Comparitive Study: Remington 870 vs Mosberg 590
While there are also other good pump action shotgun designs out there, the two most likely choices when considering a tactical shotgun are either the Remington 870 or the Mossberg 590. Both designs have their pros and cons, and our intent with this article is to lay out some of the differences between the two such that a prospective buyer has a bit more knowledge when conducting their own evaluation.
One of the problems in trying to compare these two shotguns to each other is the vast selection of various models to choose from in each camp. Before an effective comparison between the 870 and the 590 can be made, a bit of background is effective in setting the stage for our selection of test guns: A Remington 870 Police and a Mossberg 590 Special Purpose.
870 Police w/ghost ring sights
Our Remington 870 Police test gun, shown here with a 14 inch barrel. The gun also came with a 2 round magazine extension and an 18 inch barrel with a slightly different front sight assembly.
Our Mossberg 590SP test gun.
The Remington 870 has been around since 1950 when it replaced the Model 31 and has proven to be such a wildly popular design and reliable workhorse that little has changed about it in over 50 years. Over 6 million 870s have been manufactured to date, and a quick look at remington's catalogue offerings ( www.remington.com) serves illustrate a wide selection of different models to choose from...testimony to the popularity and reliability of the design. Remington practically owns the North American Law Enforcement market (www.remingtonle.com) and have recently created a separate division (www.remintonmilitary.com) where they marked a modified 870 specifically for military purposes.
The Mossberg 500 series of shotguns were introduced in 1961 and also have large and faithful following. A quick visit to Mossberg's website (www.mossberg.com) will also illustrate that they too have an large variety of different models to choose from. Adopted by the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps (in 1987) and Coast Guard, it has a large following in the US military as a reliable and formidable close quarters weapon. Many believe that the mossberg was engineered to be a more economical alternative to the remington 870; whether or not you believe this or not the simple truth is that if pinching your pennies is important you will likely be looking hard at a mossberg.
870 Wingmaster, 870 Police, 870 Express
Generally speaking, the remingotn shotguns are available in three flavors: Winmgaster, Police, and Express. The 870 wingmaster was the original gun and the benchmark to which all the other 870s need to be held. Particularly with their older models, fit and finish of an 870 wingmaster is second to none. Recently, cost cutting by Remington has, in our opinion, reduced the overall quality of the newer wingmasters and while they are still the creme of the current crop, they don't hold a candle to those crafted by remington in yester-years.
The 870 police shares many of the things that make the wingmaster great with a couple of key differences that make the gun more suited for law enforcement. Key amongst these variables are heavier springs in the trigger group, a parkerized finish, a shortened forend to allow use with those ever popular side saddle ammunition carriers, and a magazine tube designed to accept extensions. To elaborate on this last feature, in recent years remington has designed the magazine tubes on both the express and wingmaster models such that installation of an extended magazine tube required either grinding or pressing out two small tabs that have been "dented" into the end of the magazine tube. While they allow a cheaper magazine spring retention system to be used as compared to the older guns and those in the police models, the tabs also have the annoying property of preventing shells to slid beyond them, thus necessitating their removal if a magazine extension is to function properly.
If you believe that the mossberg 500 series shotguns were in response to the 870 and engineered from the ground up to be a more economical shotgun, then the 870 express is Remington's answer to the 500. While nothing is different in the design of an 870 express as compared to an 870 wingmaster or police, the devil in this case is in the details of execution. Cutting just about every corner possible in the manufacturing process with an eye towards saving money, an 870 Express HD is a very rough around the edges replacement for the 870 police. Internal fit and finish are noticably rougher and translate into a much less smooth action as compared to either the wingmaster or the police. The finish of the gun is also extremely rough, and in our experience not nearly as durable as either the bluing of the wingmaster or the parkerizing of the police.
