Remington 870 Shotgun’s Many Faces

By Tom McHale

Remington 870 Wingmaster Shotgun
Remington 870 Wingmaster Shotgun
Remington 870 American Classic Model
Remington 870 American Classic Model
Tom McHale headshot low-res square
Tom McHale

USA -(Ammoland.com)- 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 1950 Models. Image: Remingtonsociety.com
Remington 870 1950 Models. Image: Remingtonsociety.com

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
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
Remington Model 31 Slide Action Shotgun **

When a design is good from the start, a long run of success is in order. In the case of the Remington 870 family, millions and millions have been served, literally speaking.

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.

Remington 870 Marine Model Shotgun
Remington 870 Marine Model Shotgun

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
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 shotgun
A United States Marine aims a Remington 870 Mk1 magnum shotgun Photo : US Department Of Defence

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.

The Remington 870 Shotgun Wingmaster Trap Model
The Remington 870 Shotgun Wingmaster Trap Model.

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 catalog.

Remington 870 Shotgun Express Tactical Magpul FDE
Remington 870 Shotgun 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.

Remington 870 Express ShurShot Synthetic Turkey Shotgun
Remington 870 Express ShurShot Synthetic Turkey 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+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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  • 28 thoughts on “Remington 870 Shotgun’s Many Faces

    1. I use mine for home defense and hunting I just take off the short barrel and mag extension out for the long and put the old solid steel plus that uses a screw to release. I love it

    2. Remington 870 is my favorite shotgun. It is my home defense gun. 870 is reliable, easy to customuze and easy to use.

    3. Remington 870 is my favourite shotgun. There are tons of accessories for the 870. It is easy to customize it for any purpose: home defense, tactical, competition or hunting.

    4. Great article.Had no idea of the amount sold! Here’s my story on my son’s 870. About ten years ago I happened by my favorite gun store here in Renton,WA. While there the store owner asked me if I was interested in an 870 20 ga. for my son who was only 10 yrs.,but interested in shooting,etc.(he took the NRA gun safety course) The owner showed the gun.It was still in the original shipping box with “hang tags”, and instruction booklet. The previous owner had just passed away and his widow brought several guns to the shop to be sold.The 870 looked like it had never been fired and it was in perfect condition. It was purchased in 1950 the same year they were introduced.The bluing is genuine and looks to be an inch thick!The stock does not have a mark or blemish on it. There are no stamped or plastic parts on it. Now that I learned more about the gun I am impressed. It really is an heirloom and will be passed on . I’ve owned some Win. Model 12’s that make people drool,but they really don’t come up to the 870. ( now my pre ’64 model 70s are a different story!)

    5. I like the 870 a lot, but I have seen them fail. Weak points are the welds of the action bars on the forend tube. In standard configs, they hold up well. Start adding on bulky tactical forearms with built in flashlights and rails and lasers, and the weight is more than the welds can bear in vigorous “shucking.” I have see the action bars separate from the tube in these configurations. The Express is dull, lifeless, and cheap looking. Give me a Remington made before the DuPont departure and you have a winner.

    6. Hello Tom,
      I live in England in the United Kingdom, and was born in 1950 so the Remington Wingmaster is very special to me.
      Back in the early 1990,s I owned a Winchester Model 42 .410 gauge Skeet gun, I exchanged that gun for a 1989 Remington 870 Wingmaster .410 gauge Skeet gun, and have never regretted that decision. I prefer the double cocking bars of the Remington as opposed to the single cocking bar of the Winchester. Also the Remington had lovely figured walnut, and the Winchester was a plain Jane. The Winchester had a straight hand stock, although I preferred the Remington pistol-grip. Great article.

      Mike Pink

    7. I’m thinkin you guys are right that’s no 870 but isn’t it a model 31 I have 15 870’s and #’s goin up have every gauge old to new wingmasters,express’s,SP’s,XCS’s,sportmans’s I see walmart has hardwood stocked express birch I think not the laminate ones just came out again don’t if its exclusive called Remington the lady couldn’t tell me anything if they dropped laminate wood , but I bought one, didn’t shoot at poi, patterned it shot left with everything I sutffed in it. Used multiple chokes off hand and from rest same results wasn’t worth it to send to Remington I sold it told buyer of problem going to by another one but prob. not from walmart never did like the laminate ones but there a lot stronger stock I guess. there not the only gun but I started hunting with an 870 16 ga. it was my fathers Still have it . just a redneck you can tell by my writing, but I love to follow my bird dogs after pheasants join the NRA there not always right but there right now! go buy more 870’s people need the work take care

    8. I don’t have an Ithaca, but do have the identical police version model 31 pictured in the article. The corncob forend photo is taken of the same Model 31 that’s in the photo above – look closely. I have several 870s, generally like them better when they are early (better finish) production. A non-checkered, walnut stocked polished blue 870 with plain (no ruffles and flourishes on the) receiver and walnut corncob forend is a thing of beauty. The model 31 guns didn’t have the high polish and hot blue the late fifties to mid sixties 870s had, but are probably higher quality (more machined and hand fitted parts), but less versatile (fewer barrels available) than the 870.

