March 2007

Downrange: 03/07

Ratings Changes

Over the years, Gun Tests readers have asked us to alter aspects of what we do. On an issue-by-issue basis, there are always questions about mix (the ratio of certain types of guns compared to others), quantity (the number of guns in a certain test or in a certain issue), and matchup (how closely guns resemble each other in physical configuration).

Todd Woodard

Of course, our franchise is to acquire and rate firearms on a head-to-head basis, and suggestions from our customers about how better to do this get my attention. One of the things youíve asked for is a clearer, simpler grading scheme that can cut across tests over time.

Beginning this issue, then, weíve instituted a report-card style that ranks guns from a "Best Buy" or "Our Pick" A grade to a "Donít Buy" F tally. Our goal in redesigning our grading system was to place a more definitive, easy-to-understand edge on our assessments.

A-ranked guns, obviously, are the best in a test, but they also have to meet vigorous class-based quality standards in accuracy, reliability, shooter comfort, and cosmetics.

For example, in this issue the Smith & Wesson 686 Plus, despite a high price tag, was the equal of a similarly configured Ruger GP .357 Magnum we tested several months ago that was rated an Our Pick. We awarded the 686+ an A grade in this issue. The Dan Wesson Pointman Seven earned an A- because it didnít include an ambi safety. Otherwise, it was accurate, reliable, easy to shoot, cosmetically pleasing, and reasonably priced. The Savage 116FHSS .338 Win. Mag. also drew an A-, needing only a better buttpad to earn an A.

A lot of good, but not great, guns will fall in the B and C range over time, such as the Springfield Armory Parkerized w/night sights PX9109L tested against the Pointman. Nothing major wrong with the gun, but minor issues (detailed more fully in the article on page 3) got it knocked down to a B+ compared to the Pointman.Other guns that fall into this B class are two Browning shotguns, one a current-production Gold Hunter that amassed a B+ and an out-of-production, but still highly regarded Browning A5, which functioned and fired perfectly, but which was too high priced for what it did, thus getting it a B-. A fine, functional Browning rifle in .325 WMR still earned a C for its high price and long-term ammo worries.

Dropping down the grading card, the Taurus PT1911 reviewed against the Pointman and Springfield guns came up short with a D grade because it didnít fire reliably with the supplied magazines. This gun could easily have been scored an F, but because we were able to solve the problem with a magazine swap, we didnít grade it all the way down to the cellar.

The F score in this issue was pinned on the Alfa .357 revolver, which we couldnít make fire in double-action mode.

Your opinions are important to us, and Iíd like to hear how this grading change makes it easier, or harder, for you to use our recommendations. Email your comments to guntestseditor@houston.rr.com. GT