2014 Guns & Gear A List

Which firearms, accessories, and ammunition offer the best combinations of performance and value? We look back at the previous 12 months of Gun Tests to find out.2014 Guns & Gear 'A' List: Pistols2014 Guns & Gear 'A' List: Revolvers2014 Guns & Gear 'A' List: Rifles2014 Guns & Gear 'A' List: Shotguns2014 Guns & Gear 'A' List: Accessory2014 Guns & Gear 'A' List: Holsters2014 Guns & Gear 'A' List: Optic


Toward the end of each year, I survey the work R.K. Campbell, Roger Eckstine, Robert Sadowski, David Tannahill, Tracey Taylor, and Ralph Winingham have done in Gun Tests, with an eye toward selecting guns, accessories, and ammunition the magazines testers have endorsed.


From these evaluations I pick the best from a full years 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 Ive 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.

– Todd Woodard

There is a compact version of the Beretta 92FS, but it is seldom seen. It has an aluminum frame and steel slide, fires a double-action first shot, and holds 13 rounds in the magazine. The Beretta locks and unlocks via an oscillating wedge.

CheaperthanDirt.com lists this pistol at $591.76, so we include it as a national pricing source, but we paid $650 and tax for the Beretta at a local shop in South Carolina. The Beretta 92C is an uncommon pistol. The 92FS Inox compact version features a stainless-steel slide. The slide closely matches the anodizing of the aluminum frame. The loaded-chamber indicator, extractor, trigger, hammer, takedown lever, magazine-release button, and safety levers are finished in a contrasting black color.

When we first handled the pistol, we noticed the slide-to-frame fit was tight with virtually no lateral play. The rear sight was black. The stainless front sight was an integral part of the slide. The three-dot sight arrangement was bright red, a good choice for this finish.

The double-action trigger was smooth but heavy at about 14 pounds. The single-action trigger broke cleanly at 5.1 pounds. The distance from the face of the trigger to the inside of the trigger guard was about 1.125 inch. And the curve of the Berettas trigger allowed easy gloved-hand use, our testers said.

Moving to the frame, Beretta has done a credible job in downsizing the grip frame. The raters familiar with each felt that the 92C is more comfortable than the full-size Beretta. It fit most hands well. A female rater felt trigger reach was improved. The plastic checkered grips were thinner than in on the service-size handgun. (Beretta ads advertise rubber grips, but ours were hard plastic.) The grips were secured with hex-head screws. The rear strap and front strap were each checkered in a similar fashion. This checkering was given high grades by every rater. The grip abrasion and adhesion were excellent, we thought, offering excellent control of the pistol even with sweaty or cold hands.

The Beretta had a slide-mounted decocker and a manual safety. The pistol is decocked, and if desired, the lever is left in the down position for on Safe carry. Using a strong straight-thumb technique, the shooter may switch the Beretta to Fire and Safe relatively quickly. So, if you prefer a manual safety, then the Beretta is the top pick.

During the firing test, the Beretta was drawn from concealed carry and fired at man-sized targets at 5, 7, and 10 yards. We fired 100 rounds of Black Hills 115-grain remanufactured loads during this test. The pistol was new out of the box. There were no malfunctions of any type during the combat-type firing. Recoil was never uncomfortable. We found the long double-action trigger of the Beretta limited first-shot hits. Some raters, such as our military officer, did much better than others. He achieved speedy center hits at 15 yards on demand.

In bench accuracy, the Beretta showed good results. The best single effort was a 1.5-inch group at 25 yards with the Black Hills 124-grain JHP, with the average for this load 2.0 inches. This is excellent for a compact 9mm handgun.

The Beretta takes down with a lever on the left side of the frame. A plunger on the right side of the frame is pressed to allow the lever to move. The slide is taken off the frame, the recoil spring and guide lifted out, and the barrel removed. Care must be taken to reposition the locking wedge if it is allowed to move out of battery during disassembly.

Our Team Said: The Berettas stainless-steel finish and the ability to mount a combat light give it great utility as a carry gun and home-defense pistol.

If you have between $1500 and $2000 to put into a good 45 auto, which one will you get? There are many candidates, and choosing between them is often more a test of which brand name sounds the best. Frankly, guns in this price range are very hard to separate because theyre all pretty darned good. In the August issue, we looked at a gun whose provenance is hard to match, the full-size Ithaca Gun Co. M1911-N #1911-C45G10 45 ACP, $1799. Between 1942 and 1945, Ithaca Gun Company made 382,000 of the 45-caliber Model 1911-A1 pistols for the military, and according to company documents, Ithaca received a certificate of appreciation from the federal government for improving a manufacturing procedure for the triggers. The original Ithaca Gun Company was located in Ithaca, New York, and was probably best known for its M37 shotgun.

When Ithaca restarted several years ago in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, new management invested in CNC machining to make its older guns cost-competitive with more modern designs. Those techniques were also applied to a very modern pistol product pitched as a semi-custom 1911 for carry or duty use. The Ithaca comes in a hard plastic case with foam inserts and a 1-year limited warranty.

The Ithacas dimensions were 8.75 inches in overall length, 5.6 inches in overall height, and a maximum width across the grips of 1.3 inches. Unloaded, the Ithaca weighed 42.8 ounces and 47.4 ounces loaded, with a 7+1 payload. The Ithaca came with just one stainless-steel magazine with a detachable plastic bumper to prevent them from getting damaged if dropped.

It had an upswept extended beavertail grip safety with a big palm bump for sure release. The front had a well-fitted, thick barrel bushing. The Ithaca requires a supplied Allen-head wrench to break it down.

The Ithacas grips were made of checkered cocobolo with the Ithaca logo cut into the tops. We preferred the slightly meatier and slightly less aggressive feel of the Ithaca. The frame had a standard 1911A1 cut behind the trigger and a flat mainspring housing. The Ithaca sported a flat-top matte-black carbon-steel upper with one set of rear grasping grooves; likewise, its matte-black frame was carbon steel, with the two pieces being hand-lapped for a tight fit. We could detect no looseness in the Ithacas fitting, yet its slide still moved smoothly under hand operation. The guns magwell was lightly beveled for better magazine insertion.

