There are many bolt carrier groups on the market for AR-15s, but not all are made equal. Choosing the best one for your rifle or your custom build will have everything to do with its purpose and operation.

The AR & Its Components

Bushmaster AR diagram upper

The AR-15 was developed by Armalite and the first batch of rifles was released in December of 1959. The design of the AR-15 is simple, but the rifle’s reliability is totally dependant on component quality.

Fun Fact: The AR in AR-15 stands for Armalite Rifle

The lower part of a rifle is comprised of the serialized lower receiver, stock, buffer system, trigger group, and grip. These components are assembled together with a lower parts kit that includes the controls of the functionality of the firearm.

The upper part of the rifle includes the upper receiver, barrel, gas system, bolt carrier group, charging handle, and muzzle brake. The complete upper receiver has fewer parts to assemble than the lower, but does require a specific torque for the barrel nut to ensure a proper fit. The remaining components include a forward assist button and ejection port cover.

The Bolt Carrier Group

Best AR-15s - Bolt Carrier Group
The fully assembled Bolt Carrier Group resides in the upper receiver.

The bolt carrier group (BCG) is what fires the round when the trigger is pulled, ejects spent casings from the chamber, re-cocks the hammer, and chambers a new round from the magazine.

The bolt carrier group is essentially what allows the rifle to fire in semi-automatic mode, and in some rifles, fully automatic. When any component of the BCG is damaged, cracked, or missing, the entire functionality of the firearm can and will fail.

BCG Components

A bolt assembly is made up of a few critical pieces. We break them down below.

Learning the vernacular of how the BCG operates as well as the proper names of the components is important when speaking about what condition your firearm is in.

These are the components of a bolt carrier group and what they do for a rifle’s functionality:

Bolt carrier

The carrier houses all the components of the BGC.

The bolt carrier is what specifically holds the firing pin, gas key, cam pin, and bolt together. It physically moves backward into the buffer tube as the gun is fired and does the work of chambering the next round when pushed back into battery by the buffer.

Carrier key

BCGs - Gas Key
The key to cycling a DI AR -- the gas key.

The carrier key is also known as the gas key because the gas tube deposits the gas into this key to power the AR’s cycling action. When a bullet travels through and leaves the barrel, the gas from the burning of powder filters through the gas hole in the barrel, backward through the gas tube, and into the carrier key.

This pressure from the gas is what unlocks the bolt, pushes it back against the buffer, and springs back forward to its locked position.

Cam pin

BCGs - Cam Pin
The cam pin connects the bolt and firing pin.

The cam pin keeps everything functioning and holds the bolt and firing pin together. The cam pin was designed to only be able to go into the hole in the bolt one way. This pin prevents the bolt from overrotating when it unlocks.

Firing pin

The firing pin. You can't strike a primer without one.

The firing pin runs through the hole of the cam pin and is locked into place by the firing pin retaining pin. When the firing pin is inside of the bolt and retained, the head of it should be visible, and it should not fall out.

The firing pin is what strikes the primer of the cartridge kicking off the firing sequence of the rifle.

Firing pin retaining pin

BCGs - Firing Pin Retaining Pin
Easily the most exciting bit of the BCG.

The firing pin retaining pin holds the firing pin in place inside of the bolt. Without it, the firing pin would fall out and could cause light or no strikes on the primers, preventing the gun from firing.

Bolt

BCGs - Bolt Assembly

The bolt includes the extractor, ejector, and bolt gas rings. The bolt’s face looks like a cog and is what rotates when the BCG locks and unlocks into place inside the firing chamber.

BCGs - bolt face
The cog-like bolt face locks it into place in the firing chamber.

Extractor

BCGs- extractor

The extractor is part of the bolt and its job is to pull the spent casings out of the chamber of the gun. A smaller component on the face of the bolt is an ejector. The extractor hooks onto the rim of the round pulling it backward and the ejector spring forces the ejector to push against the spent casing as the BCG is moving rearward.

The spent casing is then ejecting out of the upper. As the BCG comes back forward, the bolt head and extractor grab another round from the top of the magazine, chambering it, and locking into place.

Bolt gas rings

BCGs- gas rings
Gas rings a akin to piston rings in an engine -- they keep the gas on the right side of the bolt.

The purpose of the gas rings is to trap the gas so the gas moves the bolt instead of gas going into the upper receiver. There are three gas rings that should be checked and replaced as needed. Some AR-15s can still function on two and even one gas ring, but it’s not recommended. 

When you hear that the bolt is locked, you probably assume that means the bolt is locked back to the rear, held open by the bolt catch/release. This is incorrect. When the bolt is locked, that means the bolt is locked inside the firing chamber waiting for the trigger to be pulled to begin the unlocking process.

Types of Bolt Carrier Groups

BCGs- bolt carrier types
A low mass BCG (top) uses significantly less material than standard BCGs.

There are two types of bolt carrier groups. The AR-15 bolt carrier is designed to shoot semi-auto while the M16 bolt carrier is designed for full auto. The M16 bolt carrier groups have an extra lug that is compatible with a full-auto sear. These carriers are also a little bit heavier than AR-15 carrier groups.

There are also different categories of BCGs such as mil-spec bolt carriers, half-circle bolt carriers, and low mass carriers, all of which serve a different purpose.

Mil-Spec

Mil-Spec anything simply means that the design and build of the product are up to US military standards. When it comes to mil-spec bolt carriers, they must be made from 8260 steel, the interior of the bolt carrier must be chrome-plated, is subjected to shot peening, and has Grade 8 fasteners.

Half Circle

These bolt carriers have a portion of the cylindrical end of the carrier milled off to create a half-circle design. The area beneath and behind the firing pin is also milled off to create a lighter bolt carrier.

Low Mass

These lightweight bolt carriers have more of the metal milled off compared to a standard mil-spec carrier group. The low mass BCG reduces felt recoil and the movement of the rifle, so rapid shots cycle faster and smoother. If you change to a low mass bolt carrier group, you may have to adjust your buffer system to match if the BCG is not heavy enough to lock and unlock all the way or have an adjustable gas system to modify the gas to the new BCG.

To add even more complexity, an AR 15 bolt carrier can be made from steel, aluminum, or titanium, and have different coatings.

BCG Materials

Steel Bolt Carriers

Steel has been around for a long time. It is durable, heat resistant, and is affordable. The military mil-spec 8620 steel has been used in both full-auto and semi-auto bolt carriers, but not so much in the bolts.

This type of steel has been heat-treated and is made to resist wear and tear. Carpenter No. 158 steel is mil-spec steel used to manufacture bolts. It is more expensive steel, but is more durable for the lifespan of a bolt. C158 steel is case-hardened, meaning the outside of the steel is hard to prevent cracking and the inside is softer preventing stress fractures.

Lastly, 9310 steel is heat-treated as well and is used to make both bolts and carriers. This steel is more readily available and also affordable.

Aluminum BCGs

You’ll find that most low mass bolt carrier groups use aluminum since it’s a lighter material. Aluminum is not as durable as steel so you may find yourself replacing your bolt carrier group more often. These also work well in rifles that have an adjustable gas block

Titanium BCGs

Titanium is more expensive than steel but is much stronger than steel BCGs. Titanium weighs less and is heat and pressure-resistant making these BCGs a premium option for AR-15s.

Performance Testing & Coatings

BCGs go through high-pressure testing (HPT) as well as magnetic particle inspection (MPI). High-pressure testing is not something you try at home and this testing can prevent someone from blowing up their hand or face when shooting hot ammunition. Ammunition made by commercial manufacturers has to meet SAAMI-rated specifications.

For HPT, a high-pressure cartridge above the safe SAAMI-rated specs is fired to ensure the BCG is sound and able to handle continuous fire with extreme pressures.

MPI testing is done after HPT. During this process, the BCG is placed inside a magnetic field. A liquid solution containing magnetic particles is applied to the steel. These particles’ job is to stick to any cracks or deformities that are on the surface of the BCG. Ultraviolet light is used to illuminate the liquid and look for any sign of cracks, wear, and any deformities in the steel.

Bolt carrier groups can be parkerized, black nitride treated, nickel boron coated, or coated with titanium nitride.

  • Parkerizing: Bolt carrier groups often go through a process of parkerizing to protect the metal from corrosion, scratches, and to make it more wear-resistant. The first step is to clean the surface of the metal to remove all grease, oils, salts, dirt, etc. Next, the metal is immersed in hot water and then submerged into the parkerizing solution. Finally, the metal part is removed and left to hang on a rack to remove any excess.
  • Black Nitride: Black nitride is also known as a salt bath. This heat treatment hardens steel which is exactly what you want in a bolt carrier group to resist wear and corrosion. This treatment also makes the surface smooth for easier cycling in a rifle.
  • Nickel Boron: Nickel boron offers even higher resistance to wear and corrosion. Bolt carrier groups coated in this finish will have greater lubricity than chrome and nitride BCGs.
  • Titanium Nitride: Titanium nitride is used in aerospace and military applications. This is an extremely hard ceramic material, makes cleaning easy, improves edge retention, has good lubricity, prevents corrosion, and its gold color is a nice change from matte black.

The Best BCGs Reviewed

1. Best Low Mass BCG: JP Enterprises

JP Enterprises are known for their extremely reliable modern AR-15s and pistol caliber carbines. The performance of their rifles has been tested by competitors in USPSA, Steel Challenge, 3 gun, PRS, and more.

The action of their low mass bolt carrier group reduces felt recoil and helps the shooter acquire their sights faster for the next shot. One upgrade to make if purchasing this low mass carrier is switching out to a lightweight buffer system.

2. Best Mil-Spec BCG: Daniel Defense

This mil-spec bolt carrier group meets all the requirements of the US Military. The bolt is shot-peened, has an extractor booster for semi-auto or full-auto fire use, and each assembly is magnetic particle inspected.

A huge benefit of the black phosphate model is it has a full-length shroud for tripping auto sear for use in law enforcement and military rifles.

3. Best Titanium BCG: Rubber City Armory

Rubber City Armory makes high quality bolt carrier groups and this M16 BCG is compatible with semi and full auto firearms. It is nitride coated for wear resistance with a bolt machined from 9310 steel and titanium carrier that creates and assembly that weighs just 7.8oz.

Not cheap but when every ounce matters this is the BCG to run.

Closing

Bolt carrier groups run the show when it comes to cycling an AR-15. Choosing the wrong one can lead to failure to fire, failure to feed, and failure to eject. If you have a full-auto rifle, there is no other choice than an M16 BCG.

If you’re building a custom semi-auto rifle that you want to be smooth and soft shooting, consider a half-circle BCG. Lastly, if you’re a competition shooter looking to reduce recoil, have faster sight acquisition during recoil, and shoot faster splits, a low mass bolt carrier group will serve you well.

Sources

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The most classic and timeless of American firearms, the 1911 has sleek lines that are instantly recognizable and a fan base that has spanned centuries. However, is this gun still a great choice for defense, competition, and collectors? We cover a selection of the best 1911 builders so you can make a fully informed choice — be it a build kit, project gun, or bespoke masterpiece.

Comparison of the Best 1911 Pistols

What to Look for in a Custom 1911 or Kit

1. Brands

Kimber Rapide 10mm 1911
When looking for the right 1911 builder, you should recognize the brand.

When the 1911 first hit the market in, well, the year 1911, the lone 1911 builder was Colt– who made product exclusively.

By the time World War I– known then as the War to End All Wars or simply just The Great War– rolled around, the design was shared to other manufacturers such as North American Arms and Remington Arms-UMC while the U.S. Army’s Springfield Armory plant began making their own in 1914.

Then the days of Colt-only production settled back in domestically from 1919 until 1941 when another war came and, again, other makers such as Remington-Rand, Ithaca, Singer, and U.S. Switch & Signal got into the act to arm the GIs of WWII, only for Colt to be the last company standing again after 1945.

Fast forward to the late 1970s, and small custom pistol makers like Auto Mag, Clark, Essex, Caspian, Omega, Safari Arms, and Randall began to make in-roads into Colt’s market as millions of war surplus parts and guns were floating around.

In the 1980s, Springfield Armory, Inc (the company, not the old Army arsenal which had closed in 1968) and Auto-Ordnance were building guns that started to win early high-power competitions such as the Steel Challenge, whose competitors included a young Chip McCormick and Bill Wilson.

At the same time, overseas budget makers like Llama and Star in Spain and China’s Norinco were making semi-compatible budget knock-offs for import to the U.S.

By the 2000s, big-name players both in America and overseas realized there was an enduring demand for 1911 style pistols– a design that by then was purely in the public domain– and soon, Ruger, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Taurus, and others had taken the plunge into making their own versions.

There has never been a better era or selection of 1911s at any time in history than there is today. We’ll have a rundown of the best out there in our product list.

