Locked And Loaded | 2015 Annual Gun Review

Our 2015 review of the best rifles, handguns, and shotguns for life in the West.
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Credit: AGE FOTOSTOCK

Credit: AGE FOTOSTOCK

Looking for the perfect gun for hunting elk in the high country, scaring off ranch varmints, or plinking cans off the fence? Here are the some of the best rifles, handguns, and shotguns for life in the West.

Author Bio
While it’s difficult to write gun reviews with a sore shoulder and a worn-out trigger finger, Nathan Solheim has completed his fourth year of firearms reviews for American Cowboy.

Tester Bios
Robert Otis and Jake McCracken are lead firearms instructors at BluCore Shooting Center in Lakewood, Colo. Otis, 30, is a veteran of the Army with two tours in Iraq, and an avid hunter and competition shooter. McCracken, 24, started shooting as a four-year-old in his native Texas and shoots competitively as well. 

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RIFLES

Barnes-Precision-2

Barnes Precision Machine
Barnes’ AR-style rifles provide top quality at a reasonable price point. Some of the features of a Three Gun Match Carbine include a Hiperfire match trigger, a SOCOM stock, and Magpul grips and magazines. Both testers loved Barnes’ rail system; its modularity translates to a highly customizable gun. The rifle also features a nickel-boron bolt, a forward-assist, a Miculek compensator, and an 18-inch barrel. Overall, the gun has many features that don’t need to be upgraded and also can fire .223 Wylde rounds. “It shot flatter than any other rifle I’ve shot, personally. For the price right out of the box, this is the rifle to go with whether you’re looking for a self-defense rifle or a competition rifle,” McCracken says. The Three Gun Match Carbine is made in Apex, N.C. 

Model: Three Gun Match Carbine
Caliber: 5.56 NATO
$1,571
919-362-6805
usamade-ar15parts.com
Best For: 3-Gun Competition

winchester

Winchester
The Winchester Model 1886 was designed to fire bigger, more powerful rounds for life and work in the Old West. Today’s version is a throwback. The magazine tube, walnut stocks, and steel buttplate, combined with an adjustable buckhorn rear sight and brass bead front sight—put history in your hands. The top tang safety drops the hammer but won’t hit the firing pin when the gun’s “on safe”—a safety upgrade over older lever-actions. The crisp action ejects eight spent casings authoritatively out of the receiver’s top. “It’s very barrel heavy, it seems like it has a very thick-walled barrel, which is good because in .45-70 the gun absorbs some of the recoil,” Otis says, adding that he’d upgrade the buttplate to reduce shoulder impact but, it’s a great “truck gun.” 

Model: 1886
Caliber: .45-70 Govt.
$1,340
800-333-3288
winchesterguns.com
Best For: Ranch gun

Barnes-Precision-2

Barnes Precision Machine
One of Barnes Precision’s newest products is the LR-10, with the “LR” standing for long range. Everything about the rifle lends itself to long-distance accuracy. The LR-10 came with plenty of great Magpul components, including MIAD grips, flip-up sights, a polymer magazine, and a PRS stock. The 20-inch barrel featured a Miculek compensator that rendered the term “recoil” meaningless. The rifle has an ambidextrous bolt release and a rifle-length gas system. “The first thing I noticed was the balance and weight,” McCracken says. “Normally, I pick up a .308 and it’s basically a hunk of metal—it’s steel, but this is weighted right. I would make this my designated marksman rifle; this thing is going to be a nail driver at any distance.”

