July 20, 2022
Guns & Ammo editors, contributors and staff are set to declare the firearms industry’s award recipients for 2021. Only products made commercially available since the fourth quarter of 2020 (and were not considered for last year’s awards) qualified for nomination. Products were evaluated and discussed by G&A’s staff through the COVID-19 pandemic and the Outdoor Sportsman Group’s Roundtable in Cody, Wyoming. Several editors and contributors attended events and hunted with these products within the last 12 months for further evaluation.
Nominees’ products that were deemed to be all-new designs, as well as those possessing the greatest potential benefit to the greatest number of readers were given additional merit when scored. When having to decide between two otherwise equally important new products, the more affordable choice broke the ties in our voting. G&A acquired several samples of each nominee throughout 2021 to achieve a representative evaluation. Products that caused doubt in reliability or durablity were eliminated from the list of candidates.
The winner for each category emerged from a point system once three criteria were met: First, the product must have been new and available for purchase in 2021. A line extension of an existing product didn’t earn as many points as one possessing innovative features and engineering. Second, it must have demonstrated quality and reliability to a degree that met or exceeded its design objective. Lastly, the winner offered the greatest appeal to the largest audience. G&A’s staff awarded points after surveying in-store availability and confirming retail pricing to ensure the product exists and offers great value.
To protect the credibility of the Guns & Ammo of the Year awards, no manufacturers, advertisers or sales representatives were involved with the selection process. What follows is the ultimate list of 2021’s best new products.
Handgun of the Year: Walther PDP
While many brands shifted the focus to developing micro-compact pistols, Walther reinvented its polymer-frame, striker-fired full-size and compact offerings. The PDP is the intended replacement for the PPQ series.
As of this writing, the PDP series currently includes the Compact with 4-inch barrel and 15-round capacity; the Full Size with 4-inch barrel and 18-round capacity within a longer grip; and the Full Size with 4 1/2-inch barrel and 18-round capacity grip frame. There is also a 15-round Compact model with a 5-inch barrel and long slide, as well as a Full-Size model with 5-inch barrel and 18-round grip frame. All of these models are currently only offered in 9mm and include two magazines for a suggested retail price of $649.
Regardless of model, all PDP pistols were designed from the outset to accept popular electronic-dot sights. No matter which optic is attached, the rear sight does not have to be removed to accommodate an optic. And even if your preference is to use the PDP with its traditional post-notch sights, the PDP includes a coverplate to conceal the optic cut. Lastly, though the sights are zeroed at the factory, the rear is adjustable for tuning windage and elevation to your needs.
The grip is an engineering feat. It was purpose-built to help shooters make the transition to using red dot sights more intuitive. Shooters find that locating the red dot is faster and easier due to the front of the bottom of the grip design that naturally applies pressure and support to the pinky finger. Additionally, the contoured and textured grip surface on the sides and backstrap provides a premium feel. It features a tetrahedron design that’s not abrasive, yet offers increased and aggressive traction with your hands as you squeeze. Positive control also appears on the slide. Termed “SuperTerrain Serrations,” they protrude above the surface of the slide.
Guns & Ammo evaluated several samples of the PDP during 2021, and three for long-term evaluation. We observed sub-2-inch, five-shot-groups from 25 yards produced by every pistol tested. A credit to its accuracy, Walther’s new Performance Duty Trigger is a good one. It’s likely the best box-stock trigger for any base-model, striker-fired, polymer-framed pistol on the market. The length of travel is short, the reset is consistent, and it produces excellent tactile definition.
There were many new handguns introduced in 2021. The fact that several were qualified and considered for this award makes this win a particularly significant achievement for Walther.
Walther PDP Specifications
- Type: Recoil operated, striker-fired, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 9mm
- Capacity: 15+1 rds. (Compact); 18+1 rds. (Full Size)
- Barrel: 4 in.; 4.5 in., or 5-inch; polygonal rifling
- Overall Length: 7.5 in. (Compact); 8 in. (Full Size)
- Width: 1.34 in.
