The Remington 870 Classic Trap
It was one of those weekends in the fall of 1984 when winter came early. Temperatures dropped precipitously overnight and a fresh coat of snow blanketed the countryside. The wind picked up and the ambient temperatures hovered around the zero (-18 deg C) mark. After sitting in the trunks of cars and the backs of pickup trucks all day, en route to the hunting area, the shotguns and luggage were unloaded and brought into the house. The next morning a number of whitetail deer angled across the line of drivers and the hunters started to shoot. The guys and gals with semi-auto shotguns each got one shot off and their guns refused to cycle. The pumps were able to cycle by bracing their butts against the ground and putting the body’s weight on the forearm. When the cold guns were brought into the warm house the previous night, condensation had formed inside them and when taken outside the next morning, the actions had frozen solid. The little cocking lever on most semi-auto shotguns did not give enough purchase to force the action to cycle. Since then, I have been a firm believer in the pump action for shotguns, when faced with adverse conditions. I am not rich and probably never will be so it makes no sense to me to spend the time and ammo practicing before the hunt, paying for the various licenses, driving to the hunting area and then finding out that my gun doesn’t work when I have a deer in my sights. Sure, other kinds of shotguns will work but I am confident that my pump will work or I can make it work, no matter what the conditions.
The pump action shotgun is a very American weapon. While European hunters favor their fancy doubles for hunting, the average American working stiff, more often than not, will favor a pump out in the field. While hunting in Europe is often seen a wealthy man’s sport, in the US even factory workers, store clerks, and farmers are able to avail themselves of the sport of hunting. Pumps were robust and cheap enough for the low budget hunter to purchase. Apart from a .22 rifle in the pre-teen years, it was often a rite of passage for the rural American teenager to be presented with a pump action shotgun for his/her sixteenth birthday. Many received them even before that, since it is legal for a twelve year old to hunt (with supervision, of course). Most, if not all, of the pump action shotgun manufacturer’s offer youth versions. A simple stock change allows the weapon to be used later on, as the shooter grows into adulthood.
When US troops were issued pumps as a trench clearing weapon in WWI and were very effective with them, the Germans raised a hue and cry; calling it a barbaric weapon and wanting it banned from the field of warfare. The pump action was used in every US war since and continues to be used by US troops in the Middle East. American Police Cruisers have standard mounts, between the seats, that accept a pump action shotgun. Thanks to the movies and TV, everyone knows what a pump action shotgun sound like when it is being racked. Many Police Officers claim that the mere sound of the action being racked will cow a previously belligerent miscreant.
Police Cruiser Shotgun Mount
image from HERE
On the back of a bottle of shampoo, it says, “lather, rinse, repeat”. Pump shotguns are similar; fire, pump, repeat”. It really is that simple and anyone can do it, even a scared youth facing a home intruder for the first time. When a pump is fired, the action unlocks, allowing the action bars and bolt to be racked back and then forward, ejecting the empty shell casing and loading a fresh one into the chamber. Simply pulling the trigger allows the gun to be fired again. To the uninitiated, it may sound complex but it is a very natural action to pump and shoot again. It is usually done without taking the shotgun off the shoulder and becomes second nature after just a few shots.
For all practical purposes, John Moses Browning designed the American pump shotgun as we know it. His first commercial design was the Winchester Model 1893 which was followed soon after by the iconic Winchester Model 1897. The look that the 1897 portrays is all business. No fancy polymer “European styled” stock or forearm graced its simple form. With the large amount of drop in its stock and a corncob sized forearm, its exposed hammer topped a solid chunk of steel from which protruded the barrel and the magazine tube. Winchester followed it with the comparatively sleek and modern Model 1912 which was the choice of the majority of the hunters of the previous generation. In those days, if you hunted ducks, that was what you used. There were very few substitutes. It was discontinued in 1963. Following the model 12 in popularity was the Ithaca Model 37 (1937) which was another of John Moses’s designs. The Ithaca’s bottom ejection was a boon to lefties. However, with field loads, the featherweight Ithaca had a kick like an angry mule. The Ithaca model 37 is still produced today, making it one of the longest produced pump shotguns ever.
