This feature appears in the April ’16 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association.
If you like guns and shooting, you’d love the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show held each January in Las Vegas, Nev. Unfortunately, the show is open only to those within the firearm industry and related media, excluding many who would love to attend.
So in case you missed it, we’re bringing you the next-best thing: We attended the show and its hands-on function—Media Day at the Range—for you and have put together a rundown of the coolest new products introduced this year. Check out the best new firearms here, and in person at the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits, May 20-22 in Louisville, Ky. See you there!
A left-handed rifle caught our eye at the Accuracy International booth this year. No longer will left-handed shooters be shut out of the precision bolt gun market. The Accuracy International AT replaced the AE rifles aimed at the law enforcement/military market. The AT features quick-change barrels that require no gunsmithing or torque wrenches so any barrel swapping can be done in the field. The folding stocks take up minimal room and make cleaning easier.
It’d be way over the top to say we don’t like the Beretta 92/M9, but after years of trying, we never quite settled in with it. It was accurate, reliable and certainly well-made, and we’re defensibly shy, we think, about barking too loudly against the nearly 500-year heritage that backs up every Beretta firearm. Well, that whole business goes out the window after shooting and handling the new 92/M9/A3. Hugely improved grip ergonomics, dovetailed sights and a vastly—mark that word, vastly—improved trigger are just a few of the upgrades we liked. It’s back on our list in a big way.
The big news from Bighorn Arms is a controlled feed action. The new action, the TL-3 or Tactical, still utilizes a Savage floating bolt head and barrel nuts like the company’s other models to allow for easy caliber changes. Going from .223 to .308 can be done in a matter of minutes without a gunsmith. The controlled feed/ejector means short cases like .223 and 6BR will eject with ease and not fall in the ejection port. These actions will be available in late spring.
Browning had on hand its new Sweet 16 semi-automatic shotgun, and its name describes it quite well. This blast from the past—with its smaller, lighter receiver—is closer in weight to a typical 20-ga., but with a shot payload nearing a 12-ga. The beautiful gun, with its age-old “humpback” design, was a delight to shoot, even on fast-flying clays at hard angles.
While everyone is entitled to their own tastes, ours make it impossible to pass by Christensen Arms. We’ve dawdled before over their modern sporting rifles and 1911/Browning pattern pistols, but this year the new BA Tactical bolt action brought us to a complete halt. A hand-laid fiberglass- and carbon fiber-reinforced stock is the handsome beginning, and a long list of fine features follow. The “biggies” are probably an AI-compliant box magazine, integral 20 MOA tapered 1913 Mil-Standard rail on the action, spiral fluted bolt and a carbon fiber-wrapped, match grade, button-rifled barrel. Smaller details complete the package, like stock adjustments for cheek height and length of pull, a three-way adjustable trigger and five available calibers (.223 up to .338 Lapua). Best of all, what looks and performs like a 12-pound precision rifle tips the scale at as little as 7.1 pounds.
Ruger’s .22/45 has been a popular trainer and plinker for a couple decades, and deservedly so. The main reason is right there in the designation—the “... 45” part—that is, it faithfully reproduces the highly desirable grip angle of John Browning’s 1911-pattern pistols. To this, it adds (even more) vintage Ruger Mark I, II and III top-end components: tubular barrel/action, ignition, etc. We elbowed our way to the front of a display at the Davidson’s booth to find a very special edition of the pistol—a red, white and blue, NRA-marqued beauty complete with a lightened barrel sleeve, optics rail and custom grips. It gave us a major itch to hunt up a Steel Challenge match right then and there: This little jewel ought to swing like crazy.
At a scant 30 miles northwest of gun-unfriendly Chicago, Lake Zurich, Ill., is an odd place for a premier AR manufacturer to land. Escaping from such fetters in January may explain why we found a seeming party going on in the Devil Dog booth, or maybe they’re just that happy about what appear to be fine 5.56 and 7.62 ARs. With a billet M4/5.56 DDA-15B “MRP” about smothered in Magpul furniture and other goodies at $1,399, and ranging all the way up the scale to their 7.62 DDA-10B “Cerberus” (the dog from hell, literally, you may recall), there’s a rifle for almost any taste and purpose. Pictured is a new variant for Devil Dog in .510 Beck: Read up on it, or take our word—it lobs sledgehammers of various shapes and sizes.
