Aim High

The best guns of 2014, reviewed!
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The best guns of 2014, reviewed!
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No law says you have to own a gun to take part in the Western lifestyle. But the right gun can make Western living a real blast, whether it’s trekking across an upland pheasant field, taking care of varmints on the ranch, shooting in competitions, or just plain old plinking. Here are a few of the best handguns, rifles, and shotguns for life in the West.


[RIFLES]

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Henry

For a while, gun industry insiders worried about how Henry Repeating Arms Company would rebound after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The answer is… very well. Henry’s Silver Eagle .22 LR, which is made in Bayonne, N.J., is one of the company’s more ornate packages, featuring a nickel-plated engraved receiver and butt plate. The lever-action rifle has a 16-round tubular magazine, while the rear buckhorn sight and brass-bead front sight rest stoically atop an octagonal barrel. “It’s an extremely smooth action,” tester, Matthew Judd says. “And these are extremely accurate little rifles.” Shooters who grew up with a lever-action rifle will find the Henry a welcome addition. “Not only is this a fun-shooting rifle, it’s an investment piece that maintains and holds value, so it’s good for shooters and investors,” Judd says. 

Model: H004SE, Caliber: .22LR

$850, 201-858-4400, henryrifles.com

Best For: Plinking

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Thompson/Center

Thompson/Center’s Encore Pro Hunter Predator model is a single-shot, break-action rifle, which means the shooter can’t quickly repeat shots. However, single-shots are very accurate. “As accurate as a bolt action is, the single shot is 10 times as accurate as a bolt action—everything just locks up so tight,” Judd says. “I’ve never had a Thompson/Center action or barrel that I could not shoot five-round, one-hole groups at a hundred yards all day long.” Most everything on the Encore is adjustable—including the trigger and hammer—and the gun easily converts to a hunting handgun by removing the butt stock and barrel and replacing with the handgun set-up. In .223, the Encore is perfect for prairie dog control. Encores also can break down and fit in a duffel bag or a storage container. 

Model: Encore Pro Hunter Predator, Caliber: .223 

$882 866-730-1614, tcarms.com 

Best For: Varmint/predator control

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Thompson/Center

The Venture Compact, which comes in a variety of calibers, sports a 20-inch barrel that doesn’t compromise accuracy. This makes it perfect for young shooters and people with smaller statures. “Compact barrels are usually utilized by women and youth shooters, or a guy that wants to cut down on weight he’s having to pack up and down a mountain,” Judd says. The synthetic black stock with Hogue panels offers a good grip, and “the short barrel is also good for offhand shots,” Judd says. “In a hunting situation, you want to try to have a stable rest, but anybody who hunts knows that’s not always the case, especially when you have a 10-pointer busting out of a thicket and you have to get on him quick.” A .308 is perfect for most North American game.

Model: Venture Compact, Caliber: .308 

$537 866-730-1614, tcarms.com 

Best For: Mid-size game

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Weatherby

Weatherby’s Mark V series rifles, made in Paso Robles, Calif., are touted for their quality and accuracy, with the features of a custom-built long gun at a price well under that category. The Accumark versions of the Mark V series add several features to improve accuracy, including a free-floated stainless-steel fluted barrel (for faster barrel cooling), while a synthetic stock with raised cheek piece adds to the shooter’s comfort. The bolt-action rifle is perfect for most North American large game. It’s also got a little kick. “It’s a thumper,” Judd says. “It has recoil and you need to know that.” Weatherby is known for creating specific company-manufactured ammunition that’s more powerful than standard calibers—and the .300 Wby is one of the more popular. 

Model: Mark V Accumark, Caliber: .300 Wby Magnum

$2,100 805-227-2600, weatherby.com

Best For: Large game hunting



[HANDGUNS]

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A High Standard is a gun for people called “tack drivers”—shooters obsessed with precision target shooting for competition or hobby. The High Standard Victor, made in Houston, includes everything a tack driver needs in a pistol. The ergonomic walnut grips include rubber knurling for a better hold, a vented rib to speed up barrel cooling, and sight ridges to reduce glare. The back sight and trigger are fully adjustable as well. As a precision firearm, a Victor can be a bit finicky on ammo, so Judd recommends trying out several different brands to find the one it loves. “High Standard is one of the companies that whenever you mention it to anyone in the industry, they know and appreciate that pistol very well,” Judd says. 

Model: Victor, Caliber: .22 LR 

$1,050 713-462-4200, highstandard.com

Best For: Target shooting

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Getting into cowboy shooting doesn’t mean you have to rob a bank. With the Gunfighter model, Taylor’s and Co. has taken an Uberti 1873 Cattleman and custom-tuned the single-action six-shot revolver into a near-perfect cowboy shooter. “Fanning the gun is very easy, and actually remarkably accurate when you’re doing rapid fire.” Judd says. The Gunfighter also has a “butter smooth” action and because it’s a .357, it can also shoot .38 specials. “The action is something they’ve mastered as far as making it very smooth…wow,” Judd says. With a 5 1/2-inch barrel, walnut grips, a case-hardened frame, and blued barrel and cylinder, the Gunfighter has an Old West look. 