Winchester Model 1897
image from HERE
Winchester Model 1912
image from HERE
Ithaca Model 37
Image from HERE
Then in 1950, Remington came out with the Remington Model 870 which has turned out to be the best selling pump action shotgun of all time. Remington called it the “Wingmaster”. It was a good balance of being relatively ergonomic, relatively light weight, had a larger magazine capacity than the traditional double barrel, cheap, was versatile (easily changed barrels and chokes), and durable. It also turned out to be supremely reliable. The 870 is not fussy. I know people who have never cleaned their 870’s and they still keep pumping out shot after shot, year after year.
The Remington Model 870 price list from 1950. The Model 870 AP Standard Grade shotgun sold for $69.95
Image from HERE
quote from HEREThe beginning of the second half of the 20th Century was a milestone product year for the Remington Arms Company. It was in 1950 that "America's Oldest Gunmaker" introduced what many believe is the finest pump shotgun ever produced, the Model 870. Produced every year since, the Model 870 has become the most successful single model gun in Remington's 189-year history, and the best selling pump-action shotgun in firearms history. Remington called it "the Wingmaster".
Three years earlier, Remington design engineers had begun working on a replacement for the rugged but outdated Model 31 pump-action shotgun. Utilizing common parts from the sleek, new Model 11-'48 autoloader, L. Ray Crittendon, Phillip Haskell, Ellis Hailston and G. E. Pinckney developed what would later be called the Model 870 shotgun. In January 1950 Remington announced its new Model 870 Wingmaster shotgun. Like the Model 11-'48, the new Model 870 shotgun breech locked securely in a hardened barrel extension, and a new locking block and slide was devised for a smooth and effective operation.
The 870 has been made in a bewildering array of models with all kinds of barrel lengths and finishes. It is the most popular pump shotguns ever made and over eleven million of them have been sold.
Basically, however, we have the
Wingmaster – better finish, better wood, higher priced.
Express- Parkerized finish, cheaper wood or laminated/synthetic stocks, lower priced
Police- Extra care goes into making these and some of the parts are different like the extractor is machined instead of being MIM, the carrier dog spring is heavy duty and the trigger spring is heavier. There are also military versions that have different accessories on them like extended magazine tubes, sling attachment points, breaching chokes or bayonet mounts.
You can view Remington's catalog page on the 870 HERE
"Tactical" Shotguns HERE
Law Enforcement 870's (870P = 870 Police):
Remington also sells shotguns to the Law Enforcement community, Federal Agencies, Corrections (Prisons), Federal and State Wildlife Agencies and Private Security firms.
Here are some of their offerings from the LE website:
Modular Combat Shotgun
Police Door Breacher system
Care of the 870 (Cleaning and Assembly/Disassembly):
The 870 is very simple to take apart.
There is a threaded nut (magazine cap) on the end of the magazine tube that holds the barrel guide (and thus the barrel) in place. When the magazine cap is screwed off and removed, the barrel can be slid off. It can now be cleaned or a different barrel can be slid on, in place of the original barrel. It literally takes seconds to change a barrel. The dismounted barrel can now be cleaned.
Removing the bolt and action guide arms from the receiver.
1. Check that the gun is empty
2. Press the action bar lock upwards
3. Slide the fore-end backwards approximately halfway back.
4. Unscrew and remove the magazine cap.
5. Take hold of the barrel ahead of the magazine tube and pull the
barrel from the receiver.
6. Push the shell carrier upward.
7. Reach into the bottom of the receiver. Depress and hold the left shell latch.
8. Slide the fore-end forward and off of the magazine tube.
Once you do it a few times, you will be able to do it in pitch darkness, if necessary.
A more complete set of disassembly instructions can be seen in the 870 owners manual HERE
Drifting out two pins in the receiver, allows the trigger plate assembly to come out as one piece. This includes the shell carrier. Simply spraying the trigger plate assembly with a light cleaner/lube like RemOil, waiting a few minutes, then respraying to remove any loosened crud is sufficient. A quick shake off and wipe down of the trigger plate assembly is all that is needed. While the bolt is out of the receiver, simply use a RemOil or a CLP soaked rag to wipe the crud out of it. The bolt can be sprayed while it is out of the barrel and wiped down too.
It really is simpler than I have described.
This video shows the process quite well.
