Gun Review: Mossberg Tactical Shotguns: Pump and Semi-Auto Options For Law Enforcement
By Steve Tracy
Mossberg shotguns have been popular with police officers for decades. The first time I sat behind the wheel of a squad car, a Model 500 pump was mounted next to me between the bucket seats. The wood stock’s chips and dents bore evidence of hard use. Those old 12-gauge scatterguns were upgraded to Mossberg pumps that held extra shells in their spring loaded “Speedfeed” polymer shoulder stocks.
O.F. Mossberg and Son have been building firearms since 1919. Located in North Haven, Conn., Mossberg was the first long gun maker to receive an ISO 9001 certification (similar to CALEA accreditation for police departments) for manufacturing and quality control standards. In addition to its pump and semi-auto shotguns, today’s Mossberg also offers rifles with semi-automatic actions, bolt actions, and even Old West-style lever actions.
Mossberg’s Model 500-pump action shotgun was introduced in 1961 and has enjoyed widespread police use because of its simple operation, rugged reliability, and low cost. The US Military has issued both the 500- and 590-pump action shotguns to our troops for these same reasons.
Semi-automatic shotguns have gained in popularity through the years due to their increased reliability and fast follow-up shots. Several manufacturers offer semi-auto shotguns specifically targeted to law enforcement in general and SWAT units in particular.
At the 2011 SHOT Show, Mossberg introduced two new shotguns aimed directly at the police market; the Model 500 Tactical Tri-Rail pump and the 930 SPX Pistol Grip semi-automatic. Both weapons are tailored for police tactical and patrol use.
Still a Place for the Police Shotgun
While many police departments have supplemented or replaced shotguns with patrol rifles, there is still a need for the police shotgun. Specialized police units continue to utilize shotguns as breeching tools.
Close-distance energy transfer and shock power is devastating from a shotgun. Performing an entry with possible armed threats inside, a certain level of assurance is provided when 00 buckshot shells are waiting nose to tail inside an extended tubular magazine.
A tactical shotgun, equipped with quality rifle-style sights (both front and rear instead of simple gold bead at the muzzle), offers the ability to accurately fire a lead slug weighing a full ounce at moderate distances. Slugs can be an excellent tool for stopping subjects in a car, if not the car itself.
An entire range of new tactical shotguns from Mossberg provides features desired by modern law enforcement. Picatinny rails and vertical grips allow more versatile deployment compared to the old wooden stock versions. The 500 and 930 were selected for testing as examples with options desired by law enforcement.
Model 500 Tactical Tri-Rail Pump 12 Gauge
The 50-year-old Mossberg Model 500 has been upgraded for today’s police use with the Tactical Tri-Rail model. Upon grasping the shotgun, your shooting hand wraps around the pistol grip and it’s not overwhelming in circumference. This AR-15-style, hollow polymer grip is on the small size and should fit officers with any hand size. Despite my large hands, my index finger lined up well with the trigger.
The polymer pump-action forearm bestows the Tactical Tri-Rail with its moniker due to its full underside Picatinny rail with both left and right side rails (removable via Allen screws). Tactical lights and lasers mount easily to the sides. A vertical grip feels natural when attached to the bottom rail when cycling the gun’s action.
The shotgun will fit any size officer due to the M4 style, six-position, collapsible stock made by ATI.
Recoil is dampened by the thick and wide, non-slip, rubber butt pad. The right side of the stock sports a side saddle that holds five extra shells. The mount can be unscrewed and repositioned on the other side if desired for left-handed officers.
Some officers prefer to carry extra shells in this location with the primers right side up for single shell reloading. Others would rather position the spare shells reversed for rapid reloading with the gun turned upside down. The sidesaddle allows for either method.
When shouldered, the 500’s adjustable ghost ring rear sight lined up naturally with the blaze-orange vertical front blade. The cheek weld to the stock was comfortable. The extended 8-shot magazine tube (2 3/4-inch shells, 7 shots with 3-inch Magnums) extends even with the 20-inch cylinder bore barrel and helps balance the shotgun with some appreciated weight toward the muzzle.
The 7-pound shotgun handles up to 3-inch out the right side. The forearm slid back and forth smoothly and, typical of its classic mechanical pump action, the 500 functioned perfectly with 2 1/2-inch and 3-inch loads ranging from mild birdshot and target loads to harsher 00 Buck and slugs.
During test firing, it became apparent that the gun’s only weak point is the application of the vertical pistol grip. AR-15 style vertical grips give officers the ability to maneuver long arms around corners better than standard curved pistol grips.
However, the Mossberg’s push/pull safety at the rear of the frame and the action release behind the polymer trigger guard on the left side were impossible to actuate from a firing grip. Operation of the safety necessitated bringing the right hand thumb off the grip, down and around the stock, and then back up on top from the right side to move the safety switch.
Similarly, the action release could not be reached on the left side behind the trigger without lowering the butt pad off the shoulder. Most thumbs just won’t bend enough to reach the release from a firing grip. This is not a major point as releasing the action to unload a shell from the chamber does not usually need to be accomplished while the weapon is shouldered.
The trigger pull on the 500 Tactical Tri-Rail had some minor take-up and broke at a crisp 5 pounds and10 ounces with no over travel. This is an excellent trigger weight for a combat shotgun.
