Duck hunting can be really tough and demanding on the equipment, let alone the hunter. In some flyways across the country, the best action is had during the worst flying conditions. In the Pacific Northwest, the best duck hunting conditions are near freezing temperatures, snowing, raining or hailing to get the flock's landing gear engaged. With the possibilities of water, dirt, and lots of trigger time, a dependable duck hunting shotgun needs to be dang near military grade. At least, if you don't want to be shivering in your waders with a broken shotgun in your hands and little to show for it.
There are plenty of high-end waterfowl shotguns on the market, but very few of them can be had for under 400 dollars. When I say waterfowl shotgun, I mean features that are practically a MUST HAVE in the duck blind. First and foremost, a 3.5" chamber is preferred. Longer shells + more BB's in the air going faster. Yes 3 inch shells will get the job done, but I would venture to say a 2 3/4" chamber is really handicapping the hunter's ability to knock ducks out of the sky at moderate ranges, without chasing crippled swimmers all day. The second is water resistance. Ducks like water, and typically firearms do not. A good duck gun needs to be able to withstand a few dunks each year without rusting to pieces after the season. A synthetic stock made from composites will fare much better than a classic walnut stock. The finish on the metal must also be up to the task for resisting rust. Lastly is feeding reliability - and in short while semi-autos are fantastic at mitigating recoil and getting off consecutive shots quicker, you just cannot beat the manual operation of a pump-action for ejecting stubborn shells and shooting a wider variety of ammunition without encountering cycling issues.
The one shotgun that covers the aforementioned points is none other than the Remington 870 Express Super Magnum. Big Green's 870 series needs little introduction, as it is nearly half a century old with over ten million produced. Today the Express line of 870's are best summarized as budget shotguns with an aftermarket selection seconded only by the infamous AR-15. Stocks, grips, fore-ends, barrels, magazine tubes, rails, adapters... you name it there's probably a part you could bolt on to your 870 scattergun. Even the tactical furniture pioneers at Magpul Industries have products designed for the Remington 870. One important note, many fore-ends and other aftermarket parts are not compatible with the Super Magnum due to the fore-end overlapping the action when at its shortest position. You can either risk removing material with a Dremel tool, get a shorter fore-end design like the Law Enforcement style pump, or stick with the factory fore-end.
The 870 Express Super Magnum line consists of a handful of configurations offered from the factory, chambered for 3.5" shells for hunters of ducks, geese, upland birds, and even turkeys. Depending on the configuration, the 870 Super Magnum can be had for under $400. I picked up my plain synthetic model on sale for $309 at a large box store, after a $50 mail-in rebate from Remington. It's dark flat black from muzzle to super cell spongy butt pad. While you could get the jump on the vision-impaired ducks just fine, it would easily benefit from a paint job or camo finish and spook less of the more attentive fowl. When I got mine, Remy didn't offer the camo-dipped versions, and if I could do it again I would have chosen the Turkey/Waterfowl camo or the Waterfowl camo.
The 870 Express Super Magnum comes factory installed with a modified Rem Choke. Compatible with all Remington shotguns, the modified Rem Choke is claimed to deliver wider shot pattern for shooting at 25-45 yards for squirrels, rabbits, pigeons, doves, partridge, grouse, pheasant, and quail... as well as ducks and geese using steel shot. Factory tests indicate 55-60% of pellets in 30" circle at 40 yards with either lead or steel shot.
The finish on the 870 Express shotguns has been heavily criticized as not only being declining in quality after the 2005 acquisition from the Freedom Group. The words "rust magnet" echo throughout the internet reviews. The culprit seems to be the non-glare, dull matte finish Remington applies to the action and barrel, and reported issues seem to be greater in high humidity areas of the country. The solution to prevent rusting is the same as any firearm, thorough cleaning and application of oil during storage. If your gun takes a quick dip in the drink, DO NOT leave it in it's case all day. Let it air dry, and proceed to clean and lightly oil non-plastic surfaces before storage for long periods of time. If rusting has started, apply oil and buff softly with a light grade of steel wool. There are numerous DIY solutions for preventing rust in the safe, from desiccants, dehumidifiers, etc. so if you care about your investments, you should be taking these precautions regardless.
Another solution that I highly recommend getting done is hydrographic refinishing, a process where a digitally printed film of camouflage or other fashionable pattern is floated on the surface of water, and the object is submerged. The water conforms to the contouring surfaces of the object and the patterned film is transferred to the object. I had Zack Carlson of Lone Wolf Distributors apply an ATACS finish to my 870 Super Magnum, and it has held up well to three seasons of light to medium use, and only shows minor wear in certain areas, most likely due to a crowded safe.
Performance wise, the only issue I've encountered are the well documented 'stuck shell' failures. Every now and then, the gun will refuse to eject a shell from the chamber using the same amount of physical exertion as usual. It's quite frustrating, and I am not the only one to experience this issue with the Super Mag. There are mixed diagnoses from ammo quality, powder charge, or just tight chambers. To free the stubborn shell, you have to literally use brute force. Often slamming the butt of the gun on the ground or other hard surface while grasping the fore-end will usually free the shell, and some very light polishing of the chamber with Flitz polishing compound and a cotton-wrapped dowel will help smooth the interior surfaces and remedy the issue. Be careful with how hard to slam that gun on the ground however, because a broken extractor is another problem you do not want.