Runaway winner of our “Most People in the Smallest Booth” award was F-1 Firearms, though it’s easy to see why. The company was showing off several über-cool “skeletonized” (for lack of a better term) ARs, though it didn’t take long to figure out these rifles have a lot more going for them than watch-it-cycle weight reductions. Going lighter still is accomplished by using their five-groove, button-rifled barrels with titanium bonded to the 416 stainless. Finally, there’s no guessing about whether they work: Friends of America’s 1st Freedom and pro 3-gunners Ryan (Team Stoeger) and Dianna (Team Benelli Captain) Muller told us so. That’s more than good enough for us.
Big things are in the works at JP. The company’s .308 AR-10 rifle went on a diet. John Paul figured out a way to trim a couple pounds off the beast and make it a very light, good-handling AR-10. The new rifle also features his side charging handle instead of the traditional T-shaped charge handle at the rear of the receiver. Despite its light weight, the rifle still shoots under 1 MOA. Like other JP rifles, this one will get the job done—but if you find you’d like to hone your skills even further, John Paul and shooting instructor Brian Whalen will be teaching long-range classes at the company’s new training facility in eastern New Mexico.
For 2016, Kimber introduced the smallest and lightest six-shot .357 Magnum on the market: the K6S. It is an all-steel revolver weighing in at right around 23 ounces. Recoil was snappy but not abusive, even with full-power .357 ammo. With .38 Special ammo, it would be very comfortable to shoot. The double-action trigger was excellent, allowing for fast and accurate shooting. Expect to see them at a store near you this spring, with expected retail under $900.
There was a lot to see at the Remington booth, but a little pistol was drawing a big crowd when we arrived—the RM 380. As the designation hints, it’s a .380 ACP defensive pistol designed for extremely discreet carry, and the 2.9-inch barrel and 12.1-ounce weight certainly qualify. Good ergonomics are scattered about the pistol wholesale: Grip texture is solid and comfortable, and magazines with and without a “pinkie” rest are standard. In a class of pistols not well known for easy slide manipulation, the Remington also and pleasantly differs there. We’ll bug the folks in Ilion for a review pistol on your behalf.
It doesn’t take much for us to feel enthusiastic about Sturm, Ruger and Co. these days, given the company’s “2 Million Gun Challenge,” which pledges $2 to the NRA for every Ruger sold between the Association’s meetings in 2015 through 2016. Great firearms such as the Ruger Precision Rifle, SR MSRs and “old reliables” like the 10/22 and Mark III make it seem likely that CEO Mike Fifer and his Ruger team will meet their goal—up to $4 million to protect your Second Amendment liberties. Ruger has also been hard at work creating great firearms, like the new Ruger American striker-fired pistol. It’s clear Ruger took some pains with the tech, fitting a rigid stainless steel chassis/rail assembly inside a tough glass-reinforced nylon frame. Grip size is adjustable at back strap and palm swell by means of interchangeable panels, and controls are full-ambi. Presently available in 9 mm and .45 ACP, a low bore line and barrel cam promise soft recoil and scant muzzle movement in either caliber. Top-shelf Novak “LoMount” steel sights are standard, and ought to round out fine accuracy.
There’s so much to see in the SIG booth that we worried about a loitering citation. New offerings—both long and short—seemed parked in every nook and cranny. But in all of SHOT, not much has brought us up quite as short as the exceptionally full-featured Legion pistols, and particularly the P226 SAO. We’ve long admired the reliability and ruggedness, but struggled with the trigger pull: Granted, that’s all on us. But the “SAO” suffix stands for “single action only,” which you should read as, “We can’t wait.”
