Check out the 870P at Remington: http://www.remingtonle.com/shotguns/870standard.htm
Buy one (or another) at GunsAmerica: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=remington%20870
Every year when waterfowl begin their annual trip south, hunters across America oil up their 870s. Countless cops have tricked out 870s, literally riding shotgun. And when something goes bump in the night, those who are serious about defending home and hearth reach for the 870. It is arguably the most common shotgun in America. There are millions of them in this country alone. How many millions? I doubt even Remington knows, for sure–but 10,000,000 is the safe estimate.
So what’s all the fuss? The pump action shotgun has proven itself more versatile and less finicky than the fickle automatics, so hunters trust the design.
Because of the wide assortment of aftermarket options, the 870 is easy to fine-tune and customize, which makes it appeal to tactical shooters.
And for home defense, the pump shotgun is a great deterrent weapon capable of firing a variety of loads.
But most of that list applies to all pump shotguns. Yet the old 870, a design that’s close to 65 years old, is still the standard by which all other pump shotguns are judged.
So what’s the secret?
I’ve been asking this for a long time. I haven’t drunk the proverbial 870 Kool-Aid. I’ve come to this review with a completely open mind. I’ve owned a couple of 870s, but it has never been my go-to gun. They come in, I mess with them a bit, and then I end up selling them to make room for something else. But here’s the rub–several people whose opinions I trust implicitly have 870s as the corner-stone of their tactical armories. And they think I should, too.
So I’m giving it a shot. I’m starting with this classic design and I’m going to see what I can do to it to make the 870 the perfect shotgun. This will be a rather involved process, and I plan on overhauling almost every piece of the gun. But my effort is also going to require new training. Even though most pump guns work in a similar fashion, each gun has a nuanced skill set required to make them run efficiently.
The 870 is the most common pump shotgun in America. I’ve gone one step further and opted for the Police Magnum. This is an 870 with a few robust improvements. Most companies offer something like the good, better, best model. This is more like robust, more robust, and ridiculous. I prefer the ridiculous end of the robust spectrum.
It is essentially an 870, though the receiver has been milled from a solid piece of steel. In the standard form, the gun comes with walnut furniture. This one has also been parkerized. These three simple improvements hide the standard dual action bars and a bolt which locks up with the barrel. It is a robust deign, for sure.
As far as options go, the 870 is almost as easily customized as a 1911 or an AR-15. From pistol grips, to sights, to furniture…lights, lasers, etc. Remington offers a wide variety of stock options, and the used market is full of custom jobs. But the basic controls of the 870 will stay the same.
One distinct feature of the 870 that I’m having trouble acclimating to is the placement of the safety. Where Mossberg has their safeties on the tang, where you can easily reach them with your thumb, Remington keeps theirs behind the trigger. The safety is easy to reach with your trigger finger. To make the gun safe (at least for those of us who are right handed), you move the trigger finger away from the trigger and roll the thumb over to the other side.
The other main difference in the controls is the placement of the action bar lock. To chamber that first shell, you have to wrap your hand forward on the frame. The Mossberg’s action lock is closer to where the 870’s safety sits. I’ve grown accustomed to hitting it with my thumb when I want to get the action in motion.
Neither of these are deal breakers. As I’ve spent a lot of time behind a Mossberg, I’ll just have to retrain my brain. But there’s a lingering question, I think, that makes this argument worth having. Is one set-up better than the other?
I like a tang safety. There’s very little chance that I’ll move it one way or the other unintentionally. With the 870’s safety, I can see how I might reach to grip the gun and push the safety off. Then again, that is precisely how it is intended to work. As you reach for the grip, your trigger finger sweeps the safety off. There is not extra step needed to make the gun operational. If your thumb is working the safety, you will need to wrap it back around before you pull the trigger.
So I’m going to call the 870’s safety a clear favorite. As for the possibility that I might disengage the safety accidentally, that is on me. And it goes back to training. If I can keep my finger off the trigger, I should be able to keep the same finger off the safety.
But I’ll be damned if I don’t really miss that Mossberg action bar lock. I have been working this 870 pretty hard for about a month now, and I still can’t get used to giving it the old reach-around. My thumb goes for its habitual position, and there’s nothing there. The action doesn’t open. The whole machine grinds to a halt.
But what about the reliability?
There’s no disputing the simple fact that the 870’s legendary reliability is at the heart of its popularity. Again we see the old triad of sportsman, LEOs, and home defenders…. They all want a gun that will work. That’s where the old workhorse 870 comes into its own. You can argue about which shotgun is most reliable, or which one is most durable, or which one is most versatile, but the fact remains that the 870 is sufficient for almost everyone. Durable enough. Reliable enough. Accurate enough.
And should the gun break down, the 870 is easy to repair. The very popularity of the platform means that there is a healthy aftermarket supply of parts. Anything broken can be easily replaced. As this is a gun that has moving parts, and one that suffers from the abusive kick of the 12 gauge shells, there are parts that wear out. Springs, mainly. Extractors. Action bar locks.
Some of the 870 issues I’ve seen are attributable to good-old-fashioned redneck gun-care habits. You know who I’m talking about. I have one relative who will complain that his 870 doesn’t work right. Never mind that the gun is older than I am, or that it has never been kept in a safe with controlled humidity. I doubt it has ever been cleaned. The rust you see on the surface of a gun should point to a much bigger problem on the inside. And the old 870 will rust. So do we call this user error?
As for the gun itself, I’ve rarely seen an 870 come from the factory with a noticeable flaw. If one element is sticky or stiff, a bit of polishing usually solves the issue. Tolerances on the guns are loose enough to allow for some modification. We’re talking shotguns, and not the hand-built Italian sporting models.
Again, we reach a place where it is difficult to find a clear winner. Most 12 gauge shotguns of equal length with the same choke will perform in a very similar fashion. But there are notable differences. Sights are the most obvious. This 870 has some crude sights. They are about as crude as you can get on any gun that actually goes to the trouble of adding sights. The front is a simple dot. The rear is just a wide grooved channel.
Yet it doesn’t really change how the gun shoots, and if you have any skill with a scattergun you will be able to put lead or steel where you want it. Check out these results.
The end is just the beginning
For me, the 870P is a perfectly serviceable firearm. I blame my ambivalence on accidental brand loyalty. If I have a choice between a Coke and a Pepsi, I’m going to drink the Coke. I have no idea when I decided that. The same is true for the 870. But I’ve made a commitment to this gun. In the shape it is in right now, I can begin retraining my brain. And I’ll make the other changes one piece at a time, so the gun isn’t ever out of circulation for too long. And I’ll be back with updates.
So how about it? I know most of you reading this may very well own an 870. What am I missing? What makes this the standard by which all others must be judged? Is it the price? With the millions that are out there, fair trades are easy to find. Prices vary wildly depending on the options and model and caliber. The 870P in this configuration is often listed in the high $400–to low $600 range. But what about the other reliable options? Why not the old Winchester, or the Ithaca, or the Mossberg or Benelli? What is it that makes the 870 stand out as the first choice for so many of you?