Gun Tests Best Guns & Gear of 2021

Which pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns, accessories, and ammunition were our picks in the past year? We look back at the previous 12 months to highlight the winners.

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Toward the end of each year, I survey the work R.K. Campbell, Roger Eckstine, Robert Sadowski, Tracey Taylor, and Joe Woolley have done in Gun Tests, with an eye toward selecting guns, accessories, and ammunition the magazine’s testers have endorsed. From these evaluations I pick the best from a full year’s worth of tests and distill recommendations for readers, who often use them as shopping guides. These choices are a mixture of our original tests and other information I’ve compiled during the year. After we roll high-rated test products into long-term testing, I keep tabs on how those guns do, and if the firearms and accessories continue performing well, then I have confidence including these firearms in this wrap-up. — Todd Woodard

Best In Class Revolver ‘21

Colt Python PYTHON-SP4WTS 357 Magnum

Best In Class Pistol ‘21

Ruger American Pro Duty 8607 9mm Luger

Best In Class Rifle ‘21

Christensen Arms Ridgeline 801-06015-00 6.5 PRC

Best In Class Shotgun ‘21

Benelli M4 H20 Tactical 11794 12 Gauge

Ruger American Pistol Pro Duty 8607 9mm Luger, $579

Gun Tests Grade: A (BEST-IN-CLASS PISTOL)

The Ruger American was the most expensive pistol in this test by at least $100. But for that money, it turned out to be the most accurate pistol and showed surprisingly light recoil.

See full review February 2021

Action TypeSemi-auto, striker fired
Overall Length7.5 in.
Overall Height5.4 in. with no mag
Maximum Width1.4 in. at slide stop
Weight Unloaded27.6 oz.
Weight Loaded35.3 oz. with 11 rounds of 124-grain Speer Gold Dots
Slide MaterialStainless steel
Slide Retraction Effort17.3 lbs.
Receiver MaterialGlass-filled nylon
FinishBlack nitride
Front Strap Height2.6 in.
Back Strap Height3.5 in.
Barrel Length4.2 in.
Grip Thickness (Maximum)1.3 in.
Grip Circumference5.5 in.
MagazinesTwo 10-round or two 17-round
Rear SightNovak low mount, drift-adjustable 2 dot
Front SightDrift adjustable with single dot
Sight Radius6.4 in.
Trigger Pull Weight6.4 lbs.
Trigger Span2.75 in.
SafetyTrigger blade, internal automatic sear block
WarrantyNone written
Telephone(336) 949-5200
WebsiteRuger.com
Made InUSA

Colt Python PYTHON-SP6WTS 357 Magnum, $1300

Gun Tests Grade: A (BEST-IN-CLASS REVOLVER)

Pricey, but the new Python is a winner, even if it isn’t an exact clone of the original Python.

See full review January 2021

Action TypeRevolver
TriggerDouble action/Single action
Overall Length9.75 in.
Barrel Length4.25 in.
Sight Radius5.2 in.
Overall Height5.5 in.
Maximum Width1.4 in.
Weight Unloaded42 oz.
Weight Loaded42.9 oz.
Cylinder Gap0.004 in.
Capacity6
Frame FinishBright stainless
Barrel/Cylinder FinishBright stainless
Frame Front Strap Height2.3 in.
Frame Back Strap Height3.8 in.
GripLaminated wood, checkered
Grip Thickness (max)1.3 in.
Grip Circumference (max)5.5 in.
Front SightRed ramp, removable
Rear SightAdjustable, notch
Trigger Pull Weight (DA)9.6 lbs.
Trigger Pull Weight (SA)6.0 lbs.
Trigger Span (DA)3.3 in.
Trigger Span (SA)3.0 in.
SafetyTransfer bar
WarrantyNone written
Telephone(800) 962-2658
WebsiteColt.com
Made InUSA

Christensen Arms Ridgeline 801-06015-00 6.5 PRC, $1793

Gun Tests Grade: A (BEST-IN-CLASS RIFLE)

Very accurate with factory ammunition — even better with reloads. This is still our winner.