500, 590, 590A1
Mossberg 500s and 590s are typically marketed as the "one pump action shotgun...heavy duty enough to pass...Mil-Spec 3443E, a brutal and unforgiving torture test with 3,000 rounds of full power 12 gauge buckshot". Referring to the US Armed Services shotgun selection trials that eventually lead to the adaptation of the Mossberg 590A1 by the armed forces in 1987, from what we here at tacticalworks.ca remember this claim is misleading to say the least. It is true that the mossberg was the only shotgun to pass the endurance trials, but what they neglect to tell you is that Remington didn't even bother to enter a gun into the trials.
Speculating as to why remington did not want their 870 to take part in the trials, we would guess that remington has everything to lose and nothing to gain. The 870 already enjoyed a virtual monopoly throughout north american law enforcement markets, also enjoyed a large share of the civilian market, and it was already in use by many military units. With the 870 a more expensive gun than it's competition, remington already knew they were unable to compete financially for the military contract and was not prepared to risk losing either their police or civilian markets trying to compete for the smaller military market.
This little bit of history leads us into our discussion on the differences between the various mossberg models. Why we brought the history lesson up is because it is important to recognize is that the 590A1 is model mossberg submitted for the tests and is significantly beefier in several key areas as compared to their "standard" offerings. For starters, the safety mechanism of the 590A1 is metal as compared to the plastic safety of the 500 and the 590. This issue with the safety is important, as there are many reports of the plastic safeties failing, especially in cold weather. The trigger guard is another area where the same difference in materials exists between the 590A1 and the others. Lastly, the barrel of the 590A1 is significantly thicker and outfitted with a built in magazine extension and bayonet lug. While some other models of the 590 are sometimes equipped with a longer magazine tube and the bayonet lug, they lack the beefed up rigidity of the 590A1.
Remington 870 Police vs Mossberg 590 Special Purpose
Now that we've talked a bit about the background of the two shotguns, we're going to begin our direct comparison between our two sample shotguns. For purpose of our hands-on evaluation, we had hoped to pit an 870 police against a 590A1, however we were unfortunately unable to acquire a 590A1 in in the configuration we wanted in time for the review. We settled for a 590 Special Purpose equipped the same way as the 590A1 we had hoped for; the gun we wound up with is the same as a 590A1 with the exception that it has a plastic trigger guard/safety and a lighter profile barrel.
The first major difference between the 870 and the 590 is in the selection of materials for the receiver; steel in the case of the 870 and anodized aluminum in the case of the mossberg. In this department, many critics of the 590 scoff at mossberg's decision to use aluminum for the receiver, charging that steel is inherehtly stronger than aluminum. We feel their reservations are unfounded though as we have never seen or heard of a mossberg receiver with pre-mature wear or failure due to their selection of material. The barrel and bolt of te 590 are both steel and as such the lockup of parts that experience the forces associated with firing are all steel. As aluminum is less dense than steel, the 590's receiver is considerably lighter than that of the 870, and you will both appreciate this when you have to carry the gun around all day long and wish for a slightly heavier gun when firing heavier recoiling loads.
Both models use varying degrees of plastic parts across their different models. The 870 police and older wingmaster guns use cast materials for their trigger guards, where on the express and some newer wongmaster models the trigger guard assembly is some sort of a high impact plastic. A parallel situation exists in the mossberg world, where the trigger guard of the 590A1 is made from metal as compared to high impact plastic across the rest of their line.
Location of Controls - Safety
The controls of the two shotguns differ significantly. The tang mounted safety of the mossberg lends itself nicely to ambidextrous operation, whereas the cross bolt safety of the 870 located behind the trigger is set up from the factory for a right handed user. Some simple gunsmithing is required to reverse the 870's safety for a left handed operator, and we feel that the ambidextrous design of the mossberg is superior, primarily owing to the fact that it can easily be operated with either hand, including when gloves or mitts are worn.
Worth mentioning again is the difference in materials for the safety controls across the different mossberg line. To our knowledge, the 590A1 is the only model with a metal selector. All other models of the mossberg line use plastic parts in the safety and are subject to breakage under both rough or cold weather conditions. Fortunately the safety can still be operated by manipulating the screw that would then protrude from the receiver, and also fortunate is that there are many metal aftermarket replacement safeties that are easily installed.
