December 1999

GT’s 1999 Guns of the Year: Your Can’t-Miss Firearms Buys

This annual recap of top-ranked revolvers, pistols, hunting and competition rifles, and field and sport shotguns offers up what we would buy—or have already bought—for ourselves.

The year of 1999 saw a great deal of innovation in all areas of fireams development, including the use of a high-tech metal (titanium) in revolvers, the broadening use of plastic (also called polymer) in semiauto handguns and shotguns, and the codification of benchrest manufacturing techniques in rifles (including aluminum bedding blocks in riflestocks). As we tracked these trends and tested products in the critical head-to-head format found only in Gun Tests, we gave you our best advice on what guns we thought deserved your money in their respective classes. When we get to the end of the year, we’re able to look back over the previous 12 months and see what guns broke the mold in terms of performance, design, materials, and other factors, irrespective of their class or niche.

Herewith, then, are the products in 1999 that advanced the gun-making art in some appreciable way, and to which we give our highest accolade: We bought as many of them as we could afford for ourselves.

Revolvers
In wheelgun design and manufacturing, there were two trends that Gun Tests tracked with great interest. We noted the ongoing fight for market share between revolvers and pistols that drove much of this innovation, as cylinder guns got more usable capacity to compete with magazine round counts, and a new class of strong titanium guns offered shooters very lightweight carry guns in powerful chamberings. We also noticed and reported on the continuing Cowboy Action craze and guns used to shoot it, the development of super-powered fixed-barrel handguns, and how ammo development was making heretofore lightweight rounds evermore suitable for self-defense. Here’s what we saw and liked in these gun segments:

Smith & Wesson 686 Plus
Our recommendation: Buy it. Originally called the Combat Magnum, the 686 series is favored by Action Pistol aficionados for its accuracy and strength. It shot sub 3-inch groups at 25 yards with all but one ammo tested.

Click here to view the Smith & Wesson 686 Plus features guide

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We were particularly interested in one matchup of .38 Special/.357 Magnum revolvers that gave shooters round counts on par with many similarly sized pistols. At the end of the day, we came away very impressed with Smith & Wesson’s 2.5-inch stainless L-framed 686 Plus, $518, a seven-shooter that showed superb accuracy and fit. In fact, after the test, one of our testers liked the 686 Plus so much that he bought the gun for personal carry.

With an exposed backstrap and thin-profile Hogue grip, this $518 medium-frame 2.5-inch-barrel .357 Magnum revolver was only 1.54-inch wide at its cylinder, a mere 0.10 inch larger than the six-shot K-frame cylinder. The 686 Plus came tapped for a scope mount just like the 6-inch target models, but the supplied adjustable rear sight was also excellent. Essentially, this is S&W’s top target gun with the barrel refinished to snubby length.

Under any circumstance, trigger control is what accurate shooting is all about. The 686 Plus’s double-action trigger response was crisp and fast, we thought, with its timed runs of 4.11, 4.67, 3.75, 4.30, and 3.71 seconds. Also to the 686 Plus’s credit, we felt its trigger return speed allowed for a more consistent stroke. The more we shot it, the better we got with it, and the final and fastest run featured nearly dead-center hits on all targets.

Colt Cowboy
Our recommendation: The Cowboy Action game continues to draw shooters who want to mix the romance of a bygone time with the aroma of burnt gunpowder, and guns to meet that need continue to find their way to retailers’ shelves. One we tested this year—and liked a lot—was the $599 Colt Cowboy in .45 LC.

Click here to view the Colt Cowboy features guide

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When we put the Colt Cowboy side-by-side with a mint-condition 2nd Generation SA Colt, we found it hard to see any difference. The metal polish on the Cowboy was excellent. It had flat sides, sharp corners, and no rippling along the barrel. The bluing was superb. The dark case coloring, while a bit milky, was more than adequate. It should age well. The cylinder, barrel, ejector rod housing, trigger, guard and backstrap were blued. The frame was case colored. The hammer was blued, then polished white on the sides. The stocks were plastic copies of the early Colt hard-rubber grips, checkered black with rampant Colt medallion at the top. They were slightly larger than the back strap, but a perfect fit elsewhere. Comparing the Cowboy’s cosmetics to a 2nd Generation Colt’s, we found a slight difference in the hammer shape, and that’s about all.

We couldn’t fault the metal work or the overall appearance. All the fitted metal parts were well mated, with no slop or rattle. The gun locked up tightly when cocked, and the timing was near-perfect. The transfer bar permits you to carry all six chambers loaded. If you drop the gun on a rock, or vice versa, the gun can’t fire.

The cylinder outlets of the Colt Cowboy measured 0.458 to 0.461 inch. The Cowboy’s groove diameter measured 0.452 inch. This combination of loose cylinder outlets and tight bore made us think the gun wouldn’t shoot worth a darn. We were proved wrong, at least with two of the test loads. The trigger pull was rough and heavy. It broke at 6.0 pounds. This good-looking Colt would benefit greatly from a trigger job, in our estimation. The sight picture was much better than that of the old Colts, with a wider front blade and slightly wider rear notch. These are not target sights, but are more than adequate for the type.

In sum, we thought the Colt Cowboy, $599, is not an exact copy of the old Colts, but it sure looked good in the holster and performed well in the hand. Cowboys of 100 years ago bought the best they could find, and the Colt Cowboy is, today, one of those guns. Buy it.

S&W 342Ti .38 Special +P
Our recommendation: One of the more interesting developments in 1999 was the initiation of five-shot featherweights like the $499 S&W 342Ti (Titanium) .38 Special +P. This new S&W is so light and small—yet shootable—that you might misplace it.

Click here to view the S&W 342Ti .38 Special +P features guide

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The 342Ti weighs less than 12 ounces, and it will shoot .38 Special +P ammo all day long. It achieves its trim weight through the use of titanium, which reduces the weight of the cylinder 60 percent below what a stainless-steel wheel would weigh. Some of the ultra-light bolstering of this pocket rocket launcher are a special heavy-duty nitrided center pin, a special titanium bushing where the center pin passes through the bolster face, and four heavy-duty titanium studs that carry the trigger, hammer, rebound, and cylinder stop. Additional weight reduction can be seen with areas of slimmed and fluted surfaces on the barrel shroud, under the trigger guard, and on the back strap.

And there are other signs that this is not your father’s Smith & Wesson. The owner is warned against removing or adjusting the barrel assembly in any way. The barrel is an aluminum-and-stainless steel hybrid, and it is assembled in such a way that it seats itself throughout the life of the gun. A special tool is needed to work on the tube, and nothing is served by fooling with it yourself. Also, the exposed titanium surfaces are polished and treated with a protective finish. Otherwise, the exposed metal in the individual chambers and cylinder face are susceptible to abrasion from common items such as sandpaper, crocus cloth, and Scotch Brite wheels.

We think the Smith & Wesson 342Ti is a superb deep-concealment gun. The 342Ti, as light as a feather and snag-free to boot, does not require its owner to wear a holster.

.475 Linebaugh/Freedom Arms Model 757
Our recommendation: Along with our regular revolver tests, we also examined a new round chambered for wheelguns, John Linebaugh’s .475 Linebaugh. The round, now offered in a Freedom Arms Model 757 production revolver, is the most powerful repeating handgun ever offered as an over-the-counter firearm.

Click here to view the .475 Linebaugh/Freedom Arms Model 757 features guide

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The five-shot Freedom .475 Line–baugh revolvers throw a 420-grain bullet at 1,350 fps. In contrast, the .44 Magnum throws a 250-grainer at about 1,250 fps. Other rounds come close to the Linebaugh’s power ballpark, but the .50 AE and the .454 Casull, don’t quite match up. In factory loads, the .50 AE slings a 325-grain bullet at around 1,400 fps, compared with the .475’s 420-grain at 1,350 fps. That’s 100 grains more bullet at nearly the same speed. If you compare muzzle energies, the .50 AE gets 1,400 foot-pounds versus 1,700 foot-pounds for the .475 Linebaugh.

Switching to the Casull, another factory-produced round, the difference is much larger in real-life numbers. The Casull can get (with very high pressure) a velocity approaching 1,600 fps out of a 300-grain bullet. That puts muzzle energy right up there with the Linebaugh. If we measure power by the dubious means of muzzle energy, the Casull is in the race. However, heavy and/or dangerous game requires heavy bullets that can smash big bones, not the realm of light bullets at high velocity. Based on our testing of the .475 Linebaugh/Freedom Arms 757, we realize people all over the world like to own the biggest and best of everything, handguns no exception. We think many shooters will buy the new Freedom Linebaugh, fire a shot or two, and then put the gun away and simply bask in the luxury of knowing they’ve got the most powerful revolver in the world. Of course, they will pay for the privilege, spending between $1,400 and $1,820 for the Freedom five-shooter. If you want to own the biggest, most powerful production handgun to come along in this century, then roll up your pennies and order the 757.

Pistols
In our reviews of 1999 pistols, we noticed an ever-growing improvement in the qualities of fit and finish of 1911-style .45 autos. From the factory, they have passably good trigger pulls, reliable operation, good looks, and adequate, if not superb, accuracy. We also noted a trend in this segment of larger calibers being squeezed into smaller form sizes. Whereas 9mms were once the primary packable package, now shooters can get similar gun sizes chambered for .40 S&W and even .45 ACP.

Among the well-outfitted .45s we tested in 1999 was the Springfield “Loaded” Model 1911-A1 PX9608, which we recap below.

Springfield 1911A1 “Loaded” PX9608
Our recommendation: The $565 Springfield had all-steel construction, good looks, a perfect trigger pull, outstanding accuracy with all loads, plus complete reliability. Buy it.

Click here to view the Springfield 1911A1 ?Loaded? PX9608 features guide

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The strikingly attractive Springfield had fully checkered wood stocks and a high polish to the sides of its blued receiver and action. There were no plastic parts on this gun. It had a long aluminum Videki trigger, a beveled magazine well, extended safety, a skeletonized Commander-style hammer, a Novak rear sight and a highly visible front sight. The gun had a flat steel mainspring housing with vertical serrations. The beavertail grip safety had a big, hand-filling bump on the bottom, which we liked a lot.

Although it looked great, the Springfield front sight was not dovetailed into the slide. We feel dovetailing is the most foolproof, if not the best-looking, method of attaching a front sight. The Springfield had the now-common front slide serrations. The top of the slide permitted easy stovepipe clearing. The Springfield’s feed ramp was highly polished and the chamber throat was widened to ease feeding.

At the range, the Springfield handled all ammo with aplomb. There were no problems whatsoever. Our average five-shot group size was 2.5 inches at 15 yards, and the smallest was 1.4 inches with the Winchester hardball.

In spite of its having a half-pound heavier trigger pull than the Kimber, the Springfield’s pull felt lighter. There was absolutely no creep, and overtravel was minimal yet adequate. The gun felt precise.

Of the many 1911-style guns we tested in 1999, we thought the Springfield “Loaded” Model 1911-A1 PX9608, $565, had all the qualities most shooters want for a reasonable price. Buy it.

Heckler & Koch P7M8
Our recommendation: At $1,222, this isn’t a gun, it’s an investment. It’s tight, reliable, and superbly accurate.

Click here to view the Heckler & Koch P7M8 features guide

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H&K’s P7M8 is an all-steel, compact, ultra-reliable, high-tech product. Our break-in sessions featured a wider variety of ammo than most shooters even imagine, and this gun was more accurate with a wider variety of cartridges than any other factory gun in recent memory.

To shoot the Heckler & Koch P7M8, you must first squeeze the grip and compress the front strap. When the gun runs dry and locks back, you release pressure to the front strap, insert the mag, squeeze the grip again and the gun immediately returns to battery.

This is an advantage because you can shoot the gun dry to get full use of the mag’s eight-round capacity before reloading and not lose any time recharging with the weak hand or manipulating any further controls. The disadvantage is it can be very tiring to the shooter compressing the grip with adequate force and isolating the trigger finger for a smooth relaxed press. We felt our accuracy would have improved if we were not fatigued by the squeeze-cocker design.

The P7M8 is slim and easy to hold, albeit you have to have the strength to squeeze the grip. The frame-to-slide contact at lockup is nearly 100 percent. Atop the slide is a three-dot system that unlike some guns never gets smudged by debris. The rear dots are engraved, and the dot on the front sight is actually globe-shaped with about one eighth of a white sphere protruding from the front sight. The trigger is relatively light and extremely smooth.

To release the magazine a downward push on the ambidextrous lever is required. Mags hold eight rounds, and they eject smartly. The gun has an overall blockish profile. Maybe it weighs a little bit more than the latest designs, but its boxiness lands its center of gravity right in the center of the hand. Fit and finish are superb and well thought out. Slide-to-frame fit, no jagged edges, grip panels that integrate flawlessly, parts that flow smoothly into one another as if the entire gun were molded were among its design positives.

There is really no other gun like the $1,222 Heckler & Koch P7M8. Buy it.

Ruger 22/45
Our recommendation: Buy it. Cheaper and more accurate than other .22s we tested, it duplicates the feel of a 1911. Also, its trigger feel is classic Bullseye, making it the perfect cheap date for your centerfire 45.

Click here to view the Ruger 22/45 features guide

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When we tested a set of plinker/target .22 LR handguns, we wanted to find a comfortable, shootable, affordable product with which to pass some range time. Unquestionably, the most accurate piece in this test was the Ruger 22/45, which shot the best five-shot groups with four of the five labels.

The $199 pistol that surrounds the silver-colored, hinged trigger is unmistakably Ruger in appearance and function. The barrel is a heavy bull design backed by the distinctive butterfly-shaped bolt ears with which to pull back the breech bolt. The bolt-stop pin is just in front of the ears and requires the adjustable rear sight to be moved forward. This makes for the shortest sight radius of the three, but that was of no consequence, we found. The grip frame is polymer and very much like the one found on the company’s larger centerfire models of “P” and “K” designation that handle cartridges ranging from 9mm to .45 ACP.

The model designation 22/45 is derived from what we think is a successful attempt to emulate the tactile experience of shooting a 1911-design pistol. The hinged trigger offers a free-swinging take-up and meets a solid wall of resistance with only the slightest hint of creep. This is a textbook setup for a Bullseye gun. The idea here is to make the 22/45 a rimfire battery-mate to the 1911 used in the centerfire portion of a Bullseye match. After the shot breaks on the Ruger, it is necessary to release the trigger completely by moving the finger forward until it is off the face of the trigger completely.

The Ruger 22/45, $199, had nearly everything we’d want in an inexpensive plinking/target gun. Buy it.

Rifles
Many of us wish our off-the-rack rifles would shoot inch-or-smaller groups at 100 yards, and we believe we saw a trend in 1999 that will move production guns toward that standard. The increased use of aluminum in stock manufacturing signals a design trend that will substantially improve many lines’ performance going forward. In particular, three bolt guns we tested showed what was heretofore the province of custom-gun accuracy, one of which was Winchester’s Model 70 Synthetic Heavy Varmint in .223 Remington, which sells for $764.

Winchester Model 70 Synthetic Heavy Varmint
Our recommendation: For accuracy, this is the winner. It would be superb with a better trigger.

Click here to view the Winchester Model 70 Synthetic Heavy Varmint features guide

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The Winchester Model 70 Synthetic Heavy Varmint’s Pillar Plus Accu Block bedding system incorporated a pillar bedding, a full-length aluminum block machine-cut to fit the receiver, and glass bedding around the front and rear stock screw area of the receiver. It was this structural underpinning that lead to the gun’s superb on-target performance. The Winchester’s overall accuracy groups averaged 0.49 inches with four test ammunitions. Our best group average with this test gun came with PMC’s 55-grain HPBT bullet: 0.38 inches.

The charcoal-grey composite stock had a 2.5-inch beavertail forend with a flat bottom. This improves stability and repeatability on the rest, where free recoil is important. The Winchester’s two-tone metal finish made this a good-looking firearm. A satin stainless steel finish on the gun’s 26-inch free-floated barrel contrasted nicely with the blued receiver. A 0.87-inch-thick muzzle diameter accounted for much of the gun’s 10-pound 4-ounce weight.

The Winchester’s trigger broke crisply at 4.5 to 4.75 pounds and showed a little creep. This trigger is somewhat adjustable, but it will have to be broken down and honed to get a lighter, smoother pull.

The Winchester Model 70 Synthetic Heavy Varmint’s features justify its $764 price, in our view. Buy it.

Briley Trans Pecos .308
Our recommendation: In our opinion, Briley’s Trans Pecos rifles remove any question about what—or who—caused a miss. If you can afford the $3,500 ticket, the Trans Pecos is worth the ride.

Click here to view the Briley Trans Pecos .308 features guide

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Well-known shotgun maker Briley Manufacturing began offering a rifle in 1999 called the Trans Pecos. Briley’s magazine-fed and single-shot Trans Pecos centerfires are solid guns sporting 24-inch and 26-inch Lothar Walther barrels. We tested a wood-stocked .308 Winchester and a composite-stocked .22-250 Remington, which respectively weighed in at 9.6 pounds (scoped) and 12.6 pounds (unscoped). The barrels are mostly No. 3 and No. 5 contours, with modified AR-15 extractors, pillar bedding, aluminum bedding blocks, trued steel three-lug actions with 60-degree bolt throws, aluminum frames, two-piece stocks of English walnut (on the repeater; the single-shot has a composite buttstock and forend), Jewell 6-ounce triggers, and a thick, soft Kick-Eez recoil pad. The gun was initially offered in .22-250, .243, .260 Remington, 7mm-08, and .308.

M1A
Our recommendation: The standard Springfield M1A will set you back around $1,400. It’s our first choice. It is probably the easiest of all “battle rifles” to assimilate by the rifleman who has never held a pistol-grip.

Click here to view the M1A features guide

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About the time you read this magazine, many Y2K-nervous shooters will be looking for a self-loading .308. Earlier in 1999, we completed a several-years-long study of these battle rifles and found that a new Springfield M1A barreled action in a genuine M14 stock is hard to beat in this class.

In the shooter’s hands, the classic M14/M1A stock makes the rifleman feel right at home, and its wood is more comfortable in cold weather than steel or plastic. Rifles originally designed to have a pistol grip must today have thumbhole stocks, and this tends to screw up their function to some extent. Therefore the M1A makes a lot of sense because it can be obtained in its original design configuration. The M1A is the most comfortable and practical .308 semiauto available, in our view. It doesn’t need any modifications to make it usable. All of the M1As we’ve examined had decent trigger pulls. If you want to put a better trigger pull on yours, that work is both easy and inexpensive to farm out.

M1A rifles feature investment-cast receivers to which are mated some surplus and some new parts into a thoroughly sound semiauto version of the M14 U.S. rifle that beat out the FAL to become our standard battle rifle. The receiver of the M1A is extremely hard.

