A Remington 870 with a ruffed grouse and shotgun shells.

A Look at the Remington 870 Pump Shotgun – an American Classic

Like many have found growing up hunting, the Remington 870 pump shotgun is a staple in American classics.

The smell of pine needles filled my father’s townhouse as we came up the basement stairs. The anticipation had been killing me the whole ride up. I knew this would be the year I got my first gun! Sure enough, below the tree a box was wrapped up with my name on it, a fitting size for a gun. What else could it be? I laid awake in my bed that night, thinking of the countless adventures that would be wrapped up in that one present. Was it a Remington 1100, the Cadillac of my family’s gunning world? Then I began to think, what if it’s a 12-gauge? I’ve always been small framed, and other than my brother’s old .410 single shot, everything in my family’s gun cabinets were 12-gauges.

The morning came. And I’m sure like many American boys and girls across the country, I received my first Remington Model 870 Express Youth Model. More than 11 million 870s have been sold since 1950, to be precise. Mine was a 20-gauge to my excitement, and soon my father’s gun cabinet revealed a collection of those yellow shells I would come to love. This shotgun would pave my way into the future of hunting. It shot my first ruffed grouse, my first American woodcock, and my first whitetail deer. In fact, at 37 years old, I still use it as my deer gun in the rifle-restricted areas of my childhood haunts.

In short, it’s reliable and predictable. It can take a beating. And despite my attempts to swap over to an 1100 and many other models, I always went back to it for deer. Its biggest use these days is as my home defense gun because I trust it, know it better than any other shotgun I’ve owned.

The Remington 870 line comes from a wide range of guns, the Express being entry level. Starting at $417 MSRP it’s hard to believe it’s 2020. The step up in the world of wingshooting is the 870 Wingmaster starting at $847 MSRP, still very reasonable for a shotgun boasting this level of reliability.

My older brother had a Wingmaster. I always remember how much shinier it was than my matte finish youth model. It felt notably smoother when you pumped it, but as a 12-gauge I rarely shot it. I came to love matte finish at an older age, but in those days I was envious.

Versatility is Everything

This gun has versatility and reliability for the price. That above all is why I would recommend it to any new hunter out there. This is not a specialty shotgun, but when used correctly it can be good at anything to which it is applied. If it were a gun dog, it would certainly fall into the versatile breed category. The interchangeable chokes, standard since 1986, will allow you to explore various upland game and also the beloved wild turkey. Its ability to swap out barrels allows you to add a slug barrel for big game hunting and open sights.

This shotgun is produced in 12-gauge, 20-gauge, 28-gauge, and .410 bore, only adding to its versatility. Remington has reinvented their pump shotgun more than once. If you journey into the vintage pump shotguns that predated it you would find the Model 10, then the Model 17, and lastly the Model 31. But for almost 70 years, the 870 has proved to be the right fit for the Remington brand.

This gun certainly holds particular importance to those new to hunting. Maybe you will not like upland hunting or waterfowl, maybe turkey hunting will be your thing. But past that, big game may be something you want to explore, as well.

As mentioned above the importance of interchangeable chokes is the cornerstone of a versatile shotgun, something often lost on vintage double guns and bespoke side-by-sides. Put in a full choke and turkey season is on; swap out to something wide open and woodcock here you come. Find yourself wanting to understand firsthand the practical application of different chokes? This gun will work. And since the 50s, Remington has noted their barrels are capable of handling steel shot.

Problems and Issues with the 870 Pump Shotgun

One of the most common issues with the shotgun is that it does not take well to certain shotgun shells. Some say that low brass can cause extraction issues, others point towards cheap ammunition in general. I’ve certainly experienced some of these issues over the years. It is easily overcome, however; like many shotguns you should test what works best with it–a more common issue among semi-automatics. We all should take the time to pattern test our shotgun with various chokes and ammunition, anyways.

I’ve heard accounts of broken ejector springs, but for all the various ones owned in my family I have yet to see it happen. The replacement of said spring requires special tools that can be ordered, but most gunsmiths are equipped for the fix.

Like any shotgun not properly cared for, rust can become an issue. Some say more common because of the quality of finish on a low cost shotgun. Be sure to keep the surfaces well oiled and free from moisture and a shotgun can certainly last. Mine has developed some surface rust now and again, but it has always come off easily and I contribute most of that to its lack of use. Probably time I start a more regular maintenance program on it.

The History and Advancement of the 870 Pump

As noted above, the 870 pumps were an evolution in gun making, maybe one of the finest examples of Remington’s ability to adapt with the times. The cheaper Express model became available in the mid-90s, cutting the sale price almost in half. The growth of sales was sparked by the introduction of the Express model and it helped push the gun over the 10 million sales mark.

The shotgun has held the record of the best selling shotgun since the early 80s and no company has yet to surpass it. Their bankruptcy in 2018 was due to a $950 million debt it had racked up.  Some point to the defect in their X-Mark Pro trigger that was linked to several deaths as marking a decline in reputation for the company that was accompanied by a sales decline. Remington was bailed out, so don’t worry, the 870 is still being produced.

In the 1960s the United States Marine Corps used the 870 Mark 1 which held 8 rounds and could affix a bayonet. It saw action in both the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. Various versions have been bought over the years by other Federal Agencies including the FBI, Secret Service, and Border Patrol. And notable local law enforcement organizations like the California Highway Patrol, LAPD, and the Pennsylvania State Police.

Why the 870 Pump Matters to Bird Hunters

Learn how to properly use a pump shotgun and it is as effective as any shotgun in bird hunting. Some will certainly say other guns like semi-automatics and double guns are easier to shoot without the action needed to pump a second round in. But that has not stopped many from falling in love with this shotgun or learning to use it well. Its versatility makes it suitable for any upland game in North America with the simple swap of a choke and maybe for the more detail-oriented, a swap of barrels of different lengths. From the youth model up, a slip-on recoil pad can help lengthen things up for those that require a greater length of pull.  

The Remington 870 pump shotgun will always hold a special place in my heart. Every time the action comes back, in floods my memories of all those “firsts.” The yellow 20-gauge shells hold a greater meaning to me than my more recent 28 gauge additions. A collection sitting in my gun cleaning kit includes small white labels indicating dates and deer that 870 shotgun has gifted me, the rise of that first woodcock that fell in the trail in front of me as a child and the one turkey I shot with it. I have no doubt that this American classic shotgun will serve an equally fitting purpose for many others.

Last modified: January 11, 2020

4 Responses to :
A Look at the Remington 870 Pump Shotgun – an American Classic

  1. Darrel Feasel says:

    Great article, reminds me of my first 870 Wingmaster my twin brother bought in 1969, we used it to hunt birds in Northern California, my brother has passed but I still use the gun to hunt Woodcock here in Virginia. I bought my son a youth model when he turned 12, now he’s an accomplished bow hunter. In the next couple of years I will buy my two grandsons each a 870 youth 20 gauge, the fact is I can’t wait to buy them each one, it reminds me so much of the day in 1969 when this journey started.

  2. Homer says:

    870s are great shotguns. I think they will be many “first guns” for many people for a long long time.

  3. Awesome piece, AJ! Although it does not see the day of light often, I still have an 870 in my arsenal of bird guns! You cannot deny the reliability of the 870 platform!

  4. tony says:

    At one time or another I have hunted with every type of shotgun made. If I could have but one shotgun, it would be a Remington 12 gauge 870 with interchangeable chokes and a rifled slug barrel.

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