Best way to regularly unload shotgun


December 4, 2008, 09:30 PM
I plan on keeping SG loaded (none in the chamber but 8 in the ammo tube). The safety is on at all times...until ready to fire.

But during the time that I am not at home, I want to unload the SG (Mossberg 500). My normal procedure is to pump the action and keep on repeating this process until all the shells are expended.

What troubles me is that in the process, the chamber is loaded 8 times...daily...just to "unload" the gun. Yes, the safety is on....I follow the 4 rules religiously...but that's a lot of times that SG is loaded in the chamber and AD is a possibility.

Is there another safer way to unload that would run a lower risk of AD?

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December 4, 2008, 09:37 PM
with a little modification you can do it by removing the tube cap

December 4, 2008, 10:03 PM
my remington 870 manual describes the following unloading procedure (when a shell is in the chamber ready to fire):

1. point in safe direction
2. engage saftey
3. unlock action
4. pull fore end rearward slowly until shell is even with ejection port
5. lift front of shell outward and remove from ejection port
6. pull fore end fully rearward until the next shell is released from magazine
7. tip firearm sideways to allow shell to drop from ejection port

you of course will start at step 6. you have a mossberg but im guessing the same procedure can be followed.

December 4, 2008, 10:22 PM
With the Model 870, you can partially open the action enough to move the carrier up, and reach into the loading port and first release the shell latch on the left side with your finger, and then release the shell latch on the right side with your finger and the round will fall into your hand. Repeat until the magazine is empty.

I don't know if the Mossberg will empty this way or not, but over 26 years of loading and unloading Model 870's at the beginning and end of each shift, this is how it was done.

Hope this helps.


December 4, 2008, 10:46 PM
In response to Reloader Freds post,

you can also do that on Mossbergs, Browning BPSs, Benelli Novas, and most automatics the same way.

December 4, 2008, 10:46 PM
M500 can unload by pressing the left shell latch in front of the magazine tube.

December 5, 2008, 09:41 AM
+1 on pushing the shell latch, you can do it with your finger or with a shotgun shell. Its pretty fast too, I do this when I practice loading the shotgun.

December 5, 2008, 10:37 AM
Other guys posted it first, but the Mossbergs can be unloaded (magazine) by pressing on the cartridge stop in the loading port.

December 5, 2008, 12:32 PM
Benelli says to use the shell stop button to remove the chambered round then close the action and depress the shell stop through the loading port. Works really nice and really fast. Dont see why you couldnt do this with other SG's. Not that experienced with the Mossbergs though, not sure if that technique will work.

December 5, 2008, 11:22 PM
Im just wondering....why the need to unload/reload so often, other than what you stated? Is it because of family? Are you just afraid of coming home and finding someone holding your loaded shotgun (understandable)? Have you considered purchasing a quality shotgun rack (locking) or safe? This is assuming, of course, that you do not already have such an item. The daily loading/unloading of a shotgun seems somewhat impractical to me.

Try these links. In my opinion, this product is a good alternative to the very expensive and somewhat space-hogging gun safes/vaults. These locks are essentially the same as those used in patrol cars. These arent for everyone, but its a good place to start.

Fred Fuller
December 6, 2008, 01:47 PM

We unload the 'house guns' here only when it's time to put in fresh ammo (about every year or so). And they get unloaded by being shot empty. IMHO it's a good idea to replace the ammo in a tubular magazine shotgun every so often, simply because the pressure from the compressed magazine spring sometimes causes individual shells to bulge enough not to chamber readily. I've even seen one shell that split its hull (plastic) lengthwise for about an inch and a quarter when left under pressure in a magazine for too long (years). The shell in question is an old Sears 20 gauge 3" magnum load of #4 shot, the hull split from the crimp down to the top of the wad and gapped open about 1/8", only the plastic collar around the shot load is keeping everything together.

I still have this shell- I use it as an object lesson to demonstrate why defensive shotguns shouldn't be left loaded with the same ammo for too long a time. I also use it to demonstrate the best reason to not buy hyperexpensive 'gimmick' ammunition for defensive purposes, but to stick to conventional buckshot and slugs that one can afford to shoot up and replace every so often, as well as to practice with and pattern as needed.

How do you secure your shotgun when it isn't attended? Do you have a security cabinet? A safe? Mossberg makes a Loc-Box that works well to secure a home defense shotgun- see for more info. We have one here for demonstration purposes- it works well.



