June 2018

Best Buys

VALUE GUIDE: Semi-Automatic Rifle Results

Log on to Gun-Tests.com to read complete reviews of these products in the designated months. Highly-ranked products from older reviews are often available used at substantial discounts.   More...

VALUE GUIDE: Recent 9mm Handgun Rankings

Log on to Gun-Tests.com to read complete reviews of these products in the designated months. Highly-ranked products from older reviews are often available used at substantial discounts.   More...

2018 Best New Optics for Rifles, Handguns, and Shotguns

We’ve had a chance to use quite a few new optics this year, including red dots, lasers, scopes, binoculars, and spotting scopes, while we have performed firearms testing for future issues. We shoot a lot of firearms every year, and with that round count comes the insight that what’s on top of the guns matters as much as the gun itself in many cases. Following are a few recommendations for optics that have proven themselves as worthwhile complementary products in firearms evaluations, but which we haven’t tested in head-to-head comparisons as yet.   More...

Budget 20-Gauge Shoot Off: H&R, Century, and Mossberg

Subscribers Only — The shotgun can be an important part of the home-defense firearms collection. The scattergun offers excellent hit probability and provides a formidable option for those concerned with home invasions. The wisdom of such preparedness is reflected in the headlines every day. We live in a dangerous world. The problem is, many of us are on a budget and cannot afford a thousand-dollar tactical shotgun. Others are recoil shy or have a physical impairment that makes firing the mighty 12 gauge difficult. Even some who may be able to handle the 12 well will find the light and fast-handling 20 gauge has appeal. In this installment, we test three affordable 20-gauge shotguns. The 20 gauge was chosen because, while generating about half the recoil of the 12 gauge, it has a little more than half the payload, which considering the ample power of the shotgun, seems to be a reasonable trade off. Even better for the tests, as it turns out the shotguns were choked Open, Modified and Full, giving us a unique opportunity to compare chokes and how they affect shot spread at home-defense ranges. After weeks of searching, we found three shotguns at or under $300. These included the Century International Arms JW-2000 double-barrel coach gun, a Mossberg 20-gauge pump, and an H&R Pardner single shot. Some may scoff at the idea of even considering the single shot or double barrel for home defense, but we found that while they might not be ribeye, they aren’t chopped liver if used properly.   More...

