Despite all the press that handguns garner, the simple fact is that you are barely armed should you meet a threat with a pistol or revolver in your hands. A retired Delta operator once opined over lunch that pistols were good for shooting dogs and little else. Over numerous deployments, his weapons of choice were the carbine, shotgun or JDAM. Since JDAMs are not available over the counter, long guns sit atop the personal-defense food chain for civilians.
Shotguns have long been the gold standard for self-defense (or offense) in close quarters, and with good reason. Handguns are handy, but nothing says hello like a 12 gauge. The Mossberg 590A1 sits high on–if not atop–the list of pump-action home-defense possibilities. The gun is available in dozens of configurations and has inspired a long list of accessories that make it particularly suited for repelling boarders.
The 590A1 was first introduced in 1980s. Born from the 500 series that appeared in 1960, it has, at the U.S. Navy’s request, a heavy-walled barrel, metal triggerguard and safety, and a new corrosion-resistant finish.
Nine-shot versions were fitted with a bayonet lug. Before adoption the gun passed a 3,000-round endurance test with buckshot and slugs that allowed for just three malfunctions. It was the only gun tested that passed. Sand emersion, saltwater fogging and interchangeability tests were also part of the procedure. The 590A1 was adopted by the U.S. Army, Navy, Coast Guard and several Special Forces units and has since been issued by several hundred police departments, as well as state and federal agencies including the NYPD and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The action is pretty standard stuff. Twin action bars attached to the fore-end move the bolt to and fro, and since the single bolt lug locks into a steel barrel-extension mortise, the receiver can be machined from aluminum alloy to save some weight. The trigger group holds most of the firing system and can be removed for cleaning by tapping out one pin. A tubular magazine is threaded into the receiver, and the barrel is collared to the magazine tube and held in place by the magazine cap. Fire controls include a two-position top-tang safety and bolt release located just behind the trigger. The barrel and extension are machined from steel and button-drawn to the cylinder bore. The front sight has a high-visibility florescent orange stripe down its center and is brazed onto the barrel. Metal parts wear a durable Parkerized finish.
My version of home-defense perfection started with a stock Model 590A1. While nine rounds of buckshot is a beautiful thing, the six-shot’s shorter 181/2-inch barrel allowed the gun to fit in my pick-up’s overhead gun rack and is more maneuverable in the confines of home. I bolted on a SpeedFeed stock, preferring to tuck my extra four rounds neatly inside the stock instead of hanging them from a receiver-mounted side saddle. The buttstock has a nicely textured grip and a firm, tacky recoil pad. Factory-installed SpeedFeed stocks are available, as are a dizzying array of variations.
It takes about two seconds of nighttime drill to figure out that your 590A1 is worthless without a white light with which to identify targets. It also becomes apparent that holding a flashlight and fore-end in the same hand and getting them to point in the same direction while shooting is no easy feat. While expensive, the SureFire 623LF fore-end integrates a high-quality LED light and constant-on/off and momentary switches into a replacement fore-end. Remove the old fore-end, unscrew the locking collar that secures the grip to the liner tube/action bar assembly and replace with the SureFire unit and you are in business.
Range practice has been made all the more pleasant by the availability of low-recoil buckshot and slug loads–all the big players have eight- and nine-pellet loads. I cannot think of any home-defense scenario that would require jaw-rattling three-inch loads, and they are a quick way to intimidate new shooters out of practicing. With the SureFire fore-end, six rounds of buckshot in the magazine and four slugs in the stock, my 590A1 weighs nine pounds, one ounce and is downright pleasant to shoot, even when zeroing slugs. I can empty the magazine in about three seconds and easily keep my loads centered on target.
Mossberg Home Defense Shotguns
Like many other kitchen-table gunsmiths, when building my version of home-defense perfection, I do most of the accessorizing myself—a basic tools set is all most add-ons require for installment. However, Mossberg has several variants for those who like to get their home-defense gun straight from the box. Here are my top picks from the Mossberg catalog for the accessory impaired.
590A1 Adjustable (six-shot)
This scattergun hijacks the M4’s popular six-position stock to make it even more compact than the short-and-sweet gun I built. The stock is great should you don body armor or put the gun in the hands of a youngster or short-statured friend. Simple three-dot sights are brazed to the barrel and are very similar to the sight picture found on most duty pistols, consolidating training somewhat. (MSRP $739)
590A1 SPX (nine-shot)
This combat-ready model sits on the other end of the spectrum from short and sweet. Its 20-inch, heavy-walled barrel is ported and wears an AR-style front sight that pairs with a Picatinny-rail-mounted LPA ghost-ring rear sight for super-fast target acquisition. The rail allows a reflex optic to be easily mounted. The full-length magazine tube holds nine rounds of nasty, and yes, the shotgun comes with an M9 bayonet and scabbard. (MSRP $786)
500 Cruiser (six-shot)
I am not a huge fan of pistol-gripped shotguns, but this one made the list on cool looks alone. The 18.5-inch barrel makes the gun compact and handy, but without a stock it is very hard to shoot accurately. This model has a convenient nylon loop on the fore-end to help control recoil. A neat feature is the stand-off muzzlebrake for breaching. (MSRP $409)
The unwashed might have a spray-and-pray mentality when bringing a shotgun into action, but that’d be a mistake. My cylinder bore 590A1 put all nine pellets from a Winchester Ranger low-recoil shotshell into a five-inch pattern at 10 yards. Patterns grew to 10 and 14 inches at 15 and 25 yards, respectively. My own shoot-up-an-abandoned-house testing showed me that No. 4 buck is probably the safest bet for home defense.
The Foster-type rifled slug is often held in low esteem by slug-gun aficionados, but the Ranger one-ounce, low-recoil rounds produced nice three-shot cloverleaf patterns from the bench. Over 300 or so rounds there were no malfunctions, and that included a mixed bag of 2¾- and three-inch turkey loads that had been rattling around in my truck for years. But the Mossberg ate what I fed it with no problem.
The action was stiff as a board out of the box but has smoothed considerably over a few weeks of hard use. My single complaint is a fore-end, factory or SureFire, that rattles and rolls around in the hand. It has zero impact on firearm function, but it is a little disconcerting. As far as I know, there is nothing that can be done to eliminate the rattle.
Since the receiver is drilled and tapped, there is the option to later add a reflex optic. The adjustable ghost-ring sights are durable and functional, and in the end it will be hard to justify the cost and adding a battery into the equation. Speaking of costs, the shotgun retails for $546, the SureFire fore-end around $275. For the price, Mossberg provides citizens with a very capable and reliable self-defense tool.