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Patrick Roberts

Best Glock Upgrades: Customizing For Performance (2023)

When it comes to Glock upgrades, the aim should be a high-performance pistol over a flashy gat.

Updated 7/25/23

What Glock Upgrades Are Worth Considering:

Modifying your Glock to look good on social media isn’t hard—but carefully choosing what modifications you make that enhance your Glock’s performance while retaining factory reliability is a lot harder. With a sea of choices, separating the high-quality parts that enhance your pistol from those that are nothing more than tinsel can be a challenge.

A Glock 19 C makes a great concealed carry gun with a few enhancements that help it perform like a much larger one with a compensator.
A Glock 19 C makes a great concealed carry gun with a few enhancements that help it perform like a much larger one with a compensator.

Just because you can find high-quality parts that can tailor your pistol to fit whatever role you use your Glock doesn’t mean that Glock Perfection needs perfection. In stock form, the Glock is probably the single best duty pistol ever produced and is more than capable of nearly every handgun owner worldwide.

Even though your pistol is fine, there are some good reasons to modify it. The question is, what are the most beneficial modifications to make? After shooting more than a quarter-million rounds through Glocks—ranging from entirely stock to the highly modified ATEi space blasters—most have taught me that some Glock upgrades are worth their weight
in gold … but others can make the pistol worse.

Function Over Form

Sure, that awesome slide you found on eBay might net you bazillions of followers on The Gram, but will it transform you into a paper-shredding shoot-bot with an odd penchant for skinny jeans? No, it probably won’t.

Just because a Glock isn’t focused on function doesn’t mean that it’s wrong; aesthetically focused builds have a place in the world. That said, generic Glock upgrades purchased on Wish.com isn’t OK if you intend to use that gun in a defensive role.

Being put in the position to use a firearm defensively sucks enough; think of how much more it would suck if that AliExpress trigger kit failed and the gun didn’t go bang.

Buying Skill

Despite what the internet tells you, a new trigger or barrel on your Glock isn’t going to make you a better shooter. The truth is, most modifications actually mask your shortcomings as a shooter, and you can’t buy skill.

Most shooters see improvement as a result of two factors: mechanical advantage and psychological impact. Mechanical advantage is a pretty simple concept; sometimes, the part makes the system work more efficiently. Making the pistol better was the intention, but be careful not to ignore the things you need to work on as a shooter.

The psychological impact is harder to spot and can fool you into thinking that a part held you back. Yes, the trigger feels crisper and shorter—you might even shoot marginally better with the new trigger installed. Truth is, you shoot the same as you did before: Skill-building takes work, not parts.

Quality Glock Parts

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned as a shooter that I could pass on to every new gun owner, it would be to buy quality the first time. Purchasing a copy of an established product or a bargain product that’s supposed to do the same job as the brand-name one often comes with hidden costs attached.

Cheap red-dot sights will fail, cheap iron sights can damage your slide’s sight dovetails, and inexpensive triggers can cause a gun to fire unintentionally. Even something as trivial as aftermarket metal frame pins can wallow out the holes in the frame and ruin your gun entirely.

If you’ve had parts that the internet has labeled “jUsT aS gUd” fail and are forced to buy a replacement, the more expensive brand might have cost you less money in the long run.

Glock Upgrades That Affect Reliability

  • Aftermarket recoil springs
  • Aftermarket striker springs
  • Non-Glock strikers
  • Non-Glock spring cups
  • Gen 1-4 barrels in Gen 5 guns
  • Aftermarket frame pins
  • Aftermarket minus connectors

Best Glock Upgrades


It should go without saying that replacing the plastic dovetail protectors with some proper sights will improve the overall shooting experience. You can shoot a Glock effectively with stock sights, but do you want to if there are better options?

Upgrading your OEM plastic sights to fibers is a worthy investment. Choose adjustable if your budget can handle it.
Upgrading your OEM plastic sights to fibers is a worthy investment. Choose adjustable if your budget can handle it.

For iron sights, adjustable sights are the way to go so you can tailor your sights to ammunition changes. Dawson Precision makes some of the best ones out there. My recommendation is the all-black rear with a fiber-optic front sight, a reasonably fast setup with just about the most precision you can get out of irons.

Of course, the ideal solution is to add a red dot to your pistol. Regardless of the way you want to look at it, a red-dot is going to offer you a more precise aiming system without sacrificing speed or durability. If you don’t own a MOS slide, calling a shop like ATEi to get your slide milled for an optic is a great solution.


One of the weak points of Gen 3 and older Glocks is the lack of effective texture on the pistol sides. Glock did listen to the end-user and brought the RTF2 and RTF3 textures to market, but the aftermarket was already melting more aggressive patterns into grips with wood burners.

Pro Stipplers, like Great Lakes Custom Works (bottom) or TXT Custom Gun Works (top), can enhance the pistol’s grip to be better—without the risk of ruining a frame.
Pro Stipplers, like Great Lakes Custom Works (bottom) or TXT Custom Gun Works (top), can enhance the pistol’s grip to be better—without the risk of ruining a frame.

Since this practice started, stipple work has evolved with shops like Great Lake Custom Works offering grip packages that change the way the gun feels by offering finger grove removal, deeper trigger guard undercuts and index points that act as a makeshift gas pedal.

Being able to tailor your pistol to the level of texture that fits your needs best isn’t a parlor trick to be ignored; it has a considerable effect on the shooting experience. Having a top-tier shop like Great Lakes or TXT Custom gun works can set you back a couple of hundred dollars, but removing the chance of a ruined frame is well worth it.

That isn’t to say that you can’t do a reasonable functional job at home with an OT Defense DIY Stipple Kit; take care not to warp the magwell or remove too much material with a Dremel tool. If you’re intent on doing it yourself, take your time and go slow.


Choosing a trigger isn’t as simple as buying the one with the coolest colors, the best marketing or even the lighter trigger pull weight. My goal with trigger changes isn’t to reduce pull weight or shorten reset distance—it’s to reduce the trigger reach.

The distance from the backstrap to the trigger face, or trigger reach, will do a lot to improve the shooting experience if you select the right one. Yes, the OEM trigger works fine, but switching to a flat-face trigger can help those with shorter fingers get a proper grip on the gun without doing weird things with their grip. Remember, the Glock is a double-action pistol, and the trigger finger should be deeper in the trigger guard … just like you shoot a double-action revolver.

If you have shorter fingers, you might look at the Overwatch Precision DAT V2 or TAC triggers, TangoDown’s Vickers trigger or Agency Arms' trigger, which is the best of the bunch, in my opinion. Those with longer fingers might look at the Apex Tactical trigger or even stick with the OEM trigger and install a minus connector to get the pull into the 5-pound range.


Upgraded controls are generally the next thing that I recommend addressing if you find the stock ones aren’t cutting the mustard. Gen 4 and Gen 5 pistols are pretty good right out of the box; you might want to think about an enhanced slide release, though. Gen 3 pistols are another matter and probably would benefit from a magazine release that makes it easier for those with shorter fingers to hit the button.

A TangoDown Vickers Tactical mag release is perfect for speeding up your reloads.
A TangoDown Vickers Tactical mag release is perfect for speeding up your reloads.

For slide releases, the raised and rearward swept Kagwerks slide release is the one that I choose for my guns because it allows me to adopt an extremely high grip on the pistol and still have the slide release function as intended. TangoDown’s Vickers release is also a great one, but it can suffer failure to lock back with a high enough grip.

When looking for a new slide release, avoid metal ones when using OEM Glock magazines. The metal release will deform the mag catch cutout and eventually cause a malfunction by allowing the mag to slip out of place during recoil. The OEM extended release are good options, as is the Vickers magazine release.


A plug that fills the void in the back of the grip, affectionately called a “buttplug,” does more than prevent dust and debris from making its way into the gun. If you select the right one, it will fill out the rear of the magwell and prevent the rim of a case from snagging during a reload.

Either a Glock plug or a magazine well removes that empty cavity in the rear that can catch during your reload.
Either a Glock plug or a magazine well removes that empty cavity in the rear that can catch during your reload.

Think of it like a magwell, just without the bulk. There are some low-profile magwells out there that are worth a look if you can conceal them, but sometimes a magwell like the Raven Concealment Freya is a bit too hard to conceal in some clothing. At less than $10 online, this is a low-cost Glock upgrade that has tangible benefits. Why not, right?


Nearly last on the list is a barrel, and for a good reason. The only time a barrel upgrade makes sense is if you need a threaded barrel to add a compensator or suppressor, you’re putting a slide together from parts bought separately or you’ve damaged your original barrel.

Stock barrels are surprisingly accurate, and you don’t need a flashy barrel to shoot well.
Stock barrels are surprisingly accurate, and you don’t need a flashy barrel to shoot well.

You probably aren’t anywhere near shooting better than your OEM barrel can perform; why not spend the money on something that will improve your shooting like any of the other mods mentioned so far? Now, if you’re one of the few shooters capable of shooting under 3-inch groups offhand at 25 yards, replace the barrel with a high-quality one from KKM Precision or another company that produces barrels of similar quality—and try to tighten things up a bit more.

As for most shooters, the 5-yard target isn’t going to look much better by swapping the barrel out.

Training Equipment

Remember how I said you couldn’t buy skill? The Mantis X10 Elite is almost like buying skill, the only difference is you need to put in the work with high-quality dry-fire practice. I know, a Mantis isn’t exactly a bolt-on Glock upgrade.

For those unfamiliar with the Mantis, it’s a small box that contains a bunch of sensors you can slide onto your light rail. Once you pair the sensor to your phone through Bluetooth, any movement the pistol makes will be relayed to the app on your phone, which you can then use to identify why you’re shooting low left with your Glock. At roughly the cost of a pre-Covid case of 9mm or less, a Mantis offers more benefit to the dollar than anything else.

The top-of-the-line Mantis X10 Elite even allows you to gather data on live-fire practice, what the pistol is doing in recoil and fine-tuning your draw. If you’re serious about getting more out of your Glock (or any pistol, for that matter), one of the Mantis models should be on your shopping or Christmas list.

Training Aids

  • Mantis (X3 or X10 Elite)
  • Snap caps
  • Bull’s-eye targets (example: NRA B8 & B8 Repair Centers)
  • Shot timer
  • Book a training class
  • Ammo … and shoot a lot of it
  • 1-, 2- and 3-inch adhesive bull’s-eyes
  • Laser Pistol (SFTD or SIRT)
  • Laser training software (LASR App, LASR X)
  • Glock plastic Dummy Round, 50-count box

Do What Makes Sense For You

It shouldn’t have to be said that you don’t need any of these things (except the Mantis) to shoot better; they make the pistol work better for your physiology. Use your head and think critically about what mods you perform on your pistol, and you can’t go wrong.

As long as you modify your pistol with high-quality parts that you can explain why you chose, the pistol will be better suited to your needs.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More Glock Reviews:

Best AR-15 Accessories And Upgrades (2023)

Updated 04/21/2023

Dos and Don’ts when it comes to AR-15 accessories, upgrades and parts in general.

What AR-15 Accessories and Upgrades Should You Focus On:

You should be aware that the AR-15 is an incredibly popular rifle platform in America, and for good reason. Relatively inexpensive, light recoiling, reliable and easily adaptable to a particular role are all huge factors in why it’s grown to be crowned as “America’s Rifle.”

Have a plan when you start buying parts; a simple rifle doesn’t mean less capable.
Have a plan when you start buying AR-15 accessories and parts; a simple rifle doesn’t mean less capable.

And if I may be completely frank, those are the same reasons that we have a sea of subpar AR-15 accessories and parts all over the market. Experience and several hours of exhaustive research on Facebook tell me that the carbine is misunderstood by a huge number of AR owners.

So, before you jump on AliExpress and order all of the Chinesium “upgrades” you can find, this is where I would start to get the most out of my rifle—and get the most from my money when considering upgrades.

The AR-15: Not LEGOs

It’s easy to think that building an AR-15 is just like snapping together some LEGOs … but you couldn’t be more mistaken. It wasn’t until I had the good fortune to attend an armorer’s course from William Larson, the AR-15 Yoda himself, that the number of out-of-spec AR parts on the market sunk in.

One of the sayings that Will was fond of is, “AR-15s aren’t LEGOs because LEGOs have a spec.” Armed with new knowledge, I started to pay closer attention to aftermarket AR15 accessories and parts than I ever had before. And as you might expect from Yoda, Will hit the nail on the head.

AR-15 Accessories. The ultra-strong Magpul UBR Gen2 is a perfect companion for the Vltor A5 system.
The ultra-strong Magpul UBR Gen2 is a perfect companion for the Vltor A5 system.

The truth is that most of the ARs on the market—and the majority of aftermarket parts—labeled as mil-spec … well, they aren’t. On the civilian market, that dirty little term “mil-spec” means that the part is sized to fit the wide range of specifications found on commercial AR-15s, not that it meets the standards outlined in the actual technical document that outlines the real mil-spec.

Just because that bargain-priced part says it’ll fit doesn’t mean it will. You might have to rely on time-tested gunsmith techniques—such as holding your tongue just right between your lips, a large hammer or even a Dremel tool.

If you prefer sparing yourself the guessing game, stick to high-quality parts; you might not need to rely on the Dremel after all.

Have A Plan

The saying “Jack of all trades, master of none” is just as applicable to rifles as it is people. The “one rifle to rule them all” simply doesn’t exist. Every rifle has specific weaknesses and strengths based on how the rifle is spec’d out from the factory, plus whatever changes are made to it after purchase.

An 18- to 20-inch barrel rifle might be perfect for some hunting, Cold War engagement distances or use in a DMR role. Will it work in a CQB role while defending your home? Sure—but it isn’t going to be ideal.

An 18-inch DMR rifle would make a less-than-ideal home-defense rifle, but it’s great at distance.
An 18-inch DMR rifle would make a less-than-ideal home-defense rifle, but it’s great at distance.

Similarly, I recommend that you don’t choose a 10.5-inch 5.56 NATO SBR or pistol to compete in a Precision Rifle match. That MK18/CQBR-inspired gun is far more at home in the tight confines of a structure, such as your home.

Whatever role you have for your rifle, make sure you follow local and federal laws. Yes, many can be considered unconstitutional, but failing to do so could land you in much more trouble than you’re interested in handling.

It Isn’t ‘Just As Good’

I’m not going to shame anyone for the Zombie Slayer 9000 that was built to kick-start their second career as a “gunfluencer” by propelling an online social account to legendary status. The truth is that rifle is probably as functional—if not more functional—than the GM Hydramatic M16A1 clone hanging on my wall.

Cool-looking guns are cool, and there isn’t anything wrong with that until you start believing that the Zombie Slayer 9000 is “just as good” as a proven rifle from Sons of Liberty Gun Works, Sionics, Geissele, Knights Armament, FN America and a pile of other AR manufacturers with guns that are proven reliable.

M-Lok has become the new standard; a 1913 rail is still serviceable, but avoid KeyMod at all costs.
M-Lok has become the new standard for attaching AR-15 accessories; a 1913 rail is still serviceable, but avoid KeyMod at all costs.

The same thing applies to knock-off parts that are priced significantly below the cost of the original one. Better materials, more research and development, innovative design and better quality control are going to play a factor in price, making the original version likely more expensive.

Instead of blindly cutting corners with part quality, think hard about the part you intend to save a few bucks on … and then think about how badly you might get hurt if that part blew up during a catastrophic failure. Buy the quality; it’s always worth it.

Get On Target With The AR:

AR-15 Accessories And Parts Suggestions

Sling: A Must-have AR-15 Accessory

A sling is essential, maybe the most important AR-15 accessory. Period. It can be used to carry a rifle, provide more stability when lining up a shot, and retain your rifle should someone try to grab it away from you.

Blue Force Gear Vickers Sling
Blue Force Gear Vickers Sling

The single-point sling is easier to use in cramped spaces due to the amount of movement they offer, but that’s also the weakness of the single-point design. When the rifle is slung, it swings all over the place, hitting your knees, shins and everything else in its path.

There are a bunch of well-made examples of single-point slings, but if you’re determined to buy one, get a Magpul MS3 or MS4 sling that can be converted to a two-point easily.

Preferably, choose a quick-adjust two-point sling, which offers more stability when carrying the rifle and shooting it than a single point will. The two-point sling also excels when carrying the rifle slung in front, side or back.

Models to consider are the Blue Force Gear Vickers Sling, the SOB B-Sling, and other similarly built models. Pick a high-quality design and you won’t be disappointed.

Step Up Your Optics Game

We live in the future with the entire internet in our pocket, and adding a red-dot or low-powered variable optic (LPVO) to your rifle reliably enhances your ability to aim the rifle.

LPVO technology is to the point that shooters who’ve acclimated to the more versatile optic are about as fast as the folks using a red-dot. Not only is most of the speed you get from a dot available, but there are also 10x scopes—like the Vortex Razor HD Gen III 1-10x—that you can crank up when precision is needed.

If the minimum buy-in for a high-quality LPVO of $1,000 is a bit steep, a good red-dot might be the ticket. Among Holosun, Aimpoint, Sig Electro-Optics and EOTech, there’s a dot that fits your needs. However, beware of the bargain dots: The market is flooded with cheap sights that will die or lose zero at the worst times.

Also, don’t forget a high-quality mount for your new optic to ensure you don’t move the optic should you bump it on something. Not all rings and bases are created equal, either. Not even close.

Floppy Barrel Fix

Did you know that when you apply pressure to your plastic clamshell handguards by leaning into a bipod that it actually changes your point of impact?

A free-float rail nearly removes that deviation and also gives you somewhere to attach lights, lasers, sling mounts and index points, such as a Gripstop. Look for a high-quality Picatinny rail model or preferably, something with M-Lok slots. Avoid KeyMod since it isn’t heavily supported anymore. M-Lok is the clear winner in that popularity contest.

Any high-quality brand should do you well, but there’s a handful of proven performers: Geissele, Sons of Liberty Gun Works, Hodge Defense, Bravo Company and Knight’s Armament. Cover the full length of the barrel, but don’t extend over the muzzle.


You don’t really need to upgrade your trigger, the standard mil-spec style trigger that’s found in most rifles will be perfectly adequate for most shooters. However, upgrading a mil-spec trigger almost always offers immediate performance improvements.

Should you decide that you want to upgrade the trigger on your rifle, I suggest that you look for a trigger that isn’t housed in a drop-in cassette. It’s possible that this design can trap debris in the trigger mechanism, leading to a malfunction.

A good old Geissele not only provides a snappy break, but also is easy to maintenance.  Great AR-15 accessory.
A good old Geissele not only provides a snappy break but also is easy to maintenance.

Geissele made their name with their triggers, and for good reason. Regardless of the role you have identified for your rifle, Geissele has a trigger that’ll work for you. There’s a budget-friendly option—the ALG Defense Advanced Combat Trigger—if the regular Geissele line is more money than you’d like invest.

New Furniture Livens The Place Up

An A2 grip and M4 stock will do just fine in a pinch, but those are often among the first things that get ditched on a new rifle. Sadly, the M4-style stock is missing a QD attachment point for a sling, which is a good enough reason for me to chuck the stock one into the recycler. As for the grip, many aren’t fond of the “bump” between the middle and ring finger placement … and they ditch that as well.

Magpul UBR Gen2 Stock
Magpul UBR Gen2 Stock

There are a ton of great grips out there: Which one you choose really depends on the role of the gun. The Magpul series of grips that accept an insert are a solid option because you can stow some extra oil, some Skittles or even a spare bolt and firing pin with one of the available inserts.

What stock you choose is equally dependent on the gun’s purpose. If you have a dedicated precision-focused rifle, you might choose the Magpul PRS stock or B5 Systems Precision Stock. A general carbine might be better off with something a bit less expensive yet still offering a wide range of adjustability.

Folding Stock

While a LAW Tactical folding stock adapter might not strike you as a common-sense upgrade, it really is. A LAW folder isn’t a must on every AR-15, but it’s a useful addition to rifles or pistols that you might want to carry discretely.

The ability to chop the buffer tube and stock off your rifle for storage and transportation opens up a bunch of possibilities in terms of rifle bags, in addition to where you’re able to stow that bag. Pair a LAW folder and a discrete rifle bag from Tuff Products, and those awkward moments in the hotel elevator while attending an out-of-town training class or match are in the past.

While a folding AR-15 might seem unnecessary, the robust LAW Tactical folder is a must-have on many of the author’s rifles. For AR-15 accessories this is a must have.
While a folding AR-15 might seem unnecessary, the robust LAW Tactical folder is a must-have on many of the author’s rifles.

