Guns and Gear of the Year

posted on May 1, 2014

Benelli could have stopped at improved feeding, 
loading and lockup functions, but on its new semi-automatic 
shotgun, the Ethos, those are just the complementary notes. The 
big news is that Benelli has devised an on-board recoil reducer that 
adds no weight and is all but unnoticeable. The result is a lightweight (6½-pound) gun that comfortably shoots high-brass upland or waterfowl loads and comes dressed in perhaps the most stylish stock ever to grace an autoloader. No joke: The Ethos is a do-everything shotgun with full inertia-driven dependability, looks good in any company and is priced at what the market will bear.    

EAA's new Witness Pavona line is a bold, innovative bid for the attention of women shooters. Designed with a lightened recoil spring and smoother slide serrations, these handguns allow easy operation of the slide and cut down on the "ouch" factor. The external hammer means that when the hammer is cocked with the safety engaged, the slide is allowed to move more easily during loading. Available in the popular carry calibers of 9mm, .380 and .40, these semi-auto pistols are also offered in an array of unique and attractive finishes that go way beyond pink, including sparkly black, sapphire, charcoal, blue and purple.

Gamo, with its Whisper airgun series, has grown the line with reduced-noise, break-action air rifles that have been immensely popular with recreational shooters and small-game hunters. Given the ongoing scarcity of .22 rimfire ammunition, and the general overpricing of that which is available, there's little wonder why adult shooters have flocked to air guns. The Bull Whisper is an improved variant of the Whisper with an updated, barrel-integrated noise and muzzle blast reducer. Requiring 41 pounds of cocking effort, the spring-piston-powered Bull Whisper propels a .177-inch Gamo PBA pellet 1,400 feet per second (fps), giving it ample energy to topple cans or vermin and edible game. Topping the Bull Whisper is a 3-9x40mm adjustable-objective air rifle scope that, combined with the two-stage adjustable Smooth Action Trigger (SAT), enhances accuracy potential.

Glock has bowed to years of requests from its brand enthusiasts by bringing out the diminutive 
G42 .380 ACP semi-automatic pistol. The innovation here lies not in Glock's ability to make a small gun, but in its ability to make a small gun that looks, feels and functions almost exactly like its larger predecessors. In fact, the G42 is the smallest firearm ever introduced by the polymer pistol powerhouse, possessing a 3¼-inch barrel and weighing less than 15 ounces loaded. The controls and some features, such as the dual-captured recoil springs, reflect the latest improvements applied to the firm's famously reliable pistols. As well, the G42's dimensions make it ideal for concealed carry-it may even be an option for pocket-carry practitioners.

Mossberg recently signed the Robertsons of "Duck Commander" fame, and the fruits of that deal are beginning to appear. The "first phase" of "Duck Commander" firearms encompasses 11 existing pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns and two rimfire rifles, as well as a new semi-automatic rimfire pistol (Model 715P). Common features among the "Duck Commander" firearms include a Realtree MAX-5 camouflage finish, TRUGLO TRU-BEAD Dual-Color fiber-optic sight (shotgun only), and each comes with an American 
flag bandana matching that worn by Willie Robertson. Additionally, the 930 Autoloader Waterfowl and 500 Pump-Action Waterfowl Special
Editions have receivers with a repeating duck pattern; the "Duck 
Commander" logo is engraved on the right side of the receiver, and "Family. Faith. Ducks." adorns the left side. Lastly, "Happy, Happy, Happy" encircles the magazine tube cap.  

Remington re-entered the handgun market in 2010 after a 92-year hiatus with the most familiar semi-automatic American handgun platform of all time: the M1911. Now the company has chosen an entirely different direction, but one whose lines and mechanics have roots in its past. The new R51, a compact, offers an aluminum frame that contributes to 
an overall weight of 22 ounces. The design also features a fixed barrel, which is typically a boon to accuracy, and its recoil spring surrounds the barrel, further facilitating its compact (1-inch by 4.6-inch by 6.6-inch) overall size.

When Savage introduced the $360 Axis rifle a few years ago, it did everything right-
except include its marvelous AccuTrigger. The company corrects that with the Axis II XP, which comes with the user-adjustable trigger that so impressed shooters and a factory-mounted Weaver Kaspa 3-9x-40mm scope for about $125 more. Don't be surprised if the Axis II XP is even more accurate than the original-most of us will shoot it better simply because it now has a great trigger.

Smith & Wesson discontinued its K-Frame .357 Mags a few years back, but that hiatus has ended with the return of the Model 66 Combat Magnum. The matte-stainless .357 Mag. six-shooter sports a 4¼-inch barrel and is strengthened by a full-length topstrap. Many Smith & Wesson fans would consider this the ideal balance of shootability, stopping power and portability.   

