The benefits of a bullpup rifle, especially in close quarters, are many fold. Bullpups have been around for decades, but until recently, they sort of lived on the fringe of the rifle world. It seems with the recent introduction of the FS2000 and more recently, the Tavor, bullpups are finally starting to become semi-mainstream.
The bullpup concept has recently found its way to the shotgun platform as well. There are several offerings on the market now including the Kel-Tec KSG, the Utas UTS-15 and the SRM Arms line of shotguns. While all of those guns bring new and interesting concepts to the field, it seems they all lack one thing that many shotguns over the years have boasted; indestructible reliability.
Platforms such as the Remington 870 and the Mossberg 500 have been around a very long time, and for good reason. They are practically indestructible when it comes to reliability. As appealing as those other new bullpup shotguns are in concept, I have not heard of a single one of them favorably compared to an 870 when talking about reliability. Also, they are far from inexpensive. The least expensive of that group, in terms of list price, is the KSG, which now lists for $990 (although finding one available for under $2000 can prove challenging). Compare that to the price of a base Remington 870 (I just bought a brand new 870 Express 7-round for $365) and you have a TON money left over to dump into upgrades. That said, you still have to deal with a full length shotgun, or do you?
Enter the Bullpup Unlimited, Inc. bullpup conversion kit for the Remington 870 pump shotgun. The kit is available directly from Bullpup Unlimited and is also sold by several other dealers. The kit sells for $359 and it includes everything you need, except the actual Remington 870. Per the instructions, it will work with all right hand ejection 870’s so long as they do not have a vent-rib barrel. While conceivably, you could install a shorter or longer barreled gun into the kit, it is designed around an 18” barrel, and my 18.5″ barrel protrudes only about 5/8” beyond the end of the chassis.
After conversing with the company owner a bit, both via email and telephone, I ordered my kit direct from the company. Shipping was very fast and despite the fact that they are located many states away from me, I received my kit in just 2 days. The kit is made in Kentucky so you can feel good knowing it is a US produced item. When I opened the kit, I saw that it indeed lives up to its word and included everything needed to assemble it, including the hex wrenches. The only tools you need to provide on your own is whatever you need to disassemble your donor gun.
When I first received the kit, I did not yet have a shotgun to install in it, but that did not stop me from playing with the empty kit. I found that it shouldered easily and the controls felt very familiar to me. The kit uses a standard AR-15 pistol grip and safety, which is a plus for anyone who carries an AR on a frequent basis. Overall, the ergonomics of the kit were very good. However, I was initially a little put off by some little things.
First, I immediately noticed several locations on the kit where it was going to be necessary for me to trim off some flashing left over from the molding process, and I am not talking about small bits along the seams, but large pieces where the mold is filled. Next, I decided that since the kit employs a standard AR pistol grip, I would swap the standard grip out for a larger one that fills my big mitts better. Upon installing the replacement grip, I found another annoying problem. The larger grip did not mate up to the bottom of the receiver area and left a very large gap, more than 1/4″. This particular grip spent many years on one of my AR’s and this fit issue did not exist on that rifle. The fit looked so bad that I removed it and put the standard AR grip back. Lastly, and this is super nit-picky, but the brass inserts near the forward end of the upper half, where the small sections of rail can be attached, are shiny brass set in black plastic. While I had no intention of mounting both rails since I only planned on using one, I installed the second one so that I did not have to look at the shiny brass inserts. I have got to think that the threaded inserts could either have been available in black or could have been better concealed.
I do have another gripe with the two sections of rail, and that is their location. While the location chosen is not an issue for an accessory that you turn on and leave on, it does become problematic for one that is designed for momentary activation, like my InForce HSP-WML weapon light. While I have large hands and am able to easily reach the activation button with it mounted on that rail, not everyone (based on the difficulty I have in finding gloves with fingers long enough, almost no one) has hands the same size as me. Additionally, I can imagine instances where I might have the action open and need to use my light, which would require me to remove my hand from the forearm to activate the light. I would have much preferred the rails have the option of mounting to the chassis or the forearm, but that is not currently an option.
