Wherein we give a bow to some of the top products that tripped our triggers this past year…
by the Shoot On staff
Most of us on the Shoot On staff have been around the block a few times, so we’re not easily wowed by all things new and shiny. Some might even whisper “curmudgeon” behind our backs. It’s not that we’re stiff-necked when evaluating new things or fresh ideas. It’s just that we have seen a lot, tried a lot, and have grown a thick callous of skepticism that is countered only by proven results, not excitable claims.
For this, our debut Excellence Awards, we thought we would highlight some of the products we have used this year that really stood out from the crowd and, most importantly, delivered real performance. Some products have been around for a while; others are fresh off the line. In either case, we can say of them all, “Good investment for the money.”
Fiocchi Field Dynamics .223 Remington V-Max
We did considerable AR-15 testing in 2023 and came away mightily impressed with Fiocchi’s Field Dynamics load. Across several rifle platforms, Fiocchi’s .223 Remington sporting the V-Max bullets consistently delivered tighter groups on average than all other loads in this caliber. By blending precision components with stringent manufacturing quality, this load delivers results that make long-range varmint hunters smile.
Galco Concealable 2.0 Holster and Versacarry Belt and Mag Carrier
It is supposedly “common knowledge” that a standard-size 1911 in .45 ACP is simply too big, bulky, and too heavy for comfortable everyday carry or for concealed carry. After running 1911s in several holster styles over the years, we had reason to doubt this popular opinion. Once we picked up Galco’s Concealable 2.0 holster and wore it for a few weeks with a MILSPEC 1911 firmly in place, that myth was thoroughly busted. With its high-and-tight ride, built-in cant, and forward molding design, the Concealable 2.0 makes for the most comfortable and concealable carry rig we’ve ever experienced.
A full-size, tank-tough gun like a classic 1911 demands a solid holster support system and for this, we have found no better example than Versacarry’s Rancher Carry Belt. Made from thick, vegetable-tanned water buffalo leather and featuring a rugged nickel buckle, this holster keeps the gun well-positioned at the waist line with no sagging or drooping. Add in Versacarry’s equally robust Adjustable Magazine Pouch and you have a carry support system that will serve you well for years to come.
Burris Veracity PH Rifle Scope
The rifle scope marketplace is littered with high-magnification optics that allow shooters to send rounds downrange at distances never before possible. Most of these scopes, though, demand high competency in manual ballistics compensation in order to deliver those long shots. The Burris Veracity PH scope, on the other hand, solves that problem with its dial-to-distance operation. Load your custom ballistic data into the scope via the BurrisConnect App and once in the field, simply dial the scope to the ranged target distance for a precise aiming solution. No math and no guesswork as to the holdover. For the hunter who must range and shoot quickly under stress, the Veracity PH is the answer.
Timney Impact 700 Trigger
There are many avenues to take in the hunt for improved rifle accuracy, and one of the fastest ways to shorten that distance is by replacing the stock trigger with a precision, finely-tuned trigger system. For the Remington 700 platform, that means installing a Timney trigger. Timney made this upgrade process super simple and cost-efficient with the introduction of their new Impact 700 model. Built to the same exacting standards and with the same premium materials as many of the high-performance triggers in the company’s expansive lineup, the Impact 700 comes hand-tuned from the factory with a 3-4 lb. trigger pull and no pull weight or overtravel adjustment. That means it is ready to install and to use right out of the box with the same crisp, reliable performance we’ve come to expect in a Timney trigger but at a significant cost savings.
Gamo Swarm Viper 10X GEN3i
We love air rifles! Whether for around-the-house pest control, waging a fun war on empty soda cans in the back yard, or for inexpensive marksmanship maintenance and practice, air rifles serve a variety of purposes. Most economically-priced springer models, though, are usually lacking in the accuracy department, but not the new Swarm Viper 10X GEN3i from Gamo. Featuring GAMO’s latest 10X auto-loading, inertia-fed magazine system, this air rifle boasts a high ergonomic quotient with its conventional stock design, plush recoil pad, no-slip textured padding, and effective MAXXIM noise dampening system. As for accuracy, this one is an eye-popper. During testing, the Swarm Viper 10X GEN3i provided consistent one-inch, 10-shot groups at 20 yards.