December 6, 2008, 01:55 PM
I can't speak for the original poster, but in my case, it was a necessity. The shotguns didn't stay in the patrol cars. They were issued at the beginning of each shift and turned in at the end of the shift. The rounds were loaded and unloaded each time.

At the beginning of the shift, the shotgun was inspected for broken parts, functioning, etc. The ammunition was inspected for leaking crimps, crumpled walls, etc. Anything noted as being out of the ordinary was either replaced or tagged for repair. We very seldom got the same shotgun two shifts in a row, or the same ammunition.

My life depended on the shotgun being in good order, along with the ammunition. It was my sole responsibility to make sure they were. The only way to do that was to use the system we had developed, loading and unloading them up to 3 times per day, per gun.

When I was rangemaster for our department, I went through all 300 shotguns and found several with broken firing pins, which was probably caused by dry firing them. Some people thought it better to pull the trigger on an empty chamber before putting the shotgun in the rack in the car, than learning to use the action release. I instituted a training program to correct this problem and the broken firing pin situation cleared up......

Hope this helps.


December 6, 2008, 02:45 PM
Fred: What type of shotgun were you folks using? Reason I ask is the way we are trained to make our shotguns cruiser ready is to dry fire them. We are using Remington 870's like most agencies currently.


December 6, 2008, 02:59 PM
Maybe a "trigger guard" or "cable through the barrel" gun lock would be a better solution to the OP's problem.

Leave the magazine loaded, and lock it & take the key, so it cannot possibly be fired in your absence.


December 6, 2008, 05:42 PM

We used Remington Model 870's exclusively. The firing pin in the 870 is about the size of a 16 penny nail. They would break about half way through their length and usually stay in place. I only found one that one half of the pin had fallen out of, but the others had both pieces still inside the bolt.

I discovered it when we took a shotgun out of a patrol car one day to use in an exercise, rather than one of my range guns. It fired once and then wouldn't fire twice, then fired the last round. When I took it apart, I found the broken firing pin.

That started me going through all the guns and found several more. It was enough to make me start the training program and issue memos on what I had found.

When I talked to the Remington rep, he told me they weren't aware of a problem with the 870's in that regard, but I was able to readily buy extra firing pins, so there must have been a need for them.

Don't get me wrong, the 870 is my shotgun of choice, and own one today for a house gun. I've been retired for almost 14 years and all those guns I worked on in the late 1970's are still in service today. They are a great gun, but like anything else mechanical, they can break, so they need to be taken care of.

Hope this helps.


December 6, 2008, 09:13 PM
Hmmm....thanks for all the advice. Learned two things today: 1) I will use the shell latch to unload.... I did not even know this option existed. 2) The shell pressure from the magazine spring was new to me. I'll keep it in mind.

Of course, from reading all the posts on this site...I won't be keeping the same ammo in the magazine for long. The will be constant cycling of ammo due to regular trips at the range.

December 7, 2008, 10:29 PM
ReloaderFred: Interesting good to know. I've just kinda been leary of any procedure where I'm supposed to dry fire my weapon into my car's seat to "minimize damager to the vehicle in the event of a negligent discharge." Would seem better to just not do it in the first place.

Fortunately we shoot qualifications with our cars shotgun every year so they at least get a work out once a year.


December 7, 2008, 10:50 PM

I'm sorry to hear that your department has chosen pulling the trigger on an empty chamber, rather than teaching the use of the action release button. With very little training, the action release becomes second nature and it's much easier on the guns. It's only a matter of time before an officer gets distracted and ends up pulling the trigger on a loaded chamber.

I know a guy who went to work for Austin PD last year as an evidence tech. His dad was a friend of mine, and passed away last year.

Take care,

December 8, 2008, 09:53 PM
Got a question about the action release button...

If my SG is unloaded...and I work the action...that would technically cock the hammer. I know that pressing the action release button would allow a person to be able to rack the action again. But would it also decock the hammer? I am curious to know...because when I store my SG long term in the safe (unloaded) I dont want to accidentally store it for weeks with the hammer cocked.

December 8, 2008, 10:05 PM
The action release won't decock the hammer. It only releases the bolt and slide so the action can be opened.

From my experience, you don't have to worry about leaving the hammer cocked, since I'm assuming you're concerned about weakening the hammer spring. I've seen shotguns (Model 870's) that have had the hammers cocked for about 40 years, and never seen one weakened to the point it wouldn't fire.

