Restoring An Old 870 Wingmaster

Robert WellerGame Species Profiles, Product Guides and DIY Projects

My buddy Jim loves to go to auction sales. So when his son Nick told him that he wanted to buy a 12 gauge shotgun for deer hunting here in Michigan, it was no surprise to me when Jim called me to ask what kind of gun he should keep his eye out for when he was visiting auctions in the area. Obviously there are several good shotguns out there but I told Jim, if he wanted to buy a used shotgun, he could hardly go wrong if he picked up an old Remington 870 or even a Mossberg 500 and that either one would make Nick a fine first shotgun. I had been mentoring Nick for the previous couple of years and taking him deer hunting. Jim did not hunt but his parents allowed me to hunt their farm so when Nick expressed an interest in going out, I was happy to take him with me. It was only a week or two after Jim had asked what kind of gun to watch for when I received a call from Nick. He was very excited to tell me that his dad had found him a used Remington 870 Wingmaster 12 gauge. Nick told me the gun was really dirty and wanted to know if I could go through it for him and clean it up. I have always enjoyed working on firearms and have even refinished a few of them over the years so I told Nick I would be happy to clean it up for him. I stopped by Jim’s house a few days later to look at Nick’s “new to him” shotgun. When he pulled it out of the closet to show it to me, I noticed the old 870 was definitely worse for wear. Now folks, let me tell you, in all my years, I have never seen a gun so full of dirt. YES, I said dirt. This poor old shotgun looked as if it had fallen into a mud puddle and been left there a while then picked up and thrown in a gun case. As I slid the pump to open the action, I could hear the grit of the dirt in the bolt group. In fact there was so much dirt in it that it was impossible to open the action fully. I remember seeing the look on Nick’s face when I must have cringed. With a very concerned look on his face, he asked me if I thought I could fix it. I told him not to worry and assured him that I would have it operating smoothly in no time at all. 

I took the old 870 home with me that afternoon and started to tear it apart. Oh my gosh, it was worse than I thought. It was quite literally packed full of dirt. The wood forend and butt stock were puckered from having gotten wet and the bluing on the receiver and barrel were in really rough shape. In fact, someone had spray painted the receiver and part of the barrel with black paint. I knew I had my work cut out for me, but there was no way I was going to allow my young friend to hunt with something in such bad shape. I decided rather than just cleaning it and getting it operating that I was going to restore the gun. I told Nick that I was very busy so it might be a couple of weeks before I had time to clean it. He said he understood but was very eager to have it back.

Over the next several evenings, I completely disassembled the old 870 and went to work. I scrubbed every nook and cranny of the receiver, bolt and trigger group with a toothbrush followed by a thorough rinse with brake parts cleaner. Then I spent a couple of hours scrubbing every inch of the receiver and barrel with steel wool until I had stripped everything down to bare metal. I would have loved to have been able to have the barrel and receiver professionally hot blued but I didn’t have anywhere local to get it done. I had some experience with cold bluing so I re-blued it all by hand. Cold bluing never looks as good as hot bluing but it turned out pretty good. Then I sanded the wood butt stock and forend and carefully smoothed them out while paying attention to not alter the original lines or shape. With a new coat of stain and several coats of high gloss spar urethane they were looking as good as new.

The gun was quite old, in fact the barrel was stamped 2 ¾ inch shells only. It was a Wingmaster so originally it had a white plastic spacer between the buttstock and the butt plate. That white plastic had fallen apart and was no longer reusable, so I crafted one from an old DVD movie case. After everything had time to dry for a few days I spent a couple of hours one evening oiling and reassembling the old girl. I couldn’t help but smile as the old Remington went back together. She looked nearly as good as new. It certainly looked nothing like it did the day I picked it up and I could not wait to see the look on Nick’s face when I returned the gun to him. 

The day finally came and I was able to run back out to Nick’s house to return his gun. When I arrived, I tried to maintain a very serious look. I shook my head and said “Nick, I did the best I could but to be honest, this gun has been severely neglected and it was in really rough shape. Don’t worry, it will shoot and work well for many years to come, I just don’t want you to get your hopes up because I could only do so much to clean it up.” Nick said “it’s ok, I know it was in rough shape and I appreciate whatever you were able to do.” I set the gun case on the floor and unlatched all the latches. I placed the toe of my boot under the edge of the lid on the case and paused. I pulled out my phone and said “Now before you see your gun, I want to show you what it looked like inside when I tore it apart.” I scrolled through the photos as Jim looked over Nick’s shoulder. They were both amazed at all of the dirt that I found inside the gun. I slowly lifted the lid of the case and revealed his refinished gun. Nick dropped to his knees as he said very loudly “NO WAY! It looks brand new!” Jim was equally amazed at the sight of the old gun. With tears in his eyes Nick stood while clutching his shotgun. The smile on his face lit up the room. He said “I can’t wait to take it hunting.” 

A few weeks later, Nick called to tell me that he had shown his Grandpa George the old 870. George had not seen the gun prior to it being restored but he was very impressed with my work. George asked if I would consider looking at a couple of his guns too. I jumped at the chance to work on a few guns for George as a way to give back to him for allowing me to hunt his property. I ended up touching up the bluing and refinishing the wood on a couple of really neat old Winchester pump shotguns, one of them being a cool take down model. 

The following fall I continued to mentor Nick as a young hunter. He and I sat together on opening day of firearm deer season on his Grandfather’s farm and he successfully harvested his first buck with his Remington 870 Wingmaster.

Nick’s harvested buck w/his restored 870 Wingmaster

I had watched Nick harvest a doe the previous two years in a row, but seeing him get that six point buck was extra special, because I got to watch him enjoy using his gun that I refinished for him. Nick is all grown up now with a child of his own but I know the old 870 Wingmaster will always have a special place in his heart. I’m so grateful for the talents and skills that God gave me, and that He gives me opportunities to share those talents with my friends. 

As always, Happy Hunting, Good luck in the woods and God Bless.

Robert Weller
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