Remington Model 870 Shotgun, Past and Present

Remington Model 870 American-Classic

Tom McHale writes [via]:

A lot of neato stuff happened in 1950, along with some serious unpleasantries. North Korea invaded their southern sibling, starting a tragic war masquerading as a police action. On the more positive side of things, the first self-service elevator was installed by the Otis Corporation. Zenith introduced the first television remote control and appropriately named it the Lazy Bones. Charles Schulz invented Charlie Brown, and more importantly, Snoopy. James Dean got his big break starring in a Pepsi commercial. Oh, and Remington introduced the 870 Wingmaster Shotgun . . .

Since introduction in January 1950, Remington has sold some number bigger than 10 million of 870 shotguns. I know that because back in 2009, they made a big deal out of producing the 10 millionth one.

While we’re on the topic of introduction dates, there’s a bit of uncertainty there. The official history of Remington claims the 870 was introduced in January 1950. So do the various Remington 870 collectors organizations, and you know how persnickety they are. On the other hand, a different place on the Remington website and various gun publications claim the 870 came out in 1951. I’m putting my money on the collectors, so we’ll go with 1950.

Remington 870 ad 1950

The number of variations of the Remington 870 over the years is probably uncountable. Heck, the company launched 15 different models right off the bat in various combinations of 12, 16 and 20 gauges during the first year. Also, right off the bat, was the understanding by the company that the 870 would be more than simply a bird gun. The Model 870R Riot Grade was among those first 15 models. Pricing at the time started at $69.95 and went to the whopping level of $678.55 for a Premier Grade Trap Model.

Remington Model 870 Wingmaster Riot Style Shotgun with Folding Stock

The concept of pump shotguns certainly wasn’t a new thing. In fact, the 870 Wingmaster was designed to replace another rugged Remington pump shotgun, the Model 31. In fact, the primary features that make the Remington 870 distinctive go all the way back to the very first 1950 models. Double action bars provide not only strength and longevity but allow vigorous and bind-free operation of the pump action. The double bars prevent ill effect from less than perfect linear operation of the mechanism. The locking bolt and barrel extension have also been a notable contributor to the durability of the 870 since day one. The Remington 870 Shotgun ability to swap out 870 Shotgun barrels is yet another reason that the 870 has undergone minimal design change in the past 65 years.

Remington Model 31 Slide Action Shotgun
Its predecessor, the Model 31, sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 units. When young Eliphalet Remington started making a better flintlock barrel in his father’s forge way back in 1816, I’ll bet he would never have dreamed of selling one thousand guns much less 200,000. But 20% of a million was nothing for the 870 line.

By 1966, the company had sold one million 870 shotguns. This date coincided nicely with the 150th anniversary of Eliphalet’s first work on the forge. Just seven years later, in October 1973, Remington hit the two million sold mark, and things really started to move. In 1978, the number hit three million and grew to four million by 1984. Millions begat more millions and by 2009, the 10 million shotgun milestone had been left in the dust.

Winchester 870 Marine

Remington 870 Shotgun Models and Variants

The first 15 models introduced covered the gamut of use cases with models for tournament, trap, skeet, field and even police use. While there was no budget Express line in the early years, Remington was not shy about offering premium Wingmasters with all the fixin’s.

In 1955, the company went magnum and started to make the 12-gauge model with a three-inch chamber. During that year, the line stuck to the big three calibers and was limited to 12, 16 and 20-gauge choices. The distinctive “corn cob” forend started to give way to the more elegantly shaped stock on Deluxe models. The corn cob stock never had a hard and fast switch over date as it was offered on police models for quite some time after.

Remington 870 Shotgun Corn Cob Forend

Four years later, the company added slug gun variants to the line for the four-legged critter hunting market, showing the versatility of the 870 platform. Still priced at less than a hundred bucks, the rifled barrel models were equipped with a front bead and rear rifle sight.

Remington 870 MK1 Magnum shotgun

1969 was a big year, and not just because Al Gore invented ARPANET, Neil and Buzz did the moon walk, and many young people got stoned at Woodstock. That year, Remington finally added some new calibers with the introduction of 28-gauge and .410 bore models, apparently because standard ammunition was not expensive enough.

Since things were hot in Vietnam during this time, Remington contracted with the United States Marine Corps to produce thousands of Model 870 Mk-1 variants in 12-gauge. These combat-ready 870s included 7-shell magazine tubes and bayonet attachments.

During the 1970s, some interesting, and attractive variants hit the market. As a result of a shortage of American Walnut, Remington started to use mahogany stocks on certain 20, 28 and .410 models. More reddish in color, and found by many to have more attractive grain, it’s not as durable as walnut, hence the use on the lighter guns in the family. If you’ve got one with mahogany furniture, hold on to it. While not incredibly rare, they are worth somewhat more than identical walnut-stocked versions. By 1979, the company had moved back to Walnut across the board.

Remington Model 870 American-Classic

In 1987, the company introduced the Express line. A less-polished version, these were intended to hit a lower price point in the market. Accordingly, the metal was matte finished, and wood got much less attention in the polishing stages. Purists were a bit upset with the budget offering while budget conscious users and big box retailers rejoiced.

