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Josh Wayner

Dot Watching: The Rising Trend Of Pistol Red Dot Sights

Analyzing the growing demand for pistol red dot sights and handguns ready to accept them.

The rapid proliferation of pistol red dot sights has truly been something to watch. Not many years ago, the first attempts were made (usually by tinkerers) to integrate compact optical sights into pistol slides. The Trijicon RMR was probably the first of these “micro” dots that was added to pistol slides directly … not as part of a frame “race gun” mount. In doing my research, a few people can claim to be among the first to try it, but I couldn’t find any evidence that it was the unique idea of any one individual.

In fact, the RMR models at the time weren’t expressly designed to go on pistols, and some, including my own dual illuminated model, ended up back at the factory for repairs from being battered. What I can say now is that the trend in the industry is decidedly in favor of dots on handguns.

Closed Vs. Open Emitter Pistol Red Dots

Many types of dots exist on the market today. For the sake of simplicity, I’m not going to get too technical here and use all the marketing jargon to describe these products. Electronic sights, mini reflex, compact weapon aiming display, space laser, etc.—for our purposes, I’ll refer to them as “dots” from here on out. Basically, it’s what we’re dealing with: All of these sights accomplish the same goal at the end of the day.

At this point, we have two basic styles of dots.

open-vs-closed-emitter-pistol-red-dot
Enclosing a red-dot sight is a sensible option to keep it clean. While blockier, it (middle) offers some advantages over open emitter sights. Note that the overall sizes of these dots are similar, but each offers something different for the end user.

The mainstay for a long time has been the “open” emitter style. This is a forward lens that has a dot projected onto it. The emitter projecting the dot, usually a small LED or the like, is literally open to the air. Examples of this type of dot include the RMR. Despite being common and more minimalist in approach, I don’t think they’re the “best” ones out there today, as more technology has become available in this smaller footprint.

The next type is closed emitter. As you can probably deduce, the emitter is enclosed within the body of the sight; front and rear lenses completely protect the internals. Now, this is a relatively new type of sight coming to handguns … and not everyone is excited about them. For starters, these sights tend to be blocky and large. The RMR is such a common sight on pistols that we have become collectively used to seeing it, and it can be a bit jarring to see something so large and industrial looking on the slide of a handgun. Trijicon recently released the RCR, and while I like it, it’s chunky and a little clunky … despite being the same footprint as the more svelte RMR.

I’m not really hung up on traditionalism here, if one could call the open emitter style “classic.” Somehow, my favorite 1911 looks and feels strange with a closed-emitter sight. The blocky appearance doesn’t flow with the lines and it seems out of place; however, we’re talking about an over 100-year-old design that’s also dressed up with a flashlight and suppressor. I leave the aesthetic quandary here to the better qualified, but I may just have to get used to it: Closed-emitter dots are, in general, superior to their open-emitter brethren.

old-vs-new-1911
Old meets … old? The 1911 platform can look a bit funky with a red-dot mounted, but flashlights and suppressors have been added to the classic warhorse for decades. The Military Arms Corporation pistol (below) is a nearly perfect replica of the Joint Special Operations Command Special Forces 1911s. At the time people were tinkering with them, dot sights just didn’t exist in this capacity, so these had custom adjustable sights put on as well as other accuracy modifications. Times do change, but a Black Hills 230-grain FMJ is always a good choice … no matter how modified your 1911 is.

A major and constant issue I have with open-emitter sights is cleanliness and reliability. Functionally, I’ve never had an issue with an RMR. In the field, well, that’s another story. You could argue that the RMR wasn’t designed as a pistol hunting sight—but it is to me and many other people. I find it to have changed my handgun hunting game at 50 yards and in, and the tiny 1 MOA dot I use is both fast and precise.

For concealed carry, I have also moved to an enclosed-emitter sight. In years past, Holosun had a bit of a “cheap” reputation and a somewhat iffy appearance as opposed to the clean, refined lines of the RMR. But that has changed, and there are some significant advances being made, such as cost for features. I like things that work at any price point, and yes, the new RCR is a staggering $849 suggested retail price.

The EPS line from Holosun is half the cost across the board, and for general-carry-gun use they are very solid and reliable. Closed emitters in carry guns are excellent choices in that they protect the emitter from sweat and lint, as well as have a better degree of protection against fogging. An added bonus is that the lens surfaces are easy to wipe clean—you don’t have to go digging around in the sight to wipe the interior lens or try to get crud out of the emitter so you can see the dot.

Dots And Lighting

Another real and distinct advantage of a closed emitter is that it’s much easier to use in low light. This is subjective, so don’t quote me here as gospel. I find that the “tube” style is easier to align and is significantly less prone to washout from external light sources than an open-emitter dot. I also find that, while it does somewhat obscure more of your visual area while aiming, I rarely have to “hunt” for the dot. This all depends on circumstances, but having done a lot of night shooting with artificial lighting I can say that dots can be very finicky.

sig-p365-setup
The P365 is a very modular system that can accept a wide number of accessories. Superstition Concealment made the stylish camo holster and mag holder.

A main consideration for all dots is washout, and I fervently believe in complementary irons on a self-defense pistol. If you have a bright light on your pistol, in a closed space that light projecting on the wall is enough to wash out your vision, making the dot seemingly disappear. If you have a bright dot for daytime use, it may be so bright in the dark that it completely obscures your lens. Doing drills with various dots in various light conditions has shown me that they can be a liability when you don’t have the right brightness settings or various external lighting conditions.

50,000 Rounds Of Hard Lessons

I’ve shot the absolute heck out of my pistol dots, and I was an early adopter of this type of pistol sight mostly because I wanted an edge in pistol hunting. It turns out you can stretch these sights pretty far. I’ve landed hits (but not consistently … that’s a long shot) at 400 and 500 yards with dot pistols. That said, 200 yards on an IDPA silhouette is possible with a decent pistol with a 1-3 MOA dot. You don’t have to be a trick shot these days to take advantage of off-the-shelf equipment. In fact, it’s stunningly easy to do.

Confidence building is something that dot sights are, without a doubt, great at cultivating. The learning curve of iron sights can be steep, and having a very easily adjustable floating dot in place of irons cuts down the learning curve exponentially.

suppressor-height-sights-suppressed-1911-p365
Suppressor use has doubtlessly increased red-dot acceptance on handguns. Taller sights became standard on many models that were deemed “suppressor ready” and when red dots became popular, people found that these tall irons worked in tandem with the dots. Sometimes things just work out for the best.

Younger people are now growing up with this type of sight as commonplace, which was the same with iron sights a couple generations ago. Virtually all of my friends now carry with dots on their pistols, and many have integrated them into their hunting pistols in place of traditional tube scopes. The 10mm Auto is still gaining popularity as an outdoor chambering, and dot sights are helping to turn people on to look in its direction. Something about a 6-inch 1911 in 10mm with a dot sight zeroed for 100 yards just makes me giddy … and that’s coming from an avowed .45 ACP man. Irons will always have their place, but I can’t deny how quickly people gain proficiency on any gun using a simpler aiming system.

Trijicon RMR

Trijicon-RMR
The full-size RMR is the author’s old buddy and has been used for countless rounds. The 1911 in .45 ACP, especially suppressed, is an easy gun on optics, and it’s truly a complement to the gun.

I began using the open-emitter style in the RMR years ago. I have the most rounds on the RMR, and I’ve owned four: one dual illuminated, two LED versions and one RMRcc. In that time, I’ve fired a combined total of about 35,000 rounds with them mounted on both pistols and as a piggyback on a rifle. I’ve carried the RMRcc daily on my P365.

Trijicon-RMRcc
The RMRcc is a great little sight. Just as rugged as the full-size model, the CC variant can survive some serious use. The optic cut on this wasn’t done at the factory. The RMRcc was unsupported by Sig, so the cut was done on a factory slide by Maple Leaf Firearms of Celina, Texas. They do fine work.

The main RMR use I have under my belt is on the 1911 in .45 ACP, both suppressed and with all sorts of ammo types. In years past, I shot this gun heavily, mostly with handloads. I’ve had to replace the recoil spring twice, but every other part has held up to the abuse. The RMR has held up to some severe abuse. I’ve bounced it against rocks and it’s worn some mud, got it rained and snowed on, shot it in classes spending 500 rounds a day nonstop—and I’ve come to completely trust its reliability. The RMR is the real deal, and while it’s an open-emitter sight, it’s just so damn good that I can’t bring myself to say it has any disadvantage, despite it wearing arguably outdated technology as compared to closed-emitter functionality.

rifle-scope-with-offset-dot
All types of dot sights can be integrated onto full-size rifle mounts. There are many styles, such as piggybacked, 45-degree offset, integral ring cap mounts and other options. If you have a large rifle and are perhaps preparing for a close shot, these come in handy. Do be aware that weight adds up and the extra optics are another thing to maintain.

Sig Electro-Optics RomeoZero

Sig Sauer has been pushing the limits on many of their designs these days and have come out with some really nice stuff, but based on some of the features, beware that it’s not for everyone. I shot the RomeoZero on a P365 slide as shown in the accompanying photos, and I promptly put 2,000 rounds through. I’m not a fan of the “tap to program” feature, nor do I like the “shake awake” style of activation … but for some shooters, I realize it’s a major asset. I prefer buttons in my car; I’m not a man who enjoys touch screens, and I got the same feel with the RomeoZero. I want to choose the controls manually—I came to realize this really wasn’t the sight for me, but it might be for you. At this point I have about 5,000 rounds under it, and it has presented no problems outside of personal preference.

Sig-RomeoZero-1
Sig’s dot sight came from the factory mounted on this slide. It’s the least costly at retail and is slightly harder to get used to than the others, offering no physical buttons. The integration of inexpensive dot sights will likely become standard on factory pistols soon.

Holosun EPS Carry

The Holosun EPS Carry is an enclosed emitter sight, and it has become my favorite carry pistol optic. I have it mounted on a True Precision slide, and it’s my daily carry sight. The only thing I did to it was replace the factory screws with some that were a bit beefier, but that was a personal choice. So far, I’ve ran about 5,000 rounds with this sight, and I practice with it at every range trip to keep my skills up. It is, hands-down, the most easy-to-use micro dot I’ve shot. On a small gun like the P365, it speeds up my shooting by providing a more tube-like image—my eye is drawn to the center like a big ghost-ring sight. I won’t say my groups have improved when shooting fast, but my time to get on target in most lighting situations is dramatically faster, as is my hit rate shooting one-handed or weak-handed.

holosun-eps-1
Holosun offers a large and ever-expanding range of dots for pistols. They’re relatively inexpensive, rugged and often have cutting-edge features.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


More On Pistol Red Dot Sights:

  • The Red Dot Advantage
  • The Best Optics For CCW
  • The Aimpoint ACRO P-2
  • The Trijicon RMR
  • The Swampfox Liberator II
  • Classic Gun Review: Springfield M1903 Mark 1

    The author reviews the classic Springfield M1903 Mark 1, a historic gem still capable of producing impressive results.

    The M1903 Springfield is one of those guns that just about every shooter knows, and for the most part, it needs no introduction on these pages. It’s certainly not the last bolt action rifle issued to American forces, though to truly appreciate it you must understand just how advanced this rifle was at the time it was introduced.

    What follows here is the story of not just the M1903, but the significant thinking that spawned concepts we now use today. The rifle was on the edge of technological advancement in its day, and it was called to do some incredible things … including transforming into a semi-automatic, pistol-caliber rifle.

    The Pretender Takes The Throne

    In the turmoil and uncertainty of the late Industrial Revolution, most of the world’s great powers were in an era of colonial expansion. The threats they encountered ranged from hostile natives to forces with similar or better technology. These were the days before tanks, drones, missiles and all sorts of modern horrors. The horse and saber were still in regular use, and forces were just as likely to meet a violent end at the tip of African spears as they were machine gun fire in some places in the world.

    The British were dominating entire mounted armies with just a few Maxim guns that cut down thousands of men in mere minutes. America, like the rest, sought to expand its influence into the Philippines and the Gulf of Mexico in a war against Spain. While American military intervention was likely not the best course of action against a better-prepared foe, our country went anyway and found that boldness was a bandage, not a cure, for their obvious technological shortcomings.

    m1903-stripper-clip-2
    The M1903 loads from five round stripper clips in the exact same way that Mauser rifles do … because it’s a Mauser.

    American forces fought against the Spanish in Cuba with the Krag rifle, a gun that was inferior in design. The Germans, Russians and British all had stripper clip-fed magazine rifles, all of which were obviously better than the slow loading, underpowered Krag and its .30-40 cartridge. The American military mind at the time was regressive; many of the officers in charge of procurement had kept the single-shot Trapdoor Springfield in .45-70 until the last minute, while European powers were already fielding belt-fed machine guns.

    The Spanish had the Mauser rifle in 7mm—a cartridge that’s still theoretically relevant judging by how the 6.8 and 7mm bores are being reevaluated today. The Spanish Mauser was a wake-up call to the American military, and an immediate response was issued that demanded the same performance … and a more powerful cartridge.

    And this is where things get a bit muddy. Instead of designing a totally new rifle or looking at European cartridges, the American government essentially ripped off Mauser and copied the design with a hilariously small amount of alteration. Copying someone else’s homework is usually cool with the teacher as long as you don’t write it word for word, but the American government simply didn’t care and, sure enough, they lost an international lawsuit and had to pay the Mauser company what was a fortune at the time.

    To make it worse, the original cartridge, the .30-03, was an immediately outdated round-nose design, making it inferior to all the European cartridges of the time, which were all “pointed” or spitzer versions. Few .30-03 rifles exist today, and they’re very valuable: The government converted all rifles in inventory to the new .30-06 cartridge.

    30-06-ammo
    Remington UMC 150-grain loads are great for general use in the M1903. Hornady’s M1 Garand 168-grain match load is excellent and very accurate. If you want some great, traditional hunting fun, load the 220-grain Hornady bullets with Hodgdon powder.

    Now, with a suitably advanced bolt action, America was ready for what came next.

    The prewar years were easy on the M1903. It was used in military actions, some of questionable legitimacy, in Mexico and in South America. The rifle performed very well, and the design was well known to be very accurate and lethal. This time period saw calvary troopers with bolt-action rifles, lever actions, automatic pistols, revolvers and all sorts of varied attempts to integrate these new systems.

    George Patton cut his teeth in these conflicts, as did other famous names like Pancho Villa and Gen. Pershing—all deeply associated with the early history of the M1903. All this romanticism would soon end, and the era of colonial adventurism would take a sour turn as European brothers turned their new guns toward each other instead of joining forces to continue conquering the world and spreading industrial civilization.

    The most “civilized” nations on Earth would rip each other to pieces and send an entire generation of young men to death in the mud. American forces entered this horror with the M1903 in hand, an already outdated rifle but with no good replacement on the horizon. Automatic rifles were the next thing, but that need wouldn’t be met until millions of lives had already been lost.

    springfield-mark-1-sights
    The Springfield rear sight is advanced yet simple, affording the shooter four aiming points either as U-notch or peep sight, and it even incorporated spin drift. Outside of an optical sight, this rear sight is about as good as it gets for the era.

    A Legacy Of Attempted Innovation

    What people often fail to realize was that the M1903 was probably the most accurate, reliable and advanced bolt gun of its day, but it struggled because it largely wasn’t meant for the terrain and style of fighting that occurred in the war. The armies were uniformly armed with what amounted to target rifles geared for long-range use in open spaces.

    Most of the wars fought up until this point, from an American point of view, were dynamic with high levels of movement … such as in the running battles fought in Mexico. Slow-firing, highly accurate bolt action rifles were ideal for that version fighting, but in the trenches, the rifles were used largely in frontal attacks: large artillery shells and gas were the leading cause of casualties … next to machine guns. The individual soldier was literally outgunned and had to rely on the bayonet if things got close, and close combat was a norm inside the trenches.

    Variations on the M1903 began to pop up, including versions with extended magazines, suppressors and optics. These designs had been tested, and it’s believed that there were suppressed M1903 sniper rifles in use as early as 1916 in Mexico. “Periscope” rifles were also developed to safely shoot from inside a trench.

    springfield-mark-1-bolt
    The M1903 features a magazine cutoff switch—an interesting idea, but it was a holdover from the old school of thinking. A soldier would load five in the magazine, activate the cutoff, then single feed individual rounds on top of the magazine to save ammunition.

    Yet, for all this, the M1903 was still a powerful bolt-action rifle, and the need to increase firepower was of utmost importance. Many designs were in the works, such as the Thompson submachine gun, but they would arrive too late to make a difference. To bridge the gap and provide the individual soldier with an appropriate weapon for all uses, the M1903 was looked at as the base for a wild concept: converting a powerful bolt-action rifle into a semi-auto, pistol-caliber rifle—with the ability to simply switch back and forth.

    As strange as it sounds, this is exactly what happened.

    The Pedersen Device

    While it appears in video games and media occasionally, the Pedersen Device was very rare—even when it was introduced. The concept was supposedly going to be adapted to other rifles, such as the Mosin Nagant (interestingly enough, Mosin rifles were made in America as well as Russia), and it was intended to be included as a complete system for infantry rifles. This never happened, and it’s extremely unlikely that the devices ever saw combat.

    The idea behind this device was that a group of soldiers could attack and defend with greater effectiveness at close distance, while at the same time being able to fight at longer ranges with full-power cartridges. Because the Springfield rifle is .30 caliber, the device used a special cartridge that originated in America, the 7.62x20mm. It’s better known by its metric designation because France actually adopted it after the war and used it well into the Vietnam era.

    The idea that soldiers could hold ground better with these underpowered pistol rounds is dubious at best, but it demonstrated that there was a general need for something of an in-between cartridge that was able to be fired in rifles but had a weight savings and capacity advantage. Many attempts would be made over the next decades, until the first true intermediate rounds were developed by the Nazis with the 8x33mm for the STG44, making it the first true “assault rifle” that eventually antiquated many full-size rifles.

    In the meantime, the concept of the Pedersen and its small .30-caliber cartridge led to the thinking behind the M1 Carbine and its own .30 Carbine cartridge, which proved to be a far more successful product that saw plenty of use … despite better options existing.

    Since the concept was largely unviable, production ended about as soon as it began, and most Pedersen Devices were destroyed or lost to time. Surviving examples are very rare, commanding prices upward of $60,000. Rifles that were designed to use the Pedersen Device are a separate evolution of the M1903 and carry the designation “MARK 1.”

    m1903-stripper-clip-1

    The number of Mark 1 rifles manufactured is up for some debate. Some estimates place them as high as 10 percent of total M1903 production, but in my own research and my two decades as a CMP shooter and collector, I’ve only come across one of these rifles in original, but re-arsenaled, condition … and it’s in this article.

    There are definite discrepancies in the serial number ranges and apparent numbers that are on the market, and more than that, I estimate that 99 percent of these rifles had their altered parts swapped in for standard M1903 parts by the military. In other words, collecting these rifles is a crapshoot. The only real way to get close is to check for the Mark 1 stamping and, of course, the telltale ejection port cut in the left side of the receiver.

    The number of these rifles available today is quite small, and their value is extremely subjective. My rifle retains most of the original parts, including the smooth Mark 1 trigger. That trigger alone is worth a good amount. I replaced it in my gun with a standard serrated M1903 trigger, knowing I was going to shoot it in CMP matches. My rifle was original and even had the original cosmoline, rust-inhibiting wax wrapper.

    I bought the rifle for a song because it was encased in a hardened layer of said cosmoline, and the owner thought it was trash. I had to keep a straight face after examining it, because it was worth easily four times what I paid. The cosmo layer only took me an afternoon to remove, and I found that the rifle was in un-issued condition with a 1919-dated barrel that corresponded to the serial number, meaning it was likely this barrel was original to the receiver. Of note, the presence of a wrapper on the gun and the fact that mine has a standard “S” stock with correct acceptance stamps (no ejection port cut) proves that it was a re-arsenaled gun.

    m1903-springfield-receiver
    The ejection port for the small, .30-caliber cases is on the side of the main M1903 receiver. Note that the author’s example was re-arsenaled to standard M1903 configuration, and by this time the Pedersen Device was already in the trash.

    In my experience, the Mark 1 variants are exceedingly difficult to find. The receiver markings are valuable on their own, even if the rest of the rifle is unoriginal, the special receiver can add as much as $1,000 on top of the base 1903 value. My rifle in this article would sell for around $3,000 given that it retains many of the original Mark 1 small parts but has a later Parkerized finish, as opposed to the glossy black common to truly original guns. A complete rifle with original finish would be valued at somewhere around $5,000.

    Now, could an enterprising man simply buy the correct small parts and add them to his Mark 1 receiver? Sure, and few would know any different because most of these guns were re-arsenaled in the interwar years, much like mine. You should exercise caution at these prices. If you’re looking for an original, it should have the straight “S” stock with two crossbolts, correct Mark 1 stamping, ejection port cut and slightly swept bolt handle. Finding rifles with original triggers designed for alternating between bolt action and semi auto are rare, and, as I mentioned, I swapped mine out to prevent it from getting damaged.