Be cautious of knock-off folding stock adapters or ones that copy the design of LAW Tactical that are made from inferior metals. You might save a hundred bucks or so at the cost of replacing durable steel construction with substantially weaker 6000 series aluminum. Personally, I don’t like the idea of my face being close to a reciprocating bolt and bolt extension that passes through a joint that needs to be precisely aligned, only to be housed in “good enough” materials.

AR-15 Accessories: It Can Be Like LEGOs

The AR platform is nothing short of amazing. It checks just about every box that you can think of and, if it missed one, just change the rifle so it checks all the boxes for you.

Even though the commercial model AR-15s doesn’t have a spec now, maybe one day manufacturers can settle on some standards.

If that happens, AR-15s might actually be like LEGOs.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2020 December issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

A Guide To The Home Defense Shotgun

It might be time to get a new shotgun for home defense, because your grandpa’s bird gun is not the ideal home defense shotgun setup.

If you grew up in a home with firearms, chances are good there was a trusty pump-action shotgun somewhere in the house, likely leaning up behind a door. Versatile, powerful and easier to shoot than a pistol, the scattergun was a natural choice during a time when AR-15s weren’t nearly as common.

Grandpa’s old Remington 1100 dove gun isn’t great for clearing your home, but it can be devastating if you’re defending a barricaded position. Don’t forget to put the plug back in before next season!

As a direct result of the shotgun prevalence, there’s no shortage of misunderstandings and gun shop lore when “The Gauge” comes up. Many misconceptions about shotguns stem from how shot performs when hunting birds. Don’t buy into lore like, “you don’t even need to aim it, just point it down the hall,” that so often echoes off gun store walls.

Shotguns seem reasonably straightforward compared to a handgun, but the reality is they need to be practiced with just as often as any other firearm. Learning to keep the gun’s limited ammo capacity topped off—or managing the hefty recoil—takes range time. 

Scattergun Misconceptions

You Don’t Need To Aim

The misunderstanding that pointing the barrel in the general direction of a threat almost certainly has roots in bird hunting, where hundreds of pellets are launched at a target 25 yards away. At that distance with general sporting loads, the pattern has a sizable spread. Take that range down to typical home distances of feet rather than yards—with a limited pellet count of 00 buckshot—and your shot pattern is going to be significantly tighter. You absolutely need to aim with a shotgun; they aren’t magic.

As Soon As They Hear It Rack, They Run Away

Quit watching so much TV. Plus, a legally armed civilian should never use a firearm to intimidate through sight or sound; the act of displaying the fact you’re armed is often a legal issue. Could the sound of a shotgun being racked send someone running? Maybe. Retired law enforcement officer Darryl Bolke of Hardwired Tactical has shared, on multiple occasions, that in his first on-the-job shooting, both of the carjackers clearly heard him rack his 870 when he got out of the car. Did that stop the carjackers? They clearly didn’t scare easily.  

Anyone Can Use A Shotgun

Yes … but also, no. Between the substantial recoil and ergonomic issues, handing a shotgun to someone who hasn’t put in some range time can be a recipe for disaster. Most shotguns on the wall at your local gun store are fitted with a stock that’s better suited for hunting than in a defensive role. They seem to work fine on a square range, but the second you shoot from an odd position, that reach to rack the gun might be too long and result in a short stroke.

Choose A Platform

Do you need the latest tactical shotgun to effectively defend your home? Nope, but the ability to add things that make using the gun easier sure is nice. Plenty of folks have successfully used a hunting shotgun of the pump, semi-auto or even break-action type to defend those they love.

Even a competition shotgun, like the new Mossberg 940 JM Pro, is a step up from granddad’s 28-inch dove gun in a defensive role. The 22- to 24-inch barrel that you find on most competitive shotguns makes moving inside a structure harder, should you be forced to leave the safety of your barricaded position.

Mossberg-JM-940-Pro-home defense shotgun
Competitive shotguns like the Mossberg 940 JM Pro might not be ideal for defensive use but can be very effective.

Most home defense shotguns on the market come with an 18- to 20-inch barrel, which is ideal for a non-NFA gun. Another option to strongly consider is a Mossberg 590 Shockwave or something similar, which is designed specifically for a defensive role.

Gauging Your Options

The first step in figuring out what shotgun you want to use for defensive reasons is to choose what it’ll be chambered in. I’d narrow it down to a 12- or 20-gauge to make finding a good defensive load easy on yourself. Forget the off-gauges the bird hunters love.


A 12 gauge is generally the right call here because ammunition, parts and even the guns themselves are more widely available. That isn’t to say that a 20 gauge can’t serve you well, but don’t expect the recoil to be substantially lighter; a lighter gun that’s easier to hold is also going to soak up less recoil.

Semi-Auto Or Pump Action?

Although obvious action choices are semi-auto and pump-action, there are also lever-action shotguns as well as the very simple break-actions to consider. Break-action shotguns are less than ideal when you realize that most home invasions involve two or three people, and lever-action shotguns are finicky at best. That leaves us with the good ol’ pump and the semi-auto, but each have their own unique pros and cons.

A pump-action is the most common choice due to overall cost and availability. Accessories are easy to find, and getting a nice used police trade-in can net you a bargain. If you choose a pump, make sure you practice with it often, learn to manage the recoil and get in the habit of racking that action every time you pull the trigger.

Beretta’s 1301 Tactical is the most developed defensive semi-auto on the market today.

A semi-auto is going to shoot softer and be easier for those who don’t practice with a shotgun often, but it’s also a lot easier to outrun your headlights with one or have it go dry on you unexpectedly. Often, the largest objections to a semi-auto are that they can be finicky with ammo, and they’re significantly more expensive than the manually operated pump action.

Home Defense Shotgun Enhancements

Adding some doodads to the shotgun is going to make it easier to use under high stress levels, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. A defensive gun should be purposeful; you can leave the fancy parts to your range toys.

Replace The Stock

Shorter-than-average humans like myself are well-served by replacing the stock on a shotgun intended for defensive. Being able to run the action with room to spare, in any odd position I might find myself, hinges on the stock’s length of pull. A nice byproduct of the need for a shorter stock is that the Magpul SGA stock, which I put on nearly every shotgun, adds a sling attachment point as well as the ability to fit different cheek risers.  

Home defense Shotgun Magpul-Stock

On more than one occasion, I’ve short-stroked the gun when running it quickly because the stock was too long—the last thing I want is for that to happen when defending against an aggressor. Switching to a stock with a reduced length isn’t going to remove the possibility of a short-stroked action, but it happens far less often.

Shed Some Light On Things

Seeing things clearly is mandatory, because statistics prove that most home-invasions happen at night. There are a ton of options for adding some illumination to your gun, ranging from a cheap flashlight mount, on up to purpose-built forends with a built-in light.

Home defense Shotgun-Streamlight
Mossberg’s 590A1 holds the distinction of being the only shotgun to pass military testing and is lefty-friendly.

I generally prefer a forend with an integrated light like the Streamlight TL-Racker or SureFire’s DSF weapon light. The Streamlight offering is significantly brighter with 1,000 lumens to the SureFire’s 600 while remaining cheaper, but there’s a slight build quality trade-off.

There are even forend replacements, like the Magpul M-Lok forend, that allow you to mount a more traditional light without clamping something to your barrel or mag tube. If you have an oddball shotgun, your only option for a light may be a barrel clamp and a high-quality 1-inch flashlight.


Bead, Ghost Ring, Rifle Or Red-Dot?

It might not be a bad idea to upgrade that bead sight on your gun to something a bit easier to see in low light. The best bang for your buck is going to be adding a tritium XS Sights DXT Big Dot sight to your gun. Want to go further than that? Adding a ghost ring rear, or even stepping up to a red-dot sight, is possible.

Aimpoint Micro H-2 red dot sight.

Many of the shotguns on the shelf today have the ability to slap a rail section to the top of the receiver, which will work in a pinch but is far from ideal. Purpose-built products, like the Aridus Industries CROM mount or the Scalarworks Sync, are great options if you want a rugged optic mount for your shotty.  

Slings, Safeties And Small Enhancements

Do you need a sling for a home-defense shotgun? Maybe. It really depends on your needs. No sling is preferable; the fewer things to get snagged the better. I might suggest a single-point sling if there’s a possibility I might need to pick a child up or use both hands.

To round out the mods, small parts like enlarged safeties and enhanced followers are a good place to finish. Since I prefer a cruiser-ready configuration, an enlarged safety isn’t as important for me as it may be for those who keep a shell chambered.

Feeding The Gun

One of the largest downsides to using a home defense shotgun is the greatly reduced capacity over modern semi-auto pistols or mag-fed rifles. Adding some form of onboard ammunition carrier, such as a side-saddle ammo carrier, is a must.

A fancy side saddle with interchangeable cards makes changing ammo types a snap, but in a pinch, a cheap buttstock ammo carrier is better than a pocket full of shells.

Cumbersome ammunition bandoleers and slings with shell loops aren’t as fast to load from, and they oftentimes don’t retain the shells well, making them less than ideal. Besides that, they tangle easily and catch on things … especially in the dark. If you feel you need more ammo than a side-saddle holds, Velcro cards or an Aridus Industries quick-detach carrier are good options to replenish your onboard ammunition.

Shotgun-stock-shell-carrier-1, home defense shotgun, shotgun for home defense

Home Defense Shotgun Storage

Should you keep a shell chambered or is it better to keep the shotgun with a full mag tube, empty chamber and the hammer down? That’s personal preference. You might be influenced by the fact that most shotguns don’t have a firing pin block and instead rely on a spring to keep the firing pin retracted—I know I was.

While I’m generally a round-in-the-chamber kinda dude with rifles and pistols, I’ve heard enough horror stories from folks who teach shotgun classes—as well as buddies in law enforcement—to sway me toward keeping an empty chamber when the gun is stowed.

Lock It Up!

It should go without saying that putting the gun on a top shelf with an empty chamber isn’t enough. Find a way to lock up your home defense shotgun that’s easy to access. Tons of options out there will make gaining access to the gun much harder for a kid or a thief.

A bracket-type wall lock will run you a couple hundred dollars, but this design presents some challenges if you have optics or a side saddle. Hornady’s Rapid RFID wall lock is worth a look, as is the cheaper from ShotLock that doesn’t rely on newfangled RFID tags to unlock it. 

Don’t discount an under-bed safe like the one from SnapSafe … or even a very small gun locker in your bedroom closet.

If I Could Have Only One

The shotgun is a wonderful defensive tool that can also put meat on the table in a pinch. If I was forced to get rid of all my guns with the exception of only one, a 12 gauge of some type is likely the one that makes the cut. It might suck as a concealed firearm, but in regard to everything else you could want from a defensive firearm—a 12 gauge will do well … and then some.

A shotgun is going to treat you right … as long as you don’t buy into the myths. Set your gun up right, choose the right ammo and verify it patterns well.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More On Shotguns:

Covert Rifle Carry

Concealed carry is about praying for the best while prepping for the worst, so why not improve your preparedness by considering covert rifle carry?

All it takes to be reminded of the rapid cultural changes in America is to flip on a TV. Not long ago, the only place that you’d hear about protests and riots was in a history book; now they’ve become commonplace with politically driven tensions at an all-time high. Maybe it was time to rethink my approach to defending my family.

It seems the days of a five-shot .38 Special tucked in a pocket holster might be coming to an end; after all, those are at best case a two-bad-guy gun with great shot placement. Many concealed carriers move to a 15-round polymer pistol like the FN 509 Midsize MRD or Glock 19; now we’ve a five- or six-bad-guy gun, if your shot placement is damn near perfect.

But what if you find yourself in the middle of a “peaceful” protest? Even that six-bad-guy gun isn’t going to stop dozens, potentially even more than that.

It seems that the concept of a modern “truck gun” has more relevancy than ever before. In years past that might’ve referred to a beater ranch rifle used to dispatch the odd coyote or other rural pest; but the last decade has seen a shift from those old bolt actions to modern semi-auto rifles.


Out of Sight, Out Of Mind

Not long ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see a rifle rack in the back window of a pickup. Concerns of theft have made that a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean that folks don’t have a rifle tucked away in their vehicle. Keeping a rifle hidden from view has a downside, though: You probably can’t access it quickly and, if you can, it probably isn’t hidden all that well.

That’s where a discrete rifle bag comes into play. Clever designs like the Tuff Products Sentinel Concepts Elite Revelation II backpack, Elite Survival Systems Stealth backpack and Vertx’s Gamut series of backpacks bring new options to the table when trying to keep a rifle from prying eyes. While they look like a standard backpack, they’ve been designed to look like a run-of-the-mill bag and not raise any eyebrows.

Checking into a hotel with Tuff’s Revelation II has never once raised an eyebrow. Open the Sentinel Concepts Elite Revelation II and pull the concealment panel away for easy access to an AR with up to a 10.5-inch barrel and a LAW folder.

If you aren’t interested in a backpack design, there are plenty of other bags on the market that no one would suspect carried a long-gun. Your bag choice will ultimately be driven by your rifle and how you wish to conceal that bag in your car. 

Your Car Isn’t a Gun Safe

Do you need a high-speed bag to hide a rifle in your vehicle? No, but it isn’t until you get out of the car that the covert bag really shines. While many “truck guns” only leave the truck when the rifle is being used or cleaned, the reality is that’s a terrible idea—your door locks don’t make your vehicle a gun safe.

The ability to discretely take my rifle inside at night without the thought of “gun” entering an onlooker’s mind has been the single biggest benefit to the covert bags I own. It wasn’t until I went on a nine-day road trip with my 14.5-inch do-all AR-15 that I truly appreciated the ability to take my overnight bag and the Tuff Products Sentinel Concepts CARB bag into a hotel without anyone even raising an eyebrow. In fact, on more than one occasion I was asked if I played keyboard due to the CARB bag’s resemblance to a nylon keyboard case.

Open the CARB Bag and you find a 14.5-inch AR-15 fitted with a LAW Tactical Folder, electronic muffs and eye protection.

It Isn’t Just For ‘Truck Guns’

A discrete rifle bag isn’t just limited for transport to and from your vehicle: It also makes a ton of sense if you’re at a training class or live in an area that isn’t overly fond of guns. The last thing you want to happen while armed with something that a news reporter would undoubtedly label as “fully semi-automatic assault clipazine-fed soul snatcher” is an uncomfortable conversation with someone who realizes you have a rifle.

It’s far better to play it cool as though you tickle the ivories in the church band, are headed off for a hike or any number of other things that don’t include the .308 Winchester bolt-action that’s actually in your bag.

Not All Covert Bags Are Equal

Be prepared to spend a few dollars on a high-quality bag; you don’t want to deal with a torn bag when you’re checking out of that swanky hotel. When it comes to backpacks and bags, quality costs a few bucks.

Sure, you could maybe get away with any number of bags and cases designed for other things but those might not protect your firearm like you hope. Depending on your rifle, you might want to take care when putting a magnified optic-equipped rifle into a bag. It wouldn’t be the first time that a quality optic met its demise in a bag that someone thought would protect their several-thousand-dollar scope. 

The new Sentinel Concepts Elite Board Bag from Tuff Products is large enough to hide just about any long-gun … in plain sight. The Alamo Precision Rifles .308 Win precision rifle tucks neatly into the bag while the other pocket holds needed to take a long- range training course.

Your bag choice needs to be centered around the rifle or AR pistol you intend on carrying. You aren’t going to be able to shoehorn that 16-inch Smith & Wesson M&P15 that you’ve had for years into a backpack that looks like a regular backpack.

My personal go-to bags are all from Tuff Products because they’re well thought out, built well and blend in extraordinarily well. The fact that the brains behind all three of my Tuff Products bags happens to be a great friend, who spends more time behind a windshield than anyone else I know, is a side benefit. 

Setting a Rifle Up For Covert Bags

Once you’ve identified your base rifle and made the decision as to what bag you want to use, get your rifle setup for stowing in the bag. That means figuring out how to hold mags, mag pouches and slings in the bag—without making the rifle impossible to get out of the bag quickly. Figuring out a place to stow some eye and ear protection is also a great idea.

As far as the rifle itself is concerned, the first thing I recommend looking at is a LAW Tactical folder … if your chosen rifle is an AR-15. Bolt-actions can use any number of folding stock chassis, and if you have something like an under-folder AK, your work is pretty much already done for you. Double-check that your optic and lights are securely mounted to the rifle or AR pistol, and strap that bad boy into your bag. Tuck the rest of your kit (mags, pouches, etc.) in the bag as you can, but don’t over stuff the thing. The goal is to blend in while carrying enough gun to get you out of nearly every situation, not invade a small country.

This 8-inch .300 Blackout SBR with a LAW folder is compact to stow in just about any discrete rifle bag on the market.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Now that you have the bag and it’s all setup, practice with it. Spend some time doing dry runs getting the gun out of the bag to have an idea of how long it’ll take you to go from identifying a threat to getting that long-gun into the fight. While a rifle is a superior defensive tool, you might not have the time to get to it—and your concealed-carry pistol might be a far better option.

Practicing how to efficiently employ the gun will not only give you a realistic expectation of how long it takes, but you’ll also likely find different ways to stage your kit in the bag to make it a touch easier to get the rifle out of the bag and on target.

It’s Not For Everyone

Don’t think that I’m saying everyone should carry a long-gun everywhere they go. The truth is, 99 percent of Americans will never need a setup like this and would be best served with a concealed-carry pistol.

That said, no one should chastise someone for deciding to keep a long-gun close at hand. The Second Amendment gives me the freedom to toss a rifle on my back, should I feel a justification to do so. I just prefer to do it in a way that doesn’t result in a photo of me, holding the world’s cringiest SKS in a Chipotle, going viral.

Chastising gun owners with poor taste, like Chipotle SKS guy Flakoo Decampo, is perfectly acceptable though.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2021 CCW special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More On Covert Rifle Carry:

Couples Counseling For Concealed Carriers

If you’re a concealed carrier and have a partner, you could both likely benefit from practicing more effective communication in high-stress environments.

Being an effective concealed carrier or home defender takes more than putting a gun on every day and regular range time. Yes, physical fitness, incorporating less-lethal tools or learning hand-to-hand techniques can be part of the formula.

Still, there’s one aspect to being a good defender that’s missing: communication.

Communication is hard; anyone in a relationship will know that all too well. If you’re not great at talking about your thoughts, feelings or your day at work, that’s OK—that isn’t the kind of communication we’re talking about here.


Effective communication between a defender and the ones you care about is essential to surviving a violent encounter.

While that might seem obvious, it isn’t as easy to do when the stakes are high. Simple things like who enters a room first or a code for “we need to go right now” should be established before things get weird.

How To Practice Communicating

There are hundreds of drills to help you become a more proficient shooter, but drills to improve effective communication are far less common. About as close as you’ll get is having a partner call out colors, shapes or numbers on a target array, but that doesn’t work on the hard stuff.

A far more effective means of honing your communication skills is establishing a plan for scenarios such as a home invasion, an active shooter and others you identify as essential to discuss. Keeping those most precious to you should be the goal when planning; you aren’t Jack Bauer clearing a structure by yourself.

If you have to clear a structure as a civilian, slow and methodical is ideal. It’s doors and corners, kid. If you don’t come in slow, that room will eat ya.

Example: Someone breaks into your home at night; you and your family have planned this out. Your spouse calls 911 and tells the police what they need to know while retrieving your pistol from the bedside safe. As your spouse is talking to the police, they move to an easy-to-defend room, like a walk-in closet, and you get to the children and get them into that defendable room. Consolidating your family and taking a defensive position means that you likely will be able to hold out until help arrives safely. Things are replaceable; your family isn’t.

Talk to the ones you love and establish a plan; when it counts, you’ll have a fighting chance to keep everyone safe.

Code Words

Part of having a plan is establishing a handful of phrases that no one outside your trusted circle understands. A phrase that means “get out now” or “take cover” is a simple and effective means of communicating something urgent. Word to the wise: Don’t use your get-out-now code to leave your spouse’s work party early; they won’t believe you when you’re faced with something more dangerous than a coworker who has had too many. 

I recently got a chance to see precisely how useful code words can be during a shoot-house training session. Another class member was taken hostage and his partner, Gunsite Instructor Mario Marchman, had already drawn his blue gun. As everyone was shouting at each other, Mario said, “We are gonna figure this out, Mario.” On cue, the hostage dropped like a sack of bricks.