My own personal house gun is an 870, and it stays cocked all the time. It shoots each and every time I take it to the range, which is about every two years, just to shoot up the ammunition in the magazine tube and to test it. I bought this gun used at an auction and I don't have any idea how long it had been cocked when I bought it, but it was cocked.

Modern springs are strong and resilient, so I wouldn't worry about it.

Hope this helps.


December 8, 2008, 10:09 PM
If my SG is unloaded...and I work the action...that would technically cock the hammer. I know that pressing the action release button would allow a person to be able to rack the action again. But would it also decock the hammer? I am curious to know...because when I store my SG long term in the safe (unloaded) I dont want to accidentally store it for weeks with the hammer cocked.

Im actually curious about this question myself. Either way, I currently load a Pachmayr round in the chamber in order to release the hammer "safely" and leave it at that. When needed, all I do is eject this round and chamber a live one.

December 9, 2008, 04:19 AM
ReloaderFred: Oh believe me we've had a few patrol cars with some non-OEM ventilation holes in them over the years. Haven't had one in a couple of years, so probably due for one.


December 9, 2008, 12:16 PM

I know how hard it is to get policies changed, but this is one that really needs to be changed. It's just too easy to get distracted, or for pulling the trigger to become instinctive. When a shotgun is loaded on a hot call, and then the chamber unloaded at the end of the call, would be the most susceptible to an AD, I would think.

Might be something you would consider bringing up with your supervisors. It could save a life, or at least a lawsuit.

Hope this helps.


December 9, 2008, 01:49 PM
I dont want to accidentally store it for weeks with the hammer cocked.It won't hurt a thing!

Do you jack up your car & put it on blocks to keep the weight off the springs when you park it?

Ah! Thought not!

Springs wear out from cycling them.

As long as they are not over-compressed past the yield strength of the spring steel, they will last practically forever compressed.

And Remington didn't design the 870 hammer spring to be compressed past the yield strength, I betcha!


Ricky B
December 12, 2008, 01:15 AM

The safest and most controlled technique for unloading the shotgun is as follows. With the muzzle pointing in a safe direction and the safety in the “on” position, grasp the shotgun by the grip portion and hold the weapon parallel to the ground. Use your support hand to begin slowly opening the action. Your support hand thumb can be placed over the top of the barrel to assist in controlling the speed of the action.

Open the action until the nose of the shell that is being extracted from the chamber just clears the front of the ejection port and begins to be turned outward. The action should be almost all the way open with about 3/8” of the bolt showing. Do not open the action any further. Use your support hand to remove the shell and store it.

Without opening the action any further, reach underneath the receiver and into the loading port with your support hand and push the shell carrier to the uppermost position. Once the shell carrier is in the upper position, grasp the fore end with your support hand thumb and forefinger, with your palm positioned under the loading port. Move the action the rest of the way to the rear. This will cause the first shell to be released from the magazine allowing it will drop into your hand.

With the middle finger of your support hand find the left side shell latch. (It is accessible through the bottom of the loading port and is located at the front of the receiver just to the rear of the magazine tube opening.) Once located, press the shell latch onto the groove in the left side of the receiver. This will allow one shell at a time to be extracted from the magazine and into your hand.

Continue unloading the shells one at a time until the magazine is empty. Open the action the remainder of the way and visually and physically inspect the chamber and magazine well for ammunition.

I will add the following: There are a lot of sharp edges in many of these pumps. In particular, avoid sliding your finger on the edges. Tap gingerly with your fingertip to figure out where it is inside the action. Don't just slide it around in there.

December 25, 2008, 09:02 PM
Thanks to all for the tips.
I was going to ask basically the same question myself.
I never had shotguns but have a 870 now that I picked up for home defense.
So I wanted to keep it loaded but none in the chamber.
Seems to work fine if I cock it empty then load 4 shells into the mag. Then store with safety on.
For me this feels right as there is nothing in the chamber & seems safer. In a emergency I just grab it & unlock the action pumping one into the chamber. Safety off & good to go. Takes just a second.

but I tried the unloading techniques mentioned here in lieu of pumping each shell through the chamber.
It worked for releasing the one in the chamber then I reach under & push the shell latch & another flew out of the mag which was great but thats it. No more seem to want to come out that way? What am I doing wrong?

Thanks again for the help & Merry Christmas to all

December 26, 2008, 01:38 AM
You need to move the slide back part way, and there are two shell latches. One is on the left side of the receiver and the other is on the right side. First release the one, then the other.

Hope this helps.


