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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The 870 Express 'Special Purpose': One Versatile Shotgun.

Cruising the pawn shops like an old shark can have its payoffs. While cruising one of them last week, I noticed a black scattergun on the ‘Used’ rack that looked a tad different than your typical riot gun. I made out the profile of a short 870, with a vent rib. ‘Chop Job” I said to myself as I asked to look it over. I just hoped it was cheap- and that they hadn’t cut the poor thing off in the middle of a vent.

I was wrong; what I held was a near-new, synthetic-stocked 870 Remington Express 'Special Purpose' Magnum with a 21 inch barrel tapped for Rem Chokes. The bolt showed no exterior finish wear and the breech face didn’t look like it had seen ten live rounds. I checked the gun and threw it to my shoulder, sighting down the twin beads.

While these stocks don't fit me perfectly, I can still get along with them. To their credit, they come with a decent recoil pad & QD studs. I also noticed something that Remington did to insure that the gun they conceived to cut into Mossberg’s market, wasn’t mistaken for one on the rack!

The price was more than fair considering the 'extras' which includeda spare 30” Rem Choke barrel, a decent case, an assortment of choke tubes, their wrench and a sling.

The action on this Express isn’t as slick as the dozens of old 870’s I’ve fired over the years, but I figure time and hard use will correct that- and ‘Hard Use’ is something this shotgun will definitely see. A short 12 gauge with screw-in chokes will do everything I need a shotgun to do, which is actually quite a lot.

My Department recently had a shotgun (NOT an 870) pulled from service, so I relinquished my issue 870 to a marked unit. This shotgun, once proven, will replace it. Because this one is mine, I can outfit it to my tastes. Its ability to employ Rem Chokes means I can also bird hunt with the short barrel, and I can't think of a better way to get really close your fighting shotgun. This choke system is among my favorites for its versatility, the nice patterns it produces, and that fact that it sits flush with the muzzle.

I took this shotgun out for its trial run and since I’d also use it for a slug gun occasionally, I installed an Improved Cylinder choke. It soon became apparent that it shot a little to the left, with both shot and slugs. I removed the barrel and checked it for straightness; while looking it over, I noticed that the Bradley-style bead wasn't screwed in quite ‘square’ with the rib. A minute’s work corrected this and the shot patterns immediately centered behind it.

I also discovered, to my absolute glee, that by carefully centering the Bradley atop the small center bead, I could frequently clobber Coke cans with a Super-X slug at 50 yards. Even the misses would slice the edge of the can, or land an inch or so to one side. This gun was definitely living up to the ‘Special Purpose’ logo stamped into its receiver.

Everything was great, right? Well, not quite. Living up to my reputation for being able to find a lemon in a jar of Maraschino Cherries, I found a problem. During the first 75 ‘proving rounds’ a shell would occasionally hang up on the chamber at four o'clock. A quick wiggle of the forend would feed it, but I couldn’t trust this 870 as a duty shotgun until this condition was corrected.

I cursed my bad luck. In nearly 30 years of law enforcement and firearms instruction (and at least that many 870’s) I had never seen this malfunction. I consulted the resident ‘870 Armorer’ who suggested that I lightly break the edges around the chamber. It’s no secret that these ‘Express’ guns are less refined than the earlier versions. I read the related Armorer’s Manual from cover to cover, which suggested that a new carrier, dog and spring might be needed. I left messages at Remington Arms. I wore Google out, searching for similar problems and cures. No definite solutions surfaced. While this gun had barely been fired, I was sure that ‘Break In’ shooting wasn’t going to cure its problem. I was also not interested in shipping the gun back to Remington.

I polished the edges of the chamber, per my Armorer’s recommendation, which helped but did not eliminate the problem. The shells were simply feeding up a little low, and they weren’t centering on the chamber.

My son Mark happened to be on leave from the Army and he dug his old 870 Express out for a look-over. His gun has exhibited the boring reliability that made these shotguns famous. Being a mechanic himself, Mark readily agreed to my examining/swapping parts between the guns until the problem could be isolated.

I dropped the trigger plates from both guns. Mark’s shotgun, made in ’84, matched mine (a 1992 gun) for carrier spring tension. They both seemed to raise the carrier to the same height. Finally I lined both trigger plates and examined them closely. A little light came on when I looked at the shell carriers ‘straight on’ and you can see why in the captioned photos:

Now I don’t know if the flat carrier profile of the later gun was a QC error, or part of the cost-cutting program that allowed Remington to compete with Mossberg on their own playing field. What I do know is that a flat carrier will not center a shell as well as a curved one. So I pulled the shell carrier from my ‘problem child’ and went to work at the 6” vise, bending, comparing, and then bending some more. Pretty soon my shell carrier matched the basic contour of the carrier from Mark’s shotgun. While I had mine apart I also removed a few burrs from the slide bars, which accounts for their shiny appearance in the photos. Some cold blue will fix that. The only other modifications to this gun will be those necessary to add a magazine extension and a metal follower.

I slapped my shotgun back together and grabbed two boxes of field loads from my dwindling supply, along with some buck & slugs to insure that the heavy loads would work as well as light ones. I hot-rodded them through as fast as I could feed and shuck them; my shoulder & cheek being reminded that I was shooting too fast for proper mounting of the gun. My new-old 870 blew through 40 rounds without a hint of hesitation, so I ran 20 more through it working the action slowly enough to provide an opportunity for ‘low lift’ or a chamber hang-up. No problems whatsoever; this shotgun’s sole gremlin has been exorcised.

That’s a good thing. I have hunted and trained with 870’s for so long that I can run one in my sleep. I’ll probably sleep better, knowing that this versatile shotgun stands ready to meet any need that arises.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I was having this same exact problem on a used express I picked up recently. My carrier looked just like yours, so out with the vice grips and with reference to your photos, presto, no more jamming. Thanks again for posting this!

Sunday, April 26, 2009 9:43:00 PM  
Blogger Sarge said...

You're quite welcome.

I called Remington's LE Division after writing this article, and told that they had either changed their carrier blueprint- or they had some pretty funky shell carriers out in the market.

They would admit to neither so I grew weary of trying to convince them; I just sent them a link to this blog. I eventually got a call from one of their LE folks suggesting that I just bend the carrier up or down, until the gun started feeding right.

The guy actually tried to tell me that the 'cup' at the front of the carrier shouldn't have any effect at all, on centering the shell as it enters the chamber.

I am SO damned glad I didn't send this shotgun back to them, and just fixed it myself.

Thanks for writing, and I'm glad your shotgun sorted out alright.


Sunday, May 03, 2009 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger Edward said...

My 870 Police did the same thing, I tweaked the shell lifter upwards slightly (by hand) and perfect feeding..
If that hadn't worked I would have tried to mod the shell carrier as per the blog.

Monday, November 23, 2009 3:48:00 PM  

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