It is no secret to those who know me well that firearms are my passion, specifically, shotguns. More specifically, 12 gauge American-made repeating shotguns from the early and mid 20th Century. I have a plethora of old pump, bolt, and auto shotguns made by just as many manufacturers that have seen years of varying use . The best part about this hobby of collecting old shotguns is that it is fairly inexpensive as firearm collecting goes. With the current “tacticool” and black polymer trends in the firearm industry, it leaves a lot of beautiful, old shotguns on the gun racks, languishing in loneliness, begging to be loved, waiting to shoot one more round of clay pigeons, longing to go home with me.
That’s exactly how I found this beautiful brunette, just sitting on a rack at local pawn shop, with a price tag that definitely did not reflect the true, intrinsic value of a piece of American history. Even though I had never seen one in person, just pictures in books, I quickly recognized the long, sleek lines of the classic Model 31. The barrel seemed awfully short and the gun needed a good cleaning, but I didn’t care. I quickly snatched up my newest love, took her home and introduced her to the fold. It was at home in my usual thorough disassembly and cleaning, that I realized this was no normal shotgun that sat in a closet corner for years. This was a warhorse, with a tale to tell.
The Remington Model 31 was introduced in 1931 as a successor to the Remington Model 17 (which was bottom ejecting shotgun and the predecessor to the Ithaca 37) and was designed as a direct competitor tothe Winchester Model 12. Like the Winchester, the Remington used a milled receiver and was fairly expensive to produce. The Model 31 was, and is, known for one of the slickest and smoothest pump actions called, rather erroneously, a “ball bearing action” even though there are no ball bearings to speak of. The Model 31 was discontinued in 1949 with less than 200,000 made.
Because of the smooth action, the Model 31 found success on the trap circuit where it dominated the classes. In 1935, in the wake of the Kansas City Massacre, the FBI ordered a large quantity of Model 31s in the Riot or Police configuration. In this capacity, they proved reliable and continued to serve in to the late 1970’s when they were replaced by the venerable Remington 870.
During World War 2, the need for shotguns as trench guns on the front lines meant that most of the War Department’s available supply of Winchester Model 97s, 12s, and Stevens 320s were issued to those Army and Marine units that needed them the most, leaving the Navy and Coast Guard empty handed. When Remington tooled up for war production they used the Model 11 Autoloader, and the Model 31 to fill the void left. The Model 31 is most known during the war for being used by Naval gunners who would simply shoot clay pigeons with them as practice for leading targets. However, Remington did produce a select few shotguns that were not marked as Riot or Police models but had short, 20 inch long cylinder bore barrels. These were sold to the U.S. Navy and used as guard guns for shore patrol, port construction, etc. There are a few isolated claims of some of those Model 31s making it into the hands of Marines in the landing crafts, but I do not know if that can be 100% verified.
As I was thoroughly going through this old shotgun of mine, I noticed that the barrel was exactly 20” and was marked CYL on the left side. At first I thought it was might have been an old police shotgun, but it wasn’t marked with the customary “R” for riot or “P” for police. On the butt stock there seemed to be some writing or carving that was obscured by mud. As I cleaned it off, the three letters “USN”, neatly stamped with a four digit butt stock inventory number, popped out clear as day. That is when I realized I had scored quite a find. I then looked up the serial number and found that it was manufactured in late 1942. Upon doing quite a bit of research on the topic, the summation of which you have just read,
I have come to the conclusion, (and I would be happy to entertain criticism) that this old shotgun was one of the few Model 31s that could have served overseas as a guard gun in the Navy. There is also a possibility that it might have seen active conflict during the Island–Hopping operations that the Navy and the Marine Corps conducted.
On the Range
The shotgun has a dull grey finish, not bluing, over all the metal surfaces except for the bolt, which is in the white. The stock has a lacquer that is flaking in some places, but still retains its sheen. The short 20” barrel has a rather large gold bead atop the muzzle that is just about the biggest bead I think I have ever seen on a shotgun, but makes for quick and instinctive shooting. The magazine holds 4+1, which seems downright silly today, but at the time was pretty standard for shotguns. The controls are exactly the same as a Remington 870, down to the crossbolt safety and the slide release in front of the trigger guard. The shotgun is a trim 39” package and weights about 2 ounces less than 7 pounds.
Of course, the
most memorable feature of the Model 31, the slick action, is definitely without compare. Imagine velvet gliding on tile. Yes, that smooth. The Model 31 also has a very high quality barrel ratcheting system that allows for very secure lockup to the magazine tube, but also quick removal if it is necessary to change barrels.
Shooting the Model 31 is a blast. It is great shotgun for shooting clay pigeons with if you are fast enough to hit them before they can fly farther than 15 yards. As this was probably a working gun in an austere environment, I also wanted to see what she could do with some more serious fuel. This old gal works splendidly with 00 and #4 Buck; I even fired five Winchester 1oz slugs through her and was able to keep them all in a pie plate at 50 yards. Mind you, the recoil with slugs in that tiny shotgun was downright painful, and I probably won’t entertain another notion to do it, but it is always good to now that she can be mustered into service again if need be.
The Remington 31 is one of those lesser known shotguns that never got the limelight that its more famous contemporaries received. With a short lifespan in a time period when the most innovative shotguns ever designed were being produced, the Model 31 was just another wave in the big, blue, ocean. Its time is over, but its legacy has been passed on in the form of the Remington 870, the best selling shotgun in history. Regardless of what history says about her, mine will always have a home with me.