The Remington 870 pump-action shotgun has been one of America’s top-selling shotguns for more than sixty years. According to the latest information published on Remington’s website, the company has now produced more than 11 million 870 series shotguns, which makes it hands down the top manufactured shotgun of all time. It is quite possible that every person that is reading this article either owns an 870, or knows someone that does.
Since their introduction, the 870 series have provided a wide variety of options for gun owners. In fact, in their very first year, consumers had fifteen different 870’s to choose from. Since then Remington has continued to meet many shooters' specific needs with a variation of the Model 870 shotgun. There have now been so many configurations offered in all gauges (with the exception of a 10 gauge) that the 870 series have earned their very own unique niche among gun collectors. In this year's catalog, Remington has 30 available styles, and a gun can be found for just about any purpose. Options range from the classic American Walnut 870 Wingmaster to the Synthetic 870 Express Tactical.
The loyal shooters of these shotguns value them for several reasons. First and foremost they are an American made workhorse that is ready to tackle any challenge. They have a durable, solid block of steel receiver and a smooth, reliable action. The 870 series of shotguns were the pioneers of the dual action bars, and have set the industry standard for what consumers should expect in the functionality of a pump action gun.
The 870 was first offered to the public in 1950, and came after several other Remington shotguns had fallen short of overtaking the mighty Winchester Model 12 as the top-selling pump-action. The models 10, 17, 29 and 31 all had come and gone as Remington’s primary pump shotgun offerings, despite the fact that all four of these were built from the inventions of either John M. Browning or John Pederson. In the case of the Model 17, it was a combination of both designers. They could not outsell T.C. Johnson’s great Winchester Model 12, which coincidentally was also based on John M. Browning’s 1893/1897-shotgun design.
In the years leading up to the 870’s release, Remington began incorporating techniques that would help lower production costs and streamline the assembly process. Their 1148 autoloader, which was introduced a year earlier was the first of Remington’s guns to be built with stamped steel parts. Utilizing this technique for non-critical components enabled the parts to be interchanged without being fitted by a gunsmith. Despite the different actions of the 870 and 1148 they did have several of these parts in common.
The 870 Wingmaster introduction would mark a new era for the pump shotgun market, because it offered consumers a choice in style and function right from the start. Leaving no shooter’s needs untargeted, Remington chambered the 870 in 12, 16, and 20-gauge. They offered a number of quality options that included standard grade, deluxe grade, and premium grade. There were shotguns built specifically for trap, skeet, tournament. In addition, Remington offered the riot version with a 20-inch barrel to appeal to the military and law enforcement. The strategy of building a specific gun for every possible function the pump shotgun consumer could possibly want paid off for Remington. Eventually the more affordable shotgun series would rise to the top, and Winchester would send their costly Model 12 into retirement.
With the momentum of their success driving them forward, Remington kept creating variations of the 870. They introduced a 12-gauge 3” Magnum version in 1954 and by 1960 they were shipping nearly forty thousand of the short barreled riot style guns chambered for the longer shells to the U.S. Military for use in Vietnam.
Though it seemed Remington had cornered the market and unseated an industry giant, it wouldn’t be long before a far more formidable competitor would emerge. One that would work hard to keep pace with the offerings of Remington and at times even surpass their creativity. The Mossberg 500 featured a lightweight aluminum receiver, ambidextrous safety, and lower price point than the 870. However, Remington did temporarily hold the patent on the one feature that kept Mossberg from truly competing with the functionality of their shotguns, the dual action bars.
By 1966 Remington had already sold one million of the 870 series shotguns, which provided them with a comfortable market share before their patent on the dual action bars expired in 1970. Mossberg would go on to incorporate the sturdier action as soon as they could, and since then, they have been Remington’s number one competitor. The two manufacturers have dominated the pump shotgun market for decades. Remington of course held, and still holds a considerable lead in both overall production and sales.
This unspoken rivalry perhaps kept the two companies motivated to create guns that could appeal to everyone. For example, in 1971 Remington offered a left-handed shotgun to compete with the Mossberg’s ambidextrous attraction. Over the years both manufacturers have developed variations in rebuttal to what the other gun maker did. More recently they have both introduced detachable magazine versions, short-stocked defense guns, and systems that make their shotguns more versatile. But the bottom line of it all remains that the Remington 870 is the top dog based on the numbers.
Now, we could continue to go on and on with each and every accolade, or introduction of an 870 variation that has come out over the years, but for the sake of space we have decided to consolidate some of the highlights into the following timeline. These are only some of the milestones the Remington 870 has reached, but should provide a clear picture of just how committed Remington has remained to keeping their 870 the top selling pump shotgun.
- 1950 – Remington introduces 15 variations of the 870 “Wingmaster ®” Shotguns
- 1959 – Model 870 RSS (Rifled Slug Special)
- 1960 – M870 ADX
- 1961 – M870 AP “Brushmaster” Shotgun
- 1963 – Introduction of Deluxe Grade field models with custom checkering and fine wood finish
- 1966 – Remington 150th Anniversary Edition
- 1969 - .410 bore and 28 gauge M870 Field Models & matched pair .410/20 gauge Skeet Guns
- 1971 – Left-handed Model 870
- 1973 – M870 reaches the two million mark
- 1974 – M870 DU (Ducks Unlimited) Shotguns
- 1976 – Bicentennial Commemorative M870
- 1978 – Remington announces that 3 million M870 shotguns have been built
- 1984 – M870 “Special Field” introduced & Name change from “Lightweight Limited” to 20 Gauge Lightweight Youth Gun
- 1985 – M870 SP Special Purpose Magnum Gun
- 1986 - M870 SP Special Purpose Deer Gun
- 1987 – Model 870 Express – Economical variation
- 1988 – M870 Express Combo Shotgun
- 1992 – M870 Marine Magnum & M870 SP-Camo in full Mossy Oak Camouflage
- 1994 – M870 Wingmaster in 12 & 20 Gauge & M870 Express Youth Gun
- 1998 – Model 870 Synthetic Camouflage Turkey Gun
- 1999 - M870 Wingmaster made available in .410 & 28 gauge
- 2000 – 50th Anniversary Model 870 Classic Trap Gun
- 2009 – 10 Million M870 Shotguns produced
- 2010 – Boy Scouts of America 100th Anniversary Commemorative 870 Wingmaster 20 gauge
- 2017 – Remington announces development of 870 DM – Detachable magazine pump shotgun.
After reviewing just this small sample of what the 870 Wingmaster has brought to the sporting world, it is easy to see why it has become the most prolific pump-action shotgun in American history. As we stated in our previous article on the Mossberg 500, it makes us proud that the two top produced pump shotguns in the world are American made. The fact these guns are trusted by militaries and law enforcement agencies around the globe stands as a testament of the quality and design of American made firearms.