    The M1903 Mark 1 In Action

    It’s extremely likely that I’m the first person outside of the arsenal to fire this rifle. As a result, I’m able to fully assess what a 105-year-old rifle was truly capable of. I found that, off the bench, the Mark 1 rifle was capable of easily holding 1.5-inch groups using modern Hornady 168-grain M1 Garand match loads. For comparison, my Fulton Armory M1 rifle, essentially a new gun in all respects that matter, is capable of the same accuracy with the same ammunition. I shot both the Fulton M1 and the Mark 1 rifle at the 2023 Camp Perry National Matches and took a silver and bronze, respectively.

    springfield-m1903-m1-garand
    The M1903 would serve alongside the M1 rifle in WWII, in both the M1903 configuration like the author’s rifle or, in the later, mass-produced M1903A3 model.

    Ammunition in the 150-grain class is substantially more comfortable to fire in the Mark 1. My personal favorite is the Remington UMC load; it’s affordable and able to print groups around 2 inches for 10 shots at 100 yards. In fact, it’s my go-to load for this rifle, being that I really only shoot iron sights out to 300 yards.

    I’m extremely impressed with the craftsmanship of the rifle overall, and the ammunition was the limiting factor in the day. A Camp Perry legend and record set in 1921 by Bob Farr was done with an off-the-rack M1903. He shot 71 consecutive bull’s-eyes at a staggering 1,000 yards until the coming darkness of night made him stop. This feat has never been bested, and his overall record still stands.

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


    More Classic Military Guns:

    Building A Precision Rifle With Faxon’s FX7 Action

    The author discusses Faxon Firearms' new 700-footprint FX7 action and uses one to build a precision rifle.

    There seems to be no limit to the number of variants that can be extrapolated upon using the classic Remington 700 screw spacing. In the past decade, countless actions by dozens of companies, big and small, have introduced their own spin on making a turnbolt action that feeds from AICS mags. The short-action bolt gun is dominant in America and, as a result, there’s a race to make what could be the best one at the best price.

    Indeed, in our era, we have seen the actions—not completed rifles—run up a bill in excess of $1,500 … and sometimes even more.

    Factoring in barrels, stocks, optics and accessories, you can rack up a build easily exceeding $10,000 for a slight edge in performance against other high rollers (you can at least spend that money on a Barrett M107 if you want to truly dunk on your range buddies, but that’s up to you).

    Faxon Firearms sought to change this paradigm and launched what is perhaps the most adaptable, feature-rich action on the market for the price … and the future will only hold more options for their new action at a fraction of the cost of the competition.

    Oh, and they have the ability to swap calibers with pre-fit barrels.

    The Bolt Gun Of Tomorrow

    Bolt-action rifles today are unilaterally descended from the Mauser 1896. Why not the Mauser 98, arguably the most famous Mauser, the Backbone of Hitler’s Wehrmacht? Simply because 1898 actions have a third lug on the bolt—not even the 1903 Springfield, itself a Mauser, can claim true fatherhood of today’s most common actions. The main difference in the operation mode is 1896 actions are cock-on-closing, where today’s guns, and the Mauser 1898, are cock-on-opening. The latter cocking feature has become the predominate mode of fire control, where the lug-free tubular bolt akin to the 1896 action has assumed the role of dominant action style.

    Truth told, the 1896 action, as well as the 1903 Springfield, were “overly safe” in terms of construction; the cartridges and associated pressures present in the earlier Mauser designs were all within standard range, and the 1896 locking lugs were plenty even for modern cartridges. Needless to say, there has been a never-ending attempt to increase the strength of the common bolt gun, largely in a move to increase the number of cartridges that can be fired from one action. The short action needed to exceed what Mauser started, and what we see with the new Faxon FX7 action is one of the strongest to date for its size.

    Faxon-Firearms-FX7-action-2
    The Faxon FX7 action in .308 Win., as it arrived from the factory.

    Faxon has dabbled in bolt actions for a little while. Years ago, the company made Ruger Precision rifle barrels as an aftermarket option. They also did OEM work for some companies. The turn came when Faxon partnered with Stiller for the launch of the 8.6 Blackout as a limited first run.

    Faxon did an incredible job on the barrel, the cartridge itself I found a bit wanting across the board, notably due to some mathematical snake oil found in the advertising from Q, the company from which the 8.6 Blackout “originated” (JD Jones had the .338 Whisper decades ago, just like he also had .300 Whisper. Rebranding is a hell of a thing, I suppose).

    I appreciate Faxon’s enthusiasm for what amounted to a wildcat cartridge at the time, though the overall status and acceptance of the 8.6 Blackout is still in flux. I don’t personally see a glittering future for the conspicuous cartridge beyond boutique end use, though I have been wrong before. Eating crow is a staple diet for gun writers.

    The 8.6 RemAge (a name for barrels that used a Remington 700 standard thread but utilized a Savage-style barrel nut for headspacing) style barrels came after, and these products did very well with consumers. The question then came up, “What if we did this our way? A high-quality product without breaking the bank?”

    It was decided that Faxon would make their own actions in 2022. It was kept relatively quiet and was released with excitement at SHOT Show 2023. The product line was launched to include rifles, barreled actions and pre-fit barrels. Every core component is made in-house, from the bolt to the action body.

    Faxon-Firearms-FX7-action-1
    Note the two small screws holding the trigger hanger plate to the receiver. You won’t need to pound your pins out with a punch like other 700 actions: The heavy lifting is done for you. In fact, this was the easiest trigger install the author ever accomplished.

    The products consist of a strong 416 body and 4340 bolt, easily able to withstand modern ammunition. The design was meant to keep price manageable but offer a feature-rich end-product to include an integral recoil lug and optics rail, 70-degree six-lug bolt (wow!) and Remington 700 compatible trigger options. In short, it would be the strongest, most variable action on the market at a savings compared to other options.

    But Faxon didn’t just settle here: They also wanted the smoothest action and went to great length to provide the user a satisfactory experience in overall operation. The smoothness, they felt, has to be there, and they achieved it. They focused in on the handling experience and not just high-performance function. I, personally, enjoy this approach.

    Actions will include trigger pins, though they’re laid out very differently than in typical 700-footprint actions. The trigger cassette, in this case a Timney Hunter model, is held in by a separate part entirely as opposed to being pinned to the receiver directly, as is done with most 700 clone actions. You will use a Phillips (in the age of Hex bits?) driver to remove two tiny screw on a plate. This plate has contained pins that enable you to attach it to the trigger of tour choice. This plate is then screwed back down to the action.

    In the name of full disclosure, I experienced a bit of wiggle when the firing pin was down/action open, and it made me nervous initially. The wiggle isn’t a worry, and I put several hundred rounds of .308 Win. through the complete rifle prior to taking it hunting … with zero issues. Of note is that the stock itself will keep this separate plate section flush to the action. I was worried it would be an issue, but I tested it with shims to be sure that there was no chance for this novel trigger installation setup to create an issue.

    Faxon-FX7-build-tripod
    The Magpul folding chassis makes for a compact package for easy transport.

    Two finishes, polished DLC and ArmorLube matte finish, are currently being offered. I’m unsure what time will bring on the finishes of the future, but I hope that they are as diverse as the options currently available on Faxon’s other products. I’m not a “tactical” guy or mall ninja, and I like bold, interesting finishes on my guns: I’d love to see a Faxon barreled action in rainbow DLC or gold in the future.

    Faxon plans to offer barrels for their actions and others: Pre-fit, RemAge and profiled blanks coming in 6.5mm, 8.6mm and 7.62mm as main launch calibers. Short mag and .223 bolt-face actions may yet be forthcoming. Short action will be the primary offering, options in long action and rimfire are being considered.

    Also of note, not all the short-action offerings will be caliber compatible: Expect .308-bolt face options to be barrel compatible … but not able to cross over to options using the .223 bolt face. Stand-alone actions will be shipping quarter four of 2023 (at press time barreled actions will likely be shipping already). I eagerly await what may come from Faxon simply as a hobby builder. I take pride in assembling my own guns, and I love that I can now add bolt action complete builds and barrel swaps to my list.

    The Faxon FX7 Action Build

    The rifle I elected to build was to be one that fit in a backpack, namely an Eberlestock Gunslinger 2. This is an excellent pack that, while heavy for a three-day pack, is ideal for transporting a rifle hands-free. I used the progenitor of this pack over a decade ago for coyote and deer hunting, and I am pleased to be using the modern variant for the same animals, plus a ram I put down.

    Faxon-700-action-build-in-bag
    The finished build readily fits into the rifle sleeve of the Eberlestock Gunslinger two-pack.

    I chose a stock I’ve used from time to time on these pages, the Magpul 700 Pro, to give me a reliable base and folding stock capability. The overall length of the finished rifle, with suppressor removed, was just over 28-inch folded, truly backpack concealable. I wanted to make a gun that was not only packable but functional for the role of hunting at medium range, while not sacrificing compatibility with modern ARCA and optical systems.

    In short, I wanted a gun that was able to take game at all reasonable ranges using advanced support gear while at the same time being reasonable in weight and accuracy. I did accomplish this, but I do feel that I still could have saved a few pounds. Call it a prototype if you want, but I think that the 18-inch, medium contour .308 Win. with a 10X optic can accommodate 95 percent of all hunting in America.

    Suppressing a Medium Weight Barrel

    There has to be some discussion on the weight ratio to barrel length when talking suppressors. Ideal barrel length for a .308 Win. rifle is 18 to 20 inches in all platforms; you don’t give up much going to 16 inches, and I’ve gone as short as 13.5 inches, but as far as reason is concerned, the 18- to 20-inch range is categorically ideal for weight to velocity. For field use, the objective should be hearing-safe suppression for 300-yard shots on a kill-zone-sized 10-inch plate. This doesn’t seem unreasonable, but so few hunters or shooters ever shoot this distance enough to know how a rifle and cartridge perform.

    Accuracy with all .308 Win. loads tested was excellent, all shooting ½ MOA at 100 yards. There was really no difference between all Remington, Federal and Hornady factory loads ranging from 150 to 180 grains. My own handloads consisted of Lapua brass and Hornady 168-grain BTHP match bullets over Hodgdon Varget powder. In total, I fired seven factory loads and three handloads, and I’m exceedingly pleased with the accuracy this barreled action delivered.

    Faxon-FX7-action-suppressed
    The SilencerCo Omega 36M is a great can, but it is on the heavy side if you’re using all the bells and whistles. It’s possible to convert this can to be lighter, but the QD function is really nice for transport to help reduce overall length. The Armageddon Gear cover helps reduce mirage and also keeps you from burning your hands.

    This article features a SilencerCo Omega 36M with .30-cal. endcap and Armageddon Gear suppressor cover. This is a heavy can that can handle up to .338 Lapua Mag and everything in between, and while super quiet in .308, it does show some vertical stringing when warmed up. If you plan to hunt with the Gunner profile barrel, be aware of the weight of your suppressor and what it does to your point of impact. In my case, the gun shoots 2 MOA high unsuppressed, which is over a half MIL of elevation difference between suppressed and unsuppressed. I do have the option to swap barrels later on as Faxon pre-fits become available, but I sort of like my results using the light barrel as featured here. If, by chance, they come out with a fluted 16-inch M24 profile barrel in .308 Winchester … well, I’d be interested.

    U.S. Optics And A Reasonable Scope Layout

    I originally began using U.S. Optics a half-decade ago, and I’ve always been impressed with their custom quality. After using their Foundation 5-25X in MOA for years, I contacted the company to send a more compact optic in the same line, but in a max 10X in MIL/MIL. I wanted it in OD green with an integral bubble level and illumination … and they delivered.

    Faxon-Firearms-700-Action-build-optic
    The US Optic featured here is a custom build that the author specified. It’s a solidly built, if not overbuilt, optic that provides a host of features and is very rugged. There are more features packed in than can be taken advantage of by a midrange backpack .308 Win., but they are there if you need them.

    I used this optic on various projects for the past year before it found a final home on the new Faxon action. For .308 Win., there’s no better partner than a high-end optic ending in 10X. It can accomplish everything the cartridge has to offer to its effective distance. I like the U.S. Optics I have here for its raw function on a functional rifle, no other notes required. It gets the job done.

    Closing The Bolt

    I find that what Faxon delivered here is emblematic of what is to come of 700-footprint actions. I love that the company offers an incredibly strong, smooth action, and I love that there’s the ability to field future cartridge designs, thanks to the versatility of the action’s six-lug bolt.

    In my time with their new bolt action, I’ve seen it perform very well … and I think you will be as well should you order one.

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


    More Bolt-Actions:

    Best .22 LR Ammo: Range, Hunting And Defense (2024)

    Not all .22 Ammo is created equal. Here are the top match, hunting and self-defense options for your .22 pistol or rifle.

    What Are The Top .22 Ammo Options:

    Range Ammo

    Hunting Ammo

    Self-Defense Ammo

    Never have you had so many ammo options. There’s a massive amount of variety in the rimfire world, and some ammo is better at certain tasks than others. While the .22 LR is not the most powerful, the most accurate or the most reliable, it has earned its spot in the limelight as a jack of all trades that has applications for virtually every corner of the shooting world—and beyond. There’s an almost unlimited number of uses for the world’s most popular rimfire, and we will be looking at the top three loads available for the top three most common uses people have for the cartridge.

    The top three uses for the .22 LR are range shooting, hunting and self-defense. While it might seem that it’s more suited for plinking, this cartridge is a serious contender in all three of these arenas for a number of reasons … including some surprising ones.

    Range Ammo

    HB4116

    It’s a fair bet that 99.9 percent of all .22 ammo made gets fired at the range. A common sight at most outdoor shooting ranges is a carpet of fired .22 brass that has turned brown and gray with tarnish and age. It lays so thickly in some places that parking your vehicle in a range bay can sometimes result in the cases getting stuck in the treads of your tires.

    In the range ammo category, there are three winners in three range categories: match, pistol and bulk.

    Best in Class: SK .22 LR Match 40-Grain

    22 ammo SK Ammo

    The Precision Rifle Series (PRS) is booming right now. It didn’t take long for a rimfire division to come out. Many of the rifles built for this division are as expensive and precise as their centerfire counterparts chambered in popular rounds such as 6mm and 6.5mm Creedmoor. SK Ammunition offers a specially designed long-range cartridge with a unique 40-grain bullet. This ammunition boasts performance out to 300 yards from these specially designed and built match rifles. Just because it’s meant for 100 yards and beyond, it can certainly be used in your own regular .22 at closer ranges.

    Best .22 LR Pistol Ammo: CCI Pistol Match 40-Grain

    22 ammo CCI Pistol

    This is another special target load designed for competition. It’s specially made to function in pistols but can be used in rifles as well. This load features a unique round-nosed bullet profile and is generally meant for shorter barrels. Common uses for this ammo would be pistol bull’s-eye and silhouette matches. The ammo comes in 50-round boxes. It’s my favorite when shooting IDPA-style matches for score using a rimfire and is also some of the best ammo for training in free-hand pistol shooting.

    Best Bulk Range Ammo: Federal Champion 36-Grain

    22 ammo Federal

    This common and popular load comes in boxes of as many as 5,200 rounds. While it lacks the general quality of high-end match ammunition, in terms of accuracy, it can certainly hold its own. The fact that you can get more than 5,000 rounds for just shy of $200 is a big plus, considering the cost of centerfire ammunition today. In my experience, this ammunition has had the least number of dud primers and the best general accuracy when compared to other inexpensive bulk options. I consider this a do-all option because it can be used for match shooting and some small-game hunting. It doesn’t offer the benefits of dedicated ammunition, but it certainly could do worse.


    More Rimfire Info:


    Hunting Ammo

    One of the most common uses for the .22 LR is as a hunting cartridge for small game. While there have been stories of people downing bears with this small round, it should not be relied upon as the primary round for anything bigger than a coyote.

    Varmint Hunting: Winchester 37-Grain Varmint High Energy

    22 ammo Winchester varmint

    This ammunition boasts tremendous muzzle velocity and a deadly fracturing bullet. Rated at 1,400-plus fps, Winchester’s 37-grain bullet is specifically designed to impart all its energy into your target, ensuring a quick kill with minimal pelt damage. It’s excellent for coyotes, fox and medium-sized varmints (such as woodchucks). The ammo’s high velocity will give it a flatter trajectory, as compared to other, slower varmint hunting loads. This particular ammunition, while relatively new, is the preferred choice of several avid rimfire varminters I know.

    Small-Game Hunting: Aguila SuperExtra 40-Grain

    22 ammo Aguila se

    One of the best small-game loads out there is the Aguila SuperExtra. This bullet has copper plating and feeds very reliably in rifles and pistols. Many common ammunition offerings for this caliber have a waxy coating that can gum up a semi-automatic action. The copper plating featured in this load ensures the consistency and accuracy necessary for hunting, especially when a hunter is after small and fast game such as squirrels or rabbits. Its round-nosed design and high velocity make it an excellent choice for the pelt hunter. The bullets weigh 40 grains and move at more than 1,200 fps—a plus for the hunter who sometimes has to choose velocity overweight or vice versa.

    Trapping: CCI Quiet-.22 LRN 40-Grain

    22 ammo cci quiet

    Many trappers don’t want ammunition that’s overpowered when putting a shot through the wire of their trap. There’s no quicker way to ruin a good trap than to accidentally shoot it! For this reason, CCI’s Quiet-.22 ammo is an excellent choice: Not only is it suppressor-level quiet without a suppressor, it also has excellent bullet weight and a good bullet profile. The lead round-nosed design is excellent for a finishing shot to the head on virtually all trapped game.

    Pest Control: Federal Small Game No. 12 Lead Birdshot


    Federal Small Game 22 ammo

    With the other positions in the hunting category being occupied by solid-construction projectiles, this entry is dedicated to a more niche variety of .22 ammo. This load from Federal does not contain a traditional bullet, instead having No. 12 lead birdshot that in total weighs 25 grains.

    Being essentially very light bird shot, one should not expect this ammo to have an abundance of either range or power, but it does have advantages for the specific role it was created for: small game and critter hunting. While you shouldn’t think about using this ammo to deal with a coyote problem, if all you need it to do is dispatch some snakes, rats or similarly small pests, it will get the job done without causing too much collateral damage.

    While placed in the hunting category, for hunting animals that you plan on harvesting meat or fur from, other options should be considered. The range limitations of birdshot loads like this relegate them more to the duty of pest control than sport or resource hunting, but that’s still a form of hunting nonetheless. Don’t forget about bird shot options like this if the next task for your .22 has more to do with clearing varmints from your barn than it does with putting meat on the table.

    Self-Defense Ammo

    The topic of protecting oneself with this rimfire cartridge is hotly debated. Some believe it shouldn’t be used for protection in any circumstance. Nevertheless, it’s often one of the more common choices—no doubt due to its overwhelming popularity.

    There are some schools of thought that look at carry ammunition as a one-shot deal. Hollywood has taught us that every bad guy is put down by one trigger pull, but this is clearly not the case. Many people who carry a gun decide to go with the largest caliber they are comfortable with carrying. This is a different type of person than someone who carries the caliber they are most comfortable shooting. All too often, the concepts of “stopping power” and “energy” put bullets that are too large into a hand that’s way too small.

    Another school of thought avers that any gun is better than no gun. In today’s world of ultra-high-capacity micro pistols, it’s hard to see a place for a .22 when there are so many other options available. Advanced guns such as the Sig Sauer P365 have pushed many other pistols to the side—even pistols that are comparable in weight and size. Why should a person go with a .22 if there are objectively better things available?

    The answer here comes down to actually having a gun in the first place. Many folks out there lack the wrist strength to load a full-sized automatic pistol or the fortitude of hand to hold onto a .357 Magnum. A small carry gun chambered for .22 LR is the choice for many people, because its recoil and noise are low and its control is quite high.

    Self-Defense Ammo for Pistols: CCI Velocitor 40-Grain Plated HP

    22 ammo CCI Vel

    Despite being marketed as small-game ammo, this load is devastating from pistols, even those with short, carry-length barrels. Unlike many other loads out there, this diminutive titan packs quite a punch and is capable of delivering excellent expansion and penetration outside its class. What’s more, it’s an excellent choice—not only for automatics, but for revolvers as well. Many small revolvers are perfect platforms for this load. Ruger’s LCR and the Smith & Wesson J-Frame make great hosts. (It should also be noted that the “Velocitor” name sounds enough like “velociraptor” that CCI put a silhouette of that dinosaur on the box!)

    Self-Defense Ammo for Rifles: CCI Stinger 32-Grain Plated HP

    22 ammo cci stinger

    CCI has made quite a few appearances on this list. It should come as no surprise that the choice load for self-defense with a rimfire rifle would also come from this same company. This particular load features a blistering muzzle velocity rating of more than 1,600 fps. Despite being small and light, it’s devastating on tissue, especially from longer-rifle-length barrels. While it’s sold as varmint ammunition, it excels in a close-range/in-the-home situation, because it offers minimal blast and excellent penetration while keeping recoil to a minimum.

    Self-Defense Ammo for the Woods: Aguila 60-Grain Sniper SubSonic

    22 ammo Aguila ss

    This is the heaviest load on the list. While it certainly won’t fell a bear the same way a .44 Magnum will, it offers a huge number of benefits to the backpacker and outdoorsman. The bullets, themselves, are much longer than a standard .22 bullet and are loaded into a shortened case, but they have the same overall length as normal ammo. It’s loaded to subsonic velocity and is best in a bolt-action or revolver. Because of the high bullet weight, this ammunition offers excellent penetration and can take game at medium distance. It’s relatively quiet—even without a suppressor—and has a muzzle velocity rating of 950 fps. This ammunition isn’t a true self-defense load for the field, but it offers a tremendous advantage if a .22 revolver is the only gun you’ve got.

    It should be noted that another excellent use for .22 ammo in the woods is signaling. If you are lost and can’t locate a trail, three shots, spaced five seconds apart, is how you signal “SOS.” If you space the shots too closely together, people might assume you’re simply having a good time. If necessary, repeat the SOS signal every three to five minutes.

    In addition, whereas larger loads might be bulky, .22 ammo is light enough to be carried in volume. Blanks are available, but they aren’t the first choice when it comes to signaling for help. Why carry blanks when you can carry real bullets?

    Self-Defense Ammo For Short-Barrels: Federal Punch Personal Defense 29-Grain

    Federal Punch 22 ammo

    One of the newer .22 LR self-defense loads on the market is Federal Punch Personal Defense. Packing a 29-grain, flat-nose projectile jacketed in nickel, Federal designed this bullet to meet FBI penetration standards in ballistic gel tests. The lower weight projectile is what enables its advertised muzzle velocity of 1,070 fps when fired out of 2-inch barrel handguns, and 1,650 fps when tested with a 24-inch barrel rifle. The bullet construction was also designed to minimize expansion, allowing it to penetrate deeply enough to meet defensive requirements and is what gives the round its “Punch” moniker.

    Federal also went the extra mile to ensure the reliability of this round. While all rimfire ammo can have the occasional dud primer, Federal claims that the company rigorously tested this round and found its reliability to be satisfactory for defensive use. Further aiding in reliability are this load’s nickel-plated cases which reduce friction and aid in extraction.

    The round’s advertised muzzle energy of 75 foot-pounds is less than some other .22 self-defense loads, but it should make up for it in terms of reliability and penetration.

    Choice .22 LR Guns

    Some of the best all-around guns are sometimes the ones that are overlooked. One of my favorite general-use firearms is the Smith & Wesson Model 317 Kit Gun. This is an eight-shot, double-action .22 revolver that features an almost entirely alloy construction. It’s so light that it feels as if it’s made completely out of plastic. The unloaded weight of the revolver is only 11 ounces—so light that many cell phones outweigh it by a good margin.

    A benefit of the Kit Gun is that it comes from the factory already set up for use in the field. It has an adjustable fiber-optic sight and a rubberized, full-sized grip. The 3-inch barrel length offers a sight radius comparable to many full-sized pistols—which makes aiming quite a bit easier than with the fixed sights common on many other small revolvers.

    Out of all the available .22 guns out there, why would I select something as simple and benign as the 317? The answer is that it does everything that could possibly be required of a .22—without sacrificing much of anything. It can be carried all day and all night without making one’s hip ache; it’s not loud enough to be a nuisance if one were to fire it in close confines; it’s target-grade accurate with most ammunition; and it’s very reliable. While it does not receive much fanfare, it’s one of the most useful firearms one could possibly add to their collection. It’s so useful, in fact, that it essentially falls in the category of “tool.”

    Another excellent choice in .22 LR is a DIY option. Brownells has started making its own version of the Ruger 10/.22 receiver. The BRN–.22 is a completely customizable and well-thought-out receiver that’s offered in many different configurations.

    The version I built is meant to be a military trainer for CMP competition. It’s styled to be the same size and rough weight as an M1 carbine. The rifle has iron sights—just like the originals. All the parts necessary to construct this rifle are available through Brownells.

    The BRN–.22 is a rimfire enthusiast’s dream. It’s completely customizable and is fully compatible with the entire aftermarket of 10/.22 accessories. The configuration I built is an excellent competition and training gun; it’s also a very fast and accurate piece for small game and even close-range coyote hunting.

    Many End Uses

    There’s something in the .22 market for everyone. While many will discount it as not powerful or accurate enough, it certainly can’t be denied that it’s common enough. There are many end uses, and the ammunition and guns listed here might not be what you’re looking for. However, the odds are in your favor, because there’s very likely something out there that’ll suit your needs.

    This article originally appeared in Gun Digest the Magazine.


    Editor's Note: Adam Borisenko contributed to this article.

    The Modern Hunting Rifle

    What makes a modern hunting rifle? A little competition influence, some military sniper inspiration and an infusion of manufacturing technology.

    In conversation, you’ll find that people have a rather rigid idea of just how much “modern” can go into a gun … or what accessories could or should go on a rifle to make it suitable for a given task. There tends to be an idea of “this is a hunting rifle, this is a target rifle, and this is a sniper rifle” among most riflemen.

    Today, all the lines are functionally non-existent. That might hurt to hear, but it’s true.

    I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told that it isn’t fair to the deer to use what I have, but as I will soon address, everything I’m using has been done before: We’re just now seeing better ways to interface these otherwise disparate species of gear.

    Right now, we’re in an era of refinement and proliferation regarding support gear, and I think the prophecies I spew here and in deer camp will all come true in a matter of a decade or less. What you see as custom guns here in my photography are my actual hunting rifles, and I believe they’ll all be par for the course soon.

    In fact, my gear may get antiquated in a short time. Let’s dive in.

    What Makes A Hunting Rifle?

    There’s no official definition of what makes a rifle a “hunting rifle.” From a purely cultural angle, a Savage 99 is a classic deer rifle. That much can be said of it. If you choose to use this as your main hunting gun instead of something that takes advantage of modern technology, well, you’re not wrong for doing so. However, understand that, by nature, you are at a technological disadvantage as compared to the efficacy of what I generally carry afield.

    450-Bushmaster-modern-hunting-rifle
    The author’s straight-wall-case deer rifle, chambered in .450 Bushmaster. The action is a trued Remington 700 with a 20-inch heavy spiral fluted barrel. It wears a SilencerCo Hybrid 46M in Armageddon gear cover. The stock is the excellent Foundation Revelation with Wiebad cheek pad and SAP sling and two-round holder. The rifle is zeroed with 260-grain Remington loads for 150M with the excellent Leupold MK5 HD 5-25X in a Scope Chaps cover.

    Am I a “better” hunter for using all this gear? Most certainly not, but I have learned to leverage new equipment to the timeless game. Again, it’s all about the experience you seek.

    Now, ask yourself, is the Savage 99 a better gun than a caplock .54 Hawken? Is the Hawken a better gun than a flintlock? Is the flintlock a better gun than a matchlock? Is a matchlock better than a bow … and so on.

    Regression for the sake of nostalgia is just that: regression. It’s no sin to take technology to the field; the first man to throw a rock at an animal started this march and, yes, that thrown rock is technology. You can choose to intentionally handicap yourself, but understand that I won’t. I want meat over the fire, same as my ancestors did 10,000 years ago.

    And if you really think about it, we’re still throwing said rocks … just a bit faster and farther.

    That Savage 99 was high-tech at the time it was introduced. It created a lasting legacy as a classic and eventually fell out of favor, except with some diehards. It’s a great gun, however, a far cry from the muzzleloaders in common use just a few decades prior. There’s no definition of a hunting rifle other than that which you take hunting, be it a Model 70 or Barrett M107.

    Rifle Construction Ain’t What It Used To Be

    Rifle actions have changed very little since Mauser developed the 1896 action. The Remington 700 did what others couldn’t and reached a saturation level in the market to the point that its “footprint” (body diameter, trigger inlet, and screw spacing) is now the de facto industry standard. Most large companies are concerned with the bottom line, and as a result, there hasn’t been tremendous innovation in things like “stock” stocks over the years. Thus, aftermarket companies began to step in and experiment.

    Manners-stock-arca-rail-hunting-rifle
    The Manners stock is designed to use an Arca rail. This model came with it installed. It’s a direct installation and representative of what the author believes will become a standard feature on hunting bolt guns within the next decade.

    This level of standardization has created market opportunities that would otherwise not exist for a one-off rifle design, particularly in generating repeatable accuracy. Where this has generated the most excitement has been in material innovation in aftermarket stocks. Each of the stocks in this article is a radical departure from those of yesteryear and essentially guarantee of increased performance.

    The interface between action and stock used to be wizardry. Today, the art of bedding and installing pillars is all but vacated except in some high-end custom guns. The reason being that, with an aluminum bedding block or internal chassis, there’s no need to bed at all. In 99.9 percent of cases and from direct personal experience, dropping an action in an aluminum stock/modern internal chassis, groups shrink instantly. I don’t even worry about my groups when I build a gun because I know they’ll shoot: Manufacturing, for the most part, has gotten that good. 

    Of extreme interest to me is the solid Micarta stock made by Foundation Stocks. You will probably recognize this material as being the same as I use on the various Winkler Knives axes, including other tools and knives I use to supplement the guns in my photos. The material has been used for everything from insulation to electronic components housing and is made from cloth soaked in epoxy that is subjected to heat and pressure.

    The machining and quality of the Foundation stock is incredible and it, while being a traditional stock layout, needs no bedding or special attention. I took my well-used custom .450 Bushmaster action and bottom metal and literally just dropped them in, tightened down the action screws and proceeded to take a pile of deer with it. I wish they made a version in green linen—that’s my only critique. You can’t ask for a better modern stock.

    Tuebor-Precision-modern-hunting-rifle
    The author’s lightweight field rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor features a Michigan-made Tuebor Precision titanium action, 24-inch Proof Research barrel, Rearden MFG muzzle brake and Q Jumbo Shrimp suppressor. The stock is the new LRH from Manners. The rifle is zeroed with Black Hills 143-grain loads and wears a Vortex Razor HD Gen 3 6-36X.
    Accessories are from Wiebad, Scope Chaps and SAP.

    Likewise, one of my main bottleneck-cased hunting rifles, a Tuebor Precision titanium action with Proof Research 6.5 Creedmoor barrel, wears a new Manners carbon-fiber LRH stock with internal mini chassis. Again, all I did was drop the action in and tighten it down. This rifle is under 10 pounds loaded and shoots 140-grain Federal Gold Medal Match factory ammo into a truly jaw-dropping ½-inch, five-shot group at 200M. It’s an absolute tack driver, and I did nothing special to it—well, having a 6-36X Vortex Razor on it certainly helps.

    As far as chassis designs go, the Magpul Pro folder has been one of my go-to chassis for years. You’ve seen this same chassis in many of my articles, and it has probably housed a half-dozen actions over the past several years. It currently has a Christensen action in it with a USO optic. I put it together for a specific property I hunt where I wanted a 10X max optic with a thick-lined reticle for low light. The aluminum base of the chassis is about as rigid as you can get and, while being a used action I took off a buddy, it drops Sig Sauer 130-grain Elite Hunter loads into a ½-inch group at 100M at 10X.

    KRG has been making fine stocks for a while, and their design is also incredibly simple and effective. The stock featured here is on my wife’s 26-inch suppressed .308 Win. While as long as a musket, it’s eerily quiet and can place Hornady 178’s into a ragged hole at 200M. The barrel is by CarbonSix and the action by Curtis. She’s currently waiting on a prototype extended Arca forend for this build.

    Curtis-build-modern-hunting-rifle
    The Curtis build is a CarbonSix 26-inch .308 Winchester with Rearden MFG flash hider and JK Armament 155 suppressor. It has a USO Foundation 5-25X MOA optic. The rifle has a KRG X-Ray chassis for the Remington short action. It is a great chassis that can be easily customized. Other accessories are by Scope Chaps, Wiebad and SAP.

    I trust KRG because they’re affordable and consistent. Twenty years ago, when I was first into precision rifles, I’d have killed for a sub $400 aluminum-based stock when all that was available was the original generation AICS chassis for double that amount.

    But, above all, these stocks have the ability to interface with an Arca-Swiss rail. Some are able to do it with an M-Lok adapter, Anschutz adapter or direct integration. The Arca rail is something I will discuss below when talking tripods, however, now is the point for me to make the bet that in a decade all modern hunting guns and virtually anything geared to hunting and field use will have an Arca rail integrated into the stock. This will be less a big deal on AR-type rifles, but for bolt guns, the Arca interface will allow a proliferation of accessories to further enhance performance.

    Precision-AR-arca
    Arca integration is easy on semi-auto rifles. In this case, a short plate is installed flush with the handguard.

    Can It

    The first thing people usually notice is that all my hunting guns are suppressed: If you can own one in your state, you absolutely should. Pistol cans are fun, and I hunt with them, too, but rifle suppressors are really where it’s at for increasing your effectiveness in the field. So much has been written already, but it’s always worth noting that suppressors not only reduce recoil—when combined with the other accessories you’ll see how effective the entire system can be.

    More importantly, what we are seeing now is that most modern factory guns are coming with threaded muzzles. The popularity of suppressors certainly helps, but just 10 years ago threaded models were not the norm. It may seem trivial, but the standardization of muzzle threads is a huge deal. What you put on the end of your barrel can control recoil, mitigate flash or reduce noise—in some cases, all three.

    65-Creedmoor-modern-hunting-rifle
    This build was made of parts the author had laying around. The action is a 24-inch 6.5CM Christensen factory action taken off an MPR. It has a Rearden muzzle brake and SilencerCo Omega 36M with Rearden Atlas adapter. The Magpul chassis is a folding model and very strong. The optic is from US Optics, and accessories are from SAP and Armageddon gear.

    Tripod Territory

    The modern tripod is a recent creation that has had a long evolution. Creating a stable base for precision at distance is difficult and has taken many forms. The most common today is the bipod, but even at that the shooter is something of the third contact point. The rifle is a platform for the projectile—our original stone, if you will. Over the millennia, we’ve become collectively excellent at directing a projectile, and today’s tripods are rugged, stable bases that are vital to a full hunting system.

    Shooting tripods are directly evolved from camera tripods and even share their Arca-Swiss mounting interface, but this is a recent development in the gun world. Arca-Swiss camera adapters have been around for decades, and they were developed to address the same thing that they address with guns: stabilizing a heavy object.

    Arca-Swiss rails are essentially just a generous dovetail rail with a clamp on the mounting head. During the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and even in the various wars of the 1980s and ’90s, snipers were always trying to adapt new gear to their rifles. Tripods at this time were revised from camera tripods, but these were often fragile and didn’t provide consistency. Rifles were simply set in a V-wedge, sometimes just made of junk.

    Two-Vets-tripod-ball-head
    The Two Vets ball head. This is a fast and rigid clamp system that prevents the gun from slipping out.

    In the later War on Terror years, dedicated clamp-style head mounts became popular, but these were difficult to use with the rounded forearms of most sniper rifles and AR-based precision rifles. Various other types of mounts were tried, including QD Picatinny rail mounts, but ultimately the already-established Arca-Swiss started to take over, largely because the tripod heads were already available. A wide range of products are compatible with rifles because of how prolific photography accessories are.

    In the past 10 years, tripods evolved from flimsy aluminum photography models to heavy-duty carbon fiber with rugged controls. I believe tripods are going to be the most in-demand rifle accessory of the next decade. The market is growing rapidly, and we are seeing tons of add-ons such as caddies for gear and note-taking, their use on spotting scopes and lightweight models for field use.

    Vortex-spotting-scope-on-tripod
    Tripods are commonly used with spotting scopes, such as this Vortex.

    System Integration

    If you view the rifle not just as a rifle but as a part of a larger system, you see how important the interfaces become. I typically have both Picatinny and Arca mounts on my rifles; I don’t like to have my bipod also be attached to an Arca interface because I like to use the lower-profile QD mounts from Atlas Bipods. In general, what you’re looking at is a completely stable bullet-launching platform that you simply have to align and pull the trigger.

    When you have a modern optic, you can zero at max point-blank range and then use your reticle to account for drop. I can easily swap between 260-grain Remington loads in .450 Bushmaster to Hornady 395-grain SubX loads without losing zero or guessing. When suppressed, I can keep my awareness on the environment and listen for the impact of my shots on game.

    rifle-bipods-1
    Bipods can be adapted to Arca, M-Lok, Picatinny and sling studs to suit your needs.

    The Two Vets “The Kit” tripod stows in my backpack, and it can adjust to any position I need, including prone. The added bipod weight also reduces recoil, and I can stay on target easily. What’s most interesting and useful is that, when the gun is in the tripod, it’s in firing position already. I sit back, relax and glass. This layout is so effective that it’s the only way I hunt if I can help it.

    On The Horizon

    I estimate that in just 10 years’ time we’ll see a complete renovation of the hunting rifle category. Likewise, I believe we will see advanced materials, such as carbon fiber, continue to become more common on factory guns. This used to be a custom option, but today we are seeing complete rifles with this technology for less than the cost of some barrels alone.

    I believe that soon there will be factory guns with carbon-fiber stocks and threaded barrels with Arca-Swiss interfaces for well under $1,000 that shoot as well as custom guns do today. There will be a few more years of teething before things become truly standardized, but we’re on our way to the total blending of competition, military sniper and hunting rifles to where the capabilities will be utterly uniform across the board.

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


    More On Hunting Rifles:

    Building A Custom 10/22 With Faxon Firearms

    Building a tack-driving 10/22 is easier than ever, especially with a little help from companies like Faxon Firearms.

    In the era we currently live in, there are platforms that dominate, and one of the more interesting examples has occurred in the rimfire world, where one general family of products has become the flagship for the entire genre.

    Ruger’s 10/22 is a worldwide classic and one of those ubiquitous firearms that almost everyone and their brother (and sister, dad, uncle, etc.) owns. Unlike literally hundreds of other rimfire rifle designs that have come and gone with each passing season, the 10/22 platform has hung on, in my opinion largely because of its extremely reliable magazines.

    The design was not originally something that was “modular,” but in our day it has become the go-to platform for all things rimfire. You can build your own not-technically-a-Ruger “10/22” out of parts from many companies now; in a way, it has become to rimfire what the AR-15 did for centerfire.

    But, before we get into the meat of what notable maker Faxon Firearms has done with it, we need to take a bit of a look at what got us to the place we are now at in rimfire modularity.

    A Flexible Design

    If you’ve read my words long enough on the pages of Gun Digest, you’ll know I like to keep things simple, and I don’t really go for the industry jargon unless I am made to, often begrudgingly. The thing with the 10/22 is that, while all these parts are compatible with one another, only Ruger guns can be called “10/22” in earnest.

    Unlike the AR platform, where it’s all pretty much open source and you can call it what you like, that 10/22 designation belongs to Ruger. As a result, all other parts, while compatible, are “for 10/22,” “10/22 compatible” or otherwise designated. I do need to make note of that here because we are dealing with independent designs that are outside that Ruger copyright. What I am going to discuss here is what made the original Ruger 10/22 design suitable for becoming a platform—and not just the product of the company that originally made it.

    The main basis for an expanded aftermarket, in any firearms category, is popularity: think AR, Remington 700, and every other design that lends a particular dimension in physical size to expanded options. The AR is obvious and needs little explanation. The Remington 700 “footprint” is a wide-reaching standard across the industry and the base standard for virtually all custom actions in terms of receiver length and shape, as well as screw spacing and magazine inlet.

    Some platforms are designed literally as a launch point, such as the Sig P320 and P365. The company in this case wanted to foster an aftermarket and openly welcomed these independent innovators to the point of including their products on their website as custom options.

    custom-10-22-grip
    The Grey Birch Solutions chassis can accept a variety of AR-style grips, but not all “low back” options will work.

    Modular By Default

    The Ruger 10/22 was, as far as all research I’ve done on the topic, not intended to be a modular product. The ease of modularity comes from the construction of the gun, which is held together with just a few screws. The barrel isn’t even screwed into the receiver; instead, it’s held in with a V-block setup featuring two screws and a clamp that tensions to the barrel to the receiver. It takes all of a minute to install a barrel using this system.

    The trigger assembly is a self-contained unit that includes the hammer, in a way similar to that of the M1 Garand or M14 rifles. The entire unit is held to the receiver by two pins. With the barrel and trigger group attached, the barreled action is simply lowered into the stock and secured by a single screw.

    Some variants have a barrel band that encompasses the barrel and stock, though this is common to factory guns and is lacking from virtually all “custom” build options. A large reason here is that few aftermarket barrels follow the exact contour of Ruger factory barrels and, as a result, are incompatible.

    grey-birch-solutions-chassis
    The Grey Birch Solutions chassis is configurable when you order it. There are several variations to choose from.