In 1992, the company launched the Model 870 Marine Magnum Security shotgun (see image above). Why do I call this particular model out among all the hundreds of variants? It looked really cool with its nickel-finished metal and synthetic stock. Always wanted one of those. Fortunately, they’re still in the catalog.

In 1998 the company elected to give masochists what they wanted: a 3 ½-inch Magnum Model 870. 3 ½-inch Magnum shells from a pump gun? No thanks for me, but for those who want it, you can have it.

Remington 870 Shotgun Current Lineup

As I write this, Remington still offers a goodly variety of 870 models. Not counting the specific law enforcement model and bore variants, there are 32 different 870 shotguns in the Remington 870 catalog.

Remington Model 870 Express Tactical Magpul FDE

You can still get a classic Wingmaster, complete with blued receiver and barrel and American walnut furniture. Or, you might consider the new for 2014 American Classic. These feature high-grade wood, gold-inlaid engraving, checkering and touches like grip caps and classic ventilated recoil pads.

If you want to go turkey or tactical, you can check out some of the purpose-built pistol grip models like the Model 870 Express ShurShot Synthetic Turkey or Model 870 Express Tactical A-TACS Camo. Whatever your taste, plain or fancy, new or old, it’s hard to go wrong with an Remington 870 Shotgun.

About Tom McHale:

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.



  1. The 870 is a good shotgun. However, it is a pain to completely break down and clean vrs say the Mossberg 500. Just my point of view.

    1. avatar William Burke says:

      Who needs to break down an 870? About a quarter spray can of Powder Blast and she’s ready to go next time you need her.

    2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      From my perspective, they’re fairly similar. Some people might find one better than the other to disassemble/reassemble. For me, they’re very similar pump guns, the modern versions of which have degraded from their originals rather far.

      1. avatar NDS says:

        I’ve disassembled and cleaned countless models of both – can’t think why one would be more difficult than the other. Slightly different parts that do the same job.

        870 for life though.

      2. avatar Indiana Tom says:

        For me, they’re very similar pump guns, the modern versions of which have degraded from their originals rather far.
        I agree, both the earlier 500 and the 870 were rather nicer finished guns than what is on the market now, and I have hunted with both.
        Truth is, that both the Winchester Model 12 and the Ithaca 37 were always nicer pump shotguns than either the 870 or 500.
        The Ithaca 37 and the Browning BPS shotguns are overlooked shotguns and are the nicest that are still new for sale at this time.

    3. avatar Rem870 says:

      I don’t have any difficulties disassembling 870. Of course it is difficult to make even small repairs such as ejector spring replacement but this doesn’t happen often. As for the cleaning, it takes just several minutes to disassemble a Remington 870,

  2. avatar Seth says:

    I was fortunate enough to inherit an 870 from my Grandpa that Remington says was made in 1951. It has a long full choke barrel, still looks great and works even better. I’ll keep it forever and hopefully my son will too.
    It sits next to a newer Marine Magnum and a youth 20ga. Great shotguns.

  3. avatar jwm says:

    The 870 of my youth was a sweet gun. The freedom group 870, not so much.

    1. avatar Milsurp Collector says:

      I found my 870 riot model in a trash bin full of beat-up shotguns on sale for $150. Tag said it was a police trade-in and boy does it show from abuse. 500 rounds of bird shot, slugs, and everything in between later and it hasn’t had a single failure-to-anything. Found out mine was made some time in the early 80’s, when even decently priced guns were still made…decently. It’s the only 12 gauge I’ll ever need now.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        I’ve always said that if I was restricted to just one gun it would be a pump 12 bore. A model 12 winchestor as my one gun would be just fine.

  4. avatar Jackdaddy63 says:

    My 870 is one of the first Express versions, based on the 1987 introduction date. It is one of my favorites, and I used just last weekend to bust clays in my Dad’s back yard with family and friends. It was a good day with a great gun.

  5. avatar Red in Texas says:

    I’ve got my dad’s 70’s vintage 870 in my safe right now. It has beautiful bluing, and Cherrywood furniture. The only thing lacking, is a vent rib barrel. I’m hoping he forgets it when he moves in a couple of years 🙂

  6. avatar NineShooter says:

    Photos number 4 and number 6 are not Remington 870 shotguns. Trigger guard shape is wrong, barrel lug is wrong, magazine cap is wrong, ejection port shape/location is wrong, bolt shape is wrong, etc.

    1. avatar NineShooter says:

      Okay, so photo number 4 is the Model 31 they briefly talk about in the text. But the sixth photo, with the file name Remington-870-Shotgun-Corn-Cob-Forend.jpg is not an 870 photo (looks like another Model 31 pic).

    2. avatar Jake says:

      They are pics of a Model 31 Remington. That gun was mentioned in the article.

  7. avatar Freeheel says:

    870 is fine. I have several and they are very dependable. But half the family is south paw. So Mossberg 500’s for us. Cabelas versions with 18″ home defense and 28” field barrel for $350 GTFOOH. Tons of after market stuff. I also love me a used good condition Springfield 67.

