When I started my career in law enforcement, I was issued a “used” S&W Model 66 4-inch revolver in .357 Mag, 12 extra rounds in a drop pouch and a set of handcuffs. I carried a nickeled Chief’s Special in an ankle rig as a backup and was ridiculed by the old guys as being paranoid. That was about it. We did not have Tasers or OC spray, and less-lethal was defined as an oak baton! If we got in a jam, the only additional firepower we had available was our Remington 870 shotguns. They were called Riot Guns back then, and they had wood stocks and forends, bead sights, and standard blued finishes. We had it made!

The venerable 870 was introduced in 1949 to compete with the popular Winchester Model 12. The 870 proved to be reliable and rugged, and it earned the respect of sportsmen and law enforcement alike. Sixty-four years later, the 870 is still the choice of law enforcement and security professionals worldwide.

The 870’s receiver is machined from an 8-pound block of ordnance-grade steel, making it nearly indestructible. The steel-lined forend operates the action through two non-binding action bars that provide strength and reliability. The breech block locks into the barrel extension for consistent head spacing. The fire-control system features a disconnect that requires a deliberate trigger pull for each shot. In other words, the 870 will not slam fire when the action is run with the trigger in the rearward position. The trigger assembly features a crossbolt safety and is easily removed for maintenance by simply punching two retaining pins.

While the basic engineering of the 870 has changed very little, Remington worked to update the platform to keep up with changing needs. Magazine extensions increased the capacity from four rounds to six in the 18-inch model and to seven in the 20-inch model. Wooden stocks and forends gave way to injection-molded polymers, and on some models, rifle-type sights and optics replaced the simple bead sights. The “Flex Tab” carrier was introduced to prevent shells from getting lodged between the shell lifter and the bolt when the action was short stroked. Other than that, it remains true to the original design.

As they did with rifles, law enforcement and special users had a need for shorter and more compact shotguns. Perhaps the most famous special-purpose 870s were produced for the United States Marshal’s Office. Coined the Witness Protection 870, these guns were produced in the ‘80s and ‘90s by Wilson Arms Company in Brunswick, Georgia (no relation to Bill Wilson and Wilson Combat). Wilson Arms took virgin 870 receivers and installed a modified pistol grip and a 14-inch barrel with a screw-in choke. Because these guns were built on virgin receivers, they were classified as an Any Other Weapon (AOW) and only required a $5 tax stamp. Other manufacturers followed Wilson’s lead and produced similar models on a variety of base guns.
The United States Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with most other federal agencies, have ordered large quantities of fully stocked 870s with 14-inch barrels with both bead and rifle-type sights. Because these models are equipped with a shoulder stock, they are classified as Short-Barrel Shotguns (SBS) and for private ownership require a $200 federal tax stamp. Their popularity is reflected by the number of companies offering short-barrel shotguns to the NFA market.

Gun Details
Most will recognize the Nighthawk Custom as being one of the premier manufacturers of custom 1911s. However, the company also offers a line of 870 shotguns. I was fortunate to receive a Nighthawk Custom short-barrel 870 for evaluation. The production process starts with a base 870, which the talented smiths at Nighthawk strip to its basic components. During this process, the action is hand-honed for smoothness and consistency. The trigger pull on my gun measured 4.5 pounds, but it exhibited a rough spot in the take-up. A Vang Big Dome safety was also installed to allow the safety to be disengaged using the side of the trigger finger.

For additional information, visit Nighthawk Custom at or call 877-268-4867.

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