A Gunsite Instructor shows students from the Mossberg Team Tactics for Two how to split a room into two distinct areas of responsibility—and clear that room safely.

You see, the pair had worked out before that if they used their name to refer to the other, that was the signal to engage the wet-noodle defense. That slick little maneuver would’ve likely saved the hostage’s life. 

Situation 1

What Would You Do: Holiday Invader

It’s the holidays, and your sister-in-law flew in to spend Christmas with your family. You, your spouse, and your two kids leave to finish some last-minute shopping, but Auntie J needs a bit of rest after a 12-hour flight from Ireland.

The shopping is finished and you drive the clan home to collect Auntie J for a dinner downtown. As you pull up, you notice the front door is wide open and you don’t see anyone, but you hear yelling inside.

What do you do?


My Take

Calling 911 and waiting on police might be a bad call with someone yelling inside. You and your spouse are both carrying; she calls 911 before you enter, making sure to give the dispatcher crucial information, such as the address and that you’re both legally armed. Your oldest stays on the phone with police and takes the youngest to the neighbor’s.

Sticking to your plan, you both enter the house and clear your way toward the yelling. You reach the yelling and your spouse turns the doorknob, flinging the door open. Auntie has been backed into a corner by a strange man holding a knife who turns toward you as the door hits the wall.

The intruder looks down and sees the gun pointed at his chest, his eyes widen and he drops the knife as his hands fly up in surrender.

Equip Yourself For Success

If you’re new to firearms training, taking some local classes is a great start and will help you get the most out of the block of instruction. The next step is to step up the quality of firearm instruction by either seeking out a traveling instruction passing through your area or making the trek to an established training facility.

Even if you have to take a team-based course by your lonesome, you get some really great information that you can bring back home and share with those you love. Most of the tasks covered might seem simple on the surface, but learning how to move together when getting clear of a threat is far more difficult than you might imagine.

Tasks as simple as moving with a partner and maintaining a stable shooting platform are learned skills.

Even if you and your family have a good grasp on the basics, there’s no shortage of good info to be had; you might even discover a new technique that’s more efficient or tactically sound than what you’re currently doing.

Situation 2

What Would You Do: Meal and a Murder

You’re out to lunch with a gun-loving coworker at a little place near the office. You’re both enjoying your meals while talking about what you each have planned for the weekend. He’s planning on taking his son out to the lease for the first time, and you tell him about the USPSA match you’re registered in. You notice that the host is talking to a very angry man; they seem to know each other so you aren’t too alarmed.

Assuming that his reservation must’ve been lost, you go back to your conversation until you hear the man yell, “You knew she was married!” Both you and your coworker turn your attention to the angry man just in time to see him level a pistol at the host. You hear a gunshot; the host slumps to the floor.

What do you do?

How fast you enter a room, demonstrated by Gunsite Instructor Il Ling New, shouldn’t be a surprise to your partner. Practice until it becomes second nature.

My Take

A quick look around the restaurant makes your heart sink as you notice that there isn’t any way to get out of the building and to safety without being seen. You discretely draw your firearm and wait for the right moment—if the shooter doesn’t leave on his own, you might have to defend yourself in the blink of an eye.

A few tense seconds pass and you see the shooter start to swing the gun toward the rest of the patrons, and then directly at you. There’s no choice now; you place your sights a few inches below the base of his neck and pull the trigger once … twice … the shooter releases his grasp on the pistol and clutches his chest. He collapses to the floor, making no movement toward his pistol. As soon as you feel it’s safe, you and your coworker get out and call 911.

Attending formalized training can expose you to new techniques. You might not leave a better shooter right away, but you do get the tools to hone your performance over time.

Simunitions Teach Hard Lessons

The flat range can only teach you so much. When you start incorporating things like blue guns and Simunitions, you add a while new dimension to your training experience. Blue guns have their place when doing dry runs, but there’s something unforgettable about running a scenario with Sim guns.

Beyond the obvious benefit of being able to safely pull the trigger with another human being in your sights; getting hit with one of those plastic bullets ensures that you don’t forget what you could’ve done better. Adding in the stress of a force-on-force component is an effective way to pressure test what you learned in a class.

While these little blue bullets might not look like much, they let you know when there was a lesson to be learned.

Practice Makes Perfect

The phrase, “Communication is the key to a happy and long life,” means a lot more than just talking to your spouse. Make a plan, stick to it and do dry runs often. The better you and those you surround yourself are equipped to deal with the unthinkable, the more likely you are to come out of your worst day with everyone you love intact.

Gunsite CEO Ken Campbell shows a student how to refine her trigger press to wring the most out of her Mossberg MC2C pistol.

Most importantly, sign up for some training; every gun owner should make the pilgrimage to Jeff Cooper’s stomping grounds at least once in their lifetime. I bet that when you take that first class, you’ll be looking for what to take next before the course is even over.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2021 CCW special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More Skills For Concealed Carriers:

The History Of Henry

The history of Henry rifles is intrinsically tied to the taming of the American frontier, so let’s take a deeper look at the first commercially successful lever-action.

These days, rifles like the AR-15 have seduced the younger generation of gun owners, causing them to overlook the lever-action rifle’s versatility, simplicity and reliability. Lever actions aren’t just for old guys living out their John Wayne fantasies; they’re still very usable rifles in a practical sense, as well as being extremely fun to shoot.

Few rifle designs have been as impactful on American history as the 1860 Henry rifle. Seeing as it was the basis for the rifle that won the West, the Winchester 1873, Benjamin Tyler Henry had more of an impact on the United States expiation westward than he could have dreamed of. I doubt that when Henry watched the first 1860 Henry rifles leave the factory, he suspected that, 160 years later, his name would grace nearly 300,000 firearms a year.

The revival of the 1860 Henry brought some slight modernizations to improve the rifle. Today, it’s available in .44-40 WCF and .45 Colt.

That isn’t a result of the rifle’s initial success, but rather the impact the design had on Anthony Imperato, who partnered with his father, Louis, to bring the Henry name back to the firearm world in 1996. Since the first Henry H001 Classic Lever Action .22 LR rolled off the production line, over a million have made their way into the hands of nostalgic Americans. Sure, there isn’t a direct connection to Benjamin Tyler Henry, but you have to appreciate Henry Repeating Arms’ role in keeping the timeless lever-action design alive and well.

Without Henry, younger generations of shooters wouldn’t know anything other than AR-15s and the like. Attainable, American-made lever-action rifles ensure that today’s gun-loving youth won’t overlook the lever-action rifle’s versatility, simplicity and reliability. Nothing else seems to replicate the magic of a well-built lever-action.

The First Henry Rifle

You can’t talk about Henry Repeating Arms without talking about the 1860 Henry Rifle; it did become the basis for virtually every rifle Winchester produced following it. The design actually dates back to 1848, when Walter Hunt built a couple prototypes of his revolutionary lever-operated rifle, but there were still some design issues that needed to be worked out.

Several other men tried their hand at improving the action, and it was finally produced in some volume by the Volcanic Repeating Arms company. Production at Volcanic lasted only a year with an unknown number of rifles built, when Oliver Winchester took over the company and reorganized as New Haven Arms Company, where Benjamin Tyler Henry put the final touches on what we think of the classic Henry rifle while working as plant superintendent.

A Smith & Wesson No.2 pistol and Volcanic rifle, both lever-action designs that predate Henry's. Photo: Rock Island Auction Company.

With the improvements to the rifle and a brand-new cartridge, the .44 Henry rimfire, the 1860 Henry saw limited success with roughly 14,000 rifles produced.

Load on Sunday, Shoot All Week

Just because the Henry didn’t see the large-scale adoption the Spencer rifle saw shouldn’t fool you; Henry’s rifle makes appearances in some notable events in American history. Even President Abraham Lincoln was given a beautifully engraved gold-plated rifle, as was the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy. The obvious goal was mass adoption of the Henry rifle, but New Haven fell short of their goal, with only 1,731 of the rifles being delivered to the U.S. Government.

The first Henry rifles to be produced featured an iron receiver; the brass receiver didn’t make an appearance until later in production. Photo: Rock Island Auction Company.

With such a small purchase, the Henry was never formally adopted, but more than 6,000 of the rifles ended up in the hands of Union troops who purchased them out of their own pocket rather than use the issued Spencer rifle. The Henry’s 15-round capacity made it particularly attractive to raiding parties, scouts and those assigned with flank guard duty.

When Confederate Colonel John Mosby referred to the Henry as “that damned Yankee rifle that can be loaded on Sunday and fired all week,” it was clear that Henry’s rifle had an impact. That all ended in 1866, when production of the Henry rifle ceased, and New Haven Arms was restructured again as Winchester Repeating Arms. The rifle would go on to be developed into the Winchester 1866, which saw a long, 33-year production run and wide-scale adoption with foreign armies and those seeking fame and fortune in the West.

The 71st Illinois Infantry Regiment color guard pose with their 1860 Henry rifles.

The Henry Name Is Resurrected

Once production of the 1860 Henry ended, the Henry name faded into obscurity until Anthony Imperato trademarked the name in 1996. Anthony and his father, Louis, set up a manufacturing facility in Brooklyn, New York, to produce the Henry H001 .22 rimfire lever-action 131 years after the last rifle to bear the Henry name came off the assembly line.

Since there isn’t any affiliation with Benjamin Tyler Henry or New Haven Arms Company, the company started by the Imperatos wasn’t really bringing a defunct company back, but rather the birth of a brand-new one that paid homage to an influential design.

With a blank canvas, Henry Repeating Arms has grown to a size that Benjamin Tyler Henry would’ve never even dreamed of in the mid 1800s, with no signs of slowing down. Today, Henry employs nearly 500 people and has over a quarter-million square feet of manufacturing space between their headquarters in Bayonne, New Jersey, and Henry’s second facility in Rice Lake, Wisconsin.

When the slogan “Made in America Or Not Made at All” was chosen, they weren’t playing around. Every Henry is born in the United States; there are no exceptions … ever.

Over a million .22 Henry lever actions have been produced since the model was introduced in 1997.

A Model for Every Need

With two facilities that you could pack over five football fields into, it shouldn’t be a surprise that their product lineup is pretty dang expansive. Boiling it down to the basic models without taking into account variations in barrels, finish and caliber, Henry has something like 12 models to choose from. That number jumps to 253 when you start adding in caliber, finish and other variations.

Even if you only have a cursory interest in owning a lever-action, there’s likely something in the Henry catalog that you’ll appreciate in their trademark brass finish, polished silver, black or my personal favorite option, case colored.

The Classic Henry H001 .22 Rifle

If you’re looking to scratch the Old West itch, there are few better choices than a Henry H001. Over a million have made it to the market as of 2017. Currently, the H001 isn’t offered in a side gate variant, and no plans to offer one have been announced. It isn’t hard to understand why when you take into consideration that the palatable $405 MSRP would increase quite a lot to offset the increased complexity of a side gate H001. That isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be awesome, because it would.


The rifle is chambered in .22 LR, but it’ll also shoot .22 Long and .22 Short … offering more versatility than a 10/22. The overall feel of the rifle is very retro, with adjustable buckhorn sights and American walnut furniture. Loading is done just like all Henry rifles, by removing a removable plunger tube from the magazine, sliding the rounds in and then replacing the plunger tube.   

Variants ranging from the standard H001 to customized special editions are available; there’s no shortage of choices.

The Mare’s Leg Pistol

One of the more unique firearms in the Henry lineup is their Mare’s Leg, a lever-action pistol modeled after Steve McQueen’s character on the late ’50s TV show Wanted: Dead or Alive. The pistol is available in .22 Long Rifle, .22 Magnum, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum and even .45 Colt. Unfortunately, the Mare’s Leg isn’t offered with Henry’s new side gate, but that’s bound to happen sooner or later.


Henry Big Boy Rifles

Like the first lever-actions, the Henry Big Boy rifles are chambered in what ends up being an intermediate cartridge. Offered in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum and .45 Colt, the Big Boy might be an ideal option if you’re looking for a rifle that shares the same cartridge as your revolver.

Listening to their customer base, Henry added a side loading gate to their rifles in April of 2019.

While you might think you need a .30-30 Winchester or even the Long Ranger to take medium game, the Big Boy will do it in a handier package with less recoil. The .357 Magnum case color is a personal favorite, with a 125-grain out of a 20-inch barrel performing very similar to a 7.62x39mm or .300 Blackout in a carbine.

A Big Boy might even be a great choice for a defensive rifle should you live in a restrictive area, or if you feel more comfortable with a lever gun than a semi-auto.

Large-Caliber Lever-Actions

Henry’s large-caliber lever actions are very similar to the Big Boy rifles—they’re just chambered in .30-30, .45-70 Government, .38-55 Winchester and .35 Remington.  

The large-caliber rifles were the first to be updated with the new side gate and maintain the removable plunger, should you prefer to use the tube to load rather than the side gate. The ability to remove the magazine tube plunger means that downloading your rifle after a hunt won’t put unneeded wear on your ammunition. Options aren’t a bad thing sometimes.

Pump-Action Rimfire, The Long Ranger & Shotguns

If your particular brand of nostalgia is reliving those times at the fair with a pump-action .22, the Pump Action Octagon might be what you need. Sadly, there aren’t any other pump-action rifles in the Henry product line.

How about something for hunting longer ranges than a .30-30 Win. is capable of? The Long Ranger is aptly named—it’s chambered in .308 Winchester or 6.5 Creedmoor. Since the ammunition wouldn’t work so well in a tube magazine, Henry fitted this rifle with a detachable box magazine, and the rifle’s mechanism is significantly different than the rest of their line because it relies on a rotating bolt. As weird as it sounds, the idea of a 6.5 Creedmoor lever action can be appealing due to its uniqueness.

If you’re looking to shoot past 150 yards, the Henry Long Ranger is well suited in .308 Win. or 6.5 Creedmoor. The detachable magazine allows it to be chambered in cartridges using a spire-point bullet.

The lineup gets a bit weird when we look at their shotguns: Not only does Henry offer 12- and 20-gauge single-shot break actions, but they also offer a lever-action .410 shotgun based off the large-caliber lever-action rifle, as well as the Lever Action Axe. The Axe is a non-NFA firearm and, like all their lever-action .410 shotguns, it features a side gate loading port.

New Original Henry Rifles

The most coveted of Henry rifles is, without a doubt, the New Original Henry Rifles. Carrying an MSRP of $2,590, it might seem like they’re priced crazy high when compared to the rest of the Henry line, but that changes the second you realize a New Haven produced 1860 Henry rifle will set you back about the same money as a brand-new Porsche 911. 


If you want an 1860 Henry you can actually enjoy on the range, the Henry New Original Henry is the ticket.

Modernized X Models

In an effort to bring the lever action into the 21st century, Henry introduced the X Model with the features that a younger-generation shooter might look for, such as M-Lok slots and a rail to mount a bipod or flashlight. The biggest benefit is the fiber-optic sights and the threaded barrel. With suppressed hunting legal in many states, the ability to add a can is a welcome option.

The Model X features M-Lok slots, Picatinny rail, threaded barrel, fiber-optic sights, enlarged lever loop and synthetic furniture.

Integrated sling mounting points, a side gate loading port and synthetic furniture make the X Model a workhorse that’s sure to serve someone for decades.

What does the future hold for Henry Repeating Arms? Well, those secrets are kept locked up pretty tight, but hopefully a wood-stocked variant of the X Model is on the books. Whatever the case, the Henry brand is here to stay for generations to come.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2021 USA special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Raise Your Lever-Action IQ:

Give Me Liberty: SOLGW M4-76 Review

A look at the SOLGW M4-76 AR-15 and the company that makes it, Sons of Liberty Gun Works.

Like it or not, not all AR-15s are created equal.

Some rifle manufacturers are content with putting out guns that are just good enough to have the misleading “mil-spec” marketing label slapped on them. Consumers sometimes read that as some mark of quality, but the truth is that the mil-spec claim is nothing more than a flashy way of saying, “This might work with other mil-spec things.” 

The reality is, few manufacturers build their M4-like carbines to a standard even remotely close to the actual military specification for the M4A1, MIL-DTL-71186B. Fewer still will take the rifle to the next level of hard-use performance.

The boys at Sons of Liberty Gun Works (SOLGW) make that list. As much as I want to gush about my personal M4-76 rifle, the story of how the Sons came to be is equally as impressive.


Humble Origins

Sons of Liberty Gun Works is the American dream. Let’s be real about it: If you reduce the company’s start to a Netflix show description, it sounds too ridiculous to be a true story.

“With only $7,000 in his pocket after selling his car, Mike partnered up with a friend in the basement of a lumber yard to take on the biggest AR-15 manufacturers in the world. His quest? To become the best rifle company. Either they sell the whole batch of 10 rifles, or it will be game over.”

Pure insanity, but it’s the truth.

Like any good story, there’s a moment that speaks to our hero and motivates them to do something epic; in this case, it was an armorer’s course taught by the late Will Larson of Semper Paratus Arms. Mike Mihalski borrowed a friend’s AR-15, enrolled in the two-day course and learned far more than he could’ve imagined. I say this with some authority, because I also took Larson’s armorer course with a borrowed rifle and can attest to it being an eye-opening experience.

The 13-inch M76 handguard is perfect for the 13.7-inch barrel and NOX muzzle device combo.

Mike saw the AR-15 in a new light and decided he wanted to get into the gun business. His dream of starting a gun company—building the best AR-15s he possibly could—started floating around in his head. Talking more about it with his best friend, a Navy SEAL, he eventually was introduced to Kyle Grothues; the trio had big dreams about taking on the big names in the AR industry. Mike sold his car, netting him $7,000, and Kyle brought a little more cash to the table and some space in the family-owned lumber company his great-grandfather founded in 1933.

With limited funds and no standing purchase orders, the boys had some serious work ahead of them. The limited funds were a pretty significant hurdle initially, especially since most of the suppliers of components that Mike felt acceptable enough to put in a rifle he was building had order minimums in the hundreds. The Sons only had the cash for 10 guns worth of parts. Rather than let his standards slip, Mike hounded suppliers and willed those first 10 rifles into existence.

Common sense upgrades to the time- proven M4 design, like making the takedown pin lugs a bit wider than TDP standards, create an incredibly smooth-firing rifle.

Some of the first 10 went to friends of Mike and Kyle, and the remaining rifles found a home with some men who know what a hard-use rifle needs to be: The Navy SEALs and Marines who bought one of the Sons’ first rifles spread the good word. It didn’t take long for other guys looking for a no-nonsense duty rifle to reach out to Sons of Liberty; the endorsement of Navy SEALs and Marines can be a powerful marketing tool.

Orders for more guns came rolling in.

Making Their Mark

You might be wondering what’s so damned special about some dudes in a lumberyard with an FFL and a few AR-15 parts. The Sons saw a gap in the market for hard-use rifles suitable for defensive or duty use that could be customized. Until now, if you wanted a hard-use rifle, the most ideal move was to buy something like a Colt 6920 and replace half the rifle to get it to where you wanted. The Sons’ crazy idea was to offer the same quality as Colt, but with the addition of allowing the end-user to configure their rifle how they wanted direct from the manufacturer.


Through continued research, daily conversations with Will Larson and their rifle rebuild program, Mike gathered data on what worked well and what didn’t. Eventually, Sons of Liberty Gun Works took what they learned and started developing parts of their very own, with the goal of building the best damn rifle in America.

At the core of their success is the quality control that goes into each and every rifle. It isn’t just grabbing parts from a bin and slapping a rifle together; each part is inspected multiple times to ensure it’s within acceptable specs. If the part isn’t up to their high standards, it isn’t used.

Their commitment to quality goes beyond just measuring parts. More durable anodizing, slightly tweaked upper receiver dimensions to remove the wobble found on almost every AR-15, and ensuring their components are made of the best materials for that particular use, take the SOLGW rifles and components to the next level.

Once you have top-tier components, the only thing holding a rifle back from being the best it possibly can be is how those parts are assembled—you can’t just slap a rifle together at your kitchen table and expect world-class performance. I was given a chance to visit the SOLGW factory, and I can’t overstate the meticulous care given to each and every stage of the build process.

Everyone knew proper torque values at the snap of a finger—and why each one was important. The tools they were using weren’t the cheapest thing they could get, and every rifle went together with the same level of attention. I was especially fascinated with their endplate staking. Mike and I see eye to eye on the importance of staking, but he took it a bit further and incorporated Forward Controls Design castle nuts that allow three places to stake rather than the two required to meet MIL-STD-DTL-71186B.

