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Posted:  7/7/2014 9:36 AM #42264
CTD Blogger

Joined: 7/14/2009
Posts: 10828
Last Post: 8/20/2014
Subject: A 20 Gauge for Home Defense? Mossberg Special Purpose Review
( by Dave Higginbotham-We all love to dicker about what kind of gun is right for home defense. The truth of the matter is that much of what is “right” is determined by individual circumstances. What kind of home are you trying to defend? What is in this house? What is outside of it? This is where we typically begin. But there’s more. I think one of the most important considerations has to be who will be relying on the firearm in question? And to that end, we’ll be looking at some alternatives to the traditional 12 gauge. Today, we’ve got a Mossberg 500 Special Purpose 20 gauge.


There’s a lot to be said for Mossberg’s 500 line. Like Coke and Pepsi, Marlboro and Camel, the Mossberg 500 and the Remington 870 stratify pump shotgun brand loyalties. But this little 500 offers something new. It is still the home defense 500 platform that the Mossberg faithful have come to respect, but it is smaller, lighter, and chambered in 20 gauge.

Mossberg 20

Beside the 590A1, the 20 doesn’t look that much smaller. The barrels are different lengths, though.

Why a 20 gauge home defense gun? That isn’t too hard to answer. The 20 gauge allows for smaller framed shooters to shoot effective loads. As the recoil is reduced in the 20 gauge, shooters may be able to control the gun more effectively. Because the gun is lighter, shooters may be able to control the gun more effectively. As there is less mass and less kick, the gun may not be so intimidating. It is one thing to have an effective tool for self-defense, but you also have to have the willingness to train and the confidence to pull the trigger when you have to.

Of course the 20 gauge isn’t going to provide the same terminal ballistics as a 12 gauge, but it is still effective. And the pump cycling will still make that terrifying sound. And it isn’t so small that it will look like a toy. In short, this is the ideal platform for youth and smaller framed shooters.

For the rest of us, the 20 gauge in this small package may pose some problems. The length of pull is short, too short for me. I’m 6”4” and have a wide wingspan. I’m challenged by the short stock and have to put my face at an awkward angle to avoid eating the receiver when I pull the trigger. Yet I’m still a fan of the compact size . This gun is easier to get in and out of a vehicle, and it is easier to carry than my Mossberg 590A1. It slides behind the seat of a pickup with graceful ease, and isn’t so long that it can’t be maneuvered inside the cab. I’d like to have the gun even shorter, as a registered short-barreled shotgun. Then it would be the perfect truck gun.

Mossberg 20

Capacity is limited to 7 or 8 shells, depending on length.

The specs

Chamber Size–3″
Sights  select–Ghost Ring  
Choke–Cylinder Bore
Overall Length–39″
Length Of Pull–13″
Barrel Finish–blue  
Stock  select–composite
Weight–6 lb

The long barrel allows for a long tube underneath, which means increase capacity. The finish is rugged enough to withstand basic domestic abuse. The 6-pound weight makes it very easy to carry an maneuver.

Mossberg 20

There is little muzzle rise fro the 20 gauge, especially when using light loads.

Shooting the 500

I’m not going to weigh in here as much as I would in a typical review, as I’ve watched more shooting than I’ve done with this gun. Jacob Epstein, the shooter in the pictures, has put a ton of rounds through the gun. He’s not as tall as I am, and has no difficulty getting behind the gun. He favors the bullpup shotgun over full length guns, and this is closer to a bullpup.

As far as accuracy is concerned, this is a shotgun. It has no adjustable choke options. The smooth bore doesn’t handle slugs like a rifled barrel would. Yet you’ll hit what you’re aiming at. The muzzle rise is not as steep as a 12 gauge, so you can get back on target more quickly. And with less direct kick to push you back and off balance, you can get back on target more quickly. You may see a pattern here. I ran a tube full from the 590A1 (my shotgun, the one I train with), and then a tube full from the 20 gauge, and I was noticeably faster with the 20 gauge. I can roll out double taps without having to shift much of my sight picture. And I don’t reflexively blink like I do when I get sloppy or tired while shooting the 590A1. All of this speaks to more control, which has a definite appeal.

