to clean and never a misfire , have bagged well over 35 deer over the years ,a well designed gun that has withstood the test of time , thanks mossberg

  8. I have owned Mossberg 500 shotguns and love them I live in Indiana and I cant find one any were. Can you help?

  9. I’m a retired Police Officer; Trainer, FTO, Firearms Instructor. One of my best patrol partners was my Mossberg Model 500A; 20″ barrel, 8 shot; 1 in the chamber, 7 in the tube 12 guage, pistol grip shotgun. After YEARS of shooting; practice & qualifications, i experienced ZERO malfunctions. It’s a dependable, reliable & easy to shoot close quarters combat weapon. It now resides next to my bed ready for uninvited intruders. An added feature is the interchangeable buttstock/pistol grip & barrels which are easy to swap out for more civilized use, a.k.a. hunting.

  10. Another good article And great stories and comments from the readers. I had several right shoulder surgeries as a kid ended up throwing a baseball with my left hand. Also fairly small stature, so my dad bought me an 870 in 20 gauge. 2 pounds lighter than his 12 gauge. When I was working they took our 870s from us so I bought a Mossberg 500 carried that for about 10 years.
    My best story while working as a deputy was an ex-con at a store with a pistol in his waistband flashed it to a clerk. When I got in front of the store two deputies had pistols pointed at him, and he was laughing at them and telling them to “shoot him.” Using the cover of a large pillar I came up with my Mossberg… And thanks to exaggerated movies like Bullit, people understand that a shotgun IS a formidable weapon! From behind the pillar I very audibly racked a round into the 500, came around the corner and pointed it at the gentleman… When he told me to “go ahead and shoot me” I just lowered the gun an bit, smiled and said “your choice.” Funny how fast he got on his knees put his hands behind his head and complied… Score Mosburg 500:1. Ignorant, recently released bad guy: zero.

  11. Saw a Mossberg 12 guage with an 18 inch barrel at a gun store. It was a pretty little shotgun. Picked it up and my thumb landed on that safety and I had to have it. It is so perfectly placed. Makes you wonder why more safetys are not there. It sold the gun instantly to me and I wasn’t even looking for a shotgun. I love the little beast.

  12. I’ve had several Mossbergs and Charles Daley and love them smooth and dependable! Just bought a mossberg with dual internet changeable barrels for my grandson and he loves it!

  13. I’ve had my 500 for many years. I picked it up at Walmart somewhere in the depths of time. It came with the long field barrel as well as the short rifled deer barrel. I think I only paid $179 for the package.

    The recoil pad is excellent and does a fantastic job of taming the 12 gauge. I don’t hunt with it, so I removed the limiter rod in the tube. One thing I like is that with the limiter rod removed, the tube holds 1 more shell than some comparable shotguns from other brands.

    I’ve never had it jam or malfunction although my brother’s Remington has when we used to shoots clays together long ago before he passed. The 500 is a tank. To me, it is a nice looking gun, but not something to win a beauty contest. I think of it like the AK-47 vs. M16 comparison. Both get the job done, but if I had to pick one that was going to get dragged through the mud and I needed to rely on it, I’d pick the AK…er…I mean the Mossberg 500.

    That being said, the 500 with the good field barrel is excellently accurate. In our church group, we have had many man-outings where those of us with firearms will gather and teach others how to shoot. We always have a time of clay pigeon shooting. Although there is always a variety of shotguns brought to these outings, invariably my 500 is a favorite among the crowd because it will hit the clays more often than not. It just naturally points to where it hits. I’ve been asked time and again about my shotgun and “Wow! What makes this so special! And Gee! That must have been a costly purchase because it’s so accurate” and so on. And I smile and thank them and hand it to the next young fellow who proceeds to hit his clays while others miss theirs with the fancy, expensive brands.

    So I highly recommend the Mossberg 500. It’s a very fine shotgun choice.

  14. Think only the 8 gauge is still being made commercially – and it is used only by Steel mills to unblock Slag. As to recoil, I always found that a good Recoil Pad. and proper fit, (length of Pull for the actual shooter), is a big help. As for me, at 70+, that is why I swapped to a .410, with “HANDGUN” loads. Wish that more gun trainers would help folks get a proper “fit”, (handgun, rifle, or shotgun), so then they can handle the recoil better. As example, most S&W “J” frame revolvers come from the factory with very bad grips, and the first step in better shooting is to replace those skimpy factory grips.

  15. I have a Mossberg 500 that I bought at Walmart many years ago. It is a 20 gauge and I cannot say enough good things about it and nothing to say that would demean or discredit it. I love that gun.

    I am short of stature and slight of build, or I was when I bought that gun. (I am still short but my build is not nearly as slight as it was formerly.) Over the years, I have shot a lot of rifles in a variety of calibers and most of them were for hunting deer. The recoil was not bothersome to me as I was able to insure that they were firmly nestled where they needed to be, most of the time. (We needn’t go into any of the scope-crease incidents, one of which broke my nose.)

    In spite of my wrangling with several NON-recoilless rifles, (One of Murphy’s Rules of Combat is Recoilless rifles aren’t, and it is very true, trust me.) I never cared to shoot 12 gauges. I always ended up with massive bruising and a decided inability to use my right arm the next day. I seldom fired a full box of shells on any hunt where I carried a 12, and I almost always suffered the next day, or sometimes the next several days. Had a lot of people who told me they could fix it, and they could not determine what I was doing wrong when they watched me shoot. So I bought the 20 gauge and retired the 12 (an Ithaca I got from my dad) to storage for posterity. Now, at 71, I have not the slightest interest in trying to shoot a 12.