We made an early stop at Smith & Wesson for an unusual reason—the line to shoot was short. Crazier still, we’ve no idea why: Among many S&W goodies was the Performance Center Ported Shield, a new version of the company’s carry gem. It very much impressed us. Straight from the factory, it’s fitted with HIVIZ fiber-optic sights front and rear; Performance Center sear and striker plunger for much-improved trigger performance (if you know the Shield, though, the trigger’s pretty darn good to start with); and a ported barrel and slide to reduce recoil. All of which work juuuuuust fine, we can say.
High-performance handgunners of many stripes are almost certainly familiar with the STI “2011.” Long on the leading edge of the leading edge, the company’s new DVC pistols look like another leap forward to us: Slide lightening cuts control slide dynamics in both directions, and increases the overall cycling rate of the wide-bodied (staggered magazine) design. Titanium nitride finish improves lubricity and wear resistance on the bull barrels. The gun also has great sights, hard chrome, toolless guide rod, great grips, etc. You get the idea: If you haven’t drooled on one, you should. And soon.
We aren’t obsessed with Walther because we’re Ian Fleming fans. Well, OK, maybe a little. But a much more plausible explanation is that the Walther PPQ M2 is such a fine pistol, and it looks to us like they’ve done it again with the discreet carry PPS M2 in either 9 mm or .40 S&W. With six-, seven- or eight-round magazine options that extend the trim proportions (five, six or seven in .40) to give a fabulously positive grip, the PPS may also have the best out-of-the box trigger in the class. Look for a review soon.
Bushnell has had a seriously upscale game the last few years—at least to our eye (pun intended)—but they outdid themselves this year with the CONX “Elite 1 Mile.” This 7x magnification rangefinder has all the regular goodies and up to one-half-yard accuracy, but adds Bluetooth wireless connectivity that gets your smartphone and Kestrel Wind Meters on board to set up a truly precise shot. As many as three custom ballistic curves drive precisely calculated holdovers, and display them on your phone or the rangefinder in centimeters, inches, minutes of angle (MOA) or milliradians. The bad news is no more excuses.
While we didn’t get to shoot a rifle with the unit installed, Crimson Trace was showing its cool new wireless LiNQ replaceable grip for AR-15 type rifles. The grip, with operating button, is paired with its partner remote module, which features a green laser sight and 300-lumen LED white light.
We may have blundered very seriously in our visit to Kahles: Something about fingerprints on every single scope they had displayed (why this rankles so, we’re unsure, since it might easily have been, er, drool)? Be that as it may, Kahles optics remain all-but-unbearably tantalizing, though the K624i is what really got us wound up at SHOT. Most folks know about the splendid glass (95 percent light transmission), legendary long-range performance, and duplex top turret (parallax adjustment on the base of elevation turret), but new this year was a left side windage adjustment. If this is a “huh?” inducer, think it through: right handed/eyed shooters now don’t have to break their cheek weld or hand position to make adjustments, to say nothing of banging the knob off setting in a barrier shooting position. Here too, we’ll hope to have a report soon, though begging and profuse apologies may hold up the process slightly.
Leupold is always a favorite stop, plain and simple. Four buggered-up rifles adorned an outside booth wall, each with a tale of truly abusive woe—one 11 years in length. And to each shamble was affixed a still-working Leupold optic. That’s food for thought, and a decided encouragement about what was inside the booth. It didn’t take us long to find a gotta-have either—the DeltaPoint Pro. This micro reflex style sight boasts the large “window” of its predecessor, as well as the choice of a dot (2.5 MOA) or triangle (7.5 MOA) reticle. Mighty fine, as we’ve said in the past, but not precisely new. But new and mightily welcome isn’t far behind: Toolless battery swaps, an integrated rear sight for co-witness, push-button on/off with motion sensing override, and click POA adjustments. A better word than “sublime” does not come readily to mind.
