For over 60 years, Mossberg has placed reliable, well-built, and cost-conscious firearms in the hands of hunters, home defenders, and defense professionals through the company’s 500-series pump-action shotguns

by Rob Reaser

Since its debut by O.F. Mossberg & Sons in 1961, the Mossberg 500 pump-action (or slide-action) shotgun has enjoyed status as one of the most popular shotguns in America, closely rivaled only by Remington’s famed 870 pump-action, which preceded it by 11 years. In fact, the Mossberg 500 and the Remington 870 are often spoken of in the same breath. Both are rock-solid shotguns that use a slide-action to manually cycle the firearm. Both are eminently dependable in the field, and their removeable and interchangeable barrel systems provide a utilitarian diversity that has made them ideal for applications ranging from small game and bird hunting to home protection, law enforcement, and military use.

Where the Mossberg 500 charted its own successful course was its combination of low cost, light weight, and ergonomics. The incorporation of a steel barrel extension to manage shotshell pressures, for example, allowed the company to use an aluminum alloy receiver to reduce cost and weight while ensuring durability and reliable performance. Placing the safety control on top of the receiver in the traditional tang area made it ambidextrous in operation. Engineers also placed the action lock lever to the rear of the trigger housing, making it easy to depress and to open the chamber area without removing the firing hand from the grip.

Most importantly, the Mossberg 500 proved to be a rugged and reliable shotgun with what many conceded to be a “blue collar” price tag. It is this combination of quality, performance, and price that has kept this shotgun at the top of the sales charts since the 1960s. As shotguns go, it is simple to operate and, with its inherent barrel interchangeability, easily adapted to a wide range of uses.

The Mossberg 500 Field.

From the outset, the Model 500 was, first and foremost, a field gun favored by hunters of all persuasions, and it continues to be so today. Fitted with a long 26- or 28-inch barrel, it delivers 2 3/4- and 3-inch shotshell payloads with the kind of downrange authority favored by wing shooters and turkey hunters alike. Hosting shorter 22- and 24-inch barrels, the Model 500 makes an excellent all-around field gun for small game and varmints. Add a rifled barrel and the Model 500 can manage big-game hunting with today’s high-performance sabot slugs.

A Model 500 dressed for personal defense.

Much as the Model 500 satisfies in the hunting fields, it has also proven itself as a favorite of law enforcement and military personnel. Again, simple and reliable operation coupled with a short 18.5- to 20-inch inch barrel gave the Model 500 its much-deserved “street cred” and battlefield validation. In 1979, the U.S. government awarded Mossberg the company’s first contract for a combat-duty shotgun, with the Model 500 eventually filtering into the service branches.

Military requirements ultimately demanded a shotgun with an even more robust design, so, in 1987, Mossberg released the next iteration of the Model 500 series, called the Model 590.

The Mossberg 590 FLEX Tactical.

The Model 590 is not far separated from its progenitor. In fact, there are only a few differences between it and the Model 500. The Model 590 is, though, a shotgun bred for defensive use.

When we speak of the 590, it is necessary to divide what can be referred to as the “standard” or “civilian” Model 590 from the full-suite military-grade Model 590A1.

One of the early requirements of the Model 590 to meet military specifications was the inclusion of a “clean-out” magazine tube. This contrasts to the Model 500 magazine tube, which is closed on the magazine cap end and requires the gun to be disassembled and the magazine tube to be removed from the receiver in order to clean or service it. The Model 590 magazine tube, by contrast, can be opened by unscrewing the magazine cap, pulling the spring retainer, and allowing the magazine spring and follower to be removed and the tube to be easily cleaned inside. Both the Model 590 and the Model 590A1 have this feature.

Where the two models (590 and 590A1) diverge is the trigger housing, safety button, and barrel. The Model 590A1 uses a metal trigger housing and safety button—features perceived to be more durable than the polymer versions found in the Model 500 and the standard Model 590. The 590A1 also comes with a thicker-walled barrel—a demand by the Navy since that service required a barrel that could withstand being slammed by heavy ship doors.

From here, the Model 590 and Model 590A1 offer numerous variants—many with common or mix-and-match components that blur the lines between the two. These variations can comprise the sight system (ghost ring adjustable rear/front blade or front bead), stock and forend configuration, barrel length (18.5- or 20-inch), shotshell capacity (6+1 or 8+1)…even the inclusion of a bayonet lug.

Just as there are numerous variants of the 500, 590, and 590A1 models, one is likely to encounter many variations of these models spanning the shotguns’ decades-long production runs. Yet while the dissimilarities are minor, the essential commonalities are legion.

