By Lewis Potter
Saturday, 11 December 2010
Lewis Potter tests the Mossberg 535, a strikingly camouflaged pump-action shotgun that would make the ideal tool for vermin and wildfowl
My first and only experience of using the pump-action shotgun for real was in the early 1970s on a local farm. I am no longer sure of the make, but I remember that it seemed ancient, even then, for a gun of its type. The operation was “chackley” (a local word that described the loose and noisy sounds when cycling the action — it could be heard the best part of a field away). It was not mine, but lived unloved in the corner of a barn. Its primary purpose was crop protection and it never let us down.
It did, though, introduce me to a type of shotgun not commonly used in the UK, and also to that American concept that a shotgun is simply a tool to do a job. It was little more than a hand-operated machine to “shuck shells”, as someone from the US might put it.
Long, light and slick
Recently, I had a Mossberg to test and wondered how different the experience might be this time. First impressions were of length, lightness and a fairly slick action. All such guns tend to be rather long because of the length of the receiver to accommodate the feed mechanism. Lightness is achieved by using a synthetic stock and fore-end and an aluminium alloy receiver. As for the operation, it cycled easily, but, like all of its breed, was never going to be particularly quiet. This is often a criticism levelled against the pump action, but, of course, a pump action is similar to a semi-auto or self-loader without the automatic cycling by either recoil or gas operation. These are much faster to complete the ejection-and-reloading cycle than a pump action and therefore seem less noisy only because the same sound is condensed into a shorter period of time. Either way, pump or auto, it is something you have to accept and for the lone wildfowler or vermin shooter it is of no great consequence.
The other striking feature is the almost shockingly daring overall camouflage. When out of the environment it was designed for, the camouflage is, ironically, often noticeable. In a reedbed or a field of maize it would be almost invisible and the matt finish is in harmony with such natural surroundings. I can imagine the embarrassment of having laid it down in long grass while attending to fallen quarry and then, perhaps with dusk approaching, the rising panic at trying to locate it again. The synthetic stock and fore-end sport surprisingly effective moulded-in chequering and the black rubber butt-pad seems soft enough to help to tame the recoil of most cartridges. However, when you can find the detail along the camouflaged barrel, it comes as a surprise to find the legend chambered for 2 3⁄4 and
3 1/2 shells. The latter, in a gun weighing no more than 6 1⁄2lb unloaded, promised to provide more than a little excitement.
Drop across the stock is fairly standard at 1 1⁄2in to 2 1⁄2in and the butt stock is virtually straight with only a hint of toe-out. The length of pull measures a little more than 14in, but, due to the shape and position of the pistol grip, feels longer. There is a moulded-in sling eye a couple of inches from the toe and provision for a similar attachment on the barrel retaining screw.
Four blanking screws along the top of the receiver are a clue to the multi- purpose uses of a Mossberg pump action. Here, an open, adjustable rearsight or medium eye relief shotgun scope might be fitted — these are popular in the US for deer hunting.
The US does not have a proof system like us, so the test gun had Birmingham proof marks of 18.6mm superior proofed for use with steel shot. On my gauge, it measured only a couple of thousandths of an inch more than the nominal proof size and was parallel for the barrel’s full length. Three of the ever popular screw-in chokes are provided, measuring, as a comparison to the bore, tight quarter-, half- and full-choke. Usefully, the handbook lists the full range of available choke tubes. However, while each choke is identified on its outside diameter, unusually there is no notch marking. So, flush-fitting chokes have to be partly removed for precise identification. A raised rib, black plastic centre bead and red foresight are all practical fitments that blend in with the overall styling.
Lock work and magazine
Trigger-pull proved to be fairly typical of its type, safe but a little long, followed by a clean break at around 5 3⁄4lb. For maintenance, the compact lock work can be dropped out of the receiver by driving out a single dowel pin. A couple of pieces of the adjacent cartridge-feed mechanism — the cartridge interrupter and cartridge stop — often try to fall out at the same time. Maintenance is no great problem though, as it is fairly obvious where the parts refit without reference to the handbook. The 535 is available as either a three-shot (two in the magazine, one in the chamber) or five-shot for the vermin shooter with a shotgun on a firearms certificate. To use the maximum capacity, it is a case of loading one cartridge into the breech, closing the action, putting the safety on and loading the other cartridges into the tubular magazine. Depressing the action lock lever at the rear of the trigger-guard enables you to open the breech and extract an unfired cartridge.
Safety and handling
Handling is biased forward but this helps with the swing, and having a safety button mounted as a tang safety is a great advantage over the more common side push button located in the trigger-guard. With the almost straight stock, I shot a bit to the left to start with, but found it easy to correct my aim. Also, holding the fore-end fairly far forwards in anticipation of operating the action negated any tendency for the stock to feel short. With game cartridges, it was nice to handle and easy on the shoulder — even 3 1⁄2in steel shot cartridges didn’t turn it into the Jekyll and Hyde monster I’d expected. If I was crouching in a muddy gully, the recoil would be more noticeable, but standing up it was not at all unpleasant. The Mossberg 535 is a no-compromise gun that you will either like or loathe. Yet it is a good, functional tool and that will be enough for some shooters.
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