A 20 Gauge for Home Defense? Mossberg Special Purpose Review

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Mossberg 20

Even though the gun feels noticeably smaller, it doesn’t look diminutive.

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.

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Jeremy May 26, 2015, 12:27 pm

    Great article. My wife definitely likes her 20 ga. Remington youth compact as a HD gun, although she shoots my 1100 12 ga. HD just fine. Even better if it had a 13″ LOP as th 14″+ is a bit much for her. Now my wishes for the Industry. 1: Make a 28ga. HD gun just like this and the other HD models out there. 2: They need to make the ammunition to go along with this new masterpiece. My reasons for a 28ga rather than a .410 is that it has a better payload. Much closer to a 20ga. than a .410 as far as projectile weight. Recoil is not that much more than a .410 yet in my opinion, not nearly as bad as a 20ga. These guns would be perfect for recoil shy or people with shoulder injuries. I have five .410 shotguns, I love them. But, I just think they are lacking in the HD category. Also, 28 ga. rounds are generally cheaper than .410 rounds. Although there is basically no HD 28ga. ammo at this time, except some slug rounds.

  • pfletch83 August 18, 2014, 11:49 pm

    I’m a shotgun fan through and through, I like ’em all from 12 to 410 because all have their uses.

    I became a mossberg owner due to the fact that my injuries prevented me from shooting the 12’s most companies had to offer. The only company that makes a .410 pump that is affordable is Mossberg. So I bought two of their 500E series (410’s) and turned them into home defense guns. I’m going to pick up a third mossberg for hunting and camping which will be one of the 500C series (20 gauge). Mossberg makes a fine product in the model 500 (no matter the gauge)

  • Joe McHugh July 11, 2014, 11:23 pm

    Fairly good review of the Mossberg Model 500 using the 20 gauge ammunition. However, I take exception to Dave Higginbotham’s advice about not having to aim a shotgun at the closer ranges.
    While there are shooters who can reliably hit targets in a point and shoot manner, most people would do better in lining up the sights even at the 7-yard range mentioned in the article. Successful point and shoot gunners do a LOT of shooting at the gun ranges and they have the coordination to pull off such feats.

    This is the thing. Let’s say that a home invader is still approaching you after you order him to stop. You can see him and you might see that he has a firearm or a knife while he can definitely see that you are holding a shotgun. Yet he still advances toward you. You have no choice but to aim and fire at him because if you miss he could very well be within striking distance, even with a knife, before you can pump a new shell into your shotgun chamber. If you don’t aim you could easily miss him. All shot sizes from double 00 to the finer bird shots stay in a closely packed shot column for the first few yards of travel. This means that these charges behave just like a solid shotgun slug over short ranges.

    You may only get one shot so make it count by aiming at the center mass of that onrushing bad guy. If you just point and pull the trigger you could easily miss him entirely and the loud noise will not stop a crazed killer.

    The only time you should point and shoot is when the bad guy is so close that you cannot raise the gun to eye level. If he is that close, point the muzzle at his chest and pull the trigger. I’m almost sure that such action will make him quickly loose interest in what he was planing to do. Heck it would probably make him lose interest in breathing too.

    Hey, we are talking about a life or death issue here, and I’m guessing that you want to be the last person standing.

    • Dave Higginbotham July 12, 2014, 4:21 pm

      Duly noted. I’m an aimer at heart, but I’ve had to loosen up. Even with defensive pistols, I’m getting more consistent results when I point shoot. It takes me more time to aim than it does to keep my eyes on the threat and stick the gun out in that general direction. But I shoot a lot, so I have to agree with you.

  • Clem July 9, 2014, 12:15 am

    I’ll settle for my $99.00 remmington 1100 five shot semi auto backed up by my $50 Ithica Featherlight. Ooops, should I say they were both purchased brand new? The first by my dad in 1970ish and the second by my grandpa in the 1950s. Adding the deer slayer barrel to the 1100 makes the coyotes stay away.

  • Danny July 8, 2014, 9:48 pm

    My Father turned 70 and asked for a 20 guage, as he thought his 12 GA Winchester 1300 Defender might break his shoulder. Went out and got him a 20 GA Mossberg. I think the model number was #50452 Persuader with pistol grip incl. This one had a bead sight and was a 6+1. Price was in the low $300s. Found the box-Made in June 2009. (so, No, they didn’t make them in a 7+1 format 5 years ago). Fairly hard to find locally and Police trade-in 590As were $270 at CtD.
    His only issue was that the Mossberg did not have a mudgate. So I (finally) found a Winchester 1300 Defender in 20GA. Fairly difficult to find the older Defenders in 20 GA, so I’d suggest the Mossberg to almost anyone. They work.

  • Chris July 8, 2014, 7:53 pm

    My wife will never ever shoot the 12ga again. I’m about to buy a 20ga for home defense. You can put a hurtin’ on someone with a 20ga.

