Comparison between the Remington 870 and the Mossberg 500
Written by Recoil, Second Amendment Society -- August 2, 2009
The debate regarding the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 shotguns has raged for years. The issue recently came up on my forum, the Second Amendment Society, and after writing a couple long posts regarding the differences between the two, I realized that it would do a lot of people good to see a feature-by-feature comparison between the two classic weapons. I have attempted to write this as factual and as somewhat non-biased as possible, but the reader will definitely know by the end of this which gun I prefer.
In the end, when all is said and done, I thoroughly suggest that any prospective buyer of either model do their own first hand comparison. What works for me might not work for you, and when faced with a situation where you have to defend yourself or others with one of these formidable weapons, it is genuinely in your best interest to forget about the Internet scuttlebutt and choose the shotgun best suited to your body structure and gun handling abilities.
A note before we begin though: when I say "Remington 870" I am referring to all non-Express models, such as the Wingmaster, Police, and Marine Magnum. The 870 Express is not included as it has several differing features which I will discuss at the end. Similarly, when I say "Mossberg 500" I am referring to all 5XX models, such as the 500, 500A or the 590, and so forth. The standard models of both brands differ only superficially, and stocks, finishes, etc., will not be discussed here. An engraved 870 Wingmaster with gold leaf and carved AAA walnut stocks has identical functional features as the ugliest 870P, and likewise with the Mossbergs. My focus here is simply on the mechanics of the guns, nothing more. If you want a factory camo finish, fancy sights and a rail for mounting optics, that's your business, but you wont find any recommendations regarding those things in this article.
So without further chit chat, let's get on with it.
- The Remington 870 has a steel receiver.
- The Mossberg 500 has an aluminum receiver.
- The Mossberg 500 is a lighter gun as a result of it's aluminum receiver, and therefore is easier to carry and use for long periods.
- Some claim the aluminum receiver is a negative feature, however there are no wide-spread reports that I'm aware of indicating that the Mossberg receiver is prone to breakage (see section "Military Use" towards the end).
- The Remington 870 utilizes dual action bars for smooth and positive operation.
- The Mossberg 500 currently utilizes dual action bars for smooth and positive operation.
- Pre-1970 models utilize a single action bar, which allegedly may bind (single action bars are another hot topic of debate; there is little evidence suggesting they actually bind during normal operation. Dual action bars can be made to bind as well, when manipulated to do so).
Barrels / Magazine Tubes
- The Remington 870 utilizes a barrel / barrel band which slips over the the magazine tube, and the magazine cap serves only to prevent the barrel from sliding off the receiver.
- Due to the above, adding a magazine extension is easy and it makes no difference what type of barrel you have installed.
- Remington currently puts dimples inside the magazine tube to prevent you from adding a magazine extension. This is done for political reasons (they don't want you building an "evil" shotgun), and they want to force you to purchase the more expensive Police and Marine Magnum models if you want the extended tube. However, the dimples may be removed with a some light grinding with a Dremel tool or a round file, which restores the 870 to full upgradeability. Older 870s do not have this problem.
- The shortest possible non-SBR barrel and extended magazine length will be 18.5".
- With an extended magazine, the 870 will hold 6 rounds in the magazine and one in the barrel, for a total capacity of 7 rounds.
Note how the magazine tube (bottom tube) is independent of the barrel, making the addition of the extension simple:
- The Mossberg 500 utilizes a barrel / barrel band which screws into the end of magazine tube, unitizing the barrel and magazine together.
- Due to the above, it is impossible to add an aftermarket magazine extension because the barrel band and integral end cap are in the way.
- Factory and aftermarket barrels with an extended barrel band are available for those who wish to add magazine capacity. One must also purchase the longer magazine tube as well.
- The shortest possible non-SBR barrel and the extended magazine will be 18.5".
- The 500 has several possible barrel and magazine tube length combinations, which will hold 7, 8 or 9 rounds in the magazine, depending on the type, and one in the barrel, for a total capacity of 8, 9 or 10 rounds.