The SOLGW M4-76

If, for some reason, I had to choose only one rifle to be my companion in some real-life version of I Am Legend, there’s only one choice: a 13.7-inch-barreled Sons of Liberty Gun Works M4-76 with their nine-position A5 buffer tube paired with a VLTOR A5 Buffer and their NOX muzzle device pinned and welded to bring it to non-NFA length. For a pure fighting rifle, I struggle to think of a more versatile option.

The Sons of Liberty Gun Works NOX is more than a cool flash hider; it also accepts Dead Air KeyMo-equipped suppressors.

As you unbox your rifle, you’re met with a soft-side rifle case inside the cardboard box rather than a bunch of foam, which is fantastic for those who don’t have several rifle bags or cases already. On the outside of that soft case are three stainless steel magazines in the mag pouches, complete with SOLGW-marked floorplates and a small baggie containing a single fired case, a small bottle of lube and a Sons of Liberty Gun Works patch.

Nestled inside your soft case is the rifle. Remove the case from the box and you’ll find a lifetime warranty certificate signed by four people: the armorer who built your gun, the person who inspected the finished product and test-fired it, and the two owners of the company—stating that if you don’t start “fixing” your rifle by swapping parts around, they’ll fix the gun for life regardless of round count. Yes, that includes gas rings, barrel, bolt carrier group and springs.

The rifle was configured with the Sig Tango6T 1-6 power scope for the majority of the testing and performed beautifully.

I installed a SIG Sauer Tango6T 1-6x24mm scope in an old Warne mount that wasn’t doing anything in my gun room. The only other accessories I added were a Modlite OKW paired with a ModButton Lite and an Arisaka inline mount, and a Blue Force Gear Vickers sling.

During the zero process, the first several rounds I sent downrange surprised me. There was near no recoil. We can thank SOLGW for taking gas port size seriously and not building rifles to run on any random ammunition you can find. Will it run the cheap stuff? Probably. I was elated that it wasn’t heavily over-gassed like many commercial rifles.

But recoil mitigation isn’t just about gas-port sizing: The mid-length gas system, highly efficient NOX muzzle device, a SpringCo green buffer spring, nine-position A5 buffer tube and VLTOR A5-H2 buffer all play a role in keeping the rifle on target during fast strings of fire. All my shooting was faster-paced drills at 25 yards, and I haven’t seen a single malfunction.


The rifle is reasonably light, shoots soft and flat, is more than accurate at the defensive distances the average citizen would likely see if they were unfortunate enough to need to use a firearm in defense of their life, and it handles like a dream thanks to that 13.7-inch barrel with the pinned and welded NOX flash hider. Overall, this is the best AR-15 carbine I’ve had the pleasure to shoot to date.

They Do God’s Work

There just isn’t enough room here to talk about all the 2nd Amendment advocacy work Mike, Kyle and the Sons of Liberty Gun Works crew do. Never mind the massive amount of support they give law enforcement, their involvement in politics at all levels, support for gun-loving Americans or the Sons of Liberty Gun Works Carbine Series competition. They’re some of the most active and amazing people in the firearms industry.

Topping the 13.7-inch M4-76 with a LPVO creates the ability to make precise shots out past 500 yards without much trouble.

As for my experience with the M4-76 rifle, I fully intend on purchasing a second and possibly third copy of the very same rifle for my son’s first AR-15 and maybe one for the wife … maybe.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More AR-15s:

Mathsplaining The CCW Red Dot

Thinking about mounting an optic on your carry pistol? Here’s how to get the most out of the CCW red dot.

Mini red dot sights (MRDS) on a pistol slide aren’t a new concept, but it’s only been the past few years that we’ve seen mass adoption of the magic floating dot. If you understand how to get the most out of the dot it can be a huge advantage, but some bad advice can turn that advantage into a disadvantage quickly. We won’t dive into any MRDS topics that have been beaten to death, talking you through some of the math that I have found useful is far more interesting.

The gun industry doesn’t make it any easier with the breakneck pace of introducing new products, some good and others bad. Don’t be dissuaded though; there’s a lot to be learned from doing something wrong as long as you can be humble enough to find the lesson in failure.

CCW Red Dot Pistol

The more you learn, the less likely failure is. Regardless of your skill level, a deeper understanding of the math that makes the dot so great is bound to translate to a better result on the range…maybe.

What Even Is MOA?

In the plainest terms, minute of angle or MOA is an angular measurement that equates to 1.047 inches per 100 yards; or more accurately, one MOA is 1/60 of a degree (that’s 0.01666666666 degrees) with a total of 21,600 MOA in a 360-degree circle. Unfortunately, the common misunderstanding that MOA means “about 1 inch at 100 yards” does a piss-poor job of conveying that it isn’t a linear measurement, but rather a conical one.

With the understanding that MOA is angular, we can establish that its value in inches will either grow or shrink based on distance. It’s important to remember that MOA is always a cone-shaped measurement, even though it’s often used as a two-dimensional measurement.

As a two-dimensional measurement, MOA is often used to describe windage and elevation adjustments, which will come in handy when we talk about zeroing your pistol. When you think of the two-dimensional MOA like a pie, picture a disappointingly skinny slice of pie with the crust pointing away from you.

Red Dot Pie MOA
Even though the slice of pie gets wider as distance increases, the MOA value of its width is constant.

The crust on that 1 MOA piece of pie at the generally accepted “typical gunfight distance” of 7 yards equals 0.0733-inch crust. At 15 yards, your 1 MOA slice of pie equals 0.1571 inch of crust, and at 25 yards, it equals a mere 0.2618 inch of pie crust. Now take those same measurements and apply them to a birthday hat’s open end. That MOA birthday hat can be used to measure the reticle’s size, target size, group size and even the bullet hole size.

Right now, you’re wondering what the hell a birthday hat and pie have to do with guns? Nothing. Birthday hats are fun, and pie is delicious.

Zeroing Your CCW Red Dot With Pie

So, we have established that MOA is an angular measurement, how does that impact the value of adjustment clicks at a known distance? Since nearly every MRDS on the market uses a 1 MOA per click value, we know that translates to 1.047 inches of movement at 100 yards per click. Moving the target to the 10-yard line means that the 1 MOA click is now worth 0.1047 inch.

You might think that having super fine adjustments is a benefit, and if that were all that changed with distance, you’d be right. The reality is everything’s MOA value changes with distance. Say you shoot a nice tight 1-inch group at 10 yards, why is zeroing off that 1-inch ragged hole less useful than a 2.5-inch group at 25 yards? You get the same amount of clicks within each 9.5493 MOA group, why would the 25-yard group be better suited?

Red Dot Dial Adjustment
Choose your red-dot wisely. Some, like this Shield RMSw, have a slow refresh rate and require a silly, easy-to-lose tool for its click-less adjustment screws.

Simply put, the 2.5-inch group has more dispersion, which will help you identify the true point of impact which might not be in the middle of the group depending on how you pulled some of the shots. Another benefit to that 25-yard group is that the diameter of the bullet hole has less of an impact on the perceived size of the group.

Eyeballing the distance from the group to the desired point of aim is going to be a hell of a lot easier when you have to guesstimate to the nearest 0.2618 inch than it is to guess to the nearest 0.1047 inch. As you increase distance, the cone of fire widens just like the click values since everything we’re doing is dependent on the angular deviation of the muzzle from the center of the target when the shot goes bang.

If you haven’t eaten your pie yet, put it in your range bag, use Google to find a printable NRA B8 repair center if you don’t have some and let’s go zero your red dot pistol.

What The Zero Process Looks Like

There isn’t just one “right” way to zero a CCW red dot, but there sure as heck are some wrong ways. The biggest mistake you could make when zeroing your dot is to shoot it without using a bag or rest to support the gun. I don’t use a rest until the target is at 25 yards, when you add in the rest is dependent on the shooter’s skill.

Choose wisely, young Padawan: If you tough it out and refuse the rest, you may end up zeroing to accommodate your shooting deficiencies rather than getting the point of aim as close to the point of impact as possible. You don’t want to zero to your shooting deficiencies like a flinch right? If you think you’re always shooting point of aim but your zero accounts for a flinch, how are you supposed to get better?

CCW Red Dot Feature
While you can eyeball the clicks needed to zero, a measurement device can give you exactly the clicks needed for a zero.

Start at 5 to 10 yards, based on your skill, and shoot five rounds holding the dot on the center of the target. Make sure to dim the red dot till it’s barely visible—we’ll get into why in a moment. After shooting you five-round string, bring the target back and use the click value chart in this article and a measuring device to determine the correct adjustment. Send the target back to the same yard marker and fire three to five rounds to confirm you’re on target.

Replace your target with a fresh one and send it to the 15- yard or 25-yard line, depending on your shooting skill and available distance. This time you’ll be shooting from a rest so either use your range bag or find a rest to shoot from and send five rounds while supporting the pistol. Retrieve the target and again use the click value chart and a measuring device to apply the correct amount of clicks. Send the target back downrange after marking your hits and confirm.

Red Dot Click Value Table

If you happen to be at the limit of your skill or have limited out the available distance on your range, now is when you will confirm the zero without the rest. Again, send a fresh target to the 25-yard line or as far as your range allows and shoot a string of 10 rounds (slow fire, take breaks as needed) to see where those bullets impact. Use your best judgment when deciding if you think adjustment is needed, remember now your movements are impacting where the bullets impact.

Your Dot Shouldn't Look Like A Red Dwarf Star

Curious why you should dim your red dot when zeroing? As you increase brightness on your red dot, the dot will begin to blow or spread into a perceptibly larger dot through a process called diffraction. When you view a light source significantly brighter than the ambient light, the light bends as it’s entering your eye, creating a starburst effect. If the starburst was perfectly uniform, it would just make the dot appear larger without any negative effects.

Pistol Red Dot MOA
Your choice in red dot size depends on your needs, dot and target sizes are as they appear at 25 yards. (Dot images simulated).

Unfortunately, the possibility of it appearing perfectly uniform is almost impossible thanks to very tiny imperfections in your cornea. If you pay attention to the shape of your red dot as you increase brightness, you’ll notice one side grow more as you press the brightness button. That uneven blooming effect will cost you the ability to make precise shots at distance, like when zeroing the gun.

Now if you’re shooting for speed up close, crank that dot up and get your John Wick on. Diffraction affects smaller dots more than larger dots, so if you like a larger or brighter dot but want to retain the ability to place precise shots, you might want to choose a CCW red dot with a 5 MOA or larger reticle.

Pistol Red Dot MOA 2

No Blinky Dots

While refresh rate of a red dot isn’t directly related to today’s math lesson, it’ll impact your ability to place accurate shots. Refresh rate is a result of how LEDs are dimmed for the human eye through a process called pulse width modulation.

As the dot’s brightness decreases, the length of the on-off-on cycle increases, giving a dimming effect that generally happens faster than you can see. Depending on how your red dot is made, you may be able to see the gaps between pulses. That can cost you the ability to call your shots during the string…or even impact your ability to place a shot accurately because the pulse width is too long.

Common Red Dot Inch Value Table

If you can see the dot pulsing during recoil, you may want to consider another brand or model of MRDS. Without the ability to call your shots, figuring out why two shots hit the target low left is going to be hard as hell. With a properly functioning MRDS, you can watch the red streak and identify where that red streak came from and determine what shots you sent into Shanksville.

Distance MOA Value Table

Looking At Pistols From A New Angle

Now that you see (hopefully) the value in this pocket protector-level pistol nerd stuff, remember that angular measurements are the cornerstone of accurate shooting with both pistols and rifles.

The precision rifle guys don’t have a monopoly on MOA…or pie.

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

More On CCW Red Dot Sights:

Modding The Ruger 10/22

When it comes to Ruger 10/22 mods, a little tweaking can go a long way.

In the more than 7 million copies produced, you’d be hard-pressed to find a serious gun owner who hasn’t owned at least one Ruger 10/22 at some point in their shooting career. Even though the rifle is one of the most common in America, some shooters overlook the diamond in the rough due to the 10/22 carbine’s unassuming hardwood stock and pencil barrel—the truth is, they don’t look very exciting.

Ruger 1022 Stock
While the standard Ruger 10/22 carbine looks boring, it’s well-suited to either modify till your heart’s content or introduce a new shooter to marksmanship in stock form.

You see, that’s the beauty of the Ruger 10/22. Its simple design is anything you can dream up; you can build it into a rifle that’s truly yours. Sure, the 10/22 is a fine rifle in stock form, but where is the fun in that? Aftermarket companies have fully embraced the easy customizing of the design with enough options to make your head spin.

Ruger Custom Shop 1022
Ruger’s Custom Shop gives you the option of buying a hot rod without all the guesswork.

If your heart desires a rifle that looks fit to beat back alien invaders, you might want to look into some of the shells that accept a barreled 10/22 receiver to transform it into a bullpup. How about a rifle that looks like it belongs to a Special Forces operator in some far-off land? One of the tactical chassis that make a 10/22 look strikingly like an HK G36 or an AR-15 might be the ticket. Most opt for accuracy and build a rifle well-suited for use in Project Appleseed events or something with a high-quality bull barrel and a sweeping laminate wood stock so accurate that it makes shooting the tacks off your buddy’s targets almost dull.

Even with all that flexibility, three of the four 10/22 rifles in my safe are nearly identical. After owning north of a dozen of these excellent rifles since I started shooting, I found that a rugged, lightweight rifle happily at home bouncing around in a pack or traipsing around the woods fits my needs quite well. That isn’t to say I haven’t had the laminate stocked hot rod or even an entirely stock rifle; this happens to be where I am in my 10/22 journey currently.

Ruger Factory Hot Rods

If modifying your rifle isn’t your jam, Ruger offers several models that come off the production line looking very similar to a living room-built hot rod for pretty close to the same money. If you’re after a cool-looking takedown, the 10/22 Takedown Lite sports an upgraded modular stock and a lightweight bull barrel with 1/2×28 threads ready for a suppressor.

Ruger 1022 Left Handed
Ruger even offers a left-handed rifle with all the trimmings for lefty shooters.

If your tastes run toward the heavy barreled target rifles, Ruger’s target or competition line of rifles will have something that gets the juices flowing. Surprisingly, even the high-end 10/22 Competition rifles top out at just a hair over a grand MSRP, which is a pretty solid value when you consider it comes out of their custom shop.

10/22 Clones

Since the Ruger 10/22 patent expired, a handful of companies introduced rifles that are the next evolution of the 10/22 design. Innovative rifles are readily available from Bergara, Thompson Center, Magnum Research, Volquartsen, Tactical Solutions and Winchester, which incorporate more modern features generally found on higher-end custom shop rifles.

Each variation brings its own special flavor to the venerable design, like the interesting slider approach to a magazine release Winchester took or Magnum Research’s .22 Magnum variant of the 10/22 should you want more oomph.

The Volquartsen Summit is arguably one of the coolest variants of the 10/22 design. Even though it isn’t semi-automatic and features a straight-pull bolt similar to biathlon rifles, it still accepts most 10/22 accessories. It’ll be incredibly quiet once you throw a suppressor on the threaded carbon-fiber barrel.

Summit Straight Pull Receiver
Originally a PWS design, the Volquartsen Summit features an interesting straight-pull bolt instead of being semi-auto.

Build A Receiver

Now, if you’re a perpetual tinkerer like myself, starting with a bare receiver might be the most cost-effective solution. The best bang for your buck is the Brownells BRN-22 receivers that come either stripped or as a barreled receiver. The BRN-22 can be had in either a non-takedown or takedown variants with your choice between a more modern integrated optics rail or the traditional drilled and tapped style.

BRN22 Takedown
Even with an optic and suppressor fitted, the Brownells BRN22 Takedown is still small enough to stow in a backpack.

Volquartsen and Tactical Solutions offer very similar semi-auto receivers; you couldn’t go wrong with either one. If a premium receiver is what you’re after and you want something more understated, the Volquartsen is a good bet. Those who like more flash should look at the Tactical Solutions X-Ring.

While there are a ton of other receivers out there, most of them are pretty comparable to one another except for the unique Volquartsen Summit straight-pull bolt-action receiver I mentioned earlier. While pricey, nothing compares to the Summit action when paired with a suppressor and some subsonic ammo.


Since most models of the Ruger 10/22 ship with a single 10-round magazine, adding some more to your mag stash is a good idea to get the most out of your range time. Shooting 10 rounds and reloading a singular magazine gets old fast; thankfully, there are a ton of really great options out there that range from a single-shot magazine up to big ol’ drum mags.

Winchester Wildcat
Winchester took a very different approach with the Wildcat’s magazine release that almost looks ornamental but is very functional.

If one of the Ruger-produced BX magazines isn’t to your liking, look for one that uses metal feed lips. Cheaper magazines with plastic feed lips will wear over time and eventually experience feeding issues. The gold standard for non-Ruger mags has been the Butler Creek Steel Lips for as long as I can remember, but unless you have to have a 110-round drum, there isn’t a great reason not to buy Ruger’s excellent BX magazines.

10/22 Internal Upgrades

If you buy a stock rifle, some minor internal tweaks will improve reliability and accuracy with a minimal cash investment. Some of the more common upgrades are replacing the extractor with one designed to handle cheap bulk pack ammo more reliably or installing an aftermarket firing pin for more reliable primer ignition.

Adding a bolt buffer to slow the bolt down a bit makes suppressed shooting quieter and can improve reliability with hot ammo. While you have the bolt out, it might be worth replacing the charging handle with one that’s easier to use with a magnified optic mounted.

Once you’ve done all of that, some 10/22s benefit from an aftermarket V-block to get a tighter barrel-to-receiver fit that squeezes the last little bit of accuracy out of your rifle.

Thompson Center TCR22
Thompson Center’s T/CR22 massaged by their Performance Center is a great value at the $642 MSRP.


Pulling the trigger feels a whole lot like someone was eating Fritos while the trigger pack was assembled. Thankfully, you can take a couple of routes to address the less-than-stellar trigger—the easiest of which is to replace the OEM trigger pack with Ruger’s upgraded BX-Trigger.

Some DIY solutions are out there, but they’ll run you about the same money as a BX-Trigger, making it hard to justify. Kits like the Powers Custom result in a slightly better trigger pull than the BX-Trigger but require more work to install. If you’re willing to spend a few more dollars, the absolute best option is an aftermarket drop-in trigger from Volquartsen, Timney or CMC Triggers.


While triggers and internal upgrades are nice, a new stock truly transforms a rifle. As is always the case, the kind of stock you choose is entirely dependent on what you want out of your rifle. For rifles often in the woods where exposure to rain or other moisture is a concern, a synthetic stock is a great idea, since the wood will swell when wet and can affect your zero.

The Magpul line of stocks for the 10/22 is very functional while looking cool. Specifically, the Backpacker takedown stock is something special, thanks to a place to store some ammo on the rifle and the frond that mates to the stock keeping the rifle together when stowed.

Boyds Adjustable Stock
The Boyds At-One adjustable stock gives you the ability to fit several members of the family.

Target shooters might want to consider a sweeping laminate stock from Boyds Gunstocks or Tactical Solutions. The sky is the limit with a laminate stock; you can get something that resembles grandpa’s hunting rifle or go for the racy thumbhole stock in neon pink. Look for a stock that has a sling stud if you plan on using a bipod. It’s a lot harder to mess up a stud install when it’s done at the factory.

Neither one of those styles excite you? Look at some unconventional stocks on the market. Pro-Mag’s Archangel Quick Takedown Stock is a cool option that turns a standard 10/22 into a takedown rifle for about the same cost as an aftermarket sock.

1022 Takedown Stocks
Archangel stock and standard 10/22 Carbine (top): $400
Magpul X-22 Backpacker Stock, Tacsol barrel and 10/22 Takedown (bottom): $825.


Most stocks are set up for either a .920-inch bull barrel or the skinnier, shorter profile. Thicker bull barrels are generally stiffer and more accurate; the thinner profile, shorter barrel weighs a lot less typically than the thick bull barrel. The exception to that rule are barrels made from aluminum or carbon fiber, where a thin barrel liner is tensioned between the breech face and muzzle of the barrel. As a result, these tensioned barrels only weigh a fraction of a full-on steel barrel.

Tactical Solutions Shroud
Tactical Solutions’ suppressor shroud allows the installation of a suppressor without adding a ton of length like an SBR but without the tax stamp.

If you intend on shooting the rifle suppressed, take a look at Tactical Solutions’ shrouded SBX barrel line. To keep the ATF goons happy, Tactical Solutions came up with a shroud they can add to the end of a short 10/22 barrel, bringing it to a 16.5-inch overall length. When you install your suppressor, you get the benefits of an SBR Ruger 10/22 without the hassle of a second tax stamp.