- Height: 5.4 in. (Compact); 5.7 in. (Full Size)
- Weight: 1 lb., 8.4 oz. (Compact); 1 lb., 9.4 oz. (Full Size)
- Finish: Tenifer (steel)
- Sights: 3 white dots, adj.; optic ready
- Trigger: 5 lbs., 9 oz. (tested)
- Safety: Trigger safety; striker safety, disconnect safety
- MSRP: $649
- Importer: Walther Arms, 479-242-8500, waltherarms.com
Rifle of the Year: Savage Impulse
Not content to rest on its 60 years of success in selling Model 110 variants (or 20 years of AccuTriggers), the “new” Savage Arms is a fresh company that has launched bold products to attract new business. It was sold by Vista Outdoor in 2019 to a group of investors led by Savage’s management, and that might have been the best thing to happen to the brand since the introduction of the Model 99.
Savage Arms has a 127-year-long thread woven through America’s fabric, and it’s now building on its respected reputation with forward-looking designs. Savage’s first order of business was to introduce the Renegauge in 2020, which earned Guns & Ammo’s Shotgun of the Year honors. This year, Savage impressed us again with the Impulse rifle.
Straight-pull bolt actions never caught on in the U.S., but the Impulse could rewrite that statement. Options are limited to three products, as of this writing, which include the Impulse Big Game, Hog Hunter and Predator. The delineation of features and clear naming convention help us to quickly identify which configuration smartly suits our needs.
Current-manufacture straight-pull rifles are not made in America and are expensive, which typically range in price from $3,000 to $10,000. The Impulse Hog Hunter and Predator lines start at $1,379, while the Impulse Big Game has a retail of $1,449. These are within reach of many rifleshooters. Unlike many of the offerings from Europe, the Impulse chambers popular American cartridges: 6.5 Creedmoor, .243 Winchester, .308 Win., .300 Winchester Short Magnum, .30-’06 Springfield and .300 Winchester Magnum. (You’ll find the Impulse Predator model adds .22-250 Remington to the list.)
Despite being a new design, the Impulse uses the same barrels as the Model 10/110. They’re button rifled and threaded. The only difference is the barrel extension, which accepts the barrel and ensures proper headspace. The familiar Savage locknut that secures the barrel to the receiver is there, too.
Another nice feature is the integral 20-MOA optic rail. It’s machined as part of the receiver, which is reassuring to know that there’s one less component to work loose.
Of course, the Impulse enjoys the Savage AccuTrigger, AccuStock (action bedding) and AccuFit systems. The trigger is not only safe, but it helps to cleanly achieve this rifle’s sub-MOA accuracy potential. The AccuFit system supports that effort by allowing shooters to select the ideal combination of comb height and length of pull. With our head positioned naturally and comfortably behind a scope’s ocular lens, we can be more consistent from one shot to the next when taking aim.
Of course, the highlight is the straight-and-linear pull for fast cycling. Pulling the trigger or pressing the button at the rear of the bolt releases the Hexlock bolt head and its six stainless-steel ball bearings. The bolt can then be drawn back smoothly and pushed forward to reload. The pivoting bolt handle is reversible, too, so the Impulse is friendly to right- and left-handed shooters. In contrast with its traditional appearance, the Impulse starts a new chapter in rifle history. Without a doubt, it was the best in 2021.
Savage Arms Impulse Specifications
- Type: Straightpull, bolt action
- Cartridge: 6.5mm Creedmoor, .308 Winchester (tested), .30’06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Magnum
- Capacity: 4 rds. (.308 Win.)
- Barrel: Carbon steel, heavy contour, threaded muzzle (5⁄8-24); 18 in., 1:10-in. RHtwist rifling (tested)
- Overall Length: 39.75 in.
- Weight: 8 lbs., 6 oz. (tested)
- Stock: Savage AccuFit; molded polymer and aluminum; adjustable comb height and length of pull
- Trigger: Savage AccuTrigger, adjustable; 3 lbs., 9 oz. (tested)
- Sights: None; 20-MOA integral rail
- MSRP: $1,379 to $1,449
- Manufacturer: Savage Arms, 800-370-0708, savagearms.com
Shotgun of the Year: Mossberg 940 Pro
The 940 action has roots with the continued development of the 930 JM Pro. “JM” are the initials for “Jerry Miculek,” legendary professional shooter. Miculek was involved in developing the sequel to his namesake shotgun, which was introduced in 2020 as the “940 JM Pro.” Though the 940 JM Pro ($1,078) has been in use by many 3-Gunners, it was largely lost on many hunters and clay shooters. Mossberg revisited the 940 for hunting and released the 940 Pro Field ($868), 940 Pro Waterfowl ($1,050) and Pro Snow Goose ($1,120) for 2021. Guns & Ammo published a review of the 940 JM Pro in the March 2020 issue and will publish its evaluation of the 940 Field Pro in the January 2021 issue.
