December 2018

2018 Guns & Gear Top Picks: Firearms

Which pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns, accessories, and ammunition were the picks of our testers in the past year? We look back at the previous 12 months to highlight the winners.

test firing pistols

Toward the end of each year, I survey the work R.K. Campbell, Roger Eckstine, Austin Miller, Robert Sadowski, David Tannahill, Tracey Taylor, John Taylor, and Ralph Winingham have done in Gun Tests, with an eye toward selecting guns, accessories, and ammunition the magazine’s testers have endorsed. From these evaluations I pick the best from a full year’s worth of tests and distill recommendations for readers, who often use them as shopping guides. These choices are a mixture of our original tests and other information I’ve compiled during the year. After we roll high-rated test products into long-term testing, I keep tabs on how those guns do, and if the firearms and accessories continue performing well, then I have confidence including them in this wrap-up.

— Todd Woodard

BEST-IN-CLASS PISTOL

SIG Sauer P226 Nitron No. E26R-9-BSS 9mm Luger, $1087
SIG Sauer Caliber X-Change Kit 357 SIG, $370

GUN TESTS GRADES: A (357 SIG), A (9mm)

There is a reason the P226 is an iconic pistol. Although pricey, the separate slide assembly ensures point of aim with each cartridge. This is Our Pick.

SIG Sauer P226 Nitron  E26R-9-BSS 9mm Luger SIG Sauer Caliber X-Change Kit 357 SIG

SIG Sauer P226 Nitron E26R-9-BSS 9mm Luger SIG Sauer Caliber X-Change Kit 357 SIG

BEST-IN-CLASS REVOLVER

Ruger GP100 KGP-141 38 Special +P/357 Magnum, $500

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

The stainless-steel GP100 is an excellent performer in all categories: accuracy, smoothness, control, and velocity. It is a big gun, which is comfortable to fire, so the size is a tradeoff. Rock-solid lock up was also an advantage. The double-action press was smooth, and the single-action press was crisp as well. The GP100 was even more controllable with the 38 Special, and the piece was very accurate. The Federal 140-grain load provided one 1-inch 25-yard group in the stainless GP100.

Ruger GP100 KGP-141 38 Special +P 357 Magnum

Ruger GP100 KGP-141 38 Special +P 357 Magnum

BEST-IN-CLASS RIFLE

Ruger American Rifle Ranch 06968 300 Blackout, $420

GUN TESTS GRADE: A-

This Ranch Rifle is a good, lightweight solution for coyotes or deer, and it shot well both suppressed and unsuppressed. Its short length would make it handy, even with a big can on it.

Ruger American Rifle Ranch 300 Blackout

Ruger American Rifle Ranch 300 Blackout

BEST-IN-CLASS SHOTGUN

Mossberg 590 Tactical Shotgun Heat Shield Speedfeed Synthetic 50665 12 Gauge, $480

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

The action is smooth, tight, and reliable. Feeding was very smooth. The heavy 20-inch barrel provided excellent recoil control. The magazine capacity is sufficient, and with the SpeedFeed stock, the Mossberg had sufficient on-board capacity. No malfunctions.

Mossberg 590 Tactical Heat Shield Synthetic 50665 12 Gauge

Mossberg 590 Tactical Heat Shield Synthetic 50665 12 Gauge


PISTOLS: OTHER FAVORITES

Lipsey’s Glock 17RTF2 Vickers FDE 9mm Luger, $630

GUN TESTS GRADE: A- (Our Pick)

This is as nice a Glock as we have handled. The pistol demonstrates the typical Glock 9mm reliability and handles much like any other Glock 17. Advantages include the Vickers Tactical sights, the magazine guide, and magazine base pads, which added to the pistol’s fast handling.

Lipsey’s Glock 17RTF2 Vickers FDE 9mm Luger

Coonan Classic 1911 100000-005 357 Magnum, $1560

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

At a $1200 counter price, this used Coonan provided the best accuracy and the greatest energy of the handguns tested. It was reliable, provided we used the proper loading technique. The Coonan is a large and well-made handgun. Although based on the 1911, the Coonan is unique. The slide-lock lever, slide-lock safety, and grip safety are typical 1911 treatments.

Coonan Classic 1911 100000-005 357 Magnum

Smith & Wesson M&P 380 Shield EZ 180023 380 ACP, $384

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

The Shield is a good choice for home defense for those who cannot handle a caliber larger than the 380 ACP. As a carry gun, it isn’t smaller than some 9mm Luger handguns, but it is much easier to fire well. The barrel length at 3.65 inches afforded the highest velocity and energy.

Smith & Wesson M&P 380 Shield EZ 180023 380 ACP

Metro Arms Co. MAC 1911 Bobcut M19BC45C 45 ACP, $746

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

The Bobcut offers a crisp trigger pull and bobbed grip for better concealment. The red fiber-optic front sight and front and rear grip serrations push it past other Commanders. The MAC’s bobbed rear grip strap did not reduce the pistol’s effectiveness.

