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Remington 870 (20 ga)
A Gun for Trap
This is my third 870 (my first is a 12 gauge), and my second 20 gauge shotgun. So why get another 870, and why in 20 gauge? Well, I have, as of late, been doing quite a bit of trap shooting. Perhaps, too much. I have gotten to the point where it is becoming a bit less of a challenge, than had once been the case. There are a number of ways that veteran trap shooters use, to put a bit of the challenge back. One of the most simple, is to use a lighter gauge gun. The lighter gauges are harder to hit with, and are also more pleasant to shoot. Even the gun itself, is lighter by about a pound. This surprised me, at first, because I had thought that all of the chamberings of the 870 shared a common receiver, and simply used differently dimensioned parts, along with a suitably chambered barrel. This is not the case.
The 20 gauge 870 is noticeably thinner, and is also shorter in height, than that of the 12 gauge. In the photo to the left, the 12 gauge 870 is at the top, and the 20 gauge is at the bottom. the photo above shows both receivers from the bottom, indicating the slightly reduced width of the 20 gauge. Receiver length is the same for both. this allows for a lighter gun, in 20 gauge, and perhaps a slightly easier action. The guns appear nearly identical, except upon close examination. This is a nice touch, in a gun that is already a class act. It would have been easier, and cheaper, as well as perfectly acceptable, to use a common receiver on all chamberings; but Remington decided upon sizing each receiver according to the gauge it will chamber. Caliper measurements of both receivers, show the receiver of the 12 gauge measures 2.5" in height, and 1.4" in width, while that of the 20 gauge is 2.25" in height, with a width of1.25". Though the difference is not easily noted by the eye, it is readily apparent to the arm, after a day spent shooting trap, or wandering the woods in search of game.
Due to the lighter weight possible in a 20 gauge gun, it's decreased recoil, and the aging of the American boomer population, the lighter gauge is beginning to resurge in popularity, though it still lags behind the 12 gauge by a considerable margin. In terms of power, the 12 gauge is approximately half again as powerful as the 20 gauge. More detailed information can be found on my shotgun page. Some police departments have taken to issuing 20 gauge shotguns to female police officers, who other wise had a hard time qualifying with the heavier, and harder recoiling 12 gauge. A side by side comparison of two standard 2 3/4" shells, is shown in the photo to the right. The bore size of the 20 gauge is .615", as compared to the .729" bore size of the 12 gauge.
Though this is a great gauge for the smaller statured shooter, or for those seeking less punishing recoil than that generated by the 12 gauge, this is not necessarily a better choice for the novice shooter. Though the velocities of the various gauges are about the same, shot charges vary. The lighter shot charge of the 20 gauge makes it harder to hit with, than the more robust 12 gauge. In practice, experienced shooters tend to move to smaller gauges, rather than larger, as their skills improve.
At the risk of repeating comments made on my other 870 web page, the 870 is the most popular, and probably the best pump shotgun on the market (though the Browning is also pretty good). These guns have been around, seemingly forever. As of this writing, there are something like 10 million of these guns in circulation. Most of these were sold in Second Amendment protected America. Considering that there are roughly 300 million people here, this comes out to about one 870 for every 30 people. The gun was introduced in 1950, to replace the Remington model 31.
There are a number of variants of the 870 available. This particular gun is an Express Magnum model, chambered for 2 3/4" or 3" shells. As an express model, it has a parkerized finish, and handsome, but rather plain wood. The receiver is not engraved, and the wood has only basic checkering. It is a field grade gun. The Wingmaster version of the 870 is blued, and a bit fancier. Mechanically, the guns are the same, making the Express model one of today's great firearms bargains. A good 870 Express can be picked up for a bit over $200. There are also stainless versions, synthetic stocked versions, and fancy versions for skeet and trap.
This particular gun has the plastic trigger guar, which Remington went to sometime in the eighties. It also has a vent rib, and a removable, full choke tube, two features which were once extras; but have become fairly common on today's shotguns. It was bought used, at a very good price; but the stock was too short for me, and must have been a special order, as I am of fairly average size. It may have been the special "youth" version of the Express 20 gauge, though I saw no special markings. Fortunately, I still had the old stock off of my 870 12 gauge, which was removed when I converted it to use folding stock. Despite the slightly different dimensionings of the receivers, the old stock fits fine. The shotgun is now sized just right for me, and points as it should. This kind of thing seems to validate my whole packrat mentality - I never throw anything away, and rarely sell anything.
So this is now my trap gun, and my 12 gauge, with it's extended magazine, and folding stock, is my defense gun. I have never been disappointed or had any complaints about any 870 I have owned or fired. Though you occasionally hear some criticism of the gun, it generally falls into the "not as good as they used to be" category, particularly after the introduction of the plastic trigger guard. In regard to the plastic trigger guard, it is actually a bit of an improvement over the old metal guards. These were of powdered aluminum, and were known to break or bend, in roughly handled guns. The plastic guards are actually sturdier, and also keep their color all the way trough, so that scratches go virtually unnoticed. the two guns are shown side by side, in the photo above. So why not use my other 20 gauge, and forgo the purchase of another 870? The other 20 gauge is a Siaga conversion of an AK-47, not a very suitable gun for shooting trap.
So how much challenge does the 20 gauge add to trap shooting? Well, without going into too much detail, I have stopped shooting hundreds, since moving down to the 20 gauge. The official records, of the American Skeet Shooting Association, show the record of continuous hits with the 12 gauge at 2462, as opposed to 2173 with the 20 gauge. With the 28 gauge, it is 1718, and with the diminutive 410 (68 gauge) it is 777. In common with with shooters of single shot firearms, there is an element of pride to being a small bore shooter. Once I am very proficient, and happy with my scores using the 20 gauge, I will probably move down to a 410. It, too, will likely be an 870 - might as well keep it all in the family.