Remington 870 Pump-Action Shotgun: A Hard Working Classic

Pump-action 12 gauge shotgun isolated on white

Whenever I inspect a shotgun, I take in everything from the recoil pad to the choke tube. Why? Because shotguns are fired mainly by feel. This means ergonomics and handling are crucial.

The Remington 870 is a rugged and reliable shotgun. It also has a fit and feel that other pump-action shotguns can only try to emulate.

A Case for the Remington 870

The 870 will take game birds, deer-sized game, rabbit, squirrel, wild boar, and defend your life and home. The shotgun has an enviable police and military record. As a doorbuster, alley clearer, and all-around projectile launcher, there is nothing quite like the Remington 870. And, while all my 870s are of the 12 gauge variety, the shotgun has been manufactured in .410 bore, 16 gauge, and the lovely, light, and fast-handling 20 gauge.

Remington shotgun with wood furniture and xs sight magazine extension.
This is a well-worn, but reliable, Remington 870. Note vent barrel and XS sights magazine extension.

I have spent a good bit of time training folks on the proper use of the semi-automatic shotgun. In that same time or less, those shooters could have been up and shooting the pump-action 870. The shotgun is simple to load, operate, and maintain.

During my entire time in uniform, and with quite a few High Standard, Mossberg, and Winchester shotguns on hand, I saw more than a few shotguns with loose pins and broken springs. With the 870, I have seen exactly one failure — and that was the trigger-reset spring in a used-and-abused example.

Folks don’t realize it these days, but quite a few pump-action shotguns were not ‘breakdown types.’ That is to say, the barrel wasn’t easily removable. You really need a gunsmith to change the barrel properly.

Shotgun Barrel Selection

The Remington 12 gauge barrel is easily changed in a few seconds. You may quickly swap between a turkey, slug, or a relatively short, home-defense barrel. With a middle-of-the-road barrel length, and a good set of choke tubes, you may use also elect to use one shotgun for a host of different roles.

Author’s Tip: Add the XS sights magazine extension to add two shells to the magazine’s capacity. Unlike many of the plastic types, the XS unit is well made and robust.

young lady holding a pump-action shotgun next to paper target with a dirt berm in the background
Young shooters are up and running only requiring a minimal amount of instruction, in some cases, with the pump-action Remington 870.

Why the 870 Over Other Shotguns

While some may prefer other types of shotguns, I would suggest new shooters look to the Remington 870. If you later find you are limited in some manner, then you may choose another shotgun. However, it is more likely the 870 will prove a lifetime companion.

The Remington 870 has been affordable, with a reasonable price considering its quality. There have been price increases, but the shotgun remains an affordable option. Fit and finish are good — even among the price leaders and police-issue firearms.

The Remington 870 isn’t modular, and it wasn’t designed to be. Just the same, it is quite easy to change the stock and forend to make any 870 a ‘more tactical’ shotgun. AR-15-type butt stocks may also be added. Stand-off devices and muzzle brakes are easily fitted.

Several types of choke, including the TruLok, are useful for increasing the 870’s versatility. And don’t forget, the barrel swaps out easily. I am sometimes fond of saying, “I am glad there are so many choices in firearms.” After all, few firearms suit every shooter well. That being said, the Remington 870 is an exception.

The orange magazine follower
The modern 870 features a bright-orange magazine follower. This is a visual indicator to ensure the magazine is empty. However, it does not mean the shotgun is unloaded!

The Remington is a go-anywhere, do-anything shotgun that most any shooter will find well suited to hunting, personal defense and for those willing to raise the bar, skeet, or trap.

The 870’s versatility is surprising to many when they first learn the shotgun was originally introduced in 1950. It has been in continuous production since. During the 1990s, the shotgun passed 7 million units produced. The figure is more than 10 million today.

The 870 shotgun was designed for ease of manufacture and parts interchangeability. The 870 features twin action arms. Many successful and robust shotguns used single action bars, but the Remington set a standard for twin bars.


In police service and training, shotguns are used hard and the action is slammed a lot. Single rails may bind and bend. The Remington doesn’t bind or bend — in my experience. The Remington 870’s steel, locking lug is widely regarded as the strongest in the industry.

There are different types of stocks, including nicely checkered, plain wood, and synthetic stocks. Synthetic stocks are immune to extremes of temperature. Some Remington 870 shotguns have a beautiful blue finish, others feature a matte finish.

bob campbell shooting a Remington shotgun with a spent hull in the air and smoke emitting from the ejection port
The Remington 870 may be counted on for reliability and fast handling.

Whatever the type of shotgun and the expense, the action, lockup, and trigger can be counted on to be true to the same rugged 870 reputation that has made this model legendary. The 870 is a world standard and among the firearms that every serious shooter must own.