See full review January 2021

Action TypeBolt
Overall Length43.75 in. with thread protector
Barrel Length24 in., 1:8 twist
Overall Height w/o Scope Mount6.25 in.
Weight Unloaded6.3 lbs.
Weight Loaded6.6 lbs.
Sight RadiusNA
Action FinishStainless steel
Barrel FinishStainless steel and carbon-fiber wrap
Magazine Capacity3
Magazine TypeInternal box with hinged baseplate
StockCarbon-fiber composite
Stock Drop at Comb0.6 in.
Stock Drop at Heel0.8 in.
Stock BeddingSpot bedding
Stock ButtplateLimbsaver
Stock Length of Pull13.75 in.
Receiver Scope-Base PatternSTD 6-48 Remington 700
Trigger Pull Weight3.1 lbs.
SafetyTwo-position rocker
WarrantyLimited lifetime for original owner
Telephone(888) 517-8855
WebsiteChristensenArms.com
Made InUSA, Utah

Benelli M4 H20 Tactical 11794 12 Gauge, $2000

Gun Tests Grade: A (BEST-IN-CLASS SHOTGUN)

This shotgun, in common with the Remington V3, features a gas system that rides close to the receiver rather than on the magazine tube, making for good balance. The Benelli provided excellent results. It is pricey but very good.

See full review February 2021

Action TypeSemi-auto, A.R.G.O. piston driven
Chamber Size3.0 in.
Overall Length40.0 in.
Capacity5+1
Weight7.8 lbs.
Weight Loaded8.65 lbs.
ReceiverTitanium Cerakote steel, drilled and tapped, Picatinny top rail
Barrel18.5 in. long, Titanium Cerakote steel
Choke TubeModified supplied; IC, IM, F available
StockSynthetic
Stock Length of Pull14.4 in.
Stock ForendPlastic
Front SightBlack post
Rear SightGhost ring
Trigger Pull Weight7.0 lbs.
SafetyCrossbolt
Warranty10-year limited
Telephone(800) 264-4962
WebsiteBenelliUSA.com
Made InItaly

Springfield Armory XD-M 45 Tactical XDMT94545BHCE 45 ACP, $585

Gun Tests Grade: A (OUR PICK)

The XD-M tied for the top score in accuracy, had the greatest magazine capacity without requiring additional size, and came in second in the speed drills due to a mistake we made.

See full review March 2021

Action TypeSemi-auto, striker fired
Overall Length8.4 in.
Overall Height5.7 in.
Maximum Width1.3 in.
Weight Unloaded1.7 lbs.
Weight Loaded2.6 lbs. w/14 rounds 230-gr.
Slide MaterialForged Steel
Slide Retraction Effort15.0 lbs.
Receiver MaterialPolymer
FinishMelonite
Front Strap Height2.6 in.
Back Strap Height4.0 in.
Barrel Length5.28 in.
Grip Thickness (Maximum)1.26 in.
Grip Circumference5.75 in.
MagazineThree 13-round
Rear Sight2 dots in dovetail
Front SightSingle dot in dovetail
Sight Radius6.7 in.
Trigger Pull Weight5.7 lbs.
Trigger Span2.8 in.
SafetyTrigger, striker block, grip
WarrantyLimited lifetime, non-transferrable
Telephone(800) 860-6866
WebsiteSpringfield-Armory.com
Made InCroatia

Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model 986 10227 9mm Luger, $1129

Gun Tests Grade: A

An all-business, made-to-perform revolver that offered excellent accuracy with Hornady Critical Duty. This modified L-frame had a smooth DA trigger due to the titanium cylinder. SA trigger was crisp.

See full review March 2021

Action TypeRevolver
TriggerDA/SA
Overall Length7.5 in.
Barrel Length2.5 in., 1:10 in. twist rate
Sight Radius4.1 in.
Overall Height5.9 in.
Maximum Width1.5 in.
Weight Unloaded31.04 oz.
Weight Loaded35.12 oz.
Cylinder Gap.004 in.
Capacity7
Frame Material/FinishMatte stainless
Barrel/Cylinder Material/FinishMatte stainless/titanium
Frame Front Strap Height2.6 in.
Frame Back Strap Height4.0 in.
GripLaminated wood, textured, finger grooves
Grip Thickness (max)1.1 in.
Grip Circumference (max)5.3 in.
Front SightSerrated ramp with red insert, removable
Rear SightAdj. notch
Trigger Pull Weight Double Action11.0 lbs.
Trigger Pull Weight Single Action4.8 lbs.
Trigger Span Double Action3.3 in.
Trigger Span Single Action2.8 in.
SafetyHammer block
WarrantyNone written
Telephone(800) 331-0852
WebsiteSmith-Wesson.com
Made InUSA

Black Aces Tactical Pro Series S Max 12 Gauge, $420

Gun Tests Grade: A (BEST BUY)

The Black Aces S Max is the lightest shotgun tested. Despite this, recoil was not objectionable. The shotgun handles well, and we were surprised that it retained a great deal of controllability with the birdshead grip. The shotgun is reliable. It may be the best buy depending on the features you need.