Model: 1873 Cattleman Gunfighter, Caliber: .357 Magnum 

$518 540-722-2017, taylorsfirearms.com 

Best For: Cowboy shooting

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For hunting out west, it’s advisable to carry a handgun in case an animal wants something orange for breakfast. Look no further than Freedom’s Model 83 Field Grade revolvers. The Model 83 is well-balanced with a smooth action for such a large-frame revolver. The front sight is fixed while the rear sight is fully adjustable. The Model 83’s grips are reminiscent of a Colt Bisley design. Even though the gun is one serious chunk of precision-machined metal, the .44 Rem Mag provides enough recoil to make its presence well known. “This gun has a great hunting application as an extra-carry piece if you’re out in the field and have a close-encounter of the bear kind,” Judd says. 

Model: 83 Field Grade, Caliber: .44 Rem Mag 

$2,074 800-833-4432, freedomarms.com 

Best For: Bear defense, handgun hunting

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While Colt made a name in the Old West for revolvers, in modern times the legendary Colt 1911 has earned a place as the preferred sidearm for the American military and as a sought-after personal defense weapon for the public. “Most people who shoot it fall in love with it,” Judd says. The 1911 Government model, made in Hartford, Conn., features a five-inch barrel, blued finish, checkered rosewood grips, a seven-round magazine, and a three-dot fixed front and rear sight. For a big chuck of lead, .45 ACP ammunition makes for fairly easy shooting—the recoil can be handled by all. “I tell people every day, this the best-designed handgun ever built. Bar none,” Judd says.

Model: 1911 Government, Caliber: .45 ACP 

$974 800-962-COLT (2658), colt.com 

Best For: Self Defense


[SHOTGUNS]

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Highly underrated, O.F. Mossberg & Sons, is the oldest family-owned firearms manufacturer in the United States. The company’s Silver Reserve II shotgun series provides great value for a relatively modest cost. The Silver Reserve II features a laser-engraved stainless steel receiver, walnut stocks, and blued barrels that are vented for cooling, plus a vented rib. It has an interchangeable choke system for modified, improved, and full chokes, and it has extractors that lift spent shells away from the barrel. “It shoulders very well; it’s light, and it’s compact,” Judd says. The safety allows the shooter to switch the safety on and off, as well as select which barrel shoots first. The rib features some cross-hatching to reduce glare, as well. “It’s got a lot of what a beginner would be looking for,” Judd says. “You could also pack it all day long in a pheasant field.”

Model:Silver Reserve II, Caliber: .12 gauge 

$736203-230-5300, mossberg.com

Best For:Skeet, sporting clays

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Weatherby’s new WBY-X series was designed to appeal to a crowd that is looking for something fresh and distinctive. The Black Reaper features a holographic skull pattern on the stock and is a pump-action, pistol-gripped shotgun topped with a fully adjustable ghost-ring rear sight and high-visibility front sight. “That’s made to acquire targets very well and acquire targets in low-light or night-time conditions,” Judd says. It holds six 2 3/4-inch shells or five three-inch shells with an extended choke. Picatinny mounts along the barrel mean shooters can add lasers or flashlights. “Getting used to a pistol grip takes a little time, especially if you’re used to the field,” Judd says. “But you want maximum control in a home defense situation or three-gun competition.” Oversized padding on the pistol grips absorbs recoil well. Also is available in .20-gauge.

Model: WBY-X PA-459 Black Reaper, Caliber: .12 gauge 

$549 805-227-2600, weatherby.com 

Best For: 3-gun competition

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Winchester

The Winchester SXP Extreme Defender is designed for one thing: home defense. The pump-action shotgun features an adjustable ATI butt stock with an adjustable cheek piece. A brushed black aluminum receiver sits over a pistol grip that allows for the control needed in a home defense situation. The SXP’s picatinny mounts along the barrel mean shooters can customize with a flashlight, laser, or holographic sights. “Even though it’s a .12-gauge, it’s not bad on the recoil,” Judd says. The gun features a “door breecher” muzzle tube that allows users to take down door locks and hinges. Shooters basically jam the crowned barrel into a knob or hinge, pull the trigger and enter. The SXP’s fore arm is ribbed to allow for better control. “I have a gun like this available,” Judd says. “But ninety-nine percent of the deterrent is simply working the action.” 

Model: SXP Extreme Defender, Caliber: .12-gauge 

$560 800-333-3288, winchesterguns.com 

Best For: Home Defense

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One of the best all-around, over/under shotguns made, the Browning Cynergy is ready for just about any kind of bird hunting. It comes in several finishes, including a Mossy Oak camouflage dress that could easily make it disappear outside the blind, as well as adequately mask the Cynergy from incoming ducks or geese. Featuring a low-profile steel receiver, the Cynergy also has a vent between barrels for rapid cooling and ejectors that propel spent shells out of gun’s break crisply and cleanly. The butt stock is designed to absorb most, if not all, the energy from the recoil rather than the shooter’s shoulder. The Cynergy is available in three barrel lengths but only in one caliber—.12-gauge. It also has interchangeable chokes. A tang safety allows shooters to select on-safe and off-safe, as well as which barrel fires first. “This is a very popular shotgun,” Judd says. “This gun is designed with the hunter in mind.”

Model: Cynergy, Caliber:.12-gauge 

$2,000 800-333-3288, browning.com 

Best For: Bird hunting, water or land