The Ithacas front sight was a grooved-face blade dovetailed into the slide with an Allen-head retention screw. Paired with an adjustable Novak-style rear, also dovetailed in but lacking a retention screw, we got a superb view of the target with great light bars.

During our range session, we made only a couple of clicks adjustment in the Ithacas rear sight to move up the groups about an inch.

We tested with three types of 45 ACP ammunition with different bullet profiles and bullet weights: Get On Target Ammunition, a 230-grain FMJ ball style; a PMC Bronze 185-grain jacketed hollowpoint; and a Speer Lawman 185-grain truncated metal jacket with a squarish nose profile. We had no feeding or other function problems with the Ithaca.

Off the bench, the Get On Target 230-grain FMJ produced a 2.4-inch average group size and it shot to windage point of aim at 25 yards out of the box, and just a little low.

With the PMC Bronze 185-grain JHPs, the Ithaca fired 2.2 inch average groups. The Speer Lawman shot best in the Ithaca, 1.4 inches.

Our Team Said: The Ithaca Gun Co. M1911-N #1911-C45G10 45 ACP, $1799, gets an A grade from us. Its a tightly fitted, accurate, reliable, nice looking pistol.


On our plate in the December 2013 issue was an old standby, the Glock 21 Gen 3 45 ACP, $600, a big, hand-filling handgun capable of packing a devastating punch with anything from classic 230-grain hardball to the lightest-weight, super-expanding bullets. The Glock magazine held 13 rounds. This larger-than-normal capacity gave the gun a sizeable grip, a caved-in back strap to help get your hand around it, a polymer frame, and steel slide. We tested with Winchester 185-grain BEB, Lawman 230-grain hardball, and with Cor-Bon 185-grain jacketed hollowpoints. The Glock came with a loading-assist device that slips over the magazine.

All the Glocks have squared-off slides, blocky profiles, matte-black finish, the trigger with built-in safety, and a minimum of controls other than that trigger. Bigger calibers are bigger guns. In the case of the Model 21, its a pretty big package. Wed guess those with average or small hands would reject it. The grip has a hollow area that might help some get a solid grasp on the gun. We thought it felt quite horrid compared to the similar styling of the 40-caliber Glock Model 23. In the case of this G21, it does not have alternate grip inserts. What you see is what you get. There is a Gen 4 model that costs more and has interchangeable back straps, and if you like the gun but not its grip, you might give the Gen 4 model a look.

Prices for Glocks vary with availability. As this is written weve seen a G21 offered for less than $540, and some for more than $600. Our test gun had night sights, which add about $40 or $50. The sight picture with the Glocks steel sights was slightly wider than some other pistols weve shot, and thus a bit faster. Three glowing green dots, or three off-white buttons, is what the shooter sees, depending on ambient light.

Takedown is pure Glock simplicity. Clear the gun, pull back slightly on the slide while pulling downward on the two finger-grip releases just above the trigger. Release the slide, press the trigger, and off comes the slide with its barrel and spring. The spring is captive. Putting the Glock back together is one of the simplest processes in the industry. Stick the barrel into the slide, slip the spring – which only goes in one way – into place, slide the slide onto the frame and give it a tug toward the back, and youre done. Apart, the Glock has just five big pieces, none easily lost.

On the range, the Glock performed perfectly. Recoil was there, but it wasnt too much for a seasoned 45 shooter. Accuracy was on par with other 45s, and the Glock actually worked with all the test ammo.

Our Team Said: The Glock will always work, even if its not the smallest, easiest-carried 45 out there.

With proper load selection and marksmanship, the 9mm represents a reasonable level of power for a practiced shooter. Toward that end, in the October issue, we tested popular concealable handguns chambered in 9mm, one of which was the Smith & Wesson Military & Police M&P9c #209004 in 9mm Luger, $480.

To evaluate the handgun, it was fired from a solid benchrest-firing position, as we test all handguns. However, in this case the pistol was fired for groups at 15 yards rather than the 25 yards assigned for service pistols. The short sight radius and double-action trigger simply doesnt lend itself well to pinpoint accuracy.

The cost reflects actual pricing from Cheaper Than Dirt! at the time of testing, without shipping and transfer fees. More recently, this gun is listed at CTD for $442. The Smith & Wesson Military & Police self loader is aimed at the market dominated by Glock. Excellent human engineering and good features have resulted in Smith & Wesson gaining a respectable market share in this niche. The smaller version retains the good features of the original full-size pistol. The Smith & Wesson had several design features that all of the raters liked. The slide design was stylish and the cocking grooves gave plenty of leverage. The slide was tapered toward the front to allow easy insertion into a tightly molded holster. The slide lock was ambidextrous; the magazine release was not. The frame was nicely stippled across the back strap; the front strap texture wasnt as aggressive. The Smith & Wesson magazines held 11 rounds.

The raters liked the sights. The rear sight isnt a Novak, but it was high profile and low snag. The front sight was nicely dovetailed in place. The Smith & Wesson featured a loaded-chamber indicator that works visually only. There was a light rail, albeit a short one. Trigger compression broke at 6 pounds even. When testing the trigger, we hooked the RCBS registering trigger-pull gauge up, and the trigger did not budge. We had to be certain the hinged component at the bottom of the trigger was actuated. We liked that.

During combat firing, the Smith & Wesson gave good to excellent handling results for a compact handgun. The grip was a little short, but just the same, we were in control of the pistol. During benchrest firing, the M&P9c gave good accuracy. The most accurate choice was the Speer 124-grain Gold Dot, which notched an average group size of 2.0 inches at 15 yards.

