But is there still room for a shotgun in the front seat of a modern police vehicle where the patrol carbine has quite rightly taken over as the primary intermediate-range response weapon? Remington is gambling that there is.
The one drawback to the traditional tube-fed shotgun is that it’s slow to reload. Once its limited magazine capacity is used up, spare shells must be fed one at a time into the magazine tube. Remington has addressed that problem with their latest shotgun for 2019 — the Model 870 DM.
DM stands for detachable magazine, and this is exactly what it is — a pump shotgun that feeds from a box magazine. Once the ammunition is used up, the officer drops the empty mag and inserts a fresh magazine from a pouch on their vest or belt. Switching ammunition types is as simple as swapping magazines.
When the Remington 870 DM was first announced, some people said that a box magazine-fed shotgun is like a hammer looking for a nail. Maybe so, but when you pound a nail with a shotgun, it stays pounded.
Remington has not yet announced an 870 DM Police model, but if Blue Line tests are any indicator and if the market sees the advantages of a box magazine, there may very well be a brand-new shotgun racked beside your patrol carbine in the front seat of your vehicle.
Shotgun shells are simply not designed to be stacked on top of one another. Other manufacturers have tried box-fed shotguns, with varying success. Some end up nightmares of unreliability, with internet forums full of advice on how to fix their basic design flaws. These shotguns, often styled to look like AK or AR rifles, appeal to those more prepared to tinker with them to get them working right than to shoot them.
Mossberg was the first mainstream U.S. manufacturer to create a box magazine version of a 12-gauge pump shotgun. The Mossberg 590M uses double-stack polymer magazines, available in five, 10, 15 and 20 round configurations. Mossberg prioritized magazine capacity over compact design and especially appeals to shooters who want a sturdy and reliable shotgun with enough capacity to load in the morning and shoot all day.
Remington went a different direction. They studied the number of shells that could be reasonably contained in a single-stack magazine that would comfortably store in a pocket and wouldn’t hang down so far that it got in the way. Six rounds was the magic number.
(Three-round magazines designed for hunters will also soon be available. Unlike the six-round magazine, they are designed so they cannot seat in a closed action, meaning they will comply with hunting regulations in most provinces that allow no more than three rounds total in the shotgun for certain types of hunting activities.)
The highly-engineered Remington magazine is made from polymer and stamped steel. It uses hardened steel lips to grip the brass part of the shell casing — preventing any possible deformity during long-term storage — and the shells naturally stack inside the magazine so that one protruding rim always sits in front of the rim just below it. Shells feed straight into the chamber from the magazine in a way that is both simple and clever, but it took a lot of work to make it 100 per cent dependable. Remington used new technologies in computer modelling and high-speed photography to ensure reliability, and then tested it by firing over 2,000 rounds, each through 100 test shotguns. Not only are there fewer parts in the DM, but Remington tests also showed that shells feed even more reliably than the original 870 design.
The aluminum magazine well attaches to the receiver with two large pins that can be quickly unscrewed for cleaning or replacement. A large ambidextrous magazine release sits in front of the magazine well. A simple, modified bolt design feeds both two and three quarter-inch and three-inch shells into the chamber, leaving all other aspects of the shotgun the same as any other 870 on the market. Users can easily change stocks and, unlike the Mossberg 590M, can switch barrels with any other 870 model. A short magazine tube remains to support the action bars and forend tube.
To illustrate how Remington remained true to the versatility of the 870 design, we tested our 870 DM in a mock police configuration, with an aftermarket Mesa Tactical Urbino pistol-grip stock and a 14-inch police barrel.
The first thing we noticed upon opening the box was that the matte finish is almost indiscernible from an 870 Police with its more expensive Parkerized coating. Machining and fit were almost flawless and the chamber is the smoothest and most finely honed we have seen out of the Remington factory in decades.
We never had a single failure to feed, fire, extract or eject during the tests. And all we did was open the box, wipe the inside of the bore, load it up and fire a case of shells through it. The 870 DM both fed and extracted everything we threw at it, no matter how cheap or expensive the shells.
We found the difference in weight between the tube-fed and the box-fed Remington to be negligible. The difference in reliability was night and day. We have tested many recently made 870 shotguns, and have tried multiple combinations of magazine followers, springs and extension tubes, and have never found a combination that works perfectly. The two-piece design of the six-round tube just seems to sometimes cause a shell to hang up slightly when pumping fast, resulting in a resounding ‘click’ on the second or third round out of the shotgun. Granted, few people rack the pump fast enough to experience this but the more we shot with the detachable magazine, the more we began to realize that professionals who value reliability in the real world will find the whole tube feeding thing archaic, problematic and just plain slow into action if starting with an empty shotgun.
