December 2001

Gun Tests Guns Of The Year 2001

Which pistols, revolvers, rifles, and shotguns are worth your money? We sift through the year’s best, and worst, products and pull together a Christmas shopping list we would like to see.

Cabela’s Millennium .45 LC

During the holidays, it is most often Dad who endures the cluelessness of his cherished family members when it comes to exchanging gifts. Everyone else in the family is easy to buy for. Kids like bikes. For Mom, diamonds are the gift that keeps on giving. But what about dear old Dad? A new rechargeable drill, for the third year in a row? A too-tight sweater? A cellphone bracket for the car?

None of these gifts does it for the shooter, who if he had his druthers, would probably like a single, hefty gift certificate from Joe's World of Guns down on the corner. Just think of it: If he received just one gift every year, and it was a gun, over the course of a lifetime, he'd amass a varied and exciting collection of firearms to enjoy throughout the years.

But there would remain the difficult question of what to buy, for either the brave spouse who wanted to really surprise hubby with a spanking new SIG P220, or for the shooter who wanted to make the most of his single gun splurge of the year.

Not to worry, gentle readers, Gun Tests can solve these problems for you. Our Guns of the Year wrap-up picks out the best pistols, revolvers, rifles, and handguns we've tested over the last 12 months. You can hand the Guns of the Year wrap to someone else who has fiscal authority in your house and say, "Go to it," or use it to make your personal Dear Santa list. We believe that whatever you pick, youll be happy with it.

So let's get started on what to buy:

SIG P220 .45 ACP, $880
As many Gun Tests readers are aware, this is the gun that's being offered in our lifetime subscription promotion, wherein you receive the magazine until you attain room temperature and you get the P220 to boot.

Click here to view the SIG P220 .45 ACP features guide

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Our SIG P220 (original review May 2001) came with SIGLite night sights, which helped it put 22 of 30 hits in the A zone in a Practical shooting test. We found the transition of the P220's trigger from DA to SA to be very predictable. Elapsed times were consistent, offering the control and perspective to complete the string of fire at the same speed every time. This exercise builds awareness and perception as well as precision, three key elements not only of sporting competition but also self-defense.

Another feature of the P220 that makes it an exceptional weapon is the layout of the controls. The Sig P220 prefers that availability of the slide release to the right thumb takes precedence, so that the weak hand can retrieve and load a spare magazine. Once inserted, releasing the slide need not wait until the left hand is in position.

The SIG's grip is plastic and wraps around the backstrap. The grip is at its narrowest along the line following the index finger connecting the trigger to the undercut of the backstrap. Although textured, the plastic grip is a little slippery, which would be fine if only the front strap were checkered. Grip tape on the front is an inexpensive alternative.

Slide and frame rails are full length, and you have to wonder what kind of alloy is used to make the frame assembly. At 14 ounces, it feels almost as light as a plastic frame. This adds to the SIG's appeal as an everyday gun, lending it to carry or driving options.

SIG Arms P220, $880. Buy It. If a full-size 1911 isn't right for you, then this full-size 220 may be.

Walther P99QA, $799
With the suffix QA for Quick Action, we might have expected the trigger stroke on this P99 (original review April 2001) to be very short. But this is not the case. The throw of the trigger is shorter than the other P99 models, but it is distinguished by a faster reset and more consistent feel. The Walther trigger is consistent in pressure and encourages a smooth, continuous stroke.

Click here to view the Walther P99QA features guide

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Whether it was the trigger or overall quality, the Walther P99QA was our accuracy winner. We managed 1.5-inch groups with both the 95-grain Starfire round and Winchester's 115-grain Silvertip. The P99QA helped us achieve this by offering a rear sight adjustable for windage and a choice of four different front sights with which to adjust elevation.

Ergonomically, what helped our shooters was the choice of three different backstraps. Using a light hammer and supplied punch to change components, the circumference of the grip could be changed radically. Control is the name of the game, and we liked the thinnest overall grip that still featured a healthy arch to fill the palm. One problem inherent to the polymer pistol from the beginning has been ergonomics, because the material just does not modify easily. Slip-on finger grooves by Hogue grips was one way to handle the problems that Glock owners experienced with earlier models that featured a boxier grip. Walther simply takes the modular approach to this problem. When in place the fit of the respective backstraps is flawless.

