Case: Taking a shot at an honest review of the new Remington 870

AP file photo by Keith Srakocic / The Remington 870 is an iconic firearm, with more than 11 million of the shotguns sold. You can find them in homes all across America, and they've taken everything from deer to ducks to turkeys in the field.
photo Photo contributed by Larry Case / Remington's new 870 Fieldmaster includes the fleur-de-lis design reminiscent of older Remington shotguns.

Gun writers, I have been told, are supposed to be stern, hardhearted and insensitive. They are to call it like they see it on the merits, or lack thereof, about any firearm they are reviewing.

Some of the most famous gun writers of old - Elmer Keith, Jack O'Connor and Warren Page, to name a few - were not really considered to have sparkling personalities, if you know what I mean. If they didn't like something, they said it, be it a about certain gun or a person. They were also contemporaries, and gun writer lore tells us they didn't care much for each other either.

I have always found the fabled curmudgeon traits of the old gun writers fascinating, which may be just another glimpse into my warped personality, but it's too late to change now.

Now let's get this part out of the way: I write about guns, but I do not consider myself a gun writer in the genre of Keith, O'Connor, Page or some others from the golden years of gun writers. I just don't. It may be true that I will occasionally crank out something about a rifle, shotgun or ammo worth looking at, but I don't put myself in the league of the giants. Just trying to keep it real, folks.

Now more than once here in these pages, I have told you maybe no other group is as romantic and nostalgic about the gear and accessories for our sport as we hunters and outdoorsmen (and that means girls, too, remember). A favorite knife or firearm handed down from those who first took us afield is precious to us and usually cannot be bought for any price. Iconic brands of firearms have been imprinted into our psyche and are there forever, whether we like it or not. Remington, Winchester, Browning and Savage are some of the gun makers from back in the day we will always think about, no matter how many new brands come along.

Proclaiming that any gun is the best or most popular is dangerous and will get you into arguments at the barbershop and hunting camp. Having said that, there is no doubt the Remington 870 is the most popular and widely sold shotgun in the past 50 years. (Mossberg 500 fans will argue about this.) All over America, there are Remington 870 shotguns stored in closets, behind the seat of trucks and in the corner by the kitchen door. American sportsmen have taken everything from deer to ducks to turkeys with this old favorite.

Introduced in 1961, the 870 rose from the ashes of the Model 31. Remington sought to deliver a strong, dependable, modern shotgun at a moderate price, and that is exactly what the company did. The original Wingmaster version of the 870, while tough, was also very aesthetically pleasing, having deep bluing and glossy walnut stocks.

In 1987, Remington introduced the 870 Express line. These shotguns featured black matte finish on the metal, and hardwood, laminated wood or synthetic stocks and forearms. Sales increased with the Express, and in 2009, Remington sold its 10 millionth 870, making it the best-selling shotgun in history. (That total has since passed 11 million.)

photo AP photo by Mike Groll / The Remington Arms Co. plant in Ilion, N.Y., is shown in January 2013. Bankruptcy and auction led to Remington being divided up and sold off in late 2020, and the gun side and ammo side are now completely separate.

Most of you out there know of Remington's troubles in recent years, and in fall 2020, the company went through yet another bankruptcy and was divided up and sold at auction in several different pieces. The ammunition division of Remington was bought by Vista Outdoor, which owns Federal ammunition, and the Remington ammo plant in Lonoke, Arkansas, has been producing ammunition under the same Big Green brand for some time.

One of the things shooters and hunters have trouble with on various forums and the Book of Faces is understanding that the ammo side of Remington and the gun side are now separate and not connected.

One of the things I am apprehensive about for Remington is it was announced recently that 30 employees at the arms plant in Ilion, New York, would be laid off for 30 days. If this is only temporary and not a major problem remains to be seen.

If I understand it right, the group that bought the firearms side of Remington, including the ancient plant in Ilion, did not obtain the copyright on the Remington logo and name, so firearms produced there now will be known as RemArms. If I am corrected about any of this later, I welcome it.

One reason I am vague about some of the particulars here is that I am unable to speak to anyone at the new regime at RemArms. If there is a public relations side of the company or folks who deal with the media, I have not heard from them. Now to be fair, I maybe understand those now producing guns at RemArms have spoken with gun writers higher up the totem pole than me. There have been reviews on the "new" 870 in some of the major venues, and they have been largely complimentary. I welcome the chance to be contacted by the new company.

For you longtime Remington 870 fans, let me calm some of your fears and say I don't think you will be disappointed by the latest version. I think most of you will find it almost identical to the old 870. Again, though, I am unclear on something. The early reviews of the gun called it the Express model, like the one produced since 1987. The 870 that I procured is called the Fieldmaster, and the best way I might describe it to you is it resembles something between the old Express model and the fancier Wingmaster that Remington made.

The wood on the new Fieldmaster is dark, and it looks good. The finish on the metal is a dark matte and resembles the finish on the previous Express shotguns, and I am told this new finish is more durable than the old models. The matte finish on the previous Express 870 was notorious for being fragile and prone to rust. If this new finish is tougher, it is very welcome. The checkering on the shotgun is pressed, as with many guns today, and includes the fleur-de-lis design reminiscent of the older Remingtons.

This is not a full-blown, comprehensive review on the new 870, but more of an introduction to let you know it is available.

Still, I had no function problems at all so far with the new 870. As some of you know, the first thing I require of any firearm is that it must go bang every time you pull the trigger. The Fieldmaster did this without fail and cycled the rounds smoothly with several different brands of ammo. I am told the twin-action bars have been updated to function smoothly; again, I cannot confirm or deny this, but this gun performed without a hitch.

You can find a new Remington Fieldmaster 870 for around $400.00. (I paid too much for mine.) If you are an 870 fan and want a new one, don't be afraid to buy this model.

So there is your first look at the new Remington 870. If you think I am a little biased toward Remington and want them to be successful, you are right. And if this brief view of the shotgun comes from the heart as much as the head, I hope O'Connor and the boys from the past can forgive me.

photo Contributed photo / Larry Case

"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at larryocase3@gmail.com.