Remington 870 Vs. Mossberg 500: Battle of the Pumps

The American pump shotgun market is ruled by two guns, the Mossberg 500 and Remington 870.

These guns have been subject to at least as much debate as to the 9mm vs. 45 ACP or the Glock vs. 1911. 

rem Vs mossberg
Remington 870 (top) and Mosberg 500 (bottom)

While they are very similar, they are also very different. Just saying Mossberg 500 or Remington 870 is a bit misleading. Both guns have dozens of variants. 

These guns are not just a single line but a series of shotguns. 

With Mossberg, we have the 500, the 535, the 590, the 590A1, the Shockwave, and so on.

With Remington, we have the Express, Wingmaster, Tactical, the TAC 14, the DM models, and more. 

Tac-14 Fireball
Tac-14 Fireball

We are keeping this generalized to the specifics of these family of shotguns. When necessary I’ll mention exceptions within these families if rules are broken. 

I want this to be a look at both the inside and outside of the guns and what’s important to shooters. 

Both guns are similar, and they come in 12 gauge, 20 gauge, and 410. Both are pump-action shotguns, both are American made, and both can be used for home defense, hunting, and police and military use. 

Types of 12ga Shotgun Shells (L to R: Bird, Buck, Slug)
Types of 12ga Shotgun Shells (L to R: Bird, Buck, Slug)

There are quite a few differences, though. That’s what we are going to explore today, the differences between these two guns. 

Table of Contents

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The Controls 

The most significant difference any shooter can easily pick up on is the difference between the safety locations on a Remington 870 and a Mossberg 500.

Safeties
Mossberg safety over the tang (top) Vs. Remington’s cross-bolt safety (bottom)

The Remington 870 uses a traditional push-button safety located on the trigger guard. Mossberg uses sliding safety located on the tang of the receiver. 

The Remington 870’s safety is positioned behind the trigger and easy to reach.

It can be used with any stock system with ease. It is much more friendly with right-handers, but that being said, a left-handed friend of mine uses an 870 and destroys us at shooting clays. 

Remington 700 Safety Button
Remington 870 Safety Button

The Mossberg 500 safety is completely ambidextrous but challenging to use on shotguns with pistol grips. This includes practical pistol grips that utilize stocks as well. 

It takes a mighty reach upwards on Mossbergs with pistol grips 

Mossberg 500 Safety Switch
Mossberg 500 Safety Switch

While the safeties are the easiest difference to spot, the other difference is the slide release. Both the Mossberg and Remington position the slide release on the left side of the trigger unit.

Remington places there forward of the trigger, and Mossberg positions theirs behind the trigger. 

The Remington 870 suffers from the fact that you have to break your firing grip to reach forward and release the slide. The Mossberg 500 series can be activated without breaking the firing grip.  

The Difference in Actions 

One difference you can’t see, but you can feel is each gun’s actions. Both use twin steel action bars for increased durability.

You notice how handy those twin action bars are when you handle something like an old 1897 and feel how fragile a single action bar is. 

The Remington 870 uses a robust, one-piece design that combines the action bars and pump. The Mossberg 500 series uses two pinned action bars that are anchored to a separate slide assembly. 

Inspect and clean the rails
Remington 870 Rails and Pump

The end result is the Mossberg pumps tend to feel sloppy, and they move around quite a bit. You can feel the slop in your hands as you pump the weapon. 

The Remington 870 tends to be tighter and smoother. It gives an overall higher quality experience. If you want to tune a gun up, get a Remington, and you’ll be shocked at how smooth a competent smith can get a Remy action. 

Mossberg 500 featuring some easy to install upgrades

The 500 series does make it easier to replace and repair the action. Should a bar get bent, it’s easy to unpin the bar and remove and replace it. If a Remington 870 bar gets bent, it can be challenging to pull out the entire system and replace it. 

Material Differences 

One of the most significant differences you can’t see is what material makes up your shotgun’s receiver.

Don’t feel bad.

Most people can’t look at a metal and tell you what it is.

This material difference is one of the biggest differences you’ll likely never notice. 

receivers
Remington steel receiver (top) and Mossberg aluminum receiver (bottom)

The Remington 870s use good ole ‘fashion American steel. Well, I don’t know if it’s American, but it is steel. This gives the 870s a more substantial receiver overall. 