The Walther slide is connected to the frame by four steel rails, placed farther apart than in the other pistols. The Walther barrel is crowned and also features shallow lands and grooves. One unusual feature is the magazine release, which operates in the style of the Heckler & Koch pistols. The lever is ambidextrous and fits within the contour of the lower portion of the trigger guard, requiring a downward movement to operate. As we see it, the shooter has three choices of operation, depending on your hand. The standard procedure of shifting the gun toward the thumb is one method. Using the trigger finger on the right side of the guard is another. The third, and best, option may be using the middle finger because it helps maintain the strong-hand shooting grip.

The P99QA offers two safety devices. When charged, the back of the striker protrudes from the slide, and this point is concave and painted red. Additionally, there is a decocker mounted on the slide in an awkward position. It is a panel that requires considerable pressure to deactivate. However, this mechanism was not meant to be used as a traditional safety. It is merely a device to ensure safe administrative handling of the pistol without unloading the chamber. To recharge the weapon, the slide need only be pulled back about a quarter of an inch. While we found it too easy to pull back the slide far enough to discharge a chambered round unintentionally, we also found it easier to accomplish the recharging process using only one hand. This is done by imitating a strong-hand-only press-check, wherein you place the thumb underneath the frame just behind the grip. Then you pull back with the middle finger and forefinger curled over the slide. This technique is also similar to checking the chamber for a round with the fingertips when not enough light is available for a visual inspection.

Walther P99QA, $799. Buy It. The P99QA proved to be accurate, and you can tailor it to different loads and even different shooters with the supplied extras.

CZ-USA 75ST .40 S&W, $995
CZ-USA has developed the 75ST, a race-ready gun in .40 S&W. As much as it seems to recoil, the ST comes back to target quickly, and the high-visibility sights all but scream at you to pull the trigger again. The trigger weight on our ST (tested in February 2001) measured only 3 pounds. This is far and away lighter than any other production semi-automatic we've measured.

Click here to view the CZ-USA 75ST .40 S&W features guide

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The vertical profile of the trigger tells you the ST is single-action only, and the lever action of its hinged trigger makes it seem lighter still. At the plate rack, our reflexes were challenged to keep up with the gun.

The CZ ST comes in an oversized blue plastic presentation case with four 10-round mags, a registered test target, and a small bag of spare parts. The four magazines are two-piece units, the lower halves of which block the addition of extra rounds. Since this is an imported gun it may not be legal to purchase high-capacity mags with this pistol. For the truly practiced hand it may not matter, but for now the ST is perfect for use in USPSA Limited 10 competitions.

The goody bag of extra parts contains a sight adjustment key, an elevation screw and hinge pin for the rear sight, a firing pin stop, Allen wrench and three slide stops. One slide stop is a spare for the one installed. These two are design to lock the slide back when the mag is empty. Because many competitors don't want a gun to lock back, two more are supplied that allow the slide to return forward when the mag is empty. Obviously, CZ USA expects you to do a lot of shooting.

The CZ ST is in fact a IPSC Standard pistol, and its features include a high-crowned, thin-gauge front sight pinned in place at the most forward position possible to produce 7.5 inches of sight radius; a fully adjustable rear sight cut-lined to kill glare; front and rear serrations on the slide with a lowered ejection port, two-tone finish, blued-steel slide, and steel frame covered with Krylon. Also, the hammer is relieved and the action has been ground light and crisp then fitted with a specially contoured trigger with overtravel screw. The grip frame has been slightly recontoured and checkered. The mag well has been beveled and flared to blend with a polymer mag guide. The slim-profile wood checkered grip found on the 97B has been retained, and the magazine release has been extended and checkered. A hand-fit solid bushing replaces the screw-in model found on the stock gun. The linkless system with ramped barrel is also retained. The CZ ST was built to fire quickly.

As big as the gun is, it is nonetheless comfortable to hold. The feeling may be a little top heavy, and we thought it was recoiling more than we like. But now that USPSA major power factor is only 165, this characteristic has been minimized, and we feel it is not as important as the speed at which the sights return, as proven by our rapid elapsed times.

CZ-USA ST .40 S&W, $995. Best Buy. We adapted to the odd thumb safety but would still opt for a modification of this piece and the mag release as well. Otherwise this is a legitimate threat to 1911 dominance within Limited 10 competition.

