Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Remington 870 - Dressed to Thrill

Like the Mossberg 500, the first time I saw the Remington 870, and saw what it could do, all I could think of was "why didn't I get one of these before?".  They are well priced, totally reliable and very adaptable for many uses, the Remington being used by both civilian and military. Whether you want one for self defense for the home, hunting or just sport shooting, you'll quickly find out that there is a reason the Remington 870 is the most popular slide action shotgun on the planet. Add in to that the appeal that it's still U.S. Made by the Remington Arms Co., Inc.

The Remington Model 870 Wingmaster pump gun is probably the best known and best selling pump action shotgun in North America. First introduced in 1950 as the "Wingmaster", it replaced the Model 31, a gun that was well received but it still stumbled in sales when compared to the popular Winchester Model 12.

Prior to the 870, many firearm parts used forged and machined parts The 870 utilized stamped steel parts to replace many of those bit, making it more profitable to sell, and economical to pick up. Due to its twin action bars it is non-binding and very smooth to operate. It didn't look "clunky" either, always a sleek piece with a streamlined receiver.

There are as many variations of the 870 as there are types of shotgun purpose, ranging from the Classic Trap with highly polished blue steel to a glossy walnut stock to plain black "meat guns" with black plastic stocks and dull black metal finishes. There's cammo and shiny and black and blue and brown. If you have a taste in finish or style you can probably find it in the 870. Available gauges include 12, 16, 20, 28, and .410 bore and your choices of ammo, even greater. Barrel lengths range from 30" down to 18" depending on model and purpose. There are plain and ventilated rib barrels, with various sorts of sights. Most barrels come with interchangeable Rem Choke tubes of one type or another, but a few are still bored and some are rifled. Still, due to its twin action bars, it's a sleek and smoothering piece, no matter what finish you pick.

Barrels are user interchangeable and there are a great assortment of barrels available at low cost, adding to the versitility of the firearm. (simply open the action and unscrew the magazine cap to remove the barrel.) From what I hear, Remington offers accessory barrels of various types in lengths from 20" to 30".

The 870 features a bottom-loading, side ejecting receiver, tubular magazine under the barrel, dual action bars, internal hammer, and a bolt which locks into an extension in the barrel. The action, receiver, trigger system, safety catch and slide release catch of the Remington Model 870 shotgun are similar to those used on the Remington Model 7600 series pump-action centerfire rifles and carbines.

The original 870 models were offered with fixed chokes. In 1986 Remington introduced the new Remington "Rem Choke" system of screw-in chokes (also fitted to Remington model 1100 auto-loading shotguns at the same time). Initially, the Rem Chokes were offered on barrel lengths of 21, 26 and 28". From what I understand, it was not offered on 30" barrels, deer guns, target guns or as a retrofit.

Those are just the basics I've learned from talking to folks about this fine firearm. Here's what I thought of it after actually getting my hands on one. Again, I'm not an expert marksman, or a gunsmith and if you have any questions on the ownership or operation of this or any firearm, ask the manufacturer or your favorite NRA instructor.

Safety: The safety is located on the triggerguard, to the rear, in a cross-bolt fashion. You press to the right to make the weapon "on safe" and to the left to take the weapon "off safe". Pressing back and forward for "on safe" or "off safe", like the Mossberg does, seems more instinctive to me though. I also didn't like that the safety must be actuated with the trigger finger and in doing so, you must move the finger away from the indexed position to behind the triggerguard. I like the old AR15 theory, you use your thumb for the safety, and your trigger finger for the trigger.

Slide Release is found on the left side of the triggerguard, to the front. I have fairly long fingers for a woman and would have no problem reaching the slide release with my trigger finger.

The action: fast and smooth as silk, what more can I say?

Now, How does it shoot? The gun has been indirectly marketed as a firearm for the "average man"; a weapon that just about anyone can pick up and feel comfortable shooting, with manageable recoil. But with shooters today including young women, teens of both sexes, Mom's and Grandmothers, and men ranging from "fun sized" to "big foot", there really IS no average. Most shotguns have similar stock dimensions on paper, with length of pull, drop at the heel, drop at the comb and cast, all being pretty much the same, until you put it up to your shoulder and cheek and pull the trigger.

