The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Most Flexible Gun

Remington 870 Express

One of the first things that I learned when I started my engineering degree is that we should not become a specialist that could only solve one type of problem, nor be a generalist that could not solve any problem well. In order to be successful we need to achieve a certain balance, be the expert in some areas, but have good level of knowledge over a broader field of our activities.
In many ways, this rational also applies to most fields of human activities. A Formula 1 car is only good to race inside a track, and if you try to use one to take your groceries home you may face some major issues. On the other hand, an average mid-size sedan is a much more flexible vehicle and will better meet the needs of a greater number of people.
Guns are no different and some firearms are so specialized that they only perform well in certain situations and are in many cases impractical for almost any other use. Examples of ultra specialized guns are free pistols, which are single shot .22 LR open sighted handguns with a extremely light trigger and no safety, a dedicated American Trap single shot shotgun with a release trigger (and no safety), or a large bore (e.g. .450” and up) double barrel express rifle. While each of these guns excel in their specialized application, like the Formula 1 car, they are not much good for almost any other use.
But there are some guns that are much more utilitarian, and although they may not be the best for certain specialized or eccentric needs, they are will perform a large number of shores exceedingly well.
I hunt birds as well as large game, enjoy “clay pigeon” shooting a lot, like to shoot for fun, and believe that it is a good insurance policy to keep a firearm for home defense, although I hope that I will never need it for the last purpose.
I also have many different guns that I can choose for each different shooting discipline or hunting condition that I am likely to face, but many times a question comes to me: what if, by some terrible force, I had to live with only one gun? Which one should I choose?
The traditional answer for this question generally takes us to central Europe, or more specifically Germany and Austria, where combination guns have been popular for as long as one can remember. These guns may have two, three or even four barrels, and as a rule combine at least one smooth bore and one rifled barrel, thus allowing the hunter to hunt large or small game, and shoot game on the wing or at several hundred meters (remember, these are European guns and they only understand the metric system).
While these combination guns are certainly flexible, they do have some drawbacks. First they are expensive, in general very expensive. Second, they tend to be a bit heavy and cumbersome. Third, they tend to be mechanically intricate, or in simple words they follow the old German axiom, why make things simpler if you can make then complicated and they still work.
Finally, and due to the third point, too many things can go wrong with complicated systems, especially operator error. I have read and heard too many stories about pushing the wrong button, sliding the wrong lever, or pulling the wrong trigger and setting the wrong barrel off. The typical results are shooting a pheasant with a 9,3x74R mm bullet, or a jaguar or eland with a load or bird shot, which is at least a bit annoying.
My approach for a very flexible gun is not particularly high tech, and many would consider it almost mundane. It is very affordable or almost inexpensive, very handy and extremely simple.
As you already guessed from the picture above, I choose my 12 gauge Remington 870 as my most flexible gun. Besides the inherited flexibility of shotguns (just pick the right ammunition and they will get the job done), the 870 pump action design and easy to change barrels allow it to perform very well under very different situations.
The short 18½” (470 mm) barrel combined with the five shot capacity and fast pump action provide me with one of the best home defense gun that has even been conceived. The same or similar set-up has been used for police and military work for over a century, and although we will find new “combat shotguns” with a lot more features, the Remington 870 is still the standard against which all others are measured against.
The same short barrel, either loaded with buckshot or Brenneke slugs, makes a wonderful gun to hunt in heavy bush or swamps. You could be after wild boars, deer or even a wounded leopard and not be under gunned.
Then there is the 23” (584 mm) fully rifled cantilever barrel. In my case it is topped with a Nikon ProStaff 2-7x32 scope, and the only ammo I shoot through it is the Lightfield Hybred EXP slugs. I shot deer at over 140 yards with this combination and I believe that it can be pushed a bit farther. The 546 grain 12 gauge projectile with 2,549 ft./lbs of muzzle energy makes this round capable of taking almost any game in the world, the few exceptions being buffalo, rhino, hippo and elephant. Although not ideal, the 870 with its slug barrel could be used as a “battle rifle” or even as mid-range varmint gun.
Next comes the 28” (710 mm) ribbed barrel with screw in choke tubes. This is the barrel that gets the most use, as it is used for small game, upland birds and waterfowl, and skeet, trap, five-stand (Compaq), sporting clays, and any other form of shotgun games. It is also the most flexible of the three barrels that I have, and the one that I would pick, if I was forced to just one barrel, as it can shoot bird or buck shot, slugs and almost any thing that fits inside it.
There are other guns in the market that could be as flexible as the Remington 870, but to my tast, the 870 delivers the best value and handling of all of them.
It is great to have options, buy, sell and trade guns now and then, day dream about new adventures and choose which gun to use for each different activity. On the other hand, it is reassuring to have one good “go to” gun. That most flexible gun that you know will get the job done.

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