Colt Defender .45 ACP, $840
We refer to the Colt Defender as a snubby, even though this term is generally reserved for short barreled revolvers. Its barrel is only 3.2 inches. However, capacity does not suffer. The Defender has a flush-fitting seven-round magazine. Locked breech operation is modulated by a two-piece guide rod. This includes a dual spring system. One spring remains captured and mates with the forward section of the guide rod in plunger-like fashion. The larger spring is removable, fits over the forward portion of the guide rod and compresses within the slide in normal fashion. The barrel is a variation on the bushingless design in that it includes a bull barrel that has been scalloped from its muzzle, probably to reduce weight. This reduction of mass is most likely intended to speed lock time and reduces the necessary force to complete the cycle. The trigger mechanism includes a firing pin block operated by plunger beneath the slide, much the same as the Series 80 Colt.

Click here to view the Colt Defender .45 ACP features guide

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The Colt's Defender shot 117-grain Aguila hollowpoints into groups averaging 1.8 inches, with little variation. These rounds fed 100 percent reliably, as did Aguila's 230-grain roundnose ammunition. Not only did the Defender run reliably with the big bullet, it shot the only sub 1-inch group of the test with it.

Colt Defender, $840. Buy It. Based on the quality of this gun, we feel that Colt's Manufacturing is currently producing its best firearms in at least 10 years.

Cabela's Millennium Revolver .45 LC, $200
This SA Colt clone (tested in April 2001) lists for an unbelievable $199.99. Can you get a decent new, or any firearm, for $200? We didn't think so, but eagerly took on the task of finding out for sure.

Click here to view the Cabela's Millennium Revolver .45 LC features guide

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When the revolver arrived, it looked pretty good. For that price, you don't get a steel grip frame or trigger guard. They're brass. But hey, brass doesn't rust. It also is mighty resistant to black powder, and lots of Cowboy Action shooters like charcoal. Neither did the revolver have a fine polish and glossy blue job. It did have a very evenly done glass-bead blast to the steel and brass parts, an evenly applied blued finish to all the steel parts, and mighty nice fitting throughout.

The surfaces of steel and brass were all well machined, no apologies needed there. The one-piece wood grips were very well fitted. We don't know the wood type, though it looked like walnut. The pores were well filled, the wood fit the metal extremely well, and the glossy surface of the finish was relatively hard.

Are the parts hardened to withstand many hundreds or even thousands of rounds in competition? Who cares? If something significant breaks or wears out, buy another gun. It's that cheap.

After prepping the gun by degreasing it and then anointing the entire gun with Ox-Yoke Original's Wonder Lube 1000 Plus, we shot the Millennium with black-powder loads. After firing ten rounds of charcoal-laden rounds and noting no stiffness or binding, along with more than acceptable off-the-knee accuracy, we were sold. The thing shot, was tightly made, would be lots of fun, and could even withstand the firing of black powder without problems.

The blued trigger was the same shape as an original Colt's. The pull was 6.5 pounds when we received the gun. We burnished the action and got a clean, crisp 4.0-pound pull. The loading gate was easier to use than on some guns that cost more than twice as much. The chambers lined up with the ejection port perfectly when the cylinder was rotated back against the hand, so ejecting empties was a cinch. The cylinder was also well timed, and lockup was very tight. The ejector rod was round, as it was on early Colts.

The revolver was steel and brass. We found no aluminum parts anywhere. This was a plain, simple single-action built almost like old Colts used to be. The timing was perfect, and lockup very tight. The front edges of the cylinder were rounded, as on early Colts. This avoids holster wear and really looks cool, which we thought was important. The rear sight was a V notch in top of the frame, and the front sight was a narrow blade, just like on early Colts. The gun shot an inch above where it looked at 15 yards, so there was no need to mess with the sights.

When we got around to serious shooting at 25 yards from the bench, we were able to get 3.5-inch groups with the Cabela's revolver. The best group was 2.2 inches with the Winchester swaged-lead load, of which four shots were in a 0.8-inch bunch.

Cabela's Millennium Revolver, $200. Best Buy. We liked this handgun a lot and believe you will too. It had good accuracy, good looks, a very low price, and if you can live with the brass grips, it's an incredible bargain.

Heritage Rough Rider, $149
The Rough Rider (January 2001) did everything that was asked of it without complaint. Usually, a less expensive gun will shoot well but have a number of structural shortcomings. In terms of structural integrity, we think this gun is strong, and the steel is of good quality.