Springfield Armory has made the one change to its already excellent Range Officer M1911 platform that makes it even more pleasant to 
shoot: The gun now comes in 9mm Luger (pictured above). The original .45 ACP version had already become a darling to many beyond its intended target of 
entry-level competition shooters because of its value and class. The gun weighs only slightly more than its big-bore cousin-
41 ounces with an empty magazine-and comes with two of the stainless-steel units, which hold nine rounds each. Stocks are of Cocobolo and are double-
diamond checkered with the pringfield Armory logo. All in all, the 9mm Luger Range Officer is a classy gun that offers a pleasant shooting experience.   

Taurus, a heavyweight in the revolver market, has prompted the question: "How light can a defensive carry revolver get?" We may find out with the .38 Spl. Taurus Model 85 View, which tips the scales at a claimed 9 ounces. This bobbed-hammer double-action-only five-shooter has a shortened and recontoured anodized aluminum grip frame with thin stock panels. The 1-inch barrel and cylinder are of titanium. But that's not the most unusual material on the 5-inch-long View. The right sideplate is made out of clear Lexan. Just like looking through a storm door, you can see the revolver's lockwork. One of the themes from manufacturers this year is "new shooters," which to some is a euphemism for women; as such, a pink version is available.

Galco Gunleather's iDefense gun case is an exciting addition to its line of holsters and other concealed-carry accessories. The 10-inch by 8-inch by 2½-inch full-grain leather case can accommodate medium to large-sized defensive handguns in a lockable zipped compartment that is virtually unnoticeable to a casual observer. Of course, it also accomodates a wide variety of popular tablets and e-readers up to 10 inches long, 7½ inches wide and three-eighths of an inch thick. (This includes the Kindle, Kindle Fire, Nexus 7, Galaxy Note 10, iPad Mini, iPad Air and 1st through 4th generation full-sized iPad.) Additionally, there's a compartment for documents or small items, and an included wrist lanyard.

Hornady comes on strong in the home-defense arena with its RAPiD safe, a revolutionary concept in firearm protection combining intuitive ease of access with safety and security. Patent-pending Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) means instant access. Place the included RFID bracelet, card or key fob over the reader to access your handgun or use your personally programmed code. It exceeds ASTM International performance standards for youth-resistant firearm containers and ensures unauthorized-access protection.

On the ammunition front, Hornady's Custom Lite ammunition is perfect for new and recoil-sensitive shooters. The loads use lighter bullets and specially selected propellants, a combination that Hornady says reduces recoil by 25 to 43 percent. They still pack plenty of power for dropping game, though, meaning they could be just the thing for any recoil-sensitive hunter. Custom Lite is available in eight rifle loads from .243 Win. to .300 Win. Mag., along with a 20-gauge, 250-gr. FTX 
slug load. 

Mission scores a 10 when it comes to quality and 
performance for the $449 price point as it unveils 
the Flare-its first women's bow. At 3.96 pounds, it 
offers a smooth draw, single-cam technology, parallel limb design, a 71⁄8-inch brace height and noise- and vibration-dampening accessories. Draw lengths span 24 to 30 inches, draw weights span 30 to 60 pounds. 

Prois' lightweight, compressible Archtach Down Jacket for women features an athletic, feminine cut, water-stopping microfiber rip-stop fabric that resists tearing, 80 percent gray-goose down and a high collar to stop wind.

Did Rocky purposely set out to build an athletic-shoe-like waterproof knee-high? Or did the name "Game Changer" inspire a winning combo of protection and mobility? At just 1.4 pounds per boot, they'll go long and hard before making you foot-weary. The articulated heel flexes to keep the boot snug, but is tapered for easy kickoff. While lacking bulky insulation, GCs are rated comfy to minus 40 degrees. Their sole is durable and grippy, and the package comes in hi-def camo. 

Redfield's Accelerator red-dot reflex sight allows for fast target acquisition with its crisp sight picture, unlimited eye relief and wide field of view. This low-profile red-dot is perfect for handguns, rifles, shotguns and crossbows. Brightness settings are adjustable, and an automatic shut off feature maximizes the life of the included CR2032 battery, which is easily accessed on the top of the sight. Retail price is $199. The sight is compatible with Picatinny/Weaver-style rails or mounts, but an included adapter plate allows for mounting with other popular reflex sight mounts.

Secret Compartment Furniture comes on strong with its beautiful, innovative hand-crafted products designed to hide your firearms in plain sight. From bookcases to bedroom furniture and tables, products are custom-made to your wood and stain preferences and offer quick, easy 
access to your firearms once you know where to look and know how to open compartments.

The Zippo Outdoors 4-in-1 Woodsman lets you cut firewood, split kindling, pound tent stakes and pull them out of the ground with one tool. We also imagine it would make short work of quartering an elk or clearing some serious shooting lanes.

Wildlife Research Center says the fact the number of women hunters has grown 43 percent in the last 10 years prompted it to launch its Scent Killer Gold For Her line. The new salon-quality shampoo and conditioner and moisturizing body wash contain the odor-killing properties of the original.


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