    The overall ease of changing parts on the factory 10/22 and its overwhelming popularity inevitably led to an aftermarket. This was initially slow and somewhat rigid as far as options. I remember when there were many types of cheap plastic kits you could use to “go tactical” with your 10/22, but there weren’t many options as far as actual new parts or triggers.

    All that changed in the past decade, and there has been an explosion of high-end parts available for the platform, to the point where you can build a parts-compatible complete rifle or pistol without any OEM Ruger parts. The aftermarket for the 10/22 is massive now, and there are new options available nearly weekly as the current trends go.

    Enter Faxon Firearms and their game-changing rimfire products.

    Faxon Goes Rimfire

    I’ll be up front about the fact that I’ve worked with Faxon Firearms on many of their AR parts for years. I have yet to find a bad one, to the point that I heartily recommend them at every chance I get. I put thousands of rounds through a single .224 Valkyrie Faxon barrel and featured it in many articles on these pages. It shot ½-MOA all day … in all bullet weights.

    Likewise, my experience in .450 Bushmaster, 5.56 NATO, .308 Win. and .350 Legend were all incredible, not to mention that their parts, bolt carrier groups and handguards are all excellent. I hadn’t worked with their rimfire line until this article, and I’ll just spoil the end here by saying that these are some of the best barrels you can hope to find for your build. The rainbow heavy contour barrel featured on these pages is so accurate you’d think you were shooting a centerfire … at 400 yards.

    Faxon got into rimfire because there was an obvious demand for it. Many AR builders find the classic semi-auto rimfire as an excellent build project situation for the kids or a long weekend in the workshop. I know that the build bug has a strong bite, and once you begin seeing your options, you really can’t stop at just ARs.

    custom-10-22-faxon-firearms-barrel
    This Faxon Firearms 10/22 build is decked out with a Sig 3-15x FFP scope, a great option for mid- to long-range plinking.

    Faxon began making rimfire barrels in 2020, and soon other parts followed. The barrels started as the tapered standard option, and they sold extremely well. The idea was to make it an accessible rimfire line, and the emphasis was on maximum accuracy with the greatest appeal to the average builder—not just the match-grade elite.

    The barrels have a sporter chamber, so they can accept virtually any and all .22 LR ammo (there is more than one .22 LR chamber profile, think .223 Rem., 5.56, Wylde, etc.). Faxon wanted people to be able to run Eley Match and Remington Bucket o’ Bullets … creating a chamber for all occasions, from long range to plinking, without sacrificing precision.

    Receivers started rolling out shortly after barrels, and they offer drop-in compatibility with triggers and barrels. Other receivers are currently in development. I reached out to the company for some “cool” colors, because I do love my bold builds. These aren’t tactical guns, won’t be used for any mall ninja events and are really what I like to see when I think of having fun at any range. That’s not to say that rimfire rifles can’t be lethal, but the world is a rough place and sometimes just having fun is enough.

    Barrel Roll

    Faxon currently offers 17 options in rimfire barrels. Sizes vary from pistol length to full size. Presently, the company plans to stick with .22 LR for the foreseeable future, though other calibers might come in the future. I’m interested to see what these might be, though I’m pretty sure there’s a limited selection available in that category—unless the company plans to release their own cartridge design.

    custom-10-22-stock-folded
    This barrel came threaded for adding the muzzle device of your choice. Shooting this build suppressed is nothing but fun.

    I went to two extremes in accomplishing the article builds: one a fast and light barrel in gold meant for speed, and the other a heavy, thick stationary build for precision at longer ranges. I paired the heavy barrel in the rainbow color to the blue receiver and built out a stellar rifle that has wowed me with its accuracy. The light contour gold barrel went to the red receiver. This was intentional, as I wanted to make it have all the matched fire-themed colors in red, gold, orange and black. It turned out nice.

    The accuracy of Faxon barrels is hard to argue against. At 50 meters, both of these barrels shot to under an inch, with the lighter contour losing a bit of accuracy as it heated up. At 100 meters, the heavy contour barrel still printed an inch, which truly impressed me. I was achieving 2 MOA at 100 meters with the light barrel.

    At 200 meters, the separation was obvious, with the heavy barrel producing centerfire accuracy of 2.5 inches using standard Remington Bucket o’ Bullets ammo. It held 2 MOA with Eley Match loads. I eventually took the heavy blue gun to 400 meters and could keep every shot on an IDPA silhouette at that range … if the wind cooperated.

    Stock Options

    When it comes to stocks and triggers, you’ll have to look to companies other than Faxon. My favorite trigger company for all things rimfire is Timney, and each of my feature rifles here is graced with one of their triggers. In fact, all of my rimfire rifles in my stable have Timney triggers. There are many, many variants you can pick from, and I color-matched my Timney models to the theme of each of my rifles.

    These triggers are incredible and truly are the choice for your builds based on customization alone. You can get exactly the trigger you want without having to go through a custom shop, and the best part is that they drop in easily. There’s no additional effort other than inserting two pins.

    Stocks are plentiful for this platform. I decided to use two different brands, KRG and Grey Birch Solutions, for these builds. KRG is a known player in the industry: I’ve worked with their incredible centerfire products for the better part of a decade and have never had a bad experience. I currently run their stocks on several builds and love them.

    custom-10-22-tripod
    The KRG stock is affordable and can instantly add adjustability to your rifle.

    The KRG stock is simple, affordable and offers a good degree of customization. I found out a little too late that they offered a red-colored stock I could’ve used, but the black with red accents was no consolation. What’s nice is that these stocks are compatible with many of KRG’s accessories, making for a truly competitive edge. You can add weights, extra rails, extend the length-of-pull and more—just as you can with a centerfire stock.

    Grey Birch Solutions makes some absolutely top-notch stocks. Not only are they modular on their own, but they also offer the builder a match-grade solution to their rimfire problems. The stocks they make are constructed in much of the same manner as the best centerfire chassis currently available: solid metal with all the right features at a weight savings.

    custom-10-22-folding-stock
    The Grey Birch Solutions chassis has a narrow profile when folded, making for a package that can easily slip into a backpack.

    The forend I went with has an integral ARCA rail, making it instantly accessible to my Two Vets tripod. The stock itself is a folder, akin to the mechanism used in many other high-end modern rifles. It’s minimalist, solid and helps deliver maximum accuracy. Ergonomics are a bit skeletal, but this is by design; nobody wants to be carrying a 19-pound rimfire rifle, and weight adds up drastically when working in any medium associated with metal. It’s not like riding in a Cadillac for comfort, but rather a sport bike.

    Your Game Is On

    Using Faxon Firearms receivers, barrels and bolts, you can craft some truly excellent rimfire builds based on the Ruger 10/22. I find this is such a fun thing to do that I have several, and I plan to build several more. I enjoy that Faxon makes these parts so affordable and at the same time accurate—your accessibility to all things rimfire is maximized in match shooting, field use and recreation.

    We’re at the cusp of an explosion in the rimfire market as the AR situation reaches peak saturation, the dollars and ideas simply must flow in a different direction lest we lose our way entirely. I think that the middle half of the ’20s will be a golden age for rimfire rifles, especially the Ruger 10/22 and its growing aftermarket offerings.

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


    More 10/22 Stuff:

    Building A Midrange Rifle

    Specific golf clubs are made for specific distances, and so are guns. Here the author goes over what makes a good midrange rifle.

    For many shooters, there’s a degree of skill declination at 300 yards. When I grew up, I shot matches at Camp Perry. We were shooting World War I and World War II-era rifles at 200 yards—at targets substantially smaller than these guns were designed to fire at, and I recall how far away 200 yards seemed in that vast space. Even when firing full-power 7.62x54R and .30-06 at what many shooters would consider a “short” distance, there was a noticeable change in point-of-impact across the line when wind came.

    Never is a bullet free from the influence of its environment. If you think you’re going to get immediate and consistent first-round hits with high-end long-range rifles, you’re sorely mistaken. No amount of money spent can guarantee hits. All that cash does is decrease variables and, in theory, make your rifle more consistent shot-to-shot so long as your ammo is of equal consistency and quality. Accuracy features, such as “match-grade” parts, heavy or thick barrels, adjustable stocks or chassis and top-shelf optics are really consistency features that reduce the amount of variables in how you interface with your rifle.

    Midrange-rifle-three
    Three AR rifles and three very different configurations. All of these are effective midrange rifles; however, each has strengths and weaknesses. The .224 Valkyrie (middle gun) with Vortex 4.5-22x optic and adjustable Magpul stock is very accurate, but it’s much heavier and longer than the others. Likewise, the lightweight carbine with a Faxon pencil barrel (top gun) is very fast and easy to handle, but it heats up quickly. The M16A1 (bottom) is a great rifle and extremely soft shooting. Not one is better than the next; it all depends on what features you want to prioritize.

    Because environmental factors are always going to be a variable you can’t control, you end up controlling variables on the gun. The general trend is that the closer the target is to you, the less you need consistency features. Barrels get skinnier (weight savings at the price of heat buildup), calibers smaller (more ammo at the cost of projectile weight/power) and sights/optics with bigger aiming points.

    In turn, shooters end up making up their guns like golf clubs: “This is my CQB gun in .300 Blackout. This one is my DMR in 5.56. This rifle is my long-range rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor.

    This golf club mindset is very detrimental because it encourages selection based on an imaginary barrier. Why practice with an 8-inch .300 Blackout AR pistol at 500 yards, when it’s a close-range gun? Why shoot your $5,000 precision rifle at 200 yards? That’s like drinking a bottle of 10-year-old Rip Van Winkle with your McDonald’s drive-thru!

    Tuebor-precision-heavy-Midrange-rifle
    This bolt action on a stainless Tuebor Precision action features a heavy stainless Brownells M24 barrel and is too heavy to be considered a practical rifle for medium distances. It’s just too slow moving, but it is extremely accurate.

    Ballistic Procrastination

    Shooters caught up in the minutia of one specific facet of precision are, to me, stuck in procrastination. Worrying about spin drift at 1,000 yards is a waste of time if you still scratch your head on wind at 500. Worrying about wind at 500 yards is pointless if you’re not able to do basic holdovers at 300 to 400. When you’re hungry for a sandwich, you don’t start off with buying the deli.

    The same goes for close-range skills, where there’s a heavy emphasis on speed, reloads and clearing malfunctions. Close-range skills have their place, but in no way does this translate to hunting or shooting at medium distance in general. I’ve been hunting for a long time and never have I had to perform a “tac reload” or “transitioned to my sidearm.” It’s good to know, but these things won’t make you a better shooter when you need to take your time and observe your surroundings and general environment.

    AR-Trijicon-reflex
    Non-magnified sights are at their best inside 300 yards. You can, of course, shoot farther, but you’re asking a great deal of your sights when low-powered optics, such as the ACOG or a common 1-6x available these days, can dramatically increase your precision. A red dot like this old-model Trijicon Reflex is capable at long distances, but it offers no reference point in terms of drop.

    The 300-Yard Meat Grinder

    For many shooters, 300 yards is long shot. When hunting, 300 yards is a long shot. Long-range hunting is talked about constantly, but it’s absolutely not the norm, nor should it be.

    The idea that 300 yards is long range will get you laughed at by some people, but “long range” begins when you really need to start actively observing the environment around you. The environment always has an impact, but with many rounds you can cheat … up to a point. With a .338 Lapua or 6.5 Creedmoor, you need to pay far less attention to the details at 300 yards, but swap in a .30-30, .300 Blackout or a .450 Bushmaster, and 300 yards is long range for them.

    AR-LPVO-and-bolt

    The thing with midrange rifle distances is that they can be exceptionally unforgiving. Many guns made in the “designated marksman rifle” style have a number of consistency features, but they’re substantially heavier and longer than their close-quarters brethren.

    The AR rifles in this article show this well; the lightweight, 16-inch carbine with irons and a red-dot is very capable at 200 yards from any position, but 300 yards requires stability … and the irons and dot allow no magnification. Despite being faster handling than the Brownells M16A1 build, it isn’t any more capable once ranges increase to 300 yards, where they become equals. With a fixed zero at 50 yards each, these guns are capable of repeated hits on an IDPA target up to 350 yards, and then things begin to drop off—literally.

    Brownells-M16
    The Brownells-based M16A1 replica here has original Vietnam-era furniture and sling. This rifle is extremely fast handling and very accurate for shooting at 100 to 300 yards. It’s lack of magnified optics makes hits hard to come by at longer distances.

    The two .224 Valkyrie builds are another story: one with the new Vortex 4.5-22x, and the other with a Geissele 1-6x. These are light rifles—only slightly heavier than the 5.56mm ARs—but more powerful at all ranges thanks to the heavier weight of the 90-grain Federal match rounds.

    These rifles, one designed for precision with a matched Next Level Armament receiver set and the other for speed and suppressor use with the new SilencerCo gas-defeating charging handle and ambi lower, have optics with a dedicated mil-based reticle and stretch out the effective range of the rifle considerably.

    Midrange-rifle-feature-AR
    One of the .224 Valkyrie builds featuring a 22-inch Faxon 1:6.5 twist barrel. This build also has a Faxon carbon-fiber handguard and is based on the new SilencerCo ambi lower. It also has SilencerCo’s new gas-defeating charging handle. This is an example of a great close-to-midrange rifle that offers light weight, great power and flat trajectory.

    However, these are basically turbocharged carbines and, while hits become easier 500 yards, they also have issues with the wind at close distances. They’re .22-caliber bores, so while it’s possible to cheat a bit and make rapid hits at midrange, you still must pay close attention to drop, drift and heat buildup as the ranges extend.

    Finishing out the carbine class is the new Springfield Hellion, a variant of the Croatian VHS rifle. The rifle offers a compact overall size and a full-length 16-inch barrel. And, due to its small size, it performs well at close range but also offers surprising utility at 300 to 500 yards. It’ll never be an accuracy machine, but thanks to its longer barrel, it allows for just as much practical utility as the M16A1 or lightweight AR carbine.

    Springfield-Hellion-Midrange-rifle
    The new Springfield Armory Hellion in 5.56mm is a very compact and handy rifle. It has a full-length barrel being a bullpup design and is ballistically, but not necessarily ergonomically, on par with the common AR-15.

    Getting into bolt actions, we see the widest field of potential applications. The rifles in this article are both in 6.5 Creedmoor, one full stainless and the other carbon-fiber and titanium. This weight and feature class is heavy for close range, but when it comes to shooting and hunting in general, the mid-weight bolt gun is next to impossible to beat.

    The Vortex Razor Gen III 6-36x and piggybacked Trijicon RMR, allows for both snap shooting and shots past 1,000 yards. The 13 MOA RMR is zeroed for impact at the top edge of the dot for 100 meters. Simply placing the dot on the center of a target and firing keeps the rifle on target to about 300 meters with an IDPA-size plate. It’s extremely fast, but lacks precision for small targets.

    This style of rifle, with a full 24-inch barrel and completely adjustable stock, is certainly not the lightest or fastest handling, but it dominates the rest of the field beyond 200 yards. At a certain point, compact size and low/no magnification is what limits effectiveness at medium ranges.

    Long-range-Tuebor-precision
    A carbon-fiber Proof Research barrel ending in a compact Rearden suppressor mount/brake, Tuebor Precision titanium action and an optics package featuring the new Vortex Razor Gen III 6-36x, Spuhr mount, RMR, and Scope Chaps protective cover makes for an incredibly accurate, low recoil and portable combination that works from 100 to 1,000 yards.

    That Happy Medium

    A mid-caliber rifle, like something between a 6.5mm and a lighter .30-caliber, in a weight you can shoot offhand and move easily with, is the dream setup across the board in terms of balance between consistency features and field utility. It really comes down to the level of performance you’re looking for in your midrange rifle.

    Midrange-rifle-sight-radius-comparison
    Sight radius isn’t always a factor these days, and here you can see that the lightweight 16-inch carbine has, for all intents and purposes, the same sight radius as the full-size M16A1. In theory, they should be just as precise in terms of what your naked eye can do with them and will be very similar ballistically from 16- to 20-inch lengths.

    It’s possible to have “a little too” much in some areas, such as optics and weight, but if you’re balancing with a cartridge powerful enough, these little excesses become benefits when the environment comes into play.

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


    More On Precision Shooting:

    Scope Magnification: What’s The Right Amount?

    When it comes to your rifle’s optic, how do you determine the right level of scope magnification for your needs?

    There has been a longstanding discussion regarding which optics are best for certain tasks. You hear it all the time in colorful anecdotes such as “one power for every hundred yards is all you need,” “4X is plenty for deer,” “that’s too much scope for that caliber,” “my grandpa did that with iron sights” … and the list runs on.

    These days, we’re pairing guns and scopes that traditionally haven’t held hands (like a magnified riflescope on a lever gun). How is one to decide what constitutes the right scope for the job considering that, by technological merit, all the old arguments are largely bunk?

    lever-action-scout-scope-1
    The .45 Colt is a short-range cartridge in a rifle. The custom Henry here has a 1-4X Leupold scout scope, which is more than enough for this cartridge and gun combination.

    Optic Advances

    Much of the gun world is based on individual need. As a result, we see a wide and diverse range of options that fit virtually any range of budget or desired criteria. The nature of optics is rapidly changing, and what we consider to be state-of-the-art today will likely be a bargain-bin special 20 years from now.

    The development of firearms has peaked in all critical ways, despite some manufacturers trying to reinvent the wheel at every possible turn. This isn’t to say we can’t still make excellent things out of interesting materials, but the base concept of virtually all firearms we know today comes from the era around the Industrial Revolution.

    Yes, fully automatic firearms were around concurrent to the Wild West and the basis for modern cartridges and firearms was firmly established by 1900, and it could be said that we essentially arrived as early as the 1880s. Cartridges like the 7.62x54R were designed in the late 1880s and are still being used heavily around the world today, including by both sides in the current Russo-Ukrainian War.

    My point: The guns we use now are established concepts—even “new” designs are usually variants of something that has already been around for some time.

    Optics, on the other hand, have had a much longer road and have been on a trajectory similar to that of electronics, and they’re so good today that it’s truly mind-blowing.

    brn180-acog-1
    A Brownells BRN180 with 1.5X ACOG. While it might seem like this is red-dot territory, the little ACOG actually has a functional bullet drop compensator and is just as rugged as its 4X big brother. It’s a very fast, light setup.

    The Perfect Match Or Overkill?

    Yet, for as advanced as these optics are, no doubt they’ll be exceeded in just a couple years’ time by the same companies that make them. The thing about many of these scopes is that they’re big … and big is a problem if you’re trying to do any type of shooting that’s non-stationary. Weight is a consideration here, not just physical size. We have the notion that big scopes are for long range, but I want to challenge that.

    The Leupold Mark 5, 5-25X, is a large but light scope, and I love it atop a .450 Bushmaster. You may be wondering why I would have a huge, 35mm long-range scope on top of a short-range, suppressed bolt action, but the answer is simple. I hunt agricultural areas, and I need a rifle that could fire both supersonic and subsonic ammo, while addressing the legal need for a straight wall case.

    For this, I needed a scope I could quickly and easily dial in my subsonic zeros off my supersonic main zero, which wasn’t a task for just any scope. I also needed a large tube and objective for the best possible light collection in the shadowy areas I hunt. This rifle was built for a purpose, and it did what I asked of it. Had it not been for that scope with its fast return to zero abilities, I would’ve been holding out in space hoping for the best with subsonic loads.

    scope-magnification-feature-1
    Two shorty hunters, one in 6.5 Creedmoor and the other in .450 Bushmaster. Each of these guns has a scope in the 3-15X power range, and each will bring home the bacon.

    I’ve been directly mocked for placing a “scope that belongs on a .300 Win. Mag.” on a .450 Bushmaster. Who says a 200-yard cartridge needs only 4X? Where is that law of the field written? I don’t agree that a 5-25X is overkill.

    To date, I’ve recorded that I made 90 percent of my deer kills with a rifle with the scope set between 6X and 10X, of course 8X being the operative average. I surveyed as many hunters as I could in preparation for this article, and I was not surprised to find most people consider 4X the bare minimum … and about 10X as all that’s truly useful.

    So, you could say that I have a great deal of unused magnification in that scope, but I don’t see it that way: Unused capability is still capability, and I don’t see a reason to deliberately handicap myself on the idea that I could be using that extra magnification somewhere else.

    That said, last year I did find a single problem involving magnification, but it wasn’t what I’d call a “failure” by end result. Using the described .450 Bushmaster, a hunting buddy and I stalked a herd to within 200 yards over rolling terrain. I set up prone, found a choice big-bodied deer but had to use my magnification to determine if it was a legal shot based on antlers.

    The deer’s head was just inside the tree line, body in the field. Satisfied that it was a good shooter, I turned to the other hunter, and he took that as me being ready. He fired and got his. After an explicit utterance, I found “my” deer again but was still at 25X. It stood long enough for me to get lined up, but I lost my chance. I redeemed myself only 20 minutes later, but on 8X. It goes to show that, while beneficial for making a legally required identification of a deer, too much magnification can be a liability in the moment—but not an overall a problem.