Click here to view the Heritage Rough Rider features guide

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The Heritage Rough Rider used a traditional notch-and-post sight, in which the front sight was quite thin and the rear sight was no more than a channel in the top strap. Without the benefit of modern sights, five-shot groups averaged under 2 inches. The Rough Rider handled the magnum rounds with average groups of 3.0 and 2.6 inches, respectively, favoring the Winchester rounds. To our knowledge this is the only single-action revolver with a thumb-operated safety. Just left of the hammer is a lever that engages a hammer block. When the lever is up, the gun won't fire. With the lever down, a red dot is exposed and the gun is ready to fire. We tested it extensively and it always worked. The hammer will fall but will not detonate a round. The Heritage system does not interfere with the profile of the gun. In short, the gun can be holstered and appears normal while in a safe condition.

We enjoyed shooting this gun because it was handsome, simple to operate and everything works. The cylinder indexed easily when the gate was open, and the ejector rod returned smartly when you let it go. The trigger was smooth without being light, and the grip was made from boldly grained wood with a hand-filling fit.

Heritage Rough Rider, $149. Best Buy. Inexpensive, well built overall, with a ground-breaking safety feature.

Ruger GP100, $474
Ruger seems to have a patent on producing great products for shooters, and this one (February 2001) would be high on the list of greatest Ruger products of all time. There were no offensive sharp edges anywhere. Cylinder lockup wasn't very tight, but it wasn't sloppy either. The chambers were not relieved at the back, but they were mirror polished inside. The star fit and functioned perfectly.

Click here to view the Ruger GP100 features guide

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This six-shot revolver was well balanced, felt good in the hand with its ungrooved rubber grips that fit all hands perfectly, was light enough that it might actually be carried into the field, had good, visible, blued adjustable sights (sorry, no red front insert... use nail polish), and was all-stainless steel with a matte finish.

The Ruger's metal was evenly polished overall, and gave a matte luster to the stainless steel. The fit of the crane didn't quite line up at its joint with the front of the frame, but the cylinder obviously ended up in correct alignment with the barrel. The hammer and trigger were 0.3-inch-wide units. The hammer checkering was sharp and functional. The trigger was smooth and gave a 5-pound single-action pull that was about a pound too heavy. The double-action pull was long and smooth and useful.

The barrel had no underlug except for a protective shroud for the ejector rod. The rubber grips were wider than those on either of the other two revolvers, and that went a long way toward recoil comfort. The grips had wood inserts on each side, breaking the severity of black-on-white. There was no provision for scope mounting. The front sight blade was within a dovetail cut into the full-length top rib, and had a sprung plunger retaining it so the blade could be replaced, if need be.

On the range, the Ruger had no unpleasant recoil. It averaged 1.8 inches for all ammunition, all groups. It showed a slight preference for Speer 158-grain Gold Dot, but not by much. All in all, this was excellent performance for an all-around .357.

Ruger GP-100, $474. Best Buy. We had no problems with the Ruger whatsoever. We liked its balance, performance, and low price.

Taurus M85 .38 Spl., $286
The Taurus 85 (March 2001) weighed around 1.5 pounds, give or take an ounce. While it did not register the smallest groups, it was consistent, producing on average 2.25-inch groups with all three choices of ammo. This is noteworthy because this means you can practice with less expensive lead round-nosed ammunition and measure your score the same as if it were the more expensive hollowpoints. Elevation was point of aim for all three rounds despite the difference in weight and velocity of our test ammo. Reliability was 100 percent. For $286, you can't ask much more of a gun.

Click here to view the Taurus M85 .38 Spl. features guide

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The grip is small but comfortable and offers a padded backstrap, but fits flush to the butt of the frame for minimal height and easy concealment. The trigger is wide but radiused and the hammer is brief. The ejector rod is fully shrouded for protection from impact and dirt, and the crane includes a spring-loaded detent. The rear notch is generous enough to allow light bars of a little less than one-third the width of the front sight. The action of the trigger was smooth, breaking at 12 pounds double action and 4 pounds single action. There's a key-operated lock on the hammer.

Taurus M85, $286. Best Buy. This reliable, small package is a bargain in the bare-bones self-defense market.

Shiloh 1874 Hartford Model Sharps, $1702
The standard features of this model include the Hartford collar at the breech end of the barrel, pewter forend tip, either shotgun (fitted) or military-style butt stock, standard wood, double set triggers, and a 30-inch barrel in five choices of configuration. In addition, the rifle comes with either full- or half-buckhorn rear, and blade front sight.