1911 Builders - 1911 vs 1911A1
The differences between the 1911 and 1911A1.

2. 70 Series or 80 Series

Old-school 1911s saw another shift in the 1970s from the M1911A1 standard when a collet bushing, which better centered the pistol’s barrel, replaced with the original bushing design. This led to so-called “70 series” models which are prized for accuracy. To some 1911 owners, this is the pinnacle of the design’s development, and it should have stopped there.

Then came the “80 Series,” which Colt began in 1983. This included a flared and lowered ejection port to improve reliability, as well as adding a safety plunger to the slide that increased drop safety at the expense of adding some extra take up to the trigger. While ostensibly safer than 70 series guns, a lot of users frown on 80 series pistols due to this extra creep in the trigger pack.

3. Frame Ergonomics

The basic pistol that John Browning gave us had the same types of ergonomics that every other handgun had in the 1900s– slick frames and front straps, lightly checkered grip panels, and tiny slide serrations. Classically styled models of the same pistol persist with these ergos today.

However, better models, meant for hard use, have recognized that this isn’t the age of the Ford Model T and millions of people dying of smallpox every year and have updated their guns with front strap checkering/stippling, aggressively stepped front and rear slide serrations, and extended beavertail grips.

4. Guide rods

The standard short, or mil-spec, guide rod and bushing is what most 1911s ship with today. Better models will have full-length guide rods with accompanying match-grade bushings that have a reputation of taking out some of the slop from the gun’s recoil cycle.

The good news is that this is, other than the magazine, the easiest thing to swap out on a 1911 and can be done during a simple field strip, so it is an easy upgrade (or downgrade, as some prefer the old-school guide rod) no matter what you end up with.

5. Magazines

One of the key features that keep any 1911 working is the magazine. Due to the widespread availability of aftermarket magazines– especially in .45ACP– for these guns, most 1911 builders just ship their pistols these days with a single mag.

Don’t be discouraged if it is a low-quality, unmarked “GI” style mag for this reason as many 1911 users have their preferences and will quickly ditch the factory-supplied magazine in favor of their proven Chip McCormick, Ed Brown, Wilson Combat, or Mec-Gar. Likewise, if you have magazine-induced issues/jams with your new (or new to you) 1911, try the simple step of getting a quality mag.

6. Sights

Colt Model 1911A1 and Government Model
If you're planning on locating Private Ryan don't expect adjustable sights.

Standard “GI” style 1911s, which are the most common, have integral fixed sights that are hard to pick out in some circumstances and cannot be adjusted. Today’s better models will have dovetailed adjustable sights that can be replaced with a simple sight pusher (or vice if done carefully).

While the fixed sights are correct for those looking to have a more traditional gun, those who want a 1911 that can clock in at the range or when needed in a defensive situation have a range of excellent day/night sights available.

7. Rails

1911-emissary-45-acp-handgun-10
Springfield's Emmissary has an integrated rail -- not something Mr. Browning would have imagined.

Railguns, 1911s that have an accessory rail on the dustcover of the frame, are relatively new to the model.

Introduced in the past decade or so, guns like the Colt M45 and Springfield Operator line include this feature to allow weapon-mounted lights and lasers, items that John Browning possibly never dreamed his pistol would carry.

While this adds weight and bulk to an already heavy gun, the extra ounces can also help curb muzzle flip to provide faster follow-up shots.

Plus, while largely unneeded for a range gun or a collector who wants a “Saving Private Ryan” piece, the benefits of a WML in a home defense scenario are obvious.

1911, 1911A1, or 2011

The pistol initially adopted by the Army in 1911 was significantly different than most “1911s” you come across today. To be correct, most are actually 1911A1 models. That more modern standard was adopted in 1927 after the gun had been in use for a generation and the military had feedback from thousands of users in combat.

The 1911A1 has a shorter trigger, an arched mainspring housing on the back of the grip, a relief cut to the rear of the trigger along with a longer hammer spur and beavertail grip safety to allow for better ergonomics, and thicker front sight.

Longslide, Government, Commander, Officer, or Defender

Not all 1911s are the same length. Full stop. The default standard is the original Government model that remained the only offering on the market for the gun’s first four decades or so of production.

This gun runs a 5-inch barrel, which gives it an 8.25-inch overall length and weighs around 40 ounces due to all that slide. Models that go longer than this, popular with old-school bowling pin shooters and precision handgun hunters, are referred to as Longslides.

Moving shorter, Colt introduced a whittled down 1911 with a 4.25-inch barrel, dubbed the Commander, in 1950 and the size has remained popular, especially for carry use. In 1985, the Officer model, which had an even shorter 3.5-inch barrel matching slide, was also shorter and used a 6-shot magazine because of the drop in height.

The smallest 1911s that are still chambered in .45ACP are Colt’s Defender (3-inch barrel), the Colt New Agent (3.25-inch), as well as Kimber’s Ultra Carry II (3-inch). 

Caliber

Aim center, hit center: Corps' top shooters compete in 2014 Marine Corps Match Championships
For many people there is only one caliber for a 1911: .45ACP

From the very beginning, the 1911 was chambered in .45ACP and that caliber remains the most popular for the model today, both in terms of complete pistols and kits.

To up the power factor of the pistol during the Prohibition Era, Colt started making some in what was known then as .38 Superauto, now just known as .38 Super, by pitching it as capable of penetrating the automobiles of bootleggers and Roaring 20s gangsters such as John Dillinger (who ironically was also a fan of the caliber).

Today, you’ll find plenty of guns and associated build kits in 9mm Luger/9mm Para as well as 10mm Auto.

To keep it short, any of these four calibers are effective for either competition shooting or defensive use but two– .38 Super and 10mm Auto– are harder to find, generally more expensive, and have fewer loadings available than the common .45 ACP and 9mm.

Purists, of course, hold that the only “true” caliber for 1911s is .45, but it should be pointed out that models using the smaller 9mm have a slightly greater magazine capacity and, even with the current ammo shortage, are still cheaper to shoot.

The Best 1911 Builders

1. Auto-Ordnance

A name that has been around since the 1920s, today’s Auto-Ordnance has been part of Kahr Firearms for the past two decades and they make a great series of GI style 1911s.

Available in Government (5-inch barrel) and Commander (4.25) formats, they have a matte black finish carbon steel frame and slide, use 80-series internals, and, important for many, are made in the U.S.A at a price that is closer to what is seen from overseas imports.

2. Cabot

If you want a bespoke, centerpiece gun for a collection, Cabot Firearms is the way to go. They offer several different 1911 variants including their Damascus, Better Than Custom, Cabot Private Reserve, and OAK (One of a Kind) builds.

For instance, they have a Big Bang set of pistols that were crafted from a 77-pound piece of billion-year-old meteorite, Price on Request.

3. Colt

The oldest name in the 1911 game is, of course, still making them. Today, Colt offers more than 50 models of this famed gun in their catalog ranging from small-batch collectors (The Black Army, Custom Carry Limited) to competition pieces (Gold Cup Trophy, National Match) and small format carry guns (Defender, New Agent).

One of the best deals is their 1911 Classic, offered in .45 and .38 Super with a Series 70 firing system, national match barrel, staked on front sights, and spurred hammer for about $800.

Colt Lifestyle 1911
While not a custom 1911 builder per se, Colt's the oldest name in the 1911 game and deserves a look.

4. Dan Wesson

Today a branch of CZ, which coincidentally owns Colt, Dan Wesson makes some serious 1911 style pistols especially for those who like 10mm guns and intend to take them in dangerous game areas.

These guns, especially the Kodiak, Bruin, and Specialist, are beautiful while at the same time being high-performance pistols with every feature one could want.

1911 builders - dan wesson
The Kodiak is 10mm of 1911 goodess. (Photo: Dan Wesson via Facebook)

5. Ed Brown

Ed Brown has been a custom 1911 maker for some 50 years, proving that they know exactly what they are doing when it comes to the platform. Besides competition and aristocratic collector’s guns, they excel at Carry models, making what could be the best bobtailed 1911s with the smallest footprint on the market that do not sacrifice performance.

If you would rather have something more unique, they have a Custom Build page with over 100 custom options to create your perfect combination.

Ed Brown's Kobra Carry is one of the best custom bobtailed 1911s anywhere.

6. Kimber

Alabama-based Kimber is one of the most recognizable 1911 builders in the U.S. and has over a dozen models in their catalog at any given time. These include railguns (such as the Warrior line), optics-ready models (Custom LW Nightstar, Aegis Elite Pro), two-toned models, and flashy top-shelf guns. One that hits a lot of boxes is the Rapide.

Offered in 9mm, 10mm, and .45 with a Black Ice or all-black finish, the Rapide has just about every ergonomic upgrade that can be offered, making them feel great, while a match-grade barrel and bushing, lighten-cut slide, and crisp 4-pound triggers make sure they shoot as great as they look.

1911 Builders - Kimber Rapide 10mm
Kimber -- a top 1911 builder by any measure -- packs about every custom upgrade you could want into their Rapide.

7. Les Baer

A race gun maker with some three decades in the biz, Les Baer Custom does not make cheap guns, but they do make a superior product. While they will build you anything you can dream of, they also offer several off-the-shelf models that have proven popular enough to fit most needs– all guaranteed to shoot 3-inch groups at 50 yards.

Their tuned Baer Custom Carry is available in .45ACP, .38 Super, and 9mm, all with night sights, crisp 4-pound triggers, and National Match frames, slides, and barrels.

8. Nighthawk Custom

Billed as “Hand building the world’s finest 1911 pistols,” Nighthawk Custom crafts their guns with a “One Gun, One Gunsmith” philosophy rather than via assembly line work in which a dozen or more workers, of varying skillsets, will have a hand in the pistol’s construction.

Yes, this makes Nighthawk’s guns more expensive, at least when compared to value makers, but when you pick one up you feel the difference. With more than 40 different fully-machined Government, Commander, and Officer-sized 1911s in their catalog, they tend more towards carry and practical-use guns than to competition models.

One of their neater guns is the GRP Recon series which includes an accessory rail, a dehorned outline, Heinie Ledge Straight Eight Tritium night sights, and well-thought ergonomics.

911 builders - Nighthawk Custom GRP Recon railgun
The Nighthawk GRP Recon pack as many custom bits into a solidly ergonomic performer.

9. Rock Island

One of the more popular 1911s that hail from overseas makers, Rock Island Armory/Armscor are produced in the Philippines and are very basic guns.

For those not ready to build a 1911 and are interested in a more entry-level 1911 that can be easily upgraded without breaking the bank, it is hard to go wrong with one of these well-liked single-action pistols.

Their GI series is probably the best bargain in the 1911 world and includes a frame and slide made of 4140 steel, button rifled barrels, and Series 70 internals.

10. Ruger

Ruger is one of the largest firearms makers in history, one of the few that are publicly traded on Wall Street. They got there by leveraging CNC manufacturing to produce interesting new designs.

Once they got there, they turned time and attention to take a stab at the 1911 game and, with their SR1911 series, did it very well. Offering full-size, Commander, Officer, and target models in 9mm, 10mm, and .45ACP today, they are solid guns for anyone interested in the 1911.

A hallmark of Ruger is their manufacturing processes, and you can tell when you pick up one of these as they have excellent slide-to-frame fit and smooth slide travel regardless of model. Interestingly, all their 1911s use a flat mainspring housing rather than the more common curved style, as well as oversized surface controls, a skeletonized hammer, and a titanium firing pin for faster lock time.

11. Sig Sauer

A company created as a German-Swiss hybrid; Sig Sauer has successfully transitioned since the
1970s over the past few decades to become an American company.

Now, their headquarters and primary factories are in New Hampshire, their P320 modular pistol series is the standard U.S. military sidearm, and they have introduced a line of 1911s, because America, baby.

With Emperor, Equinox, Fastback, Spartan, and TACOPS models, they have brought John Browning’s classic into the 21st Century with rails, extremely durable modern finishes, excellent sights, and some of the best factory triggers on the market.

One great example of their line is the Sig Sauer Emperor Scorpion, a full-sized M1913-standard rail gun with SigLite night sights, skeletonized trigger, G10 grips, and a Coyote PVD-coated stainless slide and frame.

1911 builders - Sig Sauer Emperor Scorpion
Sig's Emperor Scorpion is one of the top examples of a 1911 from the maker.

12. Smith & Wesson

Massachusetts-based S&W put their third-gen 4500-series pistols to bed in the early 2000s, replacing them with the polymer-framed M&P45s and, for those looking for something more traditional, introduced their take on the 1911– the SW1911.

Over the years, Smith has taken care to use top-quality components such as Wolff springs, Texas Armament match triggers, Hogue grips, McCormick hammers, Briley barrel bushings, Wilson magazines, full-length heavy guide rods, and Novak Lo-Mount Carry sights. Today, they have switched to a more inclusive in-house production of at least nine different SW1911 models that all have four-digit (without the decimal point) price points. Among the best is their Performance Center models.

Uncommon for large-scale gunmakers today, they also offer an Engraved 1911 model with a glass bead finish, machine scroll engraving (hand engraving optional on special order guns), and a wooden presentation case.

