Awhile back I wrote in this column about some friends who used over and under (O/U) shotguns for sporting clays, but had decided they needed a shotgun for home defense.
Only later did I learn that Mossberg is actually making an O/U shotgun for close combat. The fact that it was in conjunction with Thunder Ranch indicated to me that some knowledgeable people obviously think it has combat applications. I decided to get one to test that precept for myself.
The HS12 TR comes disassembled into two parts but may be quickly assembled. My first reactions upon putting it together were that it is a nicelooking shotgun and of a very handy size. At 35.25 inches overall, with an 18.5-inch barrel, that compares well with a 14-inch barreled Remington 870 at 34.25 inches. And the HS12 TR does not require registration as an SBS.
For a home-defense shotgun, a shorter barrel is a real plus, as it allows the shotgun to be pulled closer in to the body when passing through doorways or in other places where an intruder might grab it, and it is less likely to impede movement.
Another plus for the HS12 TR is the location of the sliding safety atop the receiver. For most people, this location allows faster and simpler operation than a crossbolt on the trigger guard. Having said that, I’ve used shotguns with the crossbolt safeties for so long that I can operate them rather smoothly. Another good feature is the single trigger. Double-barreled guns with two triggers always raise the possibility of pulling both triggers at once if care is not taken.
Although the shotgun comes with a short Picatinny rail, I find the open sights sufficient for the ranges at which it is likely to be used. Actually, the fiberoptic insert in the front sight and the white bar at the base of the rear notch make a good combination.
Mini red dots are popular on shotguns with some, so the rail is probably a plus. Short rails on each side of the barrels allow mounting of a light or laser.
I like a light on a combat shotgun, so that is a good feature. I have not yet experimented to see which weaponlight works best, but any that fits a Picatinny rail and is compact should suffice.
On the downside, the HS12 TR only holds two shots and, to be ready for use, rounds must be chambered and the safety on. I normally keep my pump or semi-auto shotguns “cruiser ready”— full magazine, empty chamber. Operating the slide or bolt is a quick procedure if the shotgun is needed.
But the only choices with the HS12 TR other than keeping it loaded/safety on are keeping it unloaded and inserting a couple of rounds if needed or keeping it broken open with rounds in the chamber. To ready the gun for action, the barrels can just be pushed up to lock.
Neither of those choices is optimal. Not keeping the O/U HS12 loaded is the safest solution, but it takes time to prepare the shotgun for action. Mossberg supplies an elastic five-round shellcarrying sleeve to fit over the stock, so at least rounds can be kept ready with the gun.
Keeping the shotgun broken open with loaded chambers creates various problems: Where to store it? What if it falls and the shells fall out? Will debris get in the action or might something block the action with it open?
Another point to note in deciding whether to keep the HS12 loaded or not is that the safety does not automatically go to safe when the action is closed; hence, if the safety is not consciously applied, you will have a loaded weapon with the safety off.
One other point about quickly loading the HS12 should be made. I find the action somewhat stiff to open. I have to grasp the barrels and pull down fairly hard while operating the release lever. That will probably work in after opening and closing many times.
I assumed that recoil would be noticeable with the HS12. Even though it will take three-inch shells, I used 2¾- inch Federal and Winchester Low Recoil buckshot loads. With those, recoil wasn’t bad, though the muzzle did come up 30 degrees or more when I fired.
The nice thick recoil pad did its job well. While performing handling and patterning tests, I felt no shoulder discomfort.
I fired patterns at 15 yards and found them well centered on the torso of silhouette targets. Normally, I fired the second barrel as soon as I got the shotgun back on target. Chokes for both barrels, by the way, are modified.
The sights worked well but were a little hard to align for a fast second shot. I’m spoiled from using a ghostring rear sight on my tactical shotguns.
When shooting the HS12, it becomes apparent that a user will need to make those two rounds count, as the shotgun is equipped with extractors rather than ejectors. The shells are only pulled out far enough to catch with the fingernail to complete extraction.
The greatest arguments for the HS12 Thunder Ranch are its compactness, shortness, and simplicity. Those would seem to be arguments in favor of its use by those who don’t want to deal with a pump or semi-auto combat shotgun.
For the typical home-defense scenario, two rounds of buckshot should do the job, and those stacked 12-gauge bores should be intimidating.
Given a user who does not shoot much, the compactness and lightness of the HS12, which make it handy for moving through a residence, also enhance recoil. As a result, I recommend choosing low-recoil self-defense loads and shooting them enough to know what to expect from the shotgun.
Suggested retail price on the HS12 TR is $594. Mossberg’s excellent Pump 590 combat shotgun has an MSRP of $441. I like the little HS12 and want to do some more shooting with it and think further about its applicability. But for $150 less, I would normally choose a 590.