Click here to view the Shiloh 1874 Hartford Model Sharps features guide

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The Shiloh had a perfectly flat, very well polished, sharp-cornered barrel with what appeared to be perfectly done rust bluing, which gave it a semi-matte glow that could be picked out across the room. When a barrel is around 30 inches long, and is attached to the relatively compact action of a single shot, the barrel dominates the rifle's appearance. If the barrel looks good, the rifle looks good. This barrel looked great.

The Shiloh (February 2001) had a dead-smooth muzzle with no trace of machining marks, even under 8X magnification. It had a small beveled relief on the rifling. The barrel was drilled and tapped for the spring of the normal rear sight.

Moving back to the action, it was machined with flat sides, sharp corners, and clearly defined contours. The case coloring on the Shiloh was beautifully even, slightly muted, and expertly applied. The Shiloh's action felt precise and smooth, almost sensual.

Our test shooting was done on dark-gray overcast days, and the light was quite poor. Most of the time we couldn't see the target well enough through the small hole in the Shiloh's front sight. We longed for a simple post, and the front sight insert makes replacing that easy.

The inletting of the Shiloh Sharps looked like the wood had grown against the iron of the rifle, particularly around the back of the action. However, the stock finish left a little to be desired. An oil-type finish, it left the pores very much open.

In our collective opinion, there's only one rifle of this trio that's completely worthy of the name Sharps, and it's the Shiloh, which, by the way, is made entirely in the United States. Unfortunately, there's a long waiting list for these rifles. You'll have to pay a good down payment and wait for up to four years for your rifle to be done. If you're willing to pay more than the current list price, and are not all that particular about special features or about which model you want, several dealers have, over time, ordered Shiloh rifles on speculation, and may have one in stock.

Shiloh's rifles list for as little as $1,504, for either the rather plain Business rifle or the Montana Roughrider. Other designations sell for around $1,700, and some, like the various Creedmoors, go for around $2,800. The most expensive rifle is the Quigley Model for $2,860.

Shiloh 1874 Hartford Model Sharps, $1702. Buy It. We're sure that most red-blooded American shooters would like to own a Sharps rifle. If you want one, it probably should be the best possible representative of an original Sharps.

Henry Rifle by Cabela's, $750
The rifle we tested in May 2001 was gorgeous. The wood was very nice, and the brass receiver and buttplate nicely set off the browned (not blued) barrel. The case-colored lever worked smoothly and precisely, and we got our hopes up that this might be a real winner. The 24.3-inch barrel was octagonal, nicely polished with reasonably sharp corners. The full-length integral magazine tube added to the weight, giving the rifle a satisfying heft in the hands. Unloaded weight was right at 9.0 pounds. We would not be happy packing this weight all day, but for Cowboy Action shooting the weight, we thought, might be an advantage.

Click here to view the Henry Rifle by Cabela's features guide

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The Uberti-Cabela's rifle makes lots of sense for the Cowboy game, with its strong sense of history and eye-grabbing appeal. Cabela's offer three finishes for the barrel: blued, browned or in-the-white. We can't imagine either of the other two finishes appealing as much as our browned version (originals were blued). The plum-brown color of the barrel and loading tube made a pleasant contrast with the brass receiver, the slightly tiger-striped walnut, and the brass butt plate. The case colors of lever and hammer were a pleasant contrast to the rest of the rifle. The sides of the brass action were polished flat with sharp corners. The wood pores were perfectly filled and the grain clearly visible through the hard varnished surface. The inletting was outstanding. Overall we thought the workmanship and fitting were excellent, a strong cut above the commonplace.

Sights were a thoroughly useful flat-top rear with V notch and a wide, flat-top post front. The front insert was non-ferrous, probably brass, as on originals. It had a sharp rear edge and gave an excellent sight picture in all lights. The rear sight had a flip-up ladder sight with friction slide for longer ranges. It was a close copy of original Henry rear sights.

Once we found out how to load the Henry, a pleasant challenge explained below, we found the rifle held 13 rounds in its magazine, plus one in the chamber, if desired. Originals held 15 rounds of the slightly shorter Henry rimfire cartridge beneath their 24-inch barrels. This Henry had a spring-loaded trap door in the buttplate, so well fitted we almost didn't see it.

