November 05, 2012
When I brought home my newly customized Mossberg 500 for my wife to see and laid it on the table with a flourish, she frowned and said, "That's the ugliest gun I've ever seen."
Deflated isn't quite strong enough to describe my reaction, but as I scrutinized it,
I could see she wasn't far wrong. The camo on the metal parts didn't match that of the stocks, and the combination was, well, hideous is only slightly too strong.
My lovely — and honest — wife holds a degree in fine arts, and her trained eye was offended by the cacophony of clashing colors.
No problem. I had plans for a different stock that, I was sure, would change her opinion.
Model 500 Makeover
This project was hatched during a slow afternoon sitting in a box blind over a food plot in Pike County, Ill. White Oak Reserve produces the occasional world-class whitetail buck, but none were cavorting about my stand that particular day. A stock Mossberg 500 LPA slug gun was my companion, and as the slow day wore on, I found myself contemplating what would make the perfect all-around shotgun for a resident of Illinois and other states with similar slug-only hunting regulations.
It would have to be versatile — parts of Illinois have rampant crime problems, yet if land can be found on which to hunt, superb whitetail hunting can be had throughout the state. Criterion number 1: interchangeable barrels — one rifled cantilever barrel for slug shooting and one short barrel for personal defense. (I toyed with the idea of a 28-inch, interchangeable-choke barrel for bird hunting, but what with low upland bird populations and the difficulty of drawing a public-land blind to hunt waterfowl out of here in Illinois, I decided against it.)
It would have to be reliable. Whether defending hearth and home or putting meat on the table, a bang-every-time characteristic was necessary. As much as I love semiautomatic shotguns, a pump action would be more reliable through ice, dust, mud, blood, and deer hair. Criterion number 2: Midwestern perfection required a pump action.
It would have to incorporate a modular, user-friendly sighting system. Because of a pump action's "loose" nature, mounting a scope on a receiver rail can lead to point of impact shift and poor overall accuracy — a barrel-mounted cantilever scope mount is much more consistent. Yet I would need some sort of sights for the home-defense barrel, ideally a receiver-mounted ghost-ring rear and stout, visible front. Criterion number 3: versatile sights. Oddly, this would prove to be the most challenging part of the project.
It would have an action tune-up. Just about every pump gun since the Winchester Model 12 has started existence with a rough-edged personality. Granted, with use they eventually smooth up nicely, but a gunsmith handy with a polishing stone can make one as slick as a hot tin roof right from the get-go. Criterion number 4: a gunsmith tune-up.
It would have a durable finish. What with the humid climate here in Illinois (home-defense guns shouldn't be kept in a controlled-climate safe, out of reach of homeowners) and the inclement nature of the state's November and December hunting seasons, the ideal tool would have a nonreflective, durable, corrosive-resistant camo finish. Criterion number 5: a high-tech skin.
Finally, it would have to have longevity. As I examined the Mossberg 500 slug gun in the stand with me, I realized that I held the foundation for my project in my hands, but from the day I'd obtained it I'd disliked the plastic safety slide and other plastic parts that perform critical functions. Criterion number 6: a metal-parts-kit upgrade.
The AimPro Touch
After my return home later that week — deerless — a discussion with Media Direct owner Mark Sidelinger led to Michael Shane, owner of AimPro Tactical. Shane and his gunsmiths have a way with Mossbergs, born of long acquaintance with caressing them into suped-up scattergunning tools of various purpose. So off my Model 500 went for a makeover. A conversation with Shane and several months later, it returned — beautifully reworked, but wearing a camouflage ATI stock that elicited that daunting reaction from my wife.
Other than the stock, I couldn't have been more pleased. All the plastic parts had been replaced with metal, and the action felt like it ran on ball bearings. Along with my original cantilever slug barrel was an 18-inch, Cylinder Bore barrel, complete with heat shield and sporting a hammer-tough railed front sight base and orange blade. The complete package was coated with AimPro's X-Coat (for Extreme Coat) finish, a moly-based, extraordinarily tough, military-approved finish that goes on thin and wears like rawhide. It's nonreflective and has a fine-sandpaper-like texture, but when applied to sliding surfaces, the moly base burnishes to a tough, slick surface that glides like grease.
The camouflage stock was a takeoff that Shane had in his shop and installed on my shotgun, thinking that the camo would work well on a hunting gun. Though strictly speaking he was correct, and with all due respect to ATI, the adjustable stock just didn't work for me. My whiskers got caught between the sliding surfaces — with uprooting results — and even with the cheekpiece in the highest position, the stock had way too much drop for use with an optic.
A "D'oh!" Moment
I replaced the camo ATI stock with a nice, tan, vertical-grip SpeedFeed stock. Yes — I should have seen it coming: When I blithely uncased the shotgun at the range, it dawned on me that tang safeties and vertical grips just don't work effectively together. I finally did what I should have done to start with and ordered a black, overmold stock from Hogue. It's perfect.
Back in Action
The slug gun still holds the same, usable groups it always has — nothing spectacular, but accurate enough for deer hunting out to 125 yards — but now it runs like a precision machine. I finally gave up on finding a rear, receiver-mounted sight (for the short smoothbore barrel) that was compatible with the cantilever mount and would fit under my deer-hunting scope. Now I just install an XS ghost-ring sight and rail when I have the shorter barrel on the gun. Since deer season only lasts a couple of weeks, that's most of the year.
It's sighted dead on with Remington's Managed Recoil Slugger rifled slugs, which the shotgun stacks one on top of the other at 25 yards, and it splashes most buckshot loads well centered on the sights as well. Topping the XS rail is a Trijicon RMR red dot, sighted similarly.
After collecting an assortment of personal-defense-type loads, I set out to determine which patterned the tightest and loosest from 5 to 25 yards. The results are listed in the accompanying chart.
Many of my fellow writers get all geeked-out over a buckshot load that only spreads 2.5 inches at 15 yards, but if I ever have to use my shotgun within the confines of my home (heaven forbid), I want a big, forgiving pattern that is less likely to blast completely through walls. On the other hand, if I'm ever lucky enough to own chickens (permanent coyote bait), I want to know what holds a pattern worthy of a carnivorous canine skulking away, feathers clinging to his nose.
My only remaining concern with my made-over Model 500 is with the trigger. It came with Mossberg's LPA shotgun trigger, which offers a light, crisp, consistent pull — great for deer hunters. However, if one lays a finger too firmly against the side of the trigger, the shoe that contains the Savage AccuTrigger-like internal lever will emit a "click" and lock up the whole works — not a good thing for a defense gun. I plan to replace the LPA trigger group with an all-metal standard Mossberg trigger. It will be less ideal for deer hunting but more dependable for home and personal defense.
Oh yes. My wife has come around. She still considers my project gun the ugliest firearm I own, but she appreciates the slick nature of the action; the gripping texture of the Hogue stock; and the quick-pointing, reliable characteristics of the defense configuration. Pretty is as pretty does, and when it comes to performance, my shotgun is pure beauty.
At least she'll let me in the house with it now.