- The standard magazine tube holds 5 rounds, with one in the barrel, for a total capacity of 6 rounds.
Note how the barrel has a band and threaded lug which screws to the end of the magazine tube, making it impossible to add an extension tube without replacing the whole barrel and magazine:
- The Remington 870 utilizes a single extractor.
- The Mossberg 500 utilizes two extractors.
- The Remington 870 utilizes a slide release button on the forward left of the trigger guard.
- Due to this, the slide release is difficult to reach and requires either long fingers or the displacement of the shooter's hands from the shooting position.
- The Mossberg 500 utilizes a slide release button on the rear right of the trigger guard.
- Due to this, the slide release is very easy to reach and requires no displacement of one's hands from the shooting position..
- Left handed shooters will have no difficulty reaching the 500's slide release.
- The Remington 870 utilizes a shell lifter that is in the constant down position.
- Due to this, combat reloading* is more complicated and one's fingers can be pinched when inserting shells into the magazine.
- The only way to raise the shell lifter is to retract the slide.
- The Mossberg 500 utilizes a shell lifter that is in the constant up position.
- Due to this, combat reloading* is simplified and easy.
- The bottom of the bolt and shell lifter act as a shell guide for blind round insertion during a combat reload*.
* Note: Combat reloading is the general process by which the shotgun is reloaded before it is empty. A major disadvantage to a shotgun in defensive or offensive operations is it's low cartridge capacity and resultant lack of sustainable firepower, unlike a high capacity magazine fed rifle such as the AR-15. To alleviate this problem somewhat, for combat shotgunners, it is standard practice to reload the shotgun as often as possible prior to the magazine going empty, thereby theoretically allowing the shotgun to sustain shooting operations until one is completely out of ammunition. Another purpose for the combat reload is to feed a specialty round into the string for the next shot, typically to transition from buckshot to slugs.
- The Remington 870 utilizes a standard cross-bolt safety which is placed on the trigger guard. You press the button to the right to put it on safe, and press it to the left to fire.
- The Mossberg 500 utilizes a sliding safety which is placed on the tang of the receiver. You slide the button forward to fire, and slide it to the rear to make it safe.
- This is a decided plus for left handed shooters, and is generally regarded as more logical and user friendly than the cross-bolt safety.
- It also has benefits for combat, one of which is the safety's ability to be manipulated easier should one's hand(s) be injured (it can even be pressed with one's chin if necessary).
- The safety button is plastic and somewhat prone to breakage. The safety will still function perfectly, as the post on which the button sits sticks up above the surface of the receiver. Steel aftermarket safety buttons are available and are recommended for any 500 intended for combative use.
- The Remington 870 utilizes a steel trigger guard.
- The Mossberg 500 utilizes a plastic trigger guard.
- Steel aftermarket trigger guards are available and are recommended for any 500 intended for combative use.
- The Remington 870's fore-end typically exhibits a good fit with only a little shake.
- The Mossberg 500's fore-end is somewhat loose and will rattle if not held or otherwise secured.
- Some believe this is beneficial to function, similar to the loose tolerances of the AK-47.
- The Remington 870 is in current use with the U.S. Armed Forces.
- The Mossberg 500 is in current use with the U.S. Armed Forces.
- It is the only shotgun which has passed the U.S. Army's Mil-Spec 3443E test.
Note: The U.S. military's adoption of shotguns is a tad confusing and not as clear cut as with it's rifles. They appear to buy whatever they want, whenever they want. I am not aware of any specific order adopting the Remington 870 (I could definitely be wrong about this!), unlike the Mossberg 500 which has officially been adopted as a U.S. small arm. However, it is certain that Remington 870s are indeed in wide-spread use in the military, and have been since the Marine Corps began purchasing them for the Vietnam War. Despite the possible lack of official adoption, it is probable that the U.S. government has simply purchased the Remington 870 as needed.
