Gun Reviews

It’s rare that a rancher rides his property without some means of varmint control, and recreational shooting is more popular than ever. We tested and reviewed 12 handpicked firearms—a broad blend of old and new—all with Western flair.
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It’s rare that a rancher rides his property without some means of varmint control, and recreational shooting is more popular than ever. We tested and reviewed 12 handpicked firearms—a broad blend of old and new—all with Western flair.
guncover

HANDGUNS

COLT: The classic Colt 1873 Single-Action Army “Peacemaker” may be the most copied handgun in history, but aficionados still insist on the original Colt. They are available in barrel lengths of 4.75, 5.5, and 7.5-inches, with a full nickel finish or the traditional blue, with a color case hardened frame, and in calibers .32/20, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .38/40, .44/40, and the classic .45 Colt. The sample tested was the cowboy’s favorite—5.5-inch, blue/ color case hardened, .45 Colt. Fit, finish, and function were superb, and no test group exceeded two-inches. $1,290 (Model P1850), coltfirearms.com

Best for: Looking the part at chuckwagon cookouts

RUGER: As prized as the Peacemaker may be, the Vaquero Single-Action revolver is the clear favorite among high-volume Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) Cowboy Action shooters. Visually similar to the Colt, it’s built like a tank and features an improved action that digests thousands of rounds before needing a tune up. Available in .357 Magnum and .45 Colt and in barrel lengths of 4.62 and 5.5 inches, we chose the shorter barrel in .357 Magnum and fed it .38 Special loads—a favored SASS combo that proved butter-smooth and nail-driving accurate. $679 (Model NV-34), ruger.com

Best for: SASS competitions

RUGER: Every handgunner needs a rim-fire pistol for low-cost practice and just plain fun. Witness the Ruger Single Six Convertible, which this writer first purchased in 1966. Available in a variety of barrel lengths, our test gun was the current NR-6L model featuring a 6.5-inch barrel and adjustable sights. Like all models, it was supplied with two easily interchangeable cylinders for .22LR and .22 Magnum. Function from the single-action handgun was flawless, and groups in the one-inch range were the norm. $534, (Model NR-6L), ruger.com

Best for: Fun plinking, especially at varmints

SMITH AND WESSON: Single action revolvers are synonymous with the Old West, but when effective double action designs appeared at the turn of the century many lawmen embraced them. A favorite was the heavy-framed, large bore Smith & Wesson. That gun is recaptured in the M21 Classic. Built on their N-frame, the M21 features a four-inch heavy under lug barrel, fixed service sights, and packs six .44 Special big bore loads. Our test sample was smooth, accurate enough to hold full cylinder groups under two-inches, and easily controllable. As a personal defense handgun “It’ll do to ride the river with.” $924, smith-wesson.com

Best for: Serious, big-bore self-defense

SHOTGUNS

IAC: Before production ceased in 1957, Winchester Model 1897 was the most popular pump action shotgun of its era. Today, it’s as a top choice for SASS competition. This Chinese-made 12-gauge pump shotgun replica is true to the original with a brass bead front sight, five-shot tubular magazine, exposed hammer, American Walnut wood, and a low-luster blue finish. Functioning was excellent. Like the original, it has no trigger disconnector. Hold the trigger down, pump the slide, and let her rip. $435 (Model 97W), interstatearms.com

Best for: Repelling cattle rustlers

STOEGER: The sawed-off, double barrel shotgun became such a fixture among stagecoach guards that—regardless of the manufacturer—all became known as Coach Guns. This Stoeger Coach Gun is a mainstay for SASS shooters. Our 12-Gauge, 3-inch test sample featured a blue finish, American Walnut wood, fixed chokes in IC and M, internal hammers, and double triggers. The 20-inch barrels gave it a trim, 6.5-pound weight. Functioning was flawless, handling smooth, and it smoked clay targets. $399, stoegerindustries.com

Best for: Quick home defense

IAC: The John Browning designed/Winchester manufactured 1887 was originally a black powder shot-shell gun and is considered to be the first successful repeating shotgun. Nothing screams Old West like a lever-action gun and SASS shooters prompted its return as a 12-gauge modern smokeless powder gun. This Chinese-made lever-action repeating shotgun replica is true to the original, with a five-shot tubular magazine, American walnut stock, exposed hammer, 20-inch barrel, and brass-bead front sight. $559, interstaearms.com

