That icon of the American police officer-the 12-gauge shotgun-has seen many guises over the decades. From serious side-by-side doubles in the hands of Stetson-topped lawmen, to ultra-high-tech, full-auto versions, the classic "dozen gauge" can handle most situations with aplomb.
With the advent of today's innovative roundup of specialty munitions, including high-velocity sabot slugs, less-lethal rounds, and the new generations of low-recoiling buckshot, the smoothbore has a new lease on life.
Rather than take a Police-type close look at a specific model, we chose this month to give you a breakdown on the entire Mossberg police line. The fact Mossberg offers so many different models is what's important here.
For some hands-on fun, we did, however, lay hands on a bare-bones Model 500A, the workhorse of the Mossberg police line. Afterall, we wanted to see just what an entry-level Mossberg might deliver.
The 500A is what started all the fuss and what keeps it going today. About 20 years ago, the military tested a wide variety of shotguns, looking for a tough model that could hold up in a battle or on police duty on-base. When the dust settled, Mossberg won after having successfully completed the 3,000-round torture test.
This test was conducted with full-power buckshot-not today's low-recoil stuff-and the Mossberg chugged along, proving this "other" shotgun had what it took to win the military's approval.
As in many things, as the military goes, so goes law enforcement and the public sector. Due to military contracts, Mossberg's police and private sales grew and remain solid today. All for a good reason. When a company delivers value and performance, people notice.
My own career as a street cop often found me with a pump shotgun in my hands. During robbery calls, vehicle hot stops, and a hundred other situations, that pump gun lent an air of authority and I know it helped to keep things calm on occasion. They call a close-range shotgun wound a "rathole" wound for good reasons. They can be devastating and bad guys know it.
Although the Remington 870 series has been the mainstay of American law enforcement for many years, the Mossberg line-up is a significant player, especially with the introduction of the 590DA (double action only) model. The DA builds on the 590 model line, which is Mossberg's dedicated police duty shotgun design, by implementing the first DAO trigger system on a shotgun.
With the move to double-action autopistols, many officers are simply used to the action, and the transition from DAO handgun to "single action" shotgun trigger may cause problems for some. Many of today's young officers do not have a heritage of shooting or hunting, so the "keep it simple" principle makes very good sense for a rangemaster swamped with training issues.
There are very clear reasons why the shotgun is held in such high esteem with cops across the country. It's simple to operate and stone-cold reliable. When the chips are down, a shotgun can often mean the difference between winning-or the alternative.
Rifles for police have a very real use today, and smart agencies are combining both shotguns and rifles in a patrol car. Why limit an officer's options for no reason? If there is time to plan and a shotgun is a better choice than a rifle, why not give them that vital tool?
The Mossberg Line
If, indeed, variety leads to spice in life then things can be pretty spicy with Mossberg. Frankly, we forgot how many different models were available until we took a serious look. In retrospect, I think we wished we might have gotten our hands on one or two more models.
The basic 500A has a 20-inch barrel and holds nine rounds in law enforcement guise. It has dual-action bars to provide smooth pumping action, a bolt release at the rear of the trigger guard, and a safety on the tang at the rear of the receiver. This falls under the thumb naturally, and you can tell at a glance if the safety is on or off. A red drop of paint helps matters along in that department.
The receiver is drilled and tapped for a scope mount or for installing a nifty aperture sight that Mossberg offers. Called the GRS, the ghost ring application on a duty shotgun has become all the rage, but we remain unconvinced it's necessary on a close-quarters shotgun. Keep it simple, remember? Most of these features are common to all the 500 and 590 series.[PAGEBREAK]
Of perhaps notable interest is the Model 695 Bolt Action Shotgun. This is decidedly not Grandpa's bolt-action, 16-gauge. With a fully-rifled, 22-inch ported barrel with 1-in-36-inch twist, the 695 is custom-designed for today's high-performance lightweight slugs.
The 695 is drilled and tapped for a scope and a Weaver #55 scope base is included with each one. The synthetic stock is classically styled and the dual extractors and light, 7-pound weight might make it an innovative tool in the right circumstances.
Can't afford a big .50 caliber bolt-action rifle but feel you may need the penetration and sheer "punch" of a big bore? The 695 may be the answer. With today's saboted, solid copper slugs running at close to 2,000 fps and delivering 2-inch groups at 100 yards in some cases, the "old-fashioned," bolt-action shotgun is as modern as this minute.
The Mariner model has a special anti-corrosion coating that looks like electroless nickel and is called "Marinecote." The synthetic stock and weatherproof finish may make the Mariner just as at home in a squad car as on a police boat. The features are the same as on the standard 500 series.
The 590A1 Bantam is a reduced-size 590 with a 13-inch length of pull. With so many smaller-statured officers on the job, perhaps a slightly smaller version simply makes good sense. A little bit of difference in fit can make a big difference in an officer's performance, and there's no reason why the Bantam can't be an effective weapon in the hands of larger officers as well. The Bantam would really shine where officers are issued take-home cars or authorized to purchase their own equipment.
For serious undercover work the Model 590A1 Compact with pistol grip is a no-nonsense solution. The short 14-inch barrel requires a class three license but if the needs are there, the time should be taken to have the right equipment.
With today's crowded patrol car "offices," it may even make good sense to try out a Compact as a shorter barrel alternative to the full-sized 20-inch tube. Once you factor in all the radios, computer terminals, cages, equipment, and even printers, things get a bit on the crowded side. The smaller package the Compact offers may help with the rapid deployment of the shotgun when speed is the order of the day.
For sheer unadulterated panache, perhaps the orange-stocked Line Launcher is in order. We've yet to quite figure out why you may need one (perhaps SWAT might work on the problem?) but with that large projectile and underlug container for line, the Launcher looks like a mini-version of a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and just maybe that's not all bad. We really wanted to shoot one, but didn't have the nerve to ask for one. Maybe next time.
A trip to the range with a "beater" Model 500 that had seen many days in a patrol car went as anticipated. We rounded up some low recoiling Federal Tactical Buckshot and Slug along with some grungy "bulk" stuff a local agency had been saving.
While the new model we used for photos was a bit stiff to operate, the used one was smooth as glass. Although blue-worn, the currently issued test gun felt right at home in the hand. Feeding and cycling was smooth and predictable, and the uncluttered receiver offered a natural carry position at the balance point.
However, with a full magazine, the 500 was decidedly muzzle heavy and quick work from target to target would take some getting used to if an officer was transition training to this model from a typical four shot pump gun.
The Federal low-recoiling buck and slug was a real pleasure to shoot and if you haven't tried it (or a similar type from Remington or Winchester) you should. For smaller-statured officers, it turns shotgun qualification days into pleasant experiences, rather than fearsome encounters with fire-breathing dragons that leave bruises on cheeks and shoulders.
The range we were using has a 50- and 100-yard gong and even with the basic, brass bead front sight, we were able to hit both gongs more often than not. Lots more often. The moral here? A hundred yards is not far enough away if you're a bad guy and the cops involved have a good 12-gauge and some high-quality slugs. You can run, but you can't hide from these beasties.
After shooting the battle-weary 500 we were reminded why the line has become so popular. Having some experience with most of the Mossberg models (except for that cool Line Launcher), we are left wondering why anyone ever talks about giving up shotguns for patrol work. They are simply the best tools possible in some situations and we shouldn't forget that.
If you need a shotgun, Mossberg can supply one that works, and it won't break the bank either.
Roy Huntington is a retired officer and the former editor of POLICE. He is an internationally recognized firearms expert and the editor of American Handgunner magazine.