The Mossberg 500 series uses aluminum receivers. While steel is stronger, there is likely never going to be a time you can break a Mossberg 500’s aluminum receiver. While the difference exists between the materials, there is no practical advantage to using steel over aluminum. 

AR-15s are made from aluminum, and we trust it’ll work.

The most significant practical difference is the weight of the guns. Remingtons, on average, tend to be heavier guns by anywhere from a pound to half a pound when like vs. like is compared. 

Remington 870 (8)
Two lovely Remmingtons, an 870 Express (top) and a very cool Ohio National Guard 870 (bottom)

More weight isn’t exactly a good or bad thing, it’s just different. Stalking deer? Lightweight is nicer. Skeet shooting? Heavier makes for a smoother swing.

Magazine Tubes

Another somewhat hidden, but often desirable feature for shotguns is extending the magazine capacity. Shotguns are typically restricted to a relatively low ammunition capacity. The ability to add a few extra shots can be highly desirable. 

Remington 870 with Streamlight
Remington 870 with Streamlight and aftermarket extended magazine tube

With the Mossberg 500, it’s complicated. Adding more capacity is difficult because of the magazine and barrel design. To do so, you need a new barrel and matching tube to do so. 

140
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

You can’t just screw on an extension and go for it. The barrel attaches directly to the magazine tube and not around it. The Mossberg 590 series corrects this and allows you to connect a magazine extension directly to the tube. 

The Remington 870 is traditionally a simpler weapon to utilize when it comes to adding an extension. Remove the magazine cap and then screw on the extension. 

Careful, that spring might go sailing!
Careful, that spring might go sailing!

Well, that was the old days. Now on a lot of models, they are dimpling the magazine tube. 

This makes it impossible for the spring and for rounds to travel into an extension. It’s likely the tactical models don’t have this dimpled magazine tube, but a lot of the non-tactical models will.

The only solution is too remove the dimples yourself via power tools or pay a gunsmith to do it. 

Uncle Buck Drill
MFW it’s time to drill something

You can’t swap the magazine tube for another without a dimple because Remington solders the magazine tubes in place.

These soldered tubes can be a major hassle if you damage the tube and need to replace it.

With Mossberg designs, you simply have to heat up the Loctite and unscrew the magazine tube. 

Extractors / Ejector 

Improper extraction and ejection are likely the most common cause of firearm’s malfunction outside of ammo related issues. Needless to say, it’s an important function. Shotguns deal with an odd round when you think about it. 

12ga Shotgun Shells, Opened (L to R: Bird, Buck, Slug)
12ga Shotgun Shells, Opened (L to R: Bird, Buck, Slug)

It’s a bulky hybrid of plastic and brass that’s often cumbersome, comes in various lengths, and can be all sorts of different weight and projectile types. Being able to extract and eject any and all shells are essential. 

Remington uses a single extractor that grips the rim of the shells and rips them outwards.

Remington single extractor
Remington single extractor

Mossberg uses two extractors to help guarantee reliability. The dual extractors are great because if one breaks, the other will still work, and you can run the gun until you can repair it. 

Mossberg dual extractors
Mossberg dual extractors

I’ve fired a lot of rounds from shotguns, especially 870s and 500s, and I’ve never had a single extractor break, but redundancy is often an effective safety measure.

The good news is both can be replaced at home with both guns. 

Each gun’s ejector is a different story. Mossberg continues its tradition of being user accessible with an ejector that screws in. Remington continues to be the iPhone of shotguns with a riveted ejector making it challenging to replace. 

I stripped a Mossberg 590 receiver for a friend, and it took a little heat gun action and a flat head screwdriver to remove the ejector. I wouldn’t know where to start with an 870. 

Fiddler on the roof I dont know
How to remove the ejector on a Remington 870

The Shell Lifters 

The shell lifters aren’t exactly something you think about when you first handle a shotgun.

Once you start loading and shooting a lot, and primarily when you shoot Mossberg 500s and 870s a lot, you notice that the Mossberg is more comfortable to load. 

The Mossberg uses a patented shell lifter that is both skeletonized and in the always up position. 

The Remington uses a standard shell lifter that stays down and acts as a gate to the gun. It’s a solid slab of metal that sits below the bolt and action. To load a shell, you press the shell lifter up and slide it into the tube. 

Shell gates
Shell gates! Remington (top) and Mossberg (bottom)

The shell lifter can slow you down, and when you are going fast, it likes to pinch you.

Shame hot fuzz gif
Ignore the fact that this is a Winchester 1300, just go with it.