See full review March 2021

Action TypeSemi-auto, gas operated
Chamber Size3.0 in.
Overall Length, Full Stock39.0 in.
Overall Length, Birdshead grip31.0 in.
Capacity6+1
Weight6.5 lbs.
Weight Loaded7.3 lbs.
Barrel Length18.5 in.
FinishBlued
Choke Tubes3 Benelli Mobil
StockWood semi-pistol; birdshead
Length of Pull14.25 in.
ForendRibbed wood
Front SightPost
Trigger Pull Weight6.0 lbs.
SafetyCrossbolt
WarrantyLimited lifetime
Telephone(407) 630-9359
WebsiteBlackAcesTactical.com
Made InTurkey

Shadow Systems MR920 9mm Luger, $799

Gun Tests Grade: A (OUR PICK)

The Shadow Systems Multi Role (MR) pistol is basically an improved Glock 19, especially the trigger, sights, and grip. With the Glock disappearing from the shelves and sometimes demanding scalper prices, the Shadow Systems pistols are excellent buys.

See full review April 2021

Action TypeDAO Safe Action
Overall Length7.4 in.
Overall Height5.04 in.
Maximum Width1.3 in.
Weight Unloaded24.0 oz.
Weight Loaded29.0 oz.
Slide MaterialSteel
Slide Retraction Effort15.0 lbs.
Receiver MaterialPolymer
FinishBlack oxide
Front Strap Height2.0 in.
Rear Strap Height3.6 in.
Barrel Length4.0 in.
Grip PanelsPebbled and serrated
Grip Thickness1.3 in.
Grip Circumference6.0 in.
Magazine(2) 15-round Magpul
Rear SightFixed
Front SightFixed, tritium insert
Sight Radius7.0 in.
Trigger Pull Weight4.5 lbs.
Trigger Span2.45 in.
SafetyFiring-pin block, trigger lever
Warranty5-year limited
Telephone(469) 458-6808
WebsiteShadowSystems.com
Made InUSA

Masterpiece Arms MPA BA MPR PRO 6mm Creedmoor, $2499

Gun Tests Grade: A (OUR PICK)

A heavy, yet graceful, beast of a rifle. We can see why the MPA is one of the most popular rifles on the PRS tour.

See full review April 2021

Action TypeBolt
ActionBrushed stainless steel
Overall LengthAdjustable
Weight Unloaded14.0 lbs.
Weight Loaded (108 grain, 4+1 rounds)14.7 lbs.
Overall Height w/o Scope Mount7.0 in.
Barrel26 in. long, 1:7 twist, brushed stainless steel
Sight RadiusNA
Magazine TypeAICS pattern detachable box
Magazine Capacity10
StockMPA BA Competition chassis
Stock Drop at CombAdjustable
Stock Drop at HeelAdjustable
Stock BeddingV bedding system
Stock ButtplateMPA rubber
Stock Length of PullAdjustable
Receiver Scope-Base Pattern20-MOA Picatinny rail
Trigger Pull Weight0.93 lbs.
Safety2-position thumb rocker
WarrantyLimited lifetime
Telephone(866) 803-0000
WebsiteMasterpieceArms.com
Made InUSA, Georgia

Henry All-Weather Lever Action H010AW 45-70 Gov’t., $810

Gun Tests Grade: A (BEST BUY)

The All-Weather Henry is easy to tote and fast to shoulder. The magazine tube was easy to load, and the lever was comfortable to cycle quickly. Open sights and wood-to-metal fit were good.

See full review May 2021

Action TypeLever-action, exposed hammer
Overall Length37.5 in.
Barrel18.43 in. long; 1:20 RH twist, stainless steel
Overall Height8.0 in.
Weight Unloaded7.08 lbs.
Weight Loaded7.36 lbs.
Sight Radius15.12 in.
ActionHard-chrome satin
BarrelHard-chrome satin
Magazine Capacity4
Magazine TypeTube
StockSmooth black hardwood; sling swivel studs
Stock Drop at Comb2.62 in.
Stock Drop at Heel3.12 in.
Stock BeddingNone
Stock ButtplateVentilated rubber recoil pad
Stock Length of Pull14.0 in.
Front SightBlade w/brass bead
Rear SightAdj. semi-buckhorn rear; drilled and tapped
Trigger Pull Weight6.9 lbs., single stage
Manual SafetyNone (internal transfer bar)
Warranty100% satisfaction guarantee
Telephone(866) 200-2354
WebsiteHenryUSA.com
Made InUSA

Heritage Rough Rider RR22MB6 Combo 22 LR/22 WMR, $250

Gun Tests Grade: A (BEST BUY)

The Heritage Rough Rider is the least expensive handgun tested, but it came with a spare 22 Magnum cylinder. The fit and finish are good, and the revolver is fitted with a nice set of cocobolo grips. A manual safety is a good option.

