Mossberg International Gold Reserve Black Label

By Jeff Johnston, FE Hunting and Shooting Editor

My first real shotgun was a Remington 1100 I received when I was 12. I kept that gun more-or-less pristine for 20 years until a buddy asked if he could borrow it to shoot a round of skeet with some floosie-du-jour he was trying to impress. 

“Man, I’m really sorry,” he said when he returned it the next day with a cracked stock. “It fell out of the case while I was pulling it out of the truck. Let me know if I owe you anything.”

Another time one of my city-dwelling buddies was going duck hunting with the CEO of his firm. 

“Sorry dude,” he said. “Some asshole broke into the M3 last night and stole your gun. I’m sure my insurance will pay out, but can you believe it? My computer, wallet and my priceless Ping Eye 2s are history.”

And so it goes. It seems every time I loan my guns out—and I have a hard time saying no to friends—something gets fucked up.  

That’s why I now own a few loaner guns, in both 12- and 20-gauge, for hunting and for clays. These days if you ask me to loan you a gun because you’re either too cheap to buy one or you don’t hunt or shoot but a couple times a year, you’re not getting my heirloom A5, my Winchester Pre-64 with a Swaro on it, or a $3,500 Silver Pigeon to pose with. If you want a 12 gauge for clays, I’ll hand you my steel-framed, $650 Yildiz—a decent gun if you’re a decent shot—and I won’t cry if it accidentally gets left at the clubhouse because you had six too many LITs and Ubered home. For upland hunting (this includes dove hunting which is the No. 1 activity responsible for borrowing and trashing my guns) or anyone who wants a 20-gauge, I hand them my Mossberg International Gold Reserve along with a message to be careful with it. Why? Because as a slick-handling over/under it looks the part, and because nearly everyone who shoots it wants to buy it from me. But I don’t let them. Why? Because I sincerely like it now, and not just as a loaner. I can assure you that if it cost $500 more than its sub-$1,000 real-world price (I saw it on sale for $750 recently), I wouldn’t be loaning it out at all.

You see, over the years the gun-related question I’ve received most is: What’s the best over/under for under $1,000? For years I’d tell these people to save their money, because the only over/unders that cost less than about $1,200 are Turkish-made, and historically a Turkish-made gun was like Jim Beam—it works, but it’s unrefined and embarrassing to order. However, over the last 10 years and especially the last 5, this trend seems to be changing. 

A few Turkish firms that have skilled-but-cheap labor and a long history of building firearms have finally submitted to the exacting demands of American gun companies who know exactly what American sportsmen want in a shotgun—and what we don’t want. We don’t want gaudy, Tehran-looking engraving that screams, “Hey guys, look at my cheap-ass gun!” Rather, if we have to go budget, we want a budget gun that handles like an entry-level Beretta but doesn’t try to be a Beretta because it can’t be. We want a subtle, quality-made and well-balanced over/under with useful features such as quality choke tubes, perfectly regulated barrels, consistent stock dimensions, a solid action lockup, respectable wood, and reliable triggers. And this is exactly what the Mossberg offers—without all the third-world-looking BS.

To be clear, I haven’t tested this Mossberg over the long haul—meaning I haven’t put thousands of rounds through it like I have my Brownings and Berettas, so I cannot yet say whether its steel barrels and aluminum frame will withstand the test of time and regular use. But as of now, it’s holding its own in terms of performance, and I’m beginning to like it at least in part because it is a Mossberg. Why? I’ve noticed it tends to really get under the Beretta-guy’s skin if you outshoot him with a $900 gun. I’m not sure why this is, but I know it to be true because I’ve been on both sides. $1,135 MSRP

Pros: one of the best O/Us for the money; comes with 5 quality, extended choke tubes

Cons: will never be a Browning Citori           

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