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Remington has long been big on autoloading shotguns, which may explain in part why the late 1950s found the company producing three totally different models (11-48, 878, and Sportsman-58) at the same time. Introduced in 1956, the Sportsman-58 was Remingtons first gas-operated shotgun, and it proved to be a sign of even better things to come.
In 1963 Remington replaced its family of autoloaders with a single gas-powered gun called the Model 1100. To describe the Model 1100 as an instant success is putting it mildly. By 1972, after only nine years in production, the one-millionth unit had been built. Five years later production had reached two million, and six years after that, in 1983, Model 1100 number 3,000,000 came off the assembly line. As of late 1999, total production was just shy of the 4,000,000 mark, and my guess is it will exceed that mark easily before the books are closed on the 20th century.
A number of factors played key roles in making Remingtons Model 1100 one of the worlds most accepted sporting arms. At the very top of the list is shooter comfort. Even though the Model 1100 weighs less than most autoloaders that came before it, its gas-operated action cushions recoil, making it extremely comfortable to shoot even with heavy loads. Due to its excellent weight distribution the Model 1100 handles and feels more like an expensive English double than any autoloader built before or since. This holds especially true for the 20- and 28-gauge versions as well as earlier 12-gauge guns with their lighter fixed-choke barrels. The Model 1100 has always been affordable to working men, and it has long been available in 12, 20, and 28 gauge as well as .410 bore, not to mention the 16 gauge for which it was once chambered. Last but certainly not least in importance, the Model 1100 has always been quite reliable and extremely durable, and it doesnt break very often. Even if a part does break, it is easily replaced and doing so doesnt cost an arm and a leg.
In addition to enjoying great popularity in the game fields, the Model 1100 once dominated skeet competition like no other shotgun before or since it came on the scene, and it set more records in that game than any shotgun before it. And while over/unders now dominate skeet, it is not unusual to see a shooter swap his double for a soft-shooting Model 1100 when shooting the 12-gauge event. The same goes for trap. While single-barrel and over/under guns dominate that game, the Model 1100 is still quite popular among those who have become sensitive to recoil, which is quite amazing when we consider that Remington hasnt built a Model 1100 trap gun in many years. This is another reason behind its successthe old 1100 keeps on ticking long after others have succumbed to the licking.
Despite great success and an unbeatable track record, the Model 1100 had one shortcoming that had been eliminated in new shotgun models introduced by various competitorsit would not shoot 2 3/4-inch and three-inch shells interchangeably. Rather than simply modifying perhaps the worlds most famous shotgun so it would handle both shell lengths and continue to call it the Model 1100 (as some of us think should have been done), Remington made the required modifications in 1987 but chose to rename it the Model 11-87. This might be compared to making a few minor modifications to the equally famous Model 700 rifle and renaming it Model 7-87. It would still be the same gun, but thousands of potential buyers might not know it.
Despite the fact that Remington officials probably once planned to eventually put the old Model 1100 out to pasture, demand from hunters and shooters who desire to own one of the all-time great firearms simply have not allowed the company to do so. In addition to the Special Field version with straight-grip walnut stock and 23-inch barrel in 20 and 12 gauges, the standard Model 1100 is also available in several other versions. As current production 1100s go, my two favorites are the Sporting 28 and Sporting 20. Built on the two smallest Model 1100 receivers, they have very nice walnut stocks, 25- and 28-inch vent-ribbed barrels, and weights of around 6 1/2 pounds. If a more dynamic-handling autoloading quail gun than one of those two is available, it has managed to escape my attention.
Now we arrive at the Model 870 pump gunthe best-selling firearm ever produced by Remington and one of the most successful sporting arms ever built anywhere in the world. Describing in intimate detail each and every variation of this firearm produced since its introduction in 1950 could fill up a book, so about all I can accomplish here is to scratch the surface.
When commercial firearms production resumed after World War II, Remington officials discovered that all the various models of rifles and shotguns the company had been producing in the past had become extremely expensive to manufacture. One of those was the Model 31, a slide-action shotgun many shooters believed to be superior in a number of ways to Winchesters Model 12. But its many precision-machined parts and the handfitting required of same made the gun costly to build. Realizing the days of handbuilt, moderately priced firearms were numbered, the push was on to come up with a replacement for the Model 31, one with components that could be built entirely on high-speed production machinery and then assembled by semi-skilled hands. In 1949, only 18 years after its production, the Model 31 was discontinued with close to 190,000 built; a year later its replacement, the Model 870, was introduced.
Remington officials made sure the new Model 870 got plenty of attention during its introductory year by offering it in 15 different variations and in 12, 16, and 20 gauges, all with 2 3/4-inch chambers. As the years flew by dozens upon dozens of other variations were offered, some short-lived, others remaining in Remingtons catalogs for decades. The 12-gauge 870 Magnum with a three-inch chamber came along in 1955 followed by SX Skeet Grade and TX Trap Grade guns four years later. Remingtons first 870 slug gun, the Brushmaster, first headed for the deer woods in 1961 while skeet shooters and quail hunters got their hands on the first 28-gauge and .410-bore guns with scaled-down receivers in 1966. Southpaw shotgunnersgot their wish in 1971 when a left-handed version was introduced, and the quick-swinging Special Field with its straight-grip stock and stubby barrel came along in 1984. Ten years later deer hunters were all excited about a new slug gun replete with cantilever scope mount, and in 1997 Remington introduced the first 870s ever made with a camo finish. The biggest news for 1998 was the 12-gauge Express Super Magnum version chambered for the 3 1/2-inch shell.
The variations I have mentioned are but a tip of a huge iceberg, but you get the idea. Remington has long made it a point to fill every nook and cranny in the shotgunning market with 870 variants. This applies not only to the hunting fields but to clay target competition as well. Im sure this you ask for it and well build it policy has helped the 870 to become the success it is, but what really put it on the map was its universal acceptance by American sportsmen. It didnt take long for hunters and shooters to discover what a great bargain the 870 was, and they bought it by the millions. Actually, the 870 couldnt help but succeed. Anytime a company offers a product that functions reliably under the very worst of conditions, is durable enough to last through several lifetimes of hard use, and sells at a very affordable price, that product is bound to do well.
When the first 870s began to reach hunters and shooters across America, those who had grown accustomed to the machined parts, nicely blued metal, and fine walnut of other pump guns such as Remingtons Model 31 and Winchesters Model 12 were highly critical of the stamped parts and homely looks of the new Remington firearm. Some even went so far as to call it Remingtons tin-can gun. But the gun has gone on to last much longer than its critics, and had they known then what we know now Im sure most would have bought plenty of stock in the 870 had it become available. By later standards sales were a bit slow at first as it took 15 years for the first million to get built, but once the 870 caught on, its production numbers increased like wildfire. Model 870 number 1,000,000 did not come off the assembly line until 1966, but within two years after that production stood at 2,000,000. Think about it, during those two years, 1967 and 1968, Model 870 production averaged more than 800 guns per week. During the five years between 1973 and 1978 another million were built, and a fourth million were distributed to hunters and shooters by 1984. A couple more million were built between 1984 and 1993, and Model 870 No. 7,000,000 was assembled in 1996. This is quite amazing when we consider that over 150,000 870s left the Ilion, New York, factory during each of the first 46 years of its manufacture. The final number of 870s produced during the 20th century isnt in yet, but I wouldnt bet a dime against it exceeding the eight-million mark.
Page One - Overview,
Rifles (Autos, Pumps, Bolt-actions)
Page Two - Model 1100 Autoloading Shotgun, Model 870 Slide-Action Shotgun
This article was originally published in Shooting Times magazine in May, 2000.