Remington 870 v Mossberg 500 v Mossberg 590: Comparative design notes

Remington 870 v Mossberg 500 v Mossberg 590: Comparative design notes

There are few things more American than the 12-gauge pump-action shotgun.  As iconic as George Washington or apple pie; the “12 gauge pump” is a multipurpose firearm that can be used for competition, hunting, law enforcement, military and defense.  It has become an integral part of US firearms culture.  The Remington 870 and Mossberg 500/590 are the Chevy Silverado and Ford F-150 of the shotgun world.  With over 10 million of each model in circulation, many shooters often wonder which they should buy. Typically the advice is based on brand loyalty.

Brand loyalty is a powerful thing.  In 1994 I bought my first pickup truck, a used 1987 GMC 1500.  Years later in 2007, I bought my first new pickup truck, a 2007 GMC, then in 2015, I replaced it with a 2015 Chevy Silverado.  I actually lost sleep over the move from GMC to Chevy even though they are basically the same thing.  In many ways, this is how shotgun guys are.  People stick with what they know because it works for them.  (In case you were wondering, I guess a Winchester 1300 would be a Dodge Ram and the Benelli, a Nissan Titan.)

My first new shotgun was a Remington 870 Police I bought in 1994.  With its parkerized finish and top folding stock (and starring role at the end of Terminator 2), I felt it was the pinnacle of shotgun development.  I always recommended Remington 870s and never gave Mossberg a second look.

Years later, I’ve owned, shot and customized scores of Remington 870s, Mossberg 500s, and Mossberg 590s and feel I’ve gotten to know them extremely well.  Let’s take a look at how they stack up against each other.

Much like my post, Remington 700 v Savage Model 10: Comparative Design Notes, I don’t intend to go into model specifics.  Over the decades of production, millions of guns produced, scores of model and specification changes it doesn’t make sense to do that.  My focus will be on key design features that are common to each model.

You’ll see three different guns in the post, each has been coated in Cerakote.  The gun in a stainless finish is a Mossberg 500, Earth (brown) is a Mossberg 590 and Concrete (gray) a Remington 870.

For reference purposes, you can find schematics of each shotgun by clicking on the links below:

Mossberg 500 v Mossberg 590 v Mossberg 590A1

A good place to start is to look at the differences between the Mossberg 500, 590 and 590 A1.  The biggest difference between the 590 and 590A1 models is the use of a different barrel and magazine system.

The barrel on the 590 and 590A1 (above right) are significantly thicker than those found on the 500 (above left).  On a typical 18″ 590/590A1 barrel, the muzzle diameter measures .930″ whereas a Model 500 will measure around .855″.  Thicker barrels may increase weight, but they are less likely to bend or dent during hard duty use, plus they’re better candidates for interchangeable choke tube installation (though you can install chokes on a 500 just fine).

Model 500 shotguns have a take down screw assembly that is threaded into the end of a closed magazine tube (above).  

The 590 and 590A1 both use a barrel lug that slides over the magazine tube and is secured by a nut (above right), a system similar to the one found on the Remington 870.

The Mossberg 590A1 differs from the 590 in that it has a metal safety and trigger housing.  The 590 uses a plastic trigger housing assembly.

With the differences between the Mossberg 500, 590 and 590A1 discussed, I’ll now refer to them collectively as the Mossberg 500/590.

Remington 870 Express, Tactical, Police and Wingmaster

Remington has a number of different quality grades within the product line as well.  As a rule the Express and Tactical guns have lower-end parts than the Police and Wingmaster models.  The Express guns have plastic trigger guards, weaker springs, a MIM (metal injected molded) extractor and a magazine cap retention system that uses a plastic plunger forcing itself against the magazine cap to secure the barrel.  This system is associated with “dimples” on the magazine that require removal before a magazine extension can be installed.  The Express and Tactical guns also gave lower quality finishes.

OK, minor differences within the product line of each model addressed, let’s look at how they stack up!

Remington 870 v Mossberg 500/590 receiver design and construction

While the outward appearance of both actions are similar, there are some notable differences between the 870 and 500/590.

The Remington 870 (above right) uses a steel receiver and the Mossberg 500/590 uses aluminum.  There are benefits to both materials, the 870’s steel will wear less than the Mossberg’s aluminum; however this comes at the price of weight, with aluminum being lighter.  Since both guns use a bolt that locks on the barrel, aluminum versus steel doesn’t matter in terms of lock-up; but, both guns also use steel action bars.  On heavily used Mossbergs, you’ll often note some wear in the mating aluminum surfaces.

The Mossberg is far more user friendly to service.  The magazine tube can be unscrewed from the receiver and the shell stops and ejectors can be replaced without specialized tooling.  The Remington 870 ejector is riveted and the shell stops are staked in place.  The magazine tube is soldered to the receiver.  Changing any of these parts requires a specialized skills set and tools.

