As a shotgun columnist and shooting coach, the question I get more than any other is “Should I buy a Remington 870 or a Mossberg 500?” Those two slide-action shotguns are the most popular of their type ever made, and their low price, versatility, and simple, reliable designs also make them a top choice for many shooters’ first shotguns.
The Remington 870 debuted in 1950. The new gun was made with mass production techniques learned during World War II to reduce costs. Many of its parts were stamped, not machined, and Remington introduced it as part of a “family” of shotguns and rifles that all made use of some interchangeable parts, further reducing costs. While it was inexpensive, the 870 also proved to be an extremely rugged and dependable gun.
The Mossberg 500 was introduced in 1960. Before then, O.F. Mossberg and Sons was known primarily as a maker of accurate, inexpensive .22 rimfires. In a major shift, the company devoted almost all its resources and production capacity to the new 12-gauge pump shotgun.
More than 10 million of each model has been made, and they have both been successful among hunters, law enforcement officers and military personnel. Both guns come in a wide variety of configurations for almost any use, so my first decision was to decide which type of each to test.
Ultimately I chose the no-frills versions—the Model 870 Express and the Model 500 All-Purpose Field—because most new shooters tend to choose those as their entry-level shotgun. I got both in12 gauge, which is the most versatile chambering, although both guns are available in 20 gauge for shooters wanting a lighter gun. Both plain-Jane versions are comparable in price. The Express lists for $417; the All-Purpose Field carries an MSRP of $428.
On to the comparisons:
The 870 Express comes with either a 26-inch or 28-inch barrel. The Mossberg comes in 24-, 26- or 28-inch barrel lengths. My test guns had 28-inch barrels, which is a common size.
My 870 measured 48 inches overall; the Model 500 was half an inch shorter. The 870 weighed 7 pounds, 11 ounces; the 500 came in at 7 pounds, 2 ounces. The half-pound-plus difference in weight is largely due to the fact that the 870 has a steel receiver, while the Model 500 receiver is aluminum alloy. The Mossberg does have a heavier barrel than the 870, and the result is that it has a much more weight-forward balance than does the 870, despite being lighter overall. The choice depends on both personal preference and on use. Upland-bird hunters like light guns that are easy to carry, while waterfowlers and target shooters, who don’t have to walk much, prefer heavier, steadier guns that swing smoothly.
Both guns come in right-handed configurations, with ejection ports on the right side. Mossberg also offers a mirror image model with the port on the left side for southpaws. Some left-handed shooters shooting right-handed shotguns are distracted by the hulls coming out of the gun as they shoot it, and there’s a small chance of getting powder residue in the eye as well. And, some lefties find it easier to load a left-handed gun. As a left-hander myself, I have shot right-ejecting slide-actions and semiautomatics for years, and it hasn’t bothered me a bit.
All that said, the two guns have the controls in different locations, and that can be a factor for left-handed shooters.
Slide release: This disengages the slide, allowing you to work the slide and eject the cartridge that’s in the chamber without firing the gun. The 870’s slide release is located on the left side at the front of the trigger guard; the Model 500 has its release on the left at the rear of the guard. Either one is easy to use with practice. I slightly prefer the Remington’s release, although some with shorter fingers prefer the Mossberg style. In my lefty experience, the locations of the slide release on both guns are equally easy to use.
Safety: A big difference between the two guns is the position of the safeties. The 870 has a crossbolt safety located at the rear of the trigger guard. A right-hander releases it by pushing the button to the left with the trigger finger. Such a right-handed crossbolt is a pain for a left-hander like me to disengage, because I have to curl my trigger finger around to the other side of the trigger guard to push it off before I shoot.
The Model 500 has its safety on top of the receiver, making it equally accessible to both left- and right-handed shooters. To disengage it, you slide it forward with your trigger-hand thumb.
Although it is a simple matter to purchase and install a left-hand safety for an 870, lefties will prefer the Model 500 out of the box.
The 870’s safety is slightly easier to operate without extra hand movement, which is a small consideration if you plan to hunt turkeys and other sharp-eyed game.
Trigger: My test 870’s trigger broke at a surprisingly crisp and consistent 4 pounds 14 ounces, while the Mossberg trigger required more finger pressure, breaking at 6 pounds 9 ounces. Either is fine for wingshooting, but the 870 would be better for slug shooting or any other shotgunning that requires a well-aimed shot.
I don’t know if a magazine cap is a “control,” but the 870 has a separate magazine cap that holds the barrel in place, while the Model 500 has an integral cap attached to the barrel. I prefer the Remington style, as I find it hard to get a grip on the Mossberg’s cap. On the other hand, an integral cap means you have one less part to lose if you have to take your gun apart in the field.
Both guns come with plain hardwood stocks, and can be had with black synthetic stocks also. The 870 has checkering that has been pressed into the wood, while the Mossberg checkering is cut, resulting in a deeper, more functional and more attractive look.