    I love the way that little gun shoots and handles. I have been known to use more than a box of shells, sometimes two, without any carryover of the painful kind. More than a few rabbit, squirrel, pheasant, and quail have surrendered to the charms of that beautiful little shotgun. It has also taken more than a few other critters that were messing with things they ought not.

    I cannot think of a better starter gun for anyone than the Mossberg 500 in 20 gauge. My daughter and my wife have both been trained on this gun. It is kept where my wife can access it easily. It is loaded with 5 rounds of TTT shotshells, which is very close to #4 buckshot in size.

    There are some who say shot that small is not effective. But, over my 30 plus years in ER, I had occasion to see several patients who were shot with various sizes of birdshot by other hunters who were not as careful in directing the muzzle as they should have been. At the ranges that would be seen in a self-defense home shooting, I can attest that even #6 birdshot can and will kill someone through a padded and insulated hunting coat.

  16. I have a Cruiser with the 18″ barrel in 20 gauge as a truck gun and for when we travel and are driving. Love the model 500 and especially the location of the safety, no thought required to recall whether it is on or not.

  17. Dale, unless you’re using your shotgun in a sudden, self defense situation that you had little time to prepare for, you should ABSOLUTELY be using some form of recoil protection. I prefer the PAST recoil shield that straps onto my shoulder over most any recoil pad fitted to any shoulder arm. The recoil from a shoulder arm can and does cause trauma over and above mere bruising, and the resultant flinching. I’m aware of torn rotator cuffs and even a detached retina from extreme recoil cases (there are extremely rare but NOT unheard of.) PAST makes a few different recoil shields offering varying degrees of protection. For most uses, the Field grade is adequate for me, and believe me, it makes a HUGE difference. I recommend that you give something like this a try, if you haven’t done so already. Good luck and good shooting, sir!

  18. Dale,
    Shooting from the hip is a good way to miss your intended target or cause collateral damage. I recommend you use lighter defensive loads or switch to a smaller gauge, possibly a 20.

  19. I would think the bad kick is due to the 18″ barrel. Note that sometime around the end of the 1800’s there was a 4 gauge. I would love to find and fire one of those.

  20. I have a Mossberg 12 gauge with an 18″ barrel. With #000 buckshot it kicks harder than a mule. It kicks so hard that I am afraid to pull the trigger. It even caused a bruise on my shoulder. In my opinion it’s only good for close range shots fired from the hip.

  21. Got a Mossberg 500 for my left handed wife, and latter got a .410 as a home defense firearm. Agree that the current .410 “handgun” loads are almost ideal for as an “up close and personal” home defense round. With that said, for many folks, like us Seniors, or left handed folks, or someone needing a second/loaner shotgun, the Mossberg 500, in it’s various chamberings, is a great choice. Like that is also made in TEXAS, and not somewhere overseas.

  22. It seems that I remember Mossberg being a cheap and affordable shotgun in the early to mid ’70’s. I considered them but opted for a Sears Ted William semi and it has always a very smooth shooting gun and not made anymore. I think the Mossberg is more expensive now and you see a lot more of them.

  23. too bad there isn’t a T/CContender pistol in 28ga-would be better than the 410
    Th Contender also needs a different trigger guard to save one’s finger

  24. Thanks for another great article, Bob. I bought my Mossberg 500 when I turned 18 back in the 1970s. I’ve never regretted it, even though mine is a very Plain Jane specimen. I prefer the tang safety to the push button safety as well, it being, for me anyway, completely natural to use. It was a tough choice between that and the much nicer looking Remington 870 that my buddy bought. Mine has the old Poly Choke on it that allows you to adjust the pattern by twisting the tip of the barrel with your hand. The slide rails twist a bit, and the sight ramp isn’t perfectly level across the length of the barrel, but it works very well for me, and I have never bought another pump action shotgun to replace or supplement it. It’s super easy to swap for the short riot barrel too. In my book, the Mossberg 500 is a genuine success story.

  25. I prefer the tang safety of the Mossberg 500 series over the confusing cross-bolt safety. It is ambidextrous, intuitive, and easily accessible. The only time it has proven awkward is when a pistol grip is involved, which is one of the reasons I don’t put pistol grips on them. I much prefer a sleek clean setup with a barrel between 14″ – 18″. Ghost ring sights are fine for slug work and ranges beyond 25 yards, but I find they are slower to acquire than a bead. I suppose most people can live on the difference, but normally I prefer the simple bead or tritium post at ranges under 25 yards, If I’m working in the dark, a pressure activated light is very handy, provided it doesn’t have cords hanging off of it and the weight is low. I mainly stick with 12 gauge, preferring low recoil buck, but I keep Brenneke slugs in my bear gun. The 20 gauge is okay, but defensive ammo selection is more limited. I have never had a use for the 410, though I am glad defensive ammo has improved considerably in the past decade. The 28 and 16 gauge appear to be almost moribund, which is a pity. I think they both could have potential in the rising defensive market if proper configurations and loads were ever concocted for them.

  26. tang safety m dl500/589:safer than a crossbolt safety and ambidextrous.Worth the extra $$
    Rather than a pistol grip only,put on a side folding stock.

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