    450-bushmaster-suppressed-1

    A Brownell’s 1-6X LPVO on a subsonic .450 Bushmaster build. This is a great combo for subsonic hunting, but a 10x isn’t out of the question at 100 yards.

    Is There A Right Answer?

    Playing devil’s advocate, I’d have probably been fine with scope magnification up to 10X for making shots in the field. For decades, the old 3-9X range was standard, with the fixed 10X being something of a military guy thing—also where we get the old “one power for every hundred yards” saying on 10X military scopes at a thousand yards. The classic 3-9X range was considerably good for what it offered for much of shooting history—until the bigger scopes with more features started to come around. Separation on power, range, magnification and scope size began to emerge.

    The idea that you need to match the capabilities of a scope to a rifle is largely based on your intended situation, and there’s no true right answer. For much of recent history, deer hunting was accomplished by simple 3X or 4X optics, yet there are few hunters who use the most successful 4X optic in history: the ACOG.

    scope-magnification-AR-ACOG-1-1

    Two very accurate 16-inch 5.56 AR builds. The top has a 4X ACOG. The rifle below has a 1-8X Trijicon CREDO. These guns both shoot ½-inch MOA with Black Hills 77-grain match ammo, but the latter rifle is able to more precisely use its accuracy. The ACOG carbine is much faster to deploy and offers speed as well as lighter weight.

    In the current day and age of the AR, and the rise of the platform for small and large game hunting, you’d think the venerable ACOG would be the choice. It never really took off as a hunting optic and is now a second choice to the current generation of variable power optics in the 1-6X, 1-8X and 2-10X range of magnification. Yet, in this same time period where modern semi-auto rifles are equipped with scopes that mirror the old 3-9X classic magnification range, we see bolt actions being fitted with large and larger optics.

    What’s even more interesting is that these new-generation optics tend to be somewhat large and heavy for how light the AR and other semi-auto platforms are. I like my AR as light as possible while still being effective. I’ve built some heavy guns to support their intended roles as long-range rifles, such as the .224 Valkyrie build in the June issue of GDTM. That rifle was about as heavy as I like for a medium range rifle. Much of that bulk was evenly distributed, but it was just plain burdensome to lug around.

    The original intent Stoner had when he made these guns in the 1950s was to make them light … as in the “lite” in ArmaLite. I have a classic Brownells Retro build, and it’s such an impressively light gun that it has become my favorite AR of all time. Yes, it’s a 20-inch pencil barrel. Yes, it has a carry handle and, yes, it has plain iron sights—but man it’s nice to carry, and it’s incredibly fast on target to 400 yards.

    LBS And LPVOs

    The AR rifles of today are seemingly getting heavier. I try to keep my builds light, but plenty of guys I know are lugging 10-pound carbines around at classes and competitions. Weight adds up fast when you start adding accessories, and as the old adage goes, pounds are pain.

    scope-magnification-AR-LPVO-1

    LPVO optics are all the rage today. They’re great scopes but can be heavy and can make a light gun unwieldy.

    These modern optics in the LPVO (low power variable optic—I have no idea who decides on these senseless abbreviations) class are getting bulkier and heavier as time has passed, and the mounts they use are getting more and more elaborate. I was extremely excited to get a loaner Trijicon VCOG, but I have to say that it was clunky and heavy compared to my TA31 ACOG. The center of gravity was so high that I couldn’t get used to it. I really like the Trijicon Credo 1-8X, which isn’t that much smaller, but it feels much lighter by comparison. I have that scope on my subsonic-only suppressed .450 Bushmaster AR carbine for the 2023 deer season, and I’m eager to put it to use.

    The LPVO situation is a trend that exists almost exclusively in carbine territory. I get why people like them, but so few of the people adding them to their guns are actually using them in field conditions … and I think much of that has to do with perception. Case in point: I do 99 percent of my rifle shooting off of a tripod, and the weight of the gun only matters so long as I am carrying it. Once in position, I clip it in and just sit back and relax.

    Q-the-Fix-6-5-CM-1

    Q’s The Fix in 6.5 Creedmoor is a light rifle for packing that offers decent accuracy. Being a bolt action makes it legal for hunting in many areas that the equally compact and accurate Brownells BRN180 isn’t. Given the choice of the two, I’d skip The Fix because it’s just not a comfortable gun to shoot and is awkwardly laid out for the powerful 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge.

    Wrapping Up

    Don’t be fooled by the idea you need more or less scope magnification than you can realistically use. If you’re hunting pigs at 100 yards, you shouldn’t be fooled into doing so with a big scope just because you’re using a .300 Win. Mag. Put a red dot on there and utilize the power of the cartridge and speed of the dot in tandem. Put yourself at an advantage and the bullets will do the rest. There is no right answer—just your circumstances and how you choose to address them.

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


    More On Optics:

    Frame Material: Metal Vs. Polymer Guns

    Guns were once exclusively made of metal and wood, then came plastic. Which should your handgun’s frame be made out of?

    It’s safe to say that we aren’t in much danger of seeing companies like Ruger and Sig begin to introduce cap-and-ball pistols into the carry market (though one could only hope), but we’re seeing something many folks out there consider a regression: the return to metal-framed pistols.

    Before we begin here, I need to be up front that I no longer own any polymer-framed pistols—nope, not even a Glock 19. I’ve carried polymer-framed pistols for nearly 13 years nonstop, but the recent trend back to metal frames has made me realize just what I was missing.

    Before you turn your eyes from these pages, understand that I’m not besmirching polymer guns; rather, treat this as an alternative position that you should consider.

    sig-p320-stripped-knife-polymer-guns
    The P320 breaks down easily into just a few major components, all of which can be swapped out on the chassis (as Sig calls it, the Fire Control Unit, or FCU). Knife is the excellent AMTAC Magnus.

    Barbie Dolls And Tall Tales

    Before I get into how much I’ve come to appreciate metal frames on modern carry guns, I need to address the incredible uphill battle polymers have faced when talking guns in general. Plastic, polymer, synthetic—or really whatever you want to call the materials that assume the mantle of being anything but good ol’ wood and steel—have been universally disparaged for decades.

    Students of history know that mankind has literally never stopped seeking a competitive edge against each other and large predators. Men have invested more into weapons than almost anything else, and no doubt there was some early man debating his brother and father about the possibility of using a different type of alder for his spear when trying to kill a sabertooth.

    1911-vs-glock-polymer-guns
    Glock pistols have always had a rivalry with the 1911, and both have survived to swap roles. You can find polymer-framed 1911s and metal-framed Glock derivative guns these days.

    In Homer’s The Iliad, incredibly complicated weapons are described, including composite bows. If you travel to armory museums in Europe, you’ll be treated to examples of just how advanced weapons and armor were hundreds, and even thousands, of years ago. The point is that people have always been trying new ways to create arms and armor, so when plastic became common and affordable, why would it not be used in weapons?

    Regression is a mindset, not a true theory of use. When conquering Central America, the Spanish still used steel armor, but it was padded fabric outfits that were enough to stop native atlatl bolts and stone-tipped arrows. European guns, bows and steel crossbows had long since made simple padded armor out of date, but it was great for the Spanish in this exact situation.

    Was that a regression? No. It was an adaptation to the environment. The same goes for polymers in this context: Guns didn’t get “cheaper” with the addition of polymers; in fact, they became better in many ways, including applying benefits to metal-framed guns.

    Beretta-92
    The Beretta 92 family is well known for accuracy and reliability in the field. These guns have always had metal frames, and they’re an example of a successful design that uses aluminum alloy instead of steel. Yes, there was a time when there was a debate about whether alloy frames could compete with steel frames.

    I think it’s safe to say that mass-issue introduction of polymers and polymer derivatives in the American military went … poorly. The M16 service rifle was considered space-age, needed no real cleaning and was so lethal that it could simply blow enemy soldiers to pieces. Early reports in Vietnam came back as overwhelmingly positive, with real reports saying that the enemy had literally been dismembered by the light, zippy rounds.

    Whatever happened there is up for debate, but what followed certainly wasn’t: The M16’s introduction was a disaster, and it shook the frail faith of the entire country. The gun was primarily constructed of aluminum and had no wood furniture that had, up to that point, been an iconic standard. It was rumored that the gun was, in fact, made by Mattel (yes, Barbie).

    This idea that somehow the materials were at fault (ignoring the at-fault engineers and bureaucrats) carried over into the modern age with the introduction of Glock pistols in the 1980s. Bear in mind that even the Colt Single Action Army had, at this point, been supplied with hard rubber or plastic grips for the better part of 100 years, and likewise plenty of foreign countries used non-traditional materials in their guns, such as Bakelite or laminated wood. Glock pistols were extremely confusing to many people at the time—despite them being something of a commonplace item today. Guns simply had to be made of steel. This notion that plastics could compete was silly to many … but they weren’t laughing for long.

    The Rise Of Plastics And Modules

    Glock pistols use a “plastic” frame that includes molded-in metal components and easily manufactured, simple internals. The main area where the Glock differed from legacy systems, such as the venerated 1911, was in its means of lockup and where the gun distributed pressure during cycling. A massively critical piece on the 1911 is, in fact, the slide stop. On the other hand, Glock pistols simply have a different way of working that removes most of the cycling pressure from the frame. This is oversimplified, but if you imagine it in the same way you imagine the AR rifle, it’ll make sense. The upper and lower can be made of most anything, including plastic, so long as the internal locking components are steel and able to bear pressure.

    1911-vs-sig-p320-polymer-guns
    The M1911 and the M17 are both excellent guns. The former is a precision machine that can be very finicky about its ammo and cleanliness. The M17 is much more modern and is just as accurate, with the added benefit of being easily fitted and repaired with no hand-fitting.

    By removing the frame from the equation, the use of polymer became feasible. However, the jury remained out for decades, as gun writers, instructors and the general public came to either love or hate polymer-framed pistols. There was a nagging thought that these plastic guns just wouldn’t stand the test of time. Will they objectively last as long as a steel-framed pistol? Well, I really don’t know. Polymers do become brittle with age, and I’ve known a handful of individuals who used their Glock pistols regularly for decades and eventually had a frame crack. In all cases, Glock repaired the guns. Will we see 100-year-old Glocks on the market in the 2080s?

    So now we’ve moved into what amounts to a “third” generation of pistol design: the firing control components that interact with the slide are separated from the frame itself, as is done with the Sig P365, P320 and many other new guns that have adopted this model of construction. While many companies have what could be called a “chassis” pistol, Sig was the leader in promoting the concept.

    The P365 and P320 are very popular guns across the world, and we’re seeing a wide range of aftermarket support arise. The “firearm,” as defined by the ATF in this case, is the serialized internal chassis that the remaining parts are attached to. In the case of Glock pistols, the plastic frame itself is the serialized part, making for white-knuckle customization if you decide to modify the plastic. On guns like the P365 and P320, the polymer grip module is cheap and easily replaced.

    Sig-FCU
    Installing the FCU into a grip module is extremely easy and can be accomplished in a couple seconds.

    The modularity of modern pistols, especially the Sig models, has encouraged people to build up guns that suit them individually, not simply what the manufacture decides you need. Well, it didn’t take long for entrepreneurs to start making metal grip modules. Remarkably, people initially saw this as a regression: “Hey, I thought we were doing plastic, but now we’re back to metal? Won’t it be heavier and stuff? Why put a metal frame on a P320 when you already make a P226?”

    The Sig team has made what I believe to be the best choice of all: They supported the aftermarket. Many companies don’t like it when you start changing out factory parts, but what Sig has done is fully encourage this type of behavior … so far as to include third-party accessories in their custom shop options. Metal grip modules for the P365 and P320 are now widely available, including on factory guns as featured in this article.

    If you think about it, the “return” to metal frames/grips on what originally began as polymer-framed guns is no real surprise. But, in adding more rigid frames to these otherwise plastic guns, we find that we now have all the benefits of all worlds in one place. The internal-chassis, modular pistol came out of a need to innovate in that polymer world. We needed plastics in that case to create that system. Once that system was established, putting a metal shell on it was a logical next step, in that the flexibility of a chassis system now allows the shooter to add weight in desired places and adapt the gun for greater rigidity and fit.

    sig-p320-P365-metal-vs-polymer-guns
    What started as polymer-framed chassis pistols has come full circle back to full metal. The P320 Legion and the author’s custom carry P365 are both fitted with metal grip modules and have the most modern features available today. Knives by AMTAC Blades.

    In addition, accuracy is, at least in my hands, dramatically increased in metal-grip chassis pistols. My groups shrank noticeably when I swapped my Sig OEM plastic grip modules for metal versions made by Mischief Machine.

    Metal is, of course, heavier than polymer. A great benefit to using a polymer-framed pistol is weight savings. However, for people like me, I prefer the added weight in the lower portion of the gun, and a firmer material to hold onto during strings of fire. Either way, things can happen to all guns, regardless of their construction: Just because it’s plastic doesn’t mean it won’t last you a long time. And, likewise, just because it’s metal doesn’t mean it won’t have issues.

    suppressed-1911-vs-sig-p365

    Notes On Modular Accessories

    As mentioned, I’m a big fan of the Mischief Machine product line. I’m a big believer in these products and carry them daily. What I love most is that they allow me, a person with large hands, to be able to reliably train with and use small pistols. Tiny guns are very difficult for a person like me to become proficient with, and the stock P365 was a pain to shoot, despite the benefits of accuracy and reliability. The little gun would torque in my mitts as I fired, and I wanted to change this.

    The Mischief Machine products are a bit thicker and feature interchangeable grip panels that you can use to customize your gun. My friends still give me the side-eye when they see me with my wood-gripped, optically equipped pocket pistol. It’s a clash of sorts, but man does it fit me so well. The ability to have a tiny gun with full-size accuracy and features is awesome; it makes a small gun feel bigger in the hands … but not in terms of how it carries.

    Sig-P365-metal-frame-grip-module

    Another benefit of metal frames is being able to rigidly mount accessories. I always prefer to have a light on my daily use guns, and it irritated me to have to deal with mounting aluminum flashlights on plastic rails. I like being able to solidly mount lights on pistols without having them be some kind of liability. This is a personal complaint; many people are fine with plastic rails, but I always prefer a metal-to-metal interface.

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2023 EDC Special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


    More Polymer Guns:

    Best Compensator Buyer’s Guide (2023)

    Updated 10/12/2023

    Looking to tame the recoil of your rifle or carry pistol? Here are 8 top compensator options to consider.

    Once a niche item, compensators have entered the mainstream of muzzle devices. Not only are they available for a variety of rifles, both generically and for specific models, but they are now making their way onto handguns too.

    Not just on competition guns either, but on carry pistols as well.

    This should come as no surprise, as materials have gotten lighter and ammunition more advanced. The need to control small, lightweight guns has led many to seek out better ways of balancing the power and recoil against the weight.

    While not a complete list by any stretch of the imagination, here are some highlights of currently available compensators for some popular rifles and pistols.

    8 Top Compensators:

    Precision Armament M11 Severe-Duty 6.5mm

    M-11-Severe-Duty-Comp

    Cartridges like the 6.5 Creedmoor have become exceedingly popular in the last decade. While many companies continue to make .30-caliber muzzle devices that work very well with the 6.5 family, others decided to design new, dedicated models for 6.5 Creedmoor.

    The M11 Severe-Duty 6.5mm is a combination muzzle brake and compensator that not only reduces recoil, but also eliminates muzzle jump.

    This comp can make an excellent addition to not only a bolt-action precision rifle, but also to rifles like the AR10 which may be fired from the shoulder rapidly.

    A precision compensator such as this is not a disadvantage on a bolt-action, though if shooting from support the compensator feature is not going to be used to its full effect. MSRP: $109.99-119.99 // precisionarmament.com

    Samson Shield Pocket Comp

    Samson-Shield-Pocket-Comp

    Small handguns can be snappy and hard to master.  If you find that to be the case with your S&W M&P Shield, Samson has you covered.

    The Pocket Comp is a small addition to your gun, and it is contoured to blend with the slide and frame.

    Like most compensators out there, you’ll need to provide your own threaded barrel, but once you have one the pocket comp installs easily with no gunsmithing.

    Unlike single port pistol comps, the Pocket Comp has venting on the top and sides to reduce recoil and prevent muzzle jump. It is a very well-designed and thought-out product that can help tame even the snappiest of carry loads. MSRP: $66.95 // samson-mfg.com

    ZEV PRO Compensator V2 For Glocks

    ZEV-PRO-Compensator

    Compensators on pistols have become very much a hot ticket item in the last couple of years. There have been many attempts at making these as a general product, but ultimately, they’re better off when specialized for a specific model.

    The ZEV V2 for Glock pistols is one such product and could be considered one of the best options for your carry gun. The compensator itself attaches to the threaded barrel of your choice, and if you have a Glock 19, it will make your gun the same footprint as a Glock 34.

    It will add length to your barrel and will impact your draw time as well, something to consider if you intend to carry it often.

    This is a very popular model and unlike other pistol compensators out there, it requires no thread-locker to time it correctly. Note that in a low light scenario this will not act as a flash hider.

    Because it is a single port design, some of the muzzle flash will be vented up which may affect your sight picture. MSRP: $104 // zevtechnologies.com

    Tactical Solutions 10/22 X-Ring Performance Comp

    TacSol-XRING-Comp

    The Ruger 10/22 is not exactly known for being a brute on the shoulder. Likewise, the .22 LR cartridge is not known as a caliber that produces significant muzzle rise when shooting.

    Nevertheless, some people like to remove any jump at the muzzle, even in something as small as a .22 caliber rifle. In a gun as light as the 10/22, there may be the slightest of muzzle rise, but in general, putting a compensator on a rimfire rifle is mostly a cosmetic addition.

    There is nothing wrong with that whatsoever, the vast majority of compensators and muzzle brakes are designed to look cool in addition to functioning as advertised.

    If you want to spruce up your backyard plinker while taming the negligible recoil, go ahead and throw on a compensator, it really can only add to the fun. MSRP: $65 // tacticalsol.com

    CMMG Zeroed 5.56 Linear Compensator

    CMMG-ZEROED-LINEAR-COMP

    In terms of the overall design, the CMMG Linear Compensator is as simple as it gets. What is not so simple about it is how it reduces muzzle rise.

    Instead of venting the gas upwards to control climb, it redirects the gas directly forward, thus dissipating it in front of the muzzle. Not only is this comp an effective means of controlling muzzle flip, but it also manages to accomplish this task with a very minimal profile.

    This is one of the smallest compensators for 5.56mm rifles on the market, being barely larger than a standard A2 flash hider. If you are going for something minimal or want to achieve a more classic look, this is definitely a good choice that won’t interrupt the lines of your build. MSRP: $74.95 // cmmg.com

    Strike Industries AR Cookie Cutter Comp

    SI-Cookie-Cutter-Comp

    As far as compensators go, the Cookie Cutter Comp is anything but a cookie-cutter design.

    Strike industries went outside of the box to make a dedicated short-barreled brake that is not only effective, but also adds minimal length while matching the outside diameter of many types of handguards.

    The brake also works as a glass breaker. In terms of recoil control, the Cookie Cutter is well-suited for lightweight and short guns, but it is noted that it is not a flash hider which means that you should expect a large degree of muzzle flash when firing. MSRP: $68.95 // strikeindustries.com

    Tandemkross Game Changer PRO Comp For Ruger PC Carbines

    Game-Changer-PRO-Compensator

    Since Ruger introduced the popular PC Carbine, there has been an explosion of accessories made for it.

    Chambered for popular pistol cartridges–.40 S&W and 9mm–the lightweight rifle accepts Ruger magazines as well as Glock-pattern ones with the use of an adapter. By far the most popular version of this rifle is the 9mm.

    Because it is so light, some shooters find the muzzle rises during strings of rapid-fire. Because of this, the Game Changer Pro compensator was introduced, and it adds a good amount of weight to the muzzle thanks to its all-steel construction and robust size.

    The compensator not only helps control muzzle rise during firing by redirecting gasses, but by balancing the overall weight as well. With one of these, your PC Carbine or other compatible 9mm PCC should stay right on target as you plink away. MSRP: $59.99 // tandemkross.com

    SureFire PROCOMP

    SureFire-PROCOMP

    Surefire has been in the muzzle device game for quite some time. They make some of the more effective models out there, and many have been used in combat across the world.

    The PROCOMP brakes are excellent for those who want a name-brand product at a reasonable price, but also have no interest in mounting a suppressor.

    Unlike Surefire’s other available muzzle devices, the PROCOMP is not compatible with the company’s suppressors. It’s a bit long compared to some other compensators, which is a downside, but if you are looking for excellent recoil control while firing rapidly this is a great option at a great price. MSRP: $99 // surefire.com

    More On Muzzle Devices:

    Power Trumps Capacity: A Case For The Self-Defense Revolver

    In my heart, I’m a revolver guy. In a recent conversation with some industry friends, we began talking about my affinity and their opinions regarding wheelguns. They made an effort to gently let me know that they were dissatisfied with my previous inclusion of revolvers in my content, to the point where people may in fact be influenced to make a poor choice in self-defense gun.