In the remington world, not all safeties are made equal either. On their newer wingmaster and express models, Remington has elected to equip their safeties with an integral "J" lock that uses a J shaped key to lock the safety in the "on" position. Recently across various internet discussion forums there has been discussion suggesting it is possible to activate the safety lock without the key, however we have never experienced this on any of the 870 expresses we have handled nor have we heard a direct account of it happening. Regardless, the safeties of the 870 police come without this controvertial feature and we have heard rumours that remington will be discountinuing this "feature" in the future.
Location of Controls - Slide Release
Also different between the two shotguns is the location of the slide release. While both on the right side of the gun, the mossberg places the slide release behind the trigger, where on the remington it is located forward of the trigger guard. For a right handed shooter the mossberg's release is likely more ergonomic, allowing the operator to access the control without having to break their fiting grip. This is a big plus when having to switch ammunition during a firefight, such as for a "select slug" drill. A left handed operator will also be able to accomplish this on the remington, however a right handed shooter will need to break their firing grip to access the control.
Turning our attention to the firing mechanisms, we also will not some significant differences between the two shotguns starting with the extractor and ejector mechanisms. The 870 has one claw like extractor on the right hand side of the bolt. By comparison, the mossberg has two...one on each side of the bolt. The ejector of the 870 is of the leaf spring variety and it is pinned in place with a special tool that usually means a trip to the gunsmith for repair should something go wrong. The mossberg ejector is of the mechanical barrier variety, and in our opinion better designed in that it is affixed to the interior of the receiver via a simple flat headed machine screw. Replacement does not require special tools...just the replacement parts and an every day screwdriver.
All this being said, we've never seen a broken extactor on an 870, and while we have seen the odd ejector spring needing replacement, we seen many more broken mossberg ejectors. If you elect to go the mossberg route we'd suggest having a spare one on hand.
Both shotguns currently have dual action transfer bars, however this was not always the case as earlier Mossberg 500s only had a single action transfer bar. Dual action bars are an important and contribute significantly to the "smoothness" and more important to the reliability of a pump action shotgun. If you are considering purchasing a used mossberg, make sure to verify that it was manufactured after the upgraded dual bar design was implemented.
Magazine capacity of our 870 police test gun was 6+1. Adding additional capacity to the remington is possible via a third party magazine extension (and a longer barrel if you want the magazine extension to be flush with the end of the barrel). The current 870 wingmaster and express models must have their magazine-spring-retaining-plug tabs ground or pressed out before a magazine extension can be used. Older wingmasters and current police models have no such inconvenience.
Adding additional magazine capacity to a mossberg is a different story. While our test gun came with an extended magazine tube and consequently an 8+1 capacity, it is all once piece and as such requires a different barrel setup as compared to the regular mossberg 500/590 series. On this particular setup the barrel is attached to the receiver by means of a cap screwed onto the end of the magazine tube (quite like that on the 870). In contrast, on the regular 500/590 series a lug extends beneath the barrel and holds the barrel to the gun by means of a locking nut. The geometry of the lug is such that it is impossible to add a magazine extension. If you want greater magazine capacity your only option is to go with a 590 model that has the extended tube barrel geometry, such as our 590 special purpose test gun or the 590A1.
The shell elevating mechanism differs significantly between the 870 and the 590. On the 870, the lifter is normally flush with the bottom of the receiver. It only lifts momentarily during the action cycling sequence. To load the magazine tube of an 870, the shell lifter needs to be pushed out of the way before the shell can be thumbed into the magazine tube. On the 590, the elevator is normally up flush with the bottom of the bolt. This leaves the bottom of the shotgun receiver open and nothing needs to be moved out of the way to load the magazine tube. Some people feel that the elevated shell lifter makes it easier to load the 590, as it is possible to get your finger pinched a bit between the receiver and the elevator of the 870. Conversly, the lowered elevator of the 870 can be of benefit in keeping dirt and foreign matter from entering the bottom of the shotgun receiver.