Metro Arms Co. MAC 1911 Bobcut M19BC45C 45 ACP

REVOLVERS: OTHER FAVORITES

Taurus Tracker 44TRACKER4SS 2-440049TKR 44 Special/44 Magnum, $449

GUN TESTS GRADE: A (Best Buy)

The Tracker is a formidable revolver. It proved reliable and should be useful as a personal-
defense revolver for the home or in carry with 44 Special loads. For defense against wild
animals, the 44 Magnum loads are a good choice. The Tracker’s ribber grips and barrel ports make for good recoil control. Overall, we felt that the Tracker gave us our money’s worth.

Taurus Tracker 44TRACKER4SS 2-440049TKR 44 Special/44 Magnum

Ruger LCRx Model 5460 357 Magnum, $669

GUN TESTS GRADE: A-

The LCRx had decent accuracy and made concealed carry uncomplicated. It transmitted a lot of recoil to the shooter’s hand. We’d like a more user-friendly front sight. The aluminum alloy frame is lightweight, and, in our opinion, this gave it an edge. The barrel is a stainless-steel insert. We found the LCRx slightly more tolerable in recoil with 357 magnum ammunition.

Ruger LCRx Model 5460 357 Magnum

Smith & Wesson Model 317-3 Kit Gun 22 LR, $759

GUN TESTS GRADE: A-

The 317-3 Kit Gun had a good trigger and grip size. We thought the front sight was easy to see and was fine for informal plinking, but not for more-detailed precision shooting. We really appreciated the light weight of the 317-3. It was easy to tote and easily slips in a back pocket. When shooting in DA mode, we noticed the heavy 15-pound trigger pull was not that user friendly.

Smith & Wesson Model 317-3 Kit Gun 22 LR

Cimarron Bad Boy Model CA360-Bad Boy 44 Magnum, $687

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

The Bad Boy offers a classic single action with a modern twist by using a Colt 1860 Army-style grip and octagonal barrel. The Bad Boy is built on a pre-war frame with an 1860 Army-style grip that is longer and thinner than a traditional single action. There is a lot to like about the Bad Boy, including its accuracy, light weight, and manageable recoil. The longer grip made shooting 44 Magnum rounds pleasant. If we were trekking in bear country, we wouldn’t mind carrying the Bad Boy due to its light weight. The blued finish was well executed, and there were not sharp edges on the trigger guard. The trigger was skinny like a traditional single action. The trigger broke at just under 3 pounds.

Cimarron Bad Boy Model CA360-Bad Boy 44 Magnum

RIFLES: OTHER FAVORITES

Taylor’s & Company 1873 Comanchero Rifle Model 2043COM 357 Magnum, $1496

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

The Comanchero looks period correct yet offers a faster lever than the standard Model ’73, plus it was fast when we pushed it and accurate when we were taking our time. The Taylor’s has a short-stroke lever that requires much less forward travel. The Model ’73 rifles use a brass cartridge carrier that transports a cartridge from the magazine tube to the chamber. A semi-buckhorn rear sight is the standard on these lever-action rifles We liked the front-blade sight due to the brass bead.

Taylor’s & CoMPANY 1873 Comanchero Rifle Model 2043COM 357 Magnum

Savage 110 BA Stealth 22639 300 Winchester Magnum, $1122

GUN TESTS GRADE: A (Best Buy)

The 110 BA Stealth does not have all the bells and whistles, but it is a precision rifle worth having. The lower cost compared to similar rifles can get you into long-range shooting affordably.

Savage 110 BA Stealth 22639 300 Winchester Magnum

Springfield Armory Saint California Compliant w/Free-Float Handguard ST916556BFFHCA, 5.56 NATO, $1135

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

The Saint CA Compliant with free-float handguard is a great way to go legal in 50 states. The M16/AR-15 was originally a fixed-stock rifle. The ambi safety makes the best of the necessary stock configuration. A superior muzzle brake was a nice surprise.

Springfield Armory Saint California Compliant w/Free-Float Handguard ST916556BFFHCA 5.56 NATO

SHOTGUNS: OTHER FAVORITES

Benelli Montefeltro No. 10865 20 Gauge, $1000

GUN TESTS GRADE: A (Our Pick)

This is a well-made, fast-handling shotgun. Its light weight makes it easy to carry in the field, and if the shooter matches shotshells to the light weight, she can find comfortable, well-performing hits on practically any target. Yes, the 3-inch magnum punched hard, but physics being what they are, a slim shotgun will kick more. But with a properly fit stock, that negative can be eased as well.

Benelli Montefeltro No. 10865 20 Gauge

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