Slugs For Self Defense: These Shotgun Rounds Rock

Subscribers Only — Not long ago a reader asked for a feature on shotgun slugs. He asked for a report on not only the usual fare found in most sporting-good shops, but also the most powerful slugs for personal defense. The standard for many years has been the 1-ounce (437.5 grain) slug at 1500 fps or so. Then the reduced-recoil slugs were introduced for police use and found much popularity among civilian shooters. Some slugs are designed to limit penetration, and there are slugs intended for use in a situation when extra penetration is needed. There are areas in which only shotguns are allowed for hunting, and it is good to have a choice among slugs for long range and large animals. We focused on slugs for home defense and animal defense. As such, there was necessarily a dual rating system, which we noted in each segment. Limited penetration is desirable in most home-defense situations. For use against bears, the greatest penetration is needed. Some of these slugs are accurate well past 50 yards, even 100 yards in a rifled slug barrel. In a proper rifled shotgun barrel, we feel that Lightfield’s claims of accuracy to 150 yards would be borne out. These are big chunks of lead. They produce a considerable wound track whether they expand or not. We took a hard look at these slugs and found interesting performance. We also found a great deal of recoil. As an example, the strongest Lightfield slug measured a 933 power factor. We debated including PF, as it isn’t the same thing with a long gun as a handgun, but kept the figures because they are useful for comparing recoil. The heaviest slugs have nearly twice the recoil of the average full-power 30-06 rifle load. Keep this in mind. The test ended with sore shoulders, one broken nail, and quite a bit of use of penetrating ointments! Most folks will not go to the range and fire 40 full-power slugs from a riot gun in one morning. As our former police firearms instructor noted, it isn’t about putting down a lot of lead, but you can do that with the reduced-recoil slug. If you need to stop one of the big cats, a feral dog, or a bear, then you need to get on target and make every shot count. The level of energy these shotgun slug loads displayed is impressive. During the research, we also consulted some who had faced big bears, including grizzlies. One correspondent had not shot a grizzly, but as a young man was given the task of skinning one that has been taken down by Canadian authorities. He told us that they are nothing like a moose or a brownie. The attachment of the sinew, the ligaments, he noted, simply wore out knives and cleavers. It was quite a chore. Large, aggressive animals are very dangerous and very tough. While shotgun slugs have their place against a grizzly, a 375-caliber or larger rifle might be the better choice. Just the same, these slugs gave good performance. For personal defense, the reduced-recoil loads are excellent, while the full-power loads would be effective against cougars and brown bears, not to mention the ever-dangerous feral dog and, the most dangerous, criminals. As for our choice of shotgun for testing, the pump action shotgun is used by many of us for home defense. It is the type of shotgun that would be kept in a light plane in Alaska or the back of a truck just in case. The 18-inch riot gun delivered good performance, we felt, and while the recoil of some of these loads were doubtless more than many would like to handle, the performance on target was also impressive. Velocity was less than the rated velocity of most slugs, as they are designed for use in a 24- to 28-inch barrel hunting shotgun. As one of the raters noted, both the Remington 870 shotgun and a 165-pound rater were fighting out of their weight class firing some of these slugs. Here’s what our shooters and the water jugs said about each round.   More...

Production Ends on Arsenal’s SLR-106 Rifles; Kahr Moving

After nearly a decade since its initial introduction into the firearms marketplace, production on Arsenal’s SLR-106 series has officially ended. The SLR-106 rifle and pistol series was Arsenal’s answer to the 5.56 caliber as the company looked to compete in that arena. The major selling point of the line was its chrome-lined and hammer-forged barrel. The current stock of SLR-106 5.56 caliber rifles and pistols will continue to be sold until supply runs out. Arsenal’s availability list is displayed in the nearby photo. Additional SLR-106 products can be found by checking with Arsenal’s distributors and various dealers.   More...

22-Caliber Handgun Shoot-Out: Smith, TacSol, Beretta, Colt

In this installment, we are looking at some of the best 22-caliber pistols for all-around target shooting and training for marksmanship and personal-defense practice, with an emphasis on viability for personal-defense training. Some handguns are just fine for general plinking, but the modern shooter demands the ability to train with combat lights or even a red-dot sight. All 22s do not allow this type of versatility. Let’s look at four 22-caliber handguns and see how they stack up as modern trainers. The 22 self-loading handgun is a great firearm that every handgunner should own at least one of. The 22 is a great trainer, and it is also a good small-game handgun, and it is even useful in some forms of competition. The absence of recoil and muzzle report compared to centerfire handguns is often touted, but recoil and muzzle blast are there, simply in easily manageable portions. The shooter is free to concentrate on trigger press, sight picture, sight alignment, and grip. Practice in offhand fire, combat practice, firing for extreme accuracy from a solid rest, clearing malfunctions and hunting game are just some of the practice that may be accomplished with the 22 pistol. For small-game hunting, excellent accuracy is demanded. For combat practice—and this is an important point—the handgun should be similar to the centerfire defense gun in accuracy. In that manner, the shooter isn’t given a false sense of security by a 22 that is much more accurate than the 9mm or 45 they use for personal defense. When practicing with the 22, the serious shooter should use the same grip and trigger press that he or she uses when mastering the 9mm or 45. Using a lighter grip or shooting fast just because the 22 is so controllable doesn’t cross over into personal defense skills; it is simply shooting for fun. We collected two 22-caliber handguns and two 22-caliber conversion units for comparison. One of the handguns is a new model and the other, a relatively new and often overlooked pistol. The firearms tested included the Smith & Wesson Victory 22, Beretta Neos 22, Tactical Solutions’ Glock conversion unit, and a Colt 22 Ace conversion unit.   More...