The trigger on the kit is advertised as a “Dual Safety Trigger”, which in function is similar to the Glock style trigger that seems to be finding its way onto more and more firearms. The problem I have with it in this instance is that it is unnecessary since the kit is equipped with a manual thumb safety. This safety trigger design just results in unnecessary complexity and an additional possible point of failure (violates the K.I.S.S. theory of design).
The advertising for this kit also boasts sling point attachments for 1 and 2 point slings which sounds promising, but in reality, what you receive is two small pieces of plastic with a hole in them, that are designed to be pushed through the slots molded into the top of the chassis. While they will function as sling attachment points, they are far from what I pictured when reading the description.
While none of these items are huge issues on their own, they start adding up, and on a kit that sells for nearly the same price as the actual gun, I did not expect to see issues like these. Still, despite these minor complaints, I was hopeful that the performance would overcome my cosmetic gripes.
The pack mule carrying my new 870 finally arrived and I excitedly set about preparing it to be installed in the Bullpup Unlimited kit. The particular model 870 I used for this test is the 870 Express Synthetic 7-Round 18.5” Barrel (Remington item #25077). It is different from every other 870 I have used in that the magazine tube is a full 6 rounds long from the factory, no magazine extension is required. The barrel retaining nut and lug on the barrel are out near the very end instead of at the halfway point. I found this change to be noteworthy and is one of the reasons I chose this particular model. To prep the gun, I removed the factory stock and forearm.
As I began the assembly process, I discovered something that concerned me from a functionality and durability standpoint. The piece that replaces the stock forearm is referred to as the “forearm slide tube” (see photo), and it is made from the same thin plastic that some of the other parts of the kit are made from. What concerned me more than that was that the new forearm only attaches to that slide tube on a small molded plastic lug with two metal screw inserts molded in place. I have been using the 870 for nearly 20 years, and in that time, on more than a few occasions, I have run into an expended shell that does not want to extract from the chamber. The solution to the problem is to take the gun, and while holding the forearm and wrist of the stock, slam the gun butt first onto the ground while pulling rearward on the forearm using the extra force to free the stuck shell from the chamber. Additionally, over the years, I have seen a few steel action bars (the bars that connect the forearm to the bolt) encounter cracks from just regular usage, granted these were on older guns that had seen many years of use. Now to my concern, I cannot foresee this small, ¾” long x ½” wide section of molded plastic standing up to the abuse to which it can be subjected. If this part, the “forearm slide tube”, was constructed of metal I would not have the same concerns.
Moving along, I continued the installation determined to give this kit a thorough testing. As I continued the installation, I encountered a second problem. Once the gun was set into the lower half of the chassis and function testing done, I went to install the top half of the chassis. As I started installing all of the screws that hold it together, I found that the seam between the two halves, on the right side of the gun, would not mate up well. Near the butt end of the gun, there was a gap between the two halves that I could not get rid of. I separated the two halves and knowing that the trigger transfer bar runs in that area, I inspected it to make sure it was not the cause, but it was where it belonged. I tried to reassemble the two halves and again had the same problem. I futzed and fiddled with this issue for nearly 40 minutes, and even went as far as completely removing the gun from the chassis a couple of times and starting over, but I was never able to resolve the fitment problem. Finally, I gave up, completed the assembly and did my best to get my OCD in check and ignore the gap between the two halves.
After my first shooting session with this gun, I tore it apart and spent another hour plus messing with it. I checked for signs of rubbing or bad fit in the trigger guard area but found none. I finally decided to loosen up all the mounting bolts slightly and squeezed the two halves together as hard as I could, and something finally gave. It finally went together as it should, and the gap was gone. Now, maybe I would be able to sleep…
One final thing that I only discovered after assembling the kit, one that with a shotgun is not a deal breaker by any means, is that you cannot feel the trigger reset. This is due to how the trigger functions with this kit. The kit uses a transfer bar that is attached to the trigger in the chassis and pushes against the factory 870 trigger. The trigger you are using is not solidly connected to the stock trigger and thus when it resets, that noticeable click is not translated forward to your finger. If it were somehow attached to the factory trigger, rather than just pushing against it, you would likely feel the reset, but as it sits, you just cannot tell when the trigger has reset.
