What’s America’s favorite shotgun? The Remington Model 870 pump-action. That’s not opinion, conjecture or the results of some arbitrary poll. Rather it’s hard numbers, based on the fact that the Remington 870 is the most-produced shotgun in firearms history.
More than 11 million of these shotguns have been manufactured thus far, and Remington wouldn’t continue making them if they didn’t continue selling. The shotgun was first offered in three gauges—12, 16 and 20—and in 15 inaugural versions; the .410 bore and 28-gauge were added in 1969. The first guns ranged in price from just $69.95 for standard grades to as much as nearly 10 times that amount ($678.55) for the Model 870TF Trap Premier Grade.
I purchased my first one, the famous Wingmaster model, in 1973. But even then I came a little late to the party, as the 870 was introduced by Remington in 1950. At the time I was newly married and in college, majoring in natural-resources management, so I didn’t have much extra money lying around for a new shotgun. But after okaying the purchase with my wife, I swallowed hard and plopped down the cash on a gun-store counter for a 16-gauge 870.
An older friend of mine, someone who knew more about shotguns and shooting than I did at the time, questioned my choice of gauges.
“Why didn’t you buy a 12-gauge?” he asked. “They’re more versatile, as you can load them up or down—use heavier or lighter loads—and do everything a 16-gauge can do and more.”
I know now that my friend was right, of course. But at that time 16-gauge shotguns were not as rare or as much of a novelty as they are today. And besides, my father owned a 16 and had hunted with it for years, taking plenty of upland game and crushing clays. Secretly, I probably wanted to “be like Dad.”
I purchased my second Remington Model 870 about four years later, and even though it was slightly used it was a significant upgrade over the 16-gauge. By then I was a young state wildlife officer in Ohio, fresh out of the 13-week training academy and assigned to work with a veteran field officer. This officer not only patiently taught me the ropes of being a “game warden,” but also began schooling me in the appreciation of fine shotguns. He was an avid clays shooter, trap being his game of choice. He was also a real wheeler-dealer when it came to shotguns, always in search of his next scattergun—a shotgun that would break “just one more target.”
One day he showed me his latest purchase, a 12-gauge, high-grade Model 870. And when he pulled that new shotgun from the box I remember immediately falling in love. The shotgun not only had beautiful wood, but he had had a local gunsmith darken the stock and forearm even a tad more. He also had added a fancier buttpad and an oversized safety. The shotgun was a thing of beauty, and I told him to let me know when he was ready to sell.
“Oh, I’ll never sell this gun,” he said confidently. But I knew he traded shotguns about as often as I changed underwear, so I added, “Just put me first on your list.” That said, I owned that particular 870 Wingmaster within six months, and it still sits in my gun safe today.
The shotgun had a 28-inch full-choke barrel, perfect for shooting trap and hunting waterfowl, which I enjoyed in those days. Then in the early 1980s I took up turkey hunting, and again, a full-choke gun was what I needed. But the gun only accepted 2 3/4-inch shells, so I had the firing chamber bored out for 3-inch turkey loads. But how best to camouflage such a gorgeous gun for hunting and not ruin its value? I solved the problem by protecting the stock and forearm with vinyl camo Gun Chaps, and spray-painted the metal parts green and brown.
I was also getting into rabbit hunting behind hounds at the time, so I purchased a second barrel for the gun, a 26-inch with an improved-cylinder choke. Remember, those were the days before choke tubes. Remington added their Rem Choke interchangeable screw-in choke tubes to the 870 in 1986.
Live long enough and most things in life eventually come full-circle, and that is now happening to me. The beagles I kept for years are all long dead, so I don’t hunt rabbits anymore. I also no longer hunt waterfowl. But recently I got to thinking about that old, heavily-used, once-beautiful shotgun I had sitting in my gun safe, and all the memories it held. No doubt it had seen better days, its metal still covered in spray paint, its fancy buttpad now less than supple. So last winter I took it to a local gunsmith, Jim Eyster of Heritage Gunsmiths, handed it to him and simply said, “Make it like new again.”
And he did. Jim re-blued the metal—barrel, receiver and trigger guard—a deep blue-black, and I reconditioned the wood of the stock and forearm myself. And once again that 12-gauge Remington Model 870 Wingmaster pump-action shotgun, now more than 40 years old, is a thing of beauty. I have since shown the refurbished gun to my two adult sons and told them of its history, informing them that one day one of them will own it when I’m gone. I’m leaving it up to them to decide who it will be.
If you don’t yet own a Remington Model 870 pump…buy one, new or used. Their reputation for versatility and reliability—as proven worldwide for 67 years by hunters, target shooters, home-defense enthusiasts, law-enforcement officers and military personnel—is second to none. Remington 870s may not be the fanciest shotguns on the market today, but you’ll never regret buying one. I never have…