By Gary Engberg
The Monte Carlo stock on the Remington 870 Express Deer shotgun allows for fast sight alignment. The shotgun is available with a choice of either a 20-inch fully rifled barrel for sabot or standard slugs, or a 20-inch fixed Improved Cylinder barrel for rifled slugs or buckshot.
-- There is little doubt that the Remington 870 pump-action shotgun is the best-selling and most popular firearm ever produced by Remington in its 189-year history. The Model 870 is truly King of the shotguns and one of, if not the, most successful sporting guns ever produced in the world.
Here's a little history on the favorite shotgun of America. Remington recognized at the end of World War II that the industrial world was changing. The price of labor was increasing and automation was beginning to take hold and change America.
At the time, the Remington Model 31 was its top pump shotgun, but the company recognized that the new era of automation was changing the face of America and many guns in its line were just too expensive to manufacture. The Model 31 was singled out as being one model that was too costly to continue producing even though many shooters believed that it was superior to the famous Winchester Model 12. The Model 31 had many precision-machined parts and the hand-fitting required kept it from being cost-effective for Remington to continue building.
Remington engineers, which included L. Ray Critterdon, Phillip Haskell, Ellis Hailston and G.E. Pinkney, were faced with developing a replacement for the Model 31, which could and would be built entirely on high-speed production machinery and then assembled by semi-skilled workers.
The Remington 870 was the fourth major design change in the company's production of pump shotguns. John Pederson designed the fragile Model 10 and working with John Browning helped design the Model 17, which was later produced by Ithaca as the Ithaca 37 and eventually served as the blueprint for the Remington Model 31.
Wayne Whitemarsh of Sauk City, Wis., with his vintage 1960s Remington 870 and Bo, left, and Gem. He still uses the gun for upland game, waterfowl and has a slug barrel for white-tailed deer.
While the Model 31 was a great shotgun, sales struggled when pitted against the Winchester Model 12. Remington sought to correct that figure and its engineers realized that they could save money by incorporating items that they currently produced. So, they began utilizing parts from their stock 1187 autoloader. Prior to the 870, all guns were made from milled parts that were hand-fitted to each gun, which was very expensive. During World War II, Remington had developed a process to stamp the metal parts in the production of the 1903A3 military rifle, and this technology was what paved the way for the Model 870.
In 1949, the Model 31 was discontinued after only 18 years of production and in 1950 its replacement, the Model 870 was introduced. The new Model 870 shotgun breech locked securely into a hardened barrel extension, and a new locking block and slide was developed for a precise and smooth operation. The Model 870 was modern, streamlined, inexpensive and above all reliable.
The shotgun's features include a bottom-loading, side-ejecting receiver, tubular magazine under the barrel, dual-action bars, and a bolt that locks into an extension in the barrel as earlier mentioned. The action, receiver, trigger mechanism, safety catch and slide release catch of the Remington Model 870 shotgun are very similar to those of the Remington model 7600 pump-action centerfire rifles. For reference, many of the parts of the 870 will interchange with the semi-auto Remington Model 1100 and the 11-87.
When the Model 870 hit retail stores in 1950 officials knew that they had a "winner" from the beginning and wanted to take advantage of the booming middle class of the post-war years. Big Green did not enter the market tentatively with only a few models of its new and innovative Model 870.
The Model 870 SPS ShurShot Synthetic Fully Rifled Cantilever shotgun has a fully rifled 23-inch barrel which handles today's high-performance slug loads.
Initially, there were 15 different models of the 870 in 12, 16, and 20 gauges and all with 23/4-inch chambers. The standard 870 was priced at $69.95 when first introduced to the public. The 12-gauge 870 Magnum with a 3-inch chamber was produced in 1955; the first 870 slug gun, the Brushmaster, hit the woods in 1961; the initial 28-gauge and .410 guns with their scaled down receivers were introduced in 1966; left-handers got their wish with "southpaw" models in 1971; the first camo finished models appeared in 1997, and finally the 12-gauge Express Super Magnum chambered for 31/2-inch shells came out in 1998.
When the Remington Model 870 was first introduced many hunters and shooters, who had been accustomed to the machined parts, blued metal, and the fine walnut of other pump guns like the Remington Model 31 and Winchester Model 12 were critical of the stamped parts and homely looks of the new Model 870. It took Remington 15 years to build their first million guns, but then the Model 870 took off and after that it took only two more years for production to reach two million shotguns.
Then, between 1973 and 1978 another million units were built, and by 1984 the fourth million guns were manufactured for the ever-increasing demand of hunters and shooters. Two more million guns were manufactured between 1984 and 1993, and the seven millionth Model 870 was assembled in 1996. Now, the number of 870s produced by Remington has exceeded eight million.
Remington's 870 Wingmaster 100th Anniversary edition features gold inlays and high-gloss walnut stock and fore-end.
Why has the Remington model 870 been the most popular gun ever manufactured? First, Remington has always made a point of making many different variations of the Model 870 that fit nearly every nook and cranny in the shotgun world. This goes far beyond the world of hunting and includes all the shooting sports. Second, the gun was a great bargain. Lastly, the Remington Model 870 was a reliable gun that performed magnificently under adverse conditions, is durable enough to stand up to decades of rugged use and is reasonably priced.
Jack Heath, who was the Remington historian for 34 years before he retired in 1996, said, "The 870 is one of the most reliable shotguns ever made. It's like a Timex watch - it takes a licking and keeps on ticking."
It's easy to see why the Remington model 870 is king of the shotgun world or as the gun manufacture says on its website, "Pump-action shotguns fall into two categories: the Remington Model 870 and all the others."
I'll agree with that observation, and I'm sure many of you do, too!
-- Gary Engberg
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