The Far-flung Model 870

Far Flung Model 870
Illustration by Gordon Allen.

 This morning I solved a 60-year-old mystery with one 10-minute phone call. I long had wondered when my Remington 870 Wingmaster had been made, and now I know—1954—thanks to Pete Arden, a Remington technical consumer rep who researched the serial number. Nineteen fifty-four was the fourth year of production for America’s—and the world’s—most popular scattergun, with more than 11 million manufactured to date. 

No shotgun has traveled farther or to more places. The venerable 870 pump and its many styles are relied upon throughout the world by hunters and shooters, police and SWAT teams, home defenders and military personnel from Brazil to Bangladesh. This gun is the firearms maker’s answer to Henry Ford’s Model T: ubiquitous, dependable and cheap. You can buy an 870 new from Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s for as little as $350, or you can have a knockoff for half that. 

Available in 12, 16, 20 and 28 gauge, the 870 is legendary for its durability, reliability, accuracy and ease of use. None of this, however, mattered to my frustrated uncle who sold me his 12-gauge 870 after angrily throwing it away in the duck marsh when he ran out of shells without ruffling a feather. That incident occurred in 1959, when I was a 14-year-old first-time duck hunter. I waded out from our blind, retrieved the empty, mud-plugged gun, and handed it back. 

“You can have the damn thing!” he fumed. “For 50 bucks.”

Money saved from an after-school job at the local grocery store allowed the purchase just in time for Christmas. Uncle never touched the gun again, and I know now why it was anathema in his hands. He was a smaller man—about 5 feet 6 inches tall—and weighed maybe 150 pounds. The used gun he’d bought was the Magnum model, which ate 3" shells and came with a Full-choke 30-inch barrel and thick recoil pad. It was a ton of gun for someone who bought his shirts (also unfitted) in size Small. 

Yes, weight was another issue. According to my postal scale, the gun (empty) sinks the needle to 7 pounds 3 ounces. Probably to lessen recoil, the original owner had added a 14½-ounce steel plug to the magazine (early 870s came with wooden dowels). The added weight brought Uncle’s loaded duck piece to nearly 8½ pounds—a burden to heft, swing and pass through a 60-mph target. 

I used the gun for upland hunting until I was in my mid-30s, when I switched to smaller and lighter double guns and finally settled on the 28 bore. My late uncle and his old 870 are resting now—in memory and the gun cabinet, respectively.   

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