Three More 10mm Autos: Kimber, Dan Wesson, Tanfoglio

Subscribers Only — Last year we tested three 10mm Auto pistols and found there was a lot of interest in these big-bore handguns, so we decided to return to these powerful handguns for another look. Our most recent crop of 10mms includes two 1911 platforms and one based on the CZ 75 platform. The Kimber Custom TLE II and the Dan Wesson Bruin Bronze share the 1911 platform, while the Tanfoglio Witness is based on the CZ 75 design. We liked all three of these pistols and found that all three could serve multiple duties from hunting to self-defense. Since the 10mm has the power of a 41 Magnum, we feel it is a bit much for everyday carry. If we ever were in a shooting incident, it’s possible the overpenetration of the 10mm could be a liability. But in a self-defense situation where you are facing an angry bear in the back country, we think the 10mm Auto makes perfect sense. Also, as a hunting round, the 10mm offers a lot of power and is well suited for game like deer and pigs at short distances. We’d even use it in a tree stand to take black bears visiting a bait. All three pistols ran exceptionally well with no malfunctions or jams, and we found they were accurate. Two-inch five-shot groups at 25 yards were the norm. For ammunition, we used SIG Sauer V-Crown Ammunition loaded with an 180-grain JHP bullet. The SIG ammo was loaded to velocities that 10mm Auto was designed for. The other two loads were Federal American Eagle and Armscor USA labels, both using 180-grain FMJs. These two rounds weren’t as hot as the SIG load, as the table data reveal. The SIG ammo factory data shows a muzzle velocity of 1250 fps; we got very close to that muzzle velocity from the Kimber and Dan Wesson. The Tanfoglio produced less velocity. The Federal and Armscor ammo is factory-speed stamped at 1030 fps and 1008 fps, respectively. With the three pistols, we saw higher muzzle velocities than the factory figures. For accuracy testing, we used a rest and open sights, firing at targets placed 25 yards downrange. For our speed stage, we fired at 10 yards. A fast and accurate follow-up shot was faster with the Bruin and Witness, which we will get into shortly. Remember that a 10mm Auto is not a learner’s pistol or for those who are sensitive to recoil. In our opinion, the Bruins and the Witness helped us manage recoil the best. Shooting this trio side by side at the range, we learned a lot about them. Here’s the skinny on all three.   More...

High-Capacity 9mm Pistols: We Think CZ's 75 Is a Best Buy

A member of our staff recently returned from an intensive training session at Bill Davison’s 550-acre TacPro Shooting Center located about 65 miles west of Dallas. Davison is a former Royal Marine and British Special Forces instructor widely respected as a spec-ops consultant and provider of VIP protection. Coming as a surprise to students was Davison’s preference for high-capacity 9mm pistols over larger-caliber handguns, even the 1911 45. “It should be noted,” Davison said, “that the whole gun is in the fight, not just one round, so when we are looking at energy levels, we should look at how much energy is in each pistol. “For example, if the pistol has eight rounds, then it has eight times the amount of energy of a single round. The same applies to a 17-round pistol having 17 times the amount of energy of a single round. How many rounds you have in your pistol is relevant to how long you can stay in the fight. ”Based on this point of view, we decided to put together a roster of high-capacity 9mm pistols and evaluate their potential for self-defense shooting. They were the Sigarms P226R DAK, the Para Ordnance Tac Five LDA, and the CZ75B SA. The Sigarms P226R DAK offered double-action operation only. The Para Ordnance Tac Five LDA operated with a “light double action” trigger, and the CZ 75B SA was a single-action gun. Each model, however, utilized a hinged trigger. We shot for accuracy from the 25-yard bench. We chose three test rounds. They were Speer’s 124-grain Gold Dot hollowpoints, the Black Hills 115-grain JHP rounds, and 147-grain JHP subsonic ammunition from Atlanta Arms and Ammo. We evaluated the guns’ rapid-fire capabilities by engaging an IPSC metric target standing offhand from 7 yards. Our drill consisted of ten separate strings of fire wherein the first two shots were aimed at the 15-cm by 28-cm center-mass A zone. The third shot of each string was aimed at the 15-cm by 15-cm “head” of the target. Naturally, we expected all shots to be on target, but we wanted to know more about shooting each gun at speed. Our goal was to maintain a rate of fire producing an elapsed time between the first and second shot of approximately 0.15 seconds. In each segment of our test, the greatest challenge we encountered was mastering three very different trigger actions. Let’s see what each gun had to offer.   More...