The Mossberg skeletonized and always up shell lifter is out of the way, and you can smoothly load one or two shells with little effort. 

The skeletonized lifter also allows you to fix malfunctions easier. You can reach through the bottom of the gun, and this can help you free a stuck shell. 

The Small Things 

Here are a few small things you may want to consider when purchasing either gun. These didn’t fit into any other category and are not significant enough to warrant their own category. So let’s not forget about the small things. 

Adding an Optic 

The Mossberg 500 series are all tapped and ready to add a scope rail and an optic. The Remington 870 is not universally tapped, which means a trip to the gun smith, or a Burris Speedbead system needs to be installed. 

Check out more in our Best Shotgun Sights article.

Mini Shells 

Mini shells are tons of fun! They are low recoil, easy to shoot, and decently affordable.

19
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Both guns can fire them, but the Mossberg 500 series can be fitted with an adapter from Opsol

Mini Shells
Mini Shells are just too much fun to not have around

This mini clip allows the mini shells to feed 100% of the time. The 870 cannot be fitted with this adapter. 

15
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Barrel Thickness 

The Remington 870 has a thicker barrel than a standard 500. It’s equivalent to a Mossberg 590. You can buy the upgraded Mossberg to get the thicker, stronger barrel. 

Price 

The Mossberg 500 tends to be cheaper, but the Remington 870 is only a hair more expensive. It’s also fitted with a steel receiver and a thicker barrel. The 590 series are more expensive than the 870 Express models, as well.

Excellent bill and ted

A US Army Testing Procedure

The US Army has a testing procedure called the MIL-SPEC 3443 test, which is a brutal 3K round test that pushes shotguns to the edge.

The Mossberg series has been the only shotgun to pass this rigorous test.

Here’s us with our 590A1 and some Winchester 00 buckshot…

The requirement calls for a metal trigger group, so only the 590A1 and 500 MILS qualify to fit the criteria.  

Best Pump Shotgun
520
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Customizability

If you want to customize your gun, you can go with either model and be quite successful with that goal. There are crazy amounts of parts out there for both weapons.

You can do almost anything. 

You can swap stocks, pumps, add sights, side saddles, and more to each gun. You can do a ton with either, and it’s hard to say which is better overall.

Remington 870 (17)
My collection of Remington 870 shotguns

Both guns are straightforward to customize, and you have plenty of options to do so. 

Of course, we have articles to help you with both!

Which One is For You? 

That’s a good question.

My chosen home defense shotgun is the Mossberg 590, but my favorite shotgun ever is my antique Ohio National Guard Remington 870.

Remington 870 (15)
Ohio Army National Guard Remington 870.

Both guns have their favorites, and I will say Remington guns have been rough since 2007.

Once Freedom Group took over, quality went downhill noticeably.

However, they seem to have turned that around!

A lot of their new guns are looking, feeling, and shooting much better these days. 

If you are having trouble deciding, let’s examine a few considerations. 

300
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • If you want a gun that uses a pistol grip with stock, then choose the Remington 870
400
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • If you want a gun that you can abuse and not spend a ton of money on buy a basic Mossberg 500
  • If you want a gun, you can beat up and likely pass on down to your kids, buy an OLDER Remington 870. 
  • If you’re left-handed, go with a Mossberg
  • If you want a gun that’s tight, smooth, and feels ultra-lux, go with the Remington 870 Wingmaster
750
at Cabelas

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

And if you want even more options, we also have a video on the Best Pump Action Shotguns for Beginners.

Conclusion

These are both American legends in the gun world, and both are well proven in their respective roles.

The right one for you is a personal choice, but now you have the tools to make that choice.

My big question to you is, which one is for you, and why? Let us know in the comments! Don’t forget to get some feed for your new shotty, take a look at The Best Shotgun Ammo: Home Defense & Target Shooting!

14 Leave a Reply

  • Guillermo Maguire

    Excellent article. But some clarity. The 870, and for that matter, the Winny 1300, really can't run minishells reliably, regardless of whether the Opsol adapter would work. As you noted, the shell lifter stays "down". With 870s, the lifter, after "lifting", drops to the down position as a 2.75" shell just enters the barrel. With a mini, the lifter drops to the down position before the shell is even close to the barrel. So, as many have noted, you have to rack the gun, "just right". or the shell follows the lifter down, and you jam the shell into the receiver wall. Also, 870s release the spent hull so that the ejector spring hits the 2.75" shell at mid body. With a mini, mid body becomes the top of the hull, and hulls tend to rotate out and the brass hangs on the ejector port. Mossbergs, by sheer fortune, keep lifter up through firing cycle, and the spring ejects down near/on the brass.

