The 870 Express ‘Special Purpose’: One Versatile Shotgun

Cruising the pawn shops like an old shark can have its payoffs. While cruising one of them last week, I noticed a black scattergun on the Used rack that looked a tad different than your typical riot gun. I peered a little harder and made out the profile of a short 870, with a vent rib. ‘Chop Job” I said to myself as I asked to look it over. I just hoped it was cheap- and they hadn’t cut the poor thing off in the middle of a vent.


I was wrong; what I held was a near-new, synthetic-stocked 870 Remington Express ‘Special Purpose’ with a 21 inch barrel tapped for Rem Chokes. The bolt showed no exterior finish wear and the breech face didn’t look like it had seen ten live rounds. I checked the gun and threw it to my shoulder, sighting down the twin beads.

While these stocks don’t fit me perfectly, I can get along with them. To their credit, they come with a decent recoil pad & QD studs. I also noticed something that Remington did to insure that the gun they conceived to cut into Mossberg’s market, wasn’t mistaken for one on the rack.

Before long a very good price was reached. Included was a spare 30” Rem Choke barrel, a decent case, an assortment of choke tubes, their wrench and a sling.


The action on this Express wasn’t as slick as the dozens of old 870’s I’ve fired over the years, but I figured time and hard use would correct that- and ‘Hard Use’ is something this shotgun will definitely see. A short 12 gauge with screw-in chokes will do everything I need a shotgun to do, which is actually quite a lot.


Its ability to employ Rem Chokes means I can also bird hunt with it- and there is no better way to get close your fighting shotgun. This choke system is among my favorites for its versatility, the nice patterns it produces, and that fact that it sits flush with the muzzle where it won’t hang up or get dinged.


I took this scattergun out for a test drive and since I’d also use it for a slug gun occasionally, I installed an Improved Cylinder choke. It soon became apparent that it shot a shade left, with both shot and slugs. The Bradley-style bead was turn in just a little short of ‘square’ with the rib. A minute’s work corrected this and the shot patterns immediately centered behind it.


I also discovered that by carefully centering the Bradley atop the small center bead, I could frequently clobber Coke cans with a Super-X slug at 50 yards. Even the misses would slice the edge of the can, or land an inch or so to one side. This gun was definitely living up to the ‘Special Purpose’ logo stamped into its receiver.


Everything was great, right? Well, not quite. Living up to my reputation for being able to find a lemon in a jar of Maraschino Cherries, I found a problem. During the first 75 ‘proving rounds’ a shell would occasionally hang up on the chamber at four o’clock. A quick wiggle of the forend would feed it, but I couldn’t trust this 870 as a duty shotgun until this condition was corrected.


It’s no secret that these ‘Express’ guns are less refined than the earlier versions. I read the related Armorer’s Manual from cover to cover, which suggested that a new carrier, dog and spring might be needed. I left messages at Remington Arms. I wore Google out, searching for similar problems and cures. No definite solutions surfaced. While this gun had barely been fired, I was sure that ‘Break In’ shooting wasn’t going to cure its problem. I was also not interested in shipping the gun back to Remington.


I polished the edges of the chamber, per my Armorer’s recommendation, which helped but did not eliminate the problem. The shells were simply feeding up a little low, and they weren’t centering on the chamber.


My son Mark happened to be on leave from the Army and he dug his old 870 Express out for a look-over. His gun has exhibited the boring reliability that made these shotguns famous. Being a mechanic himself, he readily agreed to my examining/swapping parts between the guns until the problem could be isolated.


I dropped the trigger plates from both guns. Mark’s shotgun, made in ’84, matched mine (a 1992 gun) for carrier spring tension. They both seemed to raise the carrier to the same height. Finally I lined both trigger plates up with screwdrivers, and examined them closely. A little light came on when I looked at the shell carriers ‘straight on’ and you can see why in the captioned photos below.

Now I don’t know if the flatter carrier profile of the later gun was a QC error, or part of the cost-cutting program that allowed Remington to compete with Mossberg on their own playing field. What I do know is that a flat carrier will not center a shell as well as a curved one. So I pulled the shell carrier from my problem child and went to work at the 6” vise, bending, comparing, and then bending some more. Pretty soon my shell carrier matched the basic contour of the carrier from Mark’s shotgun. While I had mine apart I also removed a few burrs from the slide bars, which is apparent in the photos. Some cold blue will fix that, but the far bigger issue was whether we had affected a cure.


I slapped my shotgun back together and grabbed two boxes of field loads from my fast-depleting supply, along with some buck & slugs to insure that the heavy loads would work as well as light ones. It blew through 40 rounds without a hint of hesitation, so I ran 15 more through it working the action slowly enough to provide an opportunity for ‘low lift’ or a chamber hang-up. No problems whatsoever; this shotgun’s sole gremlin has been exorcised.



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