XS Sights GLOCK Inline Sight Pusher
GLOCK owners quickly learn one thing: those factory sights beg for an upgrade. Replacing the front sight requires a special tool, but the process is simple enough. It is replacing the rear dovetail sight where things become challenging. For that, you need a ram-style sight pusher. We’ve successfully used model-specific sight installers in the past, as well as universal-fit installers, although none we’ve tested beat the simplicity and ease of use as the new GLOCK Inline Sight Pusher from XS Sights. Machined from a sturdy steel block and featuring a non-marring brass bit, the XS Sights tool employs a Delrin wedge that quickly locks the slide in place for fast and easy sight removal and installation.
Stoeger STR-9 MC
Price-to-performance is the important ratio in today’s personal defense handgun market. In other words, consumers are demanding more features, higher quality, and better performance at increasingly lower prices. A micro-compact handgun that delivers on all those demands is the STR-9 MC from Stoeger Industries. With an MSRP of $399 (and a street price $50 less than that), the STR-9 MC is a powerhouse 9mm for the price. This gun proved flawlessly reliable and surprisingly accurate in our testing, and with a 13+1 capacity and optional models available with an optic-cut slide and tritium night sights, the STR-9 MC is a confident purchase for those looking for a dependable and concealable 9mm.
Just when we thought there wasn’t much left to noodle out of the conventional polymer-frame striker-fired pistol platform, along comes Springfield Armory with their new Echelon 9mm. From top to bottom, front to back, the Echelon addresses several needs of the modern shooter. The slide, for example, goes beyond providing front and rear serrations for slide manipulation. Trenches forward of the ejection port and flaring at the back of the slide effectively eliminate slippage when charging or performing press checks. Further, the Variable Interface System provides direct mounting (no adapter plates needed) for over 30 popular red dot footprints. Combined with a self-contained and serialized fire control group, three available grip and backstrap sizes, oversized trigger guard, and up to 20-round capacity, the Echelon sets new benchmarks in the personal defense handgun segment.
Benelli Lupo BE.S.T. Rifle
Although best known for their ultra-reliable and durable semi-auto shotguns, Benelli hit it out of the proverbial park with their Lupo BE.S.T. bolt action rifle. The rifle’s customizable, high-ergonomic stock, robust short-throw action, free-float Crio-treated barrel, and detachable box magazine design combine to deliver a hunting rifle that delivers impressive accuracy right off the shelf. Our testing on the long-distance range and on the pronghorn prairies of southern Colorado proved this rifle’s claim to sub-MOA accuracy, and it is one of the finest factory performers on the market today. The addition of the BE.S.T. (Benelli Surface Treatment) model means maximum protection in the harshest climates — exactly what you want in a go-hard backcountry firearm.
Firearm accuracy depends on many variables, and eliminating those variables is the key to producing tight groups at long distances. While every barrel favors a specific ammunition load, consistency in those loads is key to accuracy. As a result, we introduce multiple loads in our firearm testing to give the guns their best chance in proving their performance. Across all the test we’ve conducted with factory ammunition, one brand, on average, posts the best results, and that is Hornady. Whether we are shooting defensive pistol ammunition, working for tight knots at hunting distances, or stretching it out on the long steel range, Hornady brand ammunition consistently earns high marks…and a generous tip of our hats for their quality components and loading precision.
Smith & Wesson M&P 5.7
While our veteran gun writers aren’t easily impressed, the Smith & Wesson M&P 5.7 pistol made a big impression on one Shoot On contributor who extolled the gun’s easy handling and high fun factor — as well as practicality: “The Smith & Wesson M&P 5.7 may be the most useful defense pistol yet introduced in this caliber.” Boasting S&W’s Tempo rotating barrel system, 22+1 capacity, slim profile, threaded muzzle, and factory slide cut for optic installation, this internal hammer-fired pistol is a thrill ride on the range and a justifiable carry option for those intrigued by the high-velocity performance of the bottlenecked 5.7x28mm cartridge.
Henry Homesteader 9mm
Another fun-yet-practical gun to make our Excellence Award list is the new Homesteader 9mm from Henry. The company suggests this is a “bed post to fence post” rifle, and a better descriptor could not have been penned. This carbine-length auto-loader presents a taste of the Old West heritage Henry rifles are known for with its rich American Walnut stock, blued steel barrel, and black anodized receiver, and it blends it all with a reliable blowback bolt system fed by the most popular pistol magazines, including GLOCK, Sig Sauer, and S&W M&P. Run with the factory adjustable rear aperture and front post sight system or take advantage of the factory drilled and tapped receiver and install a red dot or scope. The big advantage, though, is the 9mm chambering, allowing ammo compatibility with most personal defense pistols.
Congratulations to all these manufacturers for delivering solid engineering and performance in their products, and for keeping their consumers first and foremost in mind!