Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Remington 870 Tactical - The Vetting Process

Okay, I have spent enough money putting this gun together, and I am still waiting for my Mesa Tactical Sureshell carrier to arrive.  However, I was itching badly to get this weapon out and start the vetting process.  So, I loaded a bucket of unused shot shells from previous trips (3" magnum slugs, various buckshot rounds, a couple boxes of bird shot, etc).  I hit the desert for this adventure.  I figure if sand and dirt can't stop the gun, nothing will.

Once my targets were set up, I went to work.  First off, a shotgun should be able to handle buck shot, so that's what I rammed through it first. I didn't seem to have any problems with the weapon, however, I did notice a slight hiccup with how I operated action on this weapon.  A couple times, I didn't man up to it enough, and it caused the round the stick midway through getting it from the mag tube to the breech.  Okay, no problem.  Just rack it like you mean it.  There is a definite difference in feel in how this gun operates versus a Winchester 1300 Defender.  The action on the Defender is what Winchester calls a "Speed Pump."  It utilizes a rotating bolt, and once unlocked, the pump cycle is silky smooth and almost effortless.  I can fire that shotgun so fast that you wouldn't think it was a pump shotgun!  With the Remington 870, there's a definite need to grab the fore end, and cram it back and sling it forward with a bit of force.  This isn't a bad thing.  It's just a different thing.  It's a training issue that I need to address when shooting this platform.

The sights on this weapon are amazing.  Seriously, if you can afford to wait a month longer to save the extra hundred bucks to buy the Express Tactical versus the boring old Express, then do it!  I had no trouble placing 3" magnum slugs where I wanted to with this XS ghost ring rear and big dot front setup.  The sight picture is clear and it is easy to present the weapon and put down an accurate first shot, which by the way is the most important shot.  I wouldn't say this setup is faster than a plain barrel and a bead sight setup, but it is definitely more accurate.  The penalty of being just a hair slower with front and rear sights is massively offset by the accuracy of making consistent shots.  I did notice that my shotgun was shooting high, so some rested sight in will be necessary to get this thing shooting where I want it.  However, for desert shooting, I was content to aim just a little lower, if I remembered to do so.  Sometimes I forgot, and would watch a mound of dirt above my target fly everywhere and yet my target remained undamaged.

This brings me to a good discussion regarding how many bad guys you can kill with one shot from a shotgun.  Friends, shotguns are not scatter-guns. Yes they have been given that name, much like semi-automatic magazine fed rifles are called "assault weapons," but the term is inaccurate.  This misnomer stems from the naive idea that you don't need to really aim a shotgun - just kind of point it somewhere "over there" and magically, all your targets seem to fall over dead.  This is simply not true.  Shotguns are designed to be aimed and fired from the shoulder.  I always sort of chuckle when I see a picture of a "tactical" shotgun sporting nothing more than a pistol grip in the back with no buttstock.  First off, ouch!  My wrist hurts just looking at that.  The full force of a shotgun blast being absorbed by nothing but your wrist?!  As my wife would say, "ouchies!"  No, you really need to put your shoulder into this setup if you want to shoot as much as I do and keep shooting as effectively from the time you start to the time you end.  Secondly, how on earth are you supposed to effectively sight in the weapon before taking the shot?  Are you simply going to hold it somewhere down by your hip (ack, now introducing weird angles for my wrist to absorb) and sort of point it downrange somewhere?  Yeah, no.

While it is true that a shotgun is more forgiving than, say, an AR15, you still need to do your part in getting your sights acquired on target, squeeze the trigger, and follow-through.  You can't just shoot in the general direction all willy nilly and expect that you will be taking full advantage of the load you are using.  Take, for instance, #4 buckshot.  You have 27 of these little round .24 caliber pellets.  Now, if all 27 of them hit the bad guy, he's meatloaf.  But if only one or two hit him, you haven't really taken full advantage of the round.  Now, if he's at a distance greater than 25 yards, one or two hits may be all you get even if you did aim properly, and maybe one or two of those lead balls will be enough to incapacitate him.  But at closer ranges, like 5 yards, the shot pattern is still fairly tight, and a miss will be a huge miss.  The odds stack against you even more if you should 00 buckshot, which has like nine .33 caliber pellets.  Now, instead of missing what could have been a hit with twenty-seven .24 caliber pellets, you missed with nine .33 caliber pellets.  When I was shooting my target, I was standing about 10 yards away and noticed that my 00 buckshot groups were only a few inches across.  My #4 buckshot groups were a little wider at about 5 inches.  That underscores the need to properly aim and fire in order to make a hit.

Speaking of accurate shooting, I put some 3" magnum slugs into this gun and took a shot at my trusty ole 8"x8" steel plate at 20 yards.  Knowing my gun was pattering a bit high, I leveled the front sight so that it was resting just at the bottom of the plate, and fired.  First off, the gun kicked a lot more than I remembered with these slugs.  Second, my first shot rang out with a huge fireball that didn't go unnoticed by my video camera. Third, I heard a loud PING as the slug splattered itself on the AR500 steel plate.  Very nice.

