Mossberg 590 — A Top of the Heap Fighting Shotgun

Bob Campbell shooting the Mossberg 590 Tactical shotgun outdoors

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.

Mossberg 590 shotgun with front bead sight right profile
This is a bare bones 590 with bead front sight.

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.

Mossberg 590 Tactical shotgun with ghost ring sight and barrel shroud
The author’s personal shotgun with ghost ring sight and heat shield.

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.

ramped front sight with red stripe
A bold front sight with red stripe makes for a high hit probability.

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.

View through the ghost ring rear sight on the Mossberg 590 shotgun
The Mossberg 590’s rear sight is among the best designed combat sights for shotguns.

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
Finish: Parkerized
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.

Bob Campbell shooting the Mossberg 590 Tactical shotgun outdoors
The 590 handles well and offers excellent hit probability.

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.

The military has spoken by making the Mossberg 590 its top choice. What is your choice for a defensive shotgun? Share your answer and reasoning in the comment section.

  • Cutaway of a Hornady 12 gauge slug
  • Camo shotgun with several boxes of hornady shotshells and loose rounds
  • Bob Campbell racking the Mossberg 590 shotgun
  • View through the ghost ring rear sight on the Mossberg 590 shotgun
  • adjustment wheel for the rear ghost ring sight on the Mossberg 590 12 gauge shotgun
  • top rear view of a ghost ring rear sight
  • Bob Campbell shooting the Mossberg 590 Tactical shotgun outdoors
  • ghost ring sight protested by metal wings
  • ramped front sight with red stripe
  • Bob Campbell shooting the Mossberg 590 Tactical shotgun showing smoke coming from the barrel
  • Mossberg 590 shotgun with front bead sight right profile
  • Mossberg 590 Tactical shotgun with ghost ring sight and barrel shroud
  • Mossberg 590 12 gauge shotgun with a bayonet attached, 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 (13)

  1. Colonel K. Forgive my ignorance but what I mean by short brass is 2 3/4 inch upland/small game load like 6 shot or 8 shot. The brass is 1/4 inch tall. ie Winchester Super X 12 gauge 2 3/4, 6 shot.
    The brass on most of my 2 3/4 inch ammo is 1/2 – 9/16 tall. My 590 will not cycle this short brass round, I have to keep pumping the forearm stock to get it to cycle. I have no issues with any other type of 12 gauge ammo in my 590. This issue has been present since day one of owning the firearm. I keep my firearms clean and lubricated.

  2. bmg88201, what do you mean by short field loads? If they are mini-shells, it’s not surprising they won’t cycle, but if they are standard 2 3/4″ loads, they should work unless they are out of spec.

  3. I love my 590. It stays loaded in the kitchen by the back door. But as I posted earlier it will not cycle short brass rounds properly, like field loads. I welcome any suggestions on how to remedy this issue. Sometimes I just need a field load to take care of the task at hand.

  4. I am not a hunter. I learned to shoot weapons in the Marines in 1990 in Security Forces. We put so many slugs downrange at that time we all had green and purple shoulders day after day. I carried the 590 in the Gulf War. I loved that weapon…it was a conversation ender. After the Marines I joined the police. After 25 years (many of them on SWAT), I think I know a thing or two about deploying combat arms. I’ve been in the blood and dirt on many, many critical SWAT scenes, some of which your readers would know as they garnered national attention. Do you know what my home defense shotgun is? A 590A1. Carry what you want. But if my many years of real-world experience means anything, you know where I stand on the issue. I will protect my wife and children with the 590A1.

  5. Still waiting on my Mossberg 590A1 Tactical tri rail 53693….
    I been waiting over 6 months and does anyone know when Mossberg will be building these to restock dealers ?
    I still have received no answers and paid half on the gun….

  6. Still waiting on my Mossberg 590A1 Tactical tri rail 53693….
    I been waiting over 6 months and does anyone know when Mossberg will be building these to restock dealers ?

  7. I own several Mossberg shotguns and all have a specific use instead of the 590 I favor the 930 semiauto SPX it holds 8 rounds and chambered for 3 inch loads it also has the rear peep like the 590 and a AR style fiber optic front sight although the barrel is 18.5 inch it will shoot 2-3 inch group at 50 yards and a 5-6 inch group at 100 yards with cheap Winchester or Remington non sabot type slugs through its smoothbore barrel, I have carried in in the Missouri rifle deer season for shots at 50 yards and under it also makes a formidable home defense weapon, I salute Mossberg for there fine firearms they make!

  8. My buddy wanted a 590A1. I had never heard of it at that time. I owned a plain wood field version 500. Nothing wrong with it. After seeing his, I had to have one. I sold my 500 & found a barely used 590A1 in 20”. Sold. I’ve since upgraded it with MagPul furniture & sling. I love it. 9 rounds in the longer 20” tube. It’s a tank.

  9. The bayonet lug means I can mount a bayonet on it. When a bayonet is mounted, it becomes the primary weapon and the gun a back up. Nothing is more intimidating than a fixed bayonet when clearing my property for vandals and thieves. The more intimidating I can be, the less likely I will end up having to shoot somebody. I guess my MP training in the 70’s affects my current thinking as our country descends into anarchy.

  10. I own a 590 with ghost ring sights and I really like those particular sights for getting on a target quickly. But my 590 in particular has an issue with not cycling short brass rounds. I have to keep pushing and pulling on the forearm stock to get a short brass round to eject. I keep the firearm clean and oiled, so I don’t know what the problem is. I just keep #4 buckshot in it now.

  11. My experience matches the authors. I’ve got 500s, 590s, and 590A1s. The differences are incremental, with the A1 being the the most robust version available thanks to its heavy walled barrel and all metal parts (safety and trigger guard). Having said that, I’ve never broken any of them. I view the 500 as tough to kill, the 590 as overkill, and the 590A1 as ultra-kill. Adding a bit of confusion are versions of the 500 which possess the same barrel take-down feature as the 590 and 590A1. I’m not sure what the purpose of that was supposed to be. I should mention the Maverick 88, which is really just a 500 with a cross-bolt safety, untapped receiver, and pinned forearm. I presume these were cost saving features. At the request of one customer I fitted the trigger assembly of a Maverick to his Mossberg 500, providing him with two manual safeties. Not my cup of tea, but to each his own. My personal preference is an 18″ 500 because it is light and handy.

  12. I concur with the author.Ambidextrous,ghost ring sights-AND bayonet lug!That lug may also allow lights,lasers,etc besides the bayonet

  13. I’m sorry, but in my opinion the 500A1 is still the best model Mossberg has released in the past 25 years.

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