Engraved Smith Wesson SW1911 via SW
S&W offer an engraved version of their SW1911, giving it a decidedly custom quality.

13. Springfield Armory

This Illinois-based company, which has used the name of the famed Army arsenal for the past 50 years, has manufactured and imported 1911s for almost that entire run.

Today, from ultra-compact EMP micro pistols to longslide 10mm TRPs, there is a Springer 1911 for almost any application. They also believe in not cutting corners, being known for their use of fully forged (not cast) frames and slides, beautiful hot salt bluing, and match-grade barrels while still coming in at an affordable price, often hitting the sub-$1K mark when it comes to asking prices.

One of their better offerings at that affordable level is the Ronin family of pistols which includes full-sized (5-inch barrels) and Commander-sized (4.25) variants in 9mm, .45ACP, and 10mm that comes standard with a hammer-forged barrel, fiber optic front sights, and a “Tactical Rack” rear sight.

1911 Builders -- Springfield Armory Ronin
An affordable 1911 from Springfield, the Ronin, gets you close to custom quality without breaking the bank.

14. Tisas/SDS

A newer entry into the world of imported 1911s is the Turkish firm of Tisas. Imported by SDS of Knoxville, Tennessee, and others, these guns are built like a tank and have overcome a “not made here” out of hand dismissal after users weighed in with what they found out about this budget .45.

Made with forged sides and frames, they have a good fitment and quality control, which is key to a functional and reliable firearm.

Besides their plain jane GI models, they also offer Tanker variants which are a Commander-sized model that comes standard with polished chrome-lined barrels, lowered ejection ports, and Series 70 internals, all for a price below $500.

15. Wilson Combat

Bill Wilson has been on the 1911 circuit for 50 years, first as a competition shooter then as a magazine and accessory maker, and now as a custom and semi-custom builder.

A true innovator in the arena of 1911s, the “WC” logo is often seen on components for other makers’ guns. Full-up designs from Wilson include their American Combat Pistol, and the Bill Wilson Carry Pistol.

The latter is a functional beauty, “a shooter’s carry gun” that can clean the clock during competition but is meant to be concealable in size. Standard features include an Officer’s size slide and frame, a lightweight integral light rail, crisply tuned 3.5-pound trigger, and a fluted stainless steel barrel.

1911 builders - Wilson Combat
The Bill Wilson Carry Pistol is a shooter's carry gun if there ever was one.

What about building your own 1911?

Some people are uninterested in owning anything approaching a stock 1911, even if it’s from a custom shop. These intrepid folks would rather pay the iron price by assembling or building their own, and the good news is there are a number of kits and components on the market to help make this relatively simple, provided you’ve got a little experience with JB’s famous pistol. 

1911 Builders

Just like it says on the tin, 1911 Builders has 80% kits in .45ACP and 9mm as well as a wide array of barrels, slides, triggers, and components to put your dream 1911 together in your garage. They offer frames in 4140 Steel, 416R Stainless, 7075 Aluminum, and cover everything from Government, Commander, Officer, & Double Stack kits, so you’ll likely find what you need.

Not cheap though — the full 80% kits will generally run you $1,000 or more.

Stealth Arms

A *slightly* more wallet-friendly option, Stealth Arms also covers a wider array of calibers than 1911 Builders, with kits in .45ACP, 9mm, 10mm, .38 Super, and .40 S&W. They also have a Tactial option that shaves off a considerable amount of weight for those uninterested in lugging 40oz of freedom around. Only cover Government and Commander sizes though.

History of the 1911

While enough books to fill a library have been produced on the topic of the 1911 or, more correctly, the M1911 have been penned, the nutshell is that this single-action pistol was given to the world through the efforts of firearm genius John Browning with a patent granted, poetically, on Valentine’s Day 1911.

The first, and most loyal, customer was the U.S. military, for which it was designed and the gun in various formats was the standard sidearm of every branch of America’s warfighters through World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and most of the Cold War.

Ostensibly replaced after 1985 by the Beretta 92 (adopted as the M9), Marine special operators continue to use the gun in small quantities today as does assorted Army marksmanship teams even as the Beretta itself is being replaced by the Sig Sauer P320 (adopted as the M17/M18).

Following the military’s multi-generational love affair with the “Two World War Winner,” law enforcement and the public have been buying the gun in a blizzard of variants for over a century.

Today, elite police tactical teams from the U.S. Marshals to local SWAT teams still use the 1911/2011 in an age when they could have replaced chosen much younger designs. Perhaps they know something…

Shortcomings

Far be it from us to dissuade you from buying or building your own dream 1911, but there are a few things anyone seriously considering undertaking the project.

The 1911 has been called an “expert’s pistol” because is single-action with a slide stop/manual safety and beavertail grip safety that requires a more extensive firing sequence than, say a Glock which is more point-and-shoot.

Likewise, field stripping the gun to clean and maintain it is much more complicated to take down than a more modern design, often leaving first-timers frustrated and with “dummy marks” on the frame of their new 1911.

Going further, the pistol is a very dated design, literally hailing back to an age where horses were more common than automobiles, telegrams were the primary source of rapid communication with people in the next city, and airplanes were novelties made of wood and canvas.

Early models required extensive hand-fitting to work properly due to the variance between components, making them either exceedingly expensive due to such fitting or overly “sloppy” rattle traps made to circumvent that process to make more affordable guns.

While modern machine fitting and CNC production techniques have gone a long way to eliminate this pitfall — and modern 80% kits give you the opportunity to hone these components to your own specifications — several of today’s better 1911 makers still caution to this day their guns may need a 500 round “break-in period” to run properly, something you just don’t see in manuals for a Sig Sauer P365, S&W M&P or Glock 19.

Closing

The 1911 is, without a doubt, the people’s champ when it comes to semi-automatic pistols as proven by its widespread production more than a century after its debut.

While 9mm double stack Glocks have been a top-seller for a generation, there are still likely several 1911s in circulation for every G17 or G19 out there. While some of the reason for this popularity is nostalgia– they have been in literally thousands of films, TV shows, and video games while the trope of “just like my father/grandfather had” will always be strong– one of the primary factors for this is that they work and work very well.

A properly fit 1911 will outlive the owner, shoot well due to its long sight radius and light trigger– which all of today’s “competition-ready” polymer-framed pistols copy– and is easily supportable as just about any gunsmith in the U.S. cut their teeth on the model while parts are perhaps the most widespread of any on the market.

Indeed, while building a 1911 may not result in an ideal “first” gun, it should be no serious gun owner’s “last” gun.

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In this week’s gun news AAC making a comeback, CZ gets competition ready, Army gets the last M9 from Beretta, no ATF director any time soon, Trailblazer folds a carbine.

Welcome back AAC

AAC Logo

With a headquarters announced in Huntsville, Alabama– the last home of Remington Outdoors before they hit bankruptcy last year– former Remington suppressor-making subsidiary Advanced Armament Corporation recently announced a relaunch.

Purchased out of the federal bankruptcy court auction by JJE Capital Holdings, who also own Palmetto State Armory, the old-now-new suppressor team once included Honey Badger/.300 Blackout wizard Kevin Brittingham, who is now with Q, and John Hollister, who started Sig Sauer’s suppressor division a few years back. However, some old names are still associated with this latest version of AAC including Ben Bachmeier.

 “We are fortunate to have acquired the former Advanced Armament Corporation intellectual property and brand name,” said Bachmeier, “this has given us the opportunity to start fresh with people who have been involved with and have been passionate about this brand for a long time, including myself. It is my intention to take care of the people that have, over the years, helped propel the AAC brand to its leading position in the industry.”

At the same time, JJE is bringing other former Remington properties such as DPMS and Panther Arms back as well. 

CZ P-10 F Competition Ready

CZ P-10 F Competition-Ready c

While CZ already had a full-size P-10 F frame with a barrel and slide that are a half-inch longer, this week they added a Competition Ready model with an optics ready top cut and gold accents to their offerings.

The logically-named CZ P-10 F Competition Ready is just $999 but comes standard with an Apex Tactical extended magazine catch, extended slide stop, back slide cover along with an HB Industries trigger for increased performance in addition to its MRD-cut slide and flashy gold trim. It also has three 19-round magazines equipped with aluminum Henning Group bases.

Last Beretta M9

Last Beretta M9 b

Beretta’s Model 92 was a thing of absolute wonder when it was first debuted in the 1970s. It had a huge-for-the-time 15+1 magazine capacity, only matched by the CZ 75, an efficient design, and a maturity based on Beretta’s best-selling M1951 model which had been in production for a quarter-century.

It was little surprise, therefore, when a version of the Model 92 beat out seemingly every other pistol in the world in a series of three different tests in the early 1980s to win the U.S. Army’s M9 sidearm contract to replace the M1911. Delivering their first M9 in 1984, Beretta announced earlier this month that they shipped their last U.S. military contract pistol, signaling the end of an era. 

 How about this sweet, circa 1991, Army training video on the Beretta to bring back those BDU fever dreams of nostalgia. 

Chipman out at ATF

In April, President Biden nominated David Chipman to lead the ATF.  A retired former agent and supervisor with the gun regulator agency, he spent the past decade working for a series of private gun control groups and was strongly backed for the position by that lobby.

Likewise, his resume made him an instant “no” for Republicans, pro-gun groups, and even conservation groups such as Ducks Unlimited who traditionally don’t get involved in such appointments. Failing to gain the votes needed to advance in the Senate, and with some Democrats unready to make Chipman a hill to stand on with an election year around the corner, the White House pulled his nomination on Sept. 9th.

While he may show up in a position that doesn’t need Senate confirmation, and the White House may try to appoint another permanent director for the ATF soon, the likelihood that the spot, left open since 2013, will remain that way is high. 

Trailblazer Pack 9

Pack 9 b

You’ve heard of Trailblazer, right? The folks that make those small folding 22LR pistols that fit in an Altoids tin (tin not included). Well, they say they have a rifle coming that kind of does the same thing.

The Pack 9, due out next year, takes Glock mags and folds horizontally to make a 20~ inch package then swings open and extends to become a carbine. Sure, Kel-Tec does it already in a less drastic format with the SUB2000, but the Pack 9 certainly looks like it will be a fixture on every new show on the Syfy channel.

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In this week’s gun news CZ goes subcompact, FN goes 22, HK does the MP5 in 22 (two ways), Mossberg doubles down on Jerry M, and the SCAR now goes both ways.

CZ goes subcompact

CZ USA debuted the new 9mm CZ P-10 M, with the “M” standing for micro-compact, via the most hipster-embracing video ever. What it has is a “melted” profile to cut down on snags, front and rear slide serrations, good ergos, a 4.3-inch height that makes it almost pocketable, and a slim 1-inch width.

CZ P10 M

However, it also only comes with a 7+1 shot capacity, which would have been great for 2016 but the current crop of double-stack micro 9s like the Sig P365 and Springfield Armory Hellcat broke that mold years ago. MSRP on the CZ P-10 M is $499.

FN goes 22

FN America announced something different for them: a .22LR pistol. While the company makes a ton of machine guns and M4s for Uncle Sam and overseas sales, and smaller amounts of semi-auto rifles and carry/duty style handguns for the consumer and LE markets, rimfire stuff isn’t really a thing for the modern FN, until now at least.

The new FN 502 Tactical looks like the previous FNX and current FN 509 lines and delivers a 15+1 .22LR hammer-fired (you read that right) pistol to the market that had the company’s excellent red dot optics mounting system and a threaded barrel.

Offered in either FDE (this is FN we are talking about) and noir, MSRP on the FN 502 is $499.

HK does the MP5 in 22 (two ways)

HK USA debuted two models of .22LRs based on the external appearance of the famed MP5 line: the MP5 Rimfire carbine and MP5 Rimfire pistol. Made by Umarex of Germany, they are HK-branded and hit the sub-$500 sweet spot with an MSRP of $479.

The pistol is 18.2-inches long with an 8.5-inch barrel, weighs 5.9-pounds, and will allow you to wear a “Ho-Ho-Ho, now I have a machine gun” sweatshirt while plinking cans at the dirt pit.

The carbine version “looks” like an MP5SD but has a faux suppressor shroud over the 16.1-inch barrel and overall length of 26-to-32-inches due to the collapsible stock.

Both run 25-round mags and are better than airsoft.

Mossberg doubles down on Jerry M

85151_940 PRO_Waterfowl

Mossberg last year introduced the 940 JM Pro autoloading 12 gauge shotgun, with the JM being a nod to high-profile competition shooter Jerry Miculek.

Filled with nice features such as a new gas system that will run up to 1,500 rounds (of anything) without cleaning and oversized, competition-grade loading port and surface controls, it was a sweet gun.

Now, Mossberg has taken the same concept but applied it to a pair of duck guns in the 940 Pro Waterfowl and the 13-shot 940 Pro Snow Goose, featuring Cerakote metal surfaces, 28-inch chrome-lined barrels, HIVIZ TriComp sights, and camo-finished stocks and foreends.