After the shooting comes the cleaning. The raters liked the breakdown of the M&P. Unload the pistol, remove the magazine, lock the slide back, twist the lever, and then release the slide to allow it to run forward off the slide. The recoil spring and guide and barrel are easily removed.

Our Team Said: During the test, we saw no failures to feed, chamber, fire, or eject, with suitable accuracy and good ergonomics.


Rimfire plinking pistols should be fun to shoot and easy to operate and maintain, and if they offer a little more for the buck, even better. In the February issue, we came across a 22 LR semi-auto we thought would be fun to shoot and which offered threaded barrels for suppressor use – a definite upgrade over the basic 22 LR tube: the Ruger 22/45 Lite No. 03900 P45MK3ALRPFL, $499.

The Lites threads were protected by a knurled ring that could be unscrewed by hand. Underneath, the barrel was threaded 1⁄2×28. Externally, the ring was integrated into the Lites lines. The top of the Ruger polymer front sight sits 0.4 inch above the aluminum shroud and 0.875 inch above the boreline, more than enough to clear the 1.062-inch-diameter Sparrow suppressor (half its diameter being 0.531 inch). Also, the Rugers shroud top is drilled and tapped for a scope base, so adding your choice of red dot to the Ruger would be easy if you preferred an optical sighting solution.


It was an enjoyable experience to shoot without having to wear hearing protection. If any of the ammo had been supersonic, we would have worn protection to deal with the sonic crack. Most shooters who are new to suppressor use note that the devices are quiet, but not in-the-movies quiet – it is hard to meet the fictional expectations of Hollywood. Some other quick notes about the Sparrow. Because the 22 LR round is not copper jacketed, molten lead and carbon debris will explode into the silencer when the projectile exits the muzzle. It is possible for a 22 suppressor to fill with lead and become heavy and ineffective. To avoid this, 22 silencers must be disassembled for cleaning and regular maintenance.

Silencercos Multi Part Contain-ment (MPC) technology allows the 22 Sparrow to be easily disassembled for cleaning and maintenance after heavy use. This is achieved by applying two tube halves before sliding the outer tube on the rest of the assembly. The outer tube can be easily removed, and the tube halves are free to pull away from the baffles without having to rotate or slide. Just pull off the tubes, clean the components, and reassemble.

The 22 Sparrow handles 22 LR cartridges as well as 17 HMR, 22 WMR, and the 5.728mm FN, and its rated for full-auto 22 LR machine guns. It weighed 6.5 ounces and measured 5.08 inches in length. Our testers said the silencer helped stabilize the front ends of the test pistol, improving follow through. Also, we didnt shoot fast enough for the can to build up much heat, so handling it wasnt a problem. According to the manufacturers specifications, it will produce a 41dB sound reduction when fired in the Walther P22 using CCI Standard Velocity cartridges. MSRP is $499.

Our discontinued test gun is the gold-anodized Lite version that is substantially like the black-anodized #3903 thats still listed on the Ruger website. Even though the #3900 isnt cataloged any longer, a quick web search finds many still for sale. In both the Lite and standard forms, the 22/45s claim to fame is that it duplicates the feel of a 1911. In addition to the identical grip angles, the 22/45 features the same fire-control locations (manual safeties, magazine releases, and bolt hold-opens) as the 1911. Also, its trigger feel is classic Bullseye, making it a low-recoil complement for a centerfire 45.

The barrel is a heavy bull design in appearance, but the exterior bulk doesnt translate to weight. Theres a 4.4-inch-long stainless-steel barrel sleeve inside the fluted aluminum shroud (which is also drilled and tapped for Weaver bases), making the unloaded weight with an empty magazine only 23.6 ounces and a loaded weight (10+1 rounds) of 23.8 ounces. Of course, the Zytel Polymer frame is light in weight as well.

As we noted above, the Rugers sights were tall enough to see over our test suppressor, and because they were fully and easily adjustable, they would be easy to center, even with bullet weights varying between 26 grains to 40 grains and muzzle velocities varying by hundreds of feet per second.

At the range, the 22/45 shot the smallest bench groups in the test with Armscor 36-grain rounds (0.8 inches) and pretty well with the CCI and Remington rounds, both at 1.1-inch average group sizes. Part of that accuracy was due to the wide, comfortable trigger, which offered a small amount of take-up (0.180 inch) and then a solid stop followed by a 4.7-pound break. After the shot broke on the Ruger, we had to release the trigger completely by moving the finger forward until the trigger reset. The trigger guard was small and lacked any texturing, which is fine for the target shooter/plinker.

Retracting the Rugers bolt ears, which pull back the breech bolt, took a little getting used to as we switched between guns. We kept trying to slide the shroud rearward, rather than grabbing the ears. Bolt retraction effort was a modest 6 pounds, so even arthritic hands could work the action successfully. However, the edges of the ears were very sharp, and one shooter cut his thumb on them.

The Ruger was not ambidextrous, with the safety appearing as a frame-mounted button near the trigger guard on the left side only, ditto that for the slide-stop button, and the magazine release was not reversible. Other notable features were that the Ruger had a loaded chamber indicator, used a magazine disconnect, and lacked a Picatinny rail.

Our Team Said: After break in, the Ruger fed flawlessly with all our test ammos. Its suppressor-attachment scheme was very simple and easy

When we took a look at 357 Magnum double-action revolvers with 4-inch barrels and adjustable sights in the March issue, we gave both the Ruger GP100 No. 1705 357 Magnum, $759; and the Taurus Model 66 No. 66SS4 357 Magnum, $591 A grades. Both had transfer-bar firing systems, wherein the blow from the hammer is transferred via the transfer bar to the firing pin located in the frame. To determine which handgun we preferred, we battered this pair with all the 38 Special and 357 Magnum ammo we could scrounge. The results were close, but features of the Ruger made it a little better, in our estimation.

The GP100 has been part of Rugers lineup since 1986. Ruger lists five different models in the Standard GP100 family with barrel lengths of 3, 4, 4.2, and 6 inches. Finishes are either blued or stainless steel. Manufacturers suggested retail prices range from $699 for the alloy steel models to $759 for the stainless-steel 357 Magnum revolvers. All models come with Hogue Monogrips.

