Classic Guns: Mossberg’s Model 183 Bolt-Action .410 Shotguns
While not a firearm we would use for competition, the bolt-action shotgun enjoyed several decades of popularity in the hunting fields. Mossberg’s Model 183 .410 is among them and can still be found at yard sale prices.
It’s a good bet that competitive shooters also have less expensive guns for hunting and for plinking. Another pleasure we find in our firearms is simple nostalgia, and that was the appeal of the Mossberg 183KE I recently acquired from a gun show. Surely, most shooters have pleasant childhood memories associated with a specific firearm.
When I was a 12-year-old growing up in the Ocala National Forest, old Bill lived down the dirt road in a small trailer with his wife and a fat dachshund; he often loaned me a bolt-action Mossberg 183 .410 shotgun for hunting cottontails and bobwhite quail. It was a bit rusty and worn and he had “repaired” the split in the wrist by wrapping it with wire. I bought .410 shells at the hardware store in town, number 7½ for quail and 4s for rabbit. “Don’t shoot rabbits with seven-and-a-halfs,” old Bill told me, “They’ll just laugh at ya.”
With the borrowed shotgun and my young head filled with Jim Kjelgaard hunting stories, my beagle and I roamed the forest and rutted dirt tracks and orange groves, and I learned how to lead running rabbits and flushing bobwhites.
The price of nostalgia
Last year a bolt-action Mossberg 183D .410 landed at our local gun store; it was the first one I’d handled since the last time I returned old Bill’s wired-up shotgun. It churned up memories from those years and I might have bought it, but I couldn’t justify spending $300 on a gun I’d probably shoot once and put away. Then a Model 183 recently appeared at a gun show for 80 bucks, so now I own a Mossberg Model 183KE in NRA Excellent condition with C-Lect-Choke that “c-lects” between Cylinder, Modified and Full. The twist-adjustable choke was frozen, but soaking in Kroil loosened it, and I stripped the Mossberg down to parade rest for a full clean and lube and reassembled it.
Forty years of the Model 183
Mossberg introduced the first Model 183 .410 shotgun in 1947 as the Model 183D, which featured choke tubes that threaded onto the outside of the barrel. Each of the subvariants 183DA through 183DG incorporated minor changes to extractor, ejector, trigger and such, to 1971. The 183K substituted the outside mounted choke with the C-Lect-Choke; manufacture of the K version ran from 1953 to 1986 as subvariants 183KA through 183KE, again each incorporating minor changes. For some reason, manufacture dates of the 183KE are hard to pin down—even Mossberg has left it off their Chronology of Mossberg Firearms, stopping with the 183KB model in 1968. But according to Cheryl Havlin at the National Mossberg Collectors Association, my Model 183KE dates from late 1973.
This Mossberg Model 183KE holds two 2½- or 3-inch .410 rounds in the magazine, conforming to hunting laws limiting shotgun magazine capacity. With a 25-inch barrel and overall length of almost 46 inches, handling of the 5½ pound shotgun is light and easy, even for a 12-year-old.
Though showing a slight swell to accommodate the blind magazine, the smooth, walnut-finished stock is quite svelte while incorporating an adult-size 13½-inch length of pull. The split receiver bridge accommodates passage of the bolt handle; given the .410’s low working pressure of 13,500 p.s.i. for 3-inch shells, the split isn’t a detriment to receiver strength from a safety standpoint. The bolt handle root serves as the only locking lug. The barrel is screwed to the receiver, and the only stamped steel parts are the magazine box, follower and spring, and the safety selector and associated trigger piece. The trigger guard is plastic and the recoil pad, rubber. Takedown is via a single screw passing upward through the stock at the receiver front.
Still an excellent value
One, perhaps two bolt-action shotguns are still being manufactured today, these as 12- and 20-gauge “slug guns” intended for hunting deer where rifles aren’t permitted. If anyone still makes a .410 bolt gun, it didn’t turn up online, so finding a throwback appears to be our only recourse. One of the bolt-action shotgun’s appeals is its comparatively low price, which is a fraction of that of other style repeaters and double barrels, and not much more than single-shots.
Late 1950s to early 1960s issues of Gun Digest list the Mossberg Model 183Ks in the $29–$39 neighborhood; prices for Stevens, H&R and Savage bolt action shotguns were comparable. Thirty dollars in 1960 equates to about $271 in 2021 dollars; it doesn’t seem likely a decent bolt-action shotgun could be manufactured today to sell at that low price. Blue Book on Model 183s max out at $175 in 100 percent condition; that $300 price tag on the 183D in the store we can attribute to collectability, as Mossberg made that first model only in 1947–1948. My 183KE is the last Model 183 Mossberg turned out, hence the much lower cost as a “shooter.”
Old Bill is long gone and those orange groves are now retiree subdivisions, but that 12-year-old is still inside me somewhere, and his eyes brighten as I handle the Mossberg .410. Now I’ll dig some shot shells out of my stash, number 7½ for quail and number 4 for bunnies, because I know if you shoot rabbits with 7½s, they’ll just laugh at you.
Article by Art Merrill