A much argued weakness of the 870 express is the ejector. While its closest competitors from Mossberg have dual ejectors for redundancy and are easily replaceable with a screwdriver, the 870 has only the single ejector. It is also riveted/ground flush to the frame, so if it were to fail or need replacement, the shotgun would have to be shipped to the factory or taken to a competent gunsmith. The 870 Wingmaster/Police models have better quality parts, and the parts used in the Express line are known to be lesser quality materials which contribute to the low price tag. I'm not saying the ejector will ever fail, but beware that is a potential weak point that Mossberg enthusiasts love to throw in the faces of 870 owners. Also the lift gate stays down when the action is in the closing/closed position, which helps keeps on-deck shells from falling out but can also catch your thumb during magazine loading.
The beauty of the 870 Express is low initial purchase price, smooth pumping action, and the potential for customization for your intended use. It's the Honda Civic of the shotgun world, and can look as practical, tactical, or minimalistic as one desires. For the duck blind, it is perfectly capable of busting birds up close and at range with the 28" barrel, and with the right choke/ammo selection. The modified choke Remington chose seems to be an all-purpose choke, not especially excellent for either end of the spectrum for long range hits or close quarters, fast moving targets. I would recommend researching a kit of chokes that can be changed out to specifically suit your immediate hunt type. Don't forget to pattern the shot of the shells you intend to use at 20, 50, and 75 yards to get an idea of your maximum effective range, you may be surprised at how well the 870 Express Super Magnum can perform in the heat of the battle with the right ammo and choke combination. Happy Hunting!
Firearms Insider Reviews – 8 Key Points
Claim to Fame: For those looking for that "one shotgun to do it all," you'd be hard pressed to find a more affordable all-purpose option than the Remington 870 Express Super Magnum.
Target Market: Upland/Migratory/Waterfowl hunters, Trap/Skeet Casual Shooters
FNBs (Features & Benefits of this product):
- Available in 26" or 28" vent rib barrel (12 gauge only)
- Also available as a Combo kit with 20" rifled barrel with iron sights
- Chambered for 2 3/4", 3" and 3 1/2"12-gauge shells
- Modified Rem™ Choke
- Receiver milled from a solid billet of steel for strength and durability
- Non-glare matte finish
- All-weather black synthetic stock and fore-end.
- Twin action bars ensure smooth, reliable non-binding action
What other aesthetic options or finishes are available?: Black Synthetic, Wood Furniture, or 3 different camo finishes. Left Hand ejecting models exist but are rare and more expensive.
What others are saying?: "Bought the super magnum as it seemed like a good overall shotgun that will shoot steel. Took it dove hunting and it would not eject shells. Cleaned and brushed the chamber and took it trap shooting and the same thing. I have to literally beat the stock on the ground to clear the chamber. Called Remington and they are aware of the issue. They said the problem may be inexpensive shells with low brass cases. Bought some more expensive shells with high brass to try. Don't really want to have to ship it back to the company for repairs, even though Remington is willing to let me do that. Disappointing, especially since this seems to not be an uncommon problem with new 870's." ObtuseDakotan, Cabelas Review
"I saw this on sale at my local Walmart and decided to pick it up after reading all reviews and comparing to the Mossberg 500. This gun is awesome except for a few things. One is that the camo coating does come off and gets dinged up pretty easily. Don't expect this gun to take the beating a blued barrel would without some cosmetic issues. Second, and most important is this gun jams. Saw some things about the jamming and though I'd take the risk. Every 5th shot or so average i see this gun jam up. Have to rack the gun very hard for it to eject the shell. Called Remington and the only advice they had was "polish the chamber." I took the gun apart completely, cleaned, lubed and polished. Same issue. Now given the choice of waiting 4-6 weeks for repair or dealing with it. Being the start of waterfowl and upland hunting soon I'd rather not. May have to wait until off-season before it can finally get repaired...otherwise awesome price, great versatility between 2 3/4, 3 and 3.5 inch shells. Lots of chokes, sights, slings etc out there for this 870 model. This gun is lightweight and seems pretty solid. If this jamming issue gets ironed out then i'd definitely consider purchasing again. If repeat problems or you just don't want to take the risk and wait for repair (If yours does the same issue. Have seen plenty that don't.) I would go with the Mossberg." DandyDwarf, Walmart Review
I need it now! Availability: Readily available online at most sporting goods stores and gun shops nationwide, even Walmart
- Compatible with nearly every accessory for the 870 platform
- Pump/Cycling the action in very smooth compared to competition
- Well Suited for hunting or shooting clay pigeons
- Safety position easily within trigger finger reach forward of trigger
- All-Purpose designed, Modified Rem Choke also adequate for various hunt/sporting types
- Price is low and can often be had on sale + mail in rebate at box stores
- No forward sling swivel attachment point on non-waterfowl camo models
- Factory non-glare dull finish on metal has known rust vulnerability
- The riveted single ejection is considered to be the weak point of the 870, and must be repaired by a qualified gunsmith or Remington factory.
- The forearm of the Super Magnum overlaps the receiver when in the open-action position, and can interfere with some aftermarket accessories
Score: 7.5 Good
For FFL services I choose Promised Land Firearms in Toulon, IL.