On the Ruger, the sights, grooved barrel and grips, as well as a satin stainless-steel finish gave the Ruger a refined look and feel. The Ruger mixed squared edges, such as at the trigger and the hammer, with graceful lines on the barrel and behind the GP100s cylinder.

With clean, unloaded revolvers, we checked the barrel/bore alignment with each chamber using Brownells 38/357 Service Revolver Range Rods (#080-617-038WB, $40 at Brownells.com), and we found all the chambers were in spec. The Ruger had a tighter cylinder lock with the hammer cocked back.

The Ruger one-piece frame is easier to disassemble than the Taurus, but dont lose the small pin which holds the mainspring compressed. If you do, a paperclip works in a pinch. Both use a coil spring for a main spring.

The Ruger revolver did not offer an internal safety lock like the Taurus. Instead, the Ruger came with a padlock designed to pass through a single chamber with the cylinder swung away from the frame.

Testers felt the rear sight of the GP100 was better because it was built into the Rugers frame, protecting it more, though that protection bulked up the GP100. A very small screwdriver was required to turn the Rugers windage-adjustment screw. The front sight on our Ruger was a black ramp grooved to reduce glare and dovetailed into place. Shooters preferred the sights on the Ruger.

The bore centerline of the Ruger was slightly higher than the Taurus, but there was no extra perceived muzzle flip, our shooters said. The wheelguns merely used two different design approaches, both of which worked to our satisfaction.

The finger grooves of the Rugers rubber grip were more pronounced, yet fit average to large-size hands exceedingly well.

Our Team Said: In rapid fire, the Ruger was very controllable and a pleasure to shoot due to the weight. If money wasnt a concern, our team would prefer to buy the Ruger GP100.

Single-action-revolver purists cringe at the thought of a transfer bar in a six-shooter. The fact is, classic single actions are usually five-shooters rather than six-shooters. Reason: For safety, the loading regime for a classic single action is to load a chamber, skip a chamber, and load the rest, which allows the hammer to rest on the empty chamber. Some single actions have built-in transfer bars that are raised into firing position as the trigger is pulled to the rear. When the hammer falls in this design, it hits the transfer bar, which in turn transmits energy to the firing pin. Thus, these transfer-bar revolvers can be carried fully loaded without the risk of an discharge if the revolvers are accidentally dropped on their hammers. The ability to load six rounds appeals to plinkers, hunters, and home defenders, but to a Cowboy Action Shooting competitor, the advantage is moot – only five rounds are ever loaded at a time during CAS competition.

We evaluated a transfer-bar design in 38 Special/357 Magnum in the April issue: The a Traditions Frontier Series 1873 Single Action Model No. SAT73-126, $609.

The Traditions Frontier Series 1873 Single Action is a classic single action. The Frontier uses the skinny trigger, had a grip that flared out, the ejector pivoted away from the barrel during shell extraction, and a flat main spring. The Frontier requires the hammer be at half cock to rotate the cylinder but the loading gate could be opened with the hammer fully forward. Testers found it was easy to load the Frontier once they had the process down.

The purists in the bunch seemed to gravitate to the Traditions Frontier. They liked the trigger and the flared out hog-leg grip. The grip was one piece of white PVC plastic that had a familiar feel in hand. The bottom edge of the grip, however, was sharp and cut a shooter who was firing 357 Magnum rounds. The problem was easily fixed with a file.

There was no play in the cylinder on any of the chambers when the hammer was cocked, and we tried to rotate the cylinder while the bolt was in the locking slot of the cylinder. A Brownells range rod was dropped down the barrel to determine chamber bore alignment. There was no resistance to the rod passing from the barrel bore to each cylinder chamber.

The finish was nicely executed, though there were some tool marks on the side of the trigger and in the frame just under the rear sight groove. One nit was the ugly rollmark on the top of the Frontier – but this did not hinder performance. The front edges of the cylinder were chamfered, so holstering was easier. There were no issues with a hammer slipping during cocking.

Ham-fisted users found the cocked hammer bit into the web of their hands if their hands were high on the grip. This was more noticeable when firing the hotter 357 Magnum rounds. Many said they would take a file or Dremel tool to the edge of the hammer spur to make it less sharp. None said it was a show-stopper, it was just a trait of SAA revolvers. In a two-handed hold, the non-shooting hand could easily thumb back the hammer for fast shooting. With repeated firing, the barrel did heat up, so we appreciated that the ejector head of the Frontier rotated away from the barrel when it was needed to eject an empty case.

After repeated firing, there was no ring around the cylinder of the Frontier, nor did we get any lead splashed back due to a misaligned chamber. We didnt clean the revolver during testing, and with more than 300 rounds of all types of ammo through it, there was no binding of the cylinder.

Our Team Said: The Frontier was favored by testers who preferred traditional SAAs. The lower price of the Traditions Frontier was appealing.

To make an S&W N-Frame revolver into a compact carry gun means reducing the revolvers barrel length and grip. Whats left is still a large frame and cylinder that holds six cartridges. It is big metal, compared to an S&W J-frame, Ruger, or Taurus compact revolver normally used for concealed carry. The N-frame is renowned for its strength and has three safety features built into the mechanism: a hammer block, rebounding hammer, and hammer stop. All three safety features work unseen inside the frame and under the sideplate and make the revolvers very safe, guarding against accidental discharge from being dropped on a hard surface or a hammer slipping out from under a thumb. In the November issue, we tested an N-frame derived from the classic S&W Model 29, the S&W Performance Center Model 629-8 44 Magnum, $900-$1000.

