Stuff That Works: Remington’s Model 870 Shotgun

We all shop for reliable items, balancing features against cost. What follows is a series, examining firearms and related equipment that has proven reliable during constant use in adverse conditions. These are things readily available that you’ll be able to buy for a reasonable price.

Remington’s Model 870 shotgun: Since 1950 Remington has been “pumping” out a shotgun that remains a best-seller to this day. With over 10 million Model 870 slide-actions in circulation something must be going right in smooth-bore land. It’s probably safe to say that, even if the iconic M-870 was discontinued today, parts would be available for a very long time.

I’ll go on record by stating I’m no huge fan of any pump-gun. Although I maintain a stable of them, I don’t actually own one. Probably though, with a lick of sense, I’d own three; a .22 LR, a 12 Ga. and a 30/06 (or .308). With these just about any shoulder-fired chore could be reliably accomplished, albeit with little panache. If crusted with ice or dripping with rainwater, you can expect an 870 to work. It’ll feed nearly anything and can be disassembled without difficulty – all this for a reasonable price to boot.

A properly trained pump-gun operator can fully exploit this versatile system and is truly a force to be reckoned with. Limited range? Maybe, but properly selected slugs will provide serious punch well beyond 100 yards. Limited capacity? Yeah, but with training you can shoot and sustain the magazine capacity without ever dismounting the gun. Throw in the wide assortment of munitions and you’ll have a very flexible system. For these reasons, if I could only have one gun, it would probably be a Remington M-870 12 gauge. I might cheat and buy a second barrel though. Either could be switched in seconds without tools to provide shotgun or rifle-type performance.

From its introduction as the Wingmaster over 60 years ago, the venerable 870 has grown a large family tree with offspring ranging from stumpy riot-gun versions to long-barreled trap models. It’s been offered in all of the common gauges, and in several different grades. Since we’re focusing on reliable performance at a fair price, attention will concentrate on the more pedestrian examples. The most common version is the Remington Model 870 Express, which has bead-blasted metal and a plain wood, laminated, or synthetic stock. These can be had as a two-barrel package, usually with a vent-rib, choke-tube bird barrel and a shorter, rifle-sighted slug setup. This combo would be a darned good choice for any value-conscious shopper looking for all-around utility.

Durability:I inventory an armory full of 870 Police models, which are similar to Remington’s Express offering. The newest of our 30 guns are 15 years old but most date to 1991. A satellite group of 8 slightly newer guns has had less, but still fairly substantial use. To be blunt, we’ve shot the hell out of them using a steady diet of buckshot, 3-dram trap-loads and some slugs. I’m not sure what their lifespan is, but it’s certainly not short! We’re running a flight of 11 synthetic-stocked range guns that have been fired almost daily from May through October, for at least 7 years. These are the “newer” 15-year old shotguns. Admittedly, they’re beginning to show some wear, however we really haven’t had any massive failures. Our older, wood-stocked guns look well-used because they are. They soldier on daily during on-duty missions, where TLC is not priority-one. We treat the metal surfaces with Breakfree and clean them when we can. You’ll hear stories about the staked shell-stops coming lose, but this has been a very uncommon occurrence, limited to maybe 3 older guns. We’ve replaced several trigger assemblies and a few small parts. Possibly thanks to their rugged, all-steel receivers, the guns keep running………

Accessories: Sporting 4-shot magazines have opposing swaged indents near the cap-end that capture the spring retaining plug. The two indents also prevent passage of extra shells if a magazine extension is installed. Some folks drill them out and I’ve swaged a few back to tube diameter. Since adding an extension kills the QD barrel feature, I’d skip it unless use was confined to defense applications. In that case I’d consider one of the dedicated defensive models with rifle sights, synthetic stock and an interchangeable choke system.

A ghost-ring peep sight improves slug accuracy and a rifled choke-tube may tighten up your groups. A Speed-Feed stock locates two extra shells on each side near the toe, for positive ammo segregation. A QD sling is worthwhile. We use Scattergun Technologies high-visibility magazine followers and I like a jumbo safety button for improved access (these typically replace the latest key-lock safeties). Fully rifled slug barrels are available and they shoot well with the right loads. Standard Foster slugs will lead them up but sabot-type projectiles can deliver impressive results beyond 100 yards. The drawback: Shot patterns are blown badly. These items are ginger-bread entries though.

Surfing the net, a big-box sporting retailer was selling Remington Model 870 12 gauge two-barrel sets for around $500. I checked with Mid-Maine Firearms in Waldoboro, Maine (207 975 1800) and got a figure of about $550. Since you can’t mail-order firearms, you can do the math and see if it makes more sense to buy locally, saving money otherwise spent on gas and tolls. Regardless, the M-870 is widely available with plenty of used guns are out there, too.

Last thoughts: Plenty of good slide-action shotguns have been produced during the last 100+ years. Many, like Winchester’s famous Model 12, have come and gone. The Ithaca M-37 comes, goes and then returns. Meanwhile, the Mossberg line continues as the closest competitor to the Remington, and has many loyal users. However, it’s hard to gain experience with everything. You’re reading about the M-870 because of a working relationship exceeding two decades. We’ve used ’em hard and, sometimes, put ’em away wet. They’re still chuggin’ along, so we know they work.

The Graduate Shootist