Since 1961, the O.F. (Oscar Frederick) Mossberg company has sold more than 11 million of its Model 500 pump-action shotguns, making it the most popular shotgun of all time, if not one of the most sold guns in any category, period. That’s not too shabby for a family-owned and operated gun company—the longest running such firm in the United States—that produces blue-collar shotguns geared toward rank-and-file hunters, home owners, police forces and military units worldwide. Unsurprisingly, relatively few return to the factory for repairs, because the Mossberg 500 and its derivatives, including the beefed-up Model 590, work 99.9 percent of the time, even when mired in mud and blood, while under pressure, underwater, in salt, sand or ice. Indeed, for years when folks would ask me what shotgun to buy for home defense, I’d say “Get a Remington 870 or a Mossberg 590.” But now, since Remington is currently sidelined, the choice is simple.
The 500 was spawned by the design hand of Carl Benson, who borrowed from prior concepts combined with his own to produce a utilitarian slide-action shotgun that can be tailored for nearly any task via easily swappable barrels, stocks, magazines and myriad accessories, both factory and aftermarket.
Seventy years ago, the idea of utilizing a steel barrel extension to receive the brunt of pressure from the fired shell, thereby allowing the non-force-bearing receiver to be made of lightweight and relatively inexpensive aluminum was novel. Other notable features of the 500 include the tang-mounted safety that’s inherently ambidextrous, a robust single locking-lug bolt and dual extractors. The first big improvement came in 1970, when, after Remington’s patents expired, Mossberg added dual action bars to provide twice the reliability of the single bar used as the linkage between the fore-end and bolt assembly.
The improved design mitigated binding and was less prone to failure. Mossberg later added a 3-inch chamber. Subsequent models and gauges, including 12 and 20 gauge, .410 bore and briefly, 16 gauge, were produced, as well as offshoot models with subtle differences such as the 505, 510 and 535, the latter having a 3.5-inch chamber. In the following decades, Mossberg offered dozens of specialized variants, including a pistol-gripped Cruiser version, nickel-plated Marine versions, slug specialists, task-specific stocks and various barrel lengths available in copious finishes.
While many of the early 500s targeted hunters, plenty of the shorter-barreled versions were sold to law-enforcement agencies for the shotgun’s devastating muzzle energy and lasting reliability—all at a price even budget-crunched units could afford en masse. During the 1970s, Mossberg submitted its model 500 for official military consideration, but it failed the government’s Mil-Spec 3443E protocol. However, the accompanying report specified why. Although Mossberg built some 500s to spec, it ultimately decided to keep the model like it was, thereby maintaining costs and its margins so it could continue dominating the affordable-pump-action shotgun category. Instead, it produced the Model 590 in 1987 to satisfy military needs.
The 590 is a 500 modified in three key areas based on the government’s mil-spec. First, it did away with the plastic tang safety and exchanged it for a metal unit. Second, it replaced the plastic trigger guard with a metal one. And third, it swapped the magazine cap with one that would allow cleaning without having to disassemble it. Mossberg calls it a “clean-out cap.” In addition, the 590 wore a 20-inch barrel, Parkerized-metal finish and a six-round, extended magazine. The resulting shotgun met specifications and won lucrative military contracts.
Soon afterward, Mossberg made more improvements to the 590 to meet the Navy’s special request. The barrel was thickened so it would still shoot straight even if accidentally slammed in a ship’s heavy door. A barrel shroud was added, as was an eight-round extended magazine and a bayonet lug. The resulting 590A1 was the military shotgun of choice until Benelli’s semi-automatic M4 replaced it in the early 2000s. Yet for Soldiers, officers and anyone else who doesn’t trust a semi-auto to function with near-perfect reliability—or simply doesn’t have a couple grand in cash laying around—the 590A1 endures.
In 2017, Mossberg … er … shocked the world when it released its 590 Shockwave, a 26-inch overall-length tool with a birdshead grip that is designated as a “Firearm” by the ATF and therefore not subjected to Class III NFA restrictions despite its 14.375-inch barrel. While the standard 590 model remains wildly popular today, the Shockwave continues its wave of popularity induced by its success, and, while it was not the first such design, it was the first to sell like it was going out of style. As a result, other manufacturers have introduced similar “Firearms.”
Perhaps the Mossberg that is the most revolutionary, yet gets the least recognition, is the firm’s innovative 590M—the M meaning “magazine fed.” This detachable-box magazine 590 remedies the biggest downside of shotguns: They’re notoriously slow and difficult to load. But not the M. Initial models were available with five-, 10-, 15- or 20-round mags that could be loaded in less than a second, although current Mossberg literature indicates the company has made the 10-round mag standard. At any rate, the 590M is superior to Remington’s 870 mag-fed version that only holds six rounds. For carbine gurus who sometimes need a scattergun, the 590M is a great option.
The Many Faces of the 500 and 590
Although Mossberg continually sells standard model 500s and 590s by the trainload (they’re made at Mossberg’s Eagle Pass, TX, plant alongside its less expensive Maverick lines) several variants are (or were) favorites of home defenders. Here are some of the most notable:
500 Persuader: Wood stock, 18.5-inch barrel
500 Mariner: Synthetic stock, Marinecote (nickel-based) anti-corrosion finish, 18.5-inch barrel
500 Cruiser: Pistol grip, 18.5-inch barrel
500 Home Security: .410-bore, five-round magazine, vertical foregrip, 18.5-inch barrel
500 Rolling Thunder: Pistol grip, heat shield, recoil reducing muzzle device, six-round magazine
500 Tactical: 20-inch barrel, seven-round magazine adjustable stock, ghost-ring sights
500 JIC (Just In Case): Pistol grip, 18.5-inch barrel, PVC weatherproof tube
500 ATI Tactical: Adjustable stock, sidesaddle shell carrier, rails, five-round mag, 18.5-inch barrel
500 Flex: Modular, tool-less stock, furniture- and barrel-swapping system
500 JIC Mariner: Cerakote finish, PVC tube case, seven-shot (18.5-inch barrel, six-round magazine)
590 Special Purpose: 20-inch barrel, shroud, bayonet lug, ghost-ring sights, eight-round capacity
590 DA: 14-inch barrel (NFA only), six-round magazine
590 Tri Rail: Speedfeed stock, 20-inch barrel, shroud, tri-rail fore-end, eight-round magazine
590 Tactical: [Current variants include: seven-shot (18.5-inch barrel, six-round magazine), Retrograde (wood stock), SPX (Flex pistol grip), Thunder Ranch (18.5-inch barrel), nine-shot (20-inch barrel, eight-shot magazine)]
590A1: [Current versions include: seven-shot, Retrograde, nine-shot, nine-shot adjustable (adjustable stock), nine-shot Magpul Series (Magpul furniture), nine-shot SPX]
590A1 Class III: 14-inch barrel, five-round magazine, ghost-ring sights
590M: 10-round detachable- box magazine, 18.5-inch barrel, available with or without heat shield and ghost ring
590 Shockwave: 26-inch overall length, 14.4-inch barrel, birdshead grip, non-NFA item [Current variants include: 590M Shockwave (10-round. detachable magazine), 20-gauge, .410-bore, LaserSaddle (factory-mounted Crimson Trace laser-aiming device), Nightstick (wood furniture), SPX (shroud, side-saddle, picatinny rail), Shock N Saw (chain saw-like foregrip), Cerakote (Cerakote finish)]