The 629-8 came out of S&Ws Performance Center a few years back and is not currently catalogued. Testers felt that the 629-8 got concealed carry right for a big-bore revolver. At first glance, the 629-8 looked like a traditional revolver, but the features are what pushed this revolver ahead. The frame, barrel, and cylinder wore a matte-stainless finish while the trigger and hammer had a chrome-flashed finish. It also wore a set of the Secret Service-style grips that we grew to appreciate. The grips were fitted well to the frame and allowed use of a speedloader. The 629-8 had a 3-inch barrel that was ported and equipped with fixed sights that were large and serviceable.

The round barrel featured an oblong port between the muzzle and front sight. This helped tame felt recoil. On average, the longer barrel gave slightly more muzzle velocity even with the port. The front ramp sight with red insert was dovetailed into the barrel, allowing the user to swap out the front sight to sync up point of aim with the ammo used. This is important since the rear sight was a groove machined in the frames top strap and was not adjustable.

The surface of the trigger was smooth and made DA mode feel less than it actually measured. A trigger stop was built into the trigger, which is a nice feature to reduce rear movement of the trigger to the barest minimum. The teardrop-shaped hammer spur added to concealability and usability. The front edge of the cylinder wore a nice chamfer, and all the chambers were chamfered for ease in reloading. The crane also had a ball detent that locked into the frame rock solid. The ejector rod was housed in an enclosed shroud under the barrel and performed as it should.

The 629-8 weighed 43.7 ounces loaded. The added weight, along with the porting and longer barrel, made this revolver easy to shoot. The 629-8 also had a long sight radius, which also made the revolver easier to aim. At 15 yards, we were able to consistently shoot five-shot groups at one inch. The the 629-8s sights were designed for concealed carry, and they performed. This revolver is a brute in recoil, but we felt it was easy enough to manage.
Drawing the 629-8 from concealed carry, the outside of the revolver was smoother and more snag free than the other revolvers.

Our Team Said: The 629-8 was a serviceable concealed carry big bore, but finding one may be difficult since it is no longer produced.




The Gun Tests staff thought the Marlin 336RC would be an ideal candidate for a Before & After renovation, in which we take a previously reviewed gun and either upgrade it ourselves or send it to a specialty shop to see how the changes perform and assess whether we think theyre worth the money. Eckstine chose gunsmith Lew Bonitz, purveyor of Grizzly Custom Guns based in Columbia Falls, Montana (GrizzlyCustom.com, [406] 892-4570), to do the work.

What Eckstine wanted was a variation on the Brush Hawg package, which includes shortening and recrowning the barrel at 16.5 inches; shortening the magazine tube, if required, and adding a custom LPA ghost ring sight system with single post front sight and dovetail fill to replace factory rear sight. Also included were an enlarged lever loop, smoothing all ports inside and out, modifying the loading gate for easier loading/unloading, and extensive action smoothing, including a trigger job, dehorning, and adding a bobbed hammer and stainless steel follower. Rounding out the Brush Hawg was a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad and leather butt-cuff ammunition carrier (right or left handed) with matching Slimline leather sling, satin matte metal prep and bluing. Base price of the Brush Hawg Lever gun Special built on a customers gun is $1560.

Eckstine didnt need the 17.5-inch-long barrel to be shortened any further; he just wanted the barrel re-crowned. He also ordered the extended Picatinny sight rail instead of the 3-rail Picatinny forend featured in the Tactical package. He also didnt want the barrel band with the single-slot Picatinny rail for attaching a light along the side, and he also passed on changing the sights to a ghost ring. But the existing rear unit, which had minor damage, was exchanged for a new Williams rear aperture, so he decided on a new NECG ramped front sight and light-gathering filament.

The major addition was a 10.75-inch-long XS Sights Scout Picatinny rail stretching from the rear sight to about 6.5 inches beyond the receiver. The rifles classic look was maintained, with the metal re-blued and the wood refinished.

We hoped the relatively inexpensive recrowning alone would restore Truck Guns accuracy to its 2003 numbers. Overall, we did see that. One round shot in both tests was the Federal 125-grain Hi-Shok hollowpoints, which recorded 0.6-inch groups in 2003 and 1.0-inch groups at 50 yards in 2013. With 150-grain bullets, the Grizzly did slightly better than the original (1.1 inch compared to 1.3 inch), and with 170-grain Winchester Silvertip bullets, the Grizzly shot on par (0.7 inch) with the best original Federal 125-grain performance, and about half-inch better than the 170-grain Federal Classics used in 2003. For Eckstine, accuracy with the 170-grain Federal Classics was important because he found their profile made them faster to load into the rifle – a key point due to its relatively low capacity.

Pulling down the original lever required a little more than 6.0 pounds on average. The new lever action was smooth and tight, requiring no more than 4.0 pounds of effort to operate it. Eckstine complained that the original small square loop cramped his hand. The big loop on the renovation was more comfortable and faster to operate as well.

Trigger-pull weight before renovation was about 5.5 pounds with occasional creep or grit. The trigger pull weight was reduced to about 4.5 pounds without any sign of grit or creep.
The new front sight was clear, and installation of the stanchion and Picatinny rail were seamless.

The refinished stocks had finish depth comparable to wood treatment in high-end cars. The Grizzly Custom Guns leather butt cuff with matching padded sling was very pleasing. The nylon cuff it replaced was barely functional and certainly not a visual attribute.

The original Truck Gun was limited to just its iron sights. The new rail system allowed us to add various sights to the Marlin.

Our Team Said: If you have a gun of similar vintage and want to update it, we heartily recommend all of Grizzlys functional upgrades – the trigger and action jobs, smoothing the loading gate operation, and adding new and improved mechanical sights. But keep in mind that Grizzly primarily provides package builds rather than individual modifications. At a final cost of $1910 plus shipping, this was a pricey project but still less costly than many custom guns.

