I need to set up some ground rules. As this is a year’s end article, it should look back at guns that were released in 2013. That is easy enough to do, but I’m going to complicate the issue by limiting the 2013 releases to genuine innovations, and not product creep (like the 9mm version of Springfield Armory’s XDS, or the Ruger SR1911CMD, both of which are great guns in their own right).
So they have to be new, new. New to the market. New in their designs. This hasn’t been easy this year. Politics, I think, put the brakes on product development. Why rock out new guns when the market is buying up all of the existing guns at such an incredible pace? Double down on the current production and run guns out the door.
I’m also limiting guns to those I’ve reviewed myself. I learned a lesson this year about what I think I will like, and what I think I won’t. I don’t honestly know until I’ve spent a long time with the gun, longer (sometimes) than one review will allow for.
The ARX 160 in .22LR, folded. (Photo by David Higginbotham)
1. The Beretta ARX 160 .22 LR
The best .22 LR I fired this year, without exception, would be the Beretta ARX 160. This gun is exceptionally light, completely ambidextrous, and fast. It will feed and cycle anything, and can stand in as a training tool for the larger 5.56 ARX (which should be hitting shelves soon). Not that anyone trained with .22 LR in 2013. It is still easier to find .223 than it is .22 LR. But that’s a completely different story.
Enfield’s robust AR. (Photo by David Higginbotham)
2. The Enflield MERC 415 5.56
The Best AR-15 I ran across this year (and there were a lot more of them than I expected, especially late in the year) was the Enfield MERC 415. As ARs go, the Enfield looks like an entry level carbine. Once you get under the hood, though, you’ll find that the rifle is really rugged. The gun is a great choice for anyone’s first AR, and a fantastic platform on which to build.
Serious tactical. (Photo by David Higginbotham)
3. The IWI Tavor SAR 5.56
The best bullpup I fired, and a serious contender for the best tactical rifle spot, would be the IWI Tavor. This gun is a solid chunk of compact firepower. It is much smaller than a carbine length AR, and offers better long range potential. It takes a while to get used to loading the magazines behind the grip, so practice is essential.
The 901’s chunky lower. (Photo by David Higginbotham)
4. The Colt LE901 .308/.223
The best tactical rifle of 2013 is, in my opinion, the Colt 901. This isn’t hardly fair, considering it is both a .308 and a 5.56. But the gun’s modular upper capabilities give it a distinct edge.
That would be enough. Yet the rifle is exceptionally easy to operate, very accurate, and light enough to actually carry. Changing uppers is easier than I would have thought, and the .308 upper shoots 1 MOA groups. Hard to beat a gun that works this well.
The RAS-12. AR Shotgun. (Photo by David Higginbotham)
5. The Intrepid RAS-12
The best shotgun of the year is the RAS-12. Our initial review was incomplete. We only shot 50 rounds through the gun, but that was more than enough to see the RAS-12’s potential. As an AR based shotgun, it offers a familiar platform for those who run an AR. The modified AR-10 mags fed the unique shells easily, and the gun’s accuracy and efficiency was beyond reproach. This is one of those game changers, I think, and may signal a total change in the way we think about tactical shotguns.
Compact power. (Photo by David Higginbotham)
6. The Glock 30S
The best compact pistol of the year is harder to nail down. This is one of those areas where I really expected to find a lot of forward momentum. We’re on the cusp of really thin single stack 9mms that should knock out the .380. Yet every company out there continues to push innovation in the .380, and not the 9mm. Or they skip the 9 and go for the .45 ACP. That’s where the Glock 30S comes in. It isn’t as thin as some of the .45s on the market. It isn’t going to run dry as fast, either. It is a double-stack subcompact Glock. Easy enough to understand the appeal.
The Best compact 9mm. (Photo by David Higginbotham)
7. The Walther PPQ M2
On the compact side, I have to give credit to the Walther PPQ M2, which borders on product creep. I was ambivalent about the little gun when I first saw it. I thought it was just another one of the countless compact nines on the market. But I’ve run all kinds of 9mm compacts, and this gun out shoots all of them. It is not the most attractive pistol, but it fits my hand perfectly. The recoil is smooth, and the accuracy is exceptional. If I were to carry a compact 9mm, this would be the one.
Smooth shooting fun-gun. (Photo by David Higginbotham)
8. The Extar EXP 5.56
Reviewing guns is part of my job. It is work. There are times that I don’t really enjoy the process. When a gun is genuinely fun, I am surprised. That’s the case with the Extar. I have never been a fan of AR pistols. The recoil is a bit absurd. Short barreled rifles, with their highly useful stocks, are fantastic. But AR pistols seemed oddly pointless to me. The Extar has a very nice compensator that all but eliminates muzzle flip. This gun is a blast (literally). It has opened up new possibilities for me.
Hollywood tacticool. (Photo by David Higginbotham)
9. The Mossberg 464 SPX Lever Action 30-30
While we’re having fun, I’d like to plug Mossberg. Their tactical lever action, the 464, has to be the goofiest gun I’ve shot this year. At least on the outside. Once you stop gawking at the post-apocalyptic take on the lever action and snug it up to your shoulder, it is 100% functional. The gun has great ergonomics, versatile fiber-optic sites, and runs like race car (once you get the hang of the stick shift). Kudos to Mossberg for going all-in on this one.
One handsome gun. (Photo by David Higginbotham)
10. The Taylor 1873 Cattleman Engraved
Last, but not least, is the Taylor’s 1873 Cattleman. Though it is a new model, I don’t think anyone would argue that a copy of a Colt 1873 is in any way new. But the engraving on the Taylor’s version of the Uberti pistol makes this gun shine. As a working .45, the Cattleman is well built, fast, and accurate. It is everything you could want from the package. Add onto that the engraving, and you get a gun that looks the part. It has that cinematic aesthetic without the cost, or the preciousness you would associate with a hand-engraved 1873.
Happy new year
What was missing from 2013? I didn’t see any modern revolvers that were really innovative. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I saw very few sporting shotguns this year, though I know there were some upgrades from Beretta and Browning that were noteworthy. It is an interesting time, I think. We’re past the hysteria of 2013. We should see a lot of new production this year. As sales of existing models slow or stabilize, companies will begin pushing forward again. When they do that, we win.
The Ruger M77 Hawkeye bolt-action rifle is a robust and budget-friendly hunting companion that will last you a lifetime. From deer and elk to smaller game, this reliable gun offers performance even in harsh conditions.