A Cerakote finish for additional weather protection is applied to the 940 Pro Waterfowl (Patriot Brown) and 940 Pro Snow Goose (Battleship Gray) models, as well as Truetimber camouflage patterns to the plastic furniture.
The 940 action debuts a new gas system for use with 23/4- and 3-inch 12-gauge shells. Due to a combination of corrosion-resistant internal parts and a nickel-boron (NiB)-finish applied to the gas piston, rings, magazine tube, hammer, sear and shell stop, the 940 runs cleaner than most autoloaders. The redesigned gas system also allows faster and more reliable cycling for longer use between cleanings. (Mossberg suggested that the 940 gas system can operate up to 1,500 rounds between maintenance intervals.) The Pro series also possesses coatings throughout to enhance its corrosion resistance and ensure reliable performance. Tested on a snow goose hunt and a week-long turkey hunt in Mexico, G&A staff confirmed the reliability of the 940 Pro.
Carried over from the 940 JM Pro are easy-to-reach and oversized controls. The large and contoured charging handle and bolt-release button offer quick manipulation of the action. Years ago, such parts were only found on competition guns, but these enhancements are now appreciated by sportsmen. Though the 940 Pro Field and 940 Pro Waterfowl have a four-plus-one shell capacity, the 940 Pro Snow Goose model one-ups the 940 JM Pro with a 12-plus-one magazine tube.
Unlike some shotguns known for biting thumbs when loading, the 940 Pro cannot. It features a large and beveled loading port, as well as an elongated elevator. And when the magazine runs empty, a bright anodized follower calls attention to the need to reload.
The most important feature of the 940 may be its adjustable stock design. There is 11/4 inches of length-of-pull flexibility, and the texturing at the grip and forend help to provide complete control. Cast and drop may also be fine-tuned with the use of incremental stock shims, which are provided.
HiViz’s TriComp fiber-optic sights in red or green appear on each of the 940 submodels, and all Pro Field and Pro Waterfowl shotguns will accept Mossberg’s Accu-Choke system. The 940 Pro Field comes with Full, Modified and Improved Cylinder Accu-Chokes, but the 940 JM Pro includes a set of Briley extended chokes. The 940 Pro Waterfowl and 940 Pro Snow Goose models come with X-Factor extended and ported choke tubes installed.
Especially for its price, the 940 Pro-series stands well above other field guns. Following a year of fieldwork, G&A staff concluded that these models represent the best of 2021.
Mossberg 940 Pro Field 12 ga. Specifications
- Type: Gas-operated, semiautomatic
- Gauge: 12
- Capacity: 4+1 rds.
- Barrel: 28 in., vent rib
- Chokes: Mossberg Accu-Choke
- Overall Length: 47.5 in.
- Weight: 7 lbs., 12 oz.
- Sights: Fiber optic
- Finish: Matte blue (steel)
- Stock: Polymer, textured; adjustable length of pull; shims for drop at comb, cast and pitch
- MSRP: $868
- Manufacturer: O.F. Mossberg & Sons, 203-230-5300, mossberg.com
Ammo of the Year: 6.8 Western
The 6.8 Western was developed to shoot heavier bullets at big game. Heavier bullets in smaller calibers means longer projectiles with higher ballistic coefficients (BC). Since the bullets weights are similar to those found in many 7mm cartridges with similar ogive profiles — 162 to 175 grains — the 6.8 Western has better sectional density. This translates to more effective penetration.
The tradeoff with heavy bullets, however, is muzzle velocity. To strike a balance between muzzle velocity and bullet weight is important to hunters, especially those who may have to take a shot at long range. In order for a bullet to be effective, it has to hit the animal with enough velocity to cause the bullet to expand and cut a proper wound channel. A commonly accepted minimum of kinetic energy needed for elk is 1,500 foot-pounds, and 1,000 foot-pounds for deer. The 6.8 Western has the advantage when compared to most over-the-