Ever since its introduction in 1950, the Remington Model 870 has been purpose-built for military service, law enforcement work and home defense.
That may come as a surprise to those of us used to carrying the shotgun on bird hunts, but the Model 870R Riot Grade was among the first versions of the rugged pump gun put on the market. In those days, the major difference between the standard 870 and the 870R was the latter had a 20-inch barrel.
More than 10 million units later, there are almost as many tactical 870s in the Remington lineup as those designated for hunting and clay-target shooting. The Model 870 Express Tactical Magpul is one of the latest, and it comes with more features that distinguish it for defensive use than just a shorter barrel.
The differences that are immediately apparent include a Magpul SGA buttstock and MOE fore- end. Both are made of polymer and smartly engineered—two common characteristics of Magpul accessories. Likewise, both add function-ality through innovative design.
A shotgun’s buttstock usually can be described in a single sentence. Not so with the SGA, which has enough features to warrant a description that goes beyond construction and dimensions. Let’s start with the pistol-grip area. The SGA’s grip is more linear than that found on a sporting-style stock. Rather than following a curve, the front of the grip forms a straight line. It makes more room for your hand, especially when carrying the gun in a low-ready position or stabilizing it when slung across the front of your chest.
The rest of the SGA buttstock is modular, meaning you can tailor its dimensions to fit your body, gear and needs. Adjustments come by way of a T-shaped insert that fits inside the buttstock body and is secured by a cross-bolt. It accommodates up to four polymer spacers to alter length of pull. With no spacers, length of pull is 12.5 inches. Each spacer adds .5 inch, for a total adjustment of 2 inches. The insert ends in a Remington SuperCell recoil pad.
Removing the slider also enables you to raise comb height. With the slider backed out of the buttstock, simply lift the standard comb insert to remove it, and then replace the polymer unit with one of two cheek risers included with the gun. The standard insert puts the top of the comb in line with the spacers and recoil pad, and works well when using the sights that come with the shotgun. One riser adds .25 inch to the height of the comb, while the other adds .5 inch. Let the height of your optic mount determine the best riser for obtaining a solid cheek weld.
A “loop” molded into each side of the buttstock provides the means for attaching a sling. In addition, each side of the stock contains a hole—filled by a removable plug—that will accommodate a push-button, quick-detach sling swivel. However, you must install Magpul’s Type 1 Sling Mount Kit, not included, in order to complete the push-button system. Without it, the hole through the buttstock is just a hole, which is a bit disappointing.
Like the SGA buttstock, the MOE fore-end provides advantages over a plain wood or synthetic version. Lips at the front and rear of the fore-end, combined with molded ridges, help keep your hand in place when shucking shells. Three oval-shape cutouts on each side accommodate MOE rail sections for mounting accessories. Here again, though, you’ll need to purchase an additional kit to complete the system.
The shotgun comes with excellent sights from XS Sight Systems. The eight-slot Picatinny rail atop the receiver includes a ghost-ring aperture mounted in a dovetail at the rear. It is adjustable for both windage and elevation. An XS Standard Dot is dovetailed into the front ramp. Of course, you also have the option of mounting an optic thanks to the rail.
For resistance to corrosion, the steel receiver and barrel are coated with matte-black Cerakote. The barrel measures 18.5 inches long, but the extended, ported choke tube adds another 2 inches to the length. Holding five, 2 3⁄4-inch shells, the one-piece magazine tube ends in a checkered cap that has a sling swivel.
During testing, the shotgun kept all nine 00 buckshot pellets from the Federal Premium Personal Defense and Remington Express Buckshot loads on a torso-size target out to 20 yards, and pattern centers were right at point of aim. With an Aimpoint Micro T1 and the mid-height cheek riser installed, the gun managed an average group size of 3.15 inches for five shots at 50 yards with the 1-ounce slugs delivered from the Remington Slugger load.
I liked the angle and the control provided by the SGA buttstock’s pistol grip. It simply felt like I was able to gain a better purchase on this shotgun as compared to those with more traditional grips—no doubt because my entire strong hand fit comfortably on the stock. I also appreciated the ability to raise the comb for an optimal cheek weld when using the Aimpoint. Finally, the trigger had little creep and broke at an average pull weight of 4 pounds, 5 ounces, which made shooting groups with slugs almost enjoyable.
It’s tough to improve upon a gun that has already been extremely popular for almost 65 years, but Remington and Magpul have managed to make a great shotgun even better for self-defense. The features that come on the Model 870 Express Tactical Magpul are more than just bells and whistles; they make a real difference where it counts most.