Fitting your 10/22 with an optic is entirely dependent on what you intend on doing with the rifle. Common sense applies; a high magnification scope is probably best if you want tiny little groups. If you’re going to be hunting with the rifle, look into a lightweight scope or red dot. Don’t get too cheap because it’s “just a .22;” good glass is always a wise investment.

Not only is the 10/22 rugged, it can also stay light with this example coming in at a mere 5.75 pounds as shown.

Just One More

There’s a world of possibilities out there when it comes to modifying the 10/22. The only hard part is deciding what direction to go with your build. If you can’t make up your mind and decide to build three, four or a dozen rifles, no one is going to judge you. In fact, the Gun Digest social media pages are kind of a support group for those of us who give in to the temptation; the only problem is we might encourage you to build “just one more.”

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More 10/22 Upgrades:

Guide To Buying A Quality Handheld Or Weapon Light

The key points you need to know to add a quality handheld or weapon light to your arsenal.

Consideration When Buying A Handheld Or Weapon Light:

  • Physical Size
  • Lumens And Candela Rating
  • Power Source (Rechargable Barreries Are King)
  • Controls

With current events turning everyday life more unpredictable, making good decisions with your personal protection has never been more important. But how do we ensure that we make good decisions when our safety is on the line? Being an effective defender isn’t as simple as strapping a big iron on your hip and maintaining awareness.

Firearm proficiency and maintaining a high degree of vigilance is only a piece of the puzzle: You should have several options available—beyond harsh words but before switching to guns. Some of the popular less-lethal options include pepper spray, hand-to-hand training or Tasers. I’m an advocate for carrying at least a spicy treat (OC spray, such as Sabre Red), as well as getting some hand-to-hand training.

Weapon Light 3

But there’s one non-lethal option that’s often overlooked: bright—really bright—flashlights.

Light Is Essential

With roughly half of every day being dark, it makes sense to practice shooting in low-light conditions as often as possible, since it presents unique challenges that are often made worse by low-output lights. Sadly, most gun owners don’t get an opportunity to hone this vital skill, leaving the importance of a good handheld or weapon light paired to a defensive firearm a mystery.

The majority of the blame for this giant gap in training lies with gun ranges that are forced to write range rules around the strict insurance policies available to them. That isn’t an excuse to not be proficient shooting your defensive firearms in the dark. There’s undoubtedly a training class in your area that should teach you some of the basics and give you some valuable time on a dark range.

Photonic Barriers

Positively identifying what someone is holding when they’re standing in front of or next to another light source at distances beyond 15 yards can be an eye- opening moment. Your 600-lumen light might be bright, but it might not mean “usable” depending on how those lumens are projected.

Even though most of my low-light students bring a light with 300 lumens or more, more than half quickly find that the light they brought to class won’t overcome the unique challenges faced when shooting in the dark. Photonic barriers like car headlights, bright windows, back lighting, side lighting and gun smoke affect a light’s effectiveness and can prevent you from getting enough information to make a good decision.

Try putting accurate shots on a target at 7 yards away in quick succession in low light and you’ll quickly realize that a 600-lumen Olight PL-MINI 2 lacks the candela needed to cut through that gun smoke.

Not All Lumens Are Equal

Comparing handheld and weapon light output is a lot easier than it used to be thanks to the ANSI FL1 standard introduced in 2009. Prior to the FL1 rating system, flashlights were marketed with claimed candlepower and LED power consumption ratings. ANSI’s FL1 rating means that when you’re shopping for a new light, you can compare apples to apples instead of trying to figure out how many watts an LED has to be rated for it to equal the candlepower rating of another flashlight.


The number of lumens a light produces is a cumulative measure of all light being produced by your light. In the case of the ANSI FL1 standard, this is measured with an expensive testing apparatus called an integrating sphere.

Being convenient to carry, a handheld light relies on a good pocket clip.
Being convenient to carry, a handheld light relies on a good pocket clip.

While the quality of reflector and lens in your light has a small effect on the lumen rating, it’s almost entirely dependent on the amount of light generated by the LED emitter or bulb. Remember that lumen output is only part of the equation, it does not measure how effective the flashlight is at focusing those lumens.


In order to figure out how well those lumens are projected, you need to know what the candela rating of the light is. Candela is the measure of the amount of light at a particular point in the handheld or weapon light beam, which can be measured out to a distance rating.

Candela is most impacted by reflector shape, finish and the placement of the light source in relation to the reflector. At the risk of oversimplifying the complexities of reflector design, the larger in diameter and deeper that reflector is, the more potential it has to produce big candela numbers.

Light In The Hand

Having a weapon light on your gun is dandy, but don’t think that means a great handheld light is no longer something you should have. Not only does this mean that the temptation to use your weapon-mounted light as a task light is removed, but a high-output handheld light gives you a lot of flexibility when integrating it into your use of force continuum.

What Features Should It Have?

The single, most important aspect in selecting a handheld light is the physical size of the light. If it isn’t something you’re going to reliably put in your pocket or purse, that high-octane light saber isn’t much help.

When looking at output ratings, select a light rated to at least 500 lumens and 2,000 candela. While more candela is better, ideally the handheld will be paired with a weapon-mounted light, making its ability to cut through difficult photonic barriers less important for most cases.

Also, look for something that takes a rechargeable battery, because you’ll be using this light a lot. Some form of replaceable rechargeable like an 18350, 18650, or even some of the smaller replaceable cells are recommended. Avoid lights with an integrated battery, since rechargeable cells have a finite lifespan.

Compact Handhelds To Consider

If you prefer a more lightweight EDC, the Streamlight Macrostream USB is a fantastic light for reasonable money with few downsides. Make sure to keep the Macrostream charged; when the battery is discharged, the light shuts off entirely rather than giving you warning by stepping down brightness.

Weapon lights from left to right: Modlite Clicky Tailcap, Modlite Modbutton Lite, Streamlight Tape Switch, Modlite Modbutton, Cloud Defensive, Modlite Modbutton Lite and Streamlight Tape Switch.
Weapon lights from left to right: Modlite Clicky Tailcap, Modlite Modbutton Lite, Streamlight Tape Switch, Modlite Modbutton, Cloud Defensive, Modlite Modbutton Lite and Streamlight Tape Switch.

Still want a small light but need more output? I’ve been most impressed with Modlite’s 18350 PLHv2 handheld. With 1,350 lumens and 54,000 candela, the Modlite handheld is a powerhouse. Make sure to have spare batteries on hand; this light has a 35-minute run time.

Full-Size Handhelds to Consider

Anything that takes a 18650 rechargeable is a good place to start when looking at a full-size tac light, since they generally have a solid runtime and output.

On the budget side, Streamlight’s PolytacX is a great light that’ll do almost anything you could ask it to do. For a bit more money, the Streamlight ProTac HL-X is a well-rounded light that accepts Thyrm’s excellent SwitchBack pocket clip.

In the over $200 category, you can get a SureFire Duel Fuel handheld or a Modlite PLHv2 handheld. Both are a good choice, but Modlite has significantly more output from the same size light.

Shedding Light On Tourches:

Pistol-Mounted Lights

Shooting with a light is a lot easier with both hands on the gun. You can use a handheld effectively with a pistol, but you need to practice the skill. Like the handheld light, we want at least 500 lumens and 5,000 candela for a weapon light. Ideally, you’ll buy one that’s 600 lumens or more and over 15,000 candela to help defeat those photonic barriers with greater ease.

Also, take into consideration the switches on the weapon light. Rotating switches, like the ones found on the SureFire X300 Ultra or Streamlight TLR-1 HL, are a good bet. Compact lights mean that we have to use a slightly different switch—the Streamlight TLR-7A is the current king in that realm.

And remember this: You’re going to need a holster capable of accommodating the gun and the light.

Full-Size Pistol-Mounted Lights

When looking for a full-sized pistol light, there are two options you should be seriously considering at the time this is being written, SureFire’s X300 Ultra and the Streamlight TLR-1 HL. No other lights on the market have been proven to the level that these have.

Streamlight’s TLR-7 and TLR-7A are the only compact weapon lights with enough candela to defeat a rapid string of fire.
Streamlight’s TLR-7 and TLR-7A are the only compact weapon lights with enough candela to defeat a rapid string of fire.

Both weapon lights have 1,000 lumens, and both have great candela ratings as well, but they run on the CR123 batteries still. Modlite will be introducing a pistol light that’s powered by an 18350 battery, uses their modular head design and will have a good switching arrangement.

Compact Lights

Not down with the idea of shoving a giant light into your pants? There’s one compact weapon light on the market worth looking at that still meets the requirements for a usable pistol light: the Streamlight TLR-7 series. There are other lights on the market that hit the mark in lumen rating but fall flat when you look at the candela rating. Only one comes close—the Olight Baldr Mini—but since it has an integrated battery with a finite lifespan it might be ideal to stick to lights that allow you to maintain the power source.

Rifle-Mounted Lights

What does a good rifle light need to do? That really depends on your application. The needs of an armed professional are very different than the needs of a suburban homeowner.

Again, look for a light that uses a 18650 or 18350 rechargeable battery, since that’ll keep you in the output range we want to see out of a rifle light. It should have at least 1,000 lumens and a candela rating of 10,000 at the minimum. Preferably, get a light with 1,300 lumens or more and north of 25,000 candela to be able to take advantage of the rifle’s longer engagement range.

There are some outliers to what I consider to be the minimum, such as the Modlite OKW with only 680 lumens. Yes, that’s less than the 1,000-lumen requirement, but the 69,000 candela pairs well with a magnified optic.


Pressure pads are the most ergonomic and useful methods of activation, but what pressure pad should you choose? If you choose a Streamlight rifle light, you’re stuck with the OEM tape switch unless you convert it to take the SureFire plug with a tailcap adapter from Arisaka.

SureFire ecosystem lights have an advantage in that there are several great switch options in addition to the choice of plug only, or a plug and button combo tailcap. Opt for switch like the brand-new Modlite ModButton Lite, the original ModButton or the Unity Hot Button and get 10 to 15 percent more light output. Choose the option that works best with your rifle and use case.


Generally, it’s recommended to mount the weapon light on the same side as your dominant hand, as close to the rifle as you possibly can. Mounting the light like this gives you the most real estate and prevents the light from getting tangles in a sling. Arisaka’s inline scout mount is a great option; also consider mounts from Railscales, Bobro, Impact Weapon Components and Magpul.

The PHLster ARC switches for SureFire X300, and Streamlight TLR-1 HL lights make activating the light a cinch.
The PHLster ARC switches for SureFire X300, and Streamlight TLR-1 HL lights make activating the light a cinch.

Cable Management

Secure the pressure pad cable with something to prevent it from being pulled out of the endcap. Low-tech solutions like rubber bands or bicycle inner tube are great, or try a purpose-built solution like LaRue index clips.

Home Defense

Nearly every rifle-specific weapon light from most of the reputable manufacturers is going to do the trick with the exception of Streamlight’s TLR RM1, the rifle adaptation of the TLR-7A. Since we’re specifically talking about a gun built around short-range defensive uses, I might select a light with more of a flood-style beam pattern rather than the pinpoint beam of a Modlite OKW.

Even though the light had some teething issues, the Streamlight ProTac HLX Rail Mount appears to be bug-free now and is a solid budget option with impressive output numbers. Just a few more dollars and you can move to the SureFire Scout Light Pro Dual Fuel with the integrated M-lok mount.

Shotgun Lights

Putting a weapon light on your shotgun is a bit more challenging than other firearms, but it’s just as advantageous. Two good dedicated options for a shotgun are the Streamlight TL-Racker or the more expensive SureFire-dedicated forend lights. There are ways to mount handheld and rifle lights to a shotgun, but they don’t work as well as a dedicated forend light.

Streamlight and SureFire dedicated forend lights are best for a shotgun, but you can make a rifle light work.
Streamlight and SureFire dedicated forend lights are best for a shotgun, but you can make a rifle light work.

Get A Dang Light

There’s no reason that you’re carrying a gun and not at least carrying a handheld light in 2021. There are just too many reasons that a high-quality flashlight can be a defensive tool.

Give me all the lumens, but remember that candela is king.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

FN 509 LS Edge: Extreme Versatility Defined

Optics ready and capable in many roles, the FN 509 LS Edge proves itself a tactical jack-of-all-trades.

How The LS Edge Outdoes Other Practical-Tactical Pistols:

  • Lightening the felt recoil, FN has slotted the side reducing its mass.
  • Featuring a new flat-faced trigger, the pistol promotes a linar pull and breaks at a crisp 4 to 5 pounds.
  • Grip texturing is extemely aggressive, assuring the pistol won't go anywhere.
  • Slide is cut to accept a wide variety of optics.

Every version of the FN 509 that we’ve seen so far has been designed with the personal protection and the duty user in mind. The new FN 509 LS Edge takes a very different path, addressing the needs of a competitive shooter as well as the tactically minded.

The LS Edge’s new slide stop looks identical to the Tactical’s, except it’s a touch longer.
The LS Edge’s new slide stop looks identical to the Tactical’s, except it’s a touch longer.

FN’s long-awaited practical/tactical optics-ready gun is the brainchild of Tim Kennedy of Sheepdog Response and 253-time champion shooter Dave Sevigny working with FN America’s team of engineers. With Kennedy’s focus on defensive tactics and Sevigny’s impressive competitive background, the task of melding the two thought processes was undoubtedly an engineering challenge.

Not only did FN’s engineers manage to pull it off, the new pistol is exactly what I had wished for in last year’s article on the FN 509’s history.

Evolution Breeds Perfection

Before diving into what sets the FN 509 LS Edge apart from the rest of FN’s pistols, we really should touch on the 509’s roots. We covered the development on the FN 509 previously, but here’s a brief rundown.

The 509 LS Edge’s Graphite PVD finish is tough, but it also looks fantastic.
The 509 LS Edge’s Graphite PVD finish is tough, but it also looks fantastic.

The FN 509 platform has a much longer history than you might think given how recent the pistol is to the market. When the 509 hit store shelves in 2016, it was already well tested in the military’s XM17 pistol trials, nearly winning the contract when it made it into the final round before selecting the P320 as winner.

The gun’s design goes even further back than that; there’s over 15 years of research and development packed into the 509 platform. When you look at the new LS Edge, you can still see the designs roots in the FNP, which became the FNX and then the FNS and FNS-C, the 509’s closest relative.

Sexy Slides Sell

Even though FN has produced a long slide before, they haven’t done anything quite like the LS Edge to date. It’s not just a churched-up 509 with some window dressing like you normally see on premium versions of an existing pistol; it’s obvious a lot of research drove every aspect of the new gun.

The new super aggressive grip texture is going to keep your gun planted in your hands during recoil.
The new super aggressive grip texture is going to keep your gun planted in your hands during recoil.

That isn’t to say that the pistol isn’t going to make you want to press your face against the gun case glass—this thing is sexy. The new optics-ready long slide is coated in graphite PVD, the same type of coating on the 509 Tactical. To give you an idea how tough PVD is, my 509 Tactical has been used hard with somewhere north of 14,000 rounds through it with only very minor finish wear. Not only is it tough, but the graphite finish highlights the lightning cuts and brings the contours of the new slide alive.

Sure, the LS Edge gets an all-new optics-ready long slide with some fancy window cuts and a fiber-optic front sight, but there’s more going on inside the pistol that could be overlooked easily. Between the obvious slots in the serrations and the much less obvious milled slots around the striker, the new LS Edge’s slide is only one-fifth of an ounce heavier than the Tactical’s slide.

That might sound trivial but slide mass plays an important role in how flat shooting a pistol is. Slide mass is one of the biggest contributors to felt recoil and muzzle flip, not bore axis, which is probably the reason why I paused for a second when I pressed the trigger for the first time and felt the pistol cycle in a satisfyingly soft manner while tracking about as flat as my compensated 509s.

Crispy Controls

The improvements to the platform don’t stop there; the LS Edge has a brand-new flat-faced trigger that’s sure to wow even the most critical of FN’s traditional hinge-style trigger. Our test example’s trigger broke cleanly at 4 pounds, 5 ounces. FN says to expect a 4- to 5-pound trigger, thanks to the new trigger shoe and a redesigned striker—a claim that held true when my example measured out to 4 pounds, 5 ounces on a Lyman digital trigger gauge.

Shooting on the move at a high rate of speed isn’t as hard with a soft recoiling gun.
Shooting on the move at a high rate of speed isn’t as hard with a soft recoiling gun.

It isn’t all about a lighter trigger pull; the new trigger shoe was carefully designed to break at 90 degrees and has very minimal over-travel, which makes it feel like the trigger is moving straight back similar to a 1911. Additionally, the striker’s new shape should perform better in water submersion tests than the original striker, thanks to cutouts in the striker’s bearing surface that’ll prevent the striker from hydro locking.

The LS Edge also gets an extended magazine release and all-new slide release that’s easier to reach without breaking your grip, but that also means it’s easier to pin under your grip and prevent a slide to lock open. The slide stop on my own example will likely get swapped out for the smaller one on the Tactical to prevent that. To be clear: This is a problem with my grip and not the gun.

Get a Grip

As you might expect at this point, FN turned the frame to 11 as well. I can’t think of another pistol on the market that uses a grip quite like the LS Edge. FN started with the midsize frame and designed a metal magwell that transforms it into a full-size frame. Since the end result is a magwell that reminds me of the one Glock used on the Gen 5, I suspect that practical shooting associations will allow shooters to use the 509 LS Edge in Production and Carry Optics divisions.

LS Edge Accuracy 1

While unconventional, really all FN did was use a more robust material to improve the pistol’s longevity. I wouldn’t recommend removing yours though; the pistol really isn’t intended to be shot without it.

You also might notice that the frame no longer has the pyramid-style texture that has become synonymous with FN, now we get an ultra aggressive skateboard grip tape-style texture that’s a significant improvement over the older texture. Some shooters might find it too aggressive, but that goes away once you grip the gun harder. Personally, I’m a fan of aggressive grips, and the LS Edge is just about perfect for a factory pistol.

Once you grip the gun with purpose, the aggressive texture assures the pistol isn’t going to wiggle around in your hands. Less wiggle in recoil means faster follow-up shots; faster follow-up shots means more wins against paper or flesh advisories.

Range Time

Currently, I have about 1,300 failure-free rounds through my 509 LS Edge and counting with roughly 750 of those in an eight-hour period during the launch event. In fact, the pistol got so hot that one of the FN engineers noticed heat mirage coming off the slide of my gun and liberally applied some oil to the barrel and slide to help cool it down before we cased the guns for the day.

LS Edge Accuracy

With the impressive accuracy that we saw out of the 509 Compact MRD last year, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the LS Edge performed well during accuracy testing. With ammo a bit scarce, I was sad when I saw the best results out of my preferred practice load, American Eagle 147-grain FMJ, with a 0.406-inch five-shot group at 10 yards and a 1.912-inch five-shot group at 25 yards. For defensive ammo, the 147-grain Federal HST did extremely well with a 1.632-inch five-shot group at 25 yards.

Not once in over a thousand rounds did I find the LS Edge to be lacking in any way. Recoil was pleasant, the pistol shot flat, and even when heat-soaked, it still was every bit as reliable as I’ve come to expect of the 509 platform.


One of the largest challenges with a non-Glock pistol is finding a holster that’ll fill the role you have for the gun. Thankfully, that isn’t so much an issue with the 509 LS Edge. For concealment with a weapon light, the PHLster Floodlight has allowed me to comfortably conceal the pistol with a Leupold DeltaPoint Pro and Streamlight TLR-1 HL mounted to the gun. On the rare occasion that I decide to take the light off the pistol, a JM Custom Kydex AIWB holster does the trick.

To get the most out of the LS Edge, choose a large windowed MRDS like the Leupold DeltaPoint Pro or Trijicon’s SRO.
To get the most out of the LS Edge, choose a large windowed MRDS like the Leupold DeltaPoint Pro or Trijicon’s SRO.

As for the range holster that we used during the event, the ANR Design race holster was fast and retained the gun well enough. Since then, I’ve modified a Safariland ALS retention holster for a P320 to fit the LS Edge, and it has become my go-to range holster. Eventually, Safariland will release a purpose-built fitment for the LS Edge, which I’ll likely replace my rigged holster with as soon as I can.