Internally, the Mossberg 500/590 shotguns use two extractors milled from bar stock.  The Remington 870 uses one, depending on the model and the year it was made, it is either MIM (Express and Tactical) or bar stock (Police and Wingmaster).

Remington 870  Mossberg 500/590 safeties 

The external safeties of both guns are the most noticeable differences to shooters.  The Mossberg’s safety is located on the top center of the receiver.  The Remington 870 has a safety located on the side of the trigger plate assembly.  Both have advantages and disadvantages.

With it’s safety located on the top center of its receiver, the Mossberg 500/590 is quicker to active with certain types of stocks, in particular, the Raptor birds head grip made by Shockwave industries, or a traditional stock when held at the high ready or port arms.  It is also easier for a lefty to access.  The Mossberg safety is more difficult to access when the gun is held at a very low CQB ready position or with a traditional pistol grip stock.

A small button located on the side of the trigger plate assembly serves as the safety for Remington 870.  While this is a  good location for right handed shooters, left handed shooters either need to reach under the trigger guard or reverse the assembly.  Note: both Remington and Mossberg offer left-handed shotguns.

The slide release for the Mossberg 500/590 is located behind the trigger guard.  On the 870, it is located forward of it (above).  The Mossberg slide release is easier to reach with your hand in a firing position, in particular at port arms or high ready.

Remington 870 v Mossberg 500/590 barrels and magazine systems

As mentioned earlier, the barrels on the 870 and Mossberg 590 are thicker than the 500.  Both the Remington 870 and Mossberg 590 use similar systems, with a lug sliding over the magazine tube in turn being secured by a magazine cap.  These systems allow the addition of a magazine extension.

The Mossberg 500 uses a closed end magazine tube and the barrel has a nut that is screwed into the end of the this tube.  This means both the barrel and magazine need to be changed if you wish to change the magazine capacity of a Mossberg 500.

Remington 870 v Mossberg 500/590 action bars

The action bars and slide assembly on the Remington 870 are one piece (above).  This means if the action bars bend, which isn’t common but does happen, the entire assembly needs to be replaced.

The action bars are pinned to the fore end tube on the Mossberg 500/590.  They are less likely to bend or bind, but the action tends to have a sloppier feel because the bars move up and down on the pin.  Also note the dimples pressed into the fore end tube.  This makes up the difference between the magazine tube and the inside diameter of the fore end and contribute to the Mossberg forearms feeling “looser” than the 870.

Remington 870 v Mossberg 500/590 shell lifter/elevators and loading

The position of the shell elevator/lifter assembly is different on the Remington 870 (left) and Mossberg 500/590 (right).  You’ll note the shell elevator/lifter blocks the bottom of the receiver on the Remington and is out of the way on the Mossberg when the bolts are closed.  This means when you load shells into the Remington, you need to move the lifter out of the way.  The Mossberg doesn’t have this, so many shooters feel Mossbergs are easier to load.

Remington 870 v Mossberg 500/590 FIGHT!

At some point I guess I have to help guide you to a decision, which isn’t easy.  Both guns have quite a bit in common.  Both guns have strengths and weaknesses.  Like any other product, both guns cut some corners in the manufacturing process; Remington uses MIM parts on the cheaper guns while Mossberg uses a two piece barrel and breaks the sub assemblies down into smaller parts.

Let’s look at reasons to consider one over the other:

Reasons to buy the Remington 870 over the Mossberg 500/590

  1. Use of pistol grip stocks.  If you want to use a pistol grip stock like the Urbino, the 870 safety is compatible.
  2. Steel receiver.  I have some hard-worn Mossberg 500s and 590s that had the steel action bars wear into the aluminum receiver.  Most guns aren’t shot this much, so for 90% of shooters this is a non issue.
  3. Aftermarket parts. Both guns are supported by a vibrant aftermarket parts industry; however, the 870 seems to have more aftermarket parts availability.

Reasons to buy the Mossberg 500/590 over the Remington 870

  1. Price.  Mossbergs tend to be slightly less expensive then similarly configured Remington 870s.
  2. Excellent ergonomics:  The ergonomics for the Mossberg may be considered superior because its safety is ambidextrously located; a plus for the right-handed shooter and also for the lefty that wants a right-handed gun.
  3. End user serviceability.  Mossberg makes changing shell stops and ejectors far easier than Remington.  If you shoot a lot and like to tinker, this is definitely an advantage of the Mossberg.

In case you were wondering, I’m torn between both models as well.  When Mossberg introduced the 590 Shockwave and Remington the TAC-14, I was so torn I bought both.   Like their full size brethren, each has it’s own upside and downsides.  You can read about that here Review: Mossberg 590 Shockwave vs. the Remington Model 870 TAC-14 and here SHOCKING SHOCKWAVES: Rem TAC-14 v. Mossberg 590 SHOCKWAVE review, part 2.