On the shooting bench, the Henry was smooth. The lever worked very evenly and relatively easily throughout its travel, and fed cartridges reliably, unless we screwed up. Though the rifle had no forend wood, we didn't notice the barrel getting hot, but it did get noticeably warm in our winter testing.

The Cabela's Henry had an astonishingly awful trigger right out of the box, in great contrast to the rest of the rifle. The trigger was over 8 pounds, with a big hitch in its break. Loading was exceptionally easy, once we figured out how. (No fair reading the manual!) This was accomplished by pulling the magazine follower all the way forward, exerting slight pressure against the stop, and swinging the last 5 inches of follower to the side. We chose to lay the rifle nearly horizontal to insert the cartridges, so they would not fall 2 feet and land with the primer hitting the previous round.

Henry Rifle by Cabela's, $750. Buy it. If you're in the market for a classy .45 LC rifle for Cowboy shooting, or just want to own a shootable piece of history, this gun is worth the money.

Magnum Research Magnum Lite .22 LR, $600
The most obvious upside of the Magnum Research gun (September 2001) is its lightweight construction. That lightness is a result of the barrel, a 1:12 twist stainless steel liner surrounded by carbon fiber. The fiber is capped at each end with stainless steel and a compensator at the muzzle. The porting on a rimfire rifle may seem trivial, but it was easy to discern just how destabilizing even a .22 LR shot can be when shooting from a rest. In view of its low overall weight, the compensator on the Magnum Lite is a welcome addition. Shorter by at least 4 inches, this 16-inch barrel still provides plenty of rotation without adding the weight of a steel bull barrel. Thus, the Magnum Lite is neither muzzle heavy nor a burden to tote: An ideal camp rifle at 4.4 pounds.

Click here to view the Magnum Research Magnum Lite .22 LR features guide

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Other positives included its dark cosmetics. The flashy looking Lite should enjoy many "that's cool" sales from counter customers. Only the Magnum Lite was shipped without some sort of scope mount, but at least the top was drilled and tapped.

Magnum Research Magnum Lite, $600. Buy It. You might spend the most time shooting this rifle because it is accurate, stylish, compact, and weather resistant.

Savage 111F .270 Win., $419
The 111F (July 2001) featured a floating barrel. Perhaps this was why we shot average groups just under 1 inch for all shots with it. The Savage used a 130-grain Barnes XLC round to print groups from 0.7 to 1.0 inch.

Click here to view the Savage 111F .270 Win. features guide

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The gun's trigger was not light, but it featured a take-up with a consistent level of pressure and feel with little in the way of any grit. Another advantage: Loosening the two hefty Allen-head bolts revealed carefully machined pillars as part of the bedding.

The 111F featured a ventilated and contoured rubber buttpad and swivel studs fore and aft. Checkering on the stock was pleasing, and the bolt handle was also checkered. The bolt was highly polished and featured the Savage name and logo. The matte-blued steel had been brushed to give it a classic appearance.

The Savage 111F also required removing the stock to empty the magazine, unless you worked rounds out of the magazine with the bolt. The 111F didn't have a floor plate. The Savage rifle incorporated iron sights, which we found were easy to adjust, remove, and re-install. We had success shooting with them even at 100 yards.

Savage 111F, $419. Buy It. Once again Savage is on the mark with a tasteful, accurate centerfire rifle product that gets the job done for a reasonable price.

Stoeger Coach Gun, $310
Our first impression (September 2001) of the Brazilian-made Stoeger Coach Gun was that it looked great, worked easily, was well balanced and well finished, opened easily, and in all respects, but one, looked like the ideal tool for the active Cowboy-Action shooter. The one "flaw" was that this gun had an automatic safety.

Click here to view the Stoeger Coach Gun features guide

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The Stoeger Coach Gun was nicely polished and blued. The hardwood stock (which appeared to be birch) had a glossy, dark finish that was well applied. The forend was generous in size, actually a beavertail in configuration. It had good checkering, as did the two generous panels on the pistol grip. There appeared to be little or no finish inside the forend, where it met the barrels, but the wood was stained dark to match the surface. All the metal surfaces were blued. There was no attempt at superficial case coloring anywhere. The buttplate was black plastic, serrated to help hold it in place against the shoulder.