When we fired a box-fed and tube-fed 870 back-to-back, we also noticed another characteristic of the magazine being centered below the receiver instead of slung under the barrel. Not only did the detachable magazine not feel bulky, but we also found the balance of the shotgun stayed the same for every round. The tube-fed shotgun would start off nose heavy, and as the magazine emptied, the centre of gravity would shift slightly backwards, resulting in a change in muzzle rise for every shot.
The DM’s detachable magazine at the exact center of gravity kept the muzzle rise more consistent from shot to shot. While the difference may be subtle, an electronic range timer did confirm the increase in speed to empty a magazine.
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The evolving role of the shotgun
The problem with the police shotgun has never been about the shotgun. They work. The problem has been about the training.
The shotgun is not for every fight. It is most ideal when the fight is close, fast and needs to be over quickly. A handgun is always with you, but in dynamic situations, accuracy with a handgun can drop off dramatically after about seven metres. Loaded with buckshot, a police shotgun can keep every pellet within the torso as far back as 20 metres. Loaded with slugs, a shotgun can penetrate barricades past 100 metres and instantly stop large, dangerous animals with one round when required.
But traditional training has sometimes made the shotgun too complicated or caused too much discomfort. Many officers remember bruises from training but forget the versatility and fight-stopping capability of the shotgun. It also uses fewer fine motor skills than almost any other police weapon, meaning the shotgun can be fired accurately and effectively at close range by almost anyone with a reasonable amount of training.
The shotgun does not replace a patrol carbine, or vice versa. Today, the ultimate role of the police shotgun is still in transition. Some agencies have dropped them entirely. Others are looking at repurposing them for less-than-lethal ammunition.
This can create serious problems. A mix of lethal and less-lethal rounds amongst traditional agency shotguns is a recipe for disaster. If carried empty where rounds can be identified before loading, they are slow to load. If carried loaded, there is no easy way to see what’s in the magazine tube. There must be a guaranteed way to keep shotguns with less-than-lethal rounds away from shotguns with lethal shells in the tube. Twelve-gauge, less-lethal options provide a valuable tool for street officers, but only if agencies have clear policies, firmly enforced procedures and total buy-in from all staff. It also requires instant recognition as to the type of ammunition currently loaded.
This is where a detachable box magazine can be really useful. Contents of the magazine can be instantly identified through colour coding and agencies who have gone with the less-lethal rounds in patrol cars don’t have to give up the ability of the police shotgun to instantly stop a fight. After all, the longer a gunfight goes on, the more people can get killed.
The detachable box-fed shotgun is ideally suited to this dual role. Patrol officers can have magazines with different colour-codes to clearly mark buckshot or slug contents, and street supervisors could have magazines marked bright orange to indicate less-than-lethal impact rounds. The same shotgun can thus perform two different roles, depending on the situation, as long as steps are taken to ensure magazines cannot get mixed up when deployed.
The future of police shotguns
Is a pump shotgun feeding from a box magazine the perfect solution for everyone? Not really. Not everyone is going to like the idea — in particular: the crowd with the “cool guy” gear who charge big dollars for some three-day shotgun course where they teach “operators” how to reload strong hand, weak hand, under the receiver, over the receiver and standing on their heads, etc. For them, two days of reload training can now be replaced by five seconds of “tug out the old magazine/slam in a new one.”
The three-gun shooters with a heavy investment in training and all those expensive shell holders dangling all over their shotgun like it was some tactical Christmas tree are not going to like it either. All those bulky shell holders on their shotgun — or hung from their belt — that could accidentally drop so many shells on the ground, one could retrace their steps back to the start line can now all be replaced by two $35 spare magazines and the back pocket of their blue jeans.
So, who is going to love this shotgun?
• The instructor who knows that the shotgun is just a tool; the mind is the weapon.
• The police firearms trainer who can now teach the same simple reload motion as they do with the patrol carbine.
• The agency looking to repurpose some of their shotguns into a dual-role capacity, with both lethal and less-than-lethal capability.
• The officers in remote areas where their threat may be a pack of wild dogs one minute and a charging polar bear the size of a small truck the next.
A shotgun is not a carbine. It is designed for an entirely different role. You don’t turn a horse into a zebra by painting on stripes, and you don’t turn a shotgun into a carbine by adding accessories, changing stances or watching a few videos. They both have their place, and in my opinion, that place would be in the front seat of every police vehicle in Canada.
Is the Remington 870 DM the future for police shotguns? Based on our tests, we sure hope so. For police and other agencies who need a shotgun’s unique defensive capabilities, nothing pounds a nail as hard nor leaves a nail more pounded.
Did you catch Dave Brown’s firearms feature in the December 2018 issue? Find it here.