Review: Mossberg 500 Thunder Ranch

bob Campbell shooting a Mossberg Thunder ranch 12 gauge shotgun with a trees in the background

Among the most proven types of firearms in the world, and the most popular shotgun type is the pump-action shotgun. The pump-action shotgun is widely perceived as a stout piece of equipment, reliable, and a problem solver unlike any other firearm. While formidable, if not properly understood, the shotgun will be underutilized.

Training is a must. That being said, there is no more effective home defense weapon. Among the most popular pump-action shotguns is the Mossberg 500. While everyone has their favorite, I have used both the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 most often. Each has good traits.

Mossberg Thunder Ranch shotgun 12 gauge, right, profile with sling
The Mossberg Thunder Ranch shotgun is a great all-around defensive firearm.

Mossberg 500 Thunder Ranch Features

With millions in service, I think the matter of durability and reliability is settled. The Mossberg 500 Thunder Ranch illustrated features several upgrades over the average tactical shotgun. These upgrades don’t make the shotgun much more expensive than other Mossberg 500 shotguns, but the upgrades make a good shotgun even more suitable for personal defense.

I don’t personally know Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch, but I have read enough of his work to realize he recommends service grade gear and advocates proper training. Mr. Smith has both police and military experience on top of his decades of training experience. In a world of novices writing on life and death subjects, Mr. Smith is the real thing.

The Thunder Ranch shotgun is built on his recommendations. The initial criterion for any shotgun is that it be reliable. The Mossberg 500’s police and military service record is unassailable. Ergonomics is important.

The Mossberg’s safety location on the top rear of the receiver is an advantage. This safety may be used quickly by left- or right-handed shooters. (Unless you fit a pistol grip.) The bolt release is positive in operation, the trigger is crisp, and the shotgun is easily loaded. This shotgun wears a matte black, low profile and non-reflective finish. The Thunder Ranch logo is a nice touch.

A relatively short barrel is needed to aid in movement in close quarters. The 18.5-inch barrel answers this need. You could still catch the barrel on a door jamb but not as easily as 28-inch barrel sporting guns. Like most personal defense or riot guns, the shotgun features an open cylinder choke. This makes for a fairly wide pattern at combat ranges, and an advantage against moving targets. That is what this shotgun is about combat ability.

Loading port on the Mossberg Thunder Ranch shotgun
The shotgun is easily loaded and kept loaded by thumbing in one shell at a time.

The barrel features a non-removable door breacher-type muzzle. I doubt many of us will be using this muzzle as a standoff or door breaching device. If push literally comes to shove, the muzzle design would make for a good impact tool in a retention situation.

The barrel features a fiber-optic sight. This a considerable improvement over the common bead front sight. The receiver is drilled and tapped for mounting a sight rail if needed or desired.

The stocks are synthetic and seem durable. The rear stock is a bit shorter than most shotgun stocks. The length of pull is 13 inches. I find I am able to crunch up on the shotgun and exert more control with the short stock. If heavily bundled or wearing tactical gear, this stock is ideal.

Mossberg door breaching muzzle extension
The Mossberg features a door breaching muzzle extension.

At the Range

During testing, I confirmed the shorter stock makes for easier reach to the forend and greater leverage and speed. The forearm features three points for mounting lights or lasers. This is a good touch. I tested the Inforce combat light with good results. This light is a great aid in checking out territory and keeping the fox out of the henhouse — and more dangerous threats.

A slight drawback is that the light mounts may bump your hand on firing. A bit of adjustment is needed and not all shooters and grip styles will experience this bump. If you do simply remove one of the mounts.

An advantage over the other guy’s shotgun is that the Mossberg holds five 2 ¾-inch shells in the magazine instead of four. I don’t like magazine extensions or anything that may reduce reliability. Five shells are a good payload for this type of shotgun.

Federal Premium Vital Shok shotshell box on a paper target
Federal buckshot provides a good pattern.

During the test, I burned up a good supply of buckshot. Shotguns are individuals and some prefer one load to the other as far as pattern goes. I used a number of inexpensive generic loads including some older Wolf brand, Rio, Jet brand, and a mix of shot sizes. The Mossberg never failed to feed, chamber, fire, or eject.

A generous recoil pad helped take the sting out of recoil. Just the same, 12 gauge recoil was certainly there. These inexpensive loads are fine for practice, but the pattern is all over the target at 21 feet or so. I tested two top-notch buckshot loads for the pattern. The Federal Vital Shock load uses Federal’s famous flite wad technology. This load held a tight pattern at 21 feet. This is a long home defense distance.

You want to put a cohesive pattern on the target for best effect. Hornady’s American Gunner is affordable in 10-round boxes. This load was a good performer. Some may prefer a wider pattern if addressing running or moving targets. Either load would offer good effect at home defense distance — measured in feet, not yards.


