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Part I: Mossberg's Model 500 Shotgun - A Monument to American Gun Dependability

Mossberg 500 Slugster is used not only for deer hunting but also as a short-range predator shotgun.
By Randy D. Smith

-- In 1961, O.F. Mossberg & Sons introduced the Model 500, a groundbreaking, new pump shotgun design. Like many of the great American firearms such as the Winchester lever-action rifle, Colt Peacemaker revolver and Model 700 Remington bolt-action rifle, the Mossberg Model 500 shotgun is an "everyman's gun," which has sold in the millions in an extensive variety of formats. 

It is an inexpensive gun that the common working man can afford, yet at the same time it rivals or exceeds the performance of competitive shotguns many times its price. That is the hallmark of a great firearms design. 

The Mossberg Model 500 pump shotgun was designed to compete against the popular "Big Three" models of the time - the Model 37 Ithaca, the Model 870 Remington and the Model 12 Winchester. The first Model 500 was offered only in 12 gauge, chambered for all factory 2 3/4-inch regular and magnum loads. It was the first pump-action shotgun to have a top thumb safety at the back of the receiver. 

A choice of four easily interchangeable regular barrels and two special barrels were offered. This was the first application of a shooting system concept. A hunter could purchase the basic 12-gauge bird gun to start then convert to a slug, waterfowl, or 3-inch magnum accessory barrel.

The Model 500 receiver is produced from aluminum alloy and the bolt locks into a barrel extension using a massive lug on top of a vertically swinging bolt body locking piece. One specific feature of Mossberg 500 shotguns is that a tube-feed cartridge lifter remains in a raised position through most of the feeding cycle, ensuring trouble-free feeding of the shell into the barrel.

After 40 years of service, this Mossberg 500 20-gauge still performs as well as the day it was new.
Tolerances are fairly loose throughout the system, which makes the Model 500 a bit noisier than many pump shotguns, but the design is a masterpiece of reliability in harsh environmental conditions and under extremely heavy use. The overall result of this shotgun results in an economical firearm with a superb performance record.

Within two years, the Model 500 series was offered in 12-, 16- and 20-gauge models. Mossberg adopted the 500A, 500B and 500C classifications to keep things straight. Ventilated rib barrels and checkering on the pistol grip and fore-end were offered in 12- and 20-gauge in 1965. A plain 18 1/2-inch cylinder bore barrel was fitted to the 500A for police use and not advertised in sporting catalogs. This was the first product in what became an impressive law enforcement and military series of designs. A Model 500E .410 shotgun was also introduced.

Beginning in 1970, the standard 12-gauge model featured double slide bars rather than the original single bar for added strength. A big step in Model 500 evolution took place in 1977 when Mossberg phased out the C-Lect choke in favor of the new Accu-Choke system. The old C-Lect was an external dial-choke on the end of the barrel. It worked great but balance and visibility traits were judged to be inferior. The Accu-Choke was an internal system quite similar to what is still used today. The Accu-Steel choke came along in 1987.

Original C-Lect Choke served on Mossberg shotguns until replaced by the more modern Accu-Choke.
Mossberg's shooting systems concept was so successful that by 1985, 36 barrels in eight lengths were available. Mossberg introduced its first camouflage finish Model 500 in 1986 to appeal to waterfowlers and turkey hunters. Realtree and Mossy Oak patterns were added in 1991. 

In 1987, Mossberg brought out the Mariner product line which offered a 12-gauge that featured a specially treated finish to provide protection against salt water corrosion. Also in that year, Mossberg introduced a 9-shot 12-gauge Model 590 Military based off of the Model 500. This was the beginning of a highly successful series of military style shotguns. 

In 1988, a Trophy Slugster barrel with a scope-mounting base permanently fixed to the barrel instead of the receiver was introduced. This allowed the sighted scope and barrel to be removed and another barrel to be interchanged with little or no resighting. It was also in 1988 that the Model 835 series, a variation of the Model 500, was introduced to provide a 3 1/2-inch 12-gauge shotgun to compete against the 10-gauge. 

Author's 500A Slugster with Bell & Carlson Creative Effects Camouflage finish
In 1991, Mossberg introduced a muzzleloader conversion accessory barrel that used a 209 shotshell primer to ignite the charge. It works very well for deer hunting, using standard blackpowder loads.

An upgraded military version of the Model 500 is the Mossberg 590 combat shotgun.  Like its parent, the 590 will feed and shoot 2 3/4- and 3-inch shells. The Mossberg 590 has been adopted by the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps (1987) and Coast Guard, and is used by Special Forces, as well as many law enforcement agencies.

The 590 has stronger parts, an optional vented heat shield (protection from barrel heat), sling swivels, a bayonet lug, ghost ring sights, and an extended 9-round capacity magazine.  The Model 590 is a primary choice for combat door breeching and as a military base security weapon.

The Model 590A1 was recently adopted by the New York City Police Department.  During Phase Two tests, approximately 12,000 rounds of duty ammunition were fired through Model 590 shotguns by street officers with no functional problems whatsoever.

The author's 10-year-old Model 500 All Purpose Field is still his go-to gun when the weather is harsh.
I have a couple of 12-gauge Model 500s, and although firearms come and go around this house in regular procession, these Mossbergs have remained through the years. One is a smoothbore Slugster with a custom Bell & Carlson Creative Effects camouflage finish. The other is a traditional Model 500 Field with a vent rib 28-inch barrel.

Of more sentimental value is my father's 1960s vintage Model 500C 20-gauge shotgun with single-bar pump-action, C-Lect-Choke, etched receiver and ventilated rib barrel. My mother purchased the shotgun for him as a Christmas present. This was a big deal for her and she saved for quite a while to afford it. I can still remember the gleam in her eyes and her expression of pride as Dad unwrapped the gift. 

Over 40 years have passed, and we continue to hunt with that shotgun. I don't know how many of Dad's grandsons have carried that old Mossberg on their first upland game hunt, but my guess is all of them. And, that for me, my friends, is the real testament of greatness in a shotgun design.

Randy D. Smith

Click here for "Part II: Mossberg 500 Features Wide Array of Options."

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