January 1999

Remington 870 Express Tops Other 20 Gauge Combo Shotguns

The Remington’s slug accuracy wasn’t impressive, but its handling and features were better than those of the Winchester Model 1300 Ranger Combo and the Mossberg Model 500 Crown Grade Combo.

The 12-gauge shotgun is overwhelmingly popular with American shooters, but the 20-gauge shotgun is also an effective hunting tool when it is used properly. Although we have tested several standard shotguns in this gauge, this is our first evaluation involving 20-gauge slugs.

Ammunition of this kind is available with a rifled or a sabot slug that weighs either 5/8-ounce (275 grains) or 3/4-ounce (328 grains). The lighter slugs are loaded to a muzzle velocity of around 1,450 feet per second for a muzzle energy of 1,285 foot pounds. The heavier slugs are good for around 1,600 feet per second and 1,866 foot pounds. In contrast, a 12-gauge 1-ounce slug with a velocity of 1,600 feet per second generates about 2,492 foot pounds of energy.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that 20-gauge slugs don’t pack as much punch as 12-gauge slugs. However, not all hunters need a slug with a great deal of power. In some areas of the US, there are species of deer that weigh less than 100 pounds before being field dressed.

For this test, we acquired three different 20-gauge shotgun packages that came with a standard barrel and a slug barrel. These combination guns were a Remington Model 870 Express Combo, a Winchester Model 1300 Ranger Deer Combo and a Mossberg Model 500 Crown Grade Combo. Here’s what we found:

Remington 870 Express Combo
Remington makes several versions of its Model 870 pump shotgun, but the budget-priced Express model is the only one available in a combination package. The 20-gauge Combo is a lightweight scaled-down version of its 12-gauge counterpart. This package features a smoothbore 20-inch barrel with rifle sights for slugs and buckshot as well as a 28-inch barrel with a ventilated rib that utilizes a RemChoke tube for bird shot.

Click here to view the Remington 870 Express Combo features guide

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Except for its shiny blued action bars, all of our test gun’s metal surfaces had a uniform matte blue/black finish. A few superficial tool marks were found on the interior of the receiver, though. Moving parts had a moderate amount of play, but both trigger pins and either barrel fit the receiver snugly.

The two-piece hardwood stock was stained light brown and had a satin finish. Its stamped checkering was shallow, and an area on the bottom-left of the black recoil pad and spacer extended beyond the level of the buttstock. In wood-to-metal mating, the only shortcoming noted was a large gap behind the aluminum alloy trigger guard. When the standard barrel was installed, the Express balanced near the front of the receiver. Consequently, it swung easier than the other guns included here, and following through wasn’t difficult. With the slug barrel installed, it balanced near the middle of the ejection port. Although this afforded the least muzzle stability, target acquisition was exceptionally fast.

We found shouldering to be natural. Simply laying our face onto the comb provided a good stockweld with a proper view of the sights on either barrel. The 1.9-inch-wide forend’s large finger groove made it easy to grasp. Most felt the 1.3-inch-wide pistol grip was overly thin, but its angle afforded a secure hold. This shotgun’s solid rubber recoil pad was more effective at absorbing recoil than the vented pads on the others guns included here. Consequently, in spite of its half-pound lighter overall weight, the 870 seemed to kick the least.

This Remington’s action release lever, a thin piece of steel with a serrated face on the left-front of the trigger guard, unlocked the action when depressed. Right- and left-handed shooters had to move their firing hand forward to reach it. The manual safety, a crossbolt at the rear of the trigger guard, locked the trigger when pushed to the right. Only right-handed shooters could turn it “off” without a grip change. Both controls worked positively, though.

Switching this Model 870’s barrels wasn’t troublesome, and didn’t require any tools. After ensuring the magazine and chamber aren’t loaded, leave the action open. Unscrew the cap on the front of the magazine, and pull the unwanted barrel out of the receiver. Slide the other barrel’s guide ring over the magazine tube, while inserting the chamber end of the barrel into the receiver. Replace the magazine cap. Initially, our test gun’s shell latches were extremely stiff, making it difficult to insert rounds into the tubular magazine. However, both latches smoothed out satisfactorily after about 25 rounds. There was some drag and one hitch in the bolt’s movement, but pumping the action didn’t require an excessive amount of effort. Other aspects of the gun’s functioning were uneventful.

