Guns: Remington 870 Wingmaster review - There's No School Like The Old School
The Remington 870 is the world’s best-selling shotgun, with more than ten million sold since its introduction in 1951. In recent times, most of those sales have come from a cheaper version of the gun, dubbed the “870 Express,” that incorporates a number of changes from the 870s of yesteryear: plastic triggerguards, internal lock safeties, and bead-blasted finishes.
These modifications are heresy to some purists, but, in my experience, an off-the-shelf 870 Express performs about as well as any pump shotgun past or present. I've owned three of the Express models, observed untold dozens more at the skeet and trap fields, and have yet to see anyone’s plastic triggerguard break, or someone’s J-lock engage accidentally.
Despite my confidence in new production 870s, I've always wanted to try out a used one, to see if things really were better made back in the old days. Thankfully, since Remington cranked out so many of these shotguns over the years, it's not difficult to find a decent used 870. Mine came from the effects of an older gentleman who passed away (his daughter sold his collection to my local gun shop). For this post, it's time to kick it old-school:
Fit and Finish - Just Like You, Only Prettier
The previous owner of this gun was obviously an avid shooter. There’s a worn spot on the receiver where his right index finger rested in its proper position out of the trigger guard - a sign of competent use, not abuse. The gun has been well-maintained, too; aside from one dime-sized spot of surface rust on the barrel that was easily scrubbed off, the metal was in excellent condition.
Both old and current production Wingmasters have nicer wooden stocks than the Express models, which are relegated to using an indifferent grade of hardwood with a plain-Jane finish. When buying a used 870, make sure the stock is free of warps, cracks, or other major problems:
At the Skeet and Trap Fields
Upon mounting the Wingmaster in the store, I could immediately tell that its stock was too long for me, and I wondered how it would perform at the range. Fortunately, the gun’s long 30" barrel swung smoothly and pointed like a laser beam. Recoil was brisker than I expected with such a large gun (this is one area where newer 870s have the advantage; Remington's nice R3 rubber recoil pad is just plain superior to the old plastic buttpads).
This Wingmaster is at least a couple decades old, before the time when Remington outfitted their shotgun barrels with interchangeable choke tubes. I found that while the gun's fixed modified choke made it easy to smash clays from 30 and 40 yards away, hitting incoming skeet targets was dicey. The overly long stock also contributed to some problems with mounting the gun at speed; nailing both clays when shooting doubles was almost impossible without starting the gun out at the shoulder.
The action was slick as snot and cycled budget Winchester birdshot loads without any problems. Actually, the only malfunction I've consistently experienced with 870s is a failure to extract caused by the empty shell sticking in the chamber - rumor has it the older guns actually had smoother chambers that make this kind of stoppage less likely, but YMMV.
Conclusion - Like a Fine Wine...
A brand new Wingmaster will set you back about $600, which is not very expensive considering that you'll be able to hand it down to your grandkids. A "pre-owned" 870 Wingmaster will likely provide the same performance for less money, sometimes considerably less. Someone looking for a great shotgun would be well-served with either. Don't take my word for it, though: