February 2000

Synthetic 12-Gauge Pumps: The Black Shadow Gets Our Attention

Winchester’s synthetic-stocked pump gun was fast-handling, functional, and—at $296—a bargain. We liked it better than the Remington 870 Express Magnum and Browning’s BPS Stalker.

[IMGCAP(1)] Twelve-gauge pump shotguns are an American tradition. They sure don’t have the class of a good double, but they’re hard to beat for knock-around utility. If you think in terms of wanting a shotgun to throw in the bottom of the boat for a day’s poking around the local waters, the pump is a good and usually inexpensive choice. Add the versatility of insert choke tubes, and you can tailor the gun to the game season at hand. Moreover, today’s pump will often have a polymer (plastic) stock, because they’re cheaper than walnut and perhaps more durable, and they offer the added benefit of reduced visibility. If you’re after a matte-black-finished, all-around pump shotgun, why not have the stock just as black as the ironwork? A synthetic-stocked 12-gauge pump shotgun can be a mighty handy setup that covers lots of bases.

When you say pump shotgun, many outdoorsmen automatically think of the Remington 870. We suspect not many would instantly get a picture of the Winchester Model 1300 Black Shadow, or any pump gun carrying the Browning name. Several of us at Gun Tests had owned 870s in the past, but none of our testers were as familiar with the Winchester or Browning pumps. We had a chance to test the three together and jumped at it.

The Guns
We acquired a $296 Winchester 1300 Black Shadow Field, a $339 Remington 870 Express Magnum, and a $509 Browning BPS Stalker. All were very dark and bland-looking guns, with matte-black stocks and matte-black finish on all the metal parts. All three had black buttpads. The Winchester and Browning had 28-inch barrels, and the Remington had a 25.5-incher. All three of these 12-bores were fitted with insert choke tubes in their vent-rib barrels. Here’s what we thought of them.

Winchester 1300 Black Shadow Field
Our recommendation: Our first impression of the 1300 was quite favorable. A Winchester like this had not been seen or handled by our testers, and the first thing we noticed was the very smooth action of the pump mechanism. Second was the presence of two bolt rods, a feature shared by all three of the test guns. With its Modified Win-Choke tube in place, this $296 shotgun was ready for most field applications. The lightest and fastest acting of the three, it proved to be our first choice.

Click here to view the Winchester 1300 Black Shadow Field features guide

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There was no indication of the Black Shadow name on the gun. In fact, with the barrel removed, the only way to tell the gun was a Winchester was to look at the buttpad. The aluminum alloy receiver contained exactly nothing but the serial number, and even that had no clues as to the maker. The lack of weight in the receiver combined with the long barrel gave the Winchester a muzzle-heavy feel that could either detract from fast upland shots or aid in tracking passing birds. The flat-black vent-rib barrel told us that this was a Winchester 1300 chambered for 2.75- and 3-inch 12-gauge shells. The 0.375-inch wide rib contained only a flattened brass bead at its forward end for sighting, which was adequate. The rib and the top of the receiver had very nicely done longitudinal serrations that cut glare well.

The trigger guard was also made of plastic. It held a cross-bolt safety in the front portion, and the safety was easy and natural to acquire—at least for right-handers. The lines of the stock and forend and the trigger guard blended well with the metal portions of the gun, giving a clean and smooth profile. The bolt release was at the left side of the trigger guard. We were able to work it with gloves on, though it was the smallest release button of all three guns.

The buttpad was a trestle style with a ribbed rear surface that gave good traction on the clothing. It helped cut recoil but could have been softer. One excellent point about this buttpad is that it was slightly rounded and smoothed at the top, and that made a world of difference in speed of mounting. The checkering was cleanly done at pistol grip and forend, adequately large, and worked well. The front of the buttstock fit into a pronounced notch at the rear of the receiver, which will perhaps help keep it tight over the years. It seemed to be very tightly fastened, and stayed so during our test.

Although the buttpad was a very slight mismatch to the buttstock, the plastic work was smoothly and evenly finished with no visible blemishes. Ditto the metalwork throughout. We especially liked the lack of sharp edges anywhere on the gun where your hands normally touch it, like around the ejection and loading ports. You could run your hands all over the receiver and feel no sharp edges whatsoever. This was a friendly feeling shotgun, and we rated the fit and finish very good overall.

The bolt locked into the rear of the barrel by means of a rotating head. There was one extractor, and it was enough to do the job. Ejection was positive. Although the action worked very smoothly when racked normally, if we attempted to close the bolt slowly, it required noticeable force to get the bolt to rotate into place. The trigger pull had a bit of creep and no overtravel. It broke at 7.5 pounds, which sounds awful but wasn’t that bad. The four-round magazine loaded easily from the bottom port, even with gloves on, as did all of the guns in this test. Feed and ejection were perfect. In fact, the pump slide came so easily rearward that follow-up shots were extremely fast, much more so than with either of the other two guns tested here. We were able to empty the magazine very quickly. As a result, we believe the Black Shadow would be well suited for law-enforcement or home-protection uses, if this fast-acting gun were fitted with an extension magazine and a shorter barrel. (We’d look hard at the Winchester Defender with eight-shot capacity and 18-inch barrel if we needed such a gun.)

Remington 870 Express Super Magnum
Our recommendation: The steel receiver of this 3.5-inch-chambered gun provided needed weight to help offset hard-kicking magnum rounds. The crisp feel of the action and the fine balance of the $339 Remington 870 let us know why Remington has sold so many of this model, but this 25.5-inch barreled shotgun had some flaws, in our estimation.

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

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This gun had a pebble-grained feel to its metalwork that reminded us of Parkerizing. The metal was totally non-reflective and evenly finished, unlike the stock. The black-plastic buttstock had major blemishes on both sides that looked like a cheekpiece had been removed from each side. This was not perceptible to the touch, but looked pretty bad. The underside of the sparsely checkered forend had a visible and tangible parting line at its midpoint that did nothing for the gun’s looks. The fit of the buttpad was not perfect, but adequate. However, it was much too firm for a gun of this potency. It had a sharp top that hindered mounting.

The checkering was fancier at the pistol grip than on the forend, but in both locations it was too fine, in our opinion. We didn’t like the way the curve of the receiver blended with the polymer stock on top of the very slim pistol grip. The resultant hump in the profile was distracting.

The 0.30-inch-wide ventilated rib had nothing to cut glare except the coarse matte finish, but that worked well enough. The round front bead—the only sight on the gun—also carried a dull matte finish. The receiver was almost totally unadorned. The left side bore a deeply embossed legend stating “Remington 870 EXPRESS SUPER MAGNUM” in italics, and the serial number. There were no other markings on the receiver. Even the top, where you’d expect a ribbed area leading the eye to the vent rib, had nothing but a milled flat. At least the receiver top matched the rib, and the eye ran right up to the front bead. Overall we’d call the gun’s workmanship good. One item worth extra mention is the new and clever lock integrated with the normal cross-bolt safety, located at the rear of the plastic trigger guard. A J-shaped slot and matching key are provided so you can lock the safety in the “On” position for child-proofing or long-term storage. Another great feature of the Remington 870 clan is the bolt release, big and serrated and easily found at the very front of the trigger guard. This was the easiest gun of the three on which the shooter could get the bolt open to remove an unfired round.

Regarding other operational points, the very narrow steel trigger broke at 5.5 pounds and was quite creepy. A single extractor reliably dragged fired hulls out of the chamber. The bolt was locked by a lug camming upward into the rearward extension of the barrel. The top edge of the ejection port opening was too sharp and could have used a bit more break. This is exactly where the hand is placed when carrying the shotgun. The front of the receiver was razor sharp. We’d also like the safety at the front of the trigger guard on this gun, but concede it’s workable where it is. Nothing in the Remington literature, nor any of the markings on the box, told us what choke tube this gun had. We had to remove the tube to determine it was a Modified choke. Of course the dedicated shotgunner will check his gun’s pattern with his preferred loads, which means a lot more than any choke-tube marking.

The 870 was chambered for 2.75- up to 3.5-inch shells. We can’t see any good reason not to chamber a gun for 3.5-inch shells, as long as it handles all the others equally well. However, we’d like a lot more weight in a gun specifically designed for the long shells, and believe such a gun ought to be designed from the ground up specifically around them. This Remington, at 7.5 pounds, is too light for continuous use of the long and powerful steel-shot ammunition. Ten pounds would not be too much weight in a gun designed for serious waterfowling, but that would be much too heavy for all-around use. Did Remington make a mistake in chambering this 870 for 3.5-inch Magnums? If you expect to go for ducks or geese once in a while, it may be useful to have a gun that will handle the biggest loads of steel shot. But they kick hard in this gun.

Fast or slow, upside down or sideways, the Remington 870’s action worked smoothly and positively. It was not particularly quiet, and we thought some sort of buffer at the rear of the bolt would cut down the racket. Loading cartridges was easy, and so was shooting them. We had no problems at all with this gun’s mechanism.

Browning BPS Stalker
Our recommendation: Across the room we could tell the $509 Browning had the best finish of the three guns. It was flat black overall, but there was a dull lustre to the metalwork. The stock looked like it belonged on the gun. The quality of the buttpad fit was clearly head and shoulders above that of the other two guns. This bottom-eject gun had a tang-mounted, non-automatic safety that was a joy to use. But we don’t see why you need to spend more money for a pump gun.

Click here to view the Browning BPS Stalker features guide

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Though the checkering was adequate, it was sparse on the forend. There was a hole for a sling swivel in the bottom of the buttstock that seemed out of place, for there was none in front. The solid-rubber buttpad was much too hard. Haven’t any of these manufacturers ever heard of the Pachmayr Decelerator? Though the pad gave good traction on the shoulder, it should have had a rounded top so it wouldn’t catch on clothing when mounting the gun. This gun had the longest pull, so it was the most troublesome to mount quickly.

The “Back-Bored” Browning came with a set of three choke tubes, Full, Modified, and Improved Cylinder (for lead), which added to its cost. The barrel told us this gun was a BPS Field Model of 28-inch barrel length, had been made in Japan by Miroku, had Invector-Plus choke-tube threads, and was chambered to accept 2.75- or 3-inch shells. (A 3.5-inch chamber is a no-cost option, and this gun had enough weight to make the long chamber useful.)

The 0.3-inch-wide ventilated rib was carefully made and finished, with beveled sides and with evenly applied “file-cut” non-glare checkering to its top surface. There was a single, large, satin-finished, flattened bead at the front. The top of the receiver included a lead-in ramp to the rib, and the entire top from the safety cutout to the beginning of the rib was longitudinally serrated. This combination of finishes gave a very satisfactory sighting plane. Unfortunately, the gun’s profile was not very graceful because of the hump halfway along the top of the receiver, caused by the ramp leading to the very high rib.

The receiver was made of steel, and the trigger guard was aluminum alloy, and all edges were smoothly broken except at the very front of the receiver. We’d like to have seen a slight bevel there. The bolt-release button was on the left side of the trigger guard at the rear, and was prominent enough to hit with a gloved finger. The bottom of the guard included the Browning logo, but there were no other marks on the receiver at all except for the serial number.

The wide and smooth trigger itself was made of aluminum alloy. It was creepy and broke at 6 pounds. The feel of the action was quite positive. Although this gun felt heavy (7.9 pounds), the balance sat well between the hands. The bolt locked by means of a lug entering into the barrel extension. A single extractor was enough to get empties out. Ejection was accomplished by the two shell-carrier arms. At the end of the bolt travel the carrier arms popped downward to punch out the empty, and then gathered in the next round from the four in the magazine. As the bolt went home, the fresh shell was lifted into place to slide gracefully into battery. The gun was easy to load and to shoot, and there were no problems with it.

Gun Tests Recommends
On these guns, we couldn’t find a good reason to have a barrel 28 inches long. The 25.5-inch tube of the Remington made it a livelier gun than the other two, we thought. There is no significant ballistic advantage to a longer barrel, and with the long receiver of a gun of this type, there is more than enough sighting radius with even a 22-inch barrel. In fact a 22-inch barrel on a pump gives about the same sight radius as 28-inch barrels on double guns.

Winchester 1300 Black Shadow Field, $296. Though we’d like it better with the optional 26-inch barrel, we gave this gun a clean bill of health, and we believe it to be well worth its retail price. When you factor in street cost, which puts this Winchester into your hands for around $250 to $270, it’s a great bargain. Also, we firmly believe in simplifying our shooting. We find that when we reduce the number of possible choices, our skill is usually higher, our success is greater, and our enjoyment is maximized. Out of this test we’d pick the Winchester 1300, add an Improved Cylinder tube to our bag, and go with that. It ought to cover all options. Buy it.

Remington 870 Express Magnum, $339. In any guise, this is a thoroughly proven design. This gun will work and will last, and there are no questions about that. It’s unfortunate that to get costs down to a competitive level Remington had to put such an unsatisfactorily finished stock and bone-bare metal finish onto it. Thus, given the shortcomings of our sample, we’d place it a distant second behind the Black Shadow, and give it a Conditional Buy recommendation based on the gun’s unquestioned utility.

Browning BPS Stalker, $509. There were no grand benefits to the Browning, other than a hard-to-define precise feel to the gun and easier handling for lefties. It seemed to be better made than the other two, but other than the superior finish and a lack of rattle of the bolt within the receiver during its cycle, we couldn’t tell you what gave us that impression. At 7.9 pounds, it was the heaviest of the three guns. Its outstanding feel was a combination of the weight, the smooth cycling of the action, and the balance of the gun in the hands and on the shoulder. However, we feel this “precision” is overshadowed by the outstanding value of the other two guns tested here, and we’d buy them long before we’d buy the Browning.