Having spoken to the company owner directly prior to ordering the kit for this review, out of courtesy and in trying to maintain a professional relationship, I figured I would contact him with some of my initial concerns and fitments issues. While our email conversations in the past had been somewhat brief, throughout them all, he had managed to answer all of my questions. Sadly, the reply I got to my concerns did not, and consisted of one sentence telling me that the side seams should not have a gap. Nothing at all addressing my concerns about the “forearm slide tube”. This was less than reassuring.
After completing the assembly process, I began checking the handing characteristics of the gun (playing with it). I did not have my standard 870 at home, since it lives in my locker at work, to compare it to back to back, but it seems to me that from a depressed muzzle, the Bullpup Unlimited gun comes up much quicker and easier, which only makes sense since most of the weight that is normally far forward of your trigger hand is now near your shoulder, far behind your hand. Since the kids were still at school, I decided to make a few runs through the house and simulate clearing it. I was very happy with how the gun handled.
The shorter length and changed balance point of the gun make it very easy to maneuver in the tight confines inside a building. Additionally, I found the AR style safety easy to manipulate without any thought required. If you train with your AR, dropping and reengaging the safety as you maneuver around, this will feel right at home.
A downside to that shorter overall package, which I discovered when I was playing around with this after assembling it, is the elimination of a convenient place to mount a spare ammo carrier. On a traditionally configured 870, you can get a sidesaddle that mounts on the left side of the receiver, but you cannot do that here because the left side of the receiver is now where your cheek rests. Other standard 870 shell carriers, like those that mount on the forend and stocks that either carry the spare shells inside them, like the Speedfeed stocks, or stocks with side mounted ammo carriers, are also not an option when using this kit. The only location I could find to mount a spare shell carrier was on the top picatinny rail, which is not an ideal location for fast reloads, and then the only rail mounted shell carrier I could find was made completely of plastic and had the absolutely tightest grip of a shotgun shell of any shell carrier I have tried. I considered using a Velcro attached shell card, which are available from several manufacturers, but due to the shape of the chassis on this kit, there was no flat surface on which to affix the other half of the Velcro.
During my first shooting session, I did not have any sights of any kind installed. A new, low priced red-dot optic, that I plan on including in a bargain red-dot comparison article, was on the UPS truck on its way to my home so I did not bother with digging out any of my old back-up iron sights. I just planned on running a few rounds through it to get the feel for it. To my surprise, even without any form of sights installed, I was still able to put rounds right on target from about 20 yards. I ran about 20-25 rounds on #8 shot and 3 rounds of #00 buck through it without a hiccup.
Initially, I found the loading port location difficult to find unless I looked, but after a few sequences, it proved easy to find without looking for it. Loading the gun proved to be nearly identical to a standard 870 once I became accustomed to the different location, but there is limited access in that area of the gun which slowed reload speeds. The one major difference, which took me a few variations of technique before I settled on one I liked, was performing a slug change over. Unlike a standard 870, I am forced to relinquish my master grip with my fire control hand in order to accomplish this. While this is not ideal, I think I figured out a technique that will work.
For the second shooting session, since I was bringing along a case of shells, I took along my buddy Alan figuring two shoulders would last longer than one. Also, since I was planning on shooting quite a bit, I decided to head to an actual range so as not to really annoy my neighbors. We setup and got started, but it was not long before we started encountering problems. I was the first shooter up. I combat loaded a shell in the open chamber, closed the action and topped off the magazine tube giving me a full load of 7 rounds. I began firing and twice in that first series of 7 rounds I experienced a failure to eject the spent shell. They hung up with the front of the shell out of the ejection port and the base still inside.
Sadly, that was to be a very regular occurrence over the next couple of hours. I had initially started using some cheaper Estate brand #8 target & field shells. I thought it might be an ammo issue since it had functioned fine the first time I shot it the week before, so I switched to some Remington #4 shells I had. The problem persisted. I tried the only other brand I had brought with me, which was some Winchester #6 shells and still, the problem was there. Seeing as the target shells were having problems, I filled it with some Remington #00 buck and still encountered the same problem.