Of the shotguns in this test, the Express had the best trigger. The trigger itself had an ungrooved quarter-inch wide face with squared edges. Its pull had a minor amount of takeup, then let off cleanly with 4.5 pounds of rearward pressure. Both barrels had clear, easy to acquire sighting systems. The standard barrel featured a 3/16-inch-wide ventilated rib with a matte sighting plane and a brass-colored front bead. The slug barrel’s rifle-style sights consisted of a fully adjustable rear blade with a white triangle under its U-shaped notch, which clamped to an inclining ramp, and a front blade with a white bead-shaped top that was dovetailed to a serrated ramp.

Using Federal No. 7 1/2 Dove & Small Game shotshells and Fiocchi No. 8 Heavy Field loads, this Remington’s standard barrel and Modified choke tube produced centered, well-dispersed shot patterns. Accuracy of the slug barrel, which had an Improved Cylinder bore, varied greatly from load to load. Three-shot groups produced with Winchester’s BRI Sabot Slugs averaged 2.45 inches at 50 yards. Remington Copper Solid Sabot Slugs only managed 4.15-inch groups.

Mossberg 500 Crown Grade Combo
Unlike the other manufacturers in this test, Mossberg offers its Model 500 combination packages in two grades. The standard grade version has a plain, blue/black metal finish and an ordinary hardwood stock with stamped checkering. The Crown Grade version features a contoured walnut-stained stock with cut checkering, a decorated receiver and dual “Quiet Carry” action bars.

Click here to view the Mossberg 500 Crown Grade Combo features guide

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The subject of this test is a 20-gauge Model 500 Crown Grade Combo. It comes with a rifled 24-inch slug barrel with open sights, which is not intended for buckshot, and a standard 26-inch barrel with Accu-Choke tubes. This pump-action shotgun has redesigned action bars, which reduce noise and move the forend closer to the receiver for better handling, and an alloy receiver.

Externally, this scattergun’s receiver had stamped scrolling and a low-glare black finish, while steel parts had a lighter, polished blue finish. Both finishes were satisfactory, but some minor tool marks were noted on the extensions of both barrels. There was a gap along the left side of the trigger guard, and moving parts had a lot of play.

Walnut-stained hardwood was used to construct the two-piece stock. Its semi-gloss finish was evenly applied. However, the checkering on the forend and pistol wasn’t what we would call neatly cut, and the vented brown rubber recoil pad with black spacer had several high and low spots. The buttstock mated with the back of the receiver adequately, but there was a lot of unnecessary play in the forend.

When the standard barrel was installed, our Model 500 balanced about a half-inch in front of the receiver. This made swinging almost as fast as that of the Remington shotgun included here, and follow through was average. With the slug barrel installed, it balanced at the front of the receiver. Consequently, we felt target acquisition was the slowest of the test, but the muzzle was the most stable. Shouldering was satisfactory. However, all of our shooters said the vented recoil pad was the least effective at reducing felt recoil, and its pointed toe was a source of discomfort. Regardless of the barrel used, establishing a stockweld with a good view of the sights wasn’t a problem. Although the 1.4-inch-wide pistol grip was too squared for our tastes, it and the finger-grooved 1.8-inch-wide forend provided more than enough gripping area.

Right- and left-handed shooters could readily operate either of the Model 500’s controls with the fingers of their dominant hand. When depressed, the action-release lever on the left side of the receiver behind the trigger guard unlocked the action. The manual safety, a large two-position slide on the tang, blocked the trigger when moved rearward. Both controls worked smoothly.

Changing the barrels was simple, and didn’t require any tools. To do so, first, empty the magazine and unload the chamber. Move the forearm so that the front of the bolt is positioned in the middle of the ejection port. Unscrew the takedown screw, a large-headed screw attached to the barrel ring, then pull the unwanted barrel out of the gun. Insert the other barrel’s back end into the receiver, and screw the takedown screw into the hole in the front of the magazine until it is finger tight. Do not use a tool to tighten the takedown screw. A small space between the barrel ring and the magazine tube is normal on this model.

Regardless of the ammunition used, our Model 500 reliably fed, fired and extracted. However, initially, spent shells occasionally hung up on the extractor. After about 100 rounds, all fired hulls started ejecting properly. The action’s movement was rough, we felt. When pumped back and forth, it had a lot of drag and numerous hitches. None of our shooters had a problem loading shells into the tubular magazine, though.

Movement of this Mossberg’s gold-colored trigger, which had an ungrooved 1/4-inch-wide face, was smooth but hard. Its pull had a small amount of takeup, then released with 6 pounds of rearward pressure.