December 26, 2008, 01:46 AM
Thanks RF I will give it a try
Merry Christmas!

December 26, 2008, 09:52 AM
You're welcome. When you open the slide, and eject a loaded round, you just move it to the rear enough for the loaded round to clear the ejection port and stop there. Remove the loaded round as it starts to move out the port and hold the slide so it doesn't move back any further. Then you push the carrier up and out of the way and release the shell latches one at a time.

Once you get the knack of it, you can do it in a matter of seconds. I did it for 26 years and didn't even think about it during that time. Now that I'm retired, and haven't done it in awhile, I had to think about the process again so I could describe it for you.........

The proper sequence is push the latch on the right side of the frame first and then the left. If you turn the shotgun so the loading port is facing you, then it is reversed. As the latches are facing you through the loading port, looking into the port from what would be the bottom of the frame, you would first release the latch that's on your left, then the right, which is reverse of what it would be if the shotgun were held upright, in the shooting position.

And just to be clear, I'm describing the Remington Model 870 shotgun. Other brands may work differently.

Hope this helps.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


Ricky B
December 26, 2008, 01:46 PM
"From Johnny Shoemaker we hear of a 1911 pistol which had resided in Condition 1 since its owner’s death in 1929 – all springs compressed. It functions perfectly today, together with all of its ammunition. This does not surprise me since I had a similar experience with my old Super .38, though not over so long a time period." – from Guns and Ammo, December 2001


Jeff Cooper was a guru of the .45 and is considered a seminal figure in civilian combat shooting.

There are also many owners of Parkers and other old shotguns that have been around since the 1920's that undoubtedly did not have the hammers de-cocked for years.

I think the idea of springs "taking a set" springs (pun) from a false analogy that aging gun magazine writers draw from sitting too long at a desk and feeling their bodies have "taken a set" when they get up. Whether the analogy is correct or not, it gives the gun magazine writers something to talk about and make themselves look wise.

But even if springs do take a set, don't you think that the engineers at Remington and Mossberg would know about it and specify springs that have sufficient reserve capacity that it doesn't matter?

De-cocking the hammer by pulling the trigger is an inherently dangerous act that can be safely performed. Why inherently dangerous? Because any time you pull the trigger on a firearm, you should consider it inherently dangerous and should be conscious of performing the action in a way that would cause no injury.

In the case of shotguns, de-cocking the hammer by pulling the trigger is frequently associated with putting in a snap cap to protect the firing pin. Gee, now you're not only pulling the trigger but also putting something into the chamber before you do it. Just a few months ago, there was a news item about a guy at a range who had just finished shooting and he was in the parking lot talking to his buddy and put a snap cap so he could pull the trigger and not leave his hammer cocked. He unwittingly put in a live round and shot his buddy in the chest, killing him.

Freak accident? Yes. Bad gun safety? Yes. But like many freak gun accidents, it would not have happened without a chain of events, the failure of any one of them would have prevented the accident.

The safer way to de-cock the hammer is to take the barrel off and then hold the snap cap up to the breech face and pull the trigger.

The safest way of all is not to worry about de-cocking the hammer and to let your great grandchildren replace the springs after they have worn out from use.

December 27, 2008, 04:52 PM
Hey Reloader Fred thanks again that worked great!
Finally got around to trying it & it is simple once I realized there was a left & right release tab in there.
This seems like a safe way to unload. I never felt that comfy racking each round into the chamber in the house (even with caution)
Also ejecting each unfired round just makes marks on the edge of the shell from the ejector.
This way is clean & feels safe
Not that I will unload often but nice to know a way to do so.
Thanks again

December 27, 2008, 05:40 PM

You're very welcome. As far as I know, that's the best way to unload the Model 870 safely. It's easy on the rounds, as you noted, and there's no danger of perforating anything that shouldn't have holes in it, such as children, spouses, pets, walls, etc.


December 27, 2008, 05:45 PM
Thanks Fred & Happy New Year
With a name like Reloader Fred I should ask you a few more Q's but wrong forum :)
Thanks again!

December 27, 2008, 06:20 PM
Happy New Year. I'm mostly over on the Handloading and Reloading Forum, plus moderate on a couple of other forums. I currently load for 29 calibers, plus 12 gauge shotgun.


