At first I was skeptical (just like you) and nearly passed on the assignment to cover this shotgun. I figured Mossberg, of all the shotgun companies, had gone a bridge too far in an effort to cash in on the tactical mania that is sweeping the nation in waves.
Just about every gun on the market has been chopped down, painted black, festooned with rails and reborn as tactical. For Mossberg to take its nice, moderately priced Maverick Hunter over/under shotgun and turn it into a tactical gun was just too much. Is nothing sacred?
If you have stuck with me this far, stay a little longer and read about a new home defense tool that is practical, not tactical, and could actually be of use to someone looking to defend hearth and home from two-legged predators. What follows is a meal of lightly salted editorial crow: The Maverick HS12 is a great gun for home defense.
Most gun designs were originally intended for martial use and then refined further in Mars’ crucible. Revolvers, most single-shot and bolt-action rifles, lever guns, the Model 1911 and the AR-15 were all military arms that grew stubby legs and crawled off the draftsman’s page and onto the battlefield. Eventually, they evolved better mechanisms and finer finishes, lost the parts that made them spit bullets in full-auto fashion and made their way into civilian hands for sporting and self-defense purposes. After all, the attributes of “deadly” and “dependable” are pretty nice on both the battlefield and the homefront when something wicked this way comes.
Almost every battlefield since gunpowder was first burned in anger felt the pitter-patter of buckshot. Muskets loaded with buck and ball, coach guns and the ubiquitous pump have swept the decks and trenches, cleared buildings and generally scared the hell out of anyone dumb enough to get near and peer down that gaping maw. And many a poor boy fed his family with a brace of ducks, rabbits or quail with the exact same guns sans heat shields and bayonet lugs. The military and civilian shotgun are intertwined; they evolved in unison.
But the over/under shotgun has always been above the fray. Surely, the regal design has been pressed into service when needed, but no Marine ever stormed a beach armed with a Superposed. Other action types held more ammo, were just easier to mass produce and, most important, cost less than over/under shotguns. That is, until now.
For seven years Mossberg has imported shotguns produced in Turkey. Guns wearing the Maverick moniker appeared a year ago. Mossberg does not beat around the bush and try to hide the fact that the guns are made by Khan, a longtime Turkish gunmaker. Over/under shotguns, even in the day of precise CNC machining, still take a lot of hand fitting and fine tuning. Evidently, the Turks can make O/U shotguns much cheaper than Americans, Germans, Italians and Japanese, since the Maverick Hunter only runs about $450. At some point, a clever Mossberg employee looked at a conventional Maverick Hunter over/under leaning against a wall and thought, That would make a great…
Tom Taylor, vice president of sales and marketing, is the new kid on the block at Mossberg, though he is an old hand in the gun industry. One of the things Taylor really liked about Mossberg is the top-down approach to research and development. Every week, the suits, engineers, sales people and Iver Mossberg himself meet to talk about new products. The idea of turning the Maverick Hunter into a home defense gun was first discussed in April 2010. Three months later there was a sample to pass around the conference room.
“This was an idea we had been kicking around for a while,” Taylor says. “We talked to customers and experts in the firearms industry, and it was a road that no one had been down before. We weren’t sure how it was going to turn out, how the gun would be received by customers, but when everyone picked up and handled the HS12, they warmed up to it very quickly.”
The HS12 concept is easy to grasp: Keep the shotgun simple and affordable for home defense. Barrels were reduced from the dove-field-appropriate 28 inches down to 18½ inches. Picatinny rails were added underneath the bottom barrel and on top of the receiver. New sights were developed to work with and through the new rails. The gun was already black—it wears a black chromium finish, to be exact—so it did not need a paint job. At least Mossberg didn’t call it a tactical Maverick. After I put 150 shells through it, I call it handy, simple and deadly.
Mossberg makes one of the best home defense/duty shotguns on the planet, the Model 590A1, so comparisons are inevitable. What features and advantages does the HS12 have over this pump-action powerhouse?
Even novice shooters will immediately notice and benefit from the significant difference in weight and overall length. My favorite Vang Comp Systems Model 590A1—complete with a magazine extension, Speedfeed stock, SureFire fore-end and 10 rounds of slugs and buckshot—weighs a hefty eight pounds, 11 ounces, and much of that weight sits out on the fore-end. The HS12 outfitted with a SureFire X300 light and two rounds of buckshot weighs just six pounds, four ounces. The HS12 is much more balanced and comfortable, better for any situation when the shotgun must be held on a door, stairwell or hallway for extended periods.
In circumstances where the firearm must be maneuvered around corners or shot from cover, the Maverick’s shorter overall length—35½ inches—is a huge plus. It is a full three inches shorter than my 590A1. While three inches might not seem like a big deal, most guys will tell you emphatically that it is. Working through room-clearing drills and shooting from barricades, I found the HS12 to be handy and lively. Because of its length, the HS12 would make a great truck/boat/ATV gun as well. Since the gun started out life as a tool for downing fast-moving game and clay targets, it points well and handles fast.