    Oddly enough, revolvers are, in their mind, not something I should be promoting due to the nature of violence in today’s world. The only tip or trick was to simply ditch revolvers in general, my advice on the topic being only to pander to rustics set in the past.

    Self-defense-revolver-feature

    One stated if it weren’t for nostalgia, there’d be simply no reason to make them at all in the modern day, comparing them to vintage dial phones and horse-drawn carriages. Replicas and the like are just toys with no real-world use; any opinion to the contrary is just wishful thinking.

    “Josh, you’re never going to be an Elmer Keith, and you should realize that by the time he wrote his works he was also behind the times.” One stated, “You’re telling people it’s alright to start at a severe disadvantage and make the best of it. It’s not right.”

    Ethical concerns are something that we often face as writers; people listen to us, and you very well may spend hard-earned money after reading an article. Honesty is something that we in this job must have because, at the end of that line of thinking is a life potentially being taken, be it a bad guy or a game animal. The standard on which many writers opt to work with is often “just don’t make the advertisers mad,” and simply review a gun or ammo in the context of data only.

    Objectively speaking, this is fine and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions on whatever product that may be. However, when the reality sets in, especially in self-defense topics, there needs to be the realistic nod to the fact that we’re talking about doing whatever it takes to defend ourselves.

    38-Special-44-Russian
    Revolvers come in many shapes and sizes, but all generally peaked technologically in the late 1800s. The Taylor’s Russian (a S&W No. 3 Schofield variant) in .44 Russian is very accurate and fire 240-grain Keith bullets at 850 fps, which is plenty of power inside 75 yards on game. The modern Smith .38 SPL is like a baby brother, but still packs plenty of punch with 158-grain hardcast bullets at 1,000 fps.

    Dissecting The Dilution

    There you have some excellent advice on shotguns for home defense from someone who is considered a master in the art. However, the last bit of advice Hartman provided may be the most important: “Once you figure out your defensive shotgun, the defensive mindset is next. The gun is useless to you if you don’t perceive the threat. Don’t get caught in condition white!

    I lament this not because I want to see gore in magazines, but because I think people need to have respect for what bullets really do when they hit flesh and bone. Likewise, I think they need to find respect for what they consider toys or fun playthings. A revolver may lack capacity, but I find it incredulous that one would dismiss an entire category of gun as a liability when, in reality, a revolver is a tremendously lethal weapon.

    Sanitized media and unrealistic training are the sole culprits in the idea that a revolver is an antique. Some classes I’ve attended that are supposed to be self-defense instruction have even gone so far as to ban revolvers and won’t teach them. Yet, the same classes want you to have a dolled-up nine, OWB holster, three extra mags and often more stuff on your person. You absolutely don’t need a modern 22+1 9mm with a red-dot, suppressor and light to survive a fight.

    Glock-and-self-defense-revolver
    Semi-autos, like the Glock 19 here, are very common and represent excellent capacity and accuracy. Is it always a better choice over other guns such as the Scandium frame hammerless Smith? Certainly, it’s more versatile in general use, but each of these guns has valid strong points and weaknesses to consider.

    What you do need is a deep appreciation for what type of damage can be done by someone intent to harm—and what sort of harm you can do in return. If the instructor is making you train with stuff you aren’t going to carry at all times, you’re wasting your money. If an instructor won’t teach revolvers, they’re ignoring reality entirely. Pretending a category of weapon isn’t relevant because we have guns that hold more bullets is a sure way to get people killed.

    What strikes me hardest about this entire situation is that it has led people to imagine that a .357 Magnum, with six rounds of 158-grain hardcast is a relic, yet I doubt a single person on earth would want to be within 1,000 yards of someone armed with one intent to do harm. Capacity isn’t the be-all and end-all for winning a fight, and I wish instructors would realize that by focusing on the realism of fleeing a fight or hiding. I’d love it if there was a class that took place in public places with fake guns, dealing solely with finding cover and escaping.

    Beyond Capacity

    There’s a preponderance of evidence that the modern revolver is a lethal instrument, offering serious advantages in close combat. The modern revolver came about with the Colt Single Action Army in the 1870s; everything else in the revolver world is basically there to address its perceived shortcomings. While slow to load and unload by today’s standards, the single-action revolver is as deadly as they come, very fast and very accurate.

    Capacity notwithstanding, the .45 Colt, to this day, is a fearsomely powerful round and has sent scores of people and animals into the afterlife. I developed a 255-grain SWC Keith load that, from a 4¾-inch Colt, passed completely through three 16-inch FBI blocks end-to-end at 10 yards. At 25 yards, it also passed completely through.

    ammo-spread
    Modern revolvers can fire a wide variety of popular ammo, including such rounds as 9mm, 10mm and .45 ACP in addition to mainstays like .45 Colt, .357 Mag, .38 Special and the .44 family comprising .44 Russian, Special and Magnum.

    Modern cowboy loads are weaker as a rule, usually humming along at about 700 fps, and even these, such as the BHA 250-grain RNFP, will go clean through two blocks with ease. Keith wrote in his books about hunting with the .45 Colt and its ability to penetrate game at distance, himself shooting a large mountain goat with a 5½-inch Colt at long distance and having his bullets pass completely through for each shot on that tough beast.

    Hardcast bullets are a major advantage in revolvers, allowing profiles semi-autos simply can’t feed. Among these are the cylindrical “man stopper” bullets and Keith semi-wadcutters. These bullet profiles are extraordinary in their ability to not just penetrate organic material, but they do substantially more damage than virtually any other bullet type.

    A deer I shot with a .45-caliber Keith bullet looked like it had been crushed internally, whereas one I shot only days earlier with a 6.5 Creedmoor looked as if it had just been poked with a rapier. There’s much to be said of this bullet type; even in .38 Special, it offers penetration of material and flesh that can’t be readily matched by any jacketed loads of which I’m aware.

    The Utilitarian Approach

    Revolvers aren’t more reliable than modern semi-autos in a broad context. They have their own issues; however, they offer substantial advantages in close-range encounters and greater overall precision and power at distance.

    There’s something of a bell curve when it comes to revolvers. For instance, if I knew I was going to grapple with someone and the gun would be pressed into clothing, I’d hands-down take a Smith J-frame, Ruger LCR or Colt Cobra. Force-on-force training is an eye-opener in this respect and, while they’re not useless, a semi-auto can be somewhat easily disabled if a bad guy grabs it. It can quickly turn to a single shot if the mag release is bumped. Malfunctions are an inevitability if wrestling with a semi-auto, whereas with a revolver, they’re far less frequent due to the lack of moving parts.

    moon-clip
    Moon clips like this aid in fast reloading for some revolver types. Using these isn’t as easy as a magazine in a semiautomatic, but it’s very fast and nearly foolproof.

    For ranges from 15 to 25 yards, I’d take a high-capacity 9mm every time. At 25 to 50 yards, I like the 1911, but at ranges overlapping 25 to 150 yards, I’d certainly want a heavy-loaded .357 Mag or 255-grain .45 Colt. Hit likelihood drops rapidly with semi-autos at distance, and even red-dots don’t extend useful range by much compared to irons. If it’s at extreme close range or at long range, I’d prefer a revolver virtually every day. That median stretch is where the semi-auto excels—though capacity advantage comes at a reduction in power as ranges increase.

    Why would it matter to be able to make shots at 150 yards? For personal defense, it’s a moot point … but it does speak to the power of a revolver. However, in a field environment, often while I travel for hunting, I don’t carry three separate handguns on me, usually just one that fits my requirements. I like to know that my pistol can substitute a rifle at close to medium range.

    Colt-SAA-holster
    Carrying revolvers has never been easier. Concealed-carry holsters exist for virtually all models now, including classics like the Colt SAA. Products like the Mernickle holster here allow a fast draw and proper angle on the belt to utilize it one-handed.

    Hitting a 10-inch plate at 150 yards isn’t that hard with a good revolver and some practice. The 255-grain .45 Colt at 1,000 fps only loses about 120 fps from the muzzle to 150 yards. That means it’s still more powerful than a 230-grain .45 ACP point blank. Folks don’t realize that with most 5½- to 7½-inch Colts zeroed for 25 yards, you can just hold high on the shoulder of a deer at 100 yards; it drops less than a foot at that range.

    The reliability of revolvers is much more than just going bang every time; their utility, power and extended range accuracy are some things semi-autos have a hard time matching. Even the best 1911s I’ve used are limited in power compared to a revolver, whether in a home-defense situation or in the field.

    The 10mm Auto and .45 ACP each have a realistic maximum range of 50 yards on deer—due to the restrictions of their magazine lengths and operating pressures necessary for reliable function. I’ve used them all extensively and 10mm and .45 ACP drop deer just about the same, but both are minuscule in power when compared to the .45 Colt and .357 Mag. in real-world use. And we haven’t even addressed the .44 Special and .44 Magnum, never mind the .44 Russian.

    self-defense-revolver-reload
    Loading revolvers varies by type. Some are slow, while others about as fast as semi-autos … with practice.

    Timeless Protection

    So, I stand fast to my beliefs that a revolver isn’t a useless tool, nor is it irrelevant in today’s defensive situations. If you’re a hand-loader, the revolver is your best friend, much like the bolt-action rifle. Not only are you afforded a wide range of pressure options, you’re also not limited to bullet profile.

    The utility of a revolver in self-defense is subject to the individual encounter, and I’m a believer in its close-range superiority in a life-and-death struggle. The intent to use it lethally, be it in self-defense or in the field, has nothing to do with how many bullets you carry and how many you can fire. I don’t think it’s unethical and wrong to promote the use of what some consider antiquated technology any more than I find it unethical to voluntarily reduce power in favor of capacity.

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


    More On The Self-Defense Revolver:

    Choosing The Right Weapon-Mounted Light

    The dark isn’t your friend, so here’s how to select the best weapon-mounted light for your needs.

    The weapon-mounted light has become quite common in recent years, yet there’s still a great deal of confusion and disagreement between competing schools of thought. So, let’s shed some light on, well … lights.

    pistol-light-spread

    Practicality Vs. Functionality

    The main reason I divide handguns from rifles and shotguns in this discussion is based on the crucial factor of weight and real estate. It’s barely an afterthought to add a light to a shoulder arm, but it’s a deciding crossroads of utility on a handgun. It takes little, if any, imagination to mount a large, intense light onto a rifle these days; most modern handguards are covered in M-LOK mounting surfaces, in years past it was mil-spec Picatinny.

    In fact, the minutia has taken over to the point that there are dozens of companies producing various means to manage your cables and pressure switches. Lights on rifles are nearly at a pinnacle; the science, while never truly settled, is in a comfortable rut, and I don’t see that changing for some time.

    When it comes to handguns, there’s a much larger issue of practicality: Not every handgun needs a light, and not every light is an advantage, despite what supposed experts say. Yet, while my statement may seem reasonable, I’ve taken classes and participated in events where there’s an adamant stance to one extreme or another. I try to cover both points of view concerning weapon-mounted lights here, but I’m firmly in the camp that, for a light on a handgun to be effective, it must first not be a hindrance in daily use. It isn’t as simple as “lights good” or “lights bad.”

    The essence of the handgun is that it must be a tool of action—its predictable function outweighing all other features in the moment of truth, whereas a rifle must be accurate at the foremost, otherwise it’s hardly worth its weight. Reliability in a handgun is the most critical feature: accuracy, capacity and power being secondary in no particular order. I don’t feel this is up for debate. I hardly imagine any reasonable person would advocate something like group size over reliability when life is on the line. If a light interferes with this baseline trait, it’s a no-go.

    Weight and size are critical elements of function, just the same as capacity or safety type. I found that, for many gun owners, lights are almost a complete afterthought and added without a great deal of research. Not only can a light change the frontal weight and balance of a gun, but it can also add length and thus impact draw.

    As an example, a common gun like the Glock 19 with a SureFire X300 light is as long as a 5-inch 1911. The 5-inch 1911, on the other hand, is unaffected in this capacity because the same X300 light doesn’t extend past the muzzle. Draw doesn’t really change much here.

    weapon-mounted-light-feature
    Added length on a draw is something that you need to account for. The common Glock 19 with a SureFire X300 is as long as a 5-inch 1911 with the same light installed, yet the 1911 isn’t going to be impacted on draw. If you’re already having to do a long draw, why not go for a Glock 34 instead? At least you’ll have more velocity and a softer-recoiling gun given equal length on your belt.

    I was at a media event a while back doing some coverage and ended up on this topic with some associates, a couple of them being professional instructors. Each of these guys claimed they wouldn’t even let students take the class unless they had a weapon-mounted light. “You’re not going to make it if you don’t have a light, plain and simple” was what I got out of that. I think this is false (not even all police departments issue lights on pistols, never mind the sheer number of civilians who defend themselves daily).

    However, if you look at some classes available nationwide, you’ll see a trend to this type of thinking. Most classes I have been to advocated having at least two lights on your person, one as a stand-alone light and the other on the handgun. I can see the logic, but I don’t think it’s feasible for a person to do this 100 percent of the time. At some point, a person has to start accepting that there’ll be a cutoff in terms of how much gear they can put on a gun or their person and actually use it effectively.

    Carrying a separate light is a better option, if you’re able to have it with you constantly, gun or not. I’ve become a convert to this in recent years and now carry a SureFire with Thyrm ring as a daily item—though I admit I don’t carry it if I expect to be home during daylight hours. If I’m out after dark I always have it, even if I don’t have a gun.

    As a side note, for daily use I strongly recommend a rechargeable light, as I’ve probably paid for my flashlight many times over in batteries at this point but am too stubborn to order a new one with that capability. A handheld light is a great tool for life, and it really doesn’t need to be weapons-grade. If you’re prone to losing your stuff, the $10 gas station specials are often plenty bright and easily replaced.

    X300-weapon-mounted-light
    SureFire lights are well respected and durable. These are on most of the author’s pistols over 4 inches, where they offer the greatest advantage for their size.

    On that note, a weapon-mounted light needs to be the opposite of cheap. In fact, I think that it must be as reliable as the gun, meaning that it should be 100 percent reliable in your experience with it. I really like SureFire and Streamlight on my pistols. I’ve never had a problem with any of them in terms of function, but I’ve broken a few in my time. Namely, I had a SureFire X300 that I lost the finger tabs on during a class with lots of drawing and holstering, and a Streamlight TLR-1 HL that had a faulty gasket on the battery compartment. I own a large number of these lights, and, overall, I count these as isolated problems.

    I like my lights to be able to withstand impact if necessary, so I prefer a rugged mounting system as well. The SureFire X300U-A has a fast-attach feature, but I’ve also had my share of times in practice where the light went flying off the gun. For this reason, I prefer the X300U-B with the thumb screw-style mount. I use this on 1911s and typically save the A models for Glocks.

    A good number of people have taken to Amazon to get their gun lights, and I’ve seen a wide number of mixed results. Many of my friends own Olight products; I’ve nothing against the brand at all and completely understand that some people are on a limited budget for accessories. Olight does make some very good products, and I count them as the best among the lower cost lights. That said, in most cases, it’s a good decision to save your money and buy once, cry once on a SureFire or Streamlight.

    Notable Weapon-Mounted Lights to Consider

    I’ve narrowed down my own lights to those that are only the most effective in realistic roles. My main rotation of pistols comprises 1911s, Glocks, J-Frame Smiths and a Sig P365.

    Streamlight-TLR-lights
    Streamlight has a wide range of offerings available. Traditional models, like the TLR1, are wide and somewhat bulky … but they’re known for being reliable.

    My main field guns are 1911s; I like .45 ACP for serious use hunting and have had great success with them deer hunting. I carry SureFire X300U-B models on these guns, one being a custom-built hunting pistol and the other a Colt M45A1. The custom gun always has its light mounted, and my holsters for it are meant for the light. In general, I don’t carry the Colt with a light on it despite it having a rail. The gun is heavy already, and I don’t like the extra bulk—though when in the nightstand, I do put the SureFire back on.

    I have four SureFire lights I use regularly, and they’ve proven extremely rugged. These are all “full-size” lights and are best when mounted on full-size 4.5- to 5.5-inch pistols. I prefer my lights to not protrude out in front of the muzzle, and on the 1911 this isn’t an issue.

    For Glock pistols, I’m a fan of very compact lights, especially the Streamlight TLR-7. I have both the pressure switch version and the regular one. These tuck in neatly on a 4-inch Glock; I have one on both my regular carry G19 Gen 5 and my 19X with threaded barrel. I enjoy that, when using a suppressor, the compact light doesn’t make the Glock so front heavy as with a SureFire.

    Streamlight-TLR-7-weapon-mounted-light
    Streamlight’s TLR7 line is very impressive and offers great brightness and user-friendly controls. What’s best is that the batteries can be changed without taking the light off the gun (they load in from the front), and the light has a manual off setting to avoid wasting battery power in daylight times.

    Of note is that I ended up swapping the pressure switch version from my 19 to the 19X after substantial use. The button lowers the finger noticeably on the 19, making it feel like a G26 grip. The 19X has a bit more real estate and allows for a firmer, full grip without the feeling of “stacking” your fingers up.

    On my compact guns, such as the P365 and J-Frames, I don’t even try to mount a light on them. Instead, I want to take advantage of just how small and light they are. I know there are options for these guns, but I don’t want to negate the advantage of being able to easily drop them in a pocket.

    I believe a light on a 3-inch 9mm or a 2-inch 357 Mag is just unnecessary; the distances these guns are effective is just too short for the added weight and is a liability for a fast draw from a pocket. A handheld is far better combined with a micro pistol.

    Sig-P365-and-238-TLR
    An example of guns that are, in the author’s opinion, too small for feasible lights.

    Lights Out

    Ultimately, there are many (too many?) schools of thought on the theory of lights. In terms of self-defense on the street, they can be great. But lights are also a beacon that gives you away, especially if you’re trying to hide or get away. In the home, they’re not always an advantage either, considering you’re just as likely to give your location away to an invader with one as you’d be turning your lights on in the room you’re in.

    Moreover, few people practice inside their own home. I strongly encourage you to do so; your cozy domestic space can become a terrifying maze of moving shadows and blind corners in the dead of night. Making sure you know how to use your light in this scenario is important, and I’d even go so far as to say you should practice with a handheld light with your family and friends. The first time you do it you had best be ready for jump scares—even familiar faces are surprising when you don’t expect them to be in the room with you.

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


    More On Tactical Lights:

    Top Self-Defense Tools That Aren’t Guns

    Nothing beats a heater on your hip when it comes to personal protection, but here are the best self-defense tools that aren’t guns.

    Carrying a pistol is something many of us do daily; however, the larger majority of people don’t always give a second thought to the other items that go hand-in-hand. Life is rarely simple and, no matter how we envision a scenario playing out, things hit the fan with certainty.

    The issue we face isn’t a simple one, mostly because the presence of a gun and the prospect of using it results in an increased degree of lethality to both you and the bad guy. As much as we love and adore guns for what they mean to us, in a cultural, personal and political sense they are, at the end of the day, meant to keep you alive through means of lethal force.

    We tend to look at things through the lens of escalating violence, such as bringing a knife to a gunfight, where we’re constantly vying to have a leg up on those seeking to do us harm by means of overwhelming force. So far, in the past two years, we’ve seen a mass proliferation of high-capacity micro guns in powerful rounds like 9mm, such as the Sig P365, Springfield Hellcat and a plethora of guns from Glock, Ruger, S&W and more that conform to this new paradigm.

    self-defense-tools-feature

    To top it off, most of these little guns are available with optics cuts, mounts for lights and lasers, and backup mags boasting 15 rounds or more. Further means of increasing the abilities of these guns has come in the form of ammunition, such as Federal’s 30 Super Carry, which adds capacity to these already small guns.

    At a point likely in the near future, we’ll probably reach a peak of ability given these reduced dimensions, a sort of apex carry gun where weight, accuracy, power and capacity are all balanced beyond improvement.

    But the gun is just one part of this. How about the rest of what you have on your person?

    Concealing A Knife

    Having taken many gun-based classes over the years, the gun classes of substance I’ve been to had very little shooting, rather focusing on tactics and scenarios using dummy guns. Beyond basic handling and shooting, there’s almost no reason to pay good money to listen to how much of an operator someone is.

    Knives are the opposite of this: Take as many force-on-force classes as you can. Without training, you’re far more likely to be hurt seriously by your own knife than you are to stop an attacker with it. Getting proper training with any edged weapon is paramount, and the understanding of how and when to use them is critical.

    What you want to consider is that a knife is a stand-off weapon, not something offensive. You should always carry any knife under the presumption that it’s a tool first, not your main weapon. As a result of this purely defensive theory—that comes from the need to protect yourself while your attacker is literally trying to grab you—you need to have something that, at a bare minimum, is easy to draw and open.