Nothing is Perfect

Even though the LS Edge is as close to perfect for an out-of-the-box pistol under $1,500 that I’ve seen, it isn’t perfect. The gun is priced a bit higher than I’d like to see, with competing pistols like the Glock 34 and Walther Q5 Match coming in at roughly $600 less (but that may be less of a concern when dealers start getting them on the shelf and we see if the real-world street price is remotely close to my predicted street price of roughly $1,200). Should street pricing be close to that figure, the superior optics mounting, more robust metal magwell and flat-face trigger add enough value for me to justify the extra spend.

(Clockwise From Top Right) PHLster Floodlight, ANR Designs Race Holster, JM Custom Kydex IWB and Safariland 6390 RDS.
(Clockwise From Top Right) PHLster Floodlight, ANR Designs Race Holster, JM Custom Kydex IWB and Safariland 6390 RDS.

My real gripe lies with the magazines. I’m a bit disappointed that FN launched a pistol competition shooters should love without 140mm magazines with baseplates designed for the new pistol. Yes, the 17 rounders that ship with the gun are nice, but if you intend on shooting a stage with it, more bullets in a reload are always welcome.

Not common, but a keeper

While the 509 isn’t as common as I feel it should be, you shouldn’t look over the 509 LS Edge when shopping for an optics-ready pistol. Simply put, I feel the new pistol is nearly perfect right out of the box. That’s a heck of a statement from someone who modifies just about every firearm in his safe.

I have to give kudos to Kennedy, Sevigny and the FN America team; just when I thought the FN 509 was about as good as it was going to get, they raised the bar yet again.

FN 509 LS Edge Specs
Action Type: Striker Fired
Controls: Ambidextrous Slid Stop, Reversible Magazine Release
Magazine Capacity: 10-, 17-, 24-Round Magazines
Weight Unloaded: 31 Ounces
Barrel Length: 5 inches
Overall Length: 8.2 inches
Width: 1.35 inches
Height: 5.75 inches
Sights: Green Fiber-Optic Front, Black Rear Suppressor Height; FN Low-Profile Optics Mounting System
Accessories: 2 Backstraps, 3 Magazine, MRDS Cover Plate, Zippered Case, MRDS Mounting Kit

For more information on the FN 509 LS Edge, please visit fnamerica.com.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Bone Up On FN Guns:

King Of 2 Miles: What Extreme Long-Range Shooting Takes

Expensive large-caliber rifles and more variables than you can shake a stick at, do you have what it takes to compete in King of 2 Miles?

Basic King Of 2 Mile Requirements:

  • Rifle Weight: Fewer than 40 pounds
  • Other Equipment Weight: Fewer than 25 pounds
  • The shooter must be able to carry all equipment to the firing line in one trip.
  • The bipod must attach at a single point.
  • The bipod must contact the ground at no more than two points.
  • Any monopod or rear bag that’s as long as the monopod must be attached to the stock.

Imagining settling yourself in behind a rifle as tall as a 6th-grader, taking careful aim, pressing the trigger to the rear and launching a bullet that might weigh in at over an ounce. Your rifle barks, and the muzzle brake and 40 pounds of mass soak up some of the recoil.

As you settle back in from the rifle’s recoil for a second sight picture, seconds pass. Your spotter is silent.

Four seconds pass … 5 … 6. You hear a bell cut through the air, indicating an impact on the 48×60-inch target 3,525 yards away.

A King of 2 Mile rifle can easily reach the 40-pound weight limit ... once you start bolting on optics, bipods and other accessories.
A King of 2 Mile rifle can easily reach the 40-pound weight limit … once you start bolting on optics, bipods and other accessories.

Congratulations! You and your team managed to hit the final target in the King of 2 Mile extreme long-range shooting competition.

Your spotter calls, “Same shot!” The rifle bucks, and the process starts all over.

What’s the Point?

Is a 40-pound rifle going to be ideal for hunting or defensive uses? No. But what these rifles do offer is a testing platform that’s propelled long-range shooting tech since the inaugural match in 2015.

The goal is to push the boundaries of what’s possible with a rifle considered “man-portable” by the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association (FCSA)—the event’s sanctioning organization.

We sat down with Robert Waggoner of Alamo Precision Rifles in Hurst, Texas, to get a better idea about what kind of equipment it takes to be competitive at King of 2 Mile. Waggoner not only co-owns (along with Jason Davidson) one of the top precision rifle shops in the country, he’s also an accomplished precision shooter, hunter and the president of the Extreme Long Range Shooting Organization (ELRSO), which offers some unique matches that can reach out to 3,500 yards to help shooters build the qualifications needed to secure a spot at King of 2 Mile.

Caliber Choice and Component Selection

As you might guess, choosing the caliber your rifle will be chambered in will likely affect other aspects of the rifle. Because the goal of the competition is to further development for man-portable long-range rifles, the choices you make should be focused on maintaining a balance between capability and portability.

The massive action, barrel and stock make this Nightforce 7-35x56mm ATACR’s 34mm tube look tiny.
The massive action, barrel and stock make this Nightforce 7-35x56mm ATACR’s 34mm tube look tiny.

A heavier bullet is going to give you more splash with missed shots—at the expense of heating the barrel a bit faster and creating more recoil. Should you choose a caliber with a lighter projectile, it might be harder to spot splash, but there’s less heat, recoil and concussion from the rifle.

In an effort to remove as many variables as possible, ammunition is almost universally hand-loaded for this competition. The basic recipe is to use one of those lathe-turned, solid bullets and a bunch of slow-burning powder in a meticulously prepared case in which you carefully put a quality primer. Ammunition components beyond the bullet vary so widely that even narrowing down the common ones is a nearly impossible task.

More Long-Range Shooting Info:

Extreme Long-Range Cartridges

.50 BMG: The obvious choice would be .50 BMG, because the event is held by the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association. With only 40 pounds to work with, lighter and more-efficient cartridges have almost completely replaced the .50 BMG in competition.

.460 Steyr: The first cartridge that was developed from the .50 BMG case is the .460 Steyr, developed in 2004 for areas that had banned the .50 BMG. The .416 Barrett is often confused with the .460 Steyr’s history, but the cartridge does well in ELR competitions. The .460 is an attractive choice for those seeking a big, heavy bullet that’s still efficient at distance.

.416 Barrett: There’s some Internet lore surrounding the reason for the .416 Barrett. Some “forum commandos” incorrectly believe the cartridge was designed as a result of California’s ban of the .50 BMG. In reality, the .416 Barrett was designed at the request of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division in 2004. Barrett offers a Model 99 and the Model 82A1 in that caliber. The .416 Barrett is a popular choice—thanks to very efficient heavy-bullet options. Again, remember that weight means larger dirt splashes, which are easier to spot and call corrections from.

One of the purposes of the King of 2 Mile competition is to spur development of “man-portable” rifles. As a result, bipods that are no wider than 8 inches when folded are required.
One of the purposes of the King of 2 Mile competition is to spur development of “man-portable” rifles. As a result, bipods that are no wider than 8 inches when folded are required.

.375 & .408 CheyTac: Both the .408 and .375 CheyTac are derived from the .505 Gibbs, an old, English big-game cartridge that’s primarily found in beautifully crafted Mauser 98-based bolt-actions. The old .505 Gibbs was designed to handle only about 39,000 psi—nearly 25,000 psi short of the pressures the .408 CheyTac generates—so the case was strengthened. You won’t see the .408 on the King of 2 Mile firing line nearly as much as the more efficient .375 CheyTac, which offers a better ballistic coefficient, is less affected by wind and produces less recoil. As with everything else in life, there’s no free lunch: While the .375 CheyTac offers a lot, you do lose bullet weight … which means harder-to-spot misses. With only five attempts at the target, a miss from which your team didn’t see splash could cost the team dearly in points.

Wildcats: It shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s a constant need to look for small improvements that give a competitor an edge over others. Most of the wildcats are based around a .375 bullet, such as the .375 CheyTac Improved, .375 Warner and .375 Libert. Obviously, the sky’s the limit with wildcats … as long as your rifle complies with the event rules.

Off-the-Shelf Rifles

There are some off-the-shelf rifles that have the capability to hit that 3,525-yard target, but they might not meet the rules or be as competitive as a custom rifle.

If you’re intent on trying your hand at ELR shooting, Cadex Defense, JJ Rock Co., Desert Tech, Victrix Armament, Barrett, Noreen Firearms and several other manufacturers have off-the-shelf options that might fit the bill for you. Keep in mind that a production or semi-custom rifle might not be as competitive as a rifle tailored for the event.

Some rifle builders offer semi-custom packages (such as the Azle Mirage ULR, TX, Hill Country Rifles or Gunwerks) that comply with the rules of the event but, again, might not be ideal to go toe to toe with some of the most accomplished ELR shooters in the world and their custom-built rigs.

Custom Rifles

While semi-custom rifles are options, full-custom rifles are the most common sight on the firing line and are likely the direction most competitors will take.

As in every competitive shooting sport, making your firearm look a bit “racy” isn’t uncommon for King of 2 Mile competitors.
As in every competitive shooting sport, making your firearm look a bit “racy” isn’t uncommon for King of 2 Mile competitors.

A full-custom will allow you to tailor your rifle to your team’s specific needs, because each component is selected and specified by your team, as the name implies. Most highly skilled rifle builders will be able to help you with one, but do your research on the shop: There’s no shortage of snake oil in the precision rifle game. In addition, before you drop that deposit money on your build, make sure the shop has experience building a rifle in the ELR category.


Because you’re really limited to three that are capable of chambering the super-mag cartridges ideal for the event, there aren’t a lot of options to choose from for the action. None of the actions I located with BMG or CheyTac bolt faces accommodates standard safeties (but more on that when we get to triggers).

The BAT Machine has two options to choose from: its Model EX and the newer Model EXS, which was added to make it easier for competitors to meet the 40-pound weight limit at King of 2 Mile. If BAT Machine’s offerings don’t excite you, and your team selected a CheyTac-based cartridge, something such as the Barnard Model P-Chey, the JJ Rock Co. SuperXL or the Stiller TAC 408 action might be the right call.

When it comes to selecting your action, and if this is your first dive into an ELR rifle, it’s always best to check with your rifle builder to get their feedback.

Barrel and Muzzle Device

As is the case with other precision rifle competitions, barrel manufacturers are all over the place, with nearly every one being represented at some level of the competition. Most of the barrels hover in the 30- to 38-inch range in order to stay within weight limits while getting the most out of the slow-burning powder most teams use.

All three of these Alamo Precision-built ELR rifles are sporting the Phoenix Precision bipod. It was the preferred bipod before the rule changed to only permit bipods that are 8 inches wide when folded.
All three of these Alamo Precision-built ELR rifles are sporting the Phoenix Precision bipod. It was the preferred bipod before the rule changed to only permit bipods that are 8 inches wide when folded.

Some of the brands that do make regular appearances are K&P Barrels, Bartlin and Kreiger, but remember that the quality of the barrel is just as important as who chambered the barrel. As long as your gun builder is willing to stake their reputation on a barrel brand, it’s probably going to perform.
Muzzle devices are a hearty mix of muzzle brakes and suppressors. Some of the stand-out muzzle brakes are from Area 419 and the T5 Terminator.


Although chassis systems have taken over other aspects of precision rifle shooting—thanks to the ability to tack stability-enhancing accessories onto the rifle—they haven’t taken the ELR crowd by storm.

McMillan has a strong foothold in the ELR market. However, its presence in other precision shooting sports has started to become less commonplace due to chassis rifles taking over PRS. That said, the McMillan Beast II was purpose-built for ELR shooting, making it one of the most common choices of competitors. The McMillan A5 and A6 Supermag stocks are also favorites, primarily with shooters who come from a PRS-style competitive setting.

McMillan isn’t the only stock maker to have a model designed for the needs of the ELR shooter. Manners designed its MCS-LRT, which sports tactical features, especially for King of 2 Mile. You can get the MCS-LRT for a .50 BMG-size action that also works for .416 Barrett. Alternatively, you can opt for the version of the stock that accepts a 1.6-inch-diameter action if you’re going to be shooting a CheyTac-based cartridge.

Lastly, the Mirage ULR chassis is one of your best options if you’re a die-hard chassis lover. Mirage ULR has been doing great things for the ELR community for some time. Not only is it a world-class rifle builder, it also has one of the most common ELR chassis on the market. With a call to its shop or an e-mail, you can have one configured exactly as you want.


Just about any Remington 700-pattern trigger that can either be run with no safety or with a bottom safety is going to work just fine. Some of the popular triggers come from TriggerTech, Bix’n Andy, Timney and Jewell.

The McMillan ELR Beast fiberglass stock features an incredibly adjustable cheek piece to accommodate adjustable and fixed scope bases that add several hundred minutes of additional elevation.
The McMillan ELR Beast fiberglass stock features an incredibly adjustable cheek piece to accommodate adjustable and fixed scope bases that add several hundred minutes of additional elevation.

You might wonder why you need a trigger without a safety or a bottom safety inside the trigger guard. Simply put: Because the actions are so big, the relief cut to slide a traditional 700 safety to the top of the receiver isn’t present, making a bottom safety or no safety the only way to go.

Optics and Mounts

Even though milliradian-based scopes are the “cat’s pajamas” in other precision rifle sports such as PRS, MOA is more common by a large margin. In other disciplines, the ability to quickly dial elevation or windage might be an advantage, making the more-coarse milliradian (mil) adjustment preferred. Without getting too deeply into the math, that means that while one click on a mil scope will equal .1 mil, the same single click on the typical ¼ MOA adjustment scope is equivalent to 0.0741 mil. When pushing a rifle out to the final target, that could mean a rather large variance that starts to bring some unpredictability—a precision shooter’s enemy.

Add More Elevation

A means of adding more elevation than you’re used to seeing on a traditional precision rifle is a must unless you’ve paid for a purpose-built ELR scope such as the March Genesis 6-60X56mm ELR scope. It has enough elevation to take a .375 CheyTac past 4,000 yards.

Those shooting with a more traditional scope, such as the Nightforce ATACR 5-25x56mm or ATACR 7-35x56mm, will need a means of adding the elevation they need. One of the popular options is an adjustable base from Cold Shot, which adds in an extra 300 MOA of vertical adjustment to your scope. Pair it with a Spuhr scope mount or an adjustable mount, such as the Ivey adjustable mount or ERA-TAC’s adjustable mount.

Lastly, there’s a prism unit that cleverly adds in elevation by using mirrors: the TacomHQ Charlie TARAC (sometimes called a “Charlie unit” or “taco”). This clever device can be permanently affixed to the rifle or scope with some wingnuts. Alternatively, it can stay in place, thanks to some high-powered magnets that interface with a ring on the scope bell.

Spotting Scopes

You’re going to need two high-quality spotting scopes or binoculars for your teammates. Your spotter might like to have a spotting scope with a reticle so they can call corrections quickly and easily. Remember: You only have 10 minutes to finish the course of fire, so time is of the essence.

In order to connect with that 3,525-yard target, you’ll need a means of adding more elevation.
In order to connect with that 3,525-yard target, you’ll need a means of adding more elevation.

Pretty much every quality scope manufacturer has something that’ll fit the bill, but some of the ones to look at are the Athlon Optics Cronus 20-60×86 UHD, Hensoldt Spotter 45 or Spotter 60, Swarovski ATX or BTR, Kowa’s Highlander binoculars and the well-proven Leupold Mark 4 spotting scope.

Your wind coach is also going to need a high-quality spotting scope that’s at the same level as your spotter’s, but the reticle is less important. It isn’t a bad idea to just buy two of the same spotting scopes if you’re starting from scratch.

Bipods and Bags

The 2020 rules changed the bipod requirements: The highly adjustable, precision-built Phoenix Precision bipods were no longer within the rules. Now, the bipod must fold as you expect a bipod to fold and be no wider than 8 inches when folded against the rifle. The bipod must also attach to the rifle at a single point and only contact the ground at two points.

As far as rear support, any rear bag is acceptable, so choose one and run with it … or go with a monopod. The monopod must be attached to the rifle’s stock in order to be within the rules; no mechanical rear rests are allowed that aren’t attached to the rifle.

Ballistics Calculators

The amount of math needed to figure the firing solution for a 3,525-yard target is enough to cause migraines. In order to avoid feeling as if your brain’s going to explode, King of 2 Mile teams use ballistic calculators such as a Kestrel. While each calculator has its own merits, some of the cell phone-based programs you can look at to get a feel for what a ballistics calculator does are GeoBallistics’ BallisticsARC, StrelokPro and Ballistic Advanced Edition. There are some far more advanced programs out there, but those three should give you a place to start.

Rifles built for the King of 2 Mile event are almost always a single-shot action such as this BAT Machine Model EX.
Rifles built for the King of 2 Mile event are almost always a single-shot action such as this BAT Machine Model EX.

The Cost of Being Marginally Competitive

To put it mildly, getting into ELR shooting at the competitive level isn’t a cheap endeavor. Just putting together a package of the major items comes out to about $23,524.95 (that’s nearly the base price of a brand-new, base-model Honda Accord).

If you were wondering what that shopping list might look like, I’ve broken it down, trying my best to keep the costs “reasonable.” Keep in mind that these prices are for an entry-level setup, not a top-tier “Gucci” rifle:

Alamo Precision Rifles custom rifle in .375 CheyTac: $5,050

  • Nightforce ATACR 7-35x56mm: $3,600
  • TacomHQ Charlie TARAC: $800
  • Spuhr scope mount: $400
  • Atlas Super CAL bipod: $399.95
  • Rifle case: $600
  • (2) Swarovski BTR spotting scopes: $9,656
  • (2) Really Right Stuff TVC-34L tripods: $2,320
  • Kestrel 5700 Elite handheld wind meter: $699

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2021 Long-Range issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

The EDC Light: 7 Lingering Myths Debunked

Next to a gun, an EDC light (flash or weapons) is the most useful tool to keep on your person. But there's plenty of fiction floating around this useful device.

What Are The EDC Light Myths:

“A light will give away my position.” Have you ever heard a fellow gun owner utter these words? There are more than a handful of myths about lights and guns, rooted in a poor understanding of using them effectively together.

The reason most gun owners don’t understand how a light works when paired with a firearm is simple: It’s difficult to practice in low-light conditions. But, it’s very important that every gun owner shoot in low-light conditions at least once … if, for no other reason, than to experience the challenges first hand. Ideally, you should seek out a reputable trainer with a low-light course.

Gun Light Myths 4

There just isn’t a good reason to not join the 21st century and embrace high-performing lights, regardless of the myths. Bad things happen all the time—especially when the sun isn’t out.

Shedding Some Light on Defensive Lighting

There are some basic concepts and terms that, if you’re familiar with them, will help you spot those nasty myths.

Photonic Barriers: Photonic barriers are anything that makes your EDC light less effective than it could potentially be. Examples of these performance-stealing variables are the very same ones that impact how well your car’s headlights work: fog, rain and even how clean the lens is. Other more extreme examples of photonic barriers include gun smoke, dust in the air and other light sources being aimed back at you. Most of these barriers can be overcome with a sufficiently powerful light, but others might require you to change how you use a light.

Umbrella or Baseboard Lighting: Just because an EDC light has a high output doesn’t make it unusable in confined spaces. Instead of pointing it directly where you’re looking, pointing the light at the ceiling and creating a reflective umbrella of light that covers everything in that room is a great way to make sure you don’t overwhelm your eyes with a ton of light.

What if you’re in a place with a super-high ceiling? Point the light at the baseboard, floor or ground. Sure, you aren’t going to get the same level of illumination as umbrella lighting, but it’ll work in a pinch. Umbrella lighting is best employed with handguns and handheld lights; baseboard lighting is better suited for long-guns because they often have more powerful lights mounted to them.

Constant-On and Momentary-On: Most of the time, momentary light activation is best paired with a long-gun, where pistol lights are best employed with a constant-on switch. Depending on your individual use case, a handheld light can be used effectively with both a constant-on and a momentary-on. The reason constant-on is preferred with a pistol is simple: It can hurt the fingers after a bit. A long-gun, on the other hand, isn’t anywhere near as difficult to use in momentary mode.

Lumens vs. Candela: You might have heard the term “lumens” thrown around a lot, but what about its lesser-known but more important brother, candela? Lumen is the measurement unit for the total amount of light coming out of the lens. More lumens technically means brighter, but that light might not harness those lumens efficiently and leave you with a less effective light than you think you have. Candela is a measurement of the amount of light in a particular spot in the beam pattern, which can be used to determine how efficiently that light projects.