MSRP on the Pro Waterfowl is $1,050 while the Snow Goose is about $75 more.

SCAR now goes both ways

DSC_3295 (1)

Ever since FN introduced the SCAR series to a meet a SOCOM contract several years ago, some have got a case of heartburn over the rifle’s left-sided, reciprocating charging handle. Well, FN has finally responded to that with a new non-reciprocating charging handle (NRCH) upgrade for the SCAR 16S, 17S, and 20S.

As the name would imply, the handle doesn’t move any more, serves as a forward assist when locked in place, and has two swappable handles left and right. The handles include one with a low profile and another with a 30-degree can’t to support more optics choices.

Plus, FN says the reduced reciprocating mass of the new bolt carrier produces less felt recoil, making a soft-shooting rifle even easier to manage. The new NRCH models run anywhere from $175 to $350 more than the legacy models.

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The best shooting ear protection is the kind that’s comfortable to wear all day long on a range without noticing it. If you’re even a little uncomfortable you’ll find reasons to avoid using them — possibly putting you in the position of sacrificing hearing protection for comfort, which is the last thing you want to do.

In the same way we only have a single set of eyes, we only have one set of ears, and once you cause hearing damage, there’s no getting it back. 

We run through the best ear protection for shooting in various settings to help you land on the proper ear protection for you.

Comparison of the Best Hearing Protection

NameRatingNRRStylePrice
Howard Leight Foam Ear Plugs
(4.1/5.0)
36dBIn-Ear$22
PremEar Hearing Custom Plugs
(4.4/5.0)
36dBIn-Ear$89
Safariland Pro Impulse
(4.1/5.0)
33dBIn-Ear$18
Howard Leight Ultraslim
(4.6/5.0)
23dBOver-Ear$28
Walkers Game Ear Folding Muffs
(4.3/5.0)
22dBOver-Ear$16
Pro Ears Earmuff
(4.5/5.0)
30dBOver-Ear$35
OTTO Engineering Noizebarrier
(4.8/5.0)
40dBElectronic In-Ear$349
Caldwell E-Max
(4.5/5.0)
23dBElectronic In-Ear$85
Walker's Silencer Digital Earbuds
(4.7/5.0)
25dBElectronic In-Ear$125
Peltor Sport Tactical 500
(4.8/5.0)
26dBElectronic Over-Ear$159
Howard Leight Impact Sport
(4.5/5.0)
26dBElectronic Over-Ear$39
Walkers Razor Slim
(4.5/5.0)
23dBElectronic Over-Ear$45

How Shooting Damages Your Hearing

Shooting any kind of live ammunition out of just about any firearm can cause significant hearing damage. Even the unassuming .22 caliber rifle emits around 140 dB, with larger caliber rifles and pistols producing over 175 dB of sound. 

If you shoot at an indoor shooting range, the decibel rating is likely even higher due to reverberation. Even a single shot at a deer without hearing protection can cause hearing loss for the rest of your life.

So what is a safe decibel level?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend maintaining environmental noises below 70 dBA over 24-hours (75 dBA over 8-hours) to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

Shooting isn’t the only activity that can get pretty loud. One of the most common needs for hearing protection outside of shooting is when using power tools. People who work on a construction site may wear hearing protection for the entire time they are on-site due to the myriad high decibel activities surrounding them.

An electric saw can produce over 100 decibels of noise, which is over the recommended 70 dB. It’s a good idea to wear hearing protection when mowing the lawn or even using a leaf blower, especially for prolonged periods.

Let’s put some of this into perspective for you. A refrigerator hum is about 40 dB, while a washing machine or a dishwasher can emit 70 dB. A motorcycle is around 95 dB, which if you ride often, earplugs should be used because just 50 minutes of exposure can produce possible hearing loss. 

Identifying Hearing Loss

Have you ever left a live concert and noticed that voices sound softer or you have to turn the radio up a little bit louder to hear it? That’s because entertainment venues (nightclubs, bars, concerts) typically operate at around 105-110 decibels, potentially causing hearing loss in less than 5 minutes. 

The silver lining is many of these kinds of low-level hearing loss are generally temporary and often disappear within 48 hours. Exposure to too many decibels too often or for long periods is where things get dicey.

What is unique about noise-induced hearing loss is that it is not immediately obvious, but if you pay attention, there are signs that something has impacted your hearing. Sounds can be muffled, you may start to turn up the TV or radio a little more than usual, and if you are exposed to very loud noise, you can develop tinnitus, a tell-tale sign of hearing damage. 

Tinnitus is a ringing or buzzing noise in your ears or head that can be constant or come and go throughout your life. Sometimes, this can even be present in only one ear.

Defining Proper Hearing Protection

All hearing protection is hardly created equal. You should invest in quality ear protection with a high noise reduction rating (NRR) to protect your hearing sufficiently. To understand the NRR Rating of hearing protection, you must first calculate how much sound it genuinely reduces. 

The formula for calculating noise exposure is:

  1. Subtract seven from the NRR Rating of the hearing protection
  2. Divide the answer to number 1 by 2
  3. Subtract the answer to number 2 from the original noise exposure level (ex: shooting=175dB)

The least effective kind of hearing protection is the disposable foam plug inserts designed for anyone other than shooters in mind. They range in NRR Ratings from the low to mid-20s — but even this isn’t the main problem. The central issue is they are rarely installed correctly — or at least correctly enough to do their job of reducing sound effectively. 

First, the foam ear has to be squished and inserted into the ear canal. Then, you have to give the foam time to expand and push the plug down into the ear. If you can hear someone talking easily, your ear protection is probably not doing its job effectively.

The highest end of the NRR Rating is 33 NRR, which should be used in the loudest situations — such as indoor shooting, for which hearing protection should always provide between 28 and 31 NRR. You should generally always look to purchase the highest rating possible.

Types of Hearing Protection

When it comes to hearing protection, there are three broad types: earplugs/in-ear, over-ear/ear muffs, and electronic hearing protection.

Passive & In-Ear Protection

Using In-Ear Protection at the range
There is very little interference with in-ear protection

Passive earplugs or in-ear protection go directly into your ear canal to block out sounds and noise. The biggest downside to in-ear protection is that they have to be inserted correctly to work, and not everyone’s ears or ear canals are the same dimensions, so your mileage may vary. 

If you are a shooter and prefer in-ear hearing protection, one thing to consider is investing in a pair of custom earplugs molded to your specific ears.

The upside to in-ear protection is that you can double up your ear protection by wearing earplugs in combination with earmuffs. Plus, in-ear protection generally doesn’t interfere with your head position when shooting, as larger earmuff-style ear protection can bump the buttstock when shooting on the move.

Over-Ear Protection

Over-Ear Hearing Protection at the Range
Over-ear protection gives you the ability to double up with in-ear protection.

Over-ear protection or earmuffs feature two ear cups attached to an adjustable headband. Shooting earmuffs are available in a vast array of sizes and dimensions — they can be both big and bulky or slim and compact — plus they’re available in sizes for both kids and adults. 

The upside to earmuffs is that they are generally on the higher end of the NRR rating scale. The ear cups are often soft and made of foam, and they tend to be easily adjustable to fit just about any head size comfortably.

The biggest downside to earmuffs is that when you are shooting a shotgun or rifle with a good cheek weld, the gun’s stock can knock the ear cup out of place, eliminating your hearing protection altogether. 

Doubling up on ear protection can help you avoid this situation, giving you the added security and ease of use of over-ear with the simplicity of in-ear protection.

Electronic Ear Protection

Shooting with electronic ear protection
Electronic ear protection gives you the ability to ear your surroundings while protecting from explosive, high decible sounds (like gunshots)

Electronic ear protection is an excellent option because it allows you to protect your hearing without sacrificing situational awareness or the ability to hear what people around you are saying. So often, people will temporarily remove one side’s ear protection to listen to what someone has to say, only for gunfire to start again while hearing protection is not in place. 

Even this one slip-up can cause damage, making electronic ear protection a worthwhile investment. 

Most electronic earmuffs have a slim, low profile, with a dial on one side which controls external volume — like someone’s voice. Many of these devices also have Bluetooth enabled so you can listen to music, and some offer built-in microphones so you can even take a phone call on the range.

Electronic in-ear protection devices also provide just as much decibel coverage, with all of the same features of the electronic muffs.

The Best In-Ear Hearing Protection

Howard Leight Foam Ear Plugs

Howard Leight MAX-1 Uncorded NR33 Foam Earplugs Box, 200 Pair (Orange)
  • HIGHEST NOISE REDUCTION (NRR 33): MAX Disposable Foam Earplugs offer the highest noise reduction...
  • CONFORMS TO INNER EAR: The bell shape matches contours of your inner ear to ensure maximum noise...
  • PROMOTES PROPER HYGIENE: Push-in earplugs feature a smooth, soil-resistant closed-cell foam skin to...

Performance Scorecard:

NRR Rating: 33dB
Style: In-Ear
Price: $22.00
Weight: NA

In a pinch, foam earplugs are great to have on hand whether you find yourself at a range, concert, using power tools, or running equipment. These soil-resistant foam earplugs from Howard Leight are hard to beat when it comes to price-point and can also be considered a base layer of ear protection.

When put into the ear correctly, these are NRR 33.

PremEar Hearing Custom Plugs

Performance Scorecard:

NRR Rating: 37dB
Style: In-Ear
Price: $89.99
Weight: NA
Shooting with the PremEar Ear Protection
Shooting with the PremEar In-Ear plugs

I have been wearing custom PremEar hearing plugs since 2015. They are the most advanced instant silicone product line available to the hearing industry and have an NRR of up to 37 dB. 

The downside is they’re considerably more expensive than other options and you have to get a custom mold created by PremEar to take advantage of their custom fit. They also make plugs with a stopper so you can open and close to talk to someone without entirely removing the hearing protection.

Safariland Pro Impulse In-Ear Hearing Protection

Sale
Safariland In-Ear Impulse Hearing Protection, Black/Red, Medium/Large
  • Helps guard against hearing damage caused by automatic fire and single gun shots, artillery fire and...
  • Patent-pending filter technology instantly reduces dangerous sound levels while still allowing...
  • 33db Peak Impulse Protection – 13 db continuous reduction

Performance Scorecard:

NRR Rating: 33dB
Style: In-Ear
Price: $17.99
Weight: NA

Safariland’s Impulse Earing Protection instantly reduces higher dB sound levels while still allowing regular speech and audio to be heard by using what’s called a piezo filter. This mechanical filter automatically engages with higher-dB impulse explosions — like those caused by a rifle report — but allows lower-dB audio (like speech) to be heard clearly. 

These have an NRR of 33 dB and are comfortable to wear all day long.

The Best Over-Ear Hearing Protection

Howard Leight Ultraslim

Howard Leight by Honeywell Leightning L0F Folding Ultraslim Shooting Earmuff (R-01523)
  • Ultralight design (40 ounces) with ultraslim earcup for a more comfortable feel that won’t...
  • Super-soft ear cushion eliminates "squeezing" sensation on head; snap-in feature allows for quick...
  • Headband features telescopic adjustment for custom fit, steel wire construction to withstand...

Performance Scorecard:

NRR Rating: 23dB
Style: Over-Ear
Price: $27.99
Weight: 5.6 oz

Howard Leight is one of the more well-known hearing protection manufacturers.

These ultraslim earmuffs are lightweight and easily collapsible. The ear cups are soft and replaceable as they wear down over the years. The headband also features padded foam to minimize pressure on the head. 

The NRR on these is 23 dB.

Walkers Game Ear Folding Muffs

Sale
Walker's Game Ear Low Profile Folding Muff, Black
  • ANSI S3.19 rated
  • Ultra-light weight with a compact folding design
  • Padded headband for comfortable fit & Soft PVC Ear Pads

Performance Scorecard:

NRR Rating: 22dB
Style: Over-Ear
Price: $15.99
Weight: 4.1oz
Walkers at the range
Walker's Game Ear are low-profile and comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.

Walkers is another company that takes hearing protection seriously with a variety of products on the market.

These low-profiles muffs are lightweight and also fold up to store easily when not in use. The ear cups are PVC padded, which helps prevent issues with a good cheek weld. 

The NRR rating is 22 decibels.

Pro Ears Earmuff

Performance Scorecard:

NRR Rating: 30dB
Style: Over-Ear
Price: $34.99
Weight: 12oz

Pro Ears has been making premium hearing protection for years, all handmade in the USA. These passive earmuffs are on the higher protection end with an NRR of 30 dB, making these an excellent option for indoor shooting range use. 

The ear cups are made from leather, and the headband is padded as well as adjustable, so these are sturdy, high quality earmuffs that will keep your hearing safe in almost any situation. The downside is they’re heavy at 12 ounces, so you’ll need to be stationary when using them.

The Best Electronic Hearing Protection

OTTO Engineering Noizebarrier Micro Ear Plugs

OTTO Engineering NoizeBarrier Micro, Black, V4-11029
  • Up to 40 dB of impulse noise protection
  • Up to 15 dB adaptive noise attenuation
  • Hearing enhancement mode – amplifies soft sounds up to 5X

Performance Scorecard:

NRR Rating: 40dB
Style: In-Ear
Price: $349.99
Weight: NA

OTTO’s rechargeable electronic earplugs are a premium offering of comfortable earplugs with electronic capabilities.

These have an NRR rating of 40 dB, are IP67 water-resistant, and have a dual-mode for active hearing protection and hearing enhancement for sound localization.

Caldwell E-Max

Sale
Caldwell E-Max Power Cords 22 NRR - Electronic Hearing Protection with Bluetooth Connectivity for...
  • SPECS: Experience high quality stereo sound while confidently protecting your hearing with 22 NRR...
  • COMFORTABLE: Featuring multiple size tips, you’ll find a custom fit for your ear to ensure proper...
  • EASE OF USE: Easily connect to your mobile device with Bluetooth.

Performance Scorecard:

NRR: 23 dB
Style: In-Ear
Price: $84.99
Weight: NA

Caldwell designed their e-Max Power Cords electronic in-ear protection specifically for shooting and hunting. These have an NRR rating of 23 dB, include Bluetooth connectivity, and come with six sizes of foam tips so you can find a custom fit to your ear canal. 

These also shut off automatically after 4 hours of inactivity.

Walker's Silencer Digital Earbuds

Walker's Silencer Digital Earbuds, Sound Activated Compression, NRR25dB, Dynamic Wind...
  • Left & right ear buds (pair) with independent volume control deliver digital hearing enhancement and...
  • Sound Activated Compression (SAC) Any sounds over 85 DB do not get amplified by the Walker's...
  • Include 3 different sizes of foam tips to ensure a tight, secure fit

Performance Scorecard:

NRR: 25 dB
Style: In-Ear
Price: $125
Weight: NA

These digital earbuds by Walker’s are NRR 25 dB. Each earbud adjusts separately for volume control and comes with three different sizes of foam tips to ensure a secure fit. What is neat about these buds is that any sounds over 85 dB get reduced by 25 dB. 

This ability to automatically control the amplification is a massive benefit to shooters, so the wrong sounds don’t get amplified even more so.

Peltor Sport Tactical 500

Sale
Peltor Sport Tactical 500 Smart Electronic Hearing Protector with Bluetooth Technology, NRR 26 dB,...
  • NRR: 26 dB noise reduction rating
  • IDEAL FOR both indoor and outdoor shooters and hunters
  • BLUETOOTH TECHNOLOGY to stream music and make calls

Performance Scorecard:

NRR: 26 dB
Style: Over-Ear
Price: $159
Weight: 13.8oz

The Peltor Sport Tactical 500 is considered the Cadillac of electronic hearing protection. They feature NRR 26 dB, are made in the USA, include Bluetooth technology, and automatically suppress gunshot noise. 

This headset has clear voice tracking to amplify speech to improve intelligibility. These use AA batteries have an auto shut-off, and the low-profile cups have cut-outs for use with cheek welds on long guns.

Howard Leight Impact Sport

Howard Leight by Honeywell Impact Sport Sound Amplification Electronic Shooting Earmuff, Green
  • Built-in directional microphones amplify range commands and other ambient sounds to a safe 82 dB,...
  • Actively listens and automatically shuts off amplification when ambient sound reaches 82 dB; Noise...
  • Features low profile earcups for firearm stock clearance; adjustable headband for secure fit;...

Performance Scorecard:

NRR: 26 dB
Style: Over-Ear
Price: $39
Weight: 13.1oz
Howard Leight Impact Sport at the range
Impact Sport's at the range.

These sound amplification electronic muffs have built-in directional microphones that amplify ambient sounds to a safe 82 dB and automatically shut off amplification when ambient sound reaches 82 dB. The NRR on these is 22 dB. 

There is an AUX input for MP3 players, and the muffs take AAA batteries, have an automatic shut-off feature, and have low-profile ear cups to avoid interfering with your cheek welds.

Walkers Razor Slim

Walker's Razor Slim Shooter Electronic Hunting Folding Hearing Protection Earmuffs w/ 23dB Noise...
  • PROTECT YOUR HEARING: Protect your hearing at the firing range with the Walker's Razor Slim...
  • BALANCED SOUND: Features full dynamic range HD speakers for clear balanced sound with sound...
  • NOISE REDUCTION: Boasts a noise reduction rating of 23 dB with 2 omni directional

Performance Scorecard:

NRR: 23 dB
Style: Over-Ear
Price: $45
Weight: 12.2oz

These muffs from Walker’s also have directional microphones to pick up outside noise and broadcast clearly in your ears, but a staggering 0.002 second reaction time to impulse sounds to keep your hearing safe.

These run on AAA batteries and have an NRR of 23 dB.

Shortcomings & Alternatives

The biggest issue with hearing protection is finding what works for you, which means putting up with some trial and error.

This could mean buying several types of hearing protection before landing on a pair that is comfortable to wear all day — that said, there are specific shortcomings to both in-ear and over-the-ear protection. 

Over-the-ear hearing protection can cause headaches from the pressure of the muffs squeezing on your ears all day long. This could also be a sign that the headband is too small for you. They can also interfere with a cheek weld of the ear cup is too large for your frame.

It can be just as challenging to find in-ear protection that will stay in your ears comfortably — plus it’s much easier to lose one or both earbuds vs. the larger over-ear muffs. On the topic of size, in-ear protection can also be difficult to locate in a range bag, which can complicate things if you’re in a hurry.

Consider having at least two pairs of hearing protection no matter what and double up with in-ear and over-the-ear when you can.

Invest in quality hearing protection because once you lose hearing, it is gone forever. No amount of shooting is worth being deaf for the rest of your life.

Sources

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Gunfights are generally bad news for all involved, but while many gun owners plan and prepare fairly well for the offensive aspects of a fight

In this week’s gun news Berger recalls some ammo, Diamondback gets a Sidekick, Sig Sauer wants you to make your own P365, and True Velocity getting serious about plastic-cased ammo.

Berger Recall

Arizona’s Berger ammo has issued a recall of some 223 Remington 77 Grain OTM Tactical (Product # 65-23030) cartridges which could cause function/ignition issues with AR-style gas operating platforms.

Bolt action rifles are not affected. The rounds are from Lot # P002745, P002745-1, P002745-2 & P002745-3 which were shipped to retailers in April. The company says that, if you have one of these boxes, drop them a call (660-460-2802) or email (support@capstonepg.com) to arrange a replacement.

Diamondback Sidekick

Florida’s Diamondback Firearms is trying to give the popular Ruger Wrangler some competition with a new rimfire revolver, the Sidekick.

While it looks like a single-action cowboy-style wheel gun, the Sidekick is double-action with a swing-out cylinder. Also, instead of a six-shooter, the Sidekick has a nine-round cylinder. Speaking of cylinders, it will ship with two different ones to accommodate both .22LR and .22 Mag cartridges.

With a 4.5-inch barrel, synthetic grips, and a Cerakoted alloy frame, the Sidekick weighs in at 32.5-ounces– which is sure to eat up recoil– and is expected to have an MSRP of just $320 when it is released in November.

Sig Sauer P365 Custom Works

Introduced just four years ago, the P365 has proved to be one of the things that are often promised in the gun industry that is seldom realized: a game-changer.

Since its debut, it has seen a half-dozen imitators hit the market from Springfield Armory, Ruger, Kimber, Smith & Wesson, and Taurus while Sig has done its best to flood the market with several different variants of the P365 (SAS, X, XL, etcetera, etcetera).

With that, it should be no surprise that Sig has now launched a Custom Works P365 Fire Control Unit program that allows users to buy an FCU and trick it out through a myriad of options with the help of an online studio like the ones used by car builders. 

True Velocity polymer-cased ammo

Texas-based True Velocity has made a name for itself recently as being one of the suppliers of polymer-cased 6.8mm ammo for testing in the Army’s Next Generation Weapon Systems prototypes.

The concept is that these types of composite-cased ammunition will bring weight savings across the logistics chain from shipping containers down to the individual grunt in the field while also being cooler in operation– the spent cases are room temperature rather than hot brass– which can extend weapon life.

Well, True Velocity is trying to move into the consumer market as well, partnering with Virtus Ammo to act as the first licensed distributor of their composite-cased .308 Winchester ammunition.

At the same time, they have signed the founders of Modern Day Sniper, Caylen Wojcik, and Phillip Velayo, to act as brand ambassadors.

While it is accurate, using a 168-grain Nosler custom competition HBT bullet, the bad news is that the ammo runs like $70 a box.  

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What is the best .308 caliber pistol available on today’s crowded market?

We a look at the best of what’s out there and give you all the help you need to determine which of these fire-breathing dragons is perfect for you.

.308 Pistol Comparison

Below is our list of the 10 best .308 pistols for 2021.

What to Look for in a Quality .308 Pistol

1. Name recognition

Saint 308 Pistols
Give the .308's significant power curve, make sure your range buddies or local gun shop have heard of the brand you eventually select.

Although the .308 Winchester and its equivalent 7.62 NATO half-brother are classified as “intermediate” cartridges, they far and away exceed the power curve of any traditional handgun calibers on the market, making even such stout rounds as 10mm Auto and .44 Magnum look downright puny by comparison.

Taking that into consideration, you don’t want to trust some oddball company’s .308 pistol build to go the distance. Look to gun makers that have been around for a generation or more, such as IWI, PTR, Nosler, and Springfield Armory.

Rule of thumb: if no one at the local gun shop or range has ever heard of the company or has good things to say about them, you may not want to buy a gun with their name on it.

2. Mature design

Be sure, when considering a .308 pistol, to look at models that rely on proven engineering. Most such guns of any quality on the market today fall into four categories when talking about semi-autos:

  • AR-308/AR-10 formats
  • HK G3/ HK91 variants
  • FAL variants
  • and the Galil.

Although their pistol versions have only been around for a generation, the rifles, and carbines they were based on have been in production as far back as the 1950s.

Likewise, many of the bolt-action and single-shot .308 caliber pistols on the market are essentially just Remington 700-style actions, ala the XP-100, in a handgun format, something that has been around since 1963.

Steer away from something that falls outside of these time-tested designs.

In terms of roller locked HK 51 clones, legacy Class III Flemings ($20K) and non-NFA Vector Arms (V-51P) models are floating around on the secondary market while South Carolina-based PTR Industries is currently marketing a very obtainable semi-auto variant of their PDWR pistol which has the same general flavor with fewer tax stamps.

For those with the dough, TPM Outfitters in Dallas is also in this game and makes some incredible semi-custom HK51 builds.  

The best .308 pistols made using an FN FAL system are by DSA.

3. Aftermarket support

Going together with selecting a mature design made by a reputable firm, one of the primary things to look for in a .308 pistol is that it is supportable.

When it comes to semi-auto models with split receivers of the AR-type, there are no true “AR-10” models, as they are either AR-308 (also seen as SR25, or M110) or early DPMS style guns. As DPMS faded away a couple of years ago, most of these are the AR-308 style, which is more supportable and even uses some AR-15 parts. Do your research to make sure your extra magazines, handguards, and other items are going to fit.

Speaking directly to the magazine interchangeability issue, most of today’s semi-auto .308 pistols come standard with Magpul’s LR/SR25 GEN M3 polymer-body mag.

4. Purpose

308-pistols-benchrest
A bolt-action .308 pistol will require a rest, bag, or tripod -- and isn't going to be particularly tactical. Source

Think about what your needs are when it comes to getting the right pistol.

There are two families of .308 pistols with two vastly different purposes: benchrest and tactical. Benchrest guns are typically single-shot, or otherwise, bolt-action pistols designed to be fired with bipods or from a rest/bag. These guns are used in silhouette shooting, target shooting, and sometimes in hunting.

For more tactical and practical use, semi-auto models, with easily swapped-out detachable mags, are ideal for home defense, 3-gun style competition use, and pest control such as managing feral hogs in thick brush.  

The Best .308 Pistols Reviewed

1. POF Revolution P308

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.3/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
4/5
Overall:
4/5

Patriot Ordnance Factory has long been in the business of making AR-style modern sporting rifles and they have used that experience to create a sweet .308 pistol, the Gen 4 P308

Coming standard with a 12.5-inch 1:10 twist barrel inside an 11-inch modular M-LOK handguard, ambi controls, along with a clean and reliable gas piston operating system, it offers a lot in a 6.8-pound package.

2. Adams Arms AARS P2

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.3/5
Quality:
4/5
Value:
5/5
Overall:
4.3/5

Florida-based Adams Arms has been around since 2007, spending all that time in the black rifle game. One of the first companies to branch out into large format AR pistols, they introduced the P2 .308 a few years ago and it has proved popular.

Featuring a 12.5-inch barrel with a low-profile adjustable gas piston system, it is reliable and includes an M-LOK handguard and SBA3 pistol brace.

