Unparalleled design makes Remington 870 all-around best shotgun

What shotgun would you choose if limited to only one?

If I could have only one long gun, this would be my choice. (I thank our Founding Fathers that in most of this country we don’t have to make that drastic choice.)

That choice would be the Remington Model 870 pump action shotgun. This grand design is right on the verge of 70 years old this year and probably still outsells all of the newcomers to the game of the scattergun.

The 870 replaced the Model 31 of the pre- and World War II era . The 31 was a highly thought- of weapon by the armorers of the time, since they rarely had to work on them. Although they weren’t made by the millions like modern shotguns, I have never had one through my hands for repair. I’ve only ever had one offered to me for sale and I still own it.

Anyone stupid enough to break into my home might get to meet it.

The Model 31 was pretty much an evolution of the Ithaca Model 37, which itself is really nothing more than the Remington Model 17. Kind of an interesting ancestry.

Going back to the 870 however, it came out as a cheaper alternative to the leader in sales, the Winchester Model 12, in 1950. Many Model 12 afficionado called it a poor man’s/unsophisticated shotgun.

They were wrong; the Model 12 is long dead and only returns as Japanese-made clones usually sold as Brownings. I would hazard a guess that the 870 will be around longer than anyone reading this story. I’ll also bet that an 870, with anything resembling decent care, will last longer than generations of its shooters. There are many reasons for this.

First off, it is just an outstanding design, streamlined, ergonomic and tougher than woodpecker lips. The first thing I noticed as a kid was that the Remington just fit right.

The 20 gauge I was “throwing up” at the gun shop felt right at home at my shoulder and my eye was looking right down the rib at the bead. I was at least a foot shorter then but the 870 seems to fit me equally well now. I don’t remember talking to anyone that the 870 doesn’t “fit.”

WITH THE EXCEPTION of the  handguns, everything here is a version of the Remington Model 870 pump action shotgun.

 The receiver is all steel, not aluminum or polymer like most competing marvels. I have nothing against polymers – I love Glocks, or aluminum – probably more than half of my handguns have aluminum frames for weight-saving purposes. But nothing outlasts steel, period. I have never seen a worn-out 870. I’ve seen them killed by their owner, but not worn out. If you should ever manage to wear out the locking system there are two or three oversize locking blocks to account for it. I say “two or three” because I’m not sure of the number. I’ve yet to need the first one.

I believe the 870 was the first pump/slide action shotgun to use twin-action bars. This is universally accepted to be the way to make/design a pump gun today. No one would think to bring out a new trombone gun without this feature. The 870 also tends to be “tighter” and less “rattly” than most other pumps.

This shotgun does have its faults however. The safety button is behind the trigger, not the worst location but a much better is spot is at the front of the trigger guard. With this placement, the trigger finger can be extended, out of the trigger guard, and at the ready to push it off safe.

Many shooters will state a preference for the tang-mounted safety of the Mossberg 500 series of shotguns, which also makes them ambidextrous. What I don’t like about the tang safety is it precludes the use of the amazing Scatter Gun Technologies/Wilson Combat/Trijicon Ghost Ring Sights.

The Mossberg’s safety is right, where the rear sight should sit.

Remington also solved the problem for those born left-handed by offering a lefty version that no self-respecting southpaw shooter should be without. There are also aftermarket safeties that convert the right-handed guns to left-handed operation.

The next weak point is one shared by almost all shotguns: brittle/fragile firing pins. Excessive dry-firing or just extreme use can break them. As stated, though, the 870 is not peculiar in this regard.

A broken ejector is also a pain to replace in the 870 and is impossible to fix without having to refinish the receiver or just leaving an ugly circle on the left side.

Luckily, it does not break as often as most other makes. The extractor will also inexplicably spit itself out for no reason. If you look at the design of the 870’s extractor, you will find there are a multitude of other firearms, of every description, that are almost exactly the same. All of these guns suffer from the same malady but few chronically, including the Remington.

You could call the Remington 870 the “small-block Chevy” of shotguns. If you’re looking through a gun magazine or catalog and see a cool combat, bird hunting or big-game hunting accessory for a shotgun, you can bet it’s available for the Remington.

You simply do not make shotgun parts/accessories for shotguns and leave out the 870. Some goodies are only made for the 870 to the exclusion of its competition.

The reason I would choose the 870 as my only long gun, if that horror were ever forced upon me, is that it can simply do everything.

I can kill any animal on the face of the earth with a 12-gauge. There is nothing quite like the sound of racking a load of buckshot into a pump shotgun in a dark house to send an intruder scrambling for an exit. Obviously, simply with the changing of chokes or barrels, any fowl can be taken cleanly. With the new breed of rifled barrels and sabot (pronounced sa-bow) slugs available now, there is no beast-of-the-earth that can’t be brought down – at some pretty decent ranges, I might ad.

For versatility, the 870 can’t be beat. Another feature that adds to its versatility is that only .22 shells are cheaper to shoot than the inexpensive shotshells available from the “mart” stores.

If you were to take a look in the armories of militaries and law-enforcement agencies world-wide, you will see three pump shotguns. A few will still be holding on to their good old Ithaca Model 37s, since they are still serviceable and rarely called upon, but mostly you will find Mossberg 500/590 series and Remington’s 870.

The Mossbergs have saved many a cop or soldier in the line of duty but they have a lot of catching up to do if they wish to dethrone the King of Pump Guns. With every military trial and police department adoption I know of the only reason the Mossberg was chosen over the 870 was a matter of cost/price.

Personally, I’m not going to choose the lesser gun because it was $50 cheaper.