    1. avatar Ian says:

      I have a left hand variant 870, bought it at Gander Mountain in 2013.

    2. avatar Swarf says:

      I’m very right-handed, and I still prefer the tang safety of the 500. Just feels more natural and, well, safer.

      I also like the 8 second barrel change from home use to field.

      The 870’s I’ve handled do feel less sloppy, I’ll give them that, but performance-wise, I couldn’t be happier with my 2 (got to have an extra for out of town guests donchaknow) 500’s.

  8. avatar ahil925 says:

    I have a chinese clone in the form of a H&R Pardner Pump Protector. Now that a steady paycheck is a factor in my life I’ve been tempted to pick up a Maverick 88 or maybe a Stevens 320 to compare it to.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      I have the 88 security model. Short barrel extended mag. It’s one of my house guns. Couldn’t be happier with it.

  9. avatar NWGlocker says:

    been hearing how the newest 870 models may be in the “they don’t make ‘me like the used to” category.

    If I’m looking for a used 870 how do I know which ones to avoid?

  10. avatar Jjimmyjomga says:

    The problem I have with 870’s is they have a single extractor, which, because of modern brass used in shot shells being much inferior/softer than just 10 years ago, results in often fte’s…made even worse with 3.5″ loads common when waterfowl hunting with steel shot (allowing a reasonably dense pattern with larger shot, or smaller/fasted for reasonably decent down range retained speed/energy). I use pumps for waterfowl hunting, and have had several 870’s over the past 10 years, but have gone back to Mossberg 835’s. Mossberg has 2 extractors, and this makes a big difference in reducing FTE’s.

  11. avatar Tim U says:

    870s of the past are the stuff of legend.

    870s of the present are junk masquerading as something from the past.

    I have a Wingmaster from before the buyout and it’s a gorgeous trap or skeet gun. But I would never buy a new 870 today.

    1. avatar achmed says:

      How is the quality on the current ones? Just a couple nights ago it seemed like the (new) one a guy at the skeet field had was really poor quality. jammed a shell in the chamber on him, had to be dssy’d to clear it. And then nobody (out of about 20 old timers in the skeet house) could figure out how to get it back together. Like something in there was bent. Weird.

      1. avatar Marcus says:

        if he was using cheap shells it won’t cycle and jam up. Buy the good stuff!

      2. avatar Max says:

        I have one of the 3 1/2″ Walmart specials from about 10 years ago. It jams with short brass shells. It has to use high brass shells, preferably Remington. It is also just enough of a longer pump stroke that it is more challenging to shoot than a normal one. It is nice to be able to do waterfowl, but I have not yet.

      3. avatar Rem870 says:

        Some of the newer 870s have a rough chamber, so you need to polish it for a problem free ejections.

    2. avatar Taxman100 says:

      Newer low priced Express models do not have the same level of finish, and user lower quality parts for the trigger guard, sear, etc. On a new 870 Express, you have to polish the chamber with either steel wool, or something similar, to reduce/eliminate sticking shells.

      There is a reason the 870 Express lists for $339 at Cabelas vs. $699 for the Wingmaster. Remington does the polishing for you on the Wingmaster (among other things)

  12. avatar Ragnarredbeard says:

    I have two 870s. One is the Super Express Magnum and the other is a left-handed 870 that I got last year because I’m left-handed and I got tired of getting ejected shells flying across my line of sight. One thing about the left-hand models that you find out about after you buy it is that the barrels from right-handed 870s aren’t interchangeable. Considering that my RH 870 has 3 barrels (slug, rifled, and 28″ trap) that came as an unpleasant surprise.

  13. avatar CTstooge says:

    And that SOUND. You know what I’m talking about.

  14. avatar Sixpack70 says:

    I have an 870 express. It doesn’t work as well as it stuntman had some extraction issue. It also likes to dump a shell back into the action from the tube with the Acton closed. I’ve modified or a bit now and messed with it for a while to get it to fire more reliably. The finish is mediocre at best. I decided to get a 590a1 ands it has been awesome! I had a 930 SPX and it had trigger failure problems or of the box. I got rid of it so even mossberg has issues.

    1. avatar Sixpack70 says:

      Oh how I love my phone creating words for me! The wrong words!

  15. avatar bontai Joe says:

    My first pump shotgun was a used 20 ga. Ted Williams (Winchester through Sears back in the day). My next one was a Winchester 1200 bought new about 35 years ago. Then I won a Remington 3 1/2″ 12 ga magnum “turkey” gun with the matte black paint finish, and crappy synthetic stock. I sold that one unfired still in the box. Then a couple of years ago, my dad gave me his Remington 870 12 ga. trap gun with a custom maple stock. The action works like butter spreading on a hot biscuit. I have over 40 years of shooting Winchester pump shotguns, and now own a Remington pump that is one of the best shotguns I have ever handled……. but I’m still keeping the Winchesters. LOL

  16. avatar Rick K says:

    I had a nice 12ga Wingmaster back in the early 80’s. Shortly after I found the Ithaca M37 and the Browning BPS and as a lefty the Remington was out like a dirty shirt.

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