The Remington Model 870 Wingmaster

By Chuck Hawks

Remington Model 870
Illustration courtesy of Remington Arms Co.

The Remington Model 870 Wingmaster pump gun is probably the best known shotgun in North America. According to Remington, it is the best selling shotgun ever designed and they are in a position to know.

The Model 870 was introduced in 1950, replacing the Model 31. The Model 870 was designed to lower production costs, primarily by using stamped steel parts in place of many formerly forged and machined parts. This made the gun more profitable to sell. The 870 action was simple and durable and, due to its twin action bars, non-binding and very smooth to operate. It was also a sleek, good looking gun with a streamlined receiver and a smooth walnut stock. The catchy "Wingmaster" name just seemed right.

This gave Remington a marketing advantage over arch rival Winchester's famous Model 12 pump gun, which was expensive to produce and sell and not as smooth in operation. The Wingmaster was successful, and over the next decade its sales and profits climbed, while Winchester's profits lagged. In 1964 Winchester was forced to introduce the dramatically cheaper Model 1200 pump gun to compete with the 870, phasing out their Model 12.

For Winchester it was too little and too late. The Wingmaster had taken over the market and Winchester has never been able to catch up. It helped the 870's cause that Remington had put the stamped parts inside the gun where they could not be seen and retained a milled steel receiver. Winchester went to an anodized aluminum receiver, obviously of lower strength and quality. In the 1950's and 1960's shooters still cared about what their guns were made of and aluminum receivers were definitely not "in."

It also helped that the Model 870 was a smoother operating and better looking gun that had already earned a reputation for excellent reliability. In fact, it had come to be called "the ball bearing pump" because it operated so smoothly. In any case, the Wingmaster has dominated the pump gun market for decades.

Today there are myriad's of 870 variations for virtually every conceivable shotgun purpose. If I counted correctly, the 2012 Remington catalog lists some 35 Wingmaster variants. These range from the Model 870 Classic Trap with its high polished blue metal finish and semi-fancy walnut stock to utterly utilitarian guns with black plastic stocks and dull black metal finish.

Available gauges include 12, 20, 28 and .410 bore. Barrel lengths range from 30" down to 18" depending on model and purpose. There are plain and ventilated rib barrels, with various sorts of sights. Most barrels come with interchangeable Rem Choke tubes of one type or another, but a few are still bored and some are rifled.

Barrels are user interchangeable. Open the action and unscrew the magazine cap to remove the barrel. Remington offers accessory barrels of various types in lengths from 20" to 30".

Stock materials include (from top to bottom) semi-fancy walnut, standard grade walnut, hardwood, and synthetic (plastic). Stock finishes include high gloss, satin, flat, black matte and camo. One thing they all have in common is that they fit the great majority of shooters pretty well.

Here are the specifications for a classic 12 gauge 870 Wingmaster field gun, taken from the 2012 Remington catalog: Capacity 4+1 (furnished with a 3-shot plug); Barrel length 30", 28", or 26"; Barrel type Light contour, vent rib, Rem Choke; Sights Twin bead; Metal finish High polish blue; Overall length 48.5" (28" brl.); Stock American walnut; Stock finish Hi-gloss; Length of pull 14.25"; drop at comb 1.5"; Drop at heel 2.5"; Average weight 7 pounds (28" brl.); Order No. 25055 (28" brl.).

The Wingmaster specifically reviewed in this article is a 12 gauge field gun with a 30" barrel bored modified. This is a classic 870 duck gun. It sports a gloss finished walnut stock and polished blue metal parts. The machine cut checkering is both extensive and attractive. Fit and finish are good.

Like all 870's, the safety is a button located in the rear of the trigger guard bow. The release that allows the action to be opened without pulling the trigger is located at the front of the trigger guard.

This gun shoots to point of aim and patterns average around 60% with typical 2 3/4" high brass field loads containing #6 lead shot. I prefer barrels with bored chokes to barrels with interchangeable choke tubes when I can find them, as I have found that they generally pattern more evenly. This barrel proved the rule with patterns that showed a nice even distribution of shot.

I have used this gun to hunt waterfowl and to shoot an occasional round of trap. It does a great job of killing ducks if I do my part, and it will break clay pigeons with authority. However, like any field gun, its stock is dimensioned to shoot to point of aim, and trap stocks should be designed to shoot high. (Trap targets are always rising.) My scores at the trap range with the 870 field gun are consistently lower than with a real trap gun. This is true of any field gun and not a criticism of the Wingmaster.

I once did place third (about 20 years ago) in a "skeet" shoot on a small cruise ship using a borrowed 870 field gun. It was pretty rough and the ship was pitching unpredictably, which made for an interesting shoot. That gun's stock had been shortened for use by a lady and it purely beat hell out of my face. It would drive my thumb into my cheek with every shot, until finally my cheek was bleeding. However, it would still break targets if I could avoid flinching. If that gun had a standard length stock I would probably have taken second place. No way could I have won; the first place finisher was a retired Winchester pro and a far better shot than anyone else onboard.

The Wingmaster has always had a reputation for reliability and the specific example reviewed here is no exception. No malfunction has ever been experienced in years of what I would call normal use.

To summarize, the Model 870 Wingmaster is a good looking, reliable and very smooth pump gun. It features twin action bars and a receiver machined from a solid block of steel. There is a great assortment of barrels available at low cost, which adds to the gun's versatility. It remains the most popular slide action shotgun in the world, with over 10,000,000 sold.

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Copyright 2004, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.