A Look at Pump Shotguns

By Randy Wakeman

Slide-action shotguns have their appeal, today that being primarily low cost and perceived reliability. Over the last forty years, I've owned a parade of pump-guns, from Model 12's, Ithaca Model 37s, High-Standard Flite-King models, both old and current production Remington 870's, Winchester 1200 and 1300s, Mossberg 500 and 835's, and Browning BPS models.

It is largely a commodity, chain-store market these days, with few consumers apparently willing to pay for fit and finish on a pump-gun. That seems part of the reason Remington Model 31s and Winchester Model 12s have vanished from the new gun scene, and the top-selling models have been crate-wood black painted utilitarian models. All shotguns shoot the same basic shells, though, and whether you are swinging an 870 Express or a Perazzi, no pheasant can live on the difference.

A pump-action gets you into a repeating shotgun at low initial cost, and when training new shooters it is easy to control the situation with "one shot loaded at a time" range work. Range officers appreciate guns that can be broken open, or in the case of a pump-the forearm is clearly against the receiver. Like all shotguns, fit is so very important as we swing and point, rather than aim.

Some of the notions of pump shotguns are peculiar, such as the noise of shucking scaring off home intruders. Far too much comic book reading, it is one way to tell your "invader" your location. How else would he find you in the dark? As far as reliability, it is very hard to get a Citori to jam, and even harder to short-shuck it.

Like any firearm, people get attached to them just because they happen to own a particular brand or model; that seems to be a constant. My last few Ithaca's had very poor fit and finish, horrid triggers, and liked to unload themselves will trying to chamber a second round. The last few Winchester 1300's had triggers far heavier than the guns themselves, and can only be described as remarkably unremarkable.

The last several Mossberg 500s were adequate for light duty, but after a short while the plastic thumb safeties went flying. I've not had any function problems with the Benelli Novas, but they are rattletraps even for pump-guns. If I'm pointing a picture of guns build to a price point rather than a quality level it is quite intentional.

Not much is readily available that instills pride of ownership or lasting value in this commodity-level market in my view, but that is only one person's opinion. Though the company itself appears to be in a state of decay, the easy and obvious choice in pumpland for me today remains the Remington 870. The design is proven, and the steel receiver still allows it to swing well.

In fact, the only pump gun that gets used regularly by me is a recent production Remington 870 16 gauge Wingmaster. There is no advantage to it over a 12 gauge, in fact the 16 gauge is slightly heavier, but over the years I've taken more birds with standard weight 870 20 gauges, 20 mags, and various solid chokes 870s than any other pump gun. My example has the integral lockable safety, while irritating to my delicate sensibilities, is not in the way of anything.

In the duck blind the 870 has few equals, and once you get used to pumping, fast enough is fast enough. Pump guns in general have been made obsolescent by semi-autos these days. The latter can offer less recoil, good reliability, and low maintenance (depending on the model). But, the 870 remains an American classic, one of the most wildly successful firearms of all time, and it supported by enough after market product to become whatever you'd like it to be.

Debuting back in 1950, it is regarded by many as the only remaining American made pump action of any significance. I really can't disagree, and I hope it continues for another 56 years. It is the first choice to consider if on a budget, or if you just like to pump.

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Copyright 2006 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.