The standard barrel’s sighting system consisted of a 3/16-inch-wide ventilated rib with a grooved sighting plane, a white front bead and a small brass-colored mid-bead. The slug barrel featured a fold-down rear blade with a small U-shaped notch, which could be adjusted for windage only, and a ramped all-black front blade with a bead-shaped top. This arrangement was the slowest to align, but it provided a repeatable sight picture.

We thought the shot patterns produced by the standard barrel using the Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full choke tubes were satisfactory. Thanks to the slug barrel’s rifled bore and long sight radius, it produced the best groups of the test. We obtained the smallest three-shot average groups, 2.10 inches at 50 yards, with Winchester BRI Sabot Slugs. Remington Copper Solid Sabot Slugs were good for 2.75-inch groups.

Winchester 1300 Ranger Deer Combo
Winchester’s Model 1300 is a pump shotgun that utilizes an alloy receiver and a four-lug rotary bolt. Although a higher grade version of this scattergun is available, this manufacturer’s combination pack-age only come with the no-frills Ranger model. In 20-gauge, the Deer Combo features a standard 28-inch barrel with a WinChoke tube and a smoothbore 22-inch slug/buckshot barrel with rifle sights.

Click here to view the Winchester 1300 Ranger Deer Combo features guide

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Our test gun’s receiver had a low-glare black finish that matched the blued finish of the steel barrel and magazine tube reasonably well. However, there were a few minor casting marks on the interior of the receiver and some molding marks on the black plastic trigger guard. Although the trigger guard had an above average amount of side-to-side movement, this shotgun’s moving parts had the least play. Both pieces of the reddish-brown stock were made of plainly-grained hardwood with a uniform, satin finish. Despite some superficial grinding marks on the sides of the vented black rubber recoil pad, it was well fitted. Wood-to-metal mating was acceptable. There was a medium-size gap between the back of the trigger guard and the front edge of the buttstock, but it was intentionally put there to facilitate the removal of the trigger unit.

With the standard barrel installed, this Winchester Model 1300 balanced about one inch in front of the receiver. This caused the Ranger to swing slower than the other shotguns in this test, but it followed through the easiest. When the slug barrel was installed, the shotgun balanced near the front of the receiver’s ejection port. Consequently, pointing and muzzle stability were satisfactory.

The Model 1300 Ranger came up smoothly, though it didn’t settle into the shoulder as naturally as others in this test. Most considered the shape of the comb to be the most comfortable. However, we had to press our face down on the comb to establish a proper view of the standard barrel’s sighting plane. The rounded 2-inch-wide forend didn’t help keep the shooter’s fingers away from the hot barrel, but it and the 1.4-inch-wide pistol grip afforded a solid grasp. Felt recoil was average.

Depressing the action release, a small tab that was located behind the trigger guard on the left side of the receiver, unlocked this pump-action shotgun’s action. Our shooters found that the tab’s low profile made it somewhat difficult to find and activate in a hurry, but it operated smoothly. The crossbolt two-position safety, mounted at the front of the trigger guard, blocked the trigger when pushed to the right. It worked correctly.

This Winchester functioned reliably throughout the test. However, we had to muscle the bolt during the last half-inch of its forward movement. Otherwise, the action operated very smoothly. Inserting shells into the tubular magazine through the loading port in the bottom of the receiver was easy. Extraction was positive with all of the ammunition types we used, and ejection was a little weak but fairly consistent.

Movement of the grooved, 1/4-inch-wide trigger was, in our opinion, unacceptable. After almost 1/8-inch of slack, it had a mushy release. According to our self-recording trigger gauge, the pull let off at 8.5 pounds.

For sighting, the standard barrel featured a ventilated rib with a grooved sighting plane and a small, brass-colored front bead. The slug barrel had a front blade with a small silver bead, which washed out in direct sunlight, and a step-adjustable rear with a U-shaped notch. This arrangement provided the least desirable sight picture. However, unlike its competitors, the Ranger’s receiver was drilled and tapped for a scope.

The Model 1300 Ranger’s standard barrel and Modified choke tube produced well-dispersed shot patterns with Fiocchi No. 8 Heavy Field loads and Federal No. 7 1/2 Dove & Small Game shotshells. Its slug barrel, which had a Cylinder bore, produced the largest groups of this test, though. From a sandbag rest, the three-shot groups we obtained using Winchester BRI Sabot Slugs and Remington’s Copper Solid Sabot Slugs averaged 3.50 and 4.20 inches, respectively, at 50 yards.