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


19 comments… add one
  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. June 6, 2012, 8:29 am

    Yep, the 870 pump is a very good choice, chosen by law enforcement, hunters and just ‘regular folk’ for many years. The factory price is a bit steep (what isn’t?) but the good thing is you can find them in pawn shops for very good prices, even now (especially now, as its off season).

    I own several, both Wingmasters and Expresses and don’t have any complaints from any of them. They just plain work, as the forward up there sez.

  • Ray June 6, 2012, 8:51 am

    You, hit the nail on the head, 12ga. 30:06 .22 and I’d add .45 . That covers ’bout anything in north am. I own a wingmaster 870 (ca. 1950’s) and love it. The onlything better at night for CQB is a 3 in. ord. rifle with canister. Just catch ’em in a choke point . Even birdshot is a solid object at 12-15 feet. I don,t bother with slugs, if ther’ that far out I’ll go for my M-1 & toss the 870 to the wife & let her cover our flanks. As for them being pump action , eveything i do follows K.I.S.S. Hand tools , old steel ,I try to avoid anything that uses up MAGS, GAS or ELECTRIC power . OH! and ya’ll can reload an 870’s shells with black powder in a pinch. My rule is; What works when the grid goes down? And yes , I DO own a flintlock. (you can only reload shells for so long) Ray in Ky

  • John June 6, 2012, 12:22 pm

    I have extensive training with the Remington 870. At close ranges, it is an extremely effective weapon, and that range can be extended with the use of slugs. Effective range for 00 buckshot is limited to approximately 25 yards, I’d say at the most. The gun is quite reliable, simple to operate, and has been used in law enforcement for years. It doesn’t really jam when dirty, but can jam on spent shells when the chamber gets hot, from the plastic shells that tend to expand from heat. These days, the 870 is being replaced by the M16 or AR15 in most agencies. While a shotgun was traditionally placed in each patrol vehicle, it is more likely that the shotgun will become a specialized weapon in LE in the years to come.

  • Spook45 June 6, 2012, 12:49 pm

    I prefer a mossberg 500 or 500a, the old remingtons are good however I take umbridge wth the newer models extractor bubbed the “dreaded toenail” by my favorite gunsmith. THe extractor on the newer models is not a conventinal piviting spring supported extractor and after enough rounds and heating and cooling, the dreaded toenail will break off and remington WILL NOT stand behind thier product. This may have changed since Bakail of Russia bought them out. WHAT!? WHATS THAT !! REMINGTON BOUGHT OUT BY THE RUSSIANS ?!! WTF ! YEp, thats right folks, remington is no longer an American company. Err go, I avoid Remington products as much as possable.

  • Anonymous June 6, 2012, 1:07 pm

    Not to mention that the 870 Wingmaster, with a 28″ ribbed LC barrel is the best balanced repeating shotgun made. Shotguns are after all designed for wingshooting and the 870 is at it’s best as a birdhunting or clay target gun.

    The only major complaint is the dimples in the mag tube. Older guns and some police/HD guns lack these dimples but newer guns have them. Remington should dump the dimples!

    In a real SHTF scenario the 870’s will be working long after the fancy “Tactical” self loaders quit.

  • psycho June 6, 2012, 3:24 pm

    Good luck getting a new one right now. I wanted an 870 but was told by my gun dealer that the order wait is around 6 months right now. I settled for a Mossberg 500 that was quite a bit cheaper and is still a very nice gun. (plus got it within days of ordering)

  • JL June 6, 2012, 4:07 pm

    Great info thanks.
    Did any one else see that Spike TV is going to give a “Doomsday Bunker” to a family after a new show? I guess some families will compete for it.

  • john June 6, 2012, 6:17 pm

    870 was my first gun and when the SHTF it will be one of the ones to sleep with for sure. Because I do not look forward to firing it within the house, I keep electronic muffs handy in case I have too. Loaded with 00 buck and slugs, I keep the self-defense loads handy (cartridge of .650 round ball and 5 .30 cal.pellets) The only bird shot I keep handy for it is BB shot. Mostly because I know the slugs will go right through a brick wall or car, the BB will not.

    My wife has the Mossberg pump as a backup. I prefer the Remington.

    Sad to hear Remington is now Russian, guess the next new shotgun will be a Mossberg. Though I am tempted by the Saiga with the magazines.

