Carrying Cases

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

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.

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.

357 Magnum Personal Defense Loads: Black Hills Is a Best Buy

January 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

When it comes to the 357 Magnum cartridge, the consensus is the round is a great performer. The cartridge has taken deer, bears, and even larger game. However, the rub is that these exploits were made with larger revolvers, often with barrels of at least 6 inches. When it comes to personal defense, most folks are going to carry a 2-, 3-, or 4-inch-barrel revolver. So, for those shooters who prefer the wheelgun, the Magnum needs to work in a shorter barrel.

The slow-burning powder used in Magnum loads is often a canister grade of Winchester 296 or Hodgdon H 110. This powder develops its power and velocity from a slower burn. Purpose-designed defense loads must use relatively faster-burning powder, usually a powder in the middle range. Another problem with accuracy and consistent performance is bullet pull. The lighter bullets used in defense loads often do not show as consistent a powder burn as heavier bullets, and this limits velocity with 100- to 110-grain bullets. However, makers such as Cor-Bon seem to have perfected a loading process that has solved many of the problems with bullet pull and have even gotten a consistent powder burn in short barrels. More pertinent in recent years, the Magnum has been downloaded. In present form, SAAMI specs restrict 357 Magnum pressure levels to about the same as 9mm +P+ loads.

When you consider the flash, blast, and recoil inherent in the Magnum cartridge, the question must be asked: Is the 357 Magnum the best choice for personal defense over other revolver cartridges? We believe it is. The Magnum offers excellent performance in a relatively compact package that the big-bore revolvers cannot match for speed and packing ability. The Magnum is superior to the 38 Special, no matter how hot the Special is loaded. In the May 2012 issue, we looked at the 357 Magnum for animal defense and also have looked at the 9mm versus the 357 Magnum. In this report, we are looking at the 357 Magnum solely as a personal-defense cartridge and letting the Magnum stand on its own.

There are several concerns in choosing the 357 Magnum for personal defense. One of our raters has a great deal of police experience. He noted that the 22 LR, as an example, was a proven, though under-regarded, self-defense round when fired from a rifle largely because of the ease with which accuracy was obtained. From a pistol, the results are often dismal, so the shorter-barrel, lighter revolvers might also produce poor results. Another concern is muzzle blast. The concussion inside a home could be severe, the muzzle blast is tremendous in dim light, and sometimes the flash causes night blindness. The Magnum might literally leave you deaf and dumb. However, some modern loads are especially treated to create only light muzzle flash, and as a result, they are much better suited to personal defense. If you choose a heavy hunting load and fire it in a 4-inch barrel, you will probably experience excess muzzle blast. If you use the 110-grain Cor-Bon personal-defense load, you will not experience this excess muzzle blast. The Buffalo Bore 125-grain Tactical load is another excellent choice, carefully tailored to personal defense.

Mid-Caliber Bolt-Action Rifles From T-C, Browning, and CZ USA

January 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Recently, we assembled a panel and arrived at what could be described as a list of practical considerations for choosing an all-around rifle. Not a specialty piece, mind you, but a “daily driver,” so to speak. Our test team came up with three considerations we wanted: power, accuracy, and portability. We agreed that in terms of power, we’d like to be able to hunt at least some deer-sized animals, but not with so much power that the rifle was too heavy to carry or generate so much recoil that it was unpleasant to shoot. To us, this meant short-action calibers greater than 223 Remington but less than 308 Winchester. In terms of accuracy, it wasn’t long ago that producing a 1-inch group at 100 yards (1 minute of angle) was a high standard. Certainly 1 MOA is still a benchmark, but recent state-of-the-art machinery has made it possible to buy such guns over the counter. And last, but certainly not least, there’s portability. Today, that is just as likely to mean aboard an ATV as it is over the shoulder. Either way, slender and compact is still the desired profile. Thus, the focus of this test became four bolt-fed short-action rifles in medium or midrange cartridges. The lineup was as follows:

We had intended to keep the maximum length of our rifles to less than 40 inches, but we decided to include the 41.5-inch-long Thompson Center Compass because we were eager to find out if this $399 rifle chambered for 22-250 Remington had recovered since its sudden recall for safety issues. Adding to its appeal was its threaded barrel, ready for a suppressor or muzzle brake.

Our shortest rifle was also chambered for 22-250. The $859 Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas offered a Grade 1 satin-finish walnut stock with 12.5-inch length of pull and about one additional inch of stock spacers. The Micro also weighed the least, as little as 6.1 pounds unloaded.

In the middle we chose the newest model 557 from CZ USA. The Sporter Short Action chambered for 243 Winchester was perhaps the most traditional rifle, with a checkered walnut stock.

The least traditional rifle, at least in terms of appearance, was the Howa Mini Action rifle from Legacy Sports International. Its multi-cam finish, 6.5 Grendel chambering, and 10-round detachable box magazine set it apart from the others. The right size overall, we hoped the big magazine sticking out the bottom would not make the Howa too difficult to pack.