See full review May 2021

Action TypeSingle action
Overall Length11.8 in.
Overall Height5.0 in.
Maximum Width1.4 in.
Weight Unloaded33.4 oz.
Weight Loaded37.4 oz.
Cylinder Gap0.080 in.
Barrel Length6.5 in.
Capacity6
FrameAnodized aluminum alloy
CylinderBlued steel
22 Magnum CylinderUnfluted steel
Frame Front Strap Height2.1 in.
Frame Rear Strap Height3.1 in.
GripsCocobolo
Grip Thickness (Max)1.3 in.
Grip Circumference (Max)5.7 in.
Front SightFixed blade
Rear SightReceiver groove
Sight Radius7.6 in.
Trigger Pull Weight Single Action4.0 lbs.
Trigger Span3.0 in.
SafetyThumb safety
Warranty1 year
WebsiteHeritageManfacturing.com
Telephone(305) 685-5966
Made InUSA

Ruger SR1911 6722 9mm Luger, $775

Gun Tests Grade: A (OUR PICK)

The Ruger is the most expensive gun tested. While price isn’t always a predictor of quality, in this case the Ruger’s performance cannot be faulted. We liked the fit, finish, handling and accuracy.

See full review June 2021

Action TypeShort recoil-operated locked breech, single action
Overall Length8.0 in.
Overall Height5.5 in.
Maximum Width1.25 in.
Weight Unloaded28.0 oz.
Weight Loaded32.4 oz.
Barrel4.25 in.
MagazinesTwo 9 round
SlideForged stainless steel
Slide Retraction Effort18.0 lbs.
FrameAluminum Alloy
Frame FinishDark gray anodized
Frame Front Strap Height2.6 in.
Frame Back Strap Height3.2 in.
Grip Thickness1.25 in.
Grip Circumference5.37 in.
Rear SightNovak, screw adjustable
Front SightPost, dovetail mount
Sight Radius5.6 in.
Trigger Pull Weight4.75 lbs.
Trigger Span2.8 in.
SafetiesSlide lock, grip
WarrantyNone written
Telephone(888) 220-1173
WebsiteRuger.com
Made InUSA

Browning BL-22 Grade I 024100103 22 S/L/LR, $700

Gun Tests Grade: A- (OUR PICK)

The Browning BL-22 rifle is iconic and delivered on its reputation. The short-stroke lever makes follow-up shots fast. The fit and finish was superb, and that is reflected in the cost. Accuracy was the best of the three rifles tested. Trigger pull could have been lighter.

See full review September 2021

Action TypeLever-action, exposed hammer
Overall Length36.75 in.
Barrel/Twist Rate20 in.; 1:16 RH twist
Overall Height6.87 in.
Weight Unloaded5.0 lbs.
Weight Loaded (22 LR)5.6 lbs.
Sight Radius15.25 in.
ReceiverSteel
Action FinishPolished blue
Barrel FinishPolished blue
Magazine Capacity15 LR/17 L/21 S
Magazine TypeTube
StockSmooth walnut
Drop at Comb1.75 in.
Drop at Heel2.25 in.
BeddingNone
ButtplateSolid plastic recoil pad
Length of Pull13.5 in.
Front SightPost w/brass bead
Rear SightFolding adjustable blade; receiver grooved for optic mount
Trigger Type/Pull WeightTwo-stage, 5.8 lbs.
Manual SafetyNone
WarrantyNone written
Telephone(800) 333-3288
WebsiteBrowning.com
Made InJapan (Miroku)

Smith & Wesson M&P40 M2.0 11522 40 S&W, $581

Gun Tests Grade: A (BEST BUY)

The 18-degree grip angle made the M&P M2.0 feel natural. The trigger was very consistent, accuracy was good, and we liked the grip modules. More specifically, recoil management was good.