  • josh July 7, 2014, 9:48 pm

    Looks like one mean 20 gauge!!! I might have to pick one of these up….I have used a 20 gauge shot gun since age 12 and have no quarrels with the potency of power delivered from the 20 gauge shell…. I myself have a rather large wingspan of 6′ 7″ and have no problems with the length of pull on any kind of gun… you just have to shoot it more to get comfortable with it….I have hunted many deer with my 20 gauge shotgun and have dropped 9 of 12 cold in the spot…. people look at me funny when I’m carrying a 20 gauge and I say hey it gets the job done….5″ groups at 150 yards with the rifled barrel who can complain!!! morale of it all a 20 gauge can do what a 12 gauge can with a well placed shot!!!

  • Bill Cuthbertson July 7, 2014, 9:25 pm

    I have the Mossberg SA20 version with a nine shot extension. I dearly love this shotgun, shoot softly even with high brass in it as that’s all I shoot. It has a handgrip which makes it easy to control. I don’t worry about a lack of getting enough down range, with the Remington slug that’s running at 1800 fps. I stack my home defense with 2 00 buck and then 1 slug and repeat the cycle. Loaded that way I don’t think anyone wants to come up against that in the middle of the night. I like the gun so much I bought a Mossberg 930 and was going to copy my SA 20 but in 12 gauge. Only you can’t do it because of the stuff in the butt stock and also you have to buy a new barrel .

    • Bud May 29, 2015, 11:16 am

      Hi Bill, I just stumbled across this thread, hope it’s still active. You mention you stack your 20 gauge with 2 00 buck, etc. I have been able to find 20 gauge buckshot in #3, #4 (both 2 3/4 inch) and #2 (3 inch). I have not been able to find 20 gauge buckshot in 0 or 00. ‘Would appreciate if you share who makes 20 gauge in 00 buck and where I can purchase same. Thanks.

  • Russ July 7, 2014, 7:07 pm

    I have for home defense a 20 ga Mossberg cut to 18.25 in with 6 position stock w/pistol grip. I’ve added pressure pad light and laser(side mount) with pads on foregrip. I have five shot nylon aux with additional on pistol grip. Three additional rounds are stored in buttstock with chairleg cover and spring and string for quick three in hand. Filled with a combo of 2.75inch #3 buck alternating with 3inch #4 bird shot. Total rounds nineteen(19). Impressive house gun.

  • Browncoat July 7, 2014, 9:54 am

    I’d have bought one years ago if I could find it. Even their website didn’t seem to show it listed. At least not with the 7-round extended mag tube.
    I have a 12 gauge Mossy 500 tactical but even with low-brass dove loads, my wife won’t shoot it.

  • Browncoat July 7, 2014, 9:53 am

    I’d have bought one years ago if I could find it. Even their website didn’t seem to show it listed. At least not with the 7-round extended mag tube.
    I have a 12 gauge Mossy 500 tactical but even with low-brass dove loads, my wife won’t shoot it.

    • MossbergOfficial July 8, 2014, 11:34 am

      “Browncoat”: Here is the listing for our 7+1 500 20 Gauge: http://bit.ly/1jlsrFQ Mossberg SKU#54300
      Also, for those with longer LOP needs, we offer 20 gauge 500 with the 6-position adjustable stock in black: http://bit.ly/1jbzNez (Mossberg SKU#54301) and also in Muddy Girl: http://bit.ly/1xMGI18 (Mossberg SKU 54303)
      Hope this helps! Thanks much!

      • Mark January 18, 2015, 3:10 pm

        Mossberg official,
        I’m considering one of these for Home Defense for the Wife and I. For the Mossberg #54301 20 GA with adjustable stock,the specs list the overall length at 37.75″. Is that the length with the adjustable stock fully extended? What is the range of overall length with adjustable stock fully collapsed and fully extended?

  • MarkOwen July 7, 2014, 8:55 am

    This is an excellent platform for personal protection, I would just like to see more shotgun adapters made for 20 gauge. The pathfinder school recommends them for 12 gauge, but I would bet there are just as many 20 gauge shotgun owners who would order them, I know I cartainly would as I own three of the 20 guages one old double barrel and two single shot models all in excellent condition despite their age.

  • Wayne July 7, 2014, 8:23 am

    I myself prefer the 20 as my home defense tool,A non tactical Winchester youth is small enough to move side to side inside of the house.
    There is one thing to consider when using any firearm inside the home,They are LOUD,You will not be able to hear anything after the first shot!

  • Mike July 7, 2014, 5:42 am

    My wife LOVES her 20 gauge 🙂
    She’s a very small frame herself, including scoliosis that’s so bad it can’t even be operated on for correction, so it’s perfect for her. Also, The Box O’ Truth did some comparative testing and found that #3 buck from a 20 penetrated the same a 00 from a 12 at short range. Ours also came from the factory with the Knoxx stock, so it’s both adjustable and has a set of recoil-absorbing springs inside, so it’s even easier to shoot. We also found replaced the fore end as noted above, added a light and green laser. It now sits right next to the bed as a primary defense gun for the home. Not a Mossberg, however, had ours for years now, and we’ve noticed a lot more interest in the 20 gauge for home defense.

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