Ammunition Comparison

July 2018 Digital Back Issue

April 23, 2018 - Gun Tests E-books

More On Self-Defense Insurance

Caliber-Conversion Pistols From Rock Island Armory, Glock, SIG

Single-Action Revolvers: Best Buy Is Uberti’s Cattleman 1873

June 2018 Digital Back Issue

April 23, 2018 - Gun Tests E-books

Reader Renounces Ranch Rifle

Rifles Ready for All 50 States: Springfield, Troy, and Uintah

Personal-Defense 9mm Handgun Shoot Out: Smith’s M2.0 Wins

May 2018 Digital Back Issue

April 23, 2018 - Gun Tests E-books

Buying Self-Defense Insurance: Important Factors to Consider

Threaded-Barrel Bolt Guns In 300 Blackout and 308 Win.

New Kit-Gun Revolvers from Charter Arms, S&W, Heritage

New Handguns and Ammo for 2018

May 2018 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Gun Tests reporters and editors on the scene at SHOT Show 2018 in Las Vegas scoured the show for new pistol and handgun accessory entries for our readers to consider this year. Amazingly, a handgun made of steel with a design more than 100 years old — the fabled 1911 — still drives the market. A third of the new guns that follow are based on this legendary platform, followed closely by pocket pistols, and it’s clear the revolver is not the antiquated firearm many assume. In fact, when it comes to handguns, 2018 is a good mix of old, new, plastic, and steel, with a wheelgun or two thrown in for good measure, along with loads for defensive handgun use to feed these new beasts. Here’s a rundown on a few new handgun and ammunition choices for 2018 that our staff thought were notable and which we’ll be looking to include in future issues. 

Bad Luck with Ammunition

May 2018 - Gun Tests Magazine

Hey Gun Tests, just finished reading the April issue. Another great issue. One thing I wanted to point out was the affordable ammo tests. I personally love those kinds of tests. It also shows me that I am in the minority on the Remington Thunderbolt 22 LR ammo. I’ve bought a few boxes of that stuff throughout the years and it hasn’t performed that well in any of my 22s. I’m the customer that gets the boxes with the duds in them. Or the bullets that do not cycle the gun at all. CCI Blazer is my affordable 22 ammo of choice. Shoots quite well in my rimfires. I also loved the home-defense section, too. Keep that kind of test coming as well. Thanks for making the best firearms magazine out there.

Affordable Handgun Ammo: Is It Up to Par for Your Firearms Use?

April 2018 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

A few months ago we received an insightful comment from a reader. He asked us to do an ammunition comparison on inexpensive loads from diverse makers. How do they perform, he asked, compared to the big three (Federal, Remington, and Winchester) and the well-known Black Hills, Hornady, and Speer, and a few more. We are lucky to have so many choices, and because most, if not all, manufacturers subscribe to SAAMI standards, the ammunition should be safe and reliable.

There are two aspects to reliability: feeding and chambering properly and then going bang. We have run across poor ammunition that fail on either or both counts, but most of it is surplus ammunition from third-world nations. We won’t discuss it here. If a brand makes it to the national market, the product has some merit.

There are economy loads that offer jacketed hollowpoint (JHP) bullets, and most of these do not have the development behind them that the Big Three loads do. However, we did test some JHP loadings in this report because they were as inexpensive as any other loads, and, in some cases, were all that was available. The goal of this report was to fire as many types of ammunition as possible in both popular and less popular calibers and determine if we were getting our money’s worth in practice ammunition.

Safety came first, then reliable function. We also paid attention to powder burn. We have had experience with foreign-produced ammunition that simply did not have the powder technology of our domestic loads and the result was a lot of powder ash. If a load was particularly dirty — lots of smoke and debris — we took that into account.

Thankfully, the recent ammunition shortage that now seems to have abated had us searching out and trying anything we could find. Brand loyalty took a hit. So it is good to know if these inexpensive loads will function and if they are accurate enough for practice. Some of us like to fire for accuracy at longer ranges, but nothing tested wasn’t accurate enough for practice at 15 to 25 yards. Some of the loads tested are among the very few available in certain calibers. There isn’t a broad choice in 32 Smith & Wesson Long and 38 Smith & Wesson, as two examples.

It is worth noting that one of the raters has different criteria for loads, and they are reliability, dirtiness, and speed. His old Colt will not feed hollowpoints, so he concentrates on finding reliable rounds, getting a clean burn, and generating velocity, goals that are worthwhile to pursue.

As we told the reader who asked for this test, in our gun evaluations we strive to be fair and present a level playing field. That is why we use proven ammunition when testing a new gun. We generally include a generic ball load and one or two defense loads from the major makers when testing a new gun. This is only fair. Testing an unknown load with a new gun may not prove anything — does the ammunition or the gun bear the responsibility for failures? As one of our raters noted in his work at our sister publication, the well-respected American Gunsmith, and as a private gun fixer, he keeps a supply of generic ball from Federal, Fiocchi, Black Hills, Speer, and Winchester on hand. The gun is sick if it doesn’t feed these loads. By the same token, when testing the ammunition in this report, we did not pick up new guns, but instead relied on proven firearms from our team’s collections that have proven reliable and reasonably accurate.

We were able to collect loads in thirteen calibers for use in this feature. During the test, our shooters used a Bullshooters pistol rest to confirm accuracy. Some of the results were excellent, others poor, and most fair. Accuracy is relative, and the 38-caliber Iver Johnson break-top would not be in same accuracy range as a tuned 45 ACP or 9mm pistol, but we expected some type of pattern.

One note about these burner loads: Brand performance isn’t always consistent among the makers of inexpensive ammunition. One maker may have a poor load in one caliber and a standout in another. Let the buyer beware, but we found good loads for practice in most cases. We fired at least 50 rounds of each load tested, including 35 rounds off hand and three five-shot accuracy groups. Accuracy testing was conducted at a distance appropriate for the handgun.

In each case, we describe the performance of the test rounds, but we highlight one round in particular that we recommend.

February 2018 Digital Back Issue

April 2018 - Gun Tests E-books

‘Championing’ a Ruger GP100

AR-10s in 308 Win. and 6.5CM: $995 E.R. Shaw Is a Best Buy

Service-Sized 9mm Handguns Shoot It Out for Carry Honors

Non-1911 Magazines: We Test A Passel of Them Head to Head

March 2018 - Gun Tests Magazine

You can never have enough magazines. Modern pistol shooters practice hard; compete in IDPA, IPSC, and Three Gun matches. They need reliable equipment. Personal-defense shooters need reliable, functional magazines at a fair price. In this installment, we are testing magazines for fit, function, reliability and durability. In common with recoil, striker, and hammer springs, magazines should be replaced from time to time. While new springs may help magazines retain some function, there is a time when cracked or bent feed lips demand the magazine be discarded.

In this test, we followed the same criteria we used in testing 1911 magazines, except this test was more diverse in both handguns and cartridges. The handguns used in the test were proven examples, with few function exceptions. Since the firearms had long-ago proven reliable, there would be no confusion as to which part was responsible for the malfunction, the pistol or the magazine. We also used good-quality ammunition to test the magazines. In each case, we used at least two magazines of each type to bang on.

Using proven criteria and a team of experienced raters, we learned some magazines were durable and service grade; that is, we would be comfortable putting them into “service” in critical situations. We also learned others were okay for range use, but not critical use. In all of these cases, we recommend spending a little more for service-grade magazines across the board for all uses. We don’t think it’s advisable to mix low performers with high performers in this critical area of function.

Hot Handguns and Cartridges From Springfield, Coonan, Glock

March 2018 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

For more than a year, we have been testing and evaluating some of the most powerful and interesting self-loading handgun cartridges. These are the ubiquitous 9mm Luger, which we think has become the baseline against which all other handgun chamberings can be compared, and the far-less-common but still commercially viable 38 Super, 357 SIG, and 357 Magnum, the last of which is chambered in a Coonan handgun. The evaluation was the result of a reader request, and three of which, the 9mm, 38 Super, and 357 SIG, sometimes use the same bullets, but at different velocities.

We began with a number of goals. First, as always, reliability has to be foremost because the handguns were competing as personal-defense choices. We also viewed them as outdoors-carry choices for defense against feral dogs and big cats. We wanted to see how efficiently each cartridge delivered its power, with the idea that the 9mm set the floor. Increased flash, blast, and recoil may be counterproductive in the others, and as it turned out, we got more horsepower with less recoil than expected. The energy difference wasn’t incremental; it was profound. We didn’t choose average 9mm or 38 Super loads, but instead picked those loads that had given good results in the past. Only the top performers in 9mm and 38 Super are in this report. With the 357 SIG and 357 Magnum, we were on new ground and chose a representative sample of bullet weights. The 357 SIG and 357 Magnum enjoy an excellent reputation for terminal ballistics. The 9mm, less so, and based on previous data, we expected the 38 Super to be as effective or more than a 9mm Luger +P+ load. The primary consideration was personal defense, so control was important. The larger guns may not be ideal for concealed carry, but would be good handguns for field use or home defense. For those wishing to deploy a handgun with plenty of power and accuracy, the 357-caliber self-loaders are easier to control than Magnum revolvers. The self-loaders demonstrate less recoil due to the smaller charge of faster-burning powder and the movement of the action and compression of springs as the handgun is fired. So how would they compare to the revolver? As it turned out, these modern powerhouses outclass the 357 Magnum revolver, in our opinion, on many levels.

We collected a good supply of ammunition, five loads for each gun versus our usual three. We chose three powerful hollowpoint loads for accuracy testing, as is SOP for Gun Tests. We added a fourth load for ballistic testing to test penetration and expansion. We added an economical practice load for use in the combat-firing test phase. So, this was a thorough test requiring several months. We elected not to go lighter than 115-grain bullets in any chambering. The 357 SIG, 38 Super, and 9mm Luger are usually loaded with bullets in the range of 115 to 147 grains. We fired 125-, 140-, and 158-grain bullets in the 357 Magnum Coonan. Here are the results.

2017 Guns & Gear Top Picks

December 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Toward the end of each year, I survey the work R.K. Campbell, Roger Eckstine, Austin Miller, Robert Sadowski, David Tannahill, Tracey Taylor, John Taylor, and Ralph Winingham 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 them in this wrap-up.

38 Super Loads: We Like Buffalo Bore’s Jacketed HPs

November 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The 38 Automatic Colt Pistol Super cartridge isn’t our most popular handgun cartridge, but in the loyalty of a small following it is unique. The 38 ACP Super must be understood as to its potential. All modern loads are marked 38 ACP Super +P, but all loads are in the same pressure range of safety demanded by the SAAMI, despite very different performance. Many are loaded below the potential of the cartridge. The 38 ACP, introduced in 1900, is no longer in regular production. This is because the original 38 ACP, introduced in 1899, was later upgraded to the powerful 38 ACP Super. Though the cartridge-case dimensions are identical, the Super is the much hotter cartridge. Modern SAAMI standards called for the 38 Super to be labeled 38 ACP Super +P, which is confusing. While some of the modern loads are hotter than others, all are safe for a 38 ACP Super handgun in good condition. The old double-link Colt 38 ACP self loaders should never be fired with Super loads. The 38 Super was once a handloading proposition for maximum performance. Using 9mm JHP bullets and sometimes heavy hard-cast 38 Special lead bullets, handloaders upgraded the 38 Super. The 115-grain JHP was jolted to 1400 fps or beyond. Today Cor-Bon, Buffalo Bore, and Double Tap offer high-performance loads rivaling some of the hotter handloads of yore. The 38 Super may be enjoying an upsurge in popularity as both Federal Cartridge Company and SIG Sauer have introduced new JHP loads for it. We were able to find 12 personal-defense loads and four FMJ loads. For all the testing, we fired the rounds out of a Rock Island Armory 1911, a reliable and affordable 38 Super launchpad. It’s a standard Government Model steel-frame pistol with 5-inch barrel.

First, we tested the full-metal-jacket loads for use in competition and general shooting. We recorded basic accuracy, velocity, and energy for these rounds, but as you’ll see in the accompanying table, their widths, weights, and penetration readings are all the same. The FMJs didn’t expand, didn’t shed weight, and shot through our water-jug lineup, putting them at +24 inches, penetration beyond what we recommend for self-defense.

The Fiocchi 129-grain FMJ proved to be the most accurate by a margin, with a clean burn and excellent overall performance. It is the Best Buy for accuracy and economy. The SIG Sauer 125-grain FMJ loading was close behind the Fiocchi loading, with little real difference other than price. While the Prvi Partizan 130-grain FMJ was less expensive, it did not burn as cleanly nor was it as accurate. The Winchester 130-grain FMJ was the most expensive, and it was middle of the pack in terms of performance. Accordingly, we’d rate the Fiocchi as an A, the SIG an A-, the Prvi Partizan a B, and the Winchester a B-.

We looked for what we always look for in personal-defense loads. This is reliability first, then accuracy, a clean powder burn, and a good balance of penetration and expansion. We prefer a load that penetrates and expands over a load that fragments. In the 38 Super, there were loads that penetrated well but also fragmented, and we had to give them a passing grade based on penetration. The full-power 38 Super is similar to the 357 Magnum with 110- to 125-grain bullets, but the Super is much more controllable and has less muzzle blast and recoil. Relatively small charges of fast-burning powder create less recoil energy than larger charges of slow-burning powder. Even the fastest loads did not create muzzle flash and blast as sometimes seen with the 357 Magnum. The 38 Super isn’t in the class with the 357 Magnum as far as heavy hunting loads, and the Magnum at its best will beat the 38 Super, but with factory defense loads, the two are comparable, with the 38 Super having the advantage in some cases. For your convenience, we have added the 357 Magnum results panel from earlier this year so you can compare the loads.

We were able to test three loads from Buffalo Bore. These included 115-, 124-, and 147-grain loads. All of these used the Hornady XTP bullet, a proven projectile for obtaining excellent penetration and expansion. These bullets were designed for the 9mm Luger, and things get interesting when the bullet is supercharged by 200 fps. As an example, one rater noted he was no enthusiast concerning the 147-grain load, but that was before it was tested. Here are the results round by round.

July 2017 Digital Back Issue

November 2017 - Gun Tests E-books

10mms: How About the P220?

American-Made 9mms: Ruger, Springfield, and Honor Defense

Mouse Gun Shoot Out: Three Tiny Pocket Pistols Compete

Slugs For Self Defense: These Shotgun Rounds Rock

August 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - 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.

Peruta Declined Supreme Court Hearing

August 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

I was disappointed to see that on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear Peruta v. California. A Supreme Court decision would have answered some important legal questions: Does the Second Amendment’s coverage for people to keep and bear arms extend outside the home? Does it cover the right to carry concealed firearms in public? Peruta might have provided definitive legal answers to those questions. Gun owners already know the answers, so we’re frustrated that a natural right to self protection is hemmed in by state statutes.

30 Carbine Picks: Hornady, Speer, Buffalo Bore Loads Tested

July 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The 30 Carbine cartridge is an interesting and historically significant round. The M1 Carbine was the first little-maintenance firearm issued to the U.S. Army and was also among the first firearms that might correctly be called a Personal Defense Weapon (PDW). Designed for military officers, back-area troops, truck drivers and other personnel not usually armed with a rifle, it was specifically intended to allow officers to carry a lightweight rifle that was more powerful and accurate than a handgun. The carbine was not a short-barrel full-power rifle as earlier carbines had been, being instead designed for a lower-powered cartridge compared to the 30-06 cartridge used in the M1 Garand. Compared to the Russian M44 or the British No. 5 carbine, the M1 carbine is much easier to use well and handle. The M1 Carbine was designed for close-range area defense and personal defense. The concept was successful, and eventually, the army manufactured more than 6 million carbines. Numerous police agencies used the M1 carbine, including post-war Berlin and the NYPD. For close-range battle, the M1 carbine has much to offer.

We feel that the attributes of the M1 Carbine might make it even better suited to home defense than the typical AR-15 rifle. For hunting use and predator control, not so much. We cannot recommend the energy level of the 30 Carbines for deer-sized game, but its low recoil and low muzzle flash are essential for home defense, and the 30 Carbine offers both, but with 357 Magnum energy. The rifle is ergonomic and provides high hit probability. We admit the standard 110-grain FMJ load at about 2000 fps isn’t the best choice for home defense, based on over penetration and a lack of wound potential. There have been 110-grain jacketed soft points and jacketed hollowpoints used by police agencies, but most of these loads seem out of production by old mainstays Winchester and Remington. Still, we were able to collect loads using modern expanding bullets and compare them for accuracy penetration and expansion. What we found was that accuracy is good to excellent for all loads, although some were more accurate than others. For use in the home or area defense and animal defense against feral dogs and coyotes to 50 yards or more, the little rifle is plenty accurate. While we find there was something to recommend about all the loads tested, there are standouts. The Buffalo Bore full-power load and the Speer Gold Dot are at the top of the pack for home defense, with the Critical Defense load a strong contender for tactical use.

In this test, we fired 50 cartridges of each load, which included three cartridges each for penetration and expansion testing and fifteen cartridges (three five-shot groups) for accuracy. The remaining 32 rounds were fired in off hand shooting for personal defense work at 5, 7, and 25 yards. We tested accuracy from 25 yards. The rifle was a vintage Israel Arms International carbine. Here are the results.