3. Christensen Arms MPP

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.9/5
Quality:
4.7/5
Value:
4.7/5
Overall:
4.5/5
Christensen Arms MPP 308 Pistol
Christenson Arms MPP is both beautiful and lightweight at just 4.4 lbs.

With a weight of just 4.4-pounds, the Modern Precision Pistol from Christensen Arms is something of a unicorn when it comes to .308 pistols.

Built on a bolt-action chassis that uses standard 700 series optics bases, it comes standard with a 0-MOA optics rail, adjustable side-baffle brake, and a 12.5-inch 1:7RH twist carbon fiber-wrapped 416R stainless steel barrel.

Unlike many bolt guns in this chambering, the MPP uses an AICS-compatible detachable magazine.

4. Diamondback DB10P

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4.2/5
Value:
4.7/5
Overall:
4.5/5
DB10P 308 Pistol

Florida’s Diamondback Firearms has been making AR-10 style guns for a decade and, for most of that time, they have included a larger format pistol in the mix.

Their gun, the DB10P, uses a 13.5-inch 4150 CrMoV barrel with a 1:10 RH twist– one of the longer offerings in these types of pistols– and have recently been shipping with Gearhead Worx Tailhook braces installed on an adjustable buffer tube assembly.

However, the longer barrel allows it to generate more energy than 11- and 12-inch models. Overall length is 31 inches while weight is north of 8-pounds.  

5. DSA SA58 FAL Pistol

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4.2/5
Value:
4.8/5
Overall:
4.5/5

For fans of the FN FAL, aka “The right arm of the Free World,” DSA sets the bar in semi-auto FAL pattern guns.

Luckily, for FAL fans that want a dependable .308 pistol, DSA makes the SA58P. With a super short 8.25-inch barrel, you can bet this bad boy spits fire despite DSA’s WarZ series flash hider.

Still, using an efficient PARA operating system and accepting standard 20-round mags, this is one serious .308 handgun that only runs 20.75-inches overall length.

6. IWI Galil ACE

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4.4/5
Value:
4.6/5
Overall:
4.4/5

Based on the legendary Israeli Galil of the 1960s but updated for the 21st Century, the Galil ACE family uses a hybrid AK-style action with a closed rotating bolt and long-stroke gas piston to produce a clean and reliable autoloader.

Since it doesn’t have a buffer system like is needed with AR-style platforms, it can easily accept a side-folding pistol brace or go without to create a very compact platform. Chambered in .308 with a chrome-lined 11.8-inch 1:12 twist barrel, it ships with a Magpul SR25 mag.

7. Nosler 48

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.2/5
Quality:
4.3/5
Value:
4.4/5
Overall:
4.3/5
Nosler M48 308 Pistol
Backpacking with the Nosler 48

Located for over 70 years in Bend, Oregon, Nosler is a household name among those who hunt as their bullet designs have revolutionized the business.

Renowned for making the top-of-the-line ammo and components, they also make a lesser-known but no less accurate line of firearms. Interestingly, in 2019 they introduced their single-shot bolt-action Nosler 48 series including the NCH, or Nosler Custom Handgun, as well as the more off-the-shelf Independence.

Using a 15-inch stainless steel heavy contour barrel with a threaded muzzle, a one-piece billet aluminum stock, AR grips, and a choice of Cerakote finishes, the 6.5-pound M48 Independence is a benchrest gun that is ready for the field.

8. PTR PDWR

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.2/5
Quality:
3.9/5
Value:
4.5/5
Overall:
4.1/5

There aren’t a lot of roller-locked HK 91-pattern pistols on the market today that emulate the classic HK 51 concept, but one of the more obtainable models is made by South Carolina-based PTR.

Made almost entirely in-house rather than from surplus parts imported from overseas, the PTR 51P PDWR is a shorty boy for sure, using just an 8.5-inch bull barrel inside an MP5-style polymer handguard.

Overall length is 23.5-inches, and it uses 20-round G3/HK91 style magazines, which are possibly the cheapest ($6!) and most available mags on the surplus market.

9. SAINT Victor

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.6/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
3.8/5
Overall:
4.1/5

Over two decades ago, Springfield Armory had experimented with the stubby, folding-stocked M1A Bush Rifle and M1A-A1 Carbine in .308, ultimately following up on those concepts with their M1A SOCOM 16 series carbines after 2004.

Moving from the M14 platform to an AR-10, Springfield finally delivered a .308-caliber pistol to the market in 2020 with the SAINT Victor. Using a carbine length gas system with a 10.3-inch CMV barrel and a NiB flat GI trigger, the 8.6-pound Victor is ready to deliver.

10. T/C Encore Pro Hunter

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.6/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
3.8/5
Overall:
4.1/5

Thompson/Center has successfully marketed its unique line of single-shot break-action Contender pistols since the 1960s.

Updating the Contender design in 1983 with the updated Encore, today the company offers a variant of the Encore Pro Hunter chambered in .308 Winchester. Using a rubber pistol grip with a 15-inch 1:10 twist barrel attached to the frame, the Pro Hunter is extremely compact, running just 19.5-inches overall.

A strong design that has been around for generations, it is also affordable, with an asking price running usually under $800.

History of the .308 pistol

AR-10 vs AR-15 - 308 v 556 bullets
The .308 cartridge packs twice the powder as the smaller 5.56 NATO cartridge -- making for a rowdy pistol experience.

Introduced by Winchester in 1952 as a sporting round for use in rifles— two years before the adoption by America’s western allies of the U.S. Army’s T65E5 cartridge as the just slightly different 7.62 NATO– there were soon efforts afoot to use it in pistols.

By the mid-1950s, wildcatters were producing what was called the .44 Auto Magnum by loading cut-down .308 Winchester cases with .44-caliber revolver bullets.

Early in the 1960s, Max Gera of Sanford Arms, in Pasadena, California designed the recoil-operated pistol around the .44AM that was appropriately dubbed the Auto-Mag, a pistol that also used the .357 AM round which was also developed from the .308 case.

The .44 Auto Mag pistol used a cut-down .308 case.

In similar wildcatting, Remington also later marketed a version of their XP-100 bolt-action pistol in 7mm Bench Rest, another cartridge developed from a cut down .308.). This version had a 15-inch barrel and was sold as the XP-100 Silhouette.

RemingtonXP-100
Remington's XP-100 Pistol

Speaking to single-shot bolt action benchrest shooting and hunting Wichita Arms of Wichita, Kansas, developed their Silhouette pistol in 1978, chambered for the full-house .308, a first on the consumer market.

Like the XP-100 Silhouette, it featured a 15-inch barrel, no provision for a stock, and was meant for use with a bipod or bag. The short-lived Savage Striker and Model 700-CP (Chassis Pistol) of more recent vintage fit the same bill when it comes to bolt-action .308 pistols.

During the Vietnam conflict, at least two different 7.62 NATO battle rifles were converted in the field to de facto pistol length– the M14 and the FN FAL.

A cut-down M14 rifle
A cut-down, Vietnam-era M14.

While not a widespread occurrence, some American troops, primarily LRRP and Special Forces types to whom every ounce and inch were a hindrance on long-range missions on foot through triple canopy jungle where everything had to be carried by hand or rucksack, would whittle down any M14s brought along for the journey. This included cutting off most of the buttstock and, occasionally, the muzzle brake.

Likewise, some Australian and New Zealand SAS Recce commandos operating in Southeast Asia would perform “Beast” conversions on their inch-pattern semi-auto FALs (designated L1A1 in Commonwealth service), which included removing the handguards, cutting down the barrel past the gas plug assembly, and installing full-auto parts from an L2A1 machine gun to make a devastating counter-ambush tool.

In the case of such weapons, the heavy muzzle blast, especially when fired in full auto, yielded a serious psychological effect for those on both sides. 

Some U.S. troops in Vietnam cut down M14 rifles to make them handier in the field. Meanwhile, back in The States, engineers at U.S. Army arsenals brainstormed how to provide more compact versions of the big 7.62 NATO battle rifle, an effort ended with the adoption of the M16 and, shortly afterward, its XM177 little brother.

Meanwhile, here in the states in the 1980s and 90s, Oklahoma-based Fleming Firearms managed to turn the Heckler & Koch G3 design into what was fundamentally an HK MP5K submachine gun chambered in .308.

Fleming HK51
The Fleming HK51K concept.

They did this fully legal conversion by taking an original HK 91 semi-automatic rifle into an “HK51” short-barreled rifle or SBR, often with select-fire trigger packs to make them full auto. Using just 9-inch barrels (or even 4.7-inch barrels in the 51K model), these pistols could ostensibly be carried in a specially made shoulder holster under a cover garment such as a jacket.

Vintage Fleming Fireball ad
Fleming Firearms 15K ad feels pulled right from a Steven Seagal film.

These NFA guns, handmade by Bill Fleming, often popped up in the 1990s action flicks, with Steven Seagal using one in Marked for Death, among others.

Today’s crop of .308 pistols branch into single-shot and bolt-action silhouette guns on one side and more tactically-minded semi-auto magazine-fed models on the other.

But what about ballistics?

One thing you can bet on when firing a cartridge originally designed for use in a barrel with a 20-inch (or longer) length, is that if you run the same round through a barrel closer to 12-inches in length, you are going to lose a lot of velocity.

This is because the shorter barrel length doesn’t allow all the cartridge’s powder to burn away, imparting all its potential energy to the bullet.

Still, keep in mind that the average .308 Win/7.62 NATO will have sufficient velocity to deliver 1,600 ft./lbs. of energy at the muzzle when fired from a 12-inch barrel– more than twice the powder (750 ft./lbs.) as a .223 Rem/5.56 NATO from the same length barrel. Practical tests have shown these shorty pistols to still be very accurate at 300 yards or more.

Building your own?

In today’s modern firearms culture, if you haven’t “built” your own AR-15 from components in your garage workshop– or kitchen table– you may be in the minority. Much like the AR-15, AR-308/AR-10 builds are fairly easy to pull off, especially if using a pre-assembled upper that takes the finesse out of having to figure out headspacing.

Simply marry up the proper .308-compatible lower with the proper parts kit installed to the same caliber upper and you are cooking with gas.

CMMG, Diamondback, Next Level, Stag, Wilson Combat, and others make lots of commonly available AR-10 ingredients. As with everything in large format pistols, NFA rules apply.

HK51 style .308 pistols, likewise, can be made at home but typically require some extra skills, an HK91-G3 receiver flat (which are getting harder and harder to find), and a parts list that is more difficult to piece together than a visit to Brownell’s.

Homebuilding NFA-compliant FAL pistols are an even harder lift, primarily due to a shortage of pistol-acceptable receivers, proper length barrels, and the general confusing crush of matching up metric and inch format parts.

Shortcomings

No matter the enthusiasm, .308 pistols are not for everyone. While benchrest single-shot and bolt-gun models can be exceptionally accurate, they might not be practical for hunting in all areas, especially in states with strict regulations on harvesting game with a handgun.

Compared to your standard 9mm such as, say a Glock 19, the semi-auto .308 pistol variants can’t realistically be carried on an everyday basis without the use of a parka, backpack, or duffle bag. While compact enough easy use as a “truck gun” or in home defense scenarios, it’s possible that in some instances they may bring too much to the party in terms of overpenetration.

Continuing along this vein, without the use of a suppressor or effective muzzle device, they can also produce an out-sized blast with its associated negative effects on vision and hearing, especially in confined spaces.

Finally, most modern autoloading .308 pistols made in the past decade come fresh from the factory with a stabilizing brace fitted, items that the ATF is increasingly trying to regulate out of existence.

In summary

For a category that didn’t exist on the consumer market outside of a few custom builds just two decades ago, the modern .308 pistol is truly a product of the 21st Century.

Offering a lot more “thump” when compared to varmint-caliber benchrest or AR-15 pistols, they are attractive for those seeking to deliver more than a puny 55-grain pill at extended distances.

There has never been a better time for those who are a fan of super-sized large-format pistols than today. 

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Is Holosun’s 510c the best red dot sight on the market today? We put the sight to the test to determine if this budget-friendly red dot sight can perform with the best of them.

Who is Holosun & what do they do?

The Holosun 510c is easily one of the best red dots available today, but Holosun as a company is a relatively new entity — having been around the sun less than a dozen times. Holosun started making optics in 2013 for shooting and hunting, law enforcement, and active-duty military. 

Holosun takes innovation seriously and packs a surprising amount of technology into each of its optics. They are first and foremost known for the Solar Failsafe™ technology that allows the optic to remain powered when the battery fails and can power the optic without a battery in a pinch (and loads of direct sunlight.)

Buying anything today takes much more time and research than it did in the past because of the sheer number of optics and optic makers out there. Holosun has positioned itself as a superior quality product and a surprisingly affordable optic — one that can prompt double-takes for the uninitiated. 

Many optics on the market do one thing well — be it having a wide window and clear glass, a large MOA reticle, the ability to flip between red and green colors, or just extreme durability. 

