An Uncommon Remington 870 Review
This is a different kind of review, because the standard review has been done to death. Instead, I’d like to cover some of the things that make the Remington 870 the most successful pump action shotgun ever made, as well as some things you really need to know about your 870.
With numbers literally in the millions and different models for every imaginable purpose one would ever use a shotgun for, the 870 is as ubiquitous as a hammer. The original Wingmaster holds a soft spot in the hearts of countless duck and upland game hunters, and the short barreled versions can be found in police cruisers not just from coast to coast, but around the globe.
A Perfect Fit
As a bird gun, the 870 is legendary. Most shotguns are built for the “average” person and have very similar stock dimensions on paper, so one would be tempted to think that fit wise, they’re all about the same. Nothing could be further from the truth. The typical stock dimensions for length of pull, drop at the heel, drop at the comb, and cast may all show nearly identical numbers, but press that stock between your shoulder and cheek and it becomes readily apparent that not all shotguns are equal.
The Remington 870 and it’s semi-auto brother the 1100 managed to tap some sort of black magic, and “fit” the “average” guy just plain better than most other shotguns. The shape of the stock goes beyond those critical dimensions for things like width of the stock, shape of the pistol grip, width of the butt, length of the butt and how the pistol grip transitions to the receiver and onto the sighting plane and rib of the gun. For these unmentionable measurements, Remington managed to discover some sort of magic formula that few shotguns in history have ever achieved.
Almost – But Not Quite – Flawless
To this day, the Remington 870 is the most winning pump action shotgun in most every competitive category in which a pump action shotgun can be pressed into service. Are there better pump guns out there? Yeah, maybe…and maybe not. Regardless of the task, regardless of the class, or game chased, the 870 can hold its own with any pump gun EVER built.
This is not to say that the 870 is without fault, just that it’s faults are few, and few people are even aware of them. This is remarkable because literally every gun has faults, and the fact that there are millions of people with 870’s who aren’t even aware there are weaknesses in the design is remarkable.
The most prevalent issue with the 870 is what happens to the action when you “short stroke” the action. By short stroke, I mean pull the forend back not quite all the way, and then attempt to push it forward. I say attempt, because if there’s a shell in the magazine when you short stroke, that forend most certainly isn’t about to go forward. Short stroke an 870 and you lock that action up tighter than a vault. Back in the day when the 870 was a popular tactical competition gun gunsmiths would cut a slot opening on the shell riser which would allow the shooter to use something like a key or anything handy to push the shell back into the magazine tube and un-jam the action.
Later on, shooters found that if you give the gun a smart smack butt first on the ground, often it would jar the action loose and put you back into action. Well, it only took about 35 years, but eventually Remington got around to correcting this little annoyance. Remington engineers devised a clever little ‘tab’ they cut in the shell riser that allowed a bit of give for the jammed shell. Now when you bind the action from a short stroke, you just forcibly cycle the action again and all comes loose and you’re back in service. Older 870s without this feature can be easily retrofitted – the parts are available at Brownells for well under $100 – if you desire that little extra peace of mind.
The other most frequent complaint of the 870 is either a strength or a liability, which is the steel receiver. For me, that steel receiver adds so much to the natural balance of the gun that when I put a pump gun with an alloy receiver in my hands, it always feels like I’m missing something.
However, when you’re walking the corn fields for hours in search of roosters with a 12ga Wingmaster all day, there is the worry that your arms could be an inch or two longer than when you started. Simply put, it’s great to shoot, but not so great to carry.
My solution to the 870 weight thing is to pick one in 20ga, which is just about the right weight. Never mind that crap about needing a 12ga and a 3” magnum at that to bring down a rooster pheasant in flight, that’s BS pure and simple. When a rooster doesn’t fall, it’s not because you didn’t throw enough lead at it, it’s because you weren’t on target. If you feather a rooster with a 20ga, you’ll feather him with the 3” 12ga too…it’s about hitting your target. No amount of horsepower will ever make up for poor shooting.
As a Tactical Shotgun
Courtesy: US Coast Guard
The 870’s weight and balance have made it an excellent choice as a tactical pump gun. Those precious few extra ounces soak up a good amount of recoil, which is always welcome when shooting maximum loads of buckshot. I don’t care how manly you are, slugs and buckshot are not enjoyable to shoot out of a 12ga.
What’s more, the 870 truly is the Chevy small block of tactical shotguns – if there’s an aftermarket part in existence, it not only exists for the 870, but was likely made for the 870 first. An over-zealous equipment junkie can quickly triple the weight and size of his 870 if his wallet is up to the task.
For tactical use, a good set of rifle sights goes a long way, but don’t let anyone tell you that you have to have rifle sights or an expensive set of ghost ring sights to make an 870 perform with slugs. People have been placing Foster style slugs spot on target out to 65-70 yards for around a century now. Rifle sights and ghost rings make it a little easier, but it’s more about the shooter than the gadgets he puts on his scatter gun.
I’ve always been a fan of the rifle sight equipped Remington factory “deer” barrel, preferably equipped with Rem-Choke interchangeable chokes. Now all the slick tactical salesmen will tell you that you need to have specially setup barrel that’s been back bored and ported so you can get maximum pattern performance out of your tactical gun. They’ll also tell you that backboring will make your 870 recoil like a .223 bolt rife, which is another lie.
Look, people who really know shotguns can tell you that you adjust shot patterns with a choke, not by backboring. And while backboring can help patterns some, it’s really not an effective way to deal with recoil. Yes, it can reduce recoil, but it is the most expensive way to do so, and for all that cost, it’s the least effective. Save your money for a good recoil pad and a mercury recoil reducer; your hard-earned greenbacks will go a lot farther that way.
Well folks, there are some brain droppings on the 870, hope you found this helpful.