.410 Bore Ammo Tests

July 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

The argument for a .410-chambered handgun is moot if ammunition performance isn’t credible, so we tested the loads used in evaluating the three .410s, two handguns and a shotgun, using water, our standard ballistic material. For consistency, we used the same ballistic testing for the two revolvers and the pistol-grip shotgun that we have developed in testing all defensive ammunition. We tested four shotgun loads and two personal-defense handgun loads. The 45 Colt loading was fired in the Judge and the Governor, while the 45 ACP loading was tested only in the Smith & Wesson Governor because the Judge isn’t chambered for 45 ACP. In the end, the difference in performance was stark. We cannot recommend birdshot for personal defense. The buckshot and PDX loads are interesting and have some merit. The slug is speedy but very light in weight for personal defense. The 45 Colt is a heavyweight with good performance, while the 45 ACP load was below what we expected in velocity compared to a full-size 5-inch-barrel 1911 handgun.

Since the .410-bore handgun is often chosen for personal defense in the home based on a perceived lack of penetration, we conducted a modest test of penetration in the home. One of the raters spends his money on guns, but he recently replaced an aging door in his home. Not wasting anything, we subjected the hollow door to fire from the Remington birdshot load, the Winchester PDX, Winchester slugs, and Federal buckshot. The results (no table needed) were that all the loads penetrated. We were surprised that the birdshot penetrated both sides of the door, but it did. Every pellet exited. The Federal buckshot made clean holes, and so did the slug. The Winchester PDX penetrated fully, but the discs, in some cases, were found on the ground 4 to 5 feet behind the door, indicating they lost a lot of energy. If you wish to limit penetration among the A- and B-rated defense loads, the Winchester, with its lighter payload, seems to be the choice.

It is an odd coincidence, but as we were doing research for this report, we saw a newscast of two robbers, holding a man at gunpoint, who were subsequently shot with a shotgun by another person coming in from the second floor of the dwelling. While details are sketchy, it seems birdshot was used, lightly wounding the felons who fled, were treated at a local ER, and then were arrested at the hospital. Yes, it’s anecdotal, but we thought it was worth mentioning. Here’s how the various loads performed in these handguns:

.410 Bore Self-Defense Choices

July 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

The decision of which self-defense .410 firearm is the correct choice for up-close-and-personal situations encountered in the home often comes down to a handgun in one hand or a short-barreled pump-action shotgun in the other. Because of their ease of handling, two revolvers that are capable of firing both .410 loads and handgun rounds are becoming quite popular; and pistol-grip short-barrel shotguns remain a favored option in self-defense circles. The question arises about which type of close-range firearm is the most effective with the diminutive .410 loads, including those that have recently been developed with short-barreled revolvers in mind.

Acting on a reader request, we conducted a multitude of tests on a trio of readily available self-defense firearms that included a Taurus Judge (handles .410-bore shotshells and 45 Colt) that retails for $629; a Smith & Wesson Governor (handles .410, 45 Colt, and 45 ACP) that retails for $809; and a Mossberg Model 500 Cruiser that sells for $467 and fires .410-bore shotshells.

Each of the firearms (all have been examined in previous GT reviews) is specifically designed for close-quarters action, such as when an intruder has illegally entered a residence, placing the people living in the home in a potentially life-threatening situation. In such a life-or-death scenario, a reliable, easy-to-handle, and effective self-defense tool is essential.

In this part of the GT evaluation and match-up, our focus was on the handling ability of the three firearms and their patterning performance at close-quarters ranges. We attempted to walk the fine line that divides ease of handling with putting the pattern in the right place to evaluate the two revolvers and the pump-action.

We tested the firearms on the range with targets set at two ranges used in concealed carry courses to simulate typical home-defense scenarios. The close targets were set at 9 feet (3 yards) and the second set of targets was shot at 21 feet (7 yards). Here are our findings.

22 LR Bolt-Action Rifles: We Test CZ, Savage, and Marlin

June 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The 22-caliber rimfire bolt-action rifle owns a warm sport in the heart of many shooters because they were often the first rifle that many of us fired. Many pleasant hours are spent with such a rifle. The experience unites shooters across a spectrum of lifestyles. But in the present, the bolt rimfire can also be an economical, accurate, and reliable firearm for plinking, small-game hunting, and informal target practice. The bolt action rifle has a reputation for superior accuracy over the self-loader, and, overall, our testing proves this out. In this report, we test a quartet of entry-level and higher-end rifles to see what it takes to get our money’s worth, however that is defined. Our test guns this round included the Savage Mark II F 26700, $231; the CZ-USA CZ 455 American 02110, $400; the Marlin XT 22RZ 70763, $220; and the Savage Mark II BTV 28750, $390.