Holosun, as determined as they were, decided that one aspect wasn’t good enough, and so they packed as many quality features into their optics as they could.

Take, for example, their Shake Awake™ tech. Many optics require a manual shut-off, and when you forget, you’ll be burning through batteries left and right. Holosun developed its Shake Awake™ technology to shut off the LED with extended periods of motionlessness — and snap right back on when it detects motion. The time it takes for the LED to shut off is programmable, which is a huge benefit to law enforcement and military personnel whose first goal is safety vs. a competitive shooter who simply may not want the battery running for long periods of non-use.

Holosun 510C Red Dot Sight

Specifications & Controls

OPTICS

  • Reticle: 2 MOA Dot & 65 MOA Circle
  • Light Wavelength: 650nm
  • Reticle Color: Red
  • Parallax Free
  • Unlimited Eye Relief
  • Magnification: 1x

ELECTRONICS

  • Power Source: Battery
  • Battery Type: CR2032
  • Battery Life (Hours): 50,000
  • Brightness Settings: 10 DL&2 NV

PHYSICAL DETAILS

  • Window Size: 0.91×1.26
  • Dimension (in): 3.3×1.68×1.78
  • Weight (oz): 4.94

MECHANICAL BITS

  • Housing Material: Aluminum & Titanium Hood
  • Surface Finish: MAO
  • Adjustment per Click: 0.5 MOA
  • W&E Travel Range: ±50 MOA

ENVIRONMENT DATA

  • Storage Temperature: -40℃~70℃
  • Working Temperature: -30℃~60℃
  • Submersion: IP67
  • Vibration: 1000G

The HS510c is the most popular red dot sight Holosun produces, and for good reason. It weighs a little less than 5 ounces, and the window size is 0.91×1.26, which is comparable to the EOTech Model XPS2 holographic sight in terms of size. Of course, you can get your hands on the 510c for about $150 less than the XPS2. 

EOTCH XPS2

The HS510c features a quick detach mount to any Picatinny rail. The weight of this optic is hardly noticeable as it is built with aluminum and has a titanium hood. The Holosun was constructed to endure submersion to 1-meter for 30 minutes and can take up to 1,000 Gs of vibration, making it viable for both small and larger caliber use.

This optic uses the CR2032 battery, which is easy to find, widely available, and has a battery life of 50,000 hours. The battery tray is located on the side of the optic and is held in place with two screws, preventing it from coming out while also making it convenient to replace.

Holosun Solar Panel
The Solar FailSafe panel and elevation adjusetment screw atop the 510c.

The Holosun 510c has its famous Solar Failsafe™ power technology built-in as well. The Shake Awake™ technology is a game-changer for shooters everywhere as losing battery life or having battery failure when you need it most is the most significant risk with red dot sights.

With the 510c model, you have ten daylight brightness settings and two night vision settings. The brightness settings are easily managed on the side of the optic with a + and – buttons. 

AR15Optics- Holosun 510C
The 510c mounted on an AR. Note the brightness control button placement on a single side.

To turn on the reticle, you press either one of these buttons. Brightness is controlled through either manual adjustment or what’s called “auto mode”.

Auto mode automatically optimizes the reticle’s brightness based on the amount of available light and chooses which power source to draw from, solar or battery. To turn the reticle and motion sensor off completely, you just press the + and – buttons simultaneously.

The Reticle

The Holosun 510c at 100 yards. A typical human body will fill the ring at this distance. Here you can see the 2 MOA dot, 65 MOA ring and 4 lines for hold adjustment.

The reticle options are what truly sets this reflex red dot sight apart from other popular brands — it’s a marvelously useful bit of engineering.

Holosun created a multiple reticle system that includes a circle dot, 2 MOA dot, and 65 MOA circle. The best aspect of the multiple-reticle system is it is parallax-free and has unlimited eye relief, meaning it works for anyone at any mounting location on their firearm.

The 65 MOA ring is valuable for longer-range shooting. If you center the ring on a target at 100 yards, the ring is about the size of an average height human. A human at 200 yards would only fill up the space from the center dot to the bottom of the ring.

Holosun 510c reticle at 50 yards
The 510c at 50 yards. Note the use of the "Southern" line for the CQB hold.

If you zero your rifle scopes at 100 yards and are shooting at a closer distance, you probably know to compensate for height over bore. This is the same for your Holosun reflex sight. With the 65 MOA circle, four lines are located in the north, east, south, and west positions. After zeroing your dot, for anything at close range, use the south line as your hold since your shots will be lower at the closer range.

Since the HS510c is only magnification 1x, you may want to include a magnifier in front of your sight. This is where the 2 MOA dot reticle comes into play as magnification will render the circle less useful. You can make more precise shots with a dot at magnification than you can with a circle.

The optic comes in your choice of either a red or green reticle. Red dots are popular and used in almost all conditions, but a green dot shines (see what we did there) is in bright conditions. It is a lot easier to see and contrast in a bright environment.

Mounting & Zeroing

Holosun QD Lever & windage adjustment
The 510c's locking bar & windage adjustment screw. Note the marks on the side of the titanuim hood -- proof that barrel dumps and running and gunning are no match for the 510c.

The HS510c is already ready to be installed with its quick-release mount, but the first installation can be a little tricky. The bottom of the mount has a locking lever that, when set too tight, prevents the QD bar from locking into place.

On the other side of the optic, there’s a clamp bolt that you may need to adjust until the bar can lock down. Holosun includes the Torx wrench for the socket to adjust for this.

First, loosen the bolt to loosen the lever. Mount your sight onto your rail and close the lever. Lastly, tighten the bolt to torque specs: between 5-10 inches/pounds. The lever should still be loose enough to remove the sight without wrenching on it, but tight enough to prevent jostling loose fall off with rigorous movement.

The mounting location of any red dot is firstly determined by the location of the Picatinny rail, the firearm you’re installing it on, and if it’s a primary or offset dot. Just because one person mounts the red dot one way doesn’t mean you have to as well. Sight installation and zeroing need to be customized to the shooter. 

Holosun Mounted on a PCC
The Holosun 510c mounted on a PCC.

If you have a flat top Picatinny rail most commonly found on AR-15s, a common mount location is above the ejection port towards the receiver’s front. If you have fixed sights on your rifle set high up, you may need to use a riser to install the Holosun.

Before loctiting anything or just running with the first place you mount your dot, try moving it more forward or closer to you. Whatever feels comfortable and natural to you is crucial but finding that sweet spot can take some trial and error. 

Always test fire your firearm with the dot in place to ensure that ejecting brass isn’t hitting the optic or scratching the lens. The other important aspect of mount location is the ability to reach the brightness controls without picking your head up out of the optic or having to unshoulder the gun to contact them.

All Holosun sights come pre-zeroed, but always zero the gun to your eyes and your ammo. Most reflex sights easily adjust for windage and elevation and the 510c is no different. 

The elevation adjustment screw is on the top of the optic closest to you and is marked with an arrow so you know if you’re adjusting up or down. The windage adjustment screw is on the side of the optic with the battery compartment. This is where people often get disoriented. To move the point of impact up or to the right, adjust counter-clockwise. To move impact down or left, twist clockwise. Each click of movement represents a 0.5 MOA adjustment.

The Lens

ShotgunSights - Holosun
The 510c mounted on a shotgun. Note the anti-reflective coating.

You would think that the old rhetoric “you get what you pay for” would apply to the Holosun 510c because of its price point.

However, it’s quite the opposite.

The large window lens of this red dot sight is extremely clear and is comparable to premium Eotech and Vortex Optics models. Holosun is definitely on par with companies like Trijicon, making premium, quality red dot optics for various firearms.

Holosun Lens Glass
The glass on the Holosun is remarkably clear.

Holosun glass has multilayer coatings applied to facilitate maximum light transmission, reducing glare and making the glass more wear-resistant. Whether your sight picture is in low light or extreme sunlight, you won’t have a glare coming off the lens or not be able to see the window of your optic.

Range Report

Testing the Holosun with a PCC at the range
Putting the 510c through its paces.

The 510c was tested at the range with my pistol caliber carbine, CQB AR-15 rifle, and a magazine-fed shotgun. One of the most challenging issues is moving an optic from one gun to the other. Moving and remounting usually means we have to spend some time zeroing the red dot. 

What is neat about the 510c is it proved itself to maintain zero from one gun to the next. This is a considerable value for shooters, especially in competitions where they may only be allowed to run iron sights, and removing the red dot isn’t a big deal given the zero will hold. 

Speaking of competition, the 510c has proven itself in my competition experience mounted on a box-fed shotgun shooting over 1300 FPS ammunition, including slugs and buckshot. This optic holds true in the most brutal conditions, including in 3 gun competitions when the gun must be slung or thrown into a dump barrel. 

The peace of mind knowing that your optic is durable enough to handle run and gun, truck gun use, or for a self-defense situation is more than worth the (already fair) price of admission.

Pistol caliber carbines are pretty tough on equipment like charging handles, ejectors, and even optics when they operate as a blowback gun rather than a gas gun. This optic is an excellent choice for PCC’s and can hold its own with the blowback system. 

Mags for days.
Need more mag.

With a range limitation of 100 yards, the dot can consistently hit steel targets even with anemic 9mm bullets. The sight picture at 100 yards gives you the full circle reticle enclosed on a full-size IPSC steel target with the red dot lined up to the center of the target.

My HS510c has been used in overly hot (talking heat indexes of 105), sunny conditions with no issues, and has held true in low light and rainy conditions. The compartment for the battery type CR2032 is protected even in submerged water, so a bit of rain won’t corrode it or affect it.

On AR-15s, Holosuns make a great offset or close quarters red dot option. Shooters often forget to turn their offset dot on when using their primary scope and need to roll it over on the side for closer targets. With the Shake Awake™ technology, you’ll always have a red dot on when you need it. 

An AR-15 set up expressly for CQB also had success with the 510c. While 200-yard shots are not close quarters, this dot can shoot distance; however, a magnifier will be essential beyond that. If you choose to run the red dot for CQB, consider zeroing at a closer range like 15 yards.

Shortcomings & Alternatives

Many shooters have astigmatism and which can cause them to struggle to see their sights clearly. 

Circle and dot reticles are often better for people with astigmatism than other optic options, but they’re not as useful for these shooters as prism sights. The reflex sights from Holosun may not be the right choice for these shooters to use.

Summary

There’s a reason the 510c has made our list of best shotgun sights and AR-15 optics — Holosun knocked it out of the park with their 510c and made it versatile to be used across multiple firearm types that feature a Picatinny rail.

Law enforcement and military personnel can trust this red dot optic to perform as well as competitive shooters looking for a solid red dot or defensive purposes.

In this week’s gun news the biggest ammo oof in modern history, Kimber makes the R7 Facebook official, Smith & Wesson goes Kel-Tec KSG, and Taurus makes it easy to TORO.

Kiss that Russki ammo a hard goodbye

tula wolf 556 5.56 steel case 223 (1)
до свидания друг!

The State Department on Aug. 20 came out of left field and threw a wet blanket on the already struggling consumer ammunition market by adding all ammo “manufactured or located in” Russia to a growing list of sanctions against Moscow.

While the sanction could (but probably will never) fall off in a year, you can probably wave goodbye to deals on Russian-made ammo (Barnaul, Red Army Standard, Tula, and Wolf, etc.) that were among the only lines you could still get during the great ammo crunch of 2020.

This will also make it hard to keep guns chambered in former Warsaw Pact calibers (5.45×45, 7.62×25 Tokarev, 7.62×39, 7.62x54R, and 9×18 Makarov) running on a budget. Most of these calibers aren’t made, affordably, in the U.S., leaving just a few overseas makers like Czech-based Sellier & Belliot and Serbia’s Prvi Partizan, as about the only viable players left.

Going further, even if you don’t shoot that lowbrow “steel cased Russian stuff,” such affordable ammo had the effect of keeping more traditional brass cased ammo prices in check. A safety valve on demand if you will. The bottom line, ammo is fixing to get even more scarce and expensive.

Kimber's New R7

As we already told you guys a couple of weeks ago, Kimber was set to debut their first polymer-framed striker-fired pistol, a micro-compact 9mm meant to compete with the Sig P365 and the like. Well, the Alabama-based company went ahead and released the R7 Mako last week.

The rundown is that it is the same size and capacity as other micro compacts such as the P365, Ruger MAX-9, and Springfield Armory Hellcat; is optics-ready with a Shield pattern RMSc footprint, has what is billed as a good trigger, and comes standard with TruGlo Tritium Pro u-notch sights.

It ships with two magazines– a flush-fit 11+1 as well as an extended 13+1 mag– and in two variants, the $599 (suggested) base model and a $799 optics-installed model with a $179 Crimson Trace CTS-1500 red dot on top.

We’ll let you do the math on that one.