It should also be noted that both the Remington 870 and the Mossberg have officially been replaced by the Benelli M1014, known as the M4 Super 90 on the civilian market. Interestingly, the Mossberg is still the only shotgun to meet Mil-Spec 3443E. Also, the government continues to purchase both 870s and 500s despite the adoption of the Benelli.
The Remington 870 Express
The Remington 870 Express line of shotguns is geared towards the budget shotgunner. The Express is still a Remington 870, however there are some mechanical and cosmetic differences from the other lines of 870:
- No finish machining (burrs, sharp edges, etc. aren't removed)
- Has a less expensive finish
- Uses a longer fore-end (the Police uses Speedfeed stocks)
- Different barrel lock system
- Uses the "ISS" safety which allows the user to lock the cross-bolt safety in the SAFE position
- Plastic trigger guard (breaks easier)
- Cast extractor and ejector (breaks easier)
- Lighter sear spring (less predictable)
- Shorter magazine spring (less reliable feeding)
- Lighter carrier dog spring (less reliable feeding)
I have emboldened the last five items. It is my opinion that these things ought to be remedied prior to pushing an 870 Express into combat duty. All of these issues are easy and inexpensive to fix, as all one has to do is replace the aforementioned parts with those meant for a Remington 870P (Police).
It should also be noted that the 870 Express' fore-end must be replaced if you intend to use a standard 6 round side saddle, otherwise you're stuck with a shortened 4 round side saddle. The stock Express fore-end was made long so as to come back farther and cover part of the receiver in the retracted position. Remington did this to prevent average citizens from building an "evil assault shotgun," along with the addition of dimples inside the magazine tube to prevent the installation of an aftermarket magazine extension. Fortunately, Americans are a lot smarter than the apparently left leaning, pandering, Nanny State executives at Remington and one can simply file down the dimples in the mag tube and replace the fore-end to correct the gun's short-comings.
So as I said in the beginning, despite all of the above being factual, you can probably tell which shotgun I prefer. It is, of course, the Mossberg 500. Though, I admit much of my bias comes from being left-handed, and the 500 is a much more lefty friendly gun than the 870. However, that bias was earned as I used to be an 870 man myself. It was only after I acquired a pair of Mossberg 500s in payment of a debt a friend owed that I had the chance to use the 500 enough to form a real opinion.
That opinion is that the Mossberg 500 is a more ergonomic, user friendly, lighter and handier weapon than the Remington 870. The only major downside to the 500 is it's inability to cheaply and easily accept a magazine extension (you have to obtain a 500 Persuader or 590A1 barrel and magazine tube). It would definitely be nice if Mossberg changed their barrel and magazine design so as to allow for easy upgrading like the Remington 870. It would also be nice if they tightened up the somewhat sloppy fore-end too.
Another significant upside to the 500 is that it's cheaper than the Remington 870 since you're not paying for the Remington name. You can get a Mossberg 500/590 in a tactical configuration, with a 20" barrel, an 8 or 9 shot magazine (your choice), rifle or ghost ring sights (your choice) and Speedfeed stocks for at least $100.00 less than you can buy an identically equipped 870. Such a Mossberg would look like this:
That $100.00 minimum savings over an 870 buys a lot of extra shotgun ammo my friends, not to mention some gear you'll find useful in a defensive or offensive situation, such as a side saddle, sling, a spare ammo pouch and a flashlight.
But, that's just my opinion. Some people are glued to the 870 and that's fine; the Remington 870 is a superb weapon. Every firearm of every make and model has plusses and minuses, and so long as the user knows the weapon's limitations and can work with them, then it doesn't matter. It's the person holding the gun that is the weapon, not the gun itself. So in the end, I strongly suggest you try both shotguns out if you can. Even if you can only just play with one in the gun shop for awhile and give it a hard, critical look, that'll beat any opinions you read on the Internet.
I hope this has helped you. Good luck, and happy shotgunning.
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