    A fixed blade knife is desirable in this context; however, folders are equally as good if you can become proficient at deploying them. For general carry, you want a well-textured handle and a sharp blade that has both the ability to stab and slash. You’ll also want a handle that allows you to instantly index the direction of the edge—avoid knives that have oval or rounded grip shapes that can rotate in the hand.

    If you’re in a restrictive area, there are many knife-like tools that’ll allow for protection, such as the Emerson N-SAR tool. This tool is blunted but has a seriously sharp interior edge. As a stand-off weapon, it excels because it gives you the option of non-lethal strikes but can be turned to cutting quickly. Tools like this are excellent at non-lethal pressure point manipulation, yet they can also slash.

    Fixed-blade knives are, of course, much stronger than folders, but they’re harder to carry overall and may not be legal where you live. Automatic knives are becoming more popular; however, you shouldn’t be completely reliant on assist-open or button-release mechanisms. Even a little lint can prevent the mechanism from locking.

    The best, at least in my opinion, is the Emerson method with their Wave Feature, basically a forward-facing hook on the blade that catches the inside of the pocket when you pull it out. It opens instantly on draw but isn’t mechanically aided in any way. This, with practice, is the fastest you can get as far as blade deployment.

    As always, check your local laws when trying to carry a knife. You’d be surprised at just how few restrictions there on guns when you start trying to legally carry a knife. Luckily, many states are updating their knife laws, and the future looks pretty good.

    self-defense-tools-knives
    Emerson knives are respected for their durability and quality. The Market Skinner is a classic knife profile and will yield the results you expect from a knife. The N-SAR is a specialized tool for rescues; it can cut just about any belt made. The N-SAR is not able to stab, but it certainly can cut, and it makes for a good defensive tool in areas that restrict knives as “stabbing” instruments.

    Recommended Knives

    EMERSON N-SAR

    This is an all-inclusive rescue tool that has limited self-defense function. It has a blunted point for safely getting under seatbelts and straps, as well as an integrated belt cutter in the spine of the blade. This tool can be used to get around certain laws that describe knives as “stabbing instruments,” allowing for carry in non-permissive places. MSRP: $299.95

    EMERSON MARKET SKINNER

    A pocket Bowie knife of sorts, the Market Skinner is a do-all knife that’s great for general EDC, hunting and as a self-defense knife. The deep, swept belly allows for deep cuts, and the shape and texture of the grip makes for an ideal hold either tip up or down. MSRP: $267.95

    WINKLER DROP POINT CRUSHER

    I carry this knife daily and can readily recommend it for all-around use. This knife is slender and light, despite having a “big knife” look. The blade tip is lowered to the centerline, making it easier to control. The pommel has an angular glass breaker that can be used in defense as well. The knife is exceedingly strong and holds an edge against tough use.  MSRP: $375

    Calling On Your Phone

    Your phone is one of the most important items in your kit these days, probably more important than any other tool on this list for getting out of bad places and finding resources near you. The power of the cell phone isn’t something you should ignore. It’s not just a means to watch TikTok and gun unboxing videos—it affords you the option of extra awareness about your immediate surroundings.

    If you’re traveling or are trying to understand your new location after a move, apps like Life360 allow you to not just keep track of your family’s locations, but it also allows you to monitor local crimes and includes a comprehensive list of all sex offenders in the area.

    You should be using all available data to steer clear of conflict. Your foreknowledge in these circumstances is paramount to EDC mindset. Show your kids where houses to avoid are, and if they’re engaged by one of those individuals they should run and call the police immediately. It’s also good to use these apps to identify safe areas, local community buildings and stores that are open in off hours to get to safety in where police can be called.

    In addition, various phones have a SOS or similar emergency setting that can bring responders right to you. Not all incidents are violent encounters, and you might need your phone to save yourself from your own health emergency. Making your phone difficult to access with a complicated password is folly. You should treat your phone the same as knife or gun: fast to get into action with just one hand. If you’re being threatened or notice suspicious activity, getting it on video is also a very good idea. Collecting evidence with your phone may save you in court.

    Recommended Phone Apps/Accessories

    LIFE360

    If you don’t like to have your location on all the time, well, this isn’t for you. Though, as we all know, “they” can track you anyway. This app is a comprehensive family safety product that gives you the locations of your loved ones, tells you if they’re driving and can even alert you if there’s a crash. It has many features that include crime reports, sex offender locations and more. As far as safety is concerned, this is a great way to keep abreast of bad places and people as much as is reasonable. MSRP: Approx. $60 a month, plans vary

    ALPATRONICS INTEGRATED BATTERY PHONE CASE

    This phone case features a built-in backup battery that can extend your phone’s operational time by days, especially if you put it in low-power mode. If you have a medical condition that requires you to have a phone on you to monitor blood pressure or heart rate, this can be a lifesaver. Plus, it’s also rated to protect the phone if dropped. The company makes models for most iPhones and many new Androids. MSRP: $42.95

    APPLE AIR TAG 4-PACK

    If you’re traveling with guns, it makes a good deal of sense to stick a location tag in your gun case, as well as tag your car if you’re in a high-crime area where vehicle theft is a reality. Some people find these creepy, but I’ve known more than one person who had guns stolen in their cases right out of the trunk. At least if the thief ditches the case, you can still have a last location to give to police. MSRP: $99.99

    Medical Supplies

    I have been guilty of not taking the personal injury aspect of self-defense seriously. Again, much in the same way with knife classes, it’s smart to take a detailed medical class. While it’s not as exciting as doing tactical reloads, all the fancy footwork, plate carriers, extra ammo and other gear mean literally nothing if you get shot through the leg. Is your buddy with you going to be able to stop the bleeding, or is he only good for bringing his tricked-out Noveske out to flex at the range?

    The reality of guns is that people do get shot. Carrying medical supplies isn’t the cool thing to do; most people will shake their head if you walk around with an emergency kit on your belt. But you don’t have to look like a dweeb to have medical supplies on hand; in fact, there are some great ones that are both low-profile and effective. You’ll absolutely want to practice with them as well, even though that isn’t “cool,” either. 

    Think for a moment: What if your neighbor loses control of a chainsaw while doing some tree cleanup work? It’s a horrific injury. Do you have the immediate and necessary skills to stop him from bleeding to death? What you carry—or at least keep close at hand—isn’t just about guns: It’s the benign things that we encounter daily that we need to be equally prepared for.

    self-defense-tools-tourniquet
    The C.A.T. Tourniquet is a simple, inexpensive and reliable means to stop critical blood loss. With practice, they can be applied to yourself and others with one hand. It goes without saying, don’t put them around your neck, they aren’t for head injuries.

    Recommended Medical Product

    C.A.T. RESOURCES TOURNIQUETS

    This is a great, low-cost, high-performance tourniquet that can be stashed in a purse, bag or even pocket. While it’s rare to have the need of one, a real tourniquet can stop bleeding in the extremities almost immediately with practice. Bleeding control is paramount in car crashes, shootings and stabbings, and for use on the job site. Stowing a few of these around just makes sense. MSRP: $28 Each

    Alternative Self-Defense Tools

    There’s a wide range of products that fall into this concealed carry/everyday carry category. If you’re on the job, in the office or in generally non-permissive places, regular items can become weapons if your life depends on it.

    The main drawback of this category is that most of these are going to be a compromise. Many standard items—like box cutters, sharp scissors, screwdrivers, chisels, tack hammers and the like—can be carried with no problem. If someone asks a question, well, you just had it in your pocket from fixing a project at home. Don’t attempt to modify these items beyond their original specs. If you have a good force-on-force class or club in your area, take these items and practice with dulled-up versions. Plus, as a bonus, most of these tools can be used in their intended role.

    Recommended Alternative Self-Defense Tools

    DEWALT SHORT CHISEL SET

    DeWalt is a common tool brand, making their chisels that much more unassuming. The 1/8-inch width is a very adequate weapon for stand-off fights. These tools are cheap enough that if you lose one it’s not a big deal, and the rubberized grips are easier to manipulate than plain wood. MSRP: $36

    WINKLER KNIVES AF-ERT

    This is a basic, single-piece multi-tool that can be used as a weapon if need be. It’s about the same size and weight as a tack hammer and features a pry bar, a couple sizes of wrench, a glass breaker and a hammer face. The little tool can ride in a car or bag without being noticed. MSRP: $85

    Flashlights

    This is another hot point of contention in terms of guns: weapon mounted light or not? Well, more and more guns have mount options for lights these days. Some instructors don’t like gun-mounted lights, but others do. Some prefer only hand-held. Find someone who can teach both methods and make your decision.

    I always have a flashlight on me after dark, and my primary carry gun also has a light. If I go without the gun, I still have the light itself. Having that light and ability to blind/flee the area is critical. You should also be aware of how your light interacts with your gun. For instance, my RMR sight was washed out easily with reflected light at night and flashing lights, car headlights and the muzzle flash.

    Lights are one of those things that’ll vary by gun and application. Luckily, we live in the best possible era for handheld lights, and it’s getting hard to go wrong. Really anything by SureFire and Streamlight are great. The main consideration with lights is that you can also be blinded easily, so do make sure you practice using any illumination tools in places you live. You’d be surprised just how different your own house looks with the lights off and lit up by 1000 lumens. Training is more important than the light itself in most cases.

    self-defense-tools-light
    Lights are one of those things that you shouldn’t be without, even in the daylight. After all, the inside of buildings can become unexpectedly dark, or you may be out later than you like. Any gun worth its salt today should have at least the ability to mount a flashlight.

    CCW Apparel

    Your EDC clothing shouldn’t scream “shoot me first.” There’s a plethora of “tactical” companies that sell clothing and, while many of them make general sense for concealed carry, they make you stick out like a sore thumb. Sort of like the cars that are distinguishable as bugout vehicles complete with all the accessories and extra gas cans, you make for an inviting first target the minute things go badly.

    If you’re out there doing your thing, you shouldn’t want to stand out. Wear nice clothes that are clean and stylish for your area and season; spend some money to look attractive as you won’t be determined to be a threat on first glance. Avoid the cop or soldier look, and don’t wear items that overtly state your political or ideological beliefs. You want to be deadly, but you don’t want to give the appearance of what you have.

    Your manner of dress should be like keeping your cards close to your chest, camouflage for life if you will.

    self-defense-tools-fanny-pack
    Winkler Knives makes some of the toughest and most sought-after blades in the business. The Drop Point Crusher is not only a beautiful knife, but also light and very rugged. The AF-ERT is a small, unassuming tool that can be used for many things, including last-ditch defense.

    Recommended EDC Apparel

    HILL PEOPLE GEAR FANNY PACKS

    Hill People Gear makes some awesome equipment that’s barely noticeable in public. I like that their fanny packs are able to be completely discreet while offering a dedicated pistol compartment that can house a full-size 1911. Carrying large guns is much more possible with these, and, with practice, you can draw very quickly. MSRP: $122

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2023 CCW special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


    More On Self-Defense:

    The Rise And Fall Of The Swiss K31

    A look back at the Swiss K31, probably the best service rifle ever made that never saw wide-scale combat use.

    A great many rifles have passed through time never having truly been tested. Some of them were simply too far ahead of their time, and others a day late and a dollar short. Such is the case of the Swiss K31, arguably one of the finest military rifles ever made … and possibly the best bolt-action rifle to come out in the prewar era.

    It’s too bad, however, that it was never used in its intended role, an example of notorious Swiss neutrality. The rifle is so well made and accurate that it has instead made a name for itself stateside as one of the go-to rifles for vintage military matches, but even then, it’s slowly becoming extinct on the firing line.

    So, without further ado, let’s look at the rise and fall of the prince of service rifles.

    Swiss-K31-feature

    History Of The K31

    The K31 Schmidt-Rubin Short Rifle (Karabiner Model 1931) is a very unique design that dates back to the blackpowder cartridge days. The original designs for the gun were adopted into service in 1889, just as Switzerland entered the era of smokeless powder. The original rifles were massive and had strange, elongated receivers fitted with 12-round magazines. The designers, Eduard Rubin and Rudolf Schmidt, came up with a complicated, oversized action that allowed a straight-pull method of operation. The rifle was ungainly, but chambered in a then-modern cartridge, the 7.5×53.5mm (which at the time was quite advanced).

    There were shortcomings with the gun, namely its receiver. Not long after it was adopted, a newer, more robust design was developed that confusingly shared the same name. The Schmidt-Rubin 1889/96 rifle was a new design entirely and wasn’t parts-compatible with the original. The bolt design was different and much stronger. Nevertheless, this design also proved too ungainly and mounted troops settled for a foreign straight-pull Mannlicher chambered for the 7.5×53.5mm cartridge. The Mannlicher wasn’t loved, and a search began to replace it. Two additional Schmidt-Rubin rifles were made as stopgaps, the 1900 short rifle and later 1905 carbine, but they were not great guns and quickly discarded.

    The next major evolution was the K11, a final evolution of the M1911 rifle and M1896/11 rifle. The gun was relatively compact, but still somewhat of a cumbersome piece to carry. The conversion had been made to the then-standard 7.5x55mm, and the ammunition featured spitzer bullets instead of round-nose projectiles. The K11 served for decades until trends again demanded shorter, more compact rifles for infantry. Schmidt and Rubin were long dead at this point, never having lived to see what would be the final model of their straight-pull action: the K31.

    K31-vs-Garand
    The K31 was comparable in size and weight to most 1930s-era military rifles, but it was the last of its breed as far as innovation was concerned. The semi-auto full-power rifle would be the next big thing, itself a relic when World War II was in full swing. Compact guns, like the German STG44, would pave the way for the rifles we know and love today, like the AK and AR series.

    The K31 is a marvel of engineering. While the Schmidt-Rubin actions were never as compact as Mausers, Mosins or Enfields, they were the best finished and most mechanically interesting. The end result of all the years of trial and error led to a rifle that was, at the time, one of the most accurate ever issued to an entire army. The 7.5x55mm was a powerful chambering and, combined with the K31, gave the individual Swiss militiaman or soldier a dominating advantage in mountainous terrain. The K31 went on to replace every other rifle in Swiss service and was also used by the Swiss Guard at the Vatican. It served until the late 1950s and continues to be a popular civilian rifle in both Switzerland and, to a lesser extent, in America.

    Why Was It Never Used In Warfare?

    There’s a simple answer as to why this otherwise fantastic rifle was not used in warfare, despite being quite superior to many others at the time: Switzerland was a neutral country and also didn’t make a habit of exporting their rifles. I’ve searched high and low and can’t find an instance of a K31 being used in combat. I’ve heard from gun show and range lore that the guns were in fact used to protect the Swiss border and some may have made it up to fight the Russians on behalf of Finland, but this is largely unsubstantiated.

    The political landscape of Europe at the time would have not strongly benefited Switzerland in terms of picking a side since they had been neutral for so long. The Nazis didn’t particularly care for them, but had loose alliances with other neutral countries at the same time, such as Sweden, notorious for allowing German trade and movement while at the same time staying out of things.

    Swiss-K31-sight
    The K31 had a “standard” rear sight for the day in Europe. It was adjustable for elevation only.

    The idea that Swiss border guards actually fought the Nazis is dubious at best; however, it isn’t a stretch to believe these rifles were used against various destabilizing elements, such as foreign Bolsheviks trying to enter the country like they had done in other ones. We will probably never know, but there isn’t a single documented case of the K31 in combat that I could find, and unless there’s a substantial release of documents from the time period (again doubtful), the K31 will remain the best military rifle that never saw action.

    Straight-Pull Action

    Straight-pull actions are a bit of a funny thing. They have a number of distinct advantages over a standard bolt action, but they also lack in certain areas. One of the first major reasons that people began designing straight-pull actions was the idea they were faster. It could be argued that this is true, but speed is a very relative concept when you’re talking about manually operated rifles.

    The king of speed in bolt actions is without a doubt the British Enfield. The bolt just simply glides back and forth, and you’re right on target with almost no effort. The downside of the Enfield action is that it’s relatively weak by comparison to the Mauser. Mauser rifles have dominated the bolt-action scene since they were first invented. The Mauser is, without a doubt, the strongest type of bolt action and virtually every common rifle we have today—such as the Model 70 and Remington 700—are direct descendants of the Mauser.

    K31-straight-pull-bolt-action
    The K31 with bolt open. Note the complex, precise machining on the bolt to facilitate rotation and locking.

    With training, you can work a Mauser bolt pretty quickly. Unfortunately, Mauser rifles typically came with a 5-round fixed box magazine. It’s lost on me why the Germans decided to go through two World Wars with this as a main feature, considering it wouldn’t have taken much effort to either extend the magazine box or replace the floor plate and trigger guard unit with a detachable magazine box common to other German rifles at the time, such as the FG42.

    The K31 action is very fast when it’s working properly. The downside of it is that it requires a great degree of physical strength to operate quickly. There’s no camming action provided when the bolt is open: You must rip it straight backward, and run it home as hard as you can forward. It’s almost like a semi-auto action with no gas system. If you have an over-pressured case, it’s very difficult to get the action to open.

    K31-trigger
    The K31 has a terrific trigger, among the best of any military rifle ever issued.

    If there’s one thing that this rifle is, it’s accurate. The trigger is a two-stage job that’s truly exceptional for not just a military rifle, but for a rifle in general. The trigger breaks clean, and it’s simply a joy to use. The great thing about these guns is that most of them are going to be able to shoot match accurate right from the get-go. If you want to get started in CMP matches or other types of military competition, this is a great option. The average K31 that I’ve fired over the years produces five-shot groups from the bench of around 2 inches. You can expect the gun to hold 4 inches at 200 yards.

    The 7.5×55 Cartridge

    There have been a number of cartridges designed and used in the K31 family. The principal cartridge of interest is dubbed the GP11. This is a 174-grain bullet that’s fired at roughly 2,550 fps. The cartridge is widely regarded for its accuracy, though unfortunately you’ll have a heck of a time trying to find it today. The surplus market 15 years ago, however, was chock full of the stuff, and you could get very high-quality, Swiss-made ammo for relatively cheap.

    75x55mm-swiss
    The 7.5x55mm (far left) was on par or better than many other rounds used in similar roles. Left to right: 7.5x55mm Swiss, 7.62 NATO, 6.5x55mm Swedish, 7.62x54R, .303 British, .30-06 Springfield and 8x57mm Mauser.

    This cartridge was nearly identical to .308 Winchester/7.62 NATO. The ballistics are essentially the same; each has some minor advantages over the other. The 7.5 Swiss case has slightly more capacity, and the 7.62 NATO has a slightly shorter overall length. For all realistic uses, they’re virtually identical in 174- and 175-grain weights.

    There are still a couple places that make factory-loaded 7.5 Swiss. It’s becoming increasingly hard to find the ammunition today; only two retailers had it in stock nationwide at the time of this writing. There is, of course, the oddball places that stock these sorts of things. In the past, I had good luck at Dunham’s Sports in the Midwest. They typically have some oddball calibers sitting on the shelf from time to time. If you can find it, Prvi Partizan 174-grain FMJ (GP11 clone) rounds are about $29 for a box of 20.

    Brass is also getting slightly hard to find. Unfortunately, the rim diameter is not the same as .308 Winchester, and you can’t make 7.5 Swiss from other common cartridges. That said, the 7.5 Swiss uses .308 diameter bullets, making your selection process pretty easy. It can also use most of the same powders that you would use for .308 Winchester or .30-06 Springfield.

    My own match load recipe (try at your own risk) was a 168-grain Hornady BTHP over 41 grains of Hodgdon Varget. The brass was always full-length resized to account for the tight chamber dimensions. I loaded them to 2.890 inches OAL in PPU brass with CCI standard large rifle primers. I shot thousands of this load alongside my dad for years of CMP competition. I shot my first CMP gold with this load, in fact. Now … if only I could find some Varget.

    Swiss-straight-pull-stock
    The stocks on many K31 rifles are all beat to hell. This one has some honest dings but is far from the worst the author has seen.

    Collecting The K31 Today

    The good ol’ days of cheap surplus rifles are long gone. The price of a K31 has doubled in the past 10 years, and in some cases tripled. The rifle in this article would sell for nearly $1,000 today. That puts it in the same cost range as shooter-grade M1 rifles, but with much harder to source ammo and parts. The quality of the rifle featured here is almost as good as it gets. It’s difficult to find any K31 that’s in pristine condition below the trigger; the stocks on these guns are oftentimes very chewed up from being stacked at camp or from exposure to the weather. Say what you will about Swiss militarism, but they certainly did use their guns, even if they weren’t firing them at enemy soldiers.

    As a result of this treatment, most K31s have pristine actions in excellent barrels with gnarly stocks. Many people tend to sand down and refinish these blemished areas, and you can often tell because the stocks are significantly narrower toward the buttplate and comb. I haven’t noticed a significant difference in the sale price of these guns with wood restoration. Most people don’t seem to care if the stocks have been tended to.

