By Scott Mayer
Mossberg & Sons
Mossberg’s Silver Reserve is a line of entry-level, break-open shotguns that cover an array of sporting shotgun activities. Models include basic field over-unders for hunting, sporting guns with competition-specific features for competitive shooting, and nostalgic side-by-sides for those who pine for simpler times.
The newest generation of Silver Reserve shotguns—the Silver Reserve II—is still modestly priced, but also has some of the special touches hunters and shooters expect on higher-quality double guns. Those features include black walnut stocks with fine-line checkering and blued barrels complemented by silver-finished receivers sporting wraparound classic scroll engraving. Functionally, the Silver Reserve II line offers chrome-plated chambers and bores, dual-locking lugs and tang-mounted safety/barrel selectors as standard features. A variety of barrel lengths and stock options are also available.
A good entry-level gun is one with which you can try the sport of your choice without making a huge financial investment in equipment, yet actually be competitive or successful at the beginner level. This type of gun is not necessarily intended for the daily regimen of a professional shooter, but it should readily endure frequent casual shooting and hunting well enough for you to pass it down to the next generation. A good entry-level gun should also have decent fit and finish, but it’s silly to expect the attention to detail given a British Best gun or even the hand fitting commercially made name-brand guns received in the days before CNC machining. There are also not-so-good entry-level guns that are the sporting equivalent of cheap furniture—you get what you pay for.
The Silver Reserve II Field variant ranges in suggested retail price from $693 to $1,042, depending on features such as gauge, extractors, ejectors and barrel length. As equipped, my 12-gauge sample, sku# 75435, came with 28-inch vent-rib barrels; full, improved modified, modified, improved cylinder and cylinder choke tubes; plastic choke tube case and wrench; and ejectors. I found this gun listed for $776.
I believe this is the most difficult “price window” for break-open shotguns, because the guns are sometimes too good to be cheap or too cheap to be good. If they’re too good to be cheap, buyers get a heck of a gun for the money, but the manufacturer’s profit margins ultimately might not be there, and lines are discontinued. If guns are too cheap to be good, manufacturers make money, but consumers overpay, eventually word gets out, then sales lag, and lines are discontinued. In 20 years of evaluating everything from rickety Chinese-made guns to European over-unders that cost more than my first house, I’m putting Mossberg’s Silver Reserve II solidly in the “good” entry-level gun category.
It’s not easy to find much in the way of cost-cutting measures on this gun. The biggest cost-cutting measure is likely that the Silver Reserve II guns are made in Turkey. I’ve had the privilege of visiting Turkish gun factories and am happy to report there’s cutting-edge manufacturing technology and quality coming from there. About 15 years ago, well-known firearms importer Val Forgett told me to keep my eye on this bridge between East and West for high-quality future imports. I chuckled, but he was right. Back then, many guns coming out of Turkey were distinctly “Eastern” and downright gaudy by American standards. My experience at the time with several imported Turkish guns was that some worked well, others not so much, and also that their metallurgy could be spotty. Today, the Turks “get it,” and are doing a great job of making guns to suit “Western” tastes. As for the metallurgy, it’s there, and I’ve even put my money where my mouth is and own a few modern Turkish-made guns.
The wood on the Silver Reserve II is plain, but not cheap. Its ordinary looking walnut stock doesn’t have much in the way of figure, but has much more class than the “walnut-finished hardwood” more typical of price-point guns. The wood-to-metal fit, while hardly perfect, is some of the best I’ve seen on a gun in this price range, and there’s very little “proud” wood. Proud wood is a nice way of saying the wood sticks up higher than the metal and it is a pretty common cost-cutting feature on inexpensive guns. Tight tolerances cost money and precise wood-to-metal finishing raises the price because the manufacturer has to either pay someone to finish the wood down, even with the metal, or risk a higher stock-rejection rate by adjusting automatic equipment to cut “too close to the bone.”
Checkering appears to be laser-cut, and can only be described as “precise” as it lacks either the flaws of poor hand-cut checkering or the soul of good hand-cut checkering.The buttstock is slightly cast-off for right-handed shooters. Cast is a purposeful bending of the stock to the right or left of the centerline of the bores. The reason for cast is because you mount a gun out on our shoulder, and on a shotgun your eye is the rear sight. Cast positions the bores more in front of your face so you’re really sighting down the center of the barrels instead of from down one side. Usually more utilitarian guns such as pumps or semi-autos don’t have cast because they’re intended to be used equally by left- or right-handed shooters, so the cast on the Silver Reserve II is a nice touch—so long as you’re a right-handed shooter.