Caliber: 12 gauge
Capacity: 5-shot, magazine
Mass weight: 6.8 pounds
Barrel: 18.5 inches
Overall length: 37.0 inches
Sights: Front fiber-optic


The Mossberg 500 Thunder Ranch shotgun handles well. The action is smooth and fast follow-up shots come easily. Lean into the shotgun, control the recoil, and practice follow-up shots. As the muzzle rises, work the action. As you bring the forend back in place, draw the muzzle back on target. The Mossberg 500 Thunder Ranch is a formidable shotgun with much to recommend.

Mossberg Thunder Ranch, Remington 870, pump-action, semi-automatic… What do you look for in a defensive shotgun? Share your answer in the comment section.

  • Mossberg Thunder Ranch shotgun 12 gauge, right, profile
  • Mossberg Thunder Ranch shotgun 12 gauge, right, profile with sling
  • Safety on the Mossberg Thunder Ranch on the top of the receiver
  • crumpled paper target with multiple buckshot holes
  • bob Campbell shooting a Mossberg Thunder ranch 12 gauge shotgun with a trees in the background
  • Loading port on the Mossberg Thunder Ranch shotgun
  • Federal Premium Vital Shok shotshell box on a paper target
  • Hornady American Gunner shotshells on a paper bullseye target
  • Inforce combat light
  • Inforce combat light on the forend of a Mossberg shotgun
  • Mossberg Thunder Ranch logo on the receiver of a shotgun
  • Mossberg door breaching muzzle extension

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 (9)

  1. Liked the review and the way Mr. Campbell gives his humble opinion. The Mossberg 500 is a fine shotgun and the aluminum receiver shaves a few ounces off compared to the Remington 870. Barrel changes are simple and quick giving you easily adaptable platform. I see some people don’t have much love for the breacher, bear in mind that in a defense situation it may be necessary to place the muzzle in contact with your attacker. If fired in that situation the barrel could rupture resulting in a bad day for all involved. The breaching muzzle allows the gas to escape and avoids over pressurizing the barrel.

  2. Thanks for this article, and my compliments, you are the very first professional writer I’ve seen in fourty years as a reader that actually knows how to run a pump shotgun!

    Two comments about the shotgun itself: the feed slot does not appear to be beveled, much less lipped to make loading by three-or-four at a time handfuls easier; and the breaching muzzle might be more practical with Mag-na-Port Shotgun venting (rather than having equallateral vents that push up as much as down).

    The described shooting technique does do an outstanding job of recovery, especially with heavy loads. One refinement is to slam the pump forward toward the intended next target, thumb pointing at the target as one might gesture, “Get a load o’ this guy!” This is particularly effective at 5-7 yards. On a rack of steel plates, it’s normal to fire the fourth shot–and hit with all–before the first hull hits the ground.

  3. I’ve owned and regularly used the same Mossberg 500 since 1974. It came with the 26-inch IC barrel. I subsequently bought the 18.5-inch cylinder choke to keep on the weapon when not hunting game. I subsequently bought a 28-inch barrel with interchangeable chokes that rarely gets used. It only takes about 30 seconds to swap the barrels. In 48 years of use, I’ve never had a failure from this shotgun. It has taken truckloads of deer and birds. I’ve always kept it meticulously maintained. and it will likely long outlast me.

  4. Alan, that’s a good setup, but I still prefer the shorter 18″ model because it handles easier. A 14″ is better still, if you don’t mind the reduced capacity.

  5. I bought a 9 shot ghost ring sight equipped Mossberg 590, over 20 years ago for a personally owned gun for police duty . The gun is accurate and just runs and runs. I have just replaced the spring and older critical parts, only after having put a fresh coat of Cerakote on her! The bonus was the Magpul furniture! She’s like new and I expect her to put live me at this rate .

  6. As an owner of several MOSSBERG 500s, I found that they are underrated by most folks. Lefties also would like the Safety on the 500s, as they are on the Tang. Only issue is that not as many spare parts, like barrels, are available. It is getting better over the years, but still not as many options as the REMINGTON 870s. With that said, would like to be able to “upgrade” one of my 500s to match several of the features found on the THUNDER RANCH version. As I have stated that I prefer the .410 for a home defense shotgun, I wonder if a 20 gauge or .410 THUNDER RANCH model would be possible? The lower recoil of the smaller gauges could be a good match with the THUNDER RANCH concept. Now if we only had ammo available.

  7. A vanilla Mossberg 500 with an 18″ barrel is an excellent choice in terms of ergonomics, price, and durability. A Hi-viz front sight and pressure activated light are the only additions I recommend. I’m not a fan of the breecher brake unless one is planning to shoot off hinges and door locks.

  8. I own a marvick 88 best shot gun for the money it’s my bedside weapon of choice it’s fast and ready

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Discover more from The Shooter's Log

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading