The ‘Surgical’ Tactical Option: Remington’s 11-87 Police Gun
When we poured hundreds of buckshot and slug rounds through 12-gauge semiautos from Big Green, HK-Fabarm, and FN, the tried-and-true Remington handled best and shot the softest.
Many of the advantages of a tactical shotgun are the same as that self-defense shotgun you might have propped in the corner of your bedroom: devastating firepower, mechanical reliability, ease of use. But your bedroom shotgun and working tactical shotguns do have differences: beefy tactical guns are ready to go on the offensive to serve warrants, root out armed bad guys, and break stuff with either lead or steel.
We recently had the mixed blessing of handling three tactical or police shotguns we purchased from Fountain Firearms in Houston (www.fountainfirearms.com). We know they were guns of that type because their names told us so. The players were the now-discontinued HK Fabarm Tactical 12 Gauge 3-in., $999, a similar version of which will be available from Fabarm in 2008; the $875 FN Self-Loading Police 3-inch 12 gauge No. 3088929010; and Remington’s 11-87 Police 12-gauge 3-inch No. 9861, $850. We say it was a mixed blessing because the heavy 2.75-inch buckshot, slug, and birdshot loads we used delivered a wallop at the line, and made us wonder why the guns came chambered for 3-inch shells. The 2.75-inch shells were plenty.
Nonetheless, we banged ahead, because though these guns are built to handle more offensive tactics if need be, they also would be fine self-defense shotguns for the home or trunk. Their big magazine capacities, good sights, and autoloading actions make them good house-clearers, whether from the master bedroom or through the front door.
How We Tested
Our test team of law-enforcement officers, whose duties involve jumping out of vans to arrest individuals with outstanding felony warrants, focused on a limited set of parameters, with the focus being "always-go-bang" reliability and "get-back-in-the-fight" ease of use. They were eager to shoot these autoloaders, because though they have varied experience with shotguns from Remington 870 pumps to Benelli Super 90s, they are always looking for a tool to get their dangerous jobs done better. Toward that end, we set up a silhouette course that examined how the guns fed a variety of shot and slug ammunition types at close distances, then shot slugs at more-distant targets to see if their sights allowed for across-the-room "surgical" shots against targets behind hostages or cover. Stoppages and malfunctions were deal-killers to these testers, whose lives and their team members’ lives depend on stopping targets in high-stress, dynamic situations.
Our test ammos included three 2.75-inch selections: Hornady’s TAP No. 8627 load, filled with 00 buckshot; Remington’s Reduced Recoil Rifled Slug, a 3-dram equivalent shotshell with an RR12-RS 1-ounce rifle-slug payload; and Remington’s Express Law Enforcement Buckshot load No. SPL12-00BK, with nine pellets of 00 buckshot sitting on a 3.75-dram equivalent powder charge.
The Express LE Buckshot loading has a one-piece compression section Power Piston wad column, polymer buffering and hardened 3% antimony pellets, which produced tighter patterns than a standard buckshot round we used for function testing. In addition, the Express shotshell is primer-and-mouth waterproofed.
The Remington Reduced Recoil Rifled Slug is said to generate 45% less recoil than a standard 1-ounce rifled-slug loading for enhanced target recovery in tactical situations and for less punishment to shooters during training and qualification. At a velocity of 1200 fps, point of impact is identical to a standard 1-ounce slug out to 50 yards and 1.5 inches lower at 100 yards. Its primers were waterproofed with a special lacquer sealant. Remington’s LE site claims the RR12-RS load will penetrate .050 sheet metal at 30 yards, and will deeply indent but not penetrate .070 sheet metal at 15 yards. At 25 yards, it will penetrate 17 inches in bare gelatin.
For function testing, we also used a variety of other loads. These included Winchester Super Target No. 8s, Federal’s Target Load with No. 7 1/2 shot, Estate Cartridge Super Competition Target Loads, also with No. 7 1/2 shot, Remington Shurshot Heavy Dove loads with No. 7 1/2 shot, and Sellier & Bellot’s 00 buckshot load, with a maximum dram equivalent powder charge.
We shot accuracy groups with the slugs at 15 yards and drilled a sequence of one shot to empty, reload one, shoot one to empty to assess how fast the empty guns got back in the fight. Here’s what we learned:
Remington 11-87 Police
12-gauge 3-inch No. 9861, $850
This law-enforcement version of the Model 11-87 shotgun is all business. The Model 11-87 Police series guns feature synthetic stocks and fore-ends, Parkerized metal finish, and a choice of bead (No. 9859), rifle sight (No. 9861, tested here) or a Wilson Combat ghost-ring rear sight and an XS front sight (No. 9849). There is also a 14-inch-barrel version (No. 9847) with rifle sights.
In our testing over the years, Remington’s gas-operated autoloading action has proved itself to be reliable and durable in hunting and competition situations. In this use, its low recoil means excellent control in high-rate-of-fire situations with heavy buckshot or rifled slug loads. For training and familiarization, this shotgun also handles lighter loads.
The receiver, barrel, magazine extension, and bracket are coated with a Parkerized metal finish that minimizes reflections and provides moisture and abrasion resistance.
The polypropylene stock and fore-end have a matte-black finish that won’t reflect light, and the stock has molded checkering and is finished with a 1.2-inch-thick black ribbed R3 recoil pad. Stock dimensions included a length of pull of 14 inches and a drop at heel of 2.25 inches from the top of the action. The gun didn’t have a comb. The drop at heel from the sightline was 3.0 inches, and the stock had a lot of pitch.
The gun had a maximum width of 2.1 inches across the receiver at the action handle, and the polypropylene pistol grip handle was 1.4 inches thick and 5.0 inches around at the top. The fore-end was 1.9 inches thick. This gun measured 38.7 inches in OAL with an 18-inch barrel. Its overall height was 7.1 inches, and unloaded it weighed 8.3 pounds. It carried six rounds in the tube.
The receiver was matte-black steel, just like the barrel. No choke tubes were provided, and the muzzle wasn’t threaded for tubes. It was choked Improved Cylinder to allow it to shoot slugs. Our gun’s buttstock included a fixed sling-swivel stud in the buttstock and swiveling stud on the barrel/magazine bracket.
There was a lot to like about the 11-87. In particular, it had a compact feel, topnotch fit and finish, and the recoil pad made it comfortable to shoot. Also, the crossbolt safety was easy to disengage, but still offered a positive "click" when it came on and off. The blaze-orange magazine follower permitted quick inspection of the chamber and magazine.
Our testers thought the pistol grip was too long, but the shelf at the bottom offered a comfortable place to rest the hand. The top of the grip also felt too square for our tastes, and we’d probably buy this gun with the ghost-ring sights given the choice.
But the Remington won this evaluation on the strength of its ease of operation, soft shooting action, and accuracy. As we noted above, loads pounded our shooters when they emptied the magazines, but the recoil was much worse on the HK/Fabarm and FN guns, in our view. One tester commented, "We’d shoot a full magazine from one of the others and get stung, then pick up the 11-87, shoot it and say, ‘How nice!’"
Reloads were easy, too. To test reload speeds, we’d load one in the chamber, fire it, then load another and fire it. Shot-to-shot times were much faster with the Remington. Our shooters would start with rounds tucked between the belt and the pants (civilian style), or in a shell holder in full police gear. Once the first round was fired, keeping the gun shouldered, the shooter could control the shotgun with the trigger hand on the pistol grip. Then, he could tilt it slightly counterclockwise to expose the now-open ejection port, drop a shell into the receiver, hit the big carriage-release lever on the bottom of the follower with the left hand to close the action, then in the same motion, continue sliding the left hand onto the fore-end. That took about 3 seconds. If getting the next shot off wasn’t crucial, the shooter could just as easily feed more shells into the bottom of the gun until another threat appeared.
We had no hiccups shooting any of the shotshells, and the accuracy with the Remington slugs was great. Point of impact was 2 inches above the aiming point at 15 yards, and the groups were about 2.2 inches across (the slugs tear ragged holes). But we had the confidence to shoot at pieces of the silhouette target (ear, shoulder, crotch) and get hits with the slugs. One of our testers called this "surgical" performance, which is notable in a shotgun.
HK Fabarm Tactical
12 Gauge 3-inch, $999
After we purchased our test gun at Fountain Firearms in Houston, we learned that a falling out between Heckler & Koch and Fabarm in 2004 had made the dual branding of the gun obsolete.
Laurent Gaude, Fabarm’s sales and marketing manager, explained, "H&K ... [is no longer] our importer. We stopped our cooperation together in 2004. Fabarm shotguns are now imported by Tristar. We are finalizing the last details with this company, and so in 2008 we will be active on the US market.
"The Tactical semi-auto shotguns are still in our line. They are very successful in many countries, on the commercial markets but also for law enforcement professional uses (in Spain as an example).The H&K Tactical is not different than the Fabarm S.A.T. 8 Tactical.
"We’ve introduced a few new versions and new specifications, and today we have three tactical semi-auto shotguns : S.A.T. 8 Pro Telescopic, S.A.T. 8 Pro Forces, and the S.A.T. Tactical. These shotguns are on our website, and will be available for sale in 2008 in U.S."
Nonetheless, because this particular gun is still available for sale with the dual branding on the receiver, we forged ahead.
Manufactured by Fabbrica Bresciana Armi S.p.A. of Italy, the Tactical is a gas-operated semiautomatic that handles both light 2.75-inch target loads as well as heavy 3-inch Magnums without adjustment.
The Tactical’s Ergal 55 hard-anodized aluminum-alloy receiver encloses a bolt that locks into a steel barrel extension using a rising block. The gun’s 20-inch chrome-plated barrel uses Fabarm’s TriBore barrel system, which includes three internal bore profiles. The first starts in front of the chamber and forcing cone, enlarging the bore to a diameter of 0.7401 inch. The second bore, in the middle of the barrel, chokes down to 0.7244 inch; duplicating a cylinder bore dimension. The third bore is the choke system. This consists of standard choking followed by a cylinder profile at the muzzle. The barrel’s muzzle has external threads to allow external chokes to be mounted, although none were included.
This gun’s OAL was 40 inches with a 20-inch barrel. Its overall height was 8.5 inches, and unloaded it weighed 7.9 pounds. It carried seven rounds in the magazine tube.
Like the Remington, the HK/Fabarm’s furniture consists of a polymer buttstock and fore-end with matte-black finishes, but the stock has molded stippling on the grip and grooves on the fore-end. It is finished with a 1-inch vented rubber recoil pad. Stock dimensions included an LOP of 14 inches, a drop at heel of 2.5 inches from the top of the action, and a drop at comb of 1.5 inches. The drop at comb from the sightline measured 2 inches, and drop at heel from the sightline was 3.2 inches, and the gun had very little pitch. With an optional sight, the sight radius could vary between 18 to 24 inches, depending on where a sight was mounted on the rail.
The gun had a maximum width of 2.5 inches across the receiver at the large bolt handle, and the pistol grip handle was 1.7 inches thick and 5.0 inches around at the top. The fore-end was 1.9 inches thick.
The weapon’s controls consist of a large bolt handle located on the right side of the receiver. Behind the trigger is a cross-bolt safety, shaped like an inverted oversized triangle. On the left front of the receiver is the gun’s bolt release.
There’s a MIL-STD-1913 rail on top of the receiver for mounting optical sights, but the rail also has a shallow "U"-notch rear sight for use without optics. The front sight has two positions: When the front sight is folded down, a bare post is exposed, to be used with the rail’s built-in rear notch. Flip the sight up, and a protected front post is available for use with an accessory rear aperture sight.
Before they shot the HK/Fabarm, our testers lauded many elements of the gun. They cited its excellent fit and finish, how easy the extended charging handle on the bolt was to grasp, the dual-height front sight’s visibility, and the Picatinny rail on the receiver, which would make mounting an optic easy. Also, there was a beefy sling loop on the front left edge of the forearm, and the magazine tube extended past the muzzle, protecting it somewhat. Beneath the barrel is a tubular magazine with a bright orange shell follower. A second sling-mounting point is located at the bottom of the pistol grip.
At the range, however, our assessment of the gun began to slide. As we noted above, recoil was noticeably worse on the HK/Fabarm and FN guns. On the Fabarm, the likely culprits were the relative lack of pitch in the stock, the stiffer rubber recoil pad, and the sharpness of the toe on the pad. It dug into our shooters’ shoulders.
The bigger issue, in our view, was its manual of arms. Like with the 11-87, after we shot the Fabarm dry, the action locked back, and we could drop a round into the receiver and hit the magazine release button on the left front side of the action to load the gun with one round. But we didn’t like that arrangement as well as the 11-87’s big lever on the carrier, which we thought would be easier to manipulate under stress.
Also, some of our shooters’ thumbs would get caught in the carrier after putting in a round, which would release the carrier and prohibit further loading of rounds. This happened when we had shot the gun dry and reloaded one in the chamber, then took more time to load extra rounds from the bottom of the gun. After a round was inserted into the magazine tube, the carrier would pop down and block access to loading any more rounds. It wasn’t a horrible situation—there was one live round in the chamber and one loose in the receiver on top of the carrier—but one tester said, "If I have a chance to top off, I want to top off before getting back in the fight," and that loose round would keep him from loading any more shells.
The HK/Fabarm shot tight groups with the Remington slugs. We preferred shooting with the front sight popped up because the black ears framed the front sight post, making it easier to center on the target. But this caused the gun to shoot 10 inches low.
FN Self-Loading Police (SLP)
12 Gauge 3 Inch, $875
The FN Self-Loading Police shotgun’s standard features include a M1913 rail with precision front and rear ghost ring sighting system, the latter of which can be removed to allow for optics. The barrel incorporates the standard Invector choke tube system, with Cylinder and Improved Cylinder tubes supplied. Two Active Valve gas pistons are provided to tailor the gun’s performance with heavy and light loads. Corrosion-resistant finishes include manganese phosphate on steel components and anodizing on alloy components. The matte-black checkered synthetic stock has a recoil pad and steel sling swivel studs installed.
FN promotes the Active Valve System as an innovative gas-management mechanism that adjusts automatically to utilize the exact amount of gas needed to reliably operate the action. Two interchangeable gas pistons are included, allowing the operator to fine-tune the SLP for a wider range of functional reliability. Frankly, this feature didn’t impress us. Our testers said they preferred not to have to choose one piston or another, pointing out that in some dynamic situations, they may not have ready access to shotshells suited to one piston or another.
The FN SLP aircraft-grade alloy receiver contributed to the gun having the lightest weight in the test, tipping the scales half a pound lighter than the steel-receiver Remington. Likewise, this probably contributed somewhat to the gun’s off-putting recoil, which was much stiffer than the 11-87’s, in our opinion.
The trigger was crisp, but the trigger pull was the highest in the test at 7 pounds. We preferred the Remington’s 5.1-pound pull, thank you very much.
The upsides of this gun were notable. We liked the ghost-ring rear sight—"easily the best sight in the test," one shooter said—and the convenience of the receiver-mounted rail. We thought it felt lightweight and easy to point, and we believe the steel shield over the magazine tube is a nice touch for protecting the ammo dispenser. It was easy to load and unload, and the trigger shoe was comfortable. Downsides included a stiff safety, and we would have liked the rail to have been longer to the rear, so the rear sight could be moved closer to the shooter’s eye. Elsewhere, the front prongs of the carrier needed to be dehorned.
But what doomed this gun was its performance at the range. During our shooting session, we had to hand-feed each of five rounds of the Remington slugs into the action because it wouldn’t cycle them. When we loaded five Hornady TAPs, it jammed two times. When we loaded the gun to capacity with the buckshot loads (6+1 rounds), and then shot three more for a total of 10, the gun jammed eight times, the last round of which locked the action to the point where we had to stop and manually work the shell out of the receiver, hooking handcuffs on the charging handle then pulling on the handcuffs to get enough leverage to open the action. That was enough for us.