Operating the Remington 870 Shotgun

The action is locked when the shotgun is cocked. There is a small release near the trigger guard to release the bolt. Move the bolt to the rear with the forend, close the action, and load the magazine. Actuate the bolt release, and load the chamber by racking the bolt with the forend.

If desired, you may top off the magazine too. When you fire the shotgun, the bolt is released and may be racked to the rear. A spent shell is ejected and another is loaded. It is as simple as that.

Are you a Remington 870 fan? Do you prefer pumps or semi-autos? Share your answers or favorite shotguns in the comment section.

  • Shooting a pump-action shotgun loaded with slugs at a paper target 50 yards away
  • The orange magazine follower
  • bob campbell at an outdoor range shooting a remington 870 pump-action shotgun
  • bob campbell shooting a Remington shotgun with a spent hull in the air and smoke emitting from the ejection port
  • Remington shotgun with wood furniture and xs sight magazine extension.
  • young lady holding a pump-action shotgun next to paper target with a dirt berm in the background

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (8)

  1. I used to work for a state agency, part of my duties were being a 2nd armorer, an RSO, and qualifying instructor… we had the 870. They were maintained reasonably well and even with all the range time with rookies and requal folks who basically only handled them once a year the 870 held up like a champ. Hard to beat. I don’t own one but I do own the H&R 1871 Pardner Pump clone. Fitted a 6 position AR style stock, Eagle fore end, UTG heat shield and ghost ring sights, and a Streamlight underbarrel light. Barrel has been shortened to 18.5″ in cylinder bore. It’s heavy but just as reliable and at the time was only $189… No, it’s not an 870 exactly but it’s pretty darn close and well worth it if you ever have trouble finding a real 870 for a decent price.

  2. Enjoyed the article a lot!! Brings back memories of my Iwo Jima survivor, now gone Dad.
    Have his 1950’s 12ga 870, just refinished the hand checked stock after removing scarred varnish & stain…beautiful gun. 28” full choke plus an 18” cylinder bore. My first gun, a 1960’s used 20 ga 870. (2 lbs lighter) modified choke lesser quality stock also now refinished, has killed it’s share of Pheasant, Chuckar and Grouse. Not wanting to destroy Dad’s 12ga. Bought a Mossberg 500 synthetic 18” while a deputy after they took our 870’s out of service. All three are great weapons. The Mossberg now sports an adjustable pistol grip stock for the farm security…that I hope never has to be used.

  3. I’ve got both the 870 and the Mossberg 500. Both of these shotguns have served me well over the years. I don’t have a favorite between them. Which ever one comes out of the “Gun Vault” first is the one I like best.

  4. The 870 wingmaster I bought in 1970 is everything mentioned in the article, so is the wingmaster youth I bought in 1999 th instruct scouts. However the 870 express guns we use at scout camp do not hold up, even when they get maintained properly. They jam, something neither of my wingmasters has ever done, and we cannot find a gunsmith to fix them. I believe they went to stamped parts in the express line and their quality perished. I saw and article that stated that the new company making them will make them the most inspected guns on the market, I hope that that is true, but I wish I hadn’t told many to buy 870 express due to the price and what I thought was reliability.

  5. Some of the parts between the 870 and 7600 also interchange.No lefthanded 7600,but safeties may[or not]be reversed.Wish Remington’s factory assemblers wouldn’t over torque the rear sight.

  6. Note that the Mossberg 500 also has a large following, as it has a tang safety, and is “Lefty” friendly. While my Father was an early user of REMENIGTON the 870, he also had a first year model 760 in .300 Savage. Early on, the combo of 870 shotgun and 760 rifle was popular. For many folks with a limited budget, once both the 870 and 7600 are back in production, this is still an ideal combo. Only question is: What caliber for the 7600??? YES – For most folks, the 760/7600 rifles are more that accurate enough for hunting in North America.

  7. Very well said, thank you for highlighting my favorite shotgun.i have won many matches in local Turkey Shoots, outgunning many competitors with their much more expensive shotguns.

    I love this shotgun, it’s reliable, accurate and fun.

  8. Yes the 870 has infrequently been offered in a left hand version-infrequently but the safety is a crossbolt and therefore unwieldy to gloved hands.Additionally when Remington offered a parkarized slug barrel version,the interior barrel dimensions were sloppy-one had to foul the barrel to get any degree of accuracy.One also has to peen or grind off the dimple in the magazine tube,in order to successfully use magazine extension.Been there on all of these issues.Sturdy as the 870 is,I’ve gone over to Mossberg pump shotguns

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