The Good Pump Action Shotgun

By Randy Wakeman

Remington Model 870
Remington Model 870 Wingmaster. Illustration courtesy of Remington Arms Co.

It is hard to call the slide action shotgun under rated, for the pump action is the most popular shotgun action in the United States, selling more units than all other actions combined. Long gone are the days of the Winchester Model 1897, my Dad's first shotgun that he bought with his paper-route money. Also gone are the well-machined Remington Model 31 (the "ball bearing action") and the Winchester Model 12 ("The Perfect Repeater").

The pump action doesn't get as much respect as autoloaders, for although some will spend $2000 or more for an autoloader, most would not consider that investment in a pump gun. However, a slide action can cost as much to make (or far more in the case of the Model 12) than a lot of autoloaders and it is more reliable than any of them. Shell intensity has little to do with the proper function of a pump gun.

It doesn't cost a nickel less to properly finish a pump gun, whether it is to stock it, blue it, machine a rib, build a receiver, supply choke tubes, produce a decent trigger and so forth. It doesn't seem rational that two thousand dollars can be tolerable for an autoloader, yet a thousand dollars is viewed as too much for a slide action, but that is how many folks feel.

Benelli Nova / Super Nova

Although crude looking and with heavy triggers, the Nova and Super Nova shotguns have proven to be ridiculously tough. They almost take themselves apart for cleaning. They aren't a vision of refinement, but they are a working man's type of shotgun. As such, they are good guns.

Browning BPS / Ithaca Model 37

Originally a Remington 20 gauge, made with John Browning and Pederson patents, the Remington Model 17 later became the Ithaca Model 37 and the Browning BPS. As a bottom eject gun with a steel receiver, you won't bean your buddy when ejecting a shell and you won't get gas in the face from an opening breech, either.

The bottom eject design means the action is ambidextrous and snow, rain, or general gunk isn't going to drop into the action. When fast follow-up shots are desired in a slug gun, the Ithaca M37 Deerslayer fills the bill.

Today, the Ithaca M37 is produced in Ohio, USA and the Browning BPS is made in Japan by Miroku. Both are well made and certainly rank as good guns.

Mossberg Model 500

The Mossberg family is proud of their commitment to offering affordable guns to the consumer, with no apologies. The alloy receiver Mossberg 500 has sold over 10,000,000 units since its 1961 introduction and Mossberg offers more variations of the 500 platform than just about any shotgun made today. Their Flex system makes customization effortless and there are more youth models from Mossberg than from any other manufacturer. The Model 500 is a good pump gun and an extremely good buy for the money.

Remington Model 870 Wingmaster

Introduced in 1951, the Remington 870 is the best selling shotgun in the history of the world, hitting 12,000,000 units sold. A Remington 870 Wingmaster is a good gun by most anyone's standards and the action is very slick. If there is one stock design that seems to fit more shooters than anything else, it is likely the Remington 870 Wingmaster.

Specific Preferences

Among pump action slug guns, the Ithaca 20 gauge Deerslayer II is a standout. Their rifle-sighted TurkeySlayer models are also excellent.

My personal preference is for the trigger guard cross-bolt safety of the Remington 870 and Ithaca M37. However, the 10,000,000+ people who have purchased Mossberg shotguns, as well as double gun shooters everywhere, will disagree, preferring a top tang safety.

The Mossberg top tang safeties tend to be a bit too stiff for my taste. However, that can be fixed and a metal safety slider can be added.

The Browning BPS safety is too flush to give me good purchase and, as usual with current Browning repeaters, the trigger is excessively heavy. Generally speaking, the factory Invector Plus choke tubes are poor performers, but good aftermarket choke tubes abound.

The Browning BPS is unique in that it is offered in all gauges. These include 10 gauge, 12 gauge, 16 gauge, 20 gauge, 28 gauge and .410 bore. The 10 gauge is a monster of a pump gun, weighing in at almost 11 pounds. It doesn't kick excessively, because it is one exceedingly heavy shotgun.

The walnut stocked, polished and blued Remington 870 Wingmaster is a substantially better shotgun than the cheaper 870 Express models. The Wingmaster comes with a vibra-honed receiver, machined extractors and ejectors, aluminum trigger group, metal trigger guard, old style magazine retention system, polished bore, chrome plated bolt, one-piece barrel, gloss stock finish with cleaner checkering, no use of MIM parts, smoother finish inside and out (essentially no machine marks or burrs) and additional quality control. The choice between Wingmaster and Express models depends on if you just care about "how much" or are more interested in "how good."

The most commonly overlooked component of pump actions is the forearm. Rather than just a holding fixture, in a pump gun the forearm becomes a critical action part. The placement of the forearm, its size and shape, how it fits your hand, how easy it is to grip and so forth can make all the difference between a pump that intuitively shucks itself and a gun you have to struggle with to operate. There is no right or wrong to this, it is just a matter of what is right for you.


Manufacturers have been forced to lower their standards by the consumer; if it doesn't make dollars it doesn't make sense. Pumps tend to get shopped to death, more than any other shotgun action.

At one time, the old H&R Topper single shot, as well as Marlin and Mossberg bolt action shotguns, sold well on the basis of low initial cost. Cheap Chinese and Turkish pumps have almost eliminated these types of guns from the marketplace. Even the Browning/Herstal Group, not generally known for sourcing inexpensive guns, has caved-in with the Turkish made Winchester SXP. Like everything else, though, the gun you have to buy twice is no bargain.

If you are hard to fit, want accessories, youth stocks and/or the widest variety of different configurations and combination barrel sets on the planet, be sure to consider Mossberg and check out their Flex line of slide actions.

For steel receivers, a higher grade of finish and higher aesthetic value, consider the Remington Model 870 Wingmaster, walnut stocked Browning BPS models and the Ithaca M37 Featherlight. These can be considered lifetime guns. For many people, they have been just that.

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Copyright 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.