Model: LR-10
Caliber: .308
$2,700
919-362-6805
usamade-ar15parts.com
Best For: Long-distance target shooting, Texas hog hunting

Mk5_Lazermark_r1

Weatherby
Weatherby’s Mark V Lazermark starts off with a stock that features intricate oak-leaf scrollwork that adds both beauty and grip. The stock is appointed with a rosewood forend and grip cap. There’s also a cheekpiece and the forend also has a flat bottom that adds stability when it’s resting on a bag or bench rest. The Lazermark—with a deep, blued finish—includes a serrated trigger, too. Otis says the action was smooth and the trigger was very light and crisp. Holding four rounds, the Lazermark’s recoil pad does a great job of absorbing the .270 Wby Magnum cartridge’s power. Factory swivels allow for a sling to carry the not-heavy, not-light rifle all day. “This is a beautiful rifle, to the level of heirloom quality,” Otis says. The Mark V Lazermark is made in Paso Robles, Calif. 

Model: Mark V Lazermark
Caliber: .270 Wby Magnum
$2,600
800-227-2016
weatherby.com
Best For: Large-game hunting

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HANDGUNS

FREEDOM

Smith & Wesson
In many ways, the Model 27-9 marries new and old. With a polished, blued finish and checkered walnut grips that fill the hand, the Model 27 “screams vintage Smith & Wesson,” Otis says. A six-shot cylinder and a 6-inch barrel means the Model 27 easily handles the powerful caliber. The trigger is serrated and oversized, as is the hammer, which gives the shooter more leverage to work the action. The cylinder release also has a small thumb cup and the checkered walnut square-butt grips harken back to a previous design. The Model 27 comes with a black blade front sight and adjustable rear sights. “The double action feels really smooth,” Otis says. “The single action is crisp, and light. There’s no take-up, so when you touch the trigger, the gun’s going to go off.” A modern internal lock system disables the gun with a key. The Model 27 is made in Springfield, Mass.

Model: 27
Caliber: .357 Magnum
$1,059
800-331-0852
smith-wesson.com
Best For: Collecting, fun

GLOCK2

Glock
Glock calls the G43 the most anticipated release in company history. “For the longest time, people have wanted Glock to come out with a single-stack 9mm comparable to the Glock 26, which is a double stack so it holds 10 rounds where the G43 holds six.” What the G43 gives up in capacity, though, it makes up for in concealability. The G43 fits in the palm of a hand. It comes with standard Glock front white-dot sight and a rear goalpost sight and two six-round magazines, including one elongated version that provides a pinky rest. The safety is on the trigger and frame incorporates a beaver tail design for a higher, tighter grip. The checkering on the synthetic grips matches other Generation 4 Glock products. “It’s a Glock, so the reliability is through the roof—on all of their models,” Otis says. “They make a reliable gun with good quality parts.” 

Model: G43
Caliber: 9mm
$580
770-432-1202
us.glock.com or singlestack9.com
Best For: Concealed carry

Freedom-

Freedom Arms
Some guns are merely plinkers. Others guns are blasters. As Otis puts it, the Freedom Arms Premier Grade Model 83 chambered in .454. Casull is a “hand cannon.” But before a projectile ever left the barrel, it made another impression entirely. “The first impression I had when I pulled it out of the box was it’s an intimidating gun,” Otis says. “But it’s also beautiful.” The Model 83 features a 7-inch barrel, and a brushed stainless steel finish with rosewood grips that recall a Bisley-style grip. The single-action revolver features a fixed front blade sight with an adjustable rear sight. The five-shot cylinder and ejector rod are the smooth operators one would expect from a product with such high attention to detail. Purchasers also can mount a scope atop this gun for improved optics. For such a large caliber, the recoil was (fairly) manageable. The Premier Grade Model 83 is made in Freedom, Wyo.

Model: Premier Grade Model 83
Caliber: .454 Casull
$2,686
800-833-4432
freedomarms.com
Best For: Handgun hunting

SW2

Smith & Wesson
The Model 69, with a 4-inch barrel, brings together power and portability. The gun features a replaceable front ramp sight with an adjustable rear sight, a five-shot cylinder and a matte stainless steel finish. “If it’s going to be a gun you use and you plan to use a lot, that’s the kind of finish you want—it’s a little more durable,” Otis says. The Model 69 has Smith & Wesson rubber grips, and a serrated hammer for maximum grip. The barrel sleeve also featured serrations to reduce glare and improve looks. The double action was a bit heavy, Otis says, but “this is a no-frills, no-fuss .44 Magnum. If you need a magnum-caliber revolver and you want it in a decent, manageable package—small enough to carry but big enough to shoot— this is what you want to look at.” The Model 69 is made in Springfield, Mass.