Mossberg 20

The safety rides on top of the tang, and is easy to reach with your thumb.

We shot the gun at several different distances. From 7 yards, there was no real need to aim. Defensive shooting happens easily and naturally at that distance. Point and shoot. At 25 yards, there is a larger margin of error, so the sights help. We ran on paper targets and steel targets, and the gun moves well and is quite responsive. From 100 yards, we could hit a torso plate with buckshot and slugs, but the hits were far less reliable.

The controls

Fans of the 500 know the placement well. The button just behind the trigger guard releases the action. I love this button, as it is very intuitively placed. This is where my middle finger on my strong side hand rests, making it exceptionally easy to manipulate.

Mossberg 20

The lines at 3 and 9 o’clock help level off shots quickly.

One of the downsides of Mossberg pumps seems to be a slight hitch in the action after the trigger is pulled. I like to haul back on the forend to stabilize the gun, but I want that forend to release the moment the trigger is pulled. Several of the Mossbergs I’ve shot require you to ease up on your grip to rack them. It is as if you have to bump them forward slightly (and it is a really subtle movement) before you haul back to rack out the spent shell. You can get used to the motion, or you can get inside the gun and round over the catch.

The sights, though, are kickass. The front blade is a big fat blade with a nice red stripe. It is tall, robust, easy to see, and beats the hell out of the old brass bead sitting on top of the 590A1. The rear is a ghost ring sight protected by two stout wings. The ghost ring is a perfect approximation of a bird shot pattern at seven yards. What you see through that ring (with the help of the red blade up front) is going to get hit with birdshot or buckshot. And the precision of these sights also helps with the use of slugs.

The best part about a gun like this is the lack of wear on the shooter. I find that I begin to get sore are a good hour of shotgun training. It is worth the pain, but still. I’d rather shoot longer. And the 20 gauge allows just that. Even for someone who would normally go for a full-sized 12 gauge, the 20 makes a reasonable stand in.

Mossberg 20

Which way will the muzzle go when you pull the trigger from this position?

We ran several drills with the gun. Moving from side to side while shooting adds an element of complexity that greatly enhances the reality of most defensive scenarios. Moving from behind cover and back is even better. We ran side-to-side, up and back, cover drills…we even got down and shot upside down, and through the legs. We had one drill set up where we were shooting from our backs (both over our heads, and then at a target in the opposite direction, between our legs). The weight of this gun and the soft recoil (which made bracing the gun in unusual ways much more appealing) make this an ideal learning tool.
Mossberg is listing these at $500. They’ll sell for a bit less. Right now, there are a few ways to modify the guns. You can increase stock length, or mess with the forends and sights. There will be more aftermarket options available as the platform picks up momentum. And if you are looking for something different, something that isn’t a 12 gauge, I’d highly suggest you check out what Mossberg has to offer.

Mossberg 20

Shooting from your back is easy, once you find the right hold.

Mossberg 20

The humble rubber butt pad is more than enough to dampen the kick.

Mossberg 20

If the sight needs some adjustments, they are easy to make.

Mossberg 20

The difference doesn’t look like much, but you feel it when you shoulder the gun.

Mossberg 20

This compact stock is the second thing I’d have to swap out, though it is part of the appeal for many shooters.

Mossberg 20

The tang is small enough for smaller hands.

Mossberg 20

The forend is a bit slick. This would be the first thing I’d swap out.

Mossberg 20

There isn’t much flash from the muzzle, either, even without a flash hider.

Mossberg 20

The 20 inch barrel also gives a useful sight distance.

Mossberg 20

The rear sight is well protected by steel wings.

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