The inletting was excellent. The barrels were tightly fitted into the monoblock action. The barrel rib was slightly raised and had milled serrations that formed a matted top surface that kept off glare. The action was well polished and blued, and had the name "E. R. AMANTINO" stamped into its left side. The action sides had nicely finished flats that met the curved bottom in a sharp-looking and very even edge that did not cut the hands. The metal was deburred everywhere, even around the extractor, which caught about one-quarter the diameter of the shell.

A smooth and long push on the top lever opened the gun, and it opened all the way with relative ease. This made for quick reloading. The chambers appeared to be slightly rougher than necessary, but empties came out easily. The forcing cones were very long. The bores themselves were mirror polished, as were the entire surfaces of the chokes. Recoil was substantial with substantial loads. Target loads were fine though, and with them the gun was as fast as lightning. The trigger pulls were both long and creepy, the right around 8 pounds and the left about 9 pounds, but they were usable in that there were no surprises.

Stoeger Coach Gun, $310. Best Buy. We liked this gun a lot. It appeared to be built to last, and had some clever design work incorporated. It looked good and handled very well indeed.

Mossberg 500A Persuader 12 Gauge, $307
During our dry-firing drills (January 2001) bent on breaking in the pump action, we noticed one impressive aspect of operating the Persuader. Both the safety and the slide release could be operated without a change in grip and without having to dismount the shotgun. This was a big edge for the Persuader.

Click here to view the Mossberg 500A Persuader 12 Gauge features guide

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At the outset, the Mossberg would only hold 3 rounds. We knew there must be a block in the magazine tube, but were stymied as to how to remove it. With a quick call to Mossberg, we unscrewed the barrel bolt and simply tilted the gun upside down. Out came a wooden dowel, which some states laws require to limit capacity. We were confused because we are used to seeing a screw-off end cap, and none was present in this model.

The Mossberg's 7.5-pound trigger seemed smooth and consistent. Perhaps this is why it proved accurate with slugs from the bench at 50 yards. Another reason might have been the front post, which is easy to see in the daylight. The front sight on the Mossberg is a standard bead but there are index points available when trying to center it up. The top strap is clearly flattened and ribbed, setting up a basic relief directly above the safety.

Also, there are a series of screws to offer more hints of proper windage alignment. (The screws are plugs that fill holes for a scope mount.) Certainly this isn't as good as Ghost Rings, but with only these simple guides, the Mossberg enabled us to shoot groups as small as 3.0 to 3.6 inches with the Federal Premium rifled slug. We even managed to average 5.4 inches with the Remington Slugger cartridge. The Mossberg shotgun also printed tight patterns.

Mossberg 500A Persuader, $307. Buy It. We felt the 500A had a good trigger and simple control layout. Accuracy proved superior. We might opt for the 20-inch model and get the extra two rounds. Its drilled and tapped receiver is another plus.

Savage 210 Master Shot 12 Gauge, $400
Introduced in 1996, this gun is essentially a 12-gauge version of the company's long-standing 110 series bolt-action rifles. Unlike the Tar-Hunt, the Savage 210 (July 2001) does not use rifle steel but does feature many of the same characteristics of the 110 rifle: a 60-degree bolt rotation, 24-inch rifled barrel (1-in-35 right-hand twist), and black, glass-filled polymer synthetic stock with a ventilated recoil pad. The suggested retail for the Savage 210 is around $400, and can usually be found on dealer shelves in the same general retail neighborhood as the Marlin 512.

Click here to view the Savage 210 Master Shot 12 Gauge features guide

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Fed from a two-shot integral box magazine (which destroys the aesthetics and ease of carrying the gun, in our view), the 7.5-pound Savage 210 is built around a front-locking bolt that features three locking lugs and controlled feed with left- and right-hand extractors. There are no rifle sights on the gun, and none are needed because it should be fitted with a scope.

This is the sleekest slug gun on the market, if you can ignore the clumsy box magazine, and it shot well in the test. The trigger was a relatively heavy 6 pounds, but we found it to be crisp. We also noted it can be easily adjusted.

One glaring drawback, however, was the one-piece scope rail, which traversed the bolt port, continually interfering with ejection of spent hulls. We also question the ports on either side of the receiver near the chamber. Called gas ports, we hope they are not actually venting anything at that critical position. They appear to be slots cut to accommodate the gun's sizable ejectors.

Savage 210 Master Shot, $400. We liked the Savage 210 marginally better than the Marlin 512P despite the Savage's clear ejection problem and unsightly box magazine. The bolt throw, trigger and lock-up are far superior to either the Marlin or Mossberg, in our view.