In the May 2014 issue, we tested an ArmaLite AR-10(T) Black Target Rifle 10TBNF in 308 Winchester, $1914, with Freedom Munitions 150-grain FMJs, Federal Match 168-grain Match Kings, and Hornady 155-grain JHPs. Although the ArmaLite had the basic black-rifle setup, it had a thick stainless match barrel and a tubular forend. The rifle came with no iron sights, so we again called on our 36X Weaver target scope to wring out the rifle. This was one heavy dude. With our scope bolted in place, no ammo, the rifle tipped the scales at 12 pounds, enough to give the shooter a good iron-pumping workout by simply lifting it without firing a shot. The heavy 20-inch barrel measured 0.8 inch in diameter at the muzzle. The trigger pull was a two-stage unit. It took about 3 pounds for the first stage, and broke at 5.0 pounds, dead clean and crisp.

The heavy tubular forend fit our machine rest nicely, and was comfortable to grasp. This aluminum forend provided a circular shield for the free-floated barrel. Its bottom had seven threaded holes to give a variety of positions for a sling. The magazine went in and came out cleanly, just like it was supposed to. Takedown was standard, and offered no surprises. Looking inside the rifle, we found fine workmanship everywhere we looked, though nothing appeared to jump out as being special. The details on such a rifle are, of course, what make the difference, and these can be subtle in the extreme. The stock and pistol grip seemed to be standard items. The stock had a useful trap in its butt, but the pistol grip was simply hollow. The trigger guard could be opened for winter use.

On the range, using our machine rest with the round forend, we could hold the tiny dot of the 36X scope absolutely motionless on the target, so we knew we were getting all we could out of the rifle. With the Federal ammo it shot its best, giving groups that averaged 1.2 inches, not quite the minute-of-angle promised by the maker. However, our groups had all three shots in a horizontal line, promising one-hole groups if we could determine the cause of the slight windage movement. In short, with more shooting, we might have done better. With Hornadys ammo, the rifle averaged the same, and it gave the rifles best group at 0.9 inch.

Our Team Said: We could not fault the ArmaLite AR-10(T) Black Target Rifle 10TBNF in any way. It exhibited decent accuracy with both types of match ammo, and promised more accuracy than we got. It was way too heavy, we thought, for a general-purpose battle rifle, and for that it would have needed iron sights, too. However, if you want or need a good black target rifle, here it is.

Rimfire rifle ammunition was used as far back as the U.S. Civil War to launch big, big bullets. But in todays modern era, we think of much smaller rounds, with 22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR) and 17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (HMR) topping the list in power and effectiveness. In the May issue, we were curious to see how a magazine fed semi-auto, CZ-USAs $510 Model 512 No. 0216 22 WMR, would fare in a varmint-cartridge test. Theres nothing wrong with more output if an autoloader is accurate and not too finicky. There are precious few 22 WMR autoloaders in production, due supposedly to reliability issues and, of course, demand.

We shot the rifle for accuracy from the 100-yard line at American Shooting Centers in Houston using a Harris BR (bench rest) bipod up front and a beanie bag from Triad Tactical beneath the stock. For optics, we stayed with the Nikon Monarch 4-16X23mm BDC scope purchased from Brownells in December 2012.

The CZ 512 offered a mix of old and new technology. The stock and forend were fashioned from beech without checkering, but was pleasingly finished. The buttplate was plastic, and there were sling studs fore and aft. In between was where things got interesting. The lower portion of the receiver consisted of fiberglass-reinforced polymer and contained the trigger mechanism and detachable magazine housing. The upper half of the receiver was composed of an aluminum alloy that secured the hammer-forged barrel and chromed bolt assembly.

The CZ 512 shares 5-shot single column magazines ($25) with the CZ 455 series rifles that have been available for a long time. Extra magazines (including 10-round mags, $35) are easy to find. The magazine release was on the lower receiver just forward of the magazine well. It was a small drop down lever we pulled rearward to discharge the mag. The 512 utilized a crossbolt safety located at the upper rear corner of the trigger guard, which was molded as one with the receiver. Inside the trigger guard was a small sheet-metal lever that served as the bolt stop. Without manually pulling back the right-side bolt handle and pushing the lever upward, the bolt returned to the closed position when the magazine was empty.

The CZ 512 offered a set of open sights as well as facility for mounting a scope. There was a 11mm dovetail for mounting scope rings directly to the receiver, and CZ also offers a Weaver-style adapter plate ($46 from Shop.CZ-USA.com). Installing the Weaver mount would allow the shooter to choose from a wider variety of rings.

We chose to utilize the integral rail and mount our scope using a pair of steel-construction CZ-USA scope rings. These rings do not require a cross notch for a secure fit, so we were free to shift the scope forward or back without limitation. This proved helpful because we needed the front of the scope to clear the rear sight assembly and still provide the proper distance to the shooters eye.

At the bench, the recoil impulse of the blowback mechanism gave us a bit of a surprise. We learned that without a solid cheekweld on the comb, the shooter was in for a fair amount of slap.
The trigger on the 512 was a little heavier than we think was necessary, with no indication in the owners manual that it was user adjustable. Trigger weight registered between 5.75 pounds and 6.25 pounds of resistance with a little bit of creep. Although such characteristics are not ideal for accuracy, we did manage to produce 5-shot group averages of 1.1 inches, 1.4 inches, and 1.2 inches firing the Hornady 45-grain Critical Defense ammunition, the 40-grain Speer Gold Dots, and CCI Maxi-Mag rounds, respectively.

The front sight unit was a tall blade protected by a hood. The rear sight slid forward and back, up and down a ramp for elevation adjustment, and was secured by a locking screw. The blade was drift adjustable for windage. With the cheek hunkered down on the comb so the eyes can meet the sights, we got a tightly bonded cheekweld that removed any stock slap. If we owned this rifle and were going to shoot a scope on it full time, we would remove the rear sight so that the scope can be mounted as low as possible.