Model: 69
Caliber: .44 Magnum
$849
800-331-0852
smith-wesson.com
Best For: Backpacking

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SHOTGUNS

WEATHERBY

Weatherby
The Orion line of over/under shotguns returned to the Weatherby fold in 2015 with two blued 28-inch barrels underneath a raised vent rib and single brass-bead front sight. “It’s just a beautiful over/under,” Otis says. “There’s nothing over the top as far as scroll work or inlays, so I wouldn’t mind taking this out and using it and potentially abusing it—if I dropped it, or whatnot.” The Orion also can shoot 2 3/4-inch or 3-inch rounds and features an ambidextrous tang safety that also allows the shooter to choose barrels. The trigger and action shoots two rounds in a hurry, too, and its ejectors spit the spent shells well over the shooter’s shoulders. “It balances really well, it is a little barrel heavy, but that makes sense—it’s an over/under,” Otis says. 

Model: Orion
Caliber: .12 gauge
$1,099
800-227-2016
weatherby.com
Best For: Skeet, hunting

MOSSBERG

Mossberg
The popular TV series Duck Dynasty and Mossberg got together to produce a hardcore waterfowl shotgun. The Duck Commander Signature Autoloader features a 28-inch barrel with a vented rib and Tru-Glo Tru-Bead sights. The shotgun can shoot 2 3/4-inch or 3-inch shells and comes with an adjustable Accu-Set choke. The front stock and butt stock feature RealTree Max 5 camouflage while the receiver sports engravings of ducks in flight. Otis noticed the well-protected front sight as well as a light trigger pull even though it’s not adjustable. “The barrel end is a little heavy, and that plays a role when you’re chasing birds down, but it’s not unreasonable,” Otis says. “At the price point you’re getting this shotgun for, it’s great right out of the box.” The 930 is made in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Model: 930
Caliber: .12 gauge
$928
203-230-5300
mossberg.com
Best For: Duck hunting

BROWNING

Browning
Ducks Unlimited named the Browning A5 as the conservation organization’s 2015 Gun of the Year. It’s easy to see why. “The design is tried and true,” Otis says. The A5 .12-gauge features a 28-inch barrel, a flat vented rib, a brass-bead front sight, and Browning’s classic humpback receiver. The stocks are made of high-gloss walnut with machine checkering. Otis noted that the gun’s relatively light weight allows the hunter to track birds more easily and carry on all-day excursions. “The action is smooth,” Otis says. “It shoots smooth, it runs smooth—it doesn’t feel gritty in any way. I also like the palm swell on the pistol grip. It fills your hand well and it doesn’t feel like I’m overgripping the gun in any way but it also doesn’t feel like a soda can, either.” 

Model: A5 Hunter
Caliber: .12 gauge
$1,630
800-333-3288
browning.com
Best For: All-around bird hunting

REMINGTON

Remington
One of the most durable, popular, and best-selling shotguns in the world is the Remington Model 870, with more than 10 million produced since 1949. Over the years, it’s been used for sport, target shooting, and home defense. It can hold seven rounds and features a ghost-ring rear sight with a fixed front-blade sight, plus a door-breach feature on the 18-inch barrel’s end. With a matte black finish and synthetic stock, the 870 can shoot 2 3/4-inch or 3-inch loads and sports a Picatinny rail for add-ons such as a scope or light. The Tactical Express features the classic Remington safety, which rests behind the trigger. “It’s got a lot of features, which is why we like this as a self-defense shotgun,” Otis says. The 870 is made in Ilion, N.Y.

Model: 870 Express Tactical
Caliber: .12 gauge
$601
800-243-9700
remington.com
Best For: Self-defense