Bourjaily: The 870 Project

I think we might all agree that they don't make 870s - or a lot of other guns - quite like they used to.

A little while ago, I mentioned the 70s vintage 870 Wingmaster I picked up and made a mag-tube recoil reducer for. Once upon a time, it must have been someone's duck gun, but in these days of steel shot, a 2 ¾ inch chamber and a fixed full choke is not what people want. The gun had been beautifully cared for, the barrel was 30 inches long, the action was left-handed and the price was only $269. I grabbed it.

It's a gem. The action, as Mike Meyers used to say on Saturday Night Live, is "like butter." The trigger guard is still cast aluminum, not steel, but it's much more finely cast than the ones on modern guns. Even the lettering on the barrel and receiver is sharper and clearer than what you see today.

However, my gun had the same ugly, pressed-checkered stock as any other Wingmaster from its era and the stock had field dimensions, where I had bought this gun thinking to shoot trap with it.

Through Remington customer service I ordered a Classic trap stock and forearm, pad, a new stock bolt, washer and lock washer. They told me my parts would come in two packages. One contained the lock washer, the other had all the rest. Go figure.

I bought an 870/BPS/Winchester forearm wrench from Midway, which costs about $15, looks like a super-sized choke tube wrench and works way better than the decoy stake with two nails in it I used to use to unscrew forearms from pump guns. I pulled old wood off, put the new wood on, and voila, I had my 870 trap gun. Here's the cost breakdown:

Gun: $269

Parts: $380

Wrench: $15

Homemade reducer: $8

Total: $671

Yes, I know the parts cost much more than the gun. Even so, I put it together for at least $100 under the best price I've seen on a new 870 Classic trap. For $100 in my pocket I can live without choke tubes and besides, it feels good to give a neat old gun a new lease on life.