Point-ability of a gun is directly related to both the weight, center of gravity, and mass moment of inertia of the gun. It's not just length, it's not material, it's some magic formula of width of the stock, the length and and width of the butt, the shape of the pistol grip, and how the grip transitions to the receiver and onto the sighting plane and rib of the gun. All these things, (along with the center of gravity and if you hold your mouth just right) come into play with how the weapon will feel in your hands and reacts as you fire.

Firing one for the first time reminded me of when I was a kid and an adult took the little Daisy rifle out of my hand and put a real long gun in it. It was heavy, it seemed to be as long as I was tall, and when I fired it, the recoil about knocked me down. There was a flash of powder and light as Thor's hammer struck in a slow, solid repercussion of sound and force that I felt all the way down my legs, in muscles and places I'd forgotten. Then the air cleared, a vacuum, an interval of recognition and amazing clarity and I knew something; in the tremble of flesh and the warmth of my hands. I wanted this. I wanted this again. I don't care if it will probably hurt me some in the process.

Remington has nailed that feeling. Sure it had some kick to it, but it was enough to make me know I was alive and I wanted this gun. I've only shot one 870 and it just felt right, like we were already old friends.

Prince Charming or Just another Toad?: There is no such thing as a perfect firearm and certainly not a perfect shotgun, but with sales in the 10's of millions, I think Remington has come close, there not really being too many superior pump guns out there, even for the price.

Early production 870s did have a design flaw whereby a user could either "short stroke" the action - not pull the forearm all the way back while cycling the action - or fail to press a shell all the way into the magazine when loading. This would cause the gun's action to lock up like a Quicki Mart safe after midnight, requiring rough treatment of the action or even disassembly to clear.

Before the gun was modified to correct this, gunsmiths catering to the tactical competition crowd were said to have cut a slot opening on the shell riser which would allow the shooter to use a small object like a key to push the shell back into the magazine tube and free up the action again. Some folks were said to simply have given the gun a short spank from butt to ground and the action might jar lose. Neither method, if they worked, was something a shooter wanted to have to do.

The issue was resolved with the introduction of the "Flexi Tab" carrier, the engineers having come up with a way for a little "tab" they cut in the shell riser that allowed a bit of give for the jammed shell. Guns with this modification can be identified by the "U"-shaped cut-out on the carrier, visible from below the gun. The cut-out allows the round to ride over the carrier without binding the action, so if you bind the action from a short stroke you simply briskly cycle the again and everything un-jams and you're back shooting.

The other drawback I could say to the weapon would be carrying it out in the field for long periods of times (make a wimpy girl remark and I WILL fling a muffin at your head :-) I'm 5 foot 8 and don't believe in the whole "diet until you look like a bag of antlers" theory so not only do you not have to shake the sheets out in the morning to find me, I can walk 10 miles chasing after pheasants and everyone else. Even so, my arm would be sore from hauling this firearm on the such trip.  Would it keep me from doing so? Absolutely not. It's not exactly lightweight, but the steel receiver really enhances the natural balance of the gun compared to an alloy, so it's a fair trade off. But after a long day chasing pheasants your arms will proclaim you've been carrying it for a long while. You can always go for a smaller gauge, with the right target placement, a pheasant is going to drop with just about any amount of lead you can get out of this firearm.

Trigger: The trigger group itself was first used in the automatic 11-48. Trigger pull was good, not too long of a draw and about 4 and a half pounds. I believe the 870 my coworker let me shoot had a trigger job, so I can't state with any experience what it would shoot like out of the box, but no complaints.

Tactical Smactical: I've no experience with one yet as a tactical piece, but I'm sure there are a number of reviews on that aspect of the weapon. I would say though that with the weight and balance, it would be an excellent choice. Want to "Pimp your Remington" ? There's all kinds of aftermarket parts for the 870 (stocks, grips, forearms and other toys) and someone who wants to beef up the size or weight of their 870 can do it as long as the better half doesn't notice the money you're spending (but if she or he now wants one of their own, bless you!). Additionally, I was told that several parts of the 870 will interchange with the semi-automatic Remington 1100 and 11-87, perhaps one of my readers can confirm that.