Used 38 Sp. Revolver Contest: Colt, Smith & Wesson, Ruger

January 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Revolvers make excellent home-defense handguns. They are simple to use and reliable and will come up shooting after long periods of storage. There are no springs compressed when the revolver is loaded, and no magazines to keep up with. The revolver may be chambered for powerful and efficient cartridges, such as the 38 Special +P and the 357 Magnum. For shooters able to engage in only minimal training, the revolver makes a lot of sense. Conversely, many very experienced shooters trust the revolver and little else. The smooth-rolling double-action trigger helps avoid flinch and the rhythm, once learned, allows excellent hit probability.

We set out to find four used revolvers for this Bargain Hunter segment. They had to be high quality and chambered for either the 38 Special or 357 Magnum cartridge, with the emphasis on 38 Special. While most homeowners will load these revolvers with 38 Special ammunition, the 357 Magnum is certainly a viable option, so we tested the revolvers chambered for the Magnum cartridge with these heavy loads as well. Because we were looking for bargains, we limited the used cost to a maximum of $500 counter price. We found one revolver at that maximum and three for considerably less, including two revolvers at $300. We chose medium-frame revolvers for two of the handguns and small frames for the other two handguns.

Three were six-shot revolvers and one was a five-shooter. We elected not to pursue heavy-frame revolvers, such as the Smith & Wesson L frame or Ruger GP100, and we also did not look for J-frame type snubnose revolvers. Basically, we were looking for affordable houseguns that would do a credible job of home defense if called upon. The contenders were as follows

Reproduction M1 Carbines: We Test Auto-Ordnance and Inland Manufacturing Models

January 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

The M1 Carbine was adopted during World War II, then proceeded to arm our soldiers during the Korean War and Vietnam War, making it one of the most widely produced of all U.S. Military rifles. Millions were produced, and at one time, surplus models were quite common and inexpensive. Try finding a vintage M1 Carbine today, and you will pay close to $1000 for a well-used specimen. Costs, however, will vary dramatically depending on which manufacturer produced the M1 Carbine, the model, features, and condition.

We opted to test two new M1 Carbine reproductions, the M1 1945 Carbine from Inland Mfg. (not the original Inland Mfg. but a new company) and the M1 Carbine Paratrooper from Auto-Ordnance (A-O).

We looked at these two Carbines for historical accuracy, for competition use in M1 Carbine Matches, and as a home-defense choice. In our opinion, the Inland is suitable for all three, where the A-O is not competition ready, but it satisfies the other two roles pretty well. Bottom line, our test team found these two carbines to be reliable, depending on the ammunition employed, offer good performance if the cartridge is used within its limits, and unlike some other M1 Carbines our testers have fired in the past, these two reproductions are accurate enough for nearly any use.

The 44 Special: An Old Number Is Revitalized by Modern Loads

January 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The 44 Special is a misunderstood cartridge. Never meant to be a powerhouse, the 44 Special was introduced as a counterpoint to the 44-40 WCF and the 45 Colt. A continuation of Smith & Wesson’s 44 Smith & Wesson Russian, the more powerful 44 Special was intended to be a mild-mannered and accurate big-bore cartridge. Loaded with a 246-grain round-nose lead bullet at about 800 fps, the Special is mild enough and accurate in good, tight revolvers. Experimentation by enthusiastic hand-loaders vastly improved the power of the cartridge, but those trials also wrecked quite a few revolvers in the process. Once the 44 Magnum revolver was introduced, the need for such heavy loads was eliminated, in our opinion.

That doesn’t mean the 44 Special is dead. In fact, it retains its reputation as a shootable, accurate round, and it finds a home in many 44 Magnum cylinders as a training round. But what of wheelguns chambered just for the Special? Are there powerful-enough loads out there to make it a backwoods-suitable carry gun? A recent test of several 44 Special loads suggests that the old round is rocking along quite well, thank you very much.

Some of the loads tested below are strong loads, probably best used in heavy-duty 44 Magnum revolvers. A 48-ounce Smith & Wesson Model 29 is docile when fired with the Cor-Bon 200-grain DPX load, as an example. Put the same load in the 36-ounce Model 21 Smith & Wesson, and recoil is on the upper end of what most users are able to tolerate. Further, in the Charter Arms Bulldog at 20 ounces, only lighter loads should be used. To assess the shooting-comfort range of various loads, our test guns this time included the Smith & Wesson Model 21-4 44 Special with a 4-inch barrel and the Charter Arms Bulldog with 2.5-inch barrel. This offered a mix of size, weight, and barrel length. We feel that it would have been pointless to fire these loads in a 44 Magnum revolver with a heavy barrel underlug and target grips and declare them controllable. The practical field and carry revolvers used in the test provide a thorough outlook on ammunition selection.

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

January 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - 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.

Selective-Double-Action 9mm 3-Way Used-Handgun Shoot Out

January 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine

The selective-double-action handgun isn’t always well understood by the buying public. Yet, for many, this action represents the best combination of speed, readiness, and safety. The CZ 75 is easily the best known of the type, but other makers have offered selective-double-action-operation handguns. Recognizing the current popularity of the high-capacity 9mm handgun, our team went searching for good buys in this popular chambering. We wished to test the accuracy of a number of selective-double-action (SDA) handguns. With a long trigger press for combat use with the first shot and excellent accuracy potential in the single-action mode, we feel that these service-size handguns offer a good choice for many shooters. We tested the following handguns:

Action Arms ITM AT-84. This pistol is among the units assembled and finished in Switzerland from Tanfoglio parts. It is perhaps twenty years old. This pistol is similar to the modern CZ 75; however, it is a pre-B, in that there is no firing-pin block or drop safety. Modern magazines fit the AT-84, but AT-84 and pre-B CZ 75 magazines will not lock into the modern CZ75B. The original spur hammer is used on the AT-84. All in all, it offered a pleasant and perhaps retro appearance. This pistol isn’t offered in a current configuration, so you would have to roam the used-gun counters and the bowels of the internet to locate one. But they are out there in reasonable numbers.

CZ 75 B Matte Stainless 91128. We have previously tested a 75B, in the June 2016 issue, Model No. 01120 in 40 S&W. The ‘B’ designation indicates that the model is equipped with a firing-pin-block safety. That CZ 75B was finished in a black coating, and the pistol’s dust cover is thicker than on the 9mm, so some holsters, such as the tightly fitted Lobo Gunleather IWB, would require a significant break-in period before the handgun will properly fit a holster blocked for the 9mm CZ 75 B. The sights on that pistol were enameled with a green three-dot treatment. The paint was self luminous and glowed green for some time after being exposed to light. Raters were split on the CZ 75 B. All gave the pistol high marks for reliability. Accuracy was excellent, and the pistol was comfortable to fire. The lack of a decocking lever was a serious drawback to some, and it didn’t have an accessory rail. In the August 2008 issue, we tested a 75 B in 9mm, it also with a blued finish. We said of that B+ handgun: “The single-action CZ 75 B was one of the finer 9mms we’ve tried. It fit our hands well, pointed superbly, was reliable, comfortable and pleasant to shoot. The only flaw we found in this sample was a trigger that needed work. This gun had an ambidextrous safety that did not interfere with the shooting hand. The only control other than a two-position hammer (no half-cock position, and none needed) and the trigger was the slide lock, which was also the takedown lever.” A few months later, we looked at another 75 (B-), this one a 16-shot double-action pistol that “can be carried cocked and locked, which solves problems for some who are required to pack a DA pistol. The matte-black finish was well done, and the entire gun seemed to be built to last.” The accuracy of the CZ was about 2.5 inches for all shots fired, and we thought that was more than adequate. The CZ was notably heavier than the M&P, and that helped dampen recoil. There were no problems with the CZ whatsoever. It fed, fired, and ejected all our loads. We liked the fact that it could be fired with the magazine removed. The empties didn’t go far, but they all got out of the gun. Other than the poor trigger and its sharp edge, we liked this gun. It appeared to be very well made.” If buying used firearms isn’t your thing, this pistol is still being offered under the 91128 model number.

Taurus PT 92 AF 92B-17. We tested an early incarnation of this pistol in the June 1994 issue. We looked at a Taurus 92 AF 9mm, saying of it, “Overall, this Taurus’ trigger was satisfactory. The trigger itself was 3⁄8-inch wide and had a smooth face. In the single-action mode, the pull had almost a half-inch of take-up before breaking at 6 pounds. The long double-action pull had a full inch of travel. However, it released with only 10.5 pounds of pressure, making it easier to control than most. Bottom Line: The PT 92 performed satisfactorily so long as it was heavily lubricated, but eliminating the [tool] chatter marks on the slide rails seems a better option to us.”

A Better Price on SIG P226 CPO

January 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Just got my December issue, and the first thing I noticed was the Guns of the Year choice of the SIG Sauer P226R as the “Best in Class Pistol.” Had to snicker. I got mine at Bud’s Gun Shop in Lexington, Kentucky. And it was as good as yours. When I first looked at it, I did the field strip, and it looked brand new. I am not an expert on SIGs, but I carried a 226 in 9mm for many years. I was just happy to hear the same story on the Certified Pre-Owned model. The bit of a snicker I had was because I only gave $636 for mine, whereas you paid $725. I also bought a 357 SIG barrel for it, and I am happy to say it handles the 357 SIG as well as the 40 S&W you tested. Thanks for the great article.

2016 Guns & Gear Top Picks

November 2016 - 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, Rafael Urista, 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.

Shotgun Shootout: Self-Loader, Pump, or Dual-Action Design?

November 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine

When we decided to test three tactical shotguns suitable for home defense, rather than test three pumps or three self-loaders, we tested one of each, and one that could be either. The Benelli Nova Tactical Pump was our first type, followed by a semi-auto Mossberg 930 Tactical and TriStar’s TEC-12, the latter of which can operate as a pump or semi-auto. If we were jumping into the sandbox at the moment, we think the Benelli M3 might be our choice, especially after firing the near clone of it, the TEC-12. However, the team thought the Benelli Nova pump had the simplest action to use well, and for us, its performance could not be faulted. The Mossberg 930 Tactical had its advantages as well, among them being it was the most comfortable shotgun to fire and use. We had our preference, as we describe below, but you may decide one of the others is better for you. To make that decision easier, our shooters went over the three guns with an eye toward finding flaws, and before we begin in earnest, we will say we found few problems, and that any of these three would do good duty for home defense.

We have had generally good luck with Benelli’s Nova variations over the years. Way back in July 2007, we tested the field-grade Benelli Nova Pump 12 Gauge and gave it an “A-” for its overall performance, the feel and function of the synthetic stock and forearm, and its selection of choke tubes, which was impressive for this bargain-priced firearm. Then in the October 2013 issue, we tested a Benelli Super Nova Tactical No. 29155 12 Gauge. That gun earned an “A-” grade, losing out to a less expensive Stevens 320 that was every bit as good as the Super Nova and hundreds of dollars cheaper. Also, that Tactical Super Nova was the heaviest of those shotguns, which can be good or bad depending on the shooter and the load. But in that test, our shooters particularly liked the feel of the grooved polymer forearm and pistol grip. Downside: The out-of-the-box trigger pull of 8.75 pounds was too hefty for our tastes. Functionally, however, the Super Nova was fine. Those same likes carry over to a Benelli Nova H2O, which features a nickel-plated barrel, that we have not worked into a head-to-head against other corrosion-resistant units. Functionally, it has felt and operated like the other Novas we’ve tested, but the unit we’ve been shooting off and on (No. 20090, $669 MSRP) for a couple of years has open rifle sights (blade front and rear notch), which we don’t like as well as the Ghost Ring sight on the Nova Tactical, and the price is a big step up from the plain black Benelli. At the time of this test, GanderMountain.com listed the H2O at $650, not including shipping and other charges such as FFL receiving fees. If you need the anti-corrosion features, you may be willing to pay the premium price for it, but for us, because of the price and the sights, we’d have to call the H2O a “B” in terms of value.

Bigger 9mms Handguns: SIG, Arsenal, and Beretta Go At It

October 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

As noted earlier in this issue, 9mm auto-loading pistols are among the most commonly purchased firearms in America for pleasure, competition, and defense. These guns are offered in many styles and price points, ranging from a few hundred to several thousands of dollars. While the handguns in this comparison are not top-end, highly customized pistols costing thousands of dollars, they are generally marketed as being well above average quality in fit, features, and capabilities.

In this comparison, we test five pistols, three of which were built by SIG Sauer, one by Beretta, and one newcomer from Arsenal. The SIGs tested are the classic P210, the P226 MK25 used by the U.S. Navy SEALS, and the relatively new P320. The Beretta tested is the recently updated M9A3. The fifth gun is the new Strike One from Arsenal.

For our evaluation, we used three different 9mm loads from three different manufacturers in two different weights and two different bullet styles. As always, the guns in question were shot by multiple testers (this time three men and three women) of different backgrounds.

We did our accuracy testing at Boyert Shooting Centers, an indoor range in Houston, and followed the standard accuracy protocol of collecting five 5-round groups at 25 yards from a rest for each pistol/ammunition combination. For this test, we also performed a speed drill. The speed drill involved starting from a low-ready position, shooting twice to the chest and once to the head of a silhouette paper target. This test was performed at 7 yards by one experienced tester with large hands. The speed test was performed after the familiarization shooting, but before the accuracy testing. The tester was given only one opportunity to perform the test. As these pistols are supposed to be superior to the average offering, our team expected above-average results and graded accordingly. Though all five pistols turned in good results and had their fans, the testing yielded one clear surprise winner.

Compact 45 ACP Shoot-Out: Glock, S&W, and Springfield

October 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine

The compact self-loading pistol is easily the most popular personal-defense handgun in America. Shooters realize that small-bore handguns may not have sufficient potential for personal defense. The 9mm Luger is the baseline for personal defense in most shooters’ eyes. The 40 S&W isn’t as popular due to the stout recoil it produces in compact handguns. After all, many 9mms and 40s are built on the same frame. The 45-caliber compact is slightly larger, and the lower-pressure 45 ACP gives a hard push in recoil rather than the sharp jolt experienced with the 40.

To see how our shooters rated a trio of smallish 45s, we acquired three handguns based on the service-size Glock 21, Springfield XD, and S&W M&P handguns.

l From Glock comes the single-stack polymer-frame G36, which is popular, reliable, and well suited to personal defense. The Glock G36 PI3650201FGR 45 6R FS, $561, isn’t the most popular Glock by a long shot, but a number of Glock fans, as well as 45 ACP fans, like the Glock 36 handgun for its simplicity and ease of use.

l Another gun in the test was Springfield Armory’s XD-S, a downsized XD with a slim single-stack grip. The Springfield Armory XD-S 3.3 XDS93345BE 45 ACP, $419, is even more compact than the Glock, with a short grip frame and a five-round magazine.

l The latest arrival in the polymer-frame 45 single-stack scene is the Smith & Wesson M&P45 Shield 180022, $399. The Shield series have been popular and well accepted by concealed carry handgunners, so making a 45-caliber version of it is a natural choice.

We test-fired the pistols with a total of five loads. The first was a handload with Magnus Cast bullets (#803 225-grain Flatpoint) and 4.8 grains of Titegroup powder. Our other test loads came from CheaperThanDirt.com. One was the HPR 230-grain JHP 45230JHP ($38/50 rounds), a Hornady 200-grain XTP ($15.28/20), a Hornady 230-grain XTP +P 9096 ($16.25/20), and a Fiocchi 230-grain Extrema JHP 45XTP25 ($17.24/25). We fired the handload during the combat firing test stage, shooting 50 cartridges in each pistol. We also fired a magazine of the Hornady 230-grain +P in these stages to evaluate recoil in each handgun. The HPR 230-grain load, the Hornady 200-grain load, and the Fiocchi 230-grain Extrema were used in accuracy testing. During the course of our testing, the three pistols never failed to feed, chamber, fire or eject, so reliability isn’t an issue.

As may be expected, these compact 45s are popular with fans of each company’s full-size 45s. But that isn’t the whole story. As we discovered, fans of the full-size Glock may prefer the XD-S and our Springfield XD fan preferred the Glock 36 compact, and so it went. The primary difference was in handling, we found. Here are our findings.

Modern 9mm Subcompacts: CZ-USA, Glock, Steyr Compete

October 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

It goes without saying that compact and subcompact pistols chambered in 9mm Luger are a highly desirable form of personal protection. The 9mm offers acceptable ballistics without harsh recoil, and 9mm pistols from a quality maker are famously reliable. Also, 9mm compact pistols are often based on service-size handguns in the best renditions. The action and spring rates, and making certain slide travel and barrel tilt are compatible with the compact size, is important engineering. When done correctly, compact pistols are as reliable for practical use as any full-size pistol. Accordingly, our readers often ask us for reviews of certain pistols they’ve come across and may want to buy, if testing proves them to be worthwhile. So, this time, we line up a set of reader requests to go head to head at the range.

The first contestant was CZ-USA’s 2075 RAMI B 91750 9mm Luger, $530. The RAMI is similar to the original CZ 75 but represents considerable engineering changes to accommodate the short slide and frame. The CZ 75 slide rides in the frame inside the frame rails, a design feature that some feel adds to the pistol’s accuracy. This engineering lowers the bore axis as well, resulting in less muzzle flip compared to most double-action first-shot pistols. A tradeoff is that the slide is sometimes difficult to grasp and rack.

Next up was the Glock G43 Lim­ited Edition ProGlo TALO Edition UI4350501, available for $489 from Slickguns.com. TALO is a wholesale buying cooperative that was started in 1965 by fishing and hunting wholesalers in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma. TALO commissions limited editions of firearms from Smith & Wesson, Colt, Glock, Ruger, and North American Arms and distributes them to stocking sporting goods dealers across the US. Shooters who want one of these special editions will need to contact their local dealer and ask him to order the special edition firearm from a TALO wholesaler. TALO firearms are often specially designed products with top-end accessories. An example came in 2006 with the Ruger John Wayne Vaquero. The first edition of 3500 units was featured as an American Rifleman’s Magazine editor’s pick. On this Glock 43, the pistol’s slide is standard save for the sights, which are made by AmeriGlo and feature a brilliant orange post around a white-insert tritium front. The rear sight features a U-notch for rapid target engagement. The rear face of the rear sight is serrated to reduce glare.

The Steyr S9-A1 9mm Luger, $483 at Buds­­GunShop.com, isn’t particularly more difficult to conceal then the RAMI, but it is not a pocket gun as the Glock 43 is. The Steyr S9A1 is a double-action-only handgun with a trigger action more Glock like than anything. The Steyr barely came in as the least expensive pistol tested. This is the largest pistol tested, but it is lighter than the RAMI due to the Steyr’s polymer frame. More effort is needed to cock this pistol due to a combination of the slide design and a heavy recoil spring.

In accuracy testing from the bench at 15 yards, we used three loads. The Speer Gold Dot 124-grain +P Short Barrel hollowpoint load cost us $23/20 rounds at MidwayUSA.com. The Black Hills Ammunition 115-grain EXP ran us $14.57/20 rounds, also from MidwayUSA.com, and Winchester’s 115-grain USA Forged steel shellcase FMJs came to us from Cabelas.com (prior to the buyout by Bass Pro) and cost $36 for 150 rounds. Following is how the pistols fired those rounds, along with comments by our hands-on testers.

9mm Pistols: Uzi Mini Pro, MPA Defender, and SIG Sauer MPX-P

September 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine

The civilian-available semi-auto versions of what began as expensive SBR’s (short-barrel rifles) or true submachine guns are advertised as having good accuracy and reliability while offering a more compact package than a rifle and higher round counts than most handguns. For the task of guarding the castle, we’ve been around the block a time or two, and have suitable choices for nearly anyone — great pistols, rifles, and shotguns. For this test, we had to suspend any preconceived notions of what we might prefer for home defense and test these firearms based on their own merits. Those merits, we found, are few. If you are shooting for fun and simply making brass, anything that goes bang is suitable. We’ll get into the reasons for these judgments, but we like to be clear up front. The SIG Sauer MPX-P is one expensive means of not accomplishing much. The Uzi Pro pistol has drawbacks that made shooting downright frustrating. The MasterPiece Arms Defender proved to be the best of the three and has merit in a defensive situation, within certain narrow parameters. We arrived at this decision by using personal-defense criteria as the overriding factor in providing Buy/Don’t Buy advice to our loyal readers. So, in more detail, here are our reasons for making these assessments. Our 9mm Luger ammunition for this test included a 158-grain lead round nose choice from Tomkatammo.com ($18/50 rounds). We also used Black Hills Ammunition 124-grain jacketed hollow points from VenturaMunitions.com ($14/20), a Black Hills Ammunition 115-grain EXP, an Extra Power load not quite in +P territory, also available from VenturaMunitions.com, ($17/20), and a SIG Sauer 115-grain full-metal-jacket load from Cabelas.com ($28/50). Others included the SIG Sauer 124-grain V Crown jacketed hollow point from Luckygunner.com ($16.75/20), and the Hornady American Gunner 124-grain XTP +P from MidwayUSA.com ($14.79/20). We used the Tomkat 158-grain, the Black Hills 124-grain JHP, and the SIG 115-grain FMJ load in benchrest accuracy testing.

1911 Magazines: Some Are Good, And Some Should Be Avoided

September 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Magazines for the 1911 pistol have evolved more during the past two decades than during any other time since the pistol’s introduction. The bane of the 1911 is cheaply made magazines, with poor ammunition close behind. For many years, the only choices were Colt factory magazines, which were usually high quality, then GI magazines, and poorly made gun-show magazines. Some were marked COLT 45 on the base in bold letters, and these usually meant the shooter was the real deal. At a time when new Colt magazines were around $15, aftermarket magazines sold for as little as $4, and most of them were not worth the aggravation. GI magazines were good quality, but shooters often found them bent and worn out, unless they were new in the wrapper. Quite a bit of barrel feed-ramp polish and tuning of extractors went on that probably was tied to ammunition and magazine problems. Some of the aftermarket magazines were not properly welded. In other cases, the follower was too tight in the magazine body; and in other instances, the magazine springs were weak. Others had poorly attached buttplates, that gave way when dropped on the ground during IPSC competition. Some survived, others did not.

The basic construction of the magazine itself has changed from sheet steel to aluminum and plastic followers versus metal followers. We have examined quite a few magazines that invited a situation called false slide lock. The follower appeared to catch the slide lock, but the slide lock was actually on the wrong shelf, which isn’t good for any of the parts. A 1911 feeds by the loading block on the bottom of the slide stripping the cartridge forward as the slide moves forward. The cartridge case rim catches under the extractor and is pressed forward. Some feel that it is a good thing that the bullet nose snugs a little over the feed ramp and bumps the cartridge case head into the breech face as the cartridge enters the chamber. Some magazines, notably the Wilson Combat, allow the bullet nose to strike much higher on the ramp, which results in missing the feed ramp’s edges more so than others.

Big-Bore Snubnoses Around $500: Charter Arms and Taurus

September 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

We recently reviewed three 38 Special revolvers that cost about $400 and thought we would increase our budget and caliber size, and then sourced three revolvers each costing about $500 in three different big-bore calibers: 44 Special, 45 ACP, and 45 Colt, often called 45 Long Colt (LC) to ensure it’s not mixed up with the Auto Colt cartridge. The three revolvers included two Charter Arms products, the Classic Bulldog in 44 Special and the newer Pitbull in 45 ACP, plus the Taurus Public Defender Polymer chambered in .410 shotshell and 45 LC.

Even though these were new revolvers, we still performed a range-rod test since there was a bit of side-to-side wiggle in the cylinders of all the revolvers. Range rods check the alignment of the chambers to the barrel bore. We also noted that the action of the Taurus seemed a bit stiff; our initial dry firing in double action found the cylinder would not fully index to the next chamber at times. Dry firing took care of the indexing issue, and all passed the range rod test. We also noted during the range-rod test the barrel of the Pitbull was not fully screwed into the frame. It was off by a fraction of a turn, enough to cock the front sight to the left when aiming the revolver. It is unacceptable that a gun leaves the factory in this condition. We anticipated and needed to use Kentucky windage with the Pitbull at the range.

In the past Charter Arms revolvers have been favorably rated, but in these two examples we found exception. The not-fully-screwed-down barrel was also the reason the cylinder-to-barrel gap was so large. We measured the gap between the front of the cylinder and the forcing cone at the rear of the barrel using feeler gauges from Brownells (606-950-252WB) and found a gap of 0.010 inches for the Pitbull and the Bulldog Classic and the Taurus at 0.005 inch. A gap of 0.003 inches is desirable for a competition revolver, but up to 0.006 inches is often found. A large gap allows more gas to escape, reducing the bullet’s velocity. It also means there is more flash, and if the chamber and cylinder are not perfectly aligned, a user might experience splash from burning powders and bits of shaved bullet metal. We did not experience any splash with the Charter Arms revolvers. We did note that the Classic Bulldog had about 30 fps more than the published data for Hornady Critical Defense165-grain FTX bullet, which is 900 fps out of 2.5-inch barrel. The 3-inch barrel of Bulldog must have helped increase velocity. The Pitbull had noticeably less muzzle velocity compared to factory data. We assumed the reduction came because the Pitbull has a 2.5-inch barrel and the factory data for the cartridges use either a 4- or 5-inch barrel. Reduced muzzle velocity also occurred in the Taurus.

A common feature of all three revolvers was a safety transfer bar. This system prevents the hammer from striking the firing pin unless the trigger is pulled fully to the rear.

These revolvers are made for close-in work, but we still tested accuracy out to 25 yards. Since the Taurus offers the ability to fire .410 shotshells as well as cartridges, we sourced some CCI shot cartridges in 44 Special. CCI manufactures shot­shells in 45 ACP, but warns against using the the cartridges in revolvers since the crimp that holds the shot in the cartridge case may interfere with the rotation of cylinder after being fired. One of our team members regularly carries a revolver loaded with bird shot cartridges and bullet cartridges when we walks his dog in the woods. He’s equipped to deal with snakes as well as bears, depending on what chamber he lets fly.

Home-Defense Shotguns: We Compare Three Pump Actions

September 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The shotgun is seen by many as the best choice for personal defense and especially home defense. The most powerful portable shoulder-fired weapon used for self preservation, the 12-gauge shotgun offers a multiple-projectile load that has been proven effective in close-quarters defense. With slug loads, it is even suitable for defense against large, dangerous animals. In rural defense, there are plenty of deadly predators in the country, feral dogs, mountain lions, and other dangerous animals that only an aggressive counterattack will stop. But without proper firearm and load selection, as well as training, the shotgun will be underutilized. More than one citizen has defended himself with the shotgun, and common sense tells us that we should have one in the home.

In this test, the shotguns we chose are among the best in their price range. The choices range from a pedestrian bead-sighted model to a tactical model with an AR-15 type stock. While self-loaders rule the day at 3 Gun competitions and are very reliable, a dirty pump will work when a dirty automatic will not. We have seen self-loaders malfunction during our test programs, and we know the pump-action shotgun is relatively easy to master, as long as you get quality training so you’re confident in your skills and sure in your manipulation.

With this in mind, we chose three likely shotguns for home defense. The top end of the budget was $450, but we would prefer to spend less to get a good pump-action gun, if we could. We fired them with practice loads, home defense loads, good loads suitable for pest and predators, and slugs suitable for defense against large animals. We used five different loads for testing these shotguns. We tried to find the most economical offerings in bulk. This included the Fiocchi 12HV75 birdshot ($97 for 250 shotshells from CheaperThanDirt.com) Fiocchi 1-ounce Aero slugs ($8.10/10 from VenturaMunitions.com), Hornady 86240 Critical Defense 00 buckshot loads ($11.08/10 from CheaperThanDirt.com), Hornady’s Varmint Express, a load using 24 pellets at 1350 fps ($16/10 from Gandermountain.com), and Winchester 3-inch 12-gauge 00 buckshot loads (No. XB12300VB, $17/15 from CheaperThanDirt.com) This selection covered the likely uses for personal defense, predators, and even large animals. Each shotgun was fired with 50 birdshot shells, 10 of each of the buckshot loads, and 10 Fiocchi slugs, for a total of at least 90 shells per gun. This is punishing work and was not accomplished in a single range session. We fired mainly the light-kicking birdshot to learn how to function the guns quickly and determine their smoothness and ergonomics.

Here are the results.

5.56mm Pistols from Kel-Tec, Spike’s Tactical, and CMMG

August 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

It could be argued that the AR pistol evolved out of a desire and need for shooters to own a legal short-barrel rifle-caliber weapon without having to jump through BATFE hoops or pay for a tax stamp to own an SBR (short-barreled rifle). The difference between an AR rifle and pistol comes down to the pistol not being compatible nor able to attach a stock. We wanted to take a look at these AR pistols for home defense and other uses where a compact firearm makes sense, because they offer a number of benefits over a conventional AR rifle, mainly, being more maneuverable while being chambered in a rifle caliber and being compatible with common AR-15 magazines. We acquired three examples, a Spike’s Tactical The Jack custom build, a CMMG Mk4 K, and a Kel-Tec PLR-16. The Spike’s and CMMG are true AR-15 mechanisms reconfigured to a pistol, while the Kel-Tec uses a different operating mechanism. All three are chambered in 5.56mm NATO/223 Rem. and all are compatible with AR-15 magazines.

We tested these pistols for accuracy, performance, reliability, compatibility with a range of AR-15 magazines, maintenance, ability to be customized, and cost. We found that the Kel-Tec was inexpensive compared to the CMMG and Spike’s Tactical pistols. The Kel-Tec, however, needed to be operated differently. The CMMG and Spike’s were an easy transition from AR rifle to AR pistol. An AR pistol, as we found out, is nearly as effective as a full-size AR at close to mid range. With the right ammunition, they could be tuned to be a very capable home-defense choice for anyone in the family competent to operate a firearm. Namely, using frangibles to limit overpenetration through walls and doors while still supplying lots of pop.

The AR pistol’s edge is its size, but it is also a disadvantage, as an AR pistol is not as easy to shoot as a rifle or a traditional handgun. They are large and require two hands to effectively deliver accurate shots. You could get off a few shots holding an AR pistol with one hand, but the weight of the pistol causes muscle fatigue. A typical full-size handgun may weigh more than 2 pounds loaded, compared to these AR pistols, which weighed from 3.2 to 6 pounds unloaded. Add a pound or more for a 30-round magazine, and you’ve got a sidearm that would wear out nearly anyone who didn’t transport them with a sling, just as you would with a rifle. We used one of the SIG SBX Pistol Stabilizing Braces ($149; SIGSauer.com) and found we liked to use the brace differently than intended, which we will get into shortly.

We also fired the pistols using a Blackhawk Storm Sling ($33.95; Blackhawk.com), a single-point sling with a built-in bungee cord, which many team members felt was an excellent way to carry and control the pistol. We tested with three different AR-15 magazines, including a Brownells USGI CS (Brownells.com; $14) constructed of aluminum, and two polymer magazines, the Magpul PMag Gen2 (Brownells.com; $12.30), and the FAB Defense Ultimag (TheMakoGroup.com; $25). For fast reloads, we also used a Kydex AR magazine carrier from IBX Tactical (IBXTactical.com; $35).

Building an AR pistol is not just a matter of installing a short barrel in a upper receiver and swapping out the receiver extension/buffer tube. Short barrels lose velocity and provide less dwell time for the projectile, so manufacturers need to tune and time the mechanism. A short barrel also needs to work on a range of loads from low- to high-quality ammunition. Reliability can be an issue.

Hands down, the CMMG and Spike’s offered more customization than the Kel-Tec because they are compatible with a range of AR-15 aftermarket products — triggers, rails, pistol grips, BUIS, and more. The Kel-Tec is not as compatible. Also, for those testers already familiar with an AR-15, the CMMG and Spike’s were much easier to maintain. But there’s much more to consider, which we relate below:

Classy European Bolt Guns: Mauser M12 and Blaser R8 Pro

August 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

Germany has always been a leader in firearms de­velopment both for military and sporting use. The country also has a rich history of hunting. We wanted to take a look at two rifles with Teutonic hunting heritage, so we asked our dealers to wrangle up a Mauser M12 and Blaser R8. If there ever was an iconic bolt-action rifle on both sides of the Atlantic, it is the Mauser. Since 1871, Mauser has produced countless military and sporting bolt-action rifles. Mauser M98 rifles have been copied by many other rifle makers. Hallmark Mauser design features, like the action, three-position safety, and internal box magazine are built into rifles made by companies like Rigby, Winchester, CZ, Kimber, and others. The M12, however, is not a control-feed bolt action but is actually a push-feed bolt like a Remington, Sako, Weatherby, and others.

The Blaser (pronounced BLAH-zer) is a unique take on the bolt-action rifle because it uses a straight-pull bolt and offers interchange barrels in a range of calibers for gophers to elephants. Blazer had made a name for itself as an innovator of luxury hunting rifles, and though it could be debated that this German rifle is over engineered, we found some innovative features on a hunting rifle we didn’t know we needed or wanted.

Either rifle would make an excellent deer rifle, we found, as well as top choices to take black bears, wild pigs, speed goats, and other hooved North American game. They both performed well in operation and in accuracy and after spending quality time with them, we can see why they command such a high price.

Both rifles were chambered in 30-06 Springfield, which is the benchmark caliber for American hunting cartridges. Our testers have a lot of experience with the cartridge, and we suspect that every bolt-action hunting rifle currently sold in the U.S. is available in 30-06. The round is versatile, easily found in stores, offers a range of bullet types and weights, and is at the upper level of tolerable recoil, especially when shooting the round out of lightweight hunting rifles. Both of these rifles hovered at seven pounds unscoped. For ammo in this test, we used Black Hills Gold loaded with a 180-grain Nosler AccuBond bullet and two hunting rounds from Hornady: Full Boar with a 165-grain GMX bullet and American Whitetail with a 150-grain InterLock bullet.

We mounted the rifles with the same optic, a SIG Tango6 2-12x40mm ($1600; CheaperThanDirt.com). This is a first focal plane–reticle scope, so the reticle increases and decreases in size as the magnification is increased or decreased. Testers liked this FFP scope because the milling reticle can be used at any magnification to estimate range. The Tango6 is equipped with an illuminated MOA Milling reticle. We could adjust reticle illumination as needed, and if we forgot to turn it off, the scope automatically turns off the illumination after six minutes of rest and powers back on as soon as it senses motion. We would have liked a parallax adjustment knob to really fine-tune the reticle, since we noticed the reticle moved ever so slightly as we moved our head and eye. Not a lot of movement, but enough to note. The scope also features Zerolock turrets, which means you can’t lose zero if you rotate the turrets too much in either direction. Turret dials need to be pulled out to make adjustments then pushed back. Adjustments could be felt and seen easily, so getting our dope was simple after bore sighting. All adjustments were clearly marked, which we liked. The magnification ring used two fiber-optic dots that glowed to give the user a heads up on the magnification the scope was set at. Turrets and the magnification ring were toothy, with lots of texture, so rotating the dials was effortless. We could adjust the reticle easily while looking at it on target. For mid-range and typical hunting distances, we think the SIG scope would be a fine choice on these rifles. Where the bullet hits the paper is the real test of how well these rifles will do in the game field and deer stands. Here are the details on these luxury game getters.