Polymer-Frame 9mm Shoot Out: P320 Versus PPQ M2 Vs. VP9

During the past few months, SIG Sauer, Walther, and Heckler & Koch have introduced pistols that feature striker-fired actions. These handguns are designed to compete for the hearts and minds of institutional buyers and concealed-carry-permit holsters as well. The improvement in rapid-fire combat shooting is provable, and absolute accuracy is improved over the original SIG P250, Walther P99 and HK P30. The question is, which handgun is the most improved and the best buy for the money — that is, the most reliable and accurate? In this test of three 9mm striker-fired models, we were firing handguns intended for personal defense in the home, concealed carry, and practical competition. We are certain each maker is hoping to compete with Glock for institutional sales as well. At first glance, the handguns appeared similar. Each featured a polymer frame, a light rail, and similar sights. Each was relatively simple to operate. None had a manual safety as part of the design. Some features, such as the sights and the magazines, were similar. A casual shooter might sign off on all three handguns, but that isn’t what we do. Our shooters noticed the trigger actions were markedly different, and grip texturing and handling were considerably different. As the firing sessions progressed and the brass stacked up, the shoot out turned into a strong challenge between the Walther and the HK pistol. These worthy competitors traded places several times in the firing evaluations. The SIG P320 brought up the rear, in our estimation. Here’s why:   More...

AR-15 Carbines for Less Than $1300: The Winner is a ‘Saint’

Subscribers Only — A staff member recently paid $2300 for a complete AR-15 carbine without regret. But you may have noticed complete uppers selling for as little as $400 during the last rounds of holiday sales and complete carbines selling for less than $700. Why pay more? One answer would be to take advantage of the latest technology in terms of manufacturing, helpful features and improved ammunition. Forged rather than cast aluminum is now the standard, and machining is more exact thanks to computer numerically controlled (CNC) automation. The efficiency and versatility of barrels have been upgraded to take advantage of heavier bullets able to land a more effective blow at greater distance. Barrels with twist rates of 1:8 inches and even 1:7 inches have replaced the original-issue lands and grooves that spun the bullets at a rate of 1:9. Handguards are now modular platforms for lights, lasers, and sights, and ambidextrous fire controls are becoming more popular as well. With the desire for a more up-to-date AR-15, we went shopping and found that we didn’t have to break the bank — just get comfortable within a price range of about $900 to $1250 dollars. What we came up with was three AR-15s with upgrades that distinguished them from more traditional models.   More...