Model 500

If you can only have one, the Model 500 Field would certainly be it. All guns in the 500 Field category feature 5+1 capacity and are chambered in 2 3/4- or 3-inch. Barrel lengths range from 20- to 28-inches, except for the Field/Security Combo model, which includes an 18.5-inch barrel along with a 28-inch tube. Available chambers are 12-ga., 20-ga., and .410 bore.

Mossberg currently lists a whopping 23 different model variations of the 500 Field when you account for the gauge/bore classes. Here, you find everything from the base 500 Hunting All Purpose field models to the new 500 Turkey – Holosun Micro Dot Combo, Turkey/Deer combos, and Field/Deer combos to the innovative FLEX 500 models designed for easy shooter customization.

My favorite approach to the 500 is the 500 Hunting All Purpose model. I just like the classic styling of the hardwood furniture and blued finish. The included 28-inch barrel satisfies all scattershot hunting needs—from upland birds, squirrels, and rabbits to turkey. Acquiring one of Mossberg’s rifled sabot slug barrels gives you a big-game hunting option. Simply add a scope or red dot and you’re ready to go deer and hog hunting. When fun time is over, swap out one of the hunting barrels for an 18.5-inch cylinder bore barrel and the gun can continue to work 24/7, 365 as your home defender.

Model 590

As mentioned earlier, the Model 590 represents the start of Mossberg’s “fighting gun” lineup of pump-action shotguns. In keeping with that mission, the available barrels are shorter (18.5- or 20-inch) while shotshell capacity ramps up to 6+1 or 8+1. Chambers include 12-ga., 20-ga., and .410 bore, and chamber lengths continue at 2 3/4- and 3-inch.

A total of 15 models are included in the 590 series. The key differentiators include furniture configurations, sight options, and finishes.

The newest in the series is the 590 Thunder Ranch. Designed in cooperation with Clint Smith, who oversees the Thunder Ranch defensive firearm training facility in Oregon, the 590 Thunder Ranch is a 12-guage cylinder bore shotgun with a 6+1 capacity, optic-ready receiver, fiber-optic front bead sight, and a Patriot Brown Cerakote finish with the Thunder Ranch logo on the receiver.

Other than the magazine tube capacity being expanded by one or two shells and the available barrel lengths, the only fundamental difference between the 500 and 590 is the magazine cap and tube end. Here, you can see that the 500’s magazine tube end (right) is closed, and the interior cannot be accessed without disassembling the gun. The 590 tube (left) has a different end cap, beneath which is a spring retainer seen here. Removing the spring retainer allows you to remove the spring and follower out the front of the tube for cleaning.

Model 590A1

Now we come to the beast of the 500 series: the Model 590A1. These are the raucous pump guns built to MIL-SPEC 3443G riot-type shotgun standards. If you are looking for a bare-knuckled home defender, this is it.

Offered in 6+1 or 8+1 capacity and either 18.5- or 20-inch barrel lengths, the 590A1 steps up the “tough game” with heavy-walled barrels, metal trigger guard and safety button, and the same clean-out magazine tube as seen in the 590. The 590A1 is only offered in a 12-ga. 2 3/4 and 3-inch chamber.

As with the 500 and 590, the 590A1 is available in several variations (11, plus a Class III model sporting a 14-inch barrel and 5+1 capacity that us common folk can only get with a Class III NFA stamp).

The coolest of the bunch, to my eye, is the 590A1 Retrograde model, with its walnut furniture, Parkerized finish, and barrel heat shield.

Our fathers, grandfathers, and countless military and law enforcement personnel have tapped the Mossberg 500-series shotguns for all manner of purposes for which a shotgun can be deployed. With off-the-shelf retail prices starting in the low $400s, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another pump action platform with the pedigree, proven performance, and adaptability as the famed 500-series.

Mtm Armar

Shoot On Editor-in-Chief Rob Reaser is a lifelong outdoorsman, former magazine editor, columnist, and contributing editor to numerous national publications in the automotive and outdoor segments. He has also authored and co-authored several DIY gun building books. His shooting and hunting passions cover everything from traditional archery and big-game bowhunting to the latest in handguns, rifles, and reloading. Rob has a troublesome habit of pulling guns and things apart to see how they work; occasionally, he manages to get them back together...

Load More Related Articles
Load More By Rob Reaser
Load More In Firearms

Check Also

FIRST TEST: Burris BTC35 V3 Clip-On Thermal

The latest iteration in the Burris clip-on thermal series, the all-new BTC35 V3 is a multi…