There’s no wiz-bang-fancy recoil pad to soften the kick, though under the rubber recoil pad the stock is hogged out more than necessary for the through-bolt, creating something of an air cushion. The through-bolt is the bolt that joins the receiver and buttstock and the large opening for it forms a hollow that the slightly pliant, solid-rubber recoil pad flexes into under recoil. That’s not a design feature Mossberg is touting, so it’s probably not purposefully designed into the Silver Reserve II, and just an observation on my part. The pad also has a slick heel insert making it easier to shoulder the gun without snagging on clothing, and overall it is a huge step up from the cheap, solid-plastic buttplates common to less expensive guns.
Metal finish is really good, too. With modern bluing methods, there’s no excuse for bluing to be anything less than perfect—and it is perfect on the Silver Reserve II. The wraparound scroll engraving on the silver receiver is refreshing to me because this is an area where my shotgun snobbery shines. I generally hate anything less than the best engraving on the best guns because, lesser engraving frequently looks like someone trying to make a cheap gun not look cheap—even when it’s on a not cheap gun. To me, less has always been more in this regard, but surprisingly the pattern on this gun strikes me as right for what this gun is. The only exterior metal treatment I have to criticize is the molded-in checkering on the top latch. It’s not at all crisp and makes the part look like it came from a well-used and tired mold.
Interior metal finish is a mixed bag. Where it counts, it’s OK; where it doesn’t matter, there’s no finish. Overall it’s about what you can expect for an over-under in this price range. For example, the monobloc is jeweled, or engine-turned, to provide an attractive finish to that part when the action is opened. This type of finish is normally applied using some type of spinning, cylindrical tool with valve-grinding compound to polish distinct, overlapping circles on the metal. The piece is indexed between these circles, leaving it with something of a fish scale appearance. From arm’s length, the jewelling on the Silver Reserve II looks fine; on close inspection though, it’s evident that it wasn’t indexed consistently. Fortunately, jewelling is a cosmetic feature and, while I wouldn’t expect an entry-level gun to have it at the same level as a fine pocket watch case, I think it should at least be done right or not at all. Perhaps one day we’ll see the Turks come up with an indexing fixture that automates jewelling to the same level of quality as their receiver engraving or wood checkering.
The standing breechface is mostly polished and the inside faces of the receiver not at all. None of those are wear areas, so accept that functionally the finish doesn’t matter—it’s one of the things you give up to get the low price. Even more expensive production guns are often left unfinished inside where it doesn’t matter. The only part I could find that gave me any concern over durability was the Deeley-style fore-end latch, which just looks fragile. It might be really strong and last forever, too, but since it’s not a part that’s subjected to much in the way of strain or use, it’s something I can live with on a gun in this price range.
In my opinion, and I rate it nothing more, Mossberg specified the function of this gun properly for an entry-level shooter. For example, the trigger is mechanical instead of inertial, meaning if you have a misfire or load the wrong barrel, simply pull the trigger a second time and the other barrel fires. A mechanical trigger mechanically resets the sear to the second barrel while an inertia trigger relies on gun recoil to reset the sear to the other barrel. If, for whatever reason, the gun unexpectedly does NOT go off, inertia triggers can leave beginners confused as to why it didn’t fire the second barrel and wondering what corrective action to take. Another reason I like mechanical triggers is for second-shot insurance. Several years ago my neighbor and I were grouse hunting in 17 degree weather and, when the first shot of the morning presented itself, my side-by-side with inertia single trigger went “click” instead of “bang” because the cold had congealed the oil on the firing pin, slowing it down too much to ignite the primer. If my gun had a mechanical trigger, I could have pulled the trigger again and properly missed that bird instead of watching it fly off unmolested. If there’s a fault I can assign mechanical triggers, it’s that if you mount the gun poorly, some shooters report what appears to be a double on firing. When that happens, it’s usually the shooter’s fault for not shouldering the gun tightly and it “bounces” off of their shoulder causing them to pull the trigger a second time. The second shot happens so quickly after the first that beginners often think the gun fired twice.
Another functional feature I like on this gun for beginners is that barrel selection is all but idiot-proof. With the safety in the “safe” position you slide the safety button side-to-side to select which barrel fires first. Set it up so the letter “U” shows, and the “under” barrel fires first. Set it up so the “O” shows, and the “over” barrel fires first. There’s no need to remember any dot code often found on barrel selectors. You don’t have to move the selector between shots to fire the other barrel; it simply selects which barrel fires first and the gun transitions to the other barrel automatically for the second shot. If you don’t shoot the second barrel, simply opening the action to eject your empty resets everything back to fire the pre-selected barrel first. Here’s a shooting tip: set up the selector so the under barrel fires first and forget about it. The under barrel has more straight-back recoil, while the over barrel produces more muzzle rise. Firing the under barrel first disrupts your sight picture less for the second shot.
