When it comes to personal defense, only proven, reliable tools are worthwhile. For games and hunting, less reliable, but fast handling firearms are ok, I guess. I am slow to adopt a newly introduced firearm on a personal basis. When I test a firearm, it is given an equal chance regardless of the company’s history or legend.
You can take the data I generate to the bank. But on my own time and my own dime, most of the firearms I rely on are old standards with a bit of wear on the muzzle and around the receiver. Among these is the Mossberg 590 shotgun.
There are always questions when it comes to home defense and the best all-around fighting shotgun. Pump-action or semi-automatic action? There are superbly reliable semi-automatic shotguns including the Remington 11-87 and Benelli M4.
The shotgun is a projectile launcher. A manually operated shotgun will handle low-power loads to full-magnum loads without missing a beat. 18 or 20-inch barrel? I have come to prefer the 20-inch barrel and a full underlug magazine when I can get it. This led me to the Mossberg 590.
Mossberg 590 Features
The Mossberg 590 was selected for military use after extensive trails. The Mossberg 500 with its dual extractors, aluminum receiver, and ergonomic safety received high marks. But the military wanted a more rugged shotgun, specifically with a heavier barrel.
Mossberg provided the 590 with its heavier barrel and superior lock-up. The 590, like the 500, uses a skeletonized shell carrier that limits short cycling and makes for easy clearance, should you short cycle the action. The Mossberg 590 features a heavy barrel and dual lock up on the magazine as well as a different magazine tube. Not that the Mossberg 500 isn’t a dirt-tough shotgun. Mossberg has sold more than 11 million Model 500s. With dual action rails, good manufacturing, and quality control, the Model 500 is a reliable, long-lived shotgun. The 590 is just a tougher version.
The Model 590 hasn’t been around since 1961, as the Mossberg 500 has. The Mossberg 590 was modified to meet military specifications and was introduced in 1987. These modifications make the 590 more expensive than the 500 but not prohibitively so.
There is no plastic safety or trigger guard in the 590. Many shotguns designed for personal defense are built with an 18-inch barrel. (Usually, 18.5 inches to be certain they do not run afoul of Federal law.) The Mossberg 590 features a 20-inch barrel. In my experience, velocity isn’t greatly affected by an extra two inches but often the pattern from the cylinder bore 590 barrel is superior to 18-inch shotguns.
The heavy barrel was designed to maintain accuracy and pattern even if damaged. The barrel shroud is useful as a heat shield. I don’t shoot my shotguns enough for the barrel to heat up, but military men or those running a high-level combat course may need the heat shield.
An advantage of the 590A1 is the factory-fitted Ghost Ring sights. Ghost Ring sights provide more rapid target acquisition than the standard aperture-type rear sight. The Ghost Ring is so-called because when you look through the rear sight, the aperture seems to fade away and all concentration is on the front sight. The front sight is centered in the center of the rear sight by natural action of the eye. The Ghost Ring sight was popularized by Colonel Jeff Copper for shotgun use.
The simple front bead of the standard Model 590 is preferred by some. This is a fast sighting system. Bring the shotgun to your shoulder and simply look at the bead. At close range the bead front sight, especially when upgraded with a modern fiber-optic, is a great choice.
The 590A1’s Ghost Ring sight is even better for those willing to learn the system. This is especially true for those preferring slugs for defense use. I use a mix of buckshot and slugs depending on the situation. Ghost Ring sights make for superior hit probability with either payload.
This isn’t a shotgun useful for bird hunting or busting clays. This is a fighting shotgun. It is useful because it handles largely by feel and gets on target quickly. But we are not striving to catch the target in part of a cloud of shot. We are aiming to center the load in the threat.
Chamber: 12-gauge 3-inch
Barrel: Heavy Wall 20-inch
Choke: Cylinder Bore
Weight: 7.5 pounds
Capacity: 8 (2¾-inch shells)
At the Range
We should deliver the load as accurately as possible. When a threat is moving, the shotgun offers an advantage primarily related to handling. The spread of the shot is an aid in striking the moving target. The longest range at which the shotgun delivers 50 percent of its shot on target is the maximum effective range of that shotgun and load according to common wisdom.
With most open choke defensive shotguns this is 20 yards. I like to use a tight patterning load such as the 12-gauge Hornady Critical Defense. Generic loads without a wad or buffering are ok for practice at close range. A cohesive buckshot pattern is desirable for personal defense.
At 25 yards and further solid shot is useful. A 438-grain lead slug at 1,200 fps is formidable. The Mossberg Ghost Ring sight is easily sighted for slug use. A bead sighted shotgun simply isn’t as useful past a minimum distance with slug load.
At 25 yards, the Mossberg will land one slug after the other in a ragged hole. At 50 yards, the Mossberg will group five Hornady slugs into 4–5 inches. It is no fun benchresting a 12-gauge shotgun with slugs, but it can be enlightening.
Conclusion: Mossberg 590
The 590 at 7.5 pounds isn’t a hard kicker with most defense loads. Full power loads are not needed. Reduced recoil defense loads are effective for home defense and against most dangerous animals save the big bears. The Mossberg 590 is a proven combat shotgun in hard use since its introduction. You may get by with a lesser shotgun, but why? The Mossberg 590 is beyond reproach as a lifesaving firearm.