308 Winchester Bolt-Actions: Remington’s M783 Rifle Wins

Among the most useful, versatile, and powerful all-round sporting rifles is the 308 Winchester bolt action. These rifles are accurate, reliable, and can take on small to big game in many hunting conditions. When married with a good optic and in competent hands, they are well suited to take a 200-pound target at 200 yards and beyond, as a rule of thumb. The chambering is a joy to use and fire, compared to hard-kicking magnums, and offers plenty of recreational value. The bolt-action 308 is also a useful tactical rifle in many situations, and the round is widely used by law enforcement across the country. We recently took a hard look at four bolt-action rifles chambered in 308 Winchester, with a special emphasis on looking for affordable options. So we chose two used rifles and one lower-cost new rifle and compared them to a rifle in a higher price range to ensure we weren’t missing something that more dollars could provide. These rifles included the now-discontinued Mossberg ATR, the Remington 783, the Remington 700 SPS, and the Savage Axis. In this quartet, we shot three loads for accuracy testing and another load in offhand fire to gauge the accuracy of the rifles. As it turns out, the economy combination rifle that comes from the factory with a bore-sighted scope is a good deal. Though the Remington 783 was the most accurate rifle, we also liked the Remington 700 SPS a lot. Overall, however, the Savage Axis combination seems a best buy. Let’s look hard at these rifles and delve into why we made these choices and to see if you agree with our assessments.   More...

Forward-Mounted-Mag 9mm Pistols from SIG, Zenith, & CZ

Subscribers Only — In the October 2016 issue, we tested three high-capacity 9mm Luger pistols and found them somewhat lacking in defensive scenarios, though we did enjoy shooting one, the MPA Defender, which was sized more like a regular pistol than the carbine-like SIG MPX and which functioned better than an Uzi Mini Pro. But there are an increasing number of pistols that, save for a couple of features, function more like Short-Barreled Rifles (SBRs), which are controlled by much more stringent regulations under the National Firearms Act and are vastly more expensive and hard to get. The SIG MPX-PSB, for example, is similar to the unit we tested last October except it comes with a Stabilizing Brace, thus the “SB” in the name, compared to the “P” designation we initially tested. This round, we found products more alike in size to the SIG Sauer MPX-PSB, namely, the CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 and the Zenith Firearms MKE Z-5RS with SB Brace. The Zenith and SIG came with a stabilizing brace, while the CZ did not, but it could be purchased separately. The SIG, CZ, and Zenith are tactical looking firearms because they all have a military ancestry that is especially noticeable due to the magazine mounted in front of the trigger guard and not in the grip. The three pistols tested are all semi-automatic, require two hands to shoot with any degree of accuracy, use high-round-capacity magazines compared to typical full-size handguns, and have the ability to be fired with a stabilizing brace. These pistols also represent three different operating mechanisms: the SIG uses a short push-rod gas system; the CZ a simple blowback system, and the Zenith a delayed roller-block mechanism. During firing, we noticed big differences in the mechanisms in both manual operation and cycling when fired, which we will get into. The ergonomics and controls differed as well, yet we found our ramp-up time transitioning between handguns to be short. Initially, there is an awkwardness shooting these pistols because they feel like an SBR yet have no stock for a steady aim, and they are too heavy to fire in a Weaver, Isosceles, or hybrid stance with a two-hand hold like a typical handgun. We believe adequate range time and proper training is needed to master these pistols. Most important, we wondered if, out of the box, these similar, yet different, pistols would work as home-defense choices. In our opinion, the upside of these three pistols is that they offer high magazine capacities, decent accuracy, and a lot of shooting fun. Yes, these pistols can make empty brass very quickly. On the downside is cost. Yes, you can purchase a lot less gun for a lot less money and achieve the same self-defense goal as what this trio delivers, we believe. Still, we looked forward to seeing what each firearm could do at the range.   More...

MEC Marksman Metallic Reloading Press, $225

The Mayville Engineering Company, better known as MEC, is probably the most famous name in reloading shotgun ammunition. The last MEC press one of our staffers purchased was a multi-stage motor-driven progressive press tasked with keeping up with his voracious appetite for competing in the world of trapshooting. So when MEC, active in the shooting sports for more than 60 years, decided to enter the metallic reloading market, we thought it was a good time to begin reloading the 6.5 Creedmoor brass left behind after our tests of the Ruger Precision Rifle. MEC’s new loader is a single-stage hand-driven press called the Marksman.   More...