Finally, it has a manual safety instead of an automatic one that goes to the “safe” position when the gun is opened. There are good arguments for both manual and automatic safeties on an entry-level gun. The automatic safety, admittedly, is intuitively more “safe” because it happens without having to think about it. On the other hand, it encourages new shooters not to think about it. It’s our responsibility as shooters to make sure everyone we’re shooting with does so safely. In my experience, the constant gentle reminder to “put the gun on safe” instills a safety consciousness the automatic one does not.
Since receiving the Silver Reserve II, I’ve used it about as much as my experience suggests an entry-level shooter would in the amount of time I’ve had it. I’m on Safari Club International’s staff sporting clays league and have used this gun on several weekend shoots this fall. Southern Arizona has experienced a spotty dove season, but I’ve still managed to spend a couple mornings afield making sure the mechanical trigger transitions to the second barrel after I miss with the first. Most recently, I’m finishing up our quail season with the Silver Reserve II Field. These activities are all light-load endeavors and I didn’t have any problems, so I opted to take the Silver Reserve II with me on an Arkansas duck hunt to see how it handles heavy steel-shot loads.
I was hunting in flooded rice fields where the primary objective was to try Under Armour’s new 3.0 base layer in wet, muddy conditions. We had “bluebird” days, but the pit blinds had about 4 inches of standing water in them and the mud was sticking to everything like a thick adhesive caulk. There were two other shooters in the blind using high-end semi-autos and, by the end of the second morning, the conditions and heavy loads had rendered one into a single-shot and the other an occasional single-shot.
As you’d expect from something with so few exposed moving parts, the Silver Reserve II didn’t have a problem with the mud. Safety, ejectors, top latch and lock-up all worked fine. Mechanically, the only issue that arose was with my early shots on the first morning when the second barrel wasn’t firing. Hunting from a pit blind with an over-under is a little awkward because you have to break open and load the gun with the muzzles pointed upward, and somehow I was managing to break open the gun and load both chambers without cocking the hammer for the over barrel. Once I assessed what was going on and made a conscious effort to make sure I broke the gun fully open each time I loaded, I didn’t have any problems.
Another thing I observed was that, even though the Silver Reserve II Field weighs in at 7½ pounds, it kicks much harder than I expected with the heavier duck loads. We were shooting Remington’s Hypersonic loads that send 1¼ ounce of No. 2 steel at 1,700 fps, and I don’t mind saying they rattle your teeth. It’s also not much fun when you fire one of those loads with the buckle from your waders sandwiched between your shoulder and the buttpad. The little bit of give provided by the pad and the hollow underneath are fine for taking the edge off the kick from target loads, but if you’re going to consider this over-under for heavy-load shooting, either get a slip-on recoil pad or have your gunsmith install a pad better suited to softening the blow.
I found this gun a little sluggish when trying to use any shooting technique that requires tracking the target with the gun shouldered. It’s not a “dog,” and for long-range pass-shooting it should handle fine, but it is front heavy for me and that keeps it from being nimble and responsive. Instead, it’s much more effective using Gil Ash’s “break point” technique, where you move the gun as little as possible as you mount it, and pull the trigger the instant the gun hits your shoulder. If you haven’t tried that technique I highly recommend looking it up and giving it a try. It has improved my shooting with all types of shotguns. It’s the technique I use from my dove stool or a duck blind and it works well. Though I use the same technique on quail, hunting them with the Silver Reserve II was another matter. This gun gets heavy quickly when carrying it all day. If I were considering this model for an upland gun, I’d want to see how the 26-inch barrels or possibly even the 20-gauge models carried.
Even though I’m not an entry-level shooter, I’m probably going to send Mossberg a check for this gun because it’s going to make a nice, novice-friendly loaner for times when I have guests who want to go shooting. It will even work great for experienced friends who stop by. I’ll probably take the barrels to a local shop and spend a few bucks having the monobloc properly jeweled, and I’m surely going to take a metal checkering file to that top latch. But those two minor points aside, I think the Silver Reserve II Field is a heck of a gun for the money and is a good investment for someone wanting to get into a shooting sport with a gun of their own instead of a rental.