Best for: Tearing paper targets

WINCHESTER: The SXP Black Shadow Field functioned flawlessly, handled quickly, and was the top performer on clay targets. Available in 12-gauge and capable of handling all 2-inch or 3-inch loads (including steel and tungsten shot), it features a black synthetic stock and non-glare matte metal finish. The interchangeable Invector-Plus choke tube system allows pattern adjustment from Cylinder to Extra-Full. The 26-inch barrel model we tested featured a ventilated rib with a single-bead sight and installed sling swivels. $399, winchester.com

Best for: Busting clays

RIFLES

UMBERTI: The “Gun That Won The West,” the Winchester 1873, was a favorite with Texas Rangers and John Wayne. Today, it’s one of the most popular rifles in SASS competition. Made by Uberti, it’s available in the original 44/40-caliber as well as 45 Colt and .357 Magnum and in several barrel lengths. We tested the .357 Carbine version, using .38 Special ammunition (a favored SASS set up). It was a slick-handling and reliable carbine that could easily ventilate a playing card at 50 yards. $1,199 (Model 342700), uberti.com

Best for: Channeling the Duke

EMF: An improved version of the 1860 Henry Rifle, the 1866 Yellowboy (so named for its distinctive brass receiver) featured a side-loading gate on the receiver that allowed the installation of a wooden fore-end. It became the first lever-action rifl e to be widely carried in saddle scabbards. It rivals the Winchester 1873 in SASS popularity. Our Uberti-made test gun from EMF (chambered for .38 Special, but also available in 45 Colt) was an attractive and reliable performer with magnificent accuracy. $1,075, emf-company.com

Best for: Attracting envious looks

HENRY: The .22 Magnum may be the most popular ranch gun out there, and the Henry Golden Boy is certainly one of the most stylish. Made in the USA, it’s a virtual twin of the 1866 Yellowboy and features a 20.5-inch octagonal barrel while packing 12 rounds of ammo. The Henry Repeating Arms Company has a well-deserved reputation for producing quality rifles, and our test sample was attractive, smooth, and well balanced. Its accuracy would make life very unpleasant for any coyote within 200 yards. $595, henryrepeating.com

Best for: Short-range pest control

REMINGTON: Built on the Model 700 bolt-action, the new 700 XCR II features an OD green, synthetic stock with black Hogue over-molded grip panels and full TriNyte treatment on all exposed metal surfaces. It’s as tough and weatherproof as they come. Available in all popular calibers, it can handle anything from prairie dogs to elk. Our sample was a .243 Winchester, and accuracy was minute of angle with several different test loads. $930. remington.com

Best for: Big-game hunting

Aiming for Accuracy

*The only way to truly test a firearm is to load it up and wring it out. After inspecting each gun for fit, finish, and function, tester Chris Christian did just that on his backyard range.

*Using copious quantities of factory-fresh ammunition, Christian tested the handguns for accuracy from a 15-yard bench rest and the rifles at 50 yards. That was followed by multiple-target and rapid-fire shooting drills for the appropriate handguns and rifles.

*For aerial target work, the shotguns were tested at a skeet range, where they drew a lot of attention … and broke more clays than a Greek wedding.

Leather Goods

Action shooters, hobbyists, and working cowboys need a place to holster their six-guns, and that’s where Stan Dolega comes in. He founded Wolf Ears Equipment 30 years ago in old Laramie, Wyo., and has found success by specializing in leather holsters, gun belts, and jackets. A devoted hobbyist with an eye for details, Dolega aims to achieve historical accuracy in all his reproduction pieces, like the popular vintage-style U.S. military holsters.

“You have to have a serious interest in what things

looked like,” he says about his one-man operation.

Dolega shrugs about his longevity and chalks it up to fine execution and the relative simplicity of the leather trade. But some things never come easy.

“Once you know the shape of a Colt, they’re pretty much all the same size,” he says about crafting holsters. “It’s people that are hard to fit.” 866-745-7135, wolfearsequipment.com

The Shootist

Tester Chris Christian is a ten-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, where he spent much of his service time as a Small Arms/Security Force instructor and Navy Rifle & Pistol Team shooter. When not hunting, fishing, or testing firearms (or writing about them), he is a Master Class competitive shooter with the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) with numerous titles won in state, regional, national, and international competitions. In fact, Christian is the 2008 & 2009 International Postal Match “High Press” winner, the top-finishing gun writer.

He currently serves as a contributing editor to the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Outdoor Life magazines and has published several books.