Loading the 3" slugs into the breech via the ejection port proved a little challenging.  While it only took a second to do so, the back rim of the shell caught on the rear of the ejection port and the front caught on the front of the ejection port.  I remedied this simply by inserting it at an angle, and it went home easily.

This also brings up another topic: emergency reloading.  While discussing with my wife, I was talking about the importance of keeping the shotgun "topped off."  Since the Remington 870 Tactical is limited to 6+1 rounds, it's not like you get a lot of shots before it's time to reload.  Unlike an AR-15, you can't just cram a new magazine into the weapon when you run dry.  Unlike the AR-15, however, you can easily reload without removing any ammunition from the weapon.  This is due to the magazine tube design, and how it is loaded.

In an ideal scenario, you would fire, pump, reload.  Fire, pump, reload.  This means that after you fire your first shot, you rack the action to get another round into battery as quickly as possible, and then load another shell into the magazine, thereby replenishing the round you just shot out.

Of course, this won't be practical if a couple of bad guys are coming at you.  You're going to fire, pump, fire, pump, fire, pump, etc until one of two things happens.  The best case scenario is that the fight is over and you've won.  Another scenario along that same line is that you have a lull in the fight, or have found cover and are not shooting at the moment.  If you are lucky, you still have a few shells left in the magazine tube, as well as one in the chamber, ready to go.  You reload as much as you can before rejoining the fight.

The second scenario is the unlucky one.  You're not dead... yet.  However, in your adrenaline charged, panic-stricken attempt to save your life, you shot your gun empty.  Oops!  Now you are completely dry.  If it were me, I'd hope to have a pistol available so that I can drop my slung shotgun around my chest, extract my secondary weapon, and continue fighting until I have time to reload my shotgun.  Either way, you're going to need to get a round into the chamber quickly.

This is where the emergency reload comes into play.  Some people call it a tactical reload, but when I think of tactical reloading, I always think of my Beretta, and how I swap out a partially shot out magazine for a fresh one during training.  To me, reloading an empty gun would only be done in an extreme emergency.  And this reload is done when you are in an extreme emergency.  With the pump cycled to the rear, and the breech wide open, I slam my first shell into the ejection port and ram the action home, cycling the first shot into battery.  They also call this round dumping, since you are dumping your round into the breech.  From there, I can either reload the magazine in the normal fashion, or if need be, fire that round off at an oncoming threat.

It is a very good idea to get into the habit of loading your first round this way.  I do it naturally these days, out of muscle memory developed over many years of training.  It's just how I get that first round in.  Another benefit is that instead of having to pump the shotgun on my second to last shell, and load another one in the tube, I just load up the tube and I'm topped off, ready to fire without any need to do anything else.  It saves an unnecessary step.  The other advantage to this is that even though you might not get enough time to reload your whole magazine tube, you can still engage your target.

Another subject here is the possible need to engage a faraway target with a slug.  The best way I've found to do this is to keep a few on the side saddle.  If a situation comes up where I need a slug, I load it in the normal fashion, rack the pump (which now shucks the round in the chamber and inserts the slug) and take my shot.  I may lose a good round by shucking out the round I don't need, but it's simple and effective.  It's a lot easier than trying some fancy voodoo where you rack the pump back just enough to eject the shell, but not bring the next one up for insertion into battery.  Keep It Simple Stupid!  K.I.S.S.

Getting back to the weapon itself, I was really pleased with how the 870 handled with the Magpul SGA stock.  One of the things I noticed was that since the grip is so high up on the bore axis, the recoil tended to come straight back into my shoulder instead of up.  My major gripe with pistol grips on shotguns, with butt stocks, is that it positions your hand far below the bore axis of the weapon, so there isn't a straight line of movement rearward as the recoil kicks the gun back.  The pistol grip acts as a pivot and this small moment arm can rotate the barrel upwards even if you have a good stock tight against your shoulder.  You may disagree.  This is simply my mileage, as a guy who put every kind of pistol grip stock I could on my Winchester.  I still maintain that a monte carlo style of stock is best, at least for me.  Your mileage may vary.

I put together a video with my first experience.  It runs a bit long, but I spent some time talking about the chest rig I used to keep all my crap in one place, and decided to pop some eggs with my 22 pistol, and shoot the steel plate with my Ruger SR9c.  Okay, well yeah.

All in all, a good experience.  More vetting of this shotgun to come, but unless something really out of the ordinary hits, you might only see some pictures now and then as I cover other topics.



  1. Pretty good piece on this shotty. Never have shot this model, but I now feel like I have had the experience anyway.I like the sighting system..especially that o-ring . Looks like it would be very intuitive. Thanks again James.

  2. Very good article with lots of useful information and advices. I completely agree about pistol grip only shotguns. They look cool but they are not effective and recoil may even damage your wrist.

    I think that dangerous myth about point and shoot comes from Hollywood movies where one shot from shotgun destroys half of the room :)