    1 second ago
  • Big Dawhg

    Mossberg 590A1 Military Spec 8+1 Trench warfare Gun is the best pump action Home Defense Gun hands down! Better quality than the 500 series... Remington & Benelli will have to play for the second place spot in the Iron Bowl! Good luck!

    4 days ago
  • Jack

    Don’t everybody chime in with their non-500/590/870 preference. They’re pump shotguns and on sale all the time. Get both. I use the 500 with the longer barrel and choke tubes for trap. I have the 870 Police Special in the short barrel, for home defense or just blasting stuff. Just got a great deal on the new mag-fed 870. Haven’t even shot it yet. My point is... they’re cheap enough, get some. Both are great and tons o’ fun. And, the Ithaca guy and the Benelli guy... you guys have an 870 somewhere I’m sure.

    1 week ago
  • Evan

    I love my Mossberg 590A1, it shoots great and I am really happy with it!

    1 week ago
  • Huck

    I'll stick with my Ithaca 37, thank you.

    1 week ago
    • Schuyler

      Me, too.

      1 week ago
  • Xaun Loc

    The Mossberg 500 and the 590 are both made my the same manufacturer and are both pump action shotguns, but calling them the same gun is misleading at best. Once you look any closer than the location of the safety these are quite different guns in several of the areas you describe. Your article bounces back and forth sometimes comparing the 870 with a 500, other times comparing the 870 with a 590, occasionally describing all three.

    1 week ago
  • Mike

    I inherited my grandfather's Remington 870, serial numbers from 1954. It has the fancy hand-checkered black walnut stock and a modified choke. My grandfather took exceptional care of that shotgun and it is in super condition. Many people have commented upon it when we've had it out on a local skeet range...all wondered if it might be for sale. At some point, I look forward to passing it along to one of my sons.

    1 week ago
    • Jack

      Nice post. You have a great gun there. Keep it in the family. Take pics with it through time with every family member that shoots it. The making of an heirloom.

      1 week ago
  • Eric

    Hard to beat this puppy: Benelli SuperNova Tactical Pump-Action Shotgun

    1 week ago
  • Robert

    I have a Remington 870 Express 12 gauge. I like it.

    1 week ago
  • Jeremy Lackey

    For me, since my 12ga is primarily used for hunting, the choice was easy - Remington all the way. Mainly since the action is quieter than the Mossbergs. Holding both, the Remingtons just feel like better quality. I personally think the Mossberg 590A1 is a bit overrated. Not saying it doesn’t do what Mossberg claims, but why does the average person need that? Those guns can handle severe abuse and keep banging. Myself, I don’t have a habit of slamming steel ship doors on the barrel or dragging through miles of mud and water. All that said, a 590A1 with MOE furniture is a sweet weapon, but it comes at a price

    1 week ago
  • Jim

    So, on the fact that the Mossberg was the only one to complete military testing. Its because it was the only one submitted. It didnt beat out any others in a head to head test. Also, the article states "The requirement calls for a metal trigger group, so only the 590A1 and 500 MILS qualify to fit the criteria." This is incorrect. All of Remingtons Police guns have metal trigger housings/parts. Ive always owned 870s, but dont generally have a problem with Mossbergs. I agree they feel somewhat "cheaper" in the hand due to the action. I will say that while quite a few proponents of the Mossberg guns say they like that the ejector is removable vs Remington, its not generally an issue for Remington. The only one Ive seen "fail" was from someone inadvertently bending it beyond repair by pulling a rag out of the receiver when cleaning it. Remington fixed it for free. My old 870 Express has nearly 10,000 rounds through it, and the ejector has never been a problem. I did have a good friend lose his on a Mossberg 500 when shooting skeet. He got half way through and the gun would no longer eject rounds. It was nowhere to be found. Between finding the part online and ordering it, it took about a week less to get fixed than the Remingtons broken ejector. Still faster, but still a hassle, unless you had an extra on hand. My bottom line would be, buy what you like. Either will outlast you, and whoever you pass it down to with even haphazard maintenance.

    1 week ago
    • Bill

      Thanks for clarification.

      1 week ago
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