Another aspect of owning a semi-automatic rimfire rifle is keeping it clean. We did fire some lead bullets through the CZ 512 (Winchesters 45-grain Dynapoint Magnum), but shooting primarily jacketed bullets all but eliminated the need to take down and clean the action. We found that brushing the bolt face and the breech was enough to keep things running, but heres how the CZ 512 takes down for cleaning. Remove the magazine, lock back the bolt and inspect the chamber. Release the bolt. Loosen the screw in the forestock and pull it toward the muzzle to remove. Depress the barrel to release the body locking pin. Push the pin sideways (with a tool if necessary). You can now pull apart the barrel and receiver, but the bolt handle will need to be removed for complete separation. Remove the bolt handle by pulling it outward, overcoming a slight detent. Now the two parts can be separated completely, but you need to control the bolt so that the recoil spring does not eject the bolt. Hold on to the bolt top firmly, push it slightly to the rear to overcome the pressure of the recoil springs and tilt it upward to allow for complete removal. All in all, this was not daunting, but it was tricky the first time we tried it, especially when compared to servicing a bolt-action rifle.

Our Team Said: After experiencing complete reliability firing the CZ USA 512, we have to wonder why other manufacturers gave up on semi-automatic 22 WMR rifles. Accuracy was on par or better than other 22 WMR rifles previously tested. Above all, this is a gun that is good looking, fun, acceptably powerful, highly reliable and currently, unique.


No one can dispute the popularity of the Winchester Model 12, which set the standard for pump-action shotguns from August 1912 until it was discontinued in May 1964. There are still many, many of the old Model 12s in use today – truly a testament to the craftsmanship of the fine firearm. The Model 12 was discontinued because, with its forged and machined steel parts, Winchester deemed the shotgun was too expensive to produce at a competitive price. Fast forward to 2013 when the Winchester SXP came on the shooting scene as what is billed as a shotgun capable of the fastest follow-up shots of any pump on the market – three shots in less than half a second. In the May issue, we decided to get some hands-on time with the Winchester Super X Pump Black Shadow No. 51225192 12 Gauge, $430, to see how it compared to its famous Model 12.

Shooters who favor pump-action shotguns, whether for nostalgia or economic reasons, generally agree that their smoke pole will not be as balanced or handle as well as high-end over-and-unders or semi-automatics. The pumps are workhorse tools, but can be evaluated on more than just their ability to send lead downrange in a safe and effective manner.

Our test session focused on function, but also took into account balance and appearance. To give us a good sense of performance, we checked it on the patterning board using both lead target loads and steel waterfowl loads. For handling clay targets and birds, we patterned Federal Game & Target 23⁄4-inch loads with 11⁄8 ounces of No. 8 shot and an average muzzle velocity of 1200 fps and Winchester AA Xtra-Lite Target 23⁄4-inch loads with 1 ounce of No. 71⁄2 shot and an average muzzle velocity of 1180 fps. Our steel loads in the test were Winchesters new Elite Blind Side 3-inch loads with 13⁄8 ounces of No. 2 shot and an average muzzle velocity of 1400 fps.

With its new-age textured forearm and stock, high-strength alloy receiver, and Inflex Technology recoil pad, the Winchester SXP would never be mistaken for its ancient ancestor, the Model 12. That being said, its heft and feel, plus its lightning-fast slide action, does do honor to the venerable pump that many considered to be the finest single-barrel shotgun ever made.
Red stripes here and there, in addition to the Winchester logos, provide a little contrast to the all-black shotgun for those who look for a little fashion in their shooting tool.

As noted in the promotional material, the action of the pump is incredibly fast and smooth. Working the action on an empty chamber was very pleasant, with none of the stiffness normally found in a shotgun right out of the box. On the range, the pump lived up to its billing, wherein second and third shots were handled in a manner that reminded some of our older test team members of their younger years wielding a Model 12 – high praise indeed.

The shotgun was long, measuring 49 inches from the back of the recoil pad to the end of the barrel. The length of pull was 13.75 inches, an LOP comfortable for all of our test group. The drop at the comb was 1.4 inches and the drop at the heel was 2 inches. These dimensions fit like a glove for most of the test group.

We were slightly disappointed with the trigger pull weight of 8 pounds, which is heavier than most shotgun shooters favor. A little gunsmith tweaking would be recommended to allow for smoother handling of targets and birds.

Our trip to the patterning range was enlightening and surprising, as the Winchester produced a nearly perfect 50-50 pattern with the target loads and about a 55-45 pattern with the steel shot. Even the heavier waterfowl loads did not cause much shoulder trauma when fired in the 7-pound shotgun.

Clay targets were handled with comfort and ease during our field tests, and we encountered no problems with any of the ammunition. Once again, we were very pleased with the way the shotgun cycled the second round on clays and the third shot when putting patterns on paper.
Our Team Said: It was hard for us to find any fault with this latest Winchester Model SXP Black Shadow pump-action shotgun that follows in the huge footsteps of the legendary Model 12.

The 12-gauge shotgun is often seen as the ne plus ultra of problem solvers. Though many argue over handgun calibers, it seems that the efficiency of the 12 gauge is too great to argue against. The shotgun is not just a firearm, it is a system that will use light shot, buckshot, and solid slugs. The question for our raters was, should we purchase a pump or a self-loader for home defense? To find out, for the January issue we purchased a TriStar Raptor A-TAC Home Defense No. 20120 12 Gauge, a Turkish shotgun configured with a pistol grip stock and AR-15-type sights. This shotgun is often seen at Cheaper Than Dirt and other outlets for about $330, although a rater reported finding the piece on sale for $280.

In combat firing, the self-loader was the clear winner. Aim, fire, the piece loads itself. On another note, when the piece runs empty, the pump may be put into action with a single shell drooped into the action. But the self-loader is far faster. It is already locked open on the last shot. Drop a shell in, hit the bolt release, and you are back in the game. In firing drills and running the piece empty, the self loader came out ahead of the game.

In firing tests at combat ranges of 7 to 15 yards, the A-TAC came on target more quickly and hits were surer using Wolf Performance Ammunition buckshot. Moving from target to target, the A-TAC gave good results. Frankly, we all thought we were pretty quick with the pump shotgun until matched against a good self-loading shotgun. Then we were not so fast.