The recoil of pump-action shotguns is mostly transferred to the shooter. The pistol grip helps take some of the recoil in the gripping hand while the rest flows through the stock. The thick rubber butt pad helps quite a bit, softening the hard kick of 2 1/4-inch 00 Buck and slugs. There’s just no way to beat the physics of recoil and 3-inch shells kick even harder. Despite the heavy recoil, the smooth area of the stock where your cheek rests does not abrade your face while discharging the smoothbore.
The Mossberg 500 Tactical is finished in a purposeful matte black that is all business. The front cap unscrews from the magazine tube and the barrel pulls forward to field strip for removal and cleaning. The mechanical function of the pump action design has a well-earned reputation for reliability. Regardless of how much crud happens to work its way into the action, pump shotguns like this new Mossberg will just keep plugging along.
Model 930 SPX Pistol Grip 8-Shot Semi-Automatic
Mossberg’s semi-automatic 930 SPX shotgun is also chambered for 2 ¼-inch or 3-inch Magnum shells and features a short 18 ½-inch cylinder bore barrel. The magazine capacity is extended with a Choate add-on tube for a 7-shot capacity with 2 ¾-inch shells or 6 shots with 3-inch Magnums.
The large pistol grip filled my palm and its three finger grooves matched up well with my big fingers. The polymer grip is hollow and molded into the entire fixed stock made by Choate. A 3/4-inch spacer can be removed in order to shorten the shotgun’s length of pull and a serious 1-inch rubber butt pad helps soften recoil. Sling-swivel attachment points are mounted at the rear of the stock and at the front of the checkered polymer forearm.
Included with the 930 is a series of stock spacers that raise or lower the vertical position of the stock from a 1/4-inch drop to a 3/8-inch rise. This feature can tailor an individual shotgun to its owner simply by removing the butt pad and swapping out the spacers.
The 930 SPX features a Picatinny rail mounted on top of the receiver. The shotgun comes with a top-quality, fully adjustable, rear ghost ring sight made by LPA of Italy. It’s matched up with a tall, winged and protected red fiber-optic front sight permanently attached above the muzzle.
The combination is effortless to sight accurately since the human eye works quickly with the brain to line up concentric circles on target. Removal of the LPS rear sight is accomplished by loosening the large thumb screw. An electronic red dot or scope can be attached to the top rail if desired.
The 930 loads through the bottom of the frame and ejects spent shells out the right-side ejection port. A large, knurled steel cocking knob on the right side retracts the bolt and is designed for quick operation while wearing gloves. The oversize bolt release button is also on the right side and placed for operation by sliding your left hand to the rear from its firing grip on the forearm.
When the Mossberg Model 930 is cocked, a small silver nub of metal protrudes from inside the front of the trigger guard. This cocking indicator can be seen as well as tactilely felt with your trigger finger.
The 930’s trigger pull measured an average of 4 pounds 12 ounces, with a little take-up and a bit of overtravel. The trigger was easy to control in conjunction with the outstanding sight system for accurate shooting. A three-shot cluster with slugs from a sandbag rest at 50 yards was all in a day’s work for the American-made shotgun.
The safety on the 930 is the same push/pull-style tang type as used on the Model 500. Similarly, its function necessitates bringing the shooting hand’s thumb around the pistol grip. The 930 SPX Pistol Grip shotgun balances quite naturally. The forearm is contoured for a comfortable grip but does not offer the tri-rail like the pump-action tactical shotgun does.
Takedown of the 930 for field strip cleaning is similar to its pump-action sibling. Unscrewing the magazine cap allows the barrel to be removed with the action locked to the rear. Further disassembly of the gas system and action is detailed in the owner’s manual.
The 930 SPX was tested in two local “3-Gun” matches (in 3-Gun competition, officers transition from a pistol to a rifle and then to a shotgun). Other participants gravitated to the new Mossberg with positive remarks and noted that they did not know Mossberg was producing such an outstanding semi-auto tactical shotgun.
No matter what size shells (2 3/4-inch or 3-inch) or type of shot or slug it was fed, the 930 SPX cycled, fired, and ejected everything with ease. The semi-automatic recoil system soaked up much of the recoil. Firing 00 buck and slugs did not induce the anticipation and flinching that firing heavy shells often causes. The 930 SPX was actually pleasant to fire with these powerful shells.
Plenty of Police Choices and Options from Mossberg
Mossberg offers a number of other shotguns geared toward the police market. The new Cruiser model features a pistol grip without a stock, a strap on the forearm for retention, and a serrated/breaching muzzle brake. Mossberg’s new Chainsaw model offers a removable forearm handle that extends up over the barrel like the handle on a chainsaw; a feature created for duty as an entry shotgun.
The number of Mossberg shotguns geared toward law enforcement has grown exponentially within their product lineup. The 500 Tactical Tri-Rail (suggested retail of $590) and the 930 SPX ($824) are examples of reasonably priced police shotguns that are ready to serve patrol and specialized units… just like Mossberg shotguns have for the previous 50 years. PM
Steve Tracy is a 25-year police veteran with 23 years of experience as a firearms instructor. He is also an instructor for tactical rifles, use of force, less-than-lethal force and scenario-based training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.