Accuracy testing was conducted with three loads. Winchester’s M22 loading came from SportsmansGuide.com ($75/1000); MidwayUSA.com supplied the CCI Velocitor ($7.40/50); and Fiocchi’s HV rounds ($6.50/50) originated from Bulkammo.com. We also conducted side tests with low-velocity subsonic loads, including the CCI Segmented load. For offhand shooting, we used Winchester M22 rounds to gauge the rifles’ smoothness and handling in firing at targets at known and unknown ranges.

There were no defects that made any rifle less desirable, when the price points were considered. The two inexpensive rifles gave a credible performance. For small-game hunting at treetop height and out to 25 yards, there would be little reason to spend a lot. In fact, you’d have to go out to 50 yards to see the Savage BTV was the most accurate rifle.

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

June 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

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.

New Accessories, Gear, and Ammunition Choices for 2017

May 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

As prices continue to come down as the result of a gun glut (supply and demand economics), more folks will be buying guns, and we’ll want to shoot them. So we will be adding enhancements to those firearms and feeding ammunition into them with a big grin. Here are some new products Gun Tests’ staffers have taken note of that will make your firearms run, run better, or add fun.

Rimfire Field-Rifle Shoot-out: Marlin, Mossberg, and Ruger

May 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

In this installment, we test three rimfire rifles from three makers. The genre is the very popular and flexible field-gun description. The 22 LR rifle is an excellent trainer, a favorite recreational shooter, and a great small-game rifle. The rimfire is the one rifle every rifleman must have. The field gun is by definition, and the definition is liberal, a versatile go-anywhere get-anything shooter. Informal practice and small-game shooting are great pastimes. And while we are not focusing on personal defense, we should note that a good quality 22-caliber self-loader is a formidable firearm in skilled hands. Is a 22 LR a self-defense chambering we’d recommend? No. Have untold numbers of bad guys been deterred by being hit with a 22 LR round fired from a pistol or rifle? Yes. So reliability is important as well.

The rifle we are looking for should be light but not too light. It should be light enough for carrying for a day in the field, but it should have sufficient heft for good offhand shooting. While we carefully measure accuracy by firing from a solid bench rest, we also want a rifle that retains a good portion of its accuracy in offhand fire. Thus, a good balance of weight and a decent trigger action are desirable traits.

Historically, probably more 22 LR rifles have been set up as bolt actions, but because of their light recoil and shot-to-shot speed, self-loading rifles are the biggest sellers today. To keep prices in check, we selected a mix of readily available used and new firearms as well as optics for greater coverage of the best choices. As noted above, reliability is always important, but in this test, we allowed that if the firearm occasionally ties up and we lose a squirrel, we were more willing to give a gun a pass than if we were testing personal-defense firearms. It is almost a given that a 22 self-loading rifle malfunctions from time to time, and the fault is more often due to the construction of the 22 rimfire cartridge than any other single variable. We searched for ideal rifles and found some good picks. All had good points. Here’s how they performed on a gun-by-gun basis.

Browning’s Sweet Sixteen: Still Sweet After All These Years?

May 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The popularity of the 16-gauge shotgun, in particular the Browning A5 Sweet Sixteen, has never waned among those select shooters with a streak of nostalgia in their genetic makeup. A common refrain of, “I’ve still got my granddad’s old 16 — best bird gun ever made,” is often heard whenever veteran shooters gather to share tales of old or create new memories of quality time in the outdoors.

Responding to a reader’s request, we decided to give the recently unveiled Browning A5 Sweet Sixteen that premiered at the 2016 SHOT Show a closer look to see what motivates the 16 gauge’s small, but very loyal, fan base. The new semiautomatic is built with a smaller, lighter receiver than the old-style Humpback and utilizes a different recoil system than the long-recoil creation of legendary firearms genius John M. Browning, so only time will tell if it has the lasting power of its predecessors.