You can find about ANYTHING for this firearm, often at surprisingly reasonable prices. I can tell you that you don't necessarily have to add rifle sights or a pricy set of ghost rings to make your plain vanilla model 870 dance with slugs. Sure they make it easier, but like most firearms, it's more about the shooter than the piece.You don't necessarily have to have a setup barrel that's been back bored and ported to get maximum pattern performance and minimum recoil out of something you want to use tactical. Talk to some folks that shoot tactical, and see what they say before you hand over your VISA to the smiling guy behind the counter. Frankly, a good recoil pad will do a lot for recoil but don't let a salesperson tell you that backboring is the only way to go, as it's also an expensive way to go. Ask around, talk to other 870 owners, they may agree with the salesperson, or not, but it might save you some money to do a little homework.
Would I buy one? Definitely.  If I could, I'd be the skattergun polygamist and have four of them in various configurations.

Why?  It represents the quintessential American shotgun. The designer that left his mark on it is considered right behind JMB as the second best firearm designer of the century.  His name, John Pedersen, and  he was around from the Model 10 to the 870. John Moses Browning told Maj. Gen. Julian S. Hatcher of U.S. Army Ordnance that Pedersen "was the greatest gun designer in the world". You can't ask for higher praise.

This is a dependable, rugged, "working guy or gal's" firearm. It's wicked on sporting birds and often the first shotgun to be torn down and re-assembled into a home defense weapon. If a home invader hears a round being chambered in your 870, he's likely to be back out the door, running away, before you even see him. Coming from an LEO family I can say that a lot of police officers probably owe their lives to their 870, as well.

Overall, they're as reliable as a hammer, drop one in the water, you can likely yank the grass out of the receiver and keep on blasting game birds. They're easy to tear down and clean and impossible to hurt.

All in all, its reputation is deserved. It's a firearm that's dressed for the hunt, not for the wall.


  1. I have one from the 60s that I got used 30 years ago, it always works and is the main home defense for the middle of nowhere farmhouse. Cock it and it gets everyone's attention. I got it for dove but now it defends the chickens at night. You don't have to be daniel boone to shoot in the dark with a dove barrel. It is a good gun for in close. I have an M1903 for further out, that is a slick one to.

  2. I have an 870 that put a lot of birds in the roaster and hares in the dutch oven.

    Mine is ultra reliable and I hit fairly well with it

  3. Brigid, I love this post and it inspired an article of my own, with the appropriate linkage back here, of course. ;-)

  4. I'm remarkably average except for my enormous head, and the 870 is perfect for me. Originally I thought I was happy with my 28" vent rib barrel and choke tubes. Then I popped for an 18.5" modified barrel with rifle sights. It is true love.

    My late father who was the best shotgunner I have ever seen used an Ithaca 37 for many years. He traded it for a full choke 870. He would tell you that the Ithaca was a better bird gun, but he had mainly quit hunting birds by then. I am not exaggerating when I say that literally hundreds of coyotes fell before that old Remington over the next several decades. It saw hard use probably 250 to 300 days a year for forty years. They are good guns.

  5. Bought one of these in the early 1960's, have put a ton of shells thru it have never had problem. I have managed to get too old to chase many animals with it so have purchased a 18" barrel to put on it and it now stands in the corner loaded with 00 Buck & 12 gauge slugs ready to protect my wife and myself I think every one should own one.

  6. I have sold only two guns in my life, one being a '70s vintage 12 ga Wingmaster in near perfect condition. Times were tough and it was the most valuable thing I owned, other than my truck.

    In more prosperous times, I missed it so much that I tracked one down - same vintage and in similar condition.

    I now own three. The 12, a lightweight 20 and a police model.

    The police model was a highway patrol trade-in that worked flawlessly but was kind of beat up from riding in a cruizer's rack.

    A few shekels and a trip to scattergun technologies (now Wilson Combat) resolved the beat-up appearance.

    I won't part with any of them. I learned my lesson.

  7. Great review of a great gun. Thanks!

  8. This has been on my wish list for quite a while now. It's nice to read such a complete review of it. Couldn't make up my mind if I wanted a 12 or 20, which is the only reason it's still only on a list.

