Remington 870 and 1100
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- Last updated: 19/11/2018
To those of us of a certain age, the first semi-auto and pump action shotguns that we most likely saw, or had any dealings with, were manufactured by Remington and probably either the 1100 semi or the 870 pump. Remington have been producing firearms since the early 1800s, so it should come as no surprise that these two have been around for a long time; I first remember setting eyes on an 1100 auto as a fresh-faced, ten-year-old nearly 35 years ago. In those days, shotguns were all Section 2 classified, regardless of their payload, so no capacity restrictions as we have today, that would make them Section 1 guns. So, a 5-shot (4+1) was the norm amongst those that owned them, which made a big impact on someone so youthful as me.
The two test guns are both the all-weather versions with butt and forend being made in Andrew Johnson goes to the heart of pump-action and semi-auto shotguns, as he looks at two iconic US models a black composite material, both are also available in wood too, in the more classic furniture and laminate. It is a testament to how well the originals were designed that very little has changed; however, just on weight alone, I get the feeling that the Remington are in danger of being left behind by the modern aluminum alloyframed guns. For example, the 1100 weighs in at 8.25 lbs and a Winchester SX4 semi at 7 lbs. The 870 at 7.25 lbs, and a Mossberg 500 Hunting All-Purpose is 6.5 lbs in a wood stock, but surprisingly, 7 lbs in synthetic.
In the past, I have used 1100s with wood furniture and the weight did not seem such an issue, but to me, these synthetic versions felt unbalanced, although lighter; the pump did feel handier than the semi. Probably to do with the fact that there’s a lot more metal under the hood, due to its semi-automatic, gas/ piston operating system. Having said that though, both models have stood the test of time and proved repeatedly to be reliable work horses, particularly in the case of the 870. At one stage, this gun was the shotgun of choice for many tactical police firearms units, as well as the military around the world.
Both guns have the commonly found, diamond-cut chequering on the forend and around the pistol grip, which provides a positive and comfortable surface to hold. Length of pull (LOP) is 13 ½” on either model, the pad on the butt is a soft rubber, which will give some cushioning to recoil, but most shooters would need a substantial increase in LOP to allow them to mount and shoot the guns efficiently. This, along with a lower comb, does seem to be a common theme on most American-made repeaters of this type.
When I added a slip-on, stock-lengthening pad, both guns did come to the shoulder well and certainly felt very pleasant to fire using a wide variety of cartridge weights. The fact that both are heavy undoubtably helps when using maximum loads. The test guns had 28” barrels, although other lengths are available, depending on the intended use, I would not want to go any longer than this, but would seriously consider going for 26” or even 24” if suitable. They are both multi-choke and were supplied with a Modified tube (British half) in each and a fitting key. It is quite possible to get other chokes if desired, but, for most common quarry and sporting type use, half is very suitable. Both these guns are entry-level and the higher grades come with a full set of chokes.
The 870 is chambered for 2 ¾” and 3” (70 & 76mm) cartridges, whereas the 1100 is only for 2 ¾” shells, but with the huge range of ammunition available today, this is not too much of a handicap, albeit a little surprising from a modern firearm. The barrels of both have a 7mm, wide, vented rib and finished with a traditional bead, neither the rib or the bead distract the user when shooting and complement each other well.
As one would expect, the safety is located to the rear of the trigger guard and is of the push-through type; right to left puts it on FIRE, showing a red ring and reversing it for SAFE. Again, a common feature on repeaters of this type, with perhaps the exception of the Mossberg series, which are tang-mounted. The 1100 has an automatic hold open on empty function, at the rear of its shell lifter is a rectangular catch which, when pressed, releases the bolt and unlocks the lifter for loading.
The 870, as you might expect, is much simpler, as befits the generic pump-action’s ultra-reliable design. The shell lifter is never locked and, when the bolt is closed and locked, there’s a catch to the front and left of the trigger guard that allows you to unlock the action and open it, normally for unloading. One slight change on the pump is an integral sprung section in the lifter, which to a degree solves the problem of a shell getting stuck under the carrier and jamming the action. Which allows you to unlock and literally ‘pump’ the action open to clear the stoppage.
Mechanically, the 870 and the 1100 appear as I remember them, this comes as no surprise with the former, as there were not really any great improvements that could be made on the original design. Both lock by a rising lug that engages with a pocket in the top of the chamber extension. I suppose you could say that they operate in a very similar manner, with many common parts, with the pump needing shooter in-put and the auto getting it from the cartridge! The 1100’s mechanism uses a classic gas/piston design and is not self-regulating like Remington’s latter 1187. It also has an O-ring, which provides a gas seal, to improve reliability. However, when it’s in good condition, there are never any problems, but everything wears out in time, and I would recommend having a few spares, as they are cheap and easy to replace, but can bring an early end to a days’ shooting when they fail. They need to be checked regularly, as part of the normal maintenance protocols, to avoid disappointment when shooting.
There is a comprehensive instruction book supplied with each gun and an excellent expanded diagram of all the parts, with a corresponding components list, that make it very easy to identify any that may need replacing. Within, are all the normal safety warnings and the registration form for the two-year warranty, which I would be very surprised if anyone needed.
I carried each of the test guns with me doing my daily rounds on my shoot and, aside from the weight niggle, got on very well with them. I must confess that I did not fire a vast quantity of cartridges at quarry but those that I did mostly found their mark, after I had got used to the difference in handling characteristics from what I normally use. Judging by the results on the quarry I did shoot, the choke in each is tight, which is no bad thing, and from what I have seen over the last several years, is the norm, regardless of manufacturer! Trigger pulls were good too.
The biggest niggle for me, was the weight issue, and was surprised that Remington have not looked at this, particularly with the 1100, considering what they are competing with across the market place. I feel sure that if around one pound could be saved on the weight of each that would make a huge difference to the potential purchaser. Aside from that, they are exactly what you would expect; basic and reliable firearms that have stood the test of time and will do so for many years to come. As a slight aside, I note that Remington are now offering a modernised 870 with a detachable box magazine (870 DM) as standard, an intriguing twist for an old soldier like this.
The prices pleasantly surprised me, as in my younger days, both guns were well above some of the lesser pumps and autos available in the UK. The 870 hits the spot at a highly competitive £510 and the 1100 an amazing £725 for a self-loading design that’s been around and in constant use since 1963; although still 13-years younger than the 870, introduced in 1950. Neither gun is yet in the Browning A5, 100-years plus bracket but have certainly passed middle age with no sign of growing old gracefully. Editor Pete Moore has an 870 that is coming up for 40-years old and has been used from everything from clays, PSG to live quarry and is still ticking!
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