This article, "870," appeared originally as a Fightin' Iron column in the February 2010 issue of Shooting Illustrated. To subscribe to Shooting Illustrated, visit the NRA membership page here and select Shooting Illustrated as your member magazine.
A man has to 'fess up to his failings, but in this case, I have excuses. Shamefully, I have failed to render due respect to a firearm that is very much a part of my shooting existence.
I'm sorry this happened, but darn it, I spend almost all of my working life fooling with pistols and revolvers, as well as their ammunition and accessories. Seldom do I get the chance to shoot other firearms.
To anyone who asks the standard gun-writer question, "What's the best gun and ammo to use in a fight," my answer is, "a shotgun and #000 buck." No handgun can ever equal the on-target performance of a fighting shotgun. The question then becomes, "what shotgun do you prefer?" My answer would be equally emphatic, "a Remington 870."
That doesn't mean I am proclaiming the Remington pump as the best shotgun of all time. I can't do that because I haven't shot everything in an objective evaluation. But, among the common and affordable fighting shotguns, most of which I have used, the old 870 stands alone. And I regret not having made this point as firmly as I should have. Sorry old friend, you have been around for a very long time and your service has been loyal in the extreme. If they gave good conduct medals to shotguns, you would have the ribbon with stars indicating multiple awards.
The Remington 870 came along at a turning point in the history of modern firearms—1950, the midpoint of the 20th century. It was a time when America was recovering from the chaos of World War II. Gun makers were tooling up for new models all around. In the '50s, such now-familiar names as Blackhawk, Commander and .44 Mag. were new models in conversations at gun-store counters. Pretty much everybody agreed a gun cabinet should contain at least one reliable pump shotgun.
Winchester went forward with the elegant Model 12, a gun it later discontinued. Remington was its main competitor with an equally elegant pump called the Model 31. While there were some other models available, these were the preferred guns. Both were expensive to produce, so both of the big long-gun factories cast about for economical replacements. Winchester waited until 1976.
Remington went to the 870 in 1950 and never looked back. Although the gun was a hard sell when first introduced, it caught on quickly and ended up one of Remington's great commercial successes. Made in several chamberings and almost endless varieties of finishes, barrel lengths and chokes, the 870 has been in uninterrupted production from 1950 to the present.
Unlike so many handguns that are purchased, fired a few times and then put away in the top dresser drawer, shotguns are fired. An excellent Remington 700 bolt gun often fires a few rounds when its owner goes to the range for zeroing with the new gun, then serves several successful whitetail hunts before a contented hunter finishes off the first 20-round box of cartridges. But, a shotgun is used for multiple bird hunts or clay-target shoots and frequently consumes shells by the case. If ever there was a gun that could take a beating and keep on coming, it is that rugged old brute, the Remington 870.
My passion for shotguns is for the ones with short barrels—fighting guns. I have used the short shotgun in military and police service since the early 1960s. When they bought 870s for all the patrol cars in my department, I was introduced to the Remington gun. I have learned to detail strip it as fast as I can pull down a 1911 or an M1. The parts are few and rugged, the design is simple and the manual of arms is logical.
The 870 is my favorite scattergun. There have been some outstanding modern guns like the Browning BPS, Mossberg 500 and superb Smith & Wesson 3000, but I stay with what is familiar. Yep, it's the old 870, particularly the variants with short barrels (registered 14-inchers) and custom touches by Hans Vang.
I've never needed to face a live target with my 870s, but I have run so many thousands of rounds through them, I would approach a skirmish with complete confidence, at least in my equipment. I do recall an incident out in the west end of the county. The team of Singer and Stover had stirred up trouble among a gang of perennial miscreants, something they did with marked regularity.
The fight was on, so my partner and I hustled over to the alley where the proceedings were underway. As our big Dodge skidded to a halt, I bailed out the passenger side with the 870. I couldn't tell what was going on. There was a great deal of confused movement, dust and smoke. But when I racked the slide on the Remington, everything got real quiet—and still.
Yep, that old saw about rack the shotgun and stop the fight sometimes works. Remington has been quieting things down via the 870 since Harry Truman was in the White House. They have also put a bunch of meat on many tables with the famous scattergun. In the gun industry, success means sales in the thousands. In 60 years, Remington has sold more than 10 million 870 pump shotguns and that means success squared and then some. Since a plain short 870 may be had for a few hundred bucks, it is one of the best investments you can make in emergency equipment.
Indeed, it's proper fightin' iron.