The Light Twelve was added to the mix for a couple of reasons. First, the older Sweet Sixteen is built on the same-sized frame as the 12 gauge. Also, we wanted to see if the 16 gauge lives up to its reputation as a more sporting shooting tool. And, of course, 12-gauge ammunition is much more available than 16-gauge shotshells, and if the potential wingshooter is in the market for one of these Humpbacks, how much will nostalgia and pride of ownership of a “Sweet Sixteen” override the economics of shooting the bigger gauge, assuming similar performance?

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

May 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - 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.

New Rifles at SHOT 2017

April 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

At the 2017 Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas in January, Gun Tests staffers saw that although new modern sporting rifles do not dominate the introductions of rifles this year, another major manufacturer has entered that AR-15 market with a product that’s selling well. So now’s the time to buy your AR because prices should be falling.
Of course, you should find plenty new to like elsewhere in the 2017 rifle world, with new rimfire offerings, new youth offerings, and plenty of threaded muzzles for those suppressors that may be deregulated soon.

Holsters for the Glock 42: We Test Ten for Everyday Carriers

April 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The Glock 42 380 ACP is becoming a very successful handgun since its introduction three years ago, which has lead to many makers large and small rolling out holster rigs for this handgun. The Glock 42 is exceptionally well balanced but light, so it may require a little extra effort to be certain the Glock 42 is sheathed with a balance of speed and retention. Short and light guns sometimes roll out and require extra effort to holster securely. Fortunately, a number of makers offer good designs for this handgun, as we recently found out.
The Glock 42 is every bit a concealed carry handgun, and we think it is too important to go cheap on a holster for this activity, and you probably need more than one holster to cover all the different ways you or your spouse might carry it. Some of the holsters we tested below represent a good deal for the price and seem to do as well as others with more features. Here’s what we thought about ten holsters that may suit your Glock 42 needs.

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

April 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - 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.

New Handguns at SHOT 2017

February 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The New Black Label 1911-22LR Gray full-size and compact models are available with or without a rail. The slides on both are machined aluminum, and the barrel has a gray anodized finish. The frames are composite, with a machined 7075 aluminum subframe and slide rails. Sights are fiber-optic. SRP: $699.99; $719.99 with the rail. A Black Label 1911-22LR Medallion full size and compact will also be offered with similar features for $670.

The Black Label 1911-380 Medallion Pro model, in full-size and compact versions, features a matte-black frame and a blackened stainless-steel slide with silver brush-polished flats. The grips are made of intricately checkered rosewood with a gold Buckmark. Barrel length on the full-size model is 4¼ inches; on the compact model, it’s 3 5⁄8 inches. SRP: $800; $880 with night sights. Black Label 1911-22LR Medallion full-size and compact versions will also be offered with similar features for $670.

Comfortable Holsters: We Test Four to See How Well They Work

February 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The inside-the-waistband holster is the most concealable of all holster types, but it is also the least comfortable. The IWB holster rides close to the body, so when the temperature soars, perspiration is thick, and our clothes cling to the body, a leather holster may become soaked with sweat and adhere to the body. Also, a stiff Kydex holster may become uncomfortable in the same conditions. Perhaps, then, a mix of modern material may be the best bet for making an effective defensive handgun wearable and bearable. To find out if they offer a better ride for our handguns, we took a look at four holsters from StealthGear and Comfort Holsters. We found much to like. We also discovered that such comfort is expensive compared to conventional holsters.

We will cover a lot of ground in this review. But since the holsters make the claim for greater comfort, that must be the focus point of this test. Still, we first evaluated each based on its merits as a holster, and our team found these four to be viable concepts in terms of retention and presentation.

So, compared to other holsters of the type, such as hybrids and Kydex, will these holsters exhibit a higher degree of comfort? Are there trade-offs? In this case, any trade-off is minimal. There is no trade-off, we felt, with the Onyx design. The padding does not make the holster more difficult to conceal. The Onyx is about 10 inches across its breadth compared to 7 inches with the Bentley. However, when both are laid on a table, the Bentley is taller. So, if you have a weak lumbar area and need to spread the weight of the handgun out on the back for increased comfort—exactly the scenario one of our raters faced—the Onyx gets the nod. If your belt space is limited and allocation of belt space is important, the Bentley would seem to make more sense. Both perform well, and the Bentley seems to offer more ease when reholstering. For pure comfort, the Onyx seems to be the better bet, particularly if you share the back problems one of our raters had. Since the Onyx costs $25 less than the Bentley, that is also a plus.

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

February 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

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.

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

February 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - 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.