When I began gunsmithing, I really didn’t have much love for the Mossberg 500. It wasn’t a Winchester Model 12 or an Ithaca 37 or a Remington 870. It wasn’t a lot of things. But what it lacked in flash and pizazz, it made up for in durability. I saw few broken 500s come into the shop, despite the fact that we sold them like hotcakes.
It also wasn’t very difficult to get 500s back up and running when a customer had brought one in pieces. Where I’d still be tearing my hair out over one of the other shotguns, the 500 would be diagnosed, fixed, in the rack and already waiting to be picked up. As a ubiquitous and unbelievably durable tool, it is a suitable choice with which to face the coming zombie apocalypse. That’s right, a Mossberg for the undead.
What are the undead, you ask? Well, if you’ve recently been rescued after having been shipwrecked on a desert island, you may not know about the zombie craze. There’s no such thing as being too prepared, and when it comes to emergency situations we all wish we’d been ready for, zombies top the list.
They’re those unfortunate souls who, due to exposure to radiation/disease/toxic waste, have been rendered dead but still animate. They move, attracted to stimuli, and depending on the origins of the outbreak, they may or may not want to eat your brains. Being already dead, of course, it takes a seriously high order of terminal ballistics to render them permanently inanimate—decommissioned, in other words.
Mossberg’s Model 500 ZMB model is an eight-shot pump shotgun in 12 gauge, with a bead front sight on the end of its 20-inch barrel. The ZMB logo is applied in slime-green on the right side of the machined-aluminum receiver. The controls are simple and easy to keep straight during the considerable stress of a zombie outbreak.
On the top rear of the receiver is the tang safety. Left-handed shooters can struggle with the typical crossbolt safety on a lot of pumps, but the Mossberg safety works equally well for either hand. Push forward and see red, you’re ready to deal with the undead. Underneath the triggerguard and behind it is the slide release tab. If you need to open the action, but you don’t want to fire it, that’s your access. The trigger fires the round in the chamber.
To load, stuff shells into the opening underneath the receiver. One of the clever aspects of the Mossberg design is that the carrier/lifter is up out of the way when the action is closed. That means no lifter to trap and pinch your thumb in loading. Stuff the magazine with as many as you want or until it is full. The 500 ZMB has a magazine tube the full length of the barrel, eight shots’ worth. Press the release tab and pump the action to chamber a round. If you feel the need, add another one to the magazine to replace the one just chambered.
After that, it’s just you and the forearm. Remember, you don’t gain anything by babying a pump shotgun; work it like you mean it. The 500 ZMB has dual action bars (as all Model 500s have had since 1970), and unless you are built like Lou Ferrigno, you aren’t going to break them (and even Lou himself would be hard-pressed to bend them). Shoot. Pump. Repeat as necessary.
The stock is synthetic, with a thick rubber (or synthetic itself, but of a different composition than the stock) recoil pad. The stock is quite ergonomically shaped, with a pronounced recess in the grip area, to lock your hand in place. The forearm is compact, circular and heavily ribbed for—again—more gripping. When you’re using a shotgun for defense, even more so than when duck or quail hunting, you want to be able to hang on.
In any shotgun application, century-long arguments have raged over the proper payload to launch. Birdshot? Buckshot? Slugs? And, since the 500 ZMB can handle 2¾- and 3-inch shells, you have that added into the possibilities as well. Short answer: The 500 ZMB can handle any and all of them better than you can.
My suggestion: Use the least expensive, lowest-recoil target loads you can find on sale for practice. If you’re using a 500 ZMB, you’re probably not using its cylinder-bore barrel to claw pheasants from the sky above cornfields. You’re practicing on falling steel poppers, plate racks and the like. You don’t need expensive high-brass ammo, and the range-maintenance guys will be really put out if you use buckshot (and especially slugs) on the club’s falling steel. For the real world, you’ll want to get in some buckshot and slug practice on cardboard targets, but not too much. Even the slug and buckshot loads marked as “low recoil” still have a healthy thump to them, and you can easily work yourself into a good flinch by overusing the heavy stuff.
When it comes to delivering post-terminal payloads to rotting zombie corpses, the power factor of a compact 12 gauge cannot be overlooked. And as much as I love a self-loading shotgun—and as much as the newest designs have improved on their performance—it’s tough to beat the reliability of a pump. Also, the sheer ubiquity of 12-gauge ammo means that even if your ammo supply comes from scouring wrecked buildings for loose shells that may have been spilled in the first wave of the zombie outbreak, whatever you find, you’ll be able to use.
Twelve gauge? Check. 2¾- or 3-inch? Check. Pellet size and count? Who cares? You’ve got ammo that you can put to one use or another.
Mossberg has been building the Model 500 since 1961. The company’s had a long time to work out the details of fit, function and pattern. When I began my foray into shotguns, back when Jimmy Carter was president, we were lucky to get pattern control that kept pellets or buckshot at only one inch of spread for each yard of distance. Ten yards? Ten inches. Today shotgun shells are much improved, shotgun bores kept to tighter tolerances and the patterns you see much better overall. With the 500 ZMB, the largest pattern I saw—at 15 yards—was 10 inches. Most were in the seven- to eight-inch range.
A barrel with a plain bead can be worked to shoot slugs well with, but it was not a problem to keep all the slugs from a magazine in a USPSA target A-zone at 50 yards. Now, I won’t claim the Mossberg 500 ZMB is the perfect all-around firearm for defense. It does have some drawbacks, but those shortcomings are inherent in pump shotguns. At a little over seven pounds loaded, it will thump you in recoil. Even with the synthetic stock and recoil pad on the end, hurling an ounce-plus of lead at supersonic velocity is going to exact full Newtonian payment. Skeet and trap loads will bump you some, buckshot a lot and 3-inch magnum loads and slugs even more. For defense you should investigate low-recoil options, but don’t expect them to kick less than the skeet and trap loads. If you have spent time shooting high-capacity rifles and handguns, “only” eight shots may seem limiting. Except that, compared with a 9mm JHP, a 12-gauge load of buckshot is a tactical nuke. What you will have to do is work on reloading. Practical shotgun matches (and the 500 ZMB would be good there) are timed, and what matters in a timed match is ammunition control. You have to learn to reload at every opportunity, topping off as much as you can. So you never run out.
The bead sight is fast, but it is not going to be a lot of fun for shots past 50 yards or so. Since a shotgun is a close-range tool anyway, this is not as much of a problem as many people think. Practice and you’ll do fine. During the 500 ZMB’s short tenure here, I shot it a lot, it never failed me, and I was treated to a number of flashbacks, memories of the earliest days of 3-Gun competition. Our club started shooting 3-Gun in the very early 1980s, when zombie documentaries were still a new thing. We were more worried about other things, but even back then a Mossberg was recognized as a more than suitable tool for the undead. Now, it is not only suitable for zombies, but the 500 ZMB is designated as such.
When it comes to pump shotguns, I’m a minimalist. I do not like cluttering up my shotgun with extra ammo (the weight and bulk are just more than I can stand), slings (I had a bad experience with a shotgun and a sling many years ago and care not to repeat that embarrassing and painful mishap) or bayonets. I do not plan to get close enough to stick a zombie with a blade, but if I do, it will be something a lot more substantial than an M9 bayonet.
One thing that can be useful is a light, and there Mossberg makes it easy. Replacing the forearm on a Mossberg 500 is not at all difficult, and there are now several light options available. (Yes, the light attracts zombies, but better to see them coming than not…)
We can’t really call the 500 ZMB a death-dealing machine, because the intended undead targets are, in actuality, already dead. So I guess we’ll just have to christen it “The De-Animator.”
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