Iron sights on the M14-type rifles are superior to iron sights on any other battle rifle we’ve seen, of any era. The sight radius is very long. The rear unit is fully and easily adjustable. If you want finer adjustments, which you probably don’t need unless you plan to shoot in competition, you can install a match rear sight. A thinner front post is available if you want one. We can easily place all shots into a 6-inch marker at near-rapid-fire rate at a full 200 yards with these sights. You don’t really need a scope with the M1A/M14.

We suspect you’ll be extremely happy with the M1A. You can sell it easily if you don’t like it, but we think you won’t let your M1A go anytime soon. The purpose of a rifle is hitting targets, and this type, with its long sight radius and good trigger, make that task the easiest of all three rifle types tested. This is our first choice in a .308 rifle.

Shotguns
How much do you need to spend to get a really good shotgun? Less and less, it seems. We reviewed several scatterguns in 1999 that earned “Buy” recommendations from us, but a few stood out as good values in their respective classes.

In over/unders, the word value means something else than in the pump and automatic classes. We expect to find good wood, superior inletting, hand fitting of all metal and wood parts, engraving, better wood and metal finishes, superior balance and handling, and a good trigger. One gun that satisfied these criteria was the Beretta Model S687 Silver Pigeon Sporting, $2,270, which we revisit below:

Beretta S687 Silver Pigeon Sporting
Our recommendation: Pick up the Beretta Silver Pigeon and mount it, and it falls into place like it was meant to be there. At 7.7 pounds it’s heavier than many other guns, but if you intend to shoot a lot, a bit of extra weight is probably a good thing. The gun feels so good you know you’ll shoot it well, and we did.

Click here to view the Beretta S687 Silver Pigeon Sporting features guide

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The shotgun had a nice, but not extremely fancy, wood stock and coin-finished action, which means it was essentially white. Impressed “engraving” of scrolls and game-bird scenes adorned the receiver panels. The Beretta had a single gold-plated trigger, ejectors, a slim recoil pad, a ventilated rib, and was chambered for 12-gauge shells. Replaceable choke tube inserts tailor the shotcharge density to your needs.

The trigger pulls were 3.25 pounds for the upper barrel and 4.5 for the bottom. With two pulls, both hammers fall whether or not each round fires. The non-auto safety was quite stiff, though a bit of oil improved it greatly. Particularly noteworthy was the rounded top of the Beretta’s recoil pad, which, combined with its slick surface, made mounting very fast. We also greatly liked this gun’s castoff, which made the two beads mounted on its 0.4-inch-wide rib fall right in line with our eye.

In our view, the Beretta S687 Silver Pigeon Sporting would be ideal for extended Sporting Clays competition, and for occasional upland game hunting. There are lighter guns for field work, though we’d be surprised if there were more precise or longer-lasting guns for Sporting Clays shooting.

Browning Gold Stalker
Our recommendation: We thought this 3 1/2-inch gun handled better than other autos we tested, even if it carries a stiff price.

Click here to view the Browning Gold Stalker features guide

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Our Browning Stalker was matte black all over. It accepted Invector choke inserts, had a 1/2-inch-wide ventilated rib with matte finish, a 0.140-inch diameter round white front bead, and back-bored barrel.

The Gold’s receiver was fully machined from aluminum alloy. The sides of the receiver were absolutely dead flat, and the top surface was evenly rounded and showed no waviness. Inside the action everything was cleanly cut and nicely finished in matte black. The follower was chrome- plated steel, and it was not necessary to push the bolt-release button to load the magazine. The bolt had only one extractor. The ejection port had smooth beveled edges that left no sharp edges to cut your hands, or cause ejected shells to hang up.

The reversible safety was a triangular trigger-blocking button located in the rear of the trigger guard. It was stiff, and we’d prefer to see it at the front of the guard. We found it to be a more natural motion to extend the trigger finger forward and work a safety located in the front of the guard.