See full review October 2021

Action TypeSemi-auto, recoil operated, striker fire
Overall Length7.4 in.
Overall Height5.5 in.
Maximum Width1.3 in.
Weight Unloaded25.9 oz.
Weight Loaded33.4 oz.
Barrel4.2 in.
Capacity15+1 (double stack)
SlideMatte black Armornite
Slide Retraction Effort14 lbs.
FrameBlack, polymer; 4 modular grip inserts (S, M, ML, L)
Frame Front Strap Height2.2 in.
Frame Back Strap Height3.2 in.
GripTextured polymer
Grip Thickness (max)1.3 in.
Grip Circumference (max)6.1 in.
SightsFixed; steel 3-dot
Trigger Pull Weight5.8 lbs.
Trigger Span (max)2.9 in.
Magazines2; steel
Manual SafetyNone
WarrantyLimited
WebsiteSmith-Wesson.com
Made InUSA

Ammo and Accessory Picks

380 ACP Remington Ultimate Defense 102-grain BJHP CHD380BN

This is the Golden Saber by another name, and that isn’t a bad thing. The BJHP (brass jacketed hollow point) is the heaviest bullet tested. There was some recoil, but it isn’t excessive. Accuracy was good. The Remington load went into a special niche. Loads that penetrated more expanded less, while loads that expanded more penetrated less.

The Golden Saber did not quite average 900 fps in the Glock, slower than most loads as a result of a bullet heavier than most 380 ACP bullets. The 102-grain bullet penetrated an average of 15 inches and expanded to 0.59 inch. Expansion was very consistent. This is an attractive overall balance that many shooters like us will want.

Gun Tests Grade: A (OUR PICK)

Wright Leather Works Bullhide Belt, $52

This leather belt is available from WrightLeatherWorks.com. This is a slightly different 0.25-inch-thick belt. The primary difference is the dark finish. All that is said concerning the Old World Belt is true of the Bullhide Belt. This is a credible choice, and, frankly, unless you are a connoisseur of pasting and waxing, this belt is the better buy.

Gun Tests Grade: A (BEST BUY)

12 Gauge Remington Managed-Recoil #00 Buckshot RL12BK00

This is an eight-pellet load. Reducing the payload by one pellet may tighten the pattern and also reduce recoil. This is a reduced-recoil load at 1109 fps in the Remington 870. The pattern was superb, without any drawbacks, at 1.8 by 1.5 inches. The Benelli gained 5 fps over the pumpgun’s velocity and put all eight pellets into 1.7 by 1.6 inches. Basically, patterns were identical in each shotgun. This was an affordable load at the time of purchase, but was nonetheless high quality.

Gun Tests Grade: A (OUR PICK)

38 Special Buffalo Bore 125-Grain Low Flash Standard Pressure SB 20E/20

This load clocked more than the rating, as Buffalo Bore often does. Accuracy is good, and the load is indeed low flash, as advertised, although none of the loads in this test had excess muzzle blast. The 1080 fps 125-grain load exhibited the second greatest expansion of any load tested, and it had the most energy. Based purely on terminal ballistics, this cartridge is a formidable choice.

Gun Tests Grade: A (OUR PICK)

40 S&W Black Hills 140-Grain Barnes TAC-XP D40N6

We like the performance of the Black Hills Tac load. The petals of the Black Hills TAC load are sharp and certain to make a complex wound channel.

This is the only all-copper hollow point tested. The only downside, in our opinion, of all copper hollow points is that these loads are usually more expensive. In today’s world of high ammo prices, this may not always be true. The 140-grain bullet breaks a consistent 1121 fps. Penetration is 18 inches in water, in line with most of the loads tested, and expansion is 0.73 inch, the greatest of any of the loads tested. For personal defense, this load is ideal, based on a balance of expansion and penetration.

Gun Tests Grade: A (OUR PICK) 

45 Colt Buffalo Bore 225-Grain Hard-Cast SWHP

The Buffalo Bore heavy lead semi-wadcutter gas-check bullet is not a swaged lead bullet but a cast bullet. At 990 fps in the Devil Anse, the bullet penetrates 24 inches and expands to the greatest width of any of the bullets tested. While 0.84 inch is average in the revolver, one of the carbine loads went a wide 0.90 inch. This is easily the load with the greatest predicted wound potential. At 1109 fps from the carbine, expansion and penetration were virtually the same; however, the water jugs were blown around to a greater extent when fired in the carbine. This is a hard-hitting load that should prove effective against man and beast. Recoil is the greatest of the test, however, although it isn’t noticeably more difficult to fire in the carbine.

Gun Tests Grade (REVOLVER): A

Gun Tests Grade (CARBINE): A

Advanced Performance Shooting ASOB, $58.99

The Almost Small of the Back holster was designed to address the shortcomings of the SOB, a common thread among custom makers. This holster, however, is molded in Kydex, the only holster of this material tested. The ASOB holster offers a sharp draw. During movement, the holster was secure. It is all we may ask.

Gun Tests Grade: A

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