Be Prepared:

Myth 1: 200 Lumens Is Enough

As EDC lights have become more powerful, there’s a growing segment of folks who believe there’s such a thing as too much light. The idea that “X lumens is enough” is that if you have too much light you might blind yourself if you shine your light on a white wall or mirror.

One light isn’t going to solve every problem. Balancing size, output and throw is just as important as selecting your defensive carry ammunition.
One light isn’t going to solve every problem. Balancing size, output and throw is just as important as selecting your defensive carry ammunition.

Why It’s Wrong: Even with a very low output light, bad technique can blind you. Learn your home’s layout, identify what surfaces reflect enough light to impair your vision—and practice. The umbrella and baseboard lighting techniques ensure that even if you have a Modlite Archimedes Death Ray slung under your pistol, you aren’t going to blind yourself.

If you haven’t already, turn the light out in the bathroom and shine a flashlight on the ceiling and the base of the wall to see what it does. Magic.

Myth 2: A Light Will Give Away My Position

This self-explanatory myth—that should absolutely be a concern in a military context—is often applied to civilian defensive use. The idea is that turning an EDC light on to see is like flipping on a neon sign above your head.

Why It’s Wrong: There’s some validity to the argument if we’re talking about a SEAL Team conducting a night-time snatch and grab, but the legally armed citizen likely isn’t going to be presented with a situation that requires a high level of light discipline while making a late-night Arby’s run.

When it comes to pistols, turning your light to constant-on as you draw can be done much easier when you add some PHLster switches to your light.
When it comes to pistols, turning your light to constant-on as you draw can be done much easier when you add some PHLster switches to your light.

Because the use of a high-output weapon light can control a threat in some cases, the possibility to avoid being forced to use deadly force is a welcome tool. Plus, the information you can gather with light is a hell of a lot more thorough than what you can gather without ample lighting.

Myth 3: A Gun With A Light Is Hard To Conceal

Adding a light to your EDC pistol will add bulk. That’s fact. However, the idea that a light added to your pistol transforms it into something you couldn’t possibly conceal most certainly is myth.

Why It’s Wrong: Advancements in holster design over the past decade have made concealing a gun with a light attached much easier than ever. Additionally, lights like Streamlight’s excellent TLR-7 A add nearly no bulk to the pistol while still delivering acceptable performance.

Holster makers to investigate for concealing a pistol with a light attached are Bawidimann, Tenicor and PHLster for AIWB; Raven Concealment’s Perun LC is a great option for OWB if you aren’t comfortable with appendix carry.

Still can’t seem to pack a gun with a light? Carry a handheld like Streamlight’s ProTac HL-X USB or Modlite’s PLHv2 and get proficient using it.

Myth 4: A Gun Isn’t A Flashlight

While the argument that you shouldn’t use a gun as a flashlight is sound, this argument against weapon-mounted lights is most commonly delivered as: “I wouldn’t want to point a gun at my family if I was clearing the house.”

Companies like Cloud Defensive and Modlite are rewriting what we consider acceptable performance from weapon lights.
Companies like Cloud Defensive and Modlite are rewriting what we consider acceptable performance from weapon lights.

Why It’s Wrong: Your firearm isn’t a task light, and Jeff Cooper’s rules for firearm safety always apply. Don’t point your firearm at anything that you don’t intend to destroy. Just about any modern light from a reputable manufacturer is more than capable of lighting up a large room when using a technique like umbrella lighting. This misconception is rooted in a lack of understanding in how to use an EDC light effectively.

Still worried about it? The answer is adding a handheld light to your EDC and nightstand.

Myth 5: If I Can’t See, Criminals Can’t See

If you can’t see, obviously criminals won’t be able to see you either … right? This myth seems to make sense if you take it at face value.

Why It’s Wrong: A criminal only cares that you appear to be an opportune target; they don’t need to see exactly what’s in your hands. You, on the other hand, not only need to see the outline of the criminal, but you also need to know exactly what’s in their hands. If you use deadly force, no one’s going to care that the banana the bad man was pointing at you looked like a gun; all that anyone will care about is that it wasn’t a gun.

Myth 6: The Strobe Function Disorients Attackers

The myth that the strobe function on a flashlight disorients an attacker has roots in the theory that rapidly flashing light will overload the visual system and cause confusion.

Why It’s Wrong: There’s a reason most top low-light instructors don’t teach the use of strobe in their classes—and very few serious duty-rated lights actually include a strobe function—it doesn’t work. You have a far better chance at disorienting someone with a constant blast of lumens than throwing them a disco party.

The only result you’ll get from a strobe is less information about what the attacker is doing and what’s in their hands. The point of adding a light as part of your defensive toolbox is to gather more information to make better decisions.

Myth 7: I Don’t Need A Light During The Day

Daytime is bright. There couldn’t possibly be a need to have a flashlight during the day. After all, the sun has way more lumens than any pocket light saber you might be considering … right?

Why It’s Wrong: The idea that you won’t encounter a situation that would benefit from a flashlight, just because the sun is out, is asinine. How often have you walked out of a dimly lit store and found yourself squinting?

That big glass door that you walked through does a great job of backlighting people. With a high-powered flashlight, you can overcome that photonic barrier and make the best decision for that particular situation. Again, carry a handheld light in public: You don’t want to be drawing on anyone unless the threat in eminent.

What You Should Do

The best way to go about determining which particular concepts work best for you is to try them out in your home and in your daily routines.

If in doubt, here are some solid practices to live by:

  • Carry a handheld light regardless of whether you have a weapon-mounted light.
  • Get specific low-light training from a well-respected instructor. YouTube doesn’t count.
  • Practice in your home with an unloaded gun. Learn how to get the most out of your tools in a controlled situation.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2020 Everyday Carry issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Open Your Eyes! Red-Dot Sights Are Superior

Red Dot Sights 1

If your aim is accuracy, it's high time to add a red-dot sight to your pistol.

Carrying a semi-auto pistol with a mini red-dot sight (MRDS) isn’t as uncommon as it used to be. Still, plenty of naysayers are out there with cries of how it’ll get you “kilt in da skreets,” but that isn’t as common anymore thanks to advancements in technology. Over the past decade, mini red-dot sights have been used in the most demanding environments by elite law enforcement officers, members of special operations, and legally armed civilians.

There are a ton of benefits that can’t be ignored and outweigh the negatives by a large margin, but there are some things that you should know before you jump into the MRDS world. Not all mini red-dot sights are created equal.

Why Switch?

Finer Aiming Point: Iron sights aren’t as precise an aiming system as you might think, regardless of how “high speed” they are. Even the largest red dot on the market covers less target area than nearly every iron sight out there.

For example, a set of Dawson Precision adjustable irons on a Glock 17L still covers five times more target area at 25 yards than a 3.25 MOA red dot. Combat-focused sights, such as the XS Sights DXT Big Dots, exacerbate the shortcoming, especially on tiny pistols like in the Glock 26 category. In that particular example, the front post will cover roughly 10 times more target area than the Trijicon RMR RM06.

Red Dot Sights 5

Better in Low Light Conditions: For years, tritium night sights were the accepted “must have” for a defensive pistol until more recently when advancements in weapon-mounted lights made the tritium night sight less irrelevant. Now, one of the most accepted iron sights for defensive use are competition-oriented black rear/fiber-optic front sights. Not only is a dot easier to acquire in low light, but it performs just as well when paired with a weapon light.

You Will be Faster … Eventually

Is an MRDS going to turn you into John Wick? No. What a mini red dot will bring to the table is fewer things to process to place an effective shot on a threat under pressure. There’s a learning curve, so don’t fool yourself into thinking that performance comes as soon as you bolt the dot to your slide.

Like many new red-dot converts, you’ll almost certainly fish for the dot while presenting the pistol. The reason for that is the iron sights that your mind is aligning subconsciously as the gun is presented are no longer the most prominent thing on the top of the slide. With some practice, the dot appears in front of you as if it was magic, and your first shot from a draw will be faster than ever as long as you don’t over confirm your sight picture.

Moving targets are also going to be easier to engage accurately. Few things are as challenging as shooting a mover with irons. Why not remove the need to align your irons and focus on tracking your target?

Choosing a Dot

Dot Size: Depending on who you ask, the size of your red dot either matters or doesn’t matter at all. There are several dot sizes to choose from, ranging from a 1 MOA dot up to a 12.9 MOA triangle reticle.

Red Dot Sights 5

You might choose something like a 3.25 MOA dot if you’re looking for a good mix of precision and speed. If you want to pump up the speed, add some brightness to make the dot bloom and appear bigger.

There are good reasons to go with a larger 6.5 MOA dot, such as getting all of the speed benefits of the larger dot without having to increase the brightness at the cost of battery life. The larger dots are also better when transitioning from dark to light environments when using a weapon light and will be easier for a new red-dot shooter to find after the pistol recoils.

If you have astigmatism or poor eyesight, the Holosun’s 32 MOA circle reticle with a 2 MOA center dot might be the best decision for you—or even the triangle reticles found on some Trijicon RMR and Leupold DeltaPoint Pro models.

Footprint: While the optic mount might not seem important, don’t limit yourself as you grow as a shooter. Setting a slide up for a red dot isn’t an inexpensive prospect, so why not give yourself some options?

FN’s FNX-45 Tactical’s plate-mounting system was groundbreaking when introduced and made optics-ready handguns a reality for consumers.
FN’s FNX-45 Tactical’s plate-mounting system was groundbreaking when introduced and made optics-ready handguns a reality for consumers.

There are several footprints available, but the market is dominated by the RMR, DeltaPoint Pro, and Holosun HS507K footprints. Outside of those, there are some relevant optics like the Holosun HS509T and Aimpoint’s excellent ACRO that should be on your shortlist.

The Trijicon RMR footprint is quickly becoming the industry standard for mini red-dot sights and has been the most popular for some time. Should you choose the RMR footprint, the choices are seemingly endless with all of Trijicon’s proven options, as well as the robust Holosun mini red-dot sight family.

Less popular than the RMR footprint is the Leupold DeltaPoint Pro footprint, largely due to the Department Of Defense clinging to it as a mounting standard. There are some dots out there in this footprint that should be on the list of considerations, such as the DeltaPoint Pro. Sig Sauer has some optics that are designed for this cut.

Zero In On Aiming Solutions:

  • Best Concealed Carry Optics: Red Dot, Green Dot Or Iron Sights?
  • 7 Out-Of-Sight Optics For Every Range And Budget
  • Red Dot Optics And MOA
  • Gear: Lighting It Up With A Laser Sight

Durability: When selecting a red dot, consider if that optic is durable enough to handle the rigors of being carried. While many shooters justify subpar optics by telling themselves that they “just won’t drop their gun,” anything can happen if you need to use your firearm for self-defense.

Another factor to consider is weather resistance, from rain to submersion and temperature fluctuations. Some models are surprisingly prone to fogging, which can be mitigated with anti-fog coatings like Cat Crap. You might not think choosing an optic capable of working after being submerged is important, but being prepared is what self-defense is all about.

Sight radius is completely irrelevant once you mount a red dot; the only two benefits left for a longer barrel is carry comfort and muzzle velocity.
Sight radius is completely irrelevant once you mount a red dot; the only two benefits left for a longer barrel is carry comfort and muzzle velocity.

Direct-Milled Slides: Just like the red dot itself, slide-mounting systems are not created equal. Direct milling will always be more secure, MOS-style systems will always have drawbacks, and there are some systems that are a hybrid of the two, giving you incredible flexibility without sacrificing.

Having your slide milled for your specific optic is by far the most preferred solution. Not all direct milling is on the same level, though; you absolutely get what you pay for. I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to skimp and potentially ruin a slide that can cost upward of $350 to replace because I was cheap and sent my slide to a bargain shop.

MOS and Other Factory Mounts

Like mentioned previously, the MOS-style system is the most prevalent on the market currently. That isn’t because it’s the best; it’s because it works well enough for most. Plate-style MOS systems all can trace their roots back to the FN FNP-45 Tactical, which later became the FNX-45 Tactical. If the fact that FN developed an entirely new mount system isn’t evidence enough that the plate-style system has drawbacks, I don’t know what is.

Since you’re screwing a plate to your slide and then screwing an optic to the plate, there isn’t a good way to check to see how tight the plate-to-slide screws are over time. In testing, the most rounds I was able to shoot before the plate to slide screws started becoming loose was 1,200 rounds.

Some red-dot models are just fine for plinking or a fun gun, but you might want to avoid mounting them to a carry pistol.
Some red-dot sight models are just fine for plinking or a fun gun, but you might want to avoid mounting them to a carry pistol.

The new FN mounting system is the best factory option I’ve seen to date. There’s no need for thread-locker; you can adapt it to multiple optics’ footprints, and it’ll hold zero for thousands of rounds. In the more than 17,000 rounds of testing of FN 509 MRD variants, I’ve yet to see an optic lose zero due to loosening.

Sig also has some rather attractive mounting options from the factory, including their DeltaPoint Pro compatible Romeo1 Pro cut. Some of the P320s even have a hybrid cut that allows the shooter to mount either DeltaPoint Pro footprint optics or Trijicon RMR footprint optics.

Aftermarket Mounts

There are some aftermarket solutions, like the outstanding Agency Arms AOS system or Unity Tactical’s ATOM mount, that are on the same playing field as a direct-milling solution.

Others, like the Dueck Defense RBU and Raven Concealment’s BALOR RDS mount, can offer a no-modification solution that I’d personally be comfortable with carrying for defensive reasons. You should avoid knockoffs of the RBU and the BALOR mounts, as they have proven to not hold up to the demands of being carried.

Red Dot Sights 3

The discontinued ALG Defense 6-Second Mount is a frame-mounted solution that allows you to choose with the proven Trijicon RMR or the even more robust Aimpoint T-1. While robust and ready for defensive use, they’re too large to consider for daily carry.

If you’re averse to modifying your pistol slide, there are some mounting solutions that you should avoid: A dovetail mount is a great tool to see if you want to invest the time in the switch to an MRDS, but it isn’t robust enough for defensive use. Also, be very cautious of online pop-up deals. Remember what’s at stake.

Odds and Ends

Zeroing Your MRDS: Opinions vary on what distance you should confirm your zero, both the 15- and 25-yard zeros have their merits. What you choose depends on the barrel length of your gun and your load choice. Personally, there’s only one distance I consider when zeroing my red dots for both defensive and target shooting purposes: 25 yards. When using an NRA B8 repair center as our reference target, the bullet will stay in the X-ring—when I do my part as a shooter—from 3 yards out to 50 yards.

Battery Changes: Get on a schedule that makes sense for the power consumption of your preferred brightness level and the capacity of the battery used in your optic. With batteries ranging from the tiny CR1225 with a 50mAh capacity up to the significantly larger CR2032 with a whopping 235mAh capacity, battery life can be as short as a month to several years.

MOS Iron Sights

With my Trijicon RMRs and Holosun optics, the battery change happens once a year on my birthday, even though they’d likely be good for another year or two. Other optics vary depending on how often that gun is shot, and if it’s used as a carry gun. Don’t shy away from a great optic because the internet doesn’t understand battery limitations—just alter your battery change schedule to complement your optic choice.

Anti-Fog Goop: I like air conditioning, but I don’t like how the glass of my optic will fog up if I take it from the brisk 68 degrees in my truck to the sweltering 110-degree humid summer day at an outdoor range. Treating your lens with a product like Cat Crap will mitigate fogging issues, as well as ensure water and debris don’t stick to the glass or the emitter window. Regularly clean the parts of your optic that transmit and project the dot … and make sure you treat those areas.

The Bottom Line on Dots

While I’m still very competent with iron sights, I’ll shoot a red-dot-equipped pistol 10 times out of 10 when given a choice. The math just doesn’t lie. As long as you practice, you’ll shoot better … and you’ll be faster.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Taking It In The Crotch, Is Appendix Carry For You?

Appendix Carry 6

Appendix carry is often maligned. In truth, its comfortable and offers quick access to a gun no matter what position you're in.

What An Appendix Holster Must Have:

  • Covers the trigger guard and slide
  • Has a built-in wedge or the ability to add one
  • Offers a belt attachment option in the “better” or “best” category
  • Provides adjustable ride height
  • Has a means of rotating the pistol inward
  • There are no sharp edges along the bottom of the gun

When the topic of appendix carry comes up, some of the oft-used responses are along the lines of, “Appendix doesn’t work for me”; “AIWB isn’t comfortable for me”; or (my personal favorite): “I don’t want to shoot my @#$% off.”

These complaints are almost always rooted in a poor understanding of how to make appendix carry work, assuming that a shorter pistol slide is better or allowing an opinion to be formed while using a $25 eBay holster that “works for them.”

Once you’ve understood the elements of a good appendix holster and how it should fit onto your body, nearly every concern critics make is almost always addressed with proper equipment selection. If your holster, gun or gun belt isn’t well-suited for appendix, you’re going to have a bad time.

Is appendix carry for everyone? No, but you should be able to follow the tips in this article to have the best chance at success.

Holstering a Loaded Gun Is Dangerous

The most likely time to have a negligent discharge is when holstering your pistol. That isn’t limited to AIWB: Holstering a pistol is universally dangerous if you’re careless. Appendix carry just has higher stakes than other positions. A properly functioning gun in a good holster, along with quality training, will mitigate risk.


“Shooting your @#$% off” should be the least of your concerns if you botch holstering your gun. A far more valuable bit of anatomy than your reproductive organ is also at risk: your femoral artery. Because I don’t like the idea of dying, I came up with some easy-to-remember rules (“N.U.T.S.”) for holstering a loaded gun when carrying appendix:

  • Never rush to reholster your firearm.
  • Uncover your holster completely.
  • Thrust your hips forward.
  • Slowly insert your pistol into the holster.

Appendix Carry Benefits

If the whole “if you mess up, you’ll die” thing didn’t put you off, which it shouldn’t, there are some solid payoffs to AIWB. As long as you remember my N.U.T.S. acronym and use quality gear, you probably won’t mess up and die.

Faster and Easier Draw. Some people will note that appendix carry is faster because the gun is closer to where your hands spend most of their time—in front of the body. That isn’t entirely true. Yes, our hands spend most of their time in front of the body, but the draw stroke when placing your gun in the AIWB position is a more natural motion. Your arms want to bend into the centerline of your body; they don’t want to be moved around to your back. Removing the need to reach behind your body’s centerline means you’re no longer at a mechanical disadvantage.

You’re also able to draw your gun in a ton of odd body positions, such as seated (think car, restaurant or place of worship), on your back and pretty much every other position you might find yourself in … as long as you don’t find yourself pinned face-first against something, thereby blocking access to the holster.


You Have More Control. Where carrying on your strong-side hip leaves you at a disadvantage when trying to maintain control of your gun, with appendix, you just push the pistol down into the holster with whatever hand you have free. While it’s a less-ideal method of controlling the pistol, the option to close the gap between you and your attacker and block access to the pistol by sandwiching it between your body and the attacker is another way you can maintain control of your gun.

Concealing Large Guns Is More Comfortable. The most surprising benefit to appendix carry is that when you use a properly set-up holster, appendix carry is generally more comfortable than traditional IWB carry, even when you’re seated. Think of how traditional IWB either places the pistol over your hip bone or presses the slide and muzzle into your gluteal medius (hip muscles) and gluteal maximus (butt cheek) muscles.

When you have a holster that incorporates a way to tilt the gun into your stomach and also rotates the grip toward your body, you’re able to pull off what some might view as impossible—true concealment of large pistols in the same everyday clothing you would wear normally. In fact, there are many who carry (including me) and are able to conceal a Glock 34 or 5-inch 1911-sized pistol on a daily basis without printing.

Appendix Carry Myths

I’m only going to touch on the two most prevalent myths. Addressing every myth about AIWB would not only take a lifetime, but this magazine would deforest a small country!

Regardless of where you choose to conceal your handgun, reholstering is the action that causes most accidental discharges. Be diligent in your movements, and remember that there’s never a need to hurry while returning your handgun to its holster.
Regardless of where you choose to conceal your handgun, reholstering is the action that causes most accidental discharges. Be diligent in your movements, and remember that there’s never a need to hurry while returning your handgun to its holster.

‘Big’ People Can’t Carry Appendix. “I can’t carry appendix. My gut gets in the way.” Hogwash! There isn’t any magic to being able to conceal a pistol AIWB as a bigger guy, but a larger wedge (we’ll talk about later) is needed to prevent the pistol from tipping out of the pants. Carrying a longer gun—as counterintuitive as it sounds—is also rather helpful in making appendix carry work for bigger guys due to more holster and gun being below the beltline.