One of the factors that’s difficult to quantify is why one gun feels better on the shoulder than another. Making this judgment depends on stock drop, cast, the shape of the grip, and many other subtle factors which vary from gun to gun and person to person. Nonetheless, in our range and field testing, we rated the Stalker at the top in terms of how it pointed.

If we needed a 31/2-inch shotgun for waterfowling or other hard use, we’d choose the $735 Browning Gold Stalker over many other self-loading shotguns. Buy it.

Benelli Nova
Our recommendation: The $350 street price of the innovative Nova makes it a bargain in any language. It’s new, it’s nice, it works, we liked it, and we’d buy it. The shotgun manufacturer’s challenge is to make a pump gun that can handle many tasks including serious waterfowling, and Benelli has stepped up to the line with its newest offering, the 3.5-inch pump Benelli Nova. But the Nova has tough competition in this segment, primarily the old favorite Remington 870 Express, a $400 gun that just keeps on working.

Click here to view the Benelli Nova features guide

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The Benelli Nova’s innovative integral buttstock and action unit—made of plastic—works very well. The necessary metal-to-metal lockup at the breech is achieved by a rotating bolt head that secures itself into locking recesses machined into the barrel extension.

Fit and finish were exceptionally well done throughout this shotgun. The forend, like that of the 870, had a bit of sideplay in the fully locked position. We liked the provisions for sling swivels, one molded into the buttstock, the other underneath the barrel-attaching ring. With a 14.25-inch length of pull and a rounded heel to the buttpad, this gun mounted easily and was long enough to keep your fist off your face when lighting off those steel-filled 3.5-inch roman candles. Loading and unloading the gun was very easy, the magazine accepting three 3.5-inch shells or four 3-inch or 2.75-inch shells. The trigger release was both creepy and heavy. It broke at just over 7 pounds, which is too much, in our view. It needed serious work.

Cosmetically, the RealTree camouflage pattern was well applied, and it was on every visible surface except for the detachable buttpad, the flat black magazine tube, the trigger, and the dull-finished loading gate.

Remington 870 Express Super Magnum Turkey
Our recommendation: For its intended uses, the 870 is still as good as it ever was. The 3.5-inch Turkey Camo came with a RealTree Advantage Camo finish. We see a place for this short-barreled gun in grouse coverts or over tight-holding quail cover, because it is a fast-handling gun. We’re less enamored of it for pass shooting, because it lacks the extra barrel length and weight needed to easily track moving targets, and it also lacks sight radius.

Click here to view the Remington 870 Express Super Magnum Turkey features guide

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The Remington’s magazine held three 3.5-inch shells, four 3-inch shells or four 2.75-inch shells. All exposed metal surfaces including the bolt, trigger guard, part of the slide, and the extended choke tube were finished in matte black. The trigger guard was made of aluminum alloy. We considered the Remington’s non-reflective camo finish to be well-suited for upland bird, waterfowl, or turkey hunting. We couldn’t find any structural or cosmetic shortcomings.

Weighing 7.25 pounds (a quarter-pound less than Remington’s comparable 28-inch guns) the shorter Super Magnum handled faster than other Remington 870s we’ve tested. Swinging and target acquisition were quick and natural, due in part to the gun’s 14-inch length of pull.

The gun came to the shooter’s face comfortably, though some of our shooters would have preferred less than 1.5 inches of drop at the comb and 2.5 inches of drop at the heel. The stock didn’t show any cast.

Since the gun is fairly light and since the action doesn’t bleed away any gas, shooters were pounded by the magnum ammunition. Loaded and ready for ducks, the Remington worked admirably. It fed and fired flawlessly with 2.75-inch, 3-inch and 3.5-inch ammunition we tried.

We liked the Benelli Nova, and believe it’s a lot of shotgun. With a suggested retail price of $425 and a street cost of about $350, it’s going to give even the low-priced Remington Express 870 some rough going.