One of the things gunwriters often point out in stories about home-defense shotguns is that side-by-side guns, previously the only other choice besides pumps and semi-autos, are simpler and less likely to flummox the home defender with copious fire controls and ill-positioned safeties in times of stress. This is a load of crap. If someone cannot, through occasional practice, master the basic fire controls of his chosen home defense gun, he should not have the thing in the first place. But the reality is that few people train enough to be even moderately proficient, so convention has overruled me on this point. Over/under shotguns have a top lever for opening the action, safety and trigger—that’s it. They are so simple that novice shooters and idiots alike should, after a quick look at the pictures in the manual, be able to load it, take it off safe, fire it and make it safe again under stress.
The sighting system is pretty foolproof as well and was inspired by the fast-acquisition systems found on many handguns. An amber fiber optic bead sits naturally into a groove running the length of the rear rail. Centered under that groove is an unfinished strip of rail that shines bright silver in the dimmest of light. The arrangement is similar to XS Sight Systems’ express sights and works best with both eyes open. Should you choose to pair the Maverick with an optic, in the event of battery failure you will very likely still be able to use the fiber optic front bead by simply looking under the optic.
Unlike mood rings and pet rocks, Picatinny rails are no fad and very useful on home defense guns. One of the big problems after buying a new home defense gun is figuring out how to get rails on the thing. I have witnessed new gun buyers suffer acute anxiety attacks in the store after being told that no mounts exist for their just-purchased firearm. Unfortunately, many companies that furnish rails put too many in all the wrong places. Not so with the Maverick. There are just two small sections, one on the top barrel that will probably never be used and another under the bottom barrel that is perfect for that most critical of home defense tools, the tactical light. One does not shoot what one cannot see, and with most armed exchanges taking place after sunset, a high-quality tactical light will keep you from making a tragic mistake. Lasers are cool, too, as long as they are paired with a white light.
Since machining the rails into the barrels would quadruple the cost, Khan’s engineers had to figure out a way to get rails on the barrels and make the marriage last. A steel base is first soldered to the barrel, and the rails, machined from 6082 T6 aluminum alloy, are then pinned into place over the base. The arrangement is solid and, in a worst-case scenario, allows the rails to be replaced if they are somehow damaged.
One feature that is often underwhelming on other inexpensive shotguns is the stocks. The HS12’s well-executed stocks are injection-molded plastic—no surprise there—but were designed by someone who knew how a shotgun should fit and had an eye for style. Fine checkering, a slim fore-end and wrist, and a tight pistol grip give shooters complete control.
I fired five different self-defense loads through the Maverick HS12, shooting patterns at seven, 10 and 15 yards for each. The sample gun had fixed modified chokes in both barrels and would keep every pellet of every load in a standard B27 target out to 15 yards. Production models with interchangeable chokes will also be available and ship with modified and improved cylinder chokes installed. I will bet the farm that someone in my home state of Georgia will paint this handy little gun camo, fit it with super-tight turkey chokes and pair it with a red dot sight. The sporting applications are almost endless.
Federal’s excellent FliteControl buckshot load and Hornady’s new Superformance buckshot both printed very tight, rifle-like patterns. At across-the-room distances, most any load will do. My favorite was Remington’s new HD Ultimate Home Defense. There are two choices: a duplex load with No. 2 and 4 shot, and BBs. The latter gets my nod. With 1¼ ounces of heavy-density BBs moving along at 1,250 fps, the shotshell seems to pack the right amount of whallop without the concerns of overpenetration that come with buckshot.
While the HS12 gets quite a few points for reliability, ease of use and slick design, there are a few chinks in the armor. After my first two rounds downrange, I thumbed over the top lever and expected two empty hulls to come flying out with a swirl of smoke left in the chambers. No go there—the HS12 has extractors, not ejectors. This probably adds a full second to your reloading time, but ejectors would also add to the price. Reloads are not prohibitively slow; they just take practice. Carrying your spares on the stock in those elastic, slip-on shell holders is probably the way to go.
Should you choose the Maverick HS12 for home defense, know that you will be going into the fight of your life with two rounds. My belief in utilizing solid planning and sound tactics tells me that two rounds are all it will take. Mr. Murphy says bring a five-gallon bucket of ammo, or more if you can tote it, to a fight.
The advantages of light and fast handling translate into more recoil. Physics dictates that with heavy self-defense loads, the lightweight Maverick is going to kick like hell. It does, and my one-day marathon of 100-plus rounds was too much, even for a guy who likes shooting shotguns. It is a punishing gun to shoot. Novice shooters should pattern their defense load and then practice with light bird shot or low-recoil buckshot loads, firing no more than 15 to 25 rounds per range session.
With the Maverick HS12, those looking to defend themselves and their family have another viable option. The HS12 compares favorably to the side-by-side coach guns available. Mounting accessories is easy, and because of the low price—the gun will sell for around $450—you will have enough left in your bank account to buy plenty of practice ammo. Trap, skeet and wing shooters who are already familiar with over/under shotguns should fall instantly in love with this home defense tool.
Mossberg did not go out on a limb with the Maverick. It took a proven, reliable mechanism and adapted it slightly. With rails and short barrels, the over/under shotgun is a solid home defender.