You Can’t Draw With One Hand. Again, this is hogwash. Just like traditional IWB, you still need to clear your cover garment. With strong-side carry, this means you rip the cover garment up and use your thumb and palm heel to keep it clear while you acquire your grip and draw. With appendix carry, the process is very similar: Rip the cover garment with your free hand and then stuff it behind the gun and draw.

Choosing An Appendix Holster

Your holster will either make or break your appendix carry experience. While different body types will dictate what best suits you, there are some general features you should look for.

For more information on concealed carry holsters check out:

Thermoplastics Rule; Leather Drools. The only material I will accept for an appendix holster is Kydex or Bolteron. There are some other derivatives out there, such as Holstex or injection-molded holsters, but anything that can be molded into a ridged shell gets a thumbs-up. Leather isn’t a material that I find acceptable for an appendix holster for one simple reason: Leather degrades over time and becomes soft. Stories of negligent discharges when holstering aren’t hard to find and are almost always linked to a leather or leather-backed hybrid holster past its service life.

Appendix Carry 1

A Means to Rotate the Pistol. There are tons of ways to rotate the pistol in toward your body. The purpose is to prevent the butt of the gun from printing and help a flat object follow the contour of your body a bit more closely. These are called “claws,” “camming bars” or “wings.” They all rotate the pistol toward your body.

The concealment wing’s function is simple: to rotate the gun and holster into the torso to prevent printing. It does this by being attached to the holster shell and using pressure from the belt to tuck the gun in neatly. Some good concealment wings to add to a holster include Raven Concealment wings, the ModWing, Dark Star Gear’s Dark Wing or PHLster’s TuckStrut. The Keepers Concealment accomplishes rotation differently; it uses an angle on the forward face of the holster.

Wedges. The purpose of a wedge is to push the muzzle out and the top of the pistol toward your torso for better concealment and comfort. An additional benefit is that depending on your gun selection, the wedge could keep the muzzle clear of anything vital if you mess up while holstering. Most people will benefit from one.

Built-in Wedges. Tenicor holsters, with their body contour wedge, are the most comfortable integrated wedges I’ve tried. When choosing a holster with a built-in wedge, keep in mind where on your belt line that holster will go. In addition, know that you might need to make some adjustments by adding some foam to the back for more height.

Semi-Permanent Add-On Wedges. Some holsters (such as my daily-carry Bawidamann Gotham and the Raven Concealment Eidolon) use a rubber wedge that screws onto the back of the holster. A semi-permanent solution that attaches to the holster shell with hardware is an entirely acceptable option if one of the holsters with a built-in wedge doesn’t excite you.

Add-On Foam Wedges. Other holsters, such as the AIWB holsters from ANR Design, don’t have a good option for a wedge. There are ways around not having a purpose-built wedge—such as using some closed-cell foam, a technique made popular by Spencer Keepers. And some industrial hook-and-loop closures make it a snap to attach a pre-made wedge (for instance, the Keepers Concealment foam wedge or Dark Star Gear’s Flat Pad or Muzzle Pad).

Appendix Holsters to Avoid

No matter what that talking head on YouTube is telling you, a hybrid holster is a terrible option for concealing a pistol in any carry position. What makes holsters such as the Alien Gear line or CrossBreed’s leather-backed holsters so comfortable is that the backer softens over time and conforms to your body. While that’s great for comfort, it’s bad for safety.

Stick with Kydex for your AIWB holster. Leather will become soft over time ... which is a bad trait for an appendix rig.
Stick with Kydex for your AIWB holster. Leather will become soft over time … which is a bad trait for an appendix carry rig.

When that backer becomes pliable enough, there’s the chance it will fold over while you’re reholstering and make its way into the trigger guard. Sure, you can get one that has a “combat cut,” but I’d recommend just skipping hybrid holster designs altogether.

While there are exceptions to the no-leather “rule,” there just isn’t a good reason to choose leather over a more-modern material such as Kydex. As with the hybrid holster design, leather will soften over time and conform to your gun and body—which, again, is great for comfort. Nevertheless, as was the case with the hybrid holster, that comfort comes at the cost of safety.

Your Belt Matters

Selecting a good gun belt is just as important as selecting a quality holster. That bargain belt you bought at a Sears store liquidation sale or the trendy gun belt you found on Amazon for $39.99 is going to be less than optimal.

My first stop will always be Mene Gene Leather for any leather goods. Gene’s craftsmanship is outstanding, and the Victory Aegis line of belts will allow you to get the belt placed in just the right spot. Want something that uses more-modern materials? Magpul’s Tejas El Original is a proven belt that combines a sweatproof flexible polymer layer and a more-traditional bull’s hide outer layer.


There are a few out there that will do the job, but the gold standard has been the Ares Gear Aegis Enhanced. After using a dozen or so different synthetic belts, I don’t see a point in suggesting you get anything other than the Ares Gear. If it’s not for you, take a look at the Blue Alpha Gear line or even the obvious Aegis Enhanced knockoff: Bravo Concealment’s Cinturon belt.

Holster Placements And Adjustments

A poorly placed and/or adjusted holster is going to give you a less-than-ideal carry experience, even if you have the perfect gun-belt-holster combination.

Holster placement is pretty straightforward, but so many seem to get it wrong. Rather than place the muzzle or weapon light in the inguinal crease (you may know it as the “thigh brow”), some self-proclaimed experts compensate for a poorly designed/adjusted holster by moving the pistol more to the centerline of the body. Not only does that make concealment harder, it also makes AIWB less comfortable.

You should place the holster just ahead of the hip bone so that the light bezel on your pistol light or the muzzle sits in that inguinal crease. Proper holster placement allows you to use the bathroom without moving the gun or sit in a chair without crushing something important. It also maintains the highest level of concealment.

Ride height is also key to a good appendix carry experience. Remember: The more gun below the beltline, the easier it is to conceal the pistol. My general guideline is to set the ride height to place the pistol as deeply as possible while still allowing enough space for my fingers to pass easily between the belt and grip. Too deep, and you have to jam your fingers between the belt and grip. Too high, and you might experience holster tip-out or poor concealment.

Is Appendix Carry Worth Trying?

If you haven’t given appendix carry a try, you really should. Not only is it the easiest way to conceal a pistol worth fighting with, it’s also comfortable, fast, easy to put on and safe … as long as you remember to think “N.U.T.S.” when holstering.

Suggested AIWB Holster Makers:
Keepers Concealment
Harry’s Holsters
Henry Holsters
ANR Design
Dark Star Gear
LAS Concealment
Raven Concealment

The article originally appeared in the 2020 Concealed Carry issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

FN 509 Compact: Living Up To Family Standards

From left to right, FN 509 Midsize MRD, FN 509 Compact MRD, FN Tactical.
From left to right, FN 509 Midsize MRD, FN 509 Compact MRD, FN Tactical.

The FN 509 Compact is the newest addition to the popular striker-fired pistol line, but not the least … well, in everything except size.

How The FN 509 Compact Continues To Advance The Line:

  • Launched with FN optics mounting system
  • This includes high-rise sights that co-witness through an optic
  • 3.7-inch barrel, cut flush with the end of the slide
  • Magazine options include 10-round flush fit and 12-round extended

Even though FN’s pistols have traditionally been ahead of the trend, FN isn’t often one of the first brands people think of when standing at the gun counter. There’s a good reason for this: The company’s focus has largely been on building the best weapons possible for war fighters, not the civilian pistol market.

With 16 variants of the FN 509 introduced since April 2017, that’s a pretty clear sign that FN America is taking pistols very seriously.

The FN 509’s Hammer-Fired Heritage

Looking as far back as the FN FNP, which was developed for the 2006 Joint Combat Pistol Competition, you see the fully replaceable frame rails carried over to every FN pistol introduced afterward. The JCP competition also produced the FNP-45 Tactical, the first commercially available handgun to offer a factory multi-optics mounting solution.

In 2011, FN took the FNX and further evolved it into the FN FNS for the civilian and law enforcement customer who wanted a striker-fired pistol rather than a more traditional DA/SA pistol.

The last evolution of the FNS pistol was the FNS Compact, introduced in 2015. While the FNS Compact saw some limited success with legally armed consumers, it never saw wide adoption.

Competition-Forced Evolution

When the U.S. Army decided that its Beretta M9s were past their service life, the announcement of the XM17 Modular Handgun System competition made every major pistol manufacturer jump to come up with something that fit the requirements.

Despite the FN 509 Compact’s small size, this pistol shoots like a much larger gun. Also, if you didn’t know better, you might mistake the fantastic slide serrations for a high-end aftermarket milling job.
Despite the FN 509 Compact’s small size, this pistol shoots like a much larger gun. Also, if you didn’t know better, you might mistake the fantastic slide serrations for a high-end aftermarket milling job.

There was a common theme in the submitted pistols: Nearly all of them were an evolution of an existing design. After all, a $580 million government contract isn’t the place to debut an unproven cutting-edge pistol.

FN’s brass ordered the engineering team to drop everything and build a pistol that met the MHS requirements. Because the FNS Compact was the most evolved pistol in the FN stable, it made sense to use it as the basis for the company’s XM17 submission. After much design work, the FNS Compact was transformed into a pistol built for warriors and capable of handling high-pressure 9mm loads.

Bone Up On FN Guns:

FN’s XM17 Pistol Becomes the FN 509

Keeping true to its track record of evolving a pistol to meet the needs of civilian and law enforcement consumers, FN worked with industry experts and law enforcement end-users to refine the XM17 prototype. The result was the FN 509 Standard, launched in 2017.

FN 509 Timeline

Refinements made to the FN XM17 prototype were very subtle and centered on enhancement of the texture used on the pistol’s grip. In addition, FN’s engineers made some small changes so that the 509 was reliable with commercial ammunition. The 509 that landed on dealer shelves is nearly the pistol that made it to the final three in the MHS trials.

The FN 509 Standard

At the time the FN 509 was introduced to the U.S. market, every other XM17 MHS submission had been revealed—except for Glock’s. Pistol nerds like me were clamoring for more information about what FN had cooked up for MHS, and I was not disappointed in what FN brought to the table.

When reviewers got their hands on the FN 509, the feedback was nearly universally positive, although some reviewers reported that the magazine release could be tough to activate. Also, the trigger on some examples was reported to be a touch on the heavy side for use as a target pistol.

Like the XM17 pistol, the FN 509 features fully ambidextrous controls, some of the best slide serrations I’ve ever seen on a factory pistol, an outstanding cold hammer-forged barrel and a grip texture that looks a bit goofy—with four distinct textures—but performs amazingly well in all conditions.

The FN 509 Tactical

The FN 509 Tactical that was launched in July 2018 is yet another evolution that shares many of the same features that made the FN 509 Standard such a great pistol. Nevertheless, FN America’s design team added some enhancements to the Tactical in response to consumer and subject matter experts’ feedback.

There are several magazine sizes to choose from. Just make sure to use the correct over-insertion spacer to prevent ejector damage.
There are several magazine sizes to choose from. Just make sure to use the correct over-insertion spacer to prevent ejector damage.

The Tactical brought a new slide release that’s influenced by the TangoDown Vickers slide release. It’s a huge improvement over the smaller slide release that was an obvious carryover from the FN FNS. Additionally, the issue that some reviewers reported—that the magazine was sometimes a challenge to release—was also addressed with an enlarged release button.

FN also added a 24-round magazine option with the FN 509 Tactical that’s roughly the same length as the slide. Keeping the length of the 24-round mag reasonable meant that if you could conceal the Glock 19-length slide, concealing a larger reload or carrying it on a duty belt was possible.

Lastly, the Tactical included a cold hammer-forged, 4.5-inch barrel with ½x28 threads. FN even designed a thread protector with an O-ring inside it that stops it from loosening. Also included was a reduced-power recoil spring assembly to cycle even the lowest-power target ammunition, as well as hard-to-cycle frangible ammo.

The FN Low Profile Optics Mounting System

The 509 Tactical’s gift to shooters was the truly innovative FN Low Profile Optics Mounting System.

Previously, if you wanted to mount an MRDS (such as a Trijicon RMR) to a pistol slide, there were few good options. Direct milling has been, and remains, the most robust solution, but factory options before FN’s new system have been less than ideal for one reason or another.

The number of red-dots the FN mount is capable of accommodating grows constantly as new red-dots are released. Because the system is so adaptable, accommodating a new mount style, such as the one used on the Aimpoint ACRO P-1, is as simple as making a new adapter.

FN 509 JHP Test Results

FN dispensed with the need for thread-locking compound by using an O-ring sandwiched between the slide and the optic-specific MRD plate to keep the screws secure. Not only does this make installing a red-dot and changing batteries easier, it’s also nearly as robust as the best direct-mill solutions.

The Aftermarket Embraces FN’s 509

One of the largest problems that plague new pistols is that aftermarket support doesn’t materialize. Thankfully, that’s not the case with the FN 509 platform.

Holsters: Top-tier companies such as Henry Holsters, PHLster, ANR Design and Safariland offer holsters that cover just about every concealed-carry preference. I believe the Henry Holster Spark for the FN 509 with a Streamlight TLR 7 is the way to go when it’s paired with Discreet Carry Concepts’ Mod4 Universal Clips.

Triggers: Currently, only two companies are offering a trigger for the FN 509—Apex Tactical and Volker Precision. While the Apex trigger has ruled the market, the new Volker trigger has some interesting features: Where the Apex trigger uses an uncoated trigger bar and stamped sear, Volker is using a nickel-boron nitride coating on the trigger bar and bar stock-machined sear.

FN FMJ Test Results

Comps and Barrels: There are options offered by Weapons Armament Research, Parker Mountain Machine, Henry Holster and Volker Precision. Don’t own a 509 with a threaded barrel? Apex is offering a fluted barrel that’s dimensionally identical to the FN-produced barrel. Apex even includes a reduced-power spring in case you want to install a compensator.

Magwells and Backstraps: For some reason, FN chose to leave two large strips smooth and completely devoid of texture. There are only two companies offering new backstraps that add more texture: Volker Precision and Agency Arms.

The FN 509 Midsize

Early in January 2019, FN dropped the 509 Midsize, giving it all the same features the FN 509 Standard has—but in a size most closely compared to the Glock 19. Some of the evolutionary updates were carryovers from the Tactical, while others, such as the improved trigger shoe, were brought into the mix. The new shoe now had a much flatter face to aid in ensuring the trigger is more constantly pulled straight to the rear. The Midsize saw other minor changes, such as a reshaped fence around the magazine release that makes magazine changes easier.

The Midsize uses the reduced-power recoil spring from the Tactical to make the slide easier to manipulate. FN says that during testing, there was no degradation of reliability or longevity of the recoil spring. However, this pistol can’t be fed a steady diet of +P or 9mm NATO ammunition.

More magazine options come with the FN 509 Midsize: a 10-round compliant version, a 15-round standard-capacity magazine, the FN 509 Standard’s 17-round magazine (when used with a spacer sleeve) and the 24-round (when combined with a new base plate that incorporates the over-insertion spacer into it).

MRD 509 Models Expand the 509 Line

During SHOT Show 2019, the FN 509 MRD was quietly announced as an option for law enforcement-only customers. We also saw the launch of the 509 Midsize MRD, which had all the features of the Midsize but paired with the optics-ready slide from the Tactical.

Out of all the 509 variants introduced, the Midsize MRD is my favorite because of its concealability, the included features and the fact that the pistol recoils no more than the Tactical.

The New FN 509 Compact

The whirlwind of new models brings us to the FN 509 Compact—the latest in the 509 family launched in January of 2020. FN did it right and launched a pistol other manufacturers might refer to as a “sub-compact” with the company’s new optics mount right out of the gate.

FN’s Low Profile Optics Mounting System is every bit as innovative as the plate system first used on the FNP-45 Tactical in 2006.
FN’s Low Profile Optics Mounting System is every bit as innovative as the plate system first used on the FNP-45 Tactical in 2006.

The new Compact features a departure from the 4-inch slide (that every other iteration of the 509 has sported) with its new, 3.7-inch barrel cut flush to the end of the slide.

The new frame size also meant new magazine options, such as the flush-fitting, 10-round mag or the 12-rounder that sports a finger extension. As with the Midsize, the Compact can use the other magazine sizes for the 509, as long as the appropriate magazine spacer is used.

This rundown of the FN 509’s history was spurred by the release of the FN 509 Compact, so it makes sense that I used the smallest pistol in the line for accuracy testing. In theory, the Compact should have the least impressive numbers.

That wasn’t the case, however. With FMJ ammunition printing five-shot groups between 0.392 and 1.1 inches at 10 yards and 1.745 and 4.499 inches at 25 yards from a hasty rest, the Compact exceeded my expectations.

The consistency I saw at 25 yards with good defensive ammunition in my example was no less impressive: Federal HST 124-grain produced a 2.020-inch five-shot group for the best out of the five ammo types tested. The worst was the Federal HST 124-grain +P with a 2.812-inch five-shot group.

Each 509 MRD pistol comes with everything you need to mount the optic of your choice. (The ACRO plate is sold separately.)
Each 509 MRD pistol comes with everything you need to mount the optic of your choice. (The ACRO plate is sold separately.)

FN managed to give consumers a Glock 26-sized pistol that accepts every red-dot the Tactical will. It also made sure the Compact would accept every weapon light on the market (you do have to modify a Surefire X300 by removing the DG switch blank, but the light will fit).

What’s Next for the FN 509?

That’s a hard question to answer with certainty. There are still a few gaps in the FN 509 lineup that could be easily addressed.

Using Glock models as sizing benchmarks, the 509 line still lacks a 43x/48-sized pistol, a Glock 34-sized gun and a true Glock 17-sized gun. The next release is as much a mystery to me as it is you, but one thing’s for sure: FN will certainly apply all the evolutionary changes the model has seen since the Standard’s introduction in 2017.

I, for one, will be excited to see what the future brings (I’m hoping for a Glock 34-sized FN 509 to replace my Gen 5 Glock 34 with a pistol better suited to being a test mule for mini red-dot sights). After all, the dot is the future … and the future is now.

FN 509 Tactical
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Action Type: Double action only (striker-fired)
Controls: Ambidextrous slide stop and magazine release
Frame: Polymer w/replaceable steel slide rails
Magazine Capacity: 10- and 17-round flush fit or 24-round w/spacer
Weight Unloaded: 27.9 oz.
Barrel: 4.5 in., threaded, ½x28 cold hammer-forged stainless steel w/1:10 RH twist
Length, Width, Height: 7.9 in. L, 1.35 in. W, 5.75 in. H
Trigger Weight as Tested: 6 lb., 3 oz.
Sights and MRDS Mounting: Green tritium suppressor-height sights and FN low-profile optics mounting system
Included Accessories: 2 backstraps, 3 magazines, MRDS cover plate, zippered case, MRDS mounting kit, standard recoil spring, reduced-power recoil spring

FN 509 Midsize MRD
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Action Type: Double action only (striker-fired)
Controls: Ambidextrous slide stop and magazine release
Frame: Polymer w/replaceable steel slide rails
Magazine Capacity: 10- and 15-round flush fit or 17- and 24-round w/spacer
Weight Unloaded: 26.5 oz.
Barrel: 4 in., cold hammer-forged stainless steel w/1:10 RH twist
Length, Width, Height: 7.4 in. L, 1.35 in. W, 5.3 in. H
Trigger Weight as Tested: 5 lb., 10 oz.
Sights and MRDS Mounting: Black suppressor-height sights and FN low-profile optics mounting system
Included Accessories: 2 backstraps, 2 magazines, MRDS cover plate, zippered case, MRDS mounting kit

FN 509 Compact MRD
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Action Type: Double action only (striker-fired)
Controls: Ambidextrous slide stop and magazine release
Frame: Polymer w/replaceable steel slide rails
Magazine Capacity: 10-round flush fit; 12-round w/extension; 15- and 24-round w/spacer
Weight Unloaded: 26.5 oz.
Barrel: 3.7 in.; cold hammer-forged stainless steel w/1:10 RH twist
Length, Width, Height: 6.75 in. L, 1.35 in. W, 5.2 in. H (4.8 in. H w/optional flush fit magazine)
Trigger Weight as Tested: 5 lb., 7 oz.
Sights and MRDS Mounting: Black suppressor-height sights and FN low-profile optics mounting system
Included Accessories: 2 backstraps, 2 magazines, MRDS cover plate, zippered case, MRDS mounting kit

For more information on the FN 509 Compact, please visit fnamerica.com