The Mossberg has a blue/black anodized receiver and a blued steel barrel. The 870 is matte-blued-finish bead-blasted steel, resulting in a non-glare look. In my experience with both guns, the 870 finish is more prone to rust if it’s not properly cleaned, oiled and cared for than is the blued steel of the Mossberg’s barrel and magazine tube. Anodized alloy receivers don’t rust at all.
The 870 and the Model 500 share very similar stock dimensions in terms of length of pull and drop.
Length of pull is the distance from the front of the trigger to the butt of the gun. When you test a gun, you know a stock is the correct length if you can fit two finger widths between the thumb of your trigger hand and your nose when the gun is mounted to your shoulder. With only an eighth of an inch difference in length of pull between the 870 and the 500 (14 inches versus 13 7/8), there’s not a lot to choose between the two. (By the way, it’s easy to have a stock lengthened or shortened by a gunsmith to fit you.)
There’s no difference at all in the two guns in drop, the other most significant stock dimension. Drop is the distance between a line extended back over the stock from the rib, and the top of the stock itself. It’s typically measured in two places: at the heel, or the butt of the gun, and at the comb, or the very front part of the stock just before it drops down to the grip. Drop determines how high your eye is over the stock.
Since your eye is the rear “sight” of a shotgun, drop essentially determines how high or low the gun will shoot. With your head on the stock, your sight picture should be either flat down the rib or elevated just slightly above it (with a gun like the Model 500 that has front and middle beads, you may want to see the front bead “stacked” on top of the middle bead so you know you’re holding it properly).
Both guns have identical 1 1/2 inches of drop at the comb and 2 1/2 inches at the heel. These dimensions fit many shooters.
The 870 has a single bead pressed into the rib, while the Mossberg has a front and middle bead. For wingshooting, either setup is fine, since you should be looking at the target and not the bead anyway. But, for applications when you need to aim the gun, such as turkey or squirrel hunting, a double bead setup is an advantage. It helps, too, for making sure you’ve properly mounted the gun when participating in target games, such as trap shooting. Adding a middle bead to an 870 is an inexpensive job for a gunsmith; I’ve had it done to a couple of mine.
The Model 500 holds five shells in the magazine and one in the chamber. The 870 holds four in the magazine plus one in the chamber. Both guns come with removable magazine plugs to limit shell capacity where required by hunting regulations. For hunting purposes, that extra sixth shell is rarely a factor, although for home defense it could prove important.
Both guns have muzzles threaded for interchangeable choke tubes. The Mossberg comes with three chokes (Improved Cylinder, Modified, and Full) while the 870 comes with a Modified tube only. Both include a choke tube wrench and a cartridge-limiting magazine plug, which is necessary to remain legal in many hunting situations The Mossberg receiver also comes drilled and tapped for a scope base, if you want to use the gun for hunting deer with rifled slugs.
I took both guns to the range and tested them first for point of impact. Both shot dead on point of aim on a pattern plate. I then ran 125 rounds through each gun at while shooting skeet. Despite the difference in balance points, I hit targets with both easily. The extra weight of the 870 helps reduce recoil somewhat. The Model 500 does feature a ported barrel. The ports cut near the muzzle are supposed to reduce recoil and prevent the gun from rising during a shot, but I honestly didn’t notice a big difference.
Both actions were slick enough for second shots at doubles. I did find, for whatever reason, that I short-stroked the 870 a time or two. I never had a problem cycling the Mossberg. I also experienced a couple of sticky ejections with the 870 while shooting inexpensive Rio target loads, and I have seen several 870s with the same problem. That can usually be fixed easily by having a gunsmith polish the chamber.
Breakdown and Cleaning
Both guns come apart easily for cleaning. The big difference between the two is that the end of the Mossberg magazine tube is closed. To get inside, you’ll need to heat the tube where it joins the receiver to break down the LocTite bond, then unscrew it. On the other hand, it’s a simple matter to remove the retainer and magazine spring from the 870 and clean the spring and the tube.
There’s a wealth of factory and aftermarket parts available for each gun. You can buy extra factory barrels, stocks, and choke tubes from Remington and Mossberg, or you can enter the world of aftermarket parts and find almost anything you need to customize either gun for hunting or tactical uses: magazine extensions, folding stocks, choke tubes, sling swivels, sights, and more. Although there’s a ton of parts for both guns, there are probably more choices available for the 870.
The Bottom Line
The Remington 870 has, to my way of thinking, a better, more solid feel and balance due to the steel receiver. However, the Mossberg 500 was the gun that worked best out of the box.
As a left-hander, I like the top safety of the 500, and I liked the double beads and extra choke tubes as well.
The 870 offers some extra heft, and I prefer its feel and balance. The 500 is a good choice for left-handers or those who want a lighter gun. Both of these guns are solid and proven designs, so if you’re deciding between the two and none of the differences listed above is a factor, pick the one that feels better in your hands and at your shoulder. Twenty million owners can’t be wrong.