    Swiss-receiver-crest
    The receiver is thick compared to a Mauser, but it’s surprisingly light as a complete rifle.

    That said, you shouldn’t consider overpaying simply if the stock looks cleaner than the next one. At this point in the game, there isn’t a significant difference in cost between wood types—you may fetch a slightly higher premium for walnut, but we’re not talking more than $100 or so.

    The overall supply of these rifles on the market has started to dwindle. The last several gun shows I’ve attended only had a few—and they were criminally overpriced. Just 10 years ago the floor was flush with them. What’s remarkable about this is that there weren't many of these guns made to begin with. Only half a million were produced. A large amount of these still remain in Switzerland, along with a lion’s share of GP11 ammunition.

    It’s unknown how many of these rifles exactly are in America today, but what’s incredible is that just 10 or 15 years ago these guns were selling for less than $300. These guns are sought after primarily by people who want to shoot military competition; once they have a good one, they tend to hold onto it.

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


    More Classic Military Guns:

    She’s Still Garand: Life And Times Of The Mighty M1

    A look back at the venerable M1 Garand, America's storied and stalwart service rifle.

    When it comes to guns, there’s certainly fashion that comes and goes. This year, it might be 10mm making a big comeback, or perhaps the 1911 having a slew of new designs hitting the market, making it “relevant” again.

    But with that said, the M1 Garand hasn’t been victim to fashion. In fact, it’s one of those rifles that’s always in good taste, no matter where or when it appears. However, things have changed in the M1 world … and not necessarily for the better.

    M1-Garand-feature

    Dried-Up Surplus Stockpiles

    Unfortunately for us, we’re in something of the twilight years of the surplus market. When I was a teenager, you could buy most surplus guns for less than $500, sometimes as low as just $50. Granted, that was a lot of money for a kid working fast food, but everything was so plentiful then that it seemed like it would never end.

    It’s a fair assessment to say that the vast majority of the surplus market is completely dead these days. Various post-World War II Mauser rifles that sold for $150 are going for upward of $800 today, well outside the range of hobbyists—and frankly outside the interest range for competition shooters and collectors. Guns that once were plentiful are now so heavily picked over that finding a good, pristine example can cost you upward of $1,500 or more … for a Mosin Nagant! The Finnish examples today are commanding a heavy premium, to the point they’re almost impossible to justify for the regular collector. The M1 has limped along for the entirety of this chaos, but it, too, is slowly drying up.

    Remarkably, M1 prices have held out considerably well against the fluctuations in the market. Today, they’re still around $1,000, a price they’ve maintained for nearly 15 years. I never believed I’d see a day where something as common as a Mauser or Enfield would sell for more than an M1, but I’ve apparently reached that point in life.

    M1-receiver-markings
    Rear sights on the M1 are very intuitive and easy to use. They’re rugged, but you’ll need to check function before buying.

    The nature of the M1 sets it apart from the rest. The gun was manufactured in America by Americans, and it’s largely supported by the aftermarket. It’s likely there are more of them around than the rest combined, but there’s really no way to know for sure. What is known is that a point is coming in the near future where prices for base-level, rebuilt M1 rifles will jump. In other words, get your M1 while you can: The gettin’ is good right now.

    It could be argued that the M1 is still the most popular vintage rifle available today. The largest reason for this is that there’s a substantial amount of cultural knowledge surrounding it, and it’s still relevant from a defense and hunting standpoint. Young men and women are training as armorers on these guns—the same cannot be said for most other surplus rifles. It’s entirely possible to build a “new” M1 today; many companies make their own parts, stocks, barrels and more. The prevalence of the M1 in this country has made it so that the design will continue to be used well into the future, though that doesn’t mean it’s going to be that way forever.

    Collecting The M1 Today

    It’s a reality of the surplus market that things just aren’t what they used to be. The rifle featured in this article was bought from a local gun store that had it on consignment. The previous owner was aged out of competing and no longer cared about owning those guns. He mentioned in passing that he didn’t have family who went shooting, and it was best to sell. This rifle is a standard of what you’ll see for gun show rifles and those that you may be able to purchase from another shooter at a CMP event.

    While it may seem like a backward approach, plenty of collectors shoot in these competitions, and, depending on where you’re at, a match is usually held every month. If you want a direct line to many opportunities for surplus rifles, simply attend one of these matches and pass out your information to the competitors. The thing about doing this is that it places you in a network of like-minded people. Don’t be surprised when one of your CMP buddies calls you and says there’s a gun you’re looking for at an area store.

    Garand-action-open
    The Garand action open: The internals look complicated, but they’re honesty not hard to understand. There are moving parts in here, but luckily all are easily replaced if you bought a rifle with worn-out internals. Don’t be alarmed, some movement is normal.

    The nature of finding a good M1 these days isn’t a scavenger hunt, but it’s also not as simple as just walking into a store and ordering it. These rifles are quite old and are individuals at this point. Most of them have experienced various degrees of wear and tear over time, and you’ll need to have a careful eye about what you’re looking at. There are very few people out there in the world who have a full, complete matching M1 rifle. If a person is advertising a fully matched gun for less than $2,000, you’re being taken for a ride. What’s more, there’s probably less than a handful of guns in the country that are in original, un-issued condition.

    At the very least, what you’re looking for is the receiver of the rifle: The rest of the gun can be stripped down and rebuilt quite easily. A desirable receiver is 90 percent of the sale price on a finished gun, and WWII receivers are universally more valuable than postwar examples—though prewar rifles are the most valuable.

    The lion’s share of M1s, numbering in the millions, were all completely stripped down and refurbished over the years. It has become a game among collectors to swap parts not just by manufacturer, but also by month of manufacture. However, there’s no real way to know if the barrel and receiver were made at the same time of day, or simply at the beginning and end of the month. That’s about as fine as it gets as far as detail. A date-matched rifle usually picks up $500 to $1,000 in value.

    M1-stock

    Stocks and small parts aren’t necessarily a good way to look at the value of a rifle, or even into a rifle’s general condition: Great actions are sometimes dressed in mediocre wood and vice versa. Most stocks at this point are going to need to be replaced if you want to shoot in competition. New, clean wood is preferable. But, beware of any M1 at a gun show that looks too good; Birchwood Casey stock finish is cheap … and so is sandpaper.

    Also, look at the condition of the action itself. One of my good friends, who worked as an armorer for decades, suggested that the average M1 will go through at least two stocks in its lifetime. Many of the wooden parts on the gun are actually quite thin and easily crack, so few are original to the receiver. Replacing the stock on an M1 is an easy venture, and it can be done largely without tools. Cartouches and stamps on stocks should not be considered a reliable method of dating the rifle, either. Not only are they easily mismatched, but they’re also easily faked.

    Currently, many companies make modern parts. For instance, Boyds makes a replacement stock you can sand and finish at your whim, and laminate stocks are also a more durable option. Barrels are available from companies like Criterion, as well as custom manufacturers that appeal to the match shooting crowd. Specialty gun builders, such as Fulton Armory, can build an entire match-quality M1 off of your receiver. What’s better is that they offer multiple packages for your receiver, including options to turn it into a slightly more modern rifle, as well as tuning it specially for the CMP games.

    M1-Garand-loading-1
    The M1 is a large gun, but not ungainly. Despite the fact that it’s bulkier than a 1903 or Mauser, it’s quite slender in most places. As you can see here, it’s only just wider than the ammo clip.

    The CMP itself also sells M1s. If you were interested in a road trip, you can simply drive to Camp Perry and leave with an M1. The CMP has sold these rifles for quite some time, although today they’re somewhat picked over. Around 10 years ago, you could find some absolutely pristine examples. Today, most of them look a little bit sorry but can be had for under $1,000. Most of these guns are in mix-and-match but fireable condition, and it will be of service in match shooting, but not necessarily collecting.

    Shooting The M1

    So, what should you be looking for as far as performance goes with the M1? The rifle, as it’s issued with iron sights, should be able to produce 10 shot groups of 3 inches slung up. If you’re shooting off the bench, cut that number in half. Yes: They’re that accurate. I have an 1896 Swedish Mauser that prints 1.5 inches at 100 yards dating to 1900, and another from 1914 that does 2 inches with the same loads. Most M1903, M1917 and M1 Garand rifles I’ve fired and owned are 3 MOA rifles … or better.

    M1-barrel
    Front sights are mounted to the gas block assembly. The sights are easily removed with a simple wrench and can be replaced with different versions. Here’s a National Match (NM) marked front sight that has been used to replace the GI version.

    In addition, you’ll need to pay close attention to barrel wear. M1s with original barrels can be rough; if you plan to buy them to shoot, you need to invest in erosion gauges. These gauges measure the physical wear at the throat and muzzle, and you can simply pop them in at a gun show—it takes just a second. You want a gun that runs out at “0,” meaning no real wear. Sometimes, you’ll see a person say, “it’s a 1 at the muzzle and a 2 in the throat.” This means that the throat has a minor amount of wear, but the muzzle is still tight. If you go up past a “3” in wear on either end of the barrel, you’ll probably want to offer a lower dollar amount due to needing a barrel replacement. I’d consider any gun that needs a replacement to be a minimum $200 expense: Take that into consideration as you look to buy.

    You’ll also want to check the mechanical properties of the rear sight. You can do this by simply resting your thumb on the peep sight and applying slight pressure against it. Each movement of the windage and elevation drums should be crisp; there should be no slippage under slight pressure. These parts can be replaced, so if they’re damaged and are on a valuable receiver, it might be worth it anyway just to go ahead and buy.

    M1-gas-piston
    The moving metal rod under the barrel is actually the gas piston. It extends from the charging handle to the muzzle.

    If you’re trying to shoot CMP or other service rifles, you’ll need to check the rules on bedding the stock. Bedding an M1 can really help accuracy; however, as-issued matches won’t allow it, but open division usually does. You can sneak past these rules a bit in as-issued matches by buying an oversized stock. You will have to finish the inlet and exterior yourself, but you can essentially fit it exactly to your gun and achieve similar results to glass bedding.

    Ammo And Loads For The Garand

    As of this writing, several companies make M1 Garand-specific loads. You need to keep the pressure down when shooting these guns—modern .30-06 is too powerful for it in as-issued form. You can get an adjustable gas block to account for modern ammo, but there’s no need to put so much wear and tear on an old warhorse.

    Hornady makes an excellent M1 match load (product number 81171), featuring the 168-grain ELD match bullet. This is an excellent target load and has produced some of the best scores at Camp Perry. I truly enjoy what Hornady did with this; it really is the best M1 ammo available for shooting scores.

    M1-Garand-loading-2
    The M1 loads from 8-round en-bloc clips that eject along with the last fired round. They make the famous ping! noise every time.

    Federal makes an excellent 150-grain FMJ load for the M1 under the American Eagle brand. I have shot this ammo often in the past but haven’t been able to find it for some time. As of this writing, it was listed simply as “unavailable” on the Federal site, but I’m hoping to get some more in the near future if the ammo market ever cools down enough for companies to make anything other than 9mm and 5.56 NATO.

    Sellier & Bellot has a great M2 ball load that’s safe in the M1 rifle. The load isn’t as popular, but it’s at least in stock and readily available … and it has proven to be very accurate in some rifles. I’ve noticed it’s a bit pickier and has a bit more thump to it as opposed to the Hornady or Federal, both of which are mild in the M1.

    Also, Winchester announced a new M2 ball load at SHOT Show 2023. I’m excited there are companies making strides to come out with ammo support of the M1, even when things are so volatile in the industry.

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


    More On The M1 Garand:

    Fits Like A Glove: LOK Grips Review

    Aftermarket handgun grips can help improve your shooting, and LOK Grips are some of the best available.

    Within the past decade, there’s been a significant trend toward both modularity and ergonomics—not just in relation to rifles, but all the way down to pocket pistols. The ability of the individual to quickly fit a gun to their hand—in the comfort of their home—is a relatively new field; until recently, it was the territory of custom houses and gunsmiths.

    The science of grip making is on the upswing, and every day there are new materials being tested and new means of manufacture.

    LOK Grips feature

    A Grip On History

    Historically, there were only a few common types of grip materials. The most common of these was wood, the second being hard rubber. Of course, throughout the years, there were always grips made out of materials like ivory, bone and various early plastics, but for the most part, walnut was the go-to material. Wood grips are still, of course, very valid today, and it could be argued that they’re still the most attractive type of grip. They are, however, not exceptionally durable and are usually the first thing to break given enough time and wear.

    The interesting thing about pistols is that, for much of history, there wasn’t a particular emphasis placed on how people interfaced with them. In previous issues of Gun Digest, I’ve talked about the fact that, despite the insistence of some individuals and supposed common knowledge, most pistols weren’t designed with the human hand in mind. Many guns, even ones such as the famous single-action army revolver, weren’t inherently designed to have the properties that were later assigned to them.

    Jericho-space-cowboy-brass-grips-1
    I’ll bet you’ve never seen a set of machined copper grips. LOK can make these from a solid piece of copper stock. Yes, it’s heavy, and yes, it’ll make your gun stand out.

    You’ve likely heard the whole “it rolls under recoil,” but this isn’t something that it was designed for as much as something it did spontaneously with powerful cartridges. Historically speaking, that grip shape is an evolution of Colt’s designs across decades—in a sense, it’s a highly refined appendix. It wasn’t until much later when the Bisley-style grip came out that significant emphasis was placed on how the gun fit in the hand.

    Most of the designs that existed up until quite recently focused on the firing mechanism of the gun itself. This is why you see such a random disparity in grip shapes and the placement of those grips across the past 150 years. There have, of course, been very successful designs, such as the C96 “Broomhandle,” but you can’t really call that design a complete ergonomic masterpiece.

    Really, what you see with these designs is an intentionally created feeding and firing mechanism that then has to be adapted to work in practicality … meaning that a person has to hold onto it and fire it. Sometimes, it appears that the designers simply added whatever grip they could onto their mechanism as opposed to designing a gun from the ground up around the hand.

    Pistol-Reference-Library-1
    LOK keeps a library of guns on-hand so they can ensure fit is as precise as possible.

    Popular designs, such as the 1911, have always lent themselves to a bit more customization. However, because the frame is a relatively static set of dimensions, some people have a hard time with the size front-to-back, as opposed to just its width. These fixed dimensions essentially preclude a large amount of the population from being able to comfortably use this everyday firearm. I’ve heard it many times: “I shoot a 1911 well because I have large hands.”

    Likewise, many service members I’ve known over the years have expressed disdain for the Beretta M9 due to its relatively large grip area. As women have become a major share of the gun market, we’ve seen a wide-reaching set of characteristic changes corresponding to the uptick in them carrying concealed, and their increased presence at the range and in competitions.

    Canik-brass-upgrades-1
    Brass parts on polymer guns? You bet. These Canik and Walther pistols benefit from added lower weight and certainly look as cool as can be.

    I’ve been paying close attention to this subset for more than 15 years, and I’ve noticed that not only are modular options increasing, but they’re also becoming much more common in far smaller guns. As a male-dominated industry for almost its entire existence, it cannot be coincidence that this change has come at the time when women are carrying guns in greater numbers than ever. In short, there are more hands than ever on more guns than ever, and those hands aren’t fond of one-size-fits-all solutions.

    The advent of the “chassis pistol” has had a significant impact on handgun ergonomics. Sig Sauer has led the way on this type of gun; it could be described as a serialized internal module that can accept un-serialized grip frames. Without this, we wouldn’t be seeing what we have today. Not only can you change the grip size, but you can also change the entire shape of the lower half of the gun. You can also do it inexpensively and immediately. Guns like the P320 and P365 can be instantly modified with a few tools and no gunsmithing experience. It’s a drop-in proposition to change out the entire group module.

    Sig-P365-1
    Materials might seem similar, but they’re apples and oranges. The black G10 panels on the Mischief Machine P365 grip module are a totally different material than the black canvas laminate on the Winkler Combat Axe. Despite some of these materials being referred to by the same names quite often, they’re far apart in terms of internal structure and other properties.

    I recall when Sig released the metal AXG module. This design didn’t just have a metal construction, it had interchangeable parts on the module itself. This meant that not only could you swap it out instantly, but you could also swap out the parts on it to change the texture and thickness. This wasn’t just an attempt to make a crossover between the old P226 and P229 lines; it changed the game. The P320 is the most user-friendly pistol ever made, and lots of companies capitalize on that, surprisingly with Sig’s up-front support.

    Kicking It Old School

    Companies like Hogue and Pachmayr are the category mainstays of production gun grips. As polymers and rubbers became more feasible, the late 1970s and into the 1980s saw a widespread adoption of these materials. The first gun to benefit from rubber grips were models that had a large degree of recoil … especially the popular double-action revolvers of the day chambered in .44 Magnum, .454 Casull and .41 Magnum. These groups featured a hard plastic core that rubber was molded over. Because the rubber had a degree of cushion, it could absorb some of the sharpness of recoil.

    While various types of early plastics have been used for grips for decades, the 1980s saw this material reach a level of maturity and take over wood on virtually all military handguns. While not the first American military weapon to feature synthetic furniture, the Beretta M9 was the first pistol in widespread military use stateside without wood grips.

    Beretta-LOK-Grips-1

    The 1980s would also see the explosion in popularity of guns that had one-piece frames, such as Glock and HK. Guns like the G17 and USP set the stage for virtually all pistols released from then on, and it’s only today that we’re seeing a return to metal frames.

    Companies like Hogue have introduced many modern materials into their lineup, but they’re still one of the prominent makers of rubber-coated aftermarket grips. I’ve never cared for the cosmetics of rubber grips, though I do admit that whenever I’ve fired a big-bore revolver, I’m reminded that looks aren’t everything. There’s something to be said about the end-use of a gun, and while I probably wouldn’t make a point to show it off the same way I would fancy hardwood, I’d very much prefer a set of Hogue rubber grips on a field revolver.

    LOK Grips And The New Frontier of Grip-Making

    Started as a small, part-time shop making 1911 grips, LOK Grips has since grown into one of the industry’s premier grip makers and now boasts a sprawling production floor running two shifts to feed more than 100 dealers worldwide. They work closely with companies such as Sig Sauer, Kimber, Walther and more, as well as supporting grip production for smaller companies like Live Free Armory and Mischief Machine. They make grips for a massive number of guns and individual models including various IWI, Beretta, CZ, Laugo Arms and Taurus pistols, as well as mainstays like the 1911.

    CZ blue LOK grips
    Anodized aluminum grips start life as bar stock, and after removing some chips, they become a comfortable and functional addition to your comp gun.

    What separates LOK Grips from many others is that they employ a full design team, as well as a full inventory of the actual firearms they make grips for. Because of this, they’re able to quickly address the market and shooter demand, nearly in real time. The marketing and design team at LOK is constantly in touch with hundreds of competition shooters, industry professionals and influencers. It’s an ingenious strategy, and one that has played out well for them given that their products are in use by some of the best shooters in the world.

    LOK-Grips-Spread
    A pre-packaging area at LOK’s factory gives a little taste as to how much variety they can produce.

    Because of how modular different types of guns are nowadays, the engineers at LOK are able to design various sizes of not just grip panels, but specific individual parts on the modular setups, meaning that you can custom order different shapes and swells that will allow your pistol of choice to conform closely to your hand. If you’re shooting competition, having a grip matched to your hand is of utmost importance, as you need to know exactly where it’s pointing without having to fight its rotation or torque under recoil.

    G10 is the primary material used by LOK. Contrary to popular belief, this material isn’t plastic; rather, it’s an extremely strong form of layered fiberglass. It’s much stronger than simple polymer or Micarta, which itself is a tightly packed set of layers comprised of epoxy and cloth fabric. In regard to durability, G10 is far superior to wood or any of the other listed materials. It doesn’t swell or take on moisture, nor does it become tacky or easily rip or crack like rubber. Guns equipped with G10 grips will maintain their texture and feel, even in rain and mud. Because they’re not painted, the G10 colors last much longer and will not wear like wood or scuff like plastic.

    LOK material wall
    G10 comes into the factory in large sheets.

    In addition to making grips from the excellent G10 material, LOK also makes some very interesting and advanced metal grips. Of particular interest are their grips made of machined brass. A rather unique product, LOK introduced these in 2020. As a testament to their ability to quickly react to changes in the market when the USPSA guidelines changed the upper weight limit to 59 ounces for competition, LOK ordered brass that day and had prototypes ready almost immediately.

    The extra weight of these metal grips has been a game changer for competitors, and the company has begun making brass grip parts for a large number of guns. In theory, if you were trying to stay within the weight limit, you could combine the brass elements with LOK’s aluminum parts to perfectly balance the gun and fit the grip to your hand. The possibilities are endless.

    Brass Alien Laugo grips
    LOK Grips makes some unique stuff, including brass grips with G10 inlays.

    Adding to their portfolio is their hybridized grips that feature metal construction with G10 inlay, as well as a custom shop that allows you to design your own grips that can include anything from logos, pop-culture icons and text. The sky and your imagination are the limit on what you can do.

    Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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