Maverick 88 Home Defense Shotgun — Cheap but Reliable

There are plenty of inexpensive shotguns to choose from these days. Turkish, Chinese, and American shotguns are available for less than $300. Cheap shotguns, unlike cheap rifles and handguns, often work out fine.

All of us are on a budget of some type. Unless you are going to engage in 3-Gun matches, an affordable shotgun is a great choice for home defense. If you are going to go cheap on any firearm, the shotgun is the place you can get away with it.

Mossberg Maverick 88 tactical 12 gauge shotgun, right profile
A standard bead-sighted shotgun is a good recipe for home defense.

Mossberg Maverick

Mossberg offers the Maverick 88 as an economy version of the Mossberg 500. This inexpensive, but reliable, shotgun has much to offer. The Maverick is assembled in Texas, some of the parts are made overseas or across the border. This allows for a fair price.

The downside of the Maverick 88 is that a pinned on forearm isn’t easily changed out for a tacti-cool type. That’s fine given the price point, it wasn’t designed to be a Mossberg 590. The primary difference from the Mossberg 500 is in the trigger group. The famous, easily manipulated, ambidextrous Mossberg 500 safety is changed to a cross bolt safety in the trigger group. That’s ok, I prefer the Mossberg 500 safety.

However, my friend Andrew pointed out that when fitting a pistol grip to the Maverick 88, the cross-bolt safety works out much better than the Mossberg 500 safety in rapid manipulation. That is a consideration. Just the same, I suspect few will be modifying this inexpensive shotgun.

While I am willing to compromise some features, such as a light-ready forearm and ghost ring sights, I am not willing to compromise reliability. We humans are an unglamorous species subject to peril. I like to be able to defend myself ably. This includes defense against large, dangerous animals.

While I have respect for the food chain, I am not looking to engage in a graphic demonstration that is not in my favor. The Maverick 88, when loaded with slugs, is viable for short-range defense against larger tooth-and-claw type animals. For short range use, buckshot is reliable against feral dogs and the big cats.

Mossberg Maverick 88 12 gauge shotgun with extended magazine, right profile
The extended magazine version of the Maverick hedges the odds in your favor.

The basics of the Mossberg 500 are intact in the bolt receiver and barrel. The plastic trigger group isn’t pretty but seems long lived in use. A simple bead front sight tops an 18.5-inch barrel. The Maverick features twin action bars. The action is a little stiff and so is the safety, but not more so than a new Mossberg 590 that I recently broke in.

After firing just over 60 mixed 12-gauge shells, the action is smoother. It wasn’t difficult to begin with, just not butter smooth. It still isn’t, but manipulation isn’t difficult.

The magazine holds five 2¾-inch shells. The shotgun is easily loaded quickly. You may top off the magazine at any time if needed.

Winchester and Hornady shotshell boxes including Kim Rhode
A variety of loads gave good performance.

The barrel is easily removed for cleaning. Be certain the shotgun is unloaded. Pull the un-cocked action — just slightly — to the rear, unscrew the barrel retaining nut, and slip the barrel out of the receiver. To fire the shotgun, load the magazine.

If the shotgun is cocked, a lever beside the trigger guard is used to unlock the action. Rack the slide smoothly, but forcefully, to the rear. Don’t short stroke the action! Snap the forend forward to load the chamber.

The trigger is pressed to fire, and the forend brought to the rear to eject a spent shell and load another on the upstroke. The safety and bolt release are the only controls. Be certain to familiarize yourself with these controls. The trigger is typical of most shotguns — not light but smooth enough.

Silhouette target riddled with holes from birdshot
These tiny holes are from birdshot.

I began the test with light game loads from Winchester, including 7½ and 9 shot. These are not defense loads by any stretch of the imagination. However, they are useful for training and evaluation.

I fired the shotgun at 5, 7, and 10 yards with bird shot game loads. Results were good. I shouldered the Maverick and laid fire down (as quickly as possible), moving between two targets at each range. The Maverick 88 handled well.

I fired and allowed the recoil to raise the muzzle. As the muzzle rose, I worked the forend quickly. Slamming back into battery, I fired again. This stage was very pleasant.

Moving to Winchester #1 buckshot, the firing impression changed. With an aluminum receiver and hollow plastic stock, this is a relatively light shotgun in the home defense version. The shorter barrel also means less weight than the usual 28-inch sporting barrel.

As a result, the Maverick 88 at 7 pounds recoils more than a heavier shotgun. A cushioning, vented recoil pad helped. I was able to center hits to 15 yards without difficulty. The payload impacted the target slightly over the point of aim.

Blue Silhouette target with birdshot and buckshot holes
That’s Hornady buckshot overlaying birdshot. The choice is obvious.

Load Selection

Be certain to pattern your personal shotgun, whichever type it is. Shotguns are individuals when it comes to load performance.

The final load was Hornady Black 00 buckshot. The Maverick never stuttered and produced a decent pattern to 15 yards. Since this is a home defense shotgun, intended for use at close range, the pattern doesn’t mean much.

The shotgun will cut a ragged rat hole at home defense range with any type of buckshot. I wouldn’t flip for the difference between #1, #4, or #00 at home defense — each has merit. For running coyote or feral dogs, #4 seems ideal.

Blue silhouette target shot from 15 yards showing how the shot pattern spread
As range increases, so does the buckshot pattern. Be certain to pattern your shotgun at likely ranges.

For larger biped and quadrupeds at longer shotgun ranges, #00 is the standby. I should mention, the Maverick 88 has a 3-inch chamber. It will accept magnum loads. However, I prefer to keep my dental fillings in place as well as the work done on my limbs to put me back together after some magnificent episodes with man, beast, and Detroit steel. I did not avail myself of magnum loads.

Slugs are solid shot constructed of about 438–500 grains of lead, depending on the maker and the mission. These slugs hit hard and are among the single most effective projectiles for shoulder-fired weapons. I fired a magazine of Fiocchi Aero Slugs during the test. The slug struck just under the point of aim at 7 yards, about 1.5 inches low.

At 15 yards, due to muzzle rise, the slug struck dead on the X using the bead sight. For emergency use against large animals or adversaries behind cover, the slug is a viable choice. In the end, the Maverick 88 does its job without complaint.

Bob Campbell racking a pump-action shotgun
Mossberg’s Maverick action smoothed a bit with use.

I would recommend every shooter own at least one shotgun. For serious use or to get your feet wet in the game, the Maverick 88 is a viable choice.

Maverick 88 Specifications

Mossberg Maverick ‘riot gun’ — Mossberg calls it a security pump — specifications.

Caliber: 12 gauge
Barrel: 18.5-inch smooth bore
Magazine capacity: 5 shells
Length of pull: 14.25 inches
Overall length: 39.50 inches
Weight: 7 pounds
Stock: Black synthetic stock/forend

Additional Features

Cylinder Bore choke
Blued metal finish
Bead sight
Cross bolt safety
Dual extractors
Twin-action slide bars


I have been interested in ‘mini shells’ lately. While I prefer full-power shells, the slip-in adaptor provided a good option. In the end, however, reliable performance was sadly lacking with mini shells. More to come on this option in a future article.

Do you prefer a shotgun for home defense? A pump action or semi-auto? Which load do you recommend for defending the castle? Share your answers in the comment section.

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