A visit to Nikon always reminds us of The Little Engine That Could, though the metaphor is at best incomplete: Nikon is hardly known as any sort of weakling in the optics world. Still, we’ve long thought their sporting optics don’t quite get the respect they deserve. A favorite is their M-223, a 1-4x20 with particularly positive controls that caters to AR/MSR shooters. Don’t let the $299 MSRP fool you: The M-223 has a 600-yard etched glass BDC reticle standard, but also is compatible with Nikon “Spot On” ballistic matching technology. This system allows the owner to enter load data for ammunition, scope model and typical atmospheric conditions, and a custom set of turrets for your scope is shortly on the way. Many other Nikons are compatible with the system too, including many of the flagship “Monarch” optics. We hope to have a test report for you, and soon.
The big news at German scope manufacturer Schmidt & Bender is the 5-45x scope. With a large 56 mm objective lens, top-quality glass and high-tech coatings, light transmission is simply incredible. To house all that glass and inner workings, the main tube diameter has been bumped up to 34 mm. Like all things that are top shelf, they won’t be cheap—but they will be worth every penny.
Out front at the Trijicon booth we found the Miniature Rifle Optic (MRO), and we’d have to call it typical Trijicon fare—typically superb, that is. We’d caution about another meaning of “typical,” however, because “ordinary” it certainly is not. While it adds a little bulk over “miniature” class competitors (a roughly 1-ounce increase in weight, but a 25-percent larger objective lens diameter), the benefit of that big window up front jumps right out: The MRO has virtually no “tube effect.” Hunting for the dot (2 MOA) just didn’t happen for us. Get your head remotely close to the right position, and get to work. We also buy Trijicon’s assertion that difficult head or body positions will be more easily overcome. A natural for shotguns or rifles/carbines, the waterproof 7075-housed works include compatibility with night vision (two settings), recessed but toolless windage and elevation adjustments, and a top-mounted (and therefore ambi) brightness control. As we said, superb.
Seeing a Range Day booth dedicated to Browning is no surprise, but one for Browning Ammunition caught us slightly off guard. Even more interesting was the wide range of fodder we saw: Centerfire (pistol and rifle), shotshell and rimfire were all in evidence. Our Browning rep laid it out plainly: “We’re glad to be working with Winchester (Olin) for actually loading the ammunition, but these are Browning formulas and bullet designs.” Certainly the results we saw were extremely encouraging, and for a wide range of shooters—hunting ammunition for both close-range/thin-skinned game, and controlled expansion for use at longer ranges or on thicker-skinned game. The rimfire ammo seemed to run especially well in semi-automatics, and the shotty ammo … well, is there someone who knows more about shotgunning than Browning?
Yet another impressive thing to come out of Leander, Texas, and the gang at LaRue Tactical was their venture into the suppressor market. Called the Tranquilo, it was designed from the ground up to eliminate back pressure into the shooters face and action. The complex machining on the end cap does some high-tech magic and creates a bit of a vacuum, reducing back pressure. Now you won’t need to squirt RTV on your charge handle to keep gunk and gas out of your face. Another huge plus is the low cost of the new Tranquilo. It is very affordable for a first-rate centerfire suppressor, with both the .223 and .308 versions coming in under $700.
One of the coolest things to come out for long-range shooters is the new target from MGM. With the company’s new target-hanging system, you can hang one or two targets on a T-Post type fence post. This can make things very easy when you want a target set up right here and now. Just drive in a T-post, hang up a target and start shooting. Suspended by a piece of cloth fire hose, the target hanger material will last much longer than rubber conveyer belt. MGM also offers a lifetime guarantee on all its steel when shot with pistol calibers—the only company in business to offer that.
One of the more colorful items we were able to find at the SureFire booth was the Freedom Alliance 25th Anniversary commemorative flashlight. Freedom Alliance was founded by LtCol Oliver North to support U.S. service members and their families. This flashlight is anodized red, white and blue and features LtCol North’s signature. Part of the sales of this flashlight go directly to his foundation and our troops. Huge props to SureFire and Freedom Alliance for making this happen.