A very wide variety of ammo exists for 12 gauge shotguns from low velocity, reduced recoil, reduced flash self defense loads to extremely high velocity saboted shotgun slugs. For example, the Winchester XP3 3” elite slugs shoot a 300 grain, polymer tipped projectile at 2000 fps with a muzzle energy of 2664 ft. lbs. In my slug barrel (smoothbore w/rifled choke), with the XP3 shells, all shots (5 shot groups) touch at 50 yards. Shooting slugs from the bench is punishment indeed. I'm not really recoil sensitive but shooting 2 3/4" slugs from the bench rattled my teeth. My .280, which fires a .30-06 size cartridge is a popgun compared to that. Shooting slugs offhand is tolerable. Shooting birdshot offhand is no big deal at all.
Winchester XP3 Elite slugs.
That’s pretty close to a 45/70 Government ballistics with a similar bullet. Big enough for any North American game. It has its limitations, of course. Slug guns have traditionally not possessed rifle type accuracy. However, some of today’s offerings of slug barrel, sights and slug ammo come pretty close.
Here is Hickock45 shooting offhand at 230 yards. That’s good shooting offhand at that distance even with a rifle. So accuracy wise, even a smoothbore shotgun with cheap slugs is quite capable of hitting a deer size target at 200 yards.
The standard 2 ¾” 00 (double aught) buck round has nine .32 caliber round balls in it. The 3” 00 buck cartridge has fifteen .32 caliber balls in it. With nine rounds loaded one can put out eighty one .32 caliber projectiles in a matter of seconds. With eight 3”cartridges loaded one can put out 120 .32 caliber projectiles in about the same time.
As far as speed goes, with a little experience, an 870 can be shot as fast as most semi-auto’s. Take a look at this video from Hicock45 featuring the 870.
You will probably ask why I’m spending so much time talking about the Remington 870 when there are so many other pump shotguns available? There is nothing wrong with the Winchester’s, Ithaca’s, Mossbreg’s, et al out there but I am not as familiar with them as I am with the 870. There are also many semi-auto, single and double barreled shotguns available that are very capable in their own right.
Still, I have used a Remington 870 in its various incarnations since 1985. I have never experienced a jam that was not ammunition related and I have never short stroked the pump while using it in the field. For me it has been a reliable firearm that works as the makers intended it to. I’m also intimately familiar with its inner workings and because of my long association with it, I just have an affinity for it. Walking in the field with the 870 is like going for a stroll with an old friend.
My personal 870 is a synthetic stocked Express Super Magnum that is capable of firing 2 ¾”, 3” and 3 ½” shotshells. I have two barrels; a 28” interchangeable choked, vent rib barrel and a 20” rifle sighted, interchangeable choked barrel. It is used in the field for bird hunting (pheasants, waterfowl) with the 28” barrel. It is also used for deer hunting (with a rifled choke) with the 20” barrel and slugs. It also serves as a home defense long gun with the 20inch barrel and 00 buckshot. With the magazine extension on, I can load seven 2 3/4” rounds in the magazine and with “ghost-loading” and one in the chamber, I can have a total of nine rounds in the gun. Eight rounds max with 3” cartridges.
The 870 is like the Ruger 10/22 in that a very large number of accessories and add-on's exist for it. Since it is so simple to take apart, it is easy for anyone to modify even with a bare minimum of gunsmithing knowledge. However, the only thing that I have done to mine is to add a magazine extension and change out the fore end. Even without any changes, the factory stock 870 is a very versatile and adaptable tool.
Here it is with the slug barrel and the standard factory fore end
Shown here with the 20" "slug" barrel. You can see the location of the rifle sights here.
The rear is adjustable for elevation and the front is adjustable for windage.
I changed out the fore end as this one comes with integral picatinny rails.
The slug barrel with the rail mounting a 190 Lumen pistol light. A light is essential for night time work.
If you cannot identify your target, you shouldn't shoot.
Closeup of pistol light. Notice it lights up the front sight too.
Installed in this position, it allows easy activation with the thumb when one's hand is on the fore end.
Ready for deer hunting with Hornady SST slugs. Here shown with +3 magazine extension.
With the "bird" barrel
Shown here with a light and laser combo that I threw on just for kicks.
Light and laser mounted to the picatinny rail section. The laser isn't much use as it is so far out from the barrel that the laser dot varies from the point of impact depending on the distance from the target. You have to set it to one specific distance. However, for "inside the house' distances it will work with buckshot.
References and other Reading material:
Military use of the Remington 870 Shotgun
A guide to collecting Remington 870 shotguns