S&W M&P 12 Shotgun

S&W M&P 12 Shotgun

Smith & Wesson used to make shotguns back in the 1970s in Massachusetts and has imported them from overseas since then but last week the company announced they are back in the 12 gauge category with the new M&P 12

A compact and maneuverable pump-action bullpup, Smith says it is “purpose-built for protection and a blast to shoot at the range.” Each of its two magazine tubes can hold seven 2.75-inch shells (one fewer in each when using 3-inch mags), giving a theoretical 14+1 capacity.

Importantly, the M&P 12 can run mini shells as well, giving it upwards of 20 shells on tap when doing so. The MSRP on the new M&P12 shotgun is $1,165.

We aren’t gonna lie, it looks a lot like a Kel-Tec KSG with an S&W M&P pistol grip on it, at a price that is a few hundo more, but for those who aren’t a fan of Florida Man guns and trust “Big Blue,” the M&P 12 could hit the spot.

Taurus Optics-ready Slides Available

Taurus TORO

Offering an easy upgrade to owners of Taurus G3 and G3C pistols who are interested in adding optics to their 9mm pistols, Taurus is now marketing Taurus Optic Ready Option, or TORO, conversion kits.

These optics-ready slides include steel Glock pattern front and rear sights and hardware/plates to accommodate Trijicon RMR, Holosun, Leupold Delta Point Pro, Vortex Venom, Doctor Noble, Burris Fast Fire, Sightmark Mini, and C-More STS footprint red dots.

All the owner would have to do is remove their existing slide, swap the barrel, and recoil spring from their existing G3/G3C, add their optic and reinstall the new slide on their gun. The cost is $149.

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Is the abbreviated 10/22 that is the Ruger 22 Charger series the best plinking or rimfire benchrest handgun on the market today? We take a hard look at this interesting .22LR pistol to help you determine if it is right for you.

Evolutionary history

The tale of the Ruger Charger starts with Bill Ruger and Harry Sefried’s 10/22 semi-auto carbine that hit the market in 1965.

With over 7 million of these reliable rimfires produced since then, it has become the gold standard that all other modern autoloading .22LRs are compared to, and its action has gone on to live a life of its own, being both copied and imitated by competitors and recycled by Ruger for other projects.

Speaking of recycling the 10/22’s action, in 2008, Ruger debuted the original version of the Charger. The .22LR pistol had the internals and alloy steel receiver of the 10/22 but it was coupled with a 10-inch barrel rather than the carbine’s traditional 16-incher.

It utilized the series’ well-liked 10 shot rotary magazine and had a distinctive release in front of the trigger guard. Using black/grey laminated wood furniture with an integrated pistol grip and forend, it had a combination rimfire “tipoff” rail/Weaver-type scope rail and bipod included and weighed almost 4 pounds!

This original version did not prove exceptionally popular as it was discontinued by 2012.

Returning after a three-year hiatus, Ruger’s 2nd generation Charger hit the 2015 catalog and is in current production.

The wooden furniture was quickly phased out in favor of black polymer which saved a few ounces of weight while simultaneously keeping the price low– today’s basic Charger has an MSRP that is $20 cheaper than when the first-gen model was introduced in 2008, despite inflation.

The redesign had improved ergonomics that allowed the Charger to use AR-15 style grips. The company also released it with a threaded muzzle for suppressors and other barrel accessories. Gone was the tipoff/Weaver-style combo rail, replaced with a more contemporary mil-spec Picatinny rail system.

Currently, the Charger comes in 8- and 10-inch barrel formats as well as in a Takedown model that separates for easy packing or stowage.

Ruger Charger

Specifications

Ruger Charger exploded

Base Model 4923 (UPC 7-36676-04923-3)

Caliber: .22 Long Rifle, rimfire

Action:  Semi-auto

Capacity: 15+1 rounds with BX-15 rotary mag. Optional flush-fit 10-shot BX-1 and 25/50 round BX-25/X2 series extended mags

Barrel Length:  10 inches (8-inch version available)

Overall Length: 19.25 inches

Weight: (with an empty magazine inserted) 50 ounces

Sights: None, top integral Picatinny rail installed

Barrel: Cold hammer-forged, 6 groove, 1:16″ RH twist, muzzle threaded with 1x28TPI pitch

Grip frame: Polymer with AR A2-style grip (wood laminate furniture discontinued 2016), Lite and 8-inch barrel models ship with rear Picatinny rail brace mount

Safety Devices: Crossbolt manual safety on the front of the trigger guard

MSRP: $369

Features

Charger nomenclature

The Ruger Charger uses a precision-rifled, threaded barrel with a 1/2″-28 thread pattern which accepts the most popular muzzle accessories making it an ideal host for a suppressor.

With a forward sling post that doubles as a bipod point, most models of the Charger ship with a Harris-style adjustable bipod for use when firing the pistol from a bench or in the prone position. The ergonomic pistol grip can be quickly replaced at the user level with almost any AR-style grip through the use of a simple screwdriver.

The top Picatinny rail is short but allows easy mounting of optics such as RMR/MRDs or pistol scopes. Further, as it is a 10/22 platform, there is an ocean of accessories and aftermarket upgrades out there.

Controls

Ruger Charger Controls

Like the basic 10/22, the Ruger Charger rimfire line has a right-side only bolt handle with a resulting right-side ejection pattern.

A bolt lock and magazine release are downward-facing from the bottom metal of the action, and as such are ambidextrous. Likewise, the horizontal push-button manual safety is located just forward of the trigger guard and can be easily actuated by either left- or right-handed users. While the bolt lock is awkward to use, the safety and magazine release are natural.

When the safety is moved to either the “on” or “off” position, it makes a distinct “click” that is audible and you can feel the vibration from the click in the trigger guard.

Purpose

2nd generation Ruger Charger circa 2015 note wooden furniture not offered any more

For most people, the Charger isn’t practical. However, where this chopped-down 10/22 shines is in its size. Much more accurate than most .22LR pistols due to its long (for a handgun) 8- or 10-inch barrel, it is also short enough, especially in Takedown models, to be stowed in a small Pelican 1400-size case or backpack.

This makes the gun ideal for survival use, camping, or as a trail companion in addition to its obvious taskings as a plinker from the bench, pest control against varmints inside 100 yards, or in harvesting small game such as rabbits or squirrels.

AGP makes a nice chassis for the Charger that transforms the gun in several different ways.

Magazines

The Ruger 10/22 action that the Charger is based on uses an acclaimed rotary magazine that feeds the 19th Century rimmed .22LR cartridge reliably. The standard mags include a 10-shot flush-fitting model while Ruger in recent years introduced the BX-15 and BX-25 extended magazines, with a 15- and a 25-round capacity. The BX-25X2 variant is basically two BX-25’s joined together.

While there are some aftermarket offerings by companies like ATI/GSG and Champion, they are not as reliable as OEM equipment while the Charger, which is meant to be fired from a bench with a bipod in most cases, doesn’t have the clearance for some of these extremely long mags.

In testing, the Charger runs faithfully with Ruger’s mags, with the BX-15 proving about the most functional when it comes to length vs bipod altitude.

Sights

Charger Ruger Sight Mounted
The shorty Picatinny rail gives you enough space to mount an optic -- but doesn't provide enough space for iron sights to be effective.

None of the Ruger Charger or PC Charger models ship with any sort of installed sights, depending instead on the user to select optics or modular sights of their own.

As the short Picatinny rail only runs along a portion of the receiver top, flip-up style rifle sights are a poor choice as the radius between the front and rear would be only an inch or two.

Instead, the best option would be to go with a low-power (e.g. 2x, 4x, or 6x) handgun scope with a short tube and extended eye relief or some sort of red dot/micro red dot.

Ammunition

The Ruger Charger is chambered for .22 caliber Long Rifle rimfire ammunition and has one of the most reliable actions for one of the most unreliable cartridges ever made.

In tests, it will chew through most high-velocity or hyper-velocity .22LR loads with a failure rate of about 1 percent (i.e., one jam in a box of 100 rounds) — largely due to the somewhat moody nature of dirt-cheap rimfire ammo.

When using standard velocity ammo, such as bulk loads, the failure rate can increase as the 10/22 style bolt is heavy for use in a pistol and it needs a bit more umpf to cycle reliably.

Ruger cautions against using .22 Short, .22 Long, or .22 Shot cartridges in the Charger, or those with a blunt nose or sharp shoulder as they will not function reliably.

Quality Control

Ruger overall has a fair reputation for making high-quality products, suffering from few recalls or persistent customer heartburn. We’ve seen nothing in the Ruger Charger variants to change this hallmark.

Grip & Ergonomics

The original Ruger Charger model that was introduced in 2008 had a sort of pot-bellied forend and an integrated wooden pistol grip.

This was changed with the 2nd Gen models introduced in 2015 as the laminate wood furniture was slowly phased out in favor of a black synthetic stock with a more modular AR-format pistol grip.

Current models use an ergonomic plastic pistol grip with texturing that can be swapped out easily with just about any standard AR-style aftermarket grip such as a Magpul MOE, while the forend is slimmer than 1st Gen models.

The Charger feels kind of odd when firing it offhanded like a traditional pistol, but when adding a brace (the Lite model includes a rear Picatinny rail) or shooting from a bipod on a bench or other structure, there is little to complain about.

Trigger & Reset

The standard Ruger 10/22 trigger has never had an earth-shattering reputation, especially among trigger snobs. The Charger models all ship with said ho-hum trigger, with a relatively creepy break at about 6ish pounds.

Never fear, however, as Ruger offers their BX trigger pack which is easy to swap out without having to call a gunsmith and delivers a crisp, light trigger pull in the 2.5-to-3-pound range with minimal overtravel and a short, positive reset.

Of course, there are other, aftermarket, trigger options for the Charger, which use any standard 10/22 pack.

Of note, match-grade and 2-stage triggers from CMC, Powder River, Timney, and Volquartsen are all on the table.

Accuracy & Reliability

The Ruger Charger has a lot of inherent accuracy, especially when compared to other .22LR pistols in its price range, as it has a long (for a handgun) barrel that is well made. While the trigger is not optimal, it can easily be swapped out for one with a shorter take-up and crisper break.

Nonetheless, when paired with a decent optic that is sighted in– the Charger does not include any sights from the factory– it is more than capable of “minute of squirrel” accuracy at ranges out to 100 yards as proved by 22 Plinkster.

When it comes to reliability, as with any rimfire, it all comes down to ammo. Bulk .22LR, while cheap and easy to find, is often unreliable to the point of causing an ammunition-induced jam at least one out of every 100 rounds. The user can mitigate this a little by opting for better, although more expensive, high-velocity loads.

Takedown & Maintenance

The Ruger Charger has a centerline takedown screw on the bottom of the pistol just forward of the magazine well and bolt handle, about three inches back from the sling swivel/bipod post.

While it sucks to have to use a tool to field strip any pistol, at least all you need to do so on the Charger is a flathead screwdriver. Ruger has easy-to-follow videos covering safe takedown and basic maintenance on their Tech Tips page.

The PC Charger

In March 2020, Ruger introduced the new PC Charger, a 9mm pistol based on the company’s PC Carbine Chassis model.

While it shares the same basic concept of downsizing a rifle platform into a large format pistol that uses standard AR pistol grips just like the rimfire Ruger Charger, the PC Charger is a totally different gun.

 In a quick rundown, the PC Charger uses an interchangeable magazine well system that allows the pistol to accept Ruger Security-9 and SR9 magazines, as well as Glock double-stack (G19/G17) magazines.

It incorporates a dead blow action with a custom tungsten weight that shortens bolt travel and reduces felt recoil and muzzle rise, has a reversible magazine release and charging handle to accommodate right- or left-handed use, and has a simple takedown.

The 6.5-inch cold hammer-forged chrome-moly steel barrel is threaded with a 1x28TPI pitch and is shrouded by a short handrail with M-LOK slots and a factory-installed hand stop.

Shortcomings

While the Ruger Charger has a lot of niche uses, as we have detailed, it is not a good all-around .22LR pistol or a full substitute for a rifle in the same caliber.

In short, it isn’t as accurate and versatile as a rimfire carbine while at the same time it has a much larger profile, even in takedown models, as a good rimfire pistol. The same thing can be said about the 9mm Ruger PC Charger.

Further, as its parent design is that of a 10/22 carbine– a gun that has whole catalogs of accessories available– users must keep abreast of the National Firearms Act regulations about installing that wide variety of accessories.

As the Ruger Charger, or for that matter the PC Charger, was legally born a pistol, adding a rifle stock or a secondary vertical foregrip are examples of easy modifications that can earn an ill-informed gun owner 10 years in federal prison.

Wrapping it up

The Ruger Charger is fairly unique in its space, offering plinkers and small game hunters a niche offering that falls somewhere between a more traditional rimfire pistol and a carbine.

About the only serious competitor to it in concept is the rimfire variants of the Thompson/Center G2 Contender, which have an asking price that runs almost twice that of the Charger.

In short, with its performance, extensive upgrade and accessory compatibility, low cost, and compact profile, it is hard for fans of .22LR to justify *not* having a Ruger Charger.