      Tom, you must work in the software industry – using terms like ‘use case’ and ARPANET 🙂

    9. Dear Tom, Can I have a good picture of Remington 870, say, the ten millionth? What do you mean when you say it can swap out 870 barrels? Thanks.

    10. Mike Laird is right. The firearm shown on the model 37 is on an Ithaca and not a Remington. I have three model 37’s and have also three 870 Remington’s and one Model 878 Remington Pump along with my other guns.

      I love Remington’s, Ithaca’s and Marlin Lever actions as well as most all guns. I even have a couple of the old Saturday Night special el-cheapo’s from out of the past. One good thing about growing up in the 40’s thru 60’s, you could buy any thing you might want for cheap prices. As a young boy of 16, I bought new surplus military rifles w/ammo for as low as $15.00 each off the back cover and inside pages of SPORTS AFIELD, FIELD & STREAM, OUTDOOR LIFE and others.
      I worked in a seafood house where I grew up and cleared about $45.00 a week and most of it was spent buying guns and ammo. At one point, I owned over two hundred guns of various description. My very best buy was a 20 ga. beautiful Parker double barrel for $20.00. I love It!
      I wish We Were in those times again!
      I took Machine Shop in high school and was allowed to bring guns in and work on them with nothing said about it .
      “Now, It is almost a prison offense!
      Later Folks and I do enjoy these articles!

      “THANKS A MILLION!!!”
      Jim

    11. I must say that the Winchester that is being sold today cannot hold a candle to the quality of the same model even 10 years ago.
      I bought myself and my son Remington Wing Master’s in 1997…..A truly.fine weapon that have never failed either of us.I have them set up with rifled slug barrels for deer hunting up here in Michigan or we just pop in our smooth bore barrels for small game and birds.
      The gun with a rifled barrel has helped us kill big white tails out to 150 yards..
      I am so sorry to watch Winchester , Remington and even Marlin drop their quality that when I went shopping for shotguns for my Grand sons after taking each model to the range I returned them…..Not one of these new models are close to the quality of what we used to consider a cheap gun the Mossburg…..You are using stamped parts and overall cheap non caring labor.
      I am afraid you will all put yourself our of business if you continue on……..

    12. I bought my Remington 870 16 gauge around 1955 with money I made on my paper Route,I had it on lay away & paid on it each week until it was paid off. I might have bought it from Montgomery wards or a Hardware store in Houghton MI. I used it to go grouse hunting & duck 7 goose hunting . I was on the shore of lake Superior and saw a flight of geese landing @ dusk ,I shot 2 out of the sky , one swam away and the other one was 20 feet from shore , I had no boat so I took all my clothes off and swam for it ,in ice cold Lake Superior , it was a blue goose ,I had never seen one before, but my dad cooked it up . After 4 years in the navy I moved to Milwaukee and hunted Pheasant & ducks. I haven’t used it in 30 years and have never took the trigger group out . I just cleaned it from the barrel. I learned a lot watching this video . I am now 75 and will have to shoot it again.

      1. Mike:
        F.Y.I. // Take a better look at the corncob forend, I am sure that you will find that it is absolutely NOT an Ithaca 37.

    13. I remember growing up my 2 brothers, father and myself share a shotgun on our family farm & ranch for pheasant and quail hunting. We had a single shot 20 gauge to start out with as a youngster and 12 gauge 870 for when you got teenager. We also have a 30-06 Remington rifle too for Deer hunting.

    14. I just love your articles Tom. I look forword to everyone. They are all well researched, informative and vey entertaining! How about writing a similar article on the Mossberg 500?

    15. When I re-engaged with shooting sports at age 65, working with 4H youth, my first gun was an 870
      Wingmaster. My students could work the action more efficiently that my old arms. That was 12 years ago and I am now torn between converting that beauty into SB, pistol grip for home defense or just buying a Mossberg dedicated home defense gun in 12 ga.

    16. What happened the day in america we took care of our own first.we use to have a back bone now we have greedy politicians.

    17. The 870 was featured in the 1951 Gun Digest, copyrighted in 1950. In his round-up of then-current rifles and shotguns, General Hatcher specifically mentioned that Remington introduced the new design early in 1950.

      1. Thank you! Yet another piece of evidence that 1950 was the right year! I wonder if that issue of Gun Digest is collectible as a result?

        1. I , also was born in 1950…and I bought my 1st 870, at 12 yrs old…from a farm store..for in 1962 for $80.00, and still have it and several others, that I’ve acquired..for my Son and Grand kids…I’m a avid trap shooter…AA Class…and love shooting pheasants/quail here in Kansas…Remington will always be my Gun Case. ( right beside my Citori’s and Seitz )……Remington is still a Great Gun…but they have cheapened up a lot of them…but not the 870 Trap Grade…it’s still a Great Shooter……

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