During the test program, we used a small quantity of Wolf slugs as well. The shells functioned perfectly and gave good function and good groups on the target. The A-TAC fired very close to the point of aim at 15 yards with slugs.

The A-TAC featured a 20-inch barrel and held five rounds in the magazine. The handling was excellent in a home environment, with the pistol grip allowing one-hand carry, although you really need both hands on the gun to hit anything. You aim this one like a rifle. Function was good with full-power shells. With birdshot and other lighter loads, function was problematical, as expected. However, the shotgun functions about 50% of the time with field loads, allowing a modicum of practice with these loads. With full-power buckshot, the A-TAC ran like a charm, never failing to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. The same for slugs. Recoil is certainly there when you have to run the piece full power all of the time.

We have to state we fired this one more than the others, for two reasons. One, the brand is less well known, and two, it is a self-loading shotgun and that means reliability had to be qualified. We felt this didnt skew the odds against the A-TAC because it worked during the test. More than 200 full-power buckshot shells, primarily Wolf, were fired without incident. We fired a handful of Winchester, Remington, and Federal buckshot with equally good results. Another forty Wolf 12-gauge slugs were fired and another 25 Fiocchi Aero slugs. This was spread out over a few weeks in deference to shoulders. Function with full power loads was ideal.

Our Team Said: The Raptor A-TAC was voted a Best Buy and was the unanimous winner as the best choice for home defense.

In a May test of AR-15 magazines, several products earned A grades, including the NHMTG AR-15/M16 30-Round Magazine MA02L, $19.99; the Magpul AR-15/M16 PMag Gen M3 MAG557BLK, $14.20; the Magpul PMag 30 AR/M4 Window Gen M3 MAG556BLK, $17.05; and the Brownells 30-Round Gray AR-15/M16 Magazine w/SS Spring 200200, $9.99. Any of the Grade: A magazines are excellent choices; we preferred the Brownells unit for its price. If you prefer polymer bodies, the PMags were both top choices, with the cartridge-counter window option giving that model the edge over the regular PMag. If we were buying AR-15 magazines, we would decide whether we wanted aluminum or polymer bodies, then shop the top-ranked items for the best price.

In the June and July issues, we tested outside-the-waistband holsters made of leather, horsehide, and other materials in Avenger, pancake, and scabbard styles. The Wright Leather Works Predator Pancake Holster, $88; and the D. M. Bullard Leather Combat Holster, $85, were both rated Grade A Best Buys. Among crossdraw models, the Wild Bills Concealment Fusion Paddle, $60, made of leather and Kydex, was rated a Grade A Best Buy. In the August issue, we rated the Talon Holsters IWB Holster, $50, and Ted Blocker Holsters S18 IWB, $46, Grade A Best Buys.

We found red-dot reflex sights on a carry pistol have pros and cons in the July issue, even the top-ranked Leupold DeltaPoint #66135, $565. First, the cons.

The total cost of the weapon system nearly doubles as the sights are almost as expensive as the pistol, the sights have a larger footprint than the typical rear sight, battery life must be monitored, and foul weather can diminish the capability of the sight. The pros are the sights offer faster target acquisition and ease of aiming. The ability to shoot faster and more accurately in situations under 25 yards are strong reasons to make the switch from iron sights to a reflex sight, so we wanted to investigate mounting a reflex sight on a pistol to see how a reflex sight would work on a carry gun. We chose a Glock 20 Gen 4 as our test platform.

A reflex sight allows an operator to keep both eyes open and view a target through a small curved glass lens, which has a reticle projected onto it. A light-emitting diode projects a red dot, amber chevron, or other aiming point, giving the operator an unlimited field of view since there is no magnification and the aiming point projects out to infinity. This means that parallax will not affect sighting; place the aiming point on a target, and if zeroed properly, the target will be hit. Think of them as mini heads-up displays for your pistol.

There are two ways to attach the sight to a pistol. One option is to mill an area near the rear sight on the slide and drill and tap it to mount the sight. This option allows the user to also keep iron sights as back ups and it places the reflex sight closer to the bores center axis. In this configuration, the iron sights are taller – like those used with a suppressor – so they clear the reflex sight. Some mount the rear BUIS in front of the reflex sight, others behind the reflex sight. The second method of attachment is to use the rear sight dovetail with a mounting plate. We chose the second option because it was less expensive, and we wanted to be able to mount the reflex ourselves. The tools needed to the mount the sight, other than the ones included with each sight, were a hammer and brass punch.

The Leupold was always on, being powered by a battery. The DeltaPoint, however, is motion activated. It will shut down if left at complete rest for five minutes, which saves battery power. Once moved, the sight automatically turns on. A rubber cover included with the sight puts the sight at its lowest illumination setting, also reserving battery life. The battery should last 9,000 hours, or more than a year.

Included with the Leupold were 10 different mounting plates that fit everything from Smith & Wesson revolvers to numerous semi-automatics pistols, except for the big Glock. A plate was included for the standard-frame Glocks, but not the 45 ACP and 10mm models. Another $40 was required for a mounting plate from JP Enterprises, totaling $605. A mount for Weaver/Picatinny-style rails is also included for those wanting to mount it on a long gun. A rubber cover and a battery were also included.

A tiny supplied Torx wrench was required to adjust windage and elevation. Locking set screws need to be loosened with the same wrench prior to zeroing the sight. This was less convenient, especially if the sight is swapped to another weapon in the field and the tiny tools are not readily available.

The sight window of the DeltaPoint was oval with flat sides. It slightly bulged over the sides of the slide. The sight-window frame was thin, so there was less field-of-view obstruction. Some testers felt they could get on target faster with the Leupold. The sight also had less reflection signature, and the lens was crystal clear.

Our Team Said: The DeltaPoint system was always ready, though it still required a battery. The extra mounting plates were a plus.

Compiled by Gun Tests Staff. GT



















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