In trying to determine the cause of the ejection failures, we closely compared my two 870’s and found nothing glaringly different. I verified that none of the ejection port was blocked by the installation of the bullpup kit, which it was not. The opening in the kit is slightly larger than the ejection port and there was no interference with the opening. Using the screen on my camera to watch what was happening, Alan and I both concluded that the shells may have possibly been hitting the ejection port hood/deflector that is part of the conversion kit as the shells were rotating in the open ejection port causing them to stall on their way out. We were not able to say that was definitely the cause, but it was our combined educated guess.
Despite the function issues we were having, we both agreed that so long as reloading was not something you were planning (gun that would be slung or ditched if it ran dry), the ergonomics and overall size was ideal for an entry gun or for home defense. It shouldered well, pointed fairly naturally and was very compact.
Early on in this testing trip, I had a red dot optic (which was purchased for a future comparison article) mounted on the top rail (visible in the related video) but the riser on which I had it mounted could not handle the recoil impulses of the 12 gauge and it was vibrating screws loose, so it had to be removed, causing the last half of the testing to be done with no sights. Even at 25 yards, we were not having any trouble hitting our targets once we had acclimated to the different point of aim.
Recoil management was not significantly different than a standard 870, although I found the shape of the forend did was not conducive to maintaining a firm grip. The sides of the forend just go straight up and then they roll over at the top, which is much different from the shape of any other 870 forend I have used. They have all been rounded, and in the case of the Magpul forend on my work shotgun (seen in the video), there is a lip with provides the shooter with a little extra bite. Combine that with the different balance point of this shorter gun and I found the forend slightly jumping up out of my left hand on occasion. Even though my left hand noticed a difference, my right shoulder did not.
Another area of concern, one especially noted by Alan as it bugged him quite a bit, is the location of the action release. While it does function perfectly fine where it is, it requires the user to break their fire control hand’s grip to hit the action release whether it is to chamber the first round from a fully loaded magazine, or to perform a slug change over.
Speaking of slug change overs, I had brought my standard 870 that I carry every day at work with us so that we could run a few drills back to back for comparison purposes. I ran two drills for time with both guns. The first drill I ran was a slug change over from the car carry setup, as my department defines it, which is a full magazine, chamber empty, action closed, safety on. Alan timed me with a stopwatch (I have yet to purchase a shot timer, but will be soon). With the standard 870, from the “gun” command, it took me 6.42 seconds to get my first shot off with the slug, which was done without losing any rounds out of the magazine. With the Bullpup Unlimited gun, the same drill took me 7.96 seconds to get the shot off. I attribute that 1.5 second difference to all the moving around that I had to do with my fire control hand.
The second drill I ran was not anything special. I just started with the magazine full and a round in the chamber (except I screwed up and left an empty chamber on the standard 870) and three additional shot shells in the ammo carrier attached to each gun. With the Bullpup Unlimited gun, from the “gun” command until the last round was fired, 22.88 seconds had elapsed. With my standard 870, the same drill only took 15.78 seconds. Besides having to deal with an ejection failure when shooting the Bullpup, I found it much slower to reload both due to the location where I was forced to carry the spare shells and due to the cramped area around the loading port.
Finally, about 200 rounds into the testing, we decided to stop. The rate of ejection failures was just making the testing exceedingly frustrating. On one walkup drill, I started with 7 rounds in the gun, and during that walkup drill, I encountered 3 failures to eject (see the video). At this point, we had experienced more than 20 ejection failures out of 200+/- rounds fired, which translates to roughly a 10% failure rate. Since the failure rate was as high as it was, and since the Remington 870 is known for good reason as an ultra-reliable shotgun, I started to think that maybe there might be a problem with this particular gun, so we packed it up and headed home. When we got back, I removed the 870 from the Bullpup kit and reassembled it as it arrived from the factory with a full stock. While removing it from the kit, I found that one of the two very small screws that holds the forearm to the “forearm slide tube” was very loose and had in fact backed itself halfway out. Seeing as there are only two of those small screws, this was very noteworthy.