    Thanks for the insight.

  9. Ahh you've made me smile. When Dad let me graduate from a single shot to a repeater, I shot his 11-48 for several years. My first gun was the high polish Wingmaster lightweight in 20 gauge with iirc 24" barrel. It was lightning fast on quail, reliable on dove and left my teenaged jaw purple shooting 3" #6 lead on ducks. In those days, lead was legal, we hunted in Mexico and the limit was 25 a day, 50 in possession.

    Though they have gotten pricey, I cannot recommend that lightweight 20 enough for a walking gun; it weighed less than my Model 48 Winchester .410 does. Sadly, that particular 870 is the many I had to let go; I needed the money for the little girl who would become my stepdaughter more than my personal treasures. That first "I love you" from her, a year later made it the best trade of my life.

    Great review and thanks for stirring the memory.

  10. Fine gun! For the non-sinister...

    If I've a choice, I'll take an Ithaca, model 37, DeerSlayer Police Special.
    Pump gun, BOTTOM EJECTION!
    (I just am not fond of having to pump spent hulls across my line-of-sight.)


  11. Bought my first 870 back in the 70's. It had an 18" barrel and a magazine extender, with no choke.....open bore.

    It was one the best pheasant guns that I have ever owned and was did surprisingly well on clay pigeons.

    I love it's simplicity, easy disassemble and assemble. Never has broken any parts.


  12. Love my 12 gauge 870, its my only shotgun, but I call it the swiss army knife off shot guns. I've got a bird barrel, and a rifled barrel for it, and its easy to swap and both do just what I want them to.

    Boom, Boom, Boom.

    If there isn't a smile on your face afterwards, something is fundamentally broken :)

  13. I wish I could learn to love the shotgun...but I just get tired of being beat up by one. I did love the Benelli Montefeltro I shot once, in 20ga, but those are too cost prohibitive, and Stoeger won't make their semi in 20ga which uses the Benelli recoil system under license. I also enjoyed a Model 12, despite being battered by it, because I could hit well with it--it just seemed to fit me.

    My true loves are for the rifle, and pistol though.

  14. Mine was given to me by a dear friend. It belonged to his Dad and he passed it to me. I have used at Scouting events and the kids love it. Surprised, I am. I asked my oldest if we should "tactical" it up. His reply was "Are you nuts?" Awesome the way it is.....Wingmaster.

  15. I've had both the 1100 and the 870. I prefer the 870, knowing more about it mechanically than the semi-auto. I recently gave my 12-gauge to my middle son. If I get another it will be a 20. Mr. Arthur Rightus insists.

  16. People always did come in a variety of sizes, and if you think watching somebody with non average proportions use an average shotgun is pitiful, you should see me trying to get my orangutan arms and bandy little legs happy on the same bicycle.

    Any club that has much trap, skeet, or sporting-clays action would know people who can fit a shotgun to you for a specific purpose -- in the clothes you'd wear for the intended use if you're particular about this. Some gun shops can do it too, of course. It can be a modest amount of money very well spent if you are not particularly like the model human being that the designers had in mind.

    Women, and men of smaller stature, and youths can especially benefit from this. A classic mistake is to try to teach someone to use a shotgun whose stock is too long (the measurement is called "pull"). Guaranteed awkward swings and excessive kick. If one shotgun has to serve everyone in the house, it's much easier though still suboptimal for a bigger person to wrap himself around a too-small setup.

    See for instance


    among many others. The big one, though, is length of pull, and a decently skilled do-it-yourselfer can figure out how to adjust that.

  17. Great read. Spent many hours with an 870 strapped into a gun lock in my patrol vehicle.

    Here's a very good site for mods that some federal agencies use:


    And one especially one for Brigid:



  18. Rumbear - you've got that right. It's fine as it is.

    Mathew - good to see you. It's a fine piece and seriously underestimated.

    Mac - thanks. I will be at the Academy trying to pass on knowledge, the next Scotch Club Night. Weep for Me. :-)


  19. Scope Rings
    is one of the efficient accessory who give the batter experience to your weapon


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