Our 870 police came with a plastic high visibility follower. The one in the mossberg was aluminum and not highly visible. With either shotgun we would likely replace the magazine follower with a high visibility one made from either aluminum or steel.
Internal Fit and Finish
Here is where, in our opinion, the Remington 870 Police won hands down over the 590. We suspect that this is the source of the major cost difference between the two...the internal finishing and fit of the 870 is an order of magnitude more refined than that of the mossberg, resulting in a smooth as silk action and a relatively crisp trigger. Comparatively, the 590 was extremely rough right out of the box and while it did smoothen up throughout the course of our 2000 round evaluation in the end it was nothing close to the 870's action. The parkerized finish of the 870 police was also, in our opinion, superior to the anodizing of the 590's receiver and the rest of the finish on their steel parts.
Sights and accessories
Both guns are available with a wide variety of different sighting systems. Our 870 police had a set of factory ghost ring sights installed, both front and back brazed permenantly onto the gun. Less specialized offerings from remington are typically outfitted with a bead-on-pedestal type sight whereas the mossberg plain jane offerings are usually equipped with a simple bead screwed directly into the top of the barrel. In these Plain-Jane configurations, we prefer the Remington bead setup in that it will usually be sighted for bang-on at approximately 25 yards. Without the small pedestal, the mossberg bead usually results in a point of impact slightly above the line of sight.
Owing to the threaded hole on the top of the barrel and 4 threaded holes on the top of the receiver, the mossberg is typically easier to outfit with third party sights. The remington typically requires drilling and tapping of the receiver and barrel, a task most often left to a qualified gunsmith. Additionally, the mossberg is more readily available with ghost ring sights already installed. While both our guns were equipped this way straight from the factory, we're going to award more points this round to the mossberg as they are standard issue on both the 590SP and the 590A1.
The 590A1 and our 590 special purpose gun also came ready and willing to accept a standard M16 style bayonet. While not what we would consider a mandatory feature (or for themost part even desirable), the concept is intriguing. It's likely only important when considering battle on a large scale and the average civilian or law enforcement employing a tactical shotgun would likely do well to avoid the bayonet.
For those interested, the step down in diameter at the front of a remington factory magazine extension is a remnant of an old effort by Remington to equip their popular 870 with a bayonet. The mounting lug was attached on their magazine clamp, however wound up being rejected by the military as not strong enough. The military designed their own magaazine extension/bayonet mount. As evidenced by the above photograph it is significantly beefed up form the original remington plan.
Firing Trials and Reliability
We ran 2000 rounds of ammunition through each of our trial guns in an effort to evaluate the reliability of one as compared to the other. A wide variety of buckshot, slugs, and birdshot were used for the test, and we are glad to report that both guns endured the trial without so much as a single malfunction.
Both guns patterned acceptably albeit with different ammunition, and we'd like to stress that even two shotguns of the same model from the same factory with consecutive serial numbers are likely to do the same. Patterning your own shotgun is the single most important preparatory exercise you will do with it.
Here we feel the remington is superior to the mossberg is in it's absolute simplicity of dissassembly for maintenance and repair. While the mossberg is only slightly more complex, it does require more specialized knowledge and there is a much larger pile of parts to keep track of.
Economics and Conclusion
It's a tough decision to pick one of these shotguns over the other. Likely your choice will boil down to economy. Dollar for dollar, the we feel the mossberg is a better bang for your buck as it is possible to get one equipped straight from the factory with just about everything you could possible need in a tactical shotgun. While this has recently also become true of the remington 870, the price tag associated with doing so will be considerably more.
Do you get what you pay for with the more expensive 870 police/wingmasters? We believe you do, however we would not feel undergunned having to deploy with either 590 or a remington express. The real answer as to which one is better is more a function of which ever one you've put 5000+ rounds through in practice.
We hope that our comparison of the two shotgun has been informative and helped you in becoming sufficiantly aware of the differenced between these two powerhouses such that you are able to better make your own decision.
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