December 27, 2008, 10:45 PM
Good Night 29 calibers? Wow + 12ga. !
Good on you.
I will see you over there on the other forum I'm sure

December 27, 2008, 11:32 PM
Me, I just flip the lever and the barrels fall open and extractors push the rounds out for removal. Quite simple, really. :p

December 27, 2008, 11:48 PM

The SASS shooters are always having that discussion. Those of us who shoot Model 97's say the double barrel is broken, since it's obviously not straight when open.

The double barrel shooters say us Model 97 shooters don't have enough barrels and our guns must be broken because the forearm keeps slipping back after firing.

But it's all good natured ribbing..


December 28, 2008, 12:05 PM
Well, I just thought I'd razz a little. I have an auto and a pump. I hunt, though, and love my doubles, so simple and rugged and never a problem in the field. Haven't gotten into SASS, likely won't, not really my thing. I've shot some IDPA and even did some IHMSA for a while.

If you hunt enough with a pump, I don't care if it's a Browning or a Remington or a Mossberg or whatever, you will have a problem, jam, something with it in the field. Makes you wonder about using 'em for self defense. LOL Currently, my 500 has had extraction problems with Winchester Xpert. Just miffs ya off in the field, have to knock out the spent round. The stuff works fine in my Winchester auto and I like the patterns and power of the 1550 fps number 3 steel shot on ducks. But, now, I notice that Remington is making 1550 fps stuff, so I may have to switch to Remington ammo next season.

Always some crap going on with pumps. My 870 had some problems over the years, too. I don't know, I guess self defense isn't as demanding as hunting in the salt marsh, but I wouldn't want one of those jams I used to get on the 870 or an extraction failure like I've been getting on the Mossy to occur in the middle of a fight. I don't need more'n 2 shots in my shotgun, anyway, for safe room defense.

December 28, 2008, 01:27 PM
i keep my shotgun's tube loaded, but no round in the chamber, and the safety off( i believe that the operator is the safety in this situation, your trigger finger and your mass between your ears,) so if i need it or the wife while i am away it is easy enough for her to get it up and running. rack the action one time and you are good to go.

I do not unload my shotgun unless i am going to the range, or want to inspect/ clean it. if i do unload it i use the method that the op spoke of, i put the safety on, then i rack the action until every round is out of the tube and out of the chamber, then i ensure that there is nothing in the chamber and that i see the orageish follower and then i know i am good to go and clear.

December 29, 2008, 05:42 PM
There a visual in this video - go to about 6:50,

December 29, 2008, 06:04 PM
Agree with all above with methods of unloading w/o rapidly cycling live ammo in and out of the chamber. Manipulating the retainer at the tube opening is of course safest & results in less wear & tear overall.

October 11, 2009, 05:37 PM
The way I have always unloaded my 870 was just by pushing up on the feed ramp and shucking the action; this allows the shell to be stopped by your thumb. That is until I found out that all you had to do was open the action fully and dump the shell out. LOL no more sore thumbs haha.

October 11, 2009, 11:53 PM
Afaik, springs do not fatigue by simply remaining compressed. What wears em out is repeated compression and expansion.

It shouldn't harm anything to simply leave your gun's mag loaded.

Of course, to unload my favored scatter-gun, (S-12), I simply remove the magazine from the receiver. ;)

October 12, 2009, 01:48 AM
I have my grandfathers remington wingmaster 870, it was built back in the 60's from what I understand, it spent most of it's life with the hammer cocked, and it still works great!

October 12, 2009, 03:22 AM
I plan on keeping SG loaded (none in the chamber but 8 in the ammo tube). The safety is on at all times...until ready to fire.

But during the time that I am not at home, I want to unload the SG (Mossberg 500). My normal procedure is to pump the action and keep on repeating this process until all the shells are expended.

What troubles me is that in the process, the chamber is loaded 8 times...daily...just to "unload" the gun. Yes, the safety is on....I follow the 4 rules religiously...but that's a lot of times that SG is loaded in the chamber and AD is a possibility.

Is there another safer way to unload that would run a lower risk of AD?

The OP clearly stated he has a Mossberg 500. Why people insist on clouding the issue with unloading drills for other shotguns escapes me.

You can't unload a Mossberg by removing the end cap, the magazine tube is sealed at the end.

You can unload it by pushing in the shell stop. It's a little metal tab that contacts the base of the first shell in the magazine. Once you get the hang of it, you can unload it very quickly this way.

October 12, 2009, 05:47 AM
+1 Natman.

Saves me from wearing my fingers out typing.


October 12, 2009, 09:54 AM
OR, you could just shoot it until it is empty! (Sounds like more fun anyway)

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