Once I had the shotgun back in stock form, we took it down to my shooting range and ran nearly two more boxes of the same cheap Estate target shells through it, in addition to a few other rounds, and it functioned flawlessly. Not a single failure to eject or any other issue to speak of. We both tried cycling the gun hard, soft, fast and slow, and neither of us could replicate the ejection issues we were experiencing when this very same gun was assembled in the bullpup kit.
Something else to consider, which became very apparent to me when we were having the function issues, is that working on, or even cleaning your gun, requires near complete disassembly of the entire chassis, which can only be accomplished with a minimum of two different hex wrenches. The beauty of the standard 870 is that it requires no tools to disassemble for cleaning, and can be broken down in seconds.
Malfunction Resolution Attempts
In the interest of both trying to help the manufacturer out, and in an effort to maintain a professional working relationship with them, I emailed the owner and described the problems we were experiencing. I described the situation as best I could and told him that I had many instances of the malfunctions captured on video. I was not confident I would receive a warm reception based on the extremely short response to my early concerns, but I was surprised by an initially positive response. He and I were working out the process to ship the entire gun back to the manufacturer for them to examine, but in the meantime, I provided him with a link to the YouTube video I had uploaded, which was set as a private video (only those with the link could view it). While waiting for an email response from the owner, a Google+ user by the name of BullpupForum posted the following comment on my still private YouTube video:
Short stroke, short stroke, short stroke. Don’t blame the kit when it’s the operator! The Bullpup Shotgun action is closer to the body than a traditional shotgun, so your comparison is not valid. Watch closely, and you’ll see the weak manipulation of the pump in each of the “failures”. In a traditional set-up, your pump hand is further out, so you’re less likely to short stroke. Obviously, you guys need some training (especially the guy with the goatee – he’s barely touching the gun.) I’ve got thousands of shells through three different kits with no failures…
Now, I will admit that this is the first bullpup shotgun I have ever fired, but to suggest I lack training is silly. I have been shooting the Remington 870 for 18 years. The standard configuration gun I am shooting in the video, I purchased brand new in 1997 and have carried it on duty ever since. I have been through extensive training with the Remington 870 both in the academy and throughout my career. Just last year, I attended a two day advanced tactical shotgun class, during which we fired nearly 1000 rounds. I’m just a tad familiar with how they function. Other than when I first started learning to shoot a shotgun, I have never had an issue with short stroking the gun. Since that comment was posted while the video was still private, and contained (other than the insults) much of the same information that the owner had told me in the past, I can only assume they, or someone working with them, are responsible for that comment.
Now to address the short stroking comments. When I began experiencing the malfunctions at the range, I thought that might have been the problem so I made sure that I was cycling the action fully, but the failures persisted. And while the claim that the shorter configuration moves the action closer to the shooter is true, the length of the action cycle does not change.
I made some changes to the related video to include a slow motion portion where the camera has a very clear view of the action. You be the judge and decide if it is a short stroking problem. As for me working with the manufacturer to address this issue, that comment on the video ended my cooperation with them.
The concept of this bullpup shotgun conversion kit is something that I have personally mulled over in my ADHD infused brain on more than one occasion. I find the AK-like reliability of the Remington 870 to be very desirable, but have always wanted a shorter version. This kit clearly accomplishes the shortening of the 870 platform however it seems to me that in doing so, the reliability factor has all but been defeated, at least with the kit I received. While the item that initially concerned me, the “forearm slide tube”, survived my limited testing without any noticeable damage, the gun would just not reliably eject spent shells when installed in the kit.
I began this project really excited about the kit. My initial inspection of the kit dampened that a bit, but I still really wanted to like it and high hopes that it would perform well. While I have enjoyed shooting this gun in this configuration, considering some of the things I have identified as areas of concern, especially the lack of reliability, and even more than that, the behavior on the part of the manufacturer, sadly I must say there is no way I would consider fielding this gun in a combat or “life on the line” situation. It is a fun gun to shoot, and the novelty factor is very high, but based on the list price for this kit and the issues that it has, I just cannot bring myself to recommend it.