    • Don Yacovelli June 24, 2015, 11:50 pm

      870 ejecting problems……. I’m sure I figured
      It out I will help anyone interested

  • watchdog June 6, 2012, 9:43 pm

    Dominion Arms’ “Grizzly” 12 gauge (built on the 870 design) comes with a detachable, five round, magazine fed system. I imagine that in a firefight it would be faster to re-load a full mag rather than load one round at a time as with standard shotgun SOP’s. Sells for about $350. up here in the ‘Great White North’. Also comes with available folding stock, pistol grip and ghost rings. It shouts,”don’t mess with me, fool!”

  • Rae June 7, 2012, 1:13 pm

    Interesting article, but I just had a conversation with an International firearms dealer. He was speaking with a man in Canada who does the warranties for Remington. This man told him that 40% of their shotguns don’t work out of the box. 40% straight from the horses mouth. That isn’t a risk that I would be willing to take with their new guns. Perhaps their older models are great, but the new stuff just doesn’t seem to cut it.

    • jay June 18, 2012, 8:44 pm

      I agree 100% bought my remington 870 brand new…..
      wouldn’t pump! Sent it to remington the said it works fine and sent it back. They didn’t even test fire it, at least they didn’t send a spent shell with it.
      I have now had it for 6 years and still the same problem, finally i got fed up with it and took it to a smith. I will be getting it back on saturday.
      Still extremely dissapointed in remington, but thats what you get when you buy a gun from some cold vodka drinking thugs.

  • Domenick June 7, 2012, 8:45 pm

    Another analysis right on the nail head! As a 30 year veteran police officer I’ve pretty much lived with the Remington 870. When I changed states I found an issued Itahca in the car. As soon as I got entrenched as an instructor in my new state I succesfully campaigned for a change to the 870 and as the Itahcas were so old and worn out, I succeeded. Many years later we bought and trained with the M-16 .223 rifle. It became a fixture in our trunks; right next to the 870’s!

    What’s wrong with the Russian’s owning Remington? Smith & Wesson was owned by the English for years. And by a South American conglomerate before that. It isn’t the old Soviet Union anymore, it’s a consitutional republc. And while our goverments may not always agree, the Russians are people just like us and anything that’s good for their economy is good for the world.

  • Domenick June 8, 2012, 3:52 am

    Lets not let this get as bad as the internet that’s full of BS. I found it hard to believe that Baikal bought Remington so I checked. False rumor. In 2009 Remington was bought by the Cerberus Group, an American holding company, and contrary to internet stories, George Soros does not own Cerberus. Remington did at one time import the Baikal Spartan line.

  • Rambo June 9, 2012, 7:37 am

    Great article, and good point about not being able to order firearms. I’d have to drive four hours, 250 miles total, to get to and from one of those $500 big box retailers.

  • Steve June 9, 2012, 7:57 pm

    Yep I got a 870 too. It just works period. Added a trijicon night sight for the barrel. Its a nice touch.

    I got a Knoxx stock for it as well. Save your money people. Its like shooting a pogo stick. And yes it really does slap you in the face. Took the Knoxx stock off and went back to the original stock. ( this Knoxx stock I speak of has springs in it to absorb recoil). It does a fine job of that, but inturn the whole weapon moves back on a spring loaded ramp in the stock. I strongly would NOT recomend this product.

  • Steve June 9, 2012, 8:03 pm

    On the topic of guns. I got myself a Saiga mock AK in .223
    Really impressed with this gun/ I looked at other AKs and the were junk. Rattled, sights bent etc. The saiga is made in russia and is a brand new weapon. No jams, FTE or otherwise. Got about 1k rounds through it so far. Its no tack driver. It will not group like an AR. I get about 3-4 inch groups at 100 yds. Im not the best shot out there either. So im sure in more skilled hands performece could improve. Got it new for $400. I would be satisfied with the performance if I spent $800 on it. Another worth wile investment.

  • Ol Moses June 19, 2012, 7:02 pm

    I have personally owned and shot hell out of 7 different 870wingmasters in my life and NEVER have I had a problem with function. My pick as the most useful firearm, use able by anyone, of any stature in any weather,for home defense, turkey, deer, rabbitt,……………….. and so on is the smaller frame .20 ga. 870 with 3 barrels and a mag extension. I would also like to end the 500 vs 870 debate by sayin the xtractors on alot of the 500s WOULD NOT yank that empty out after 100 rounds shot during matches or pass shooting. Once she got hot….. ur done boy. Look at what the old bastards at the gun club are using thats a pump…870,..37,..model 12s. No Mossbergs because most of em will stop working or break if u REALLY workem hard. If u own both and know how to field strip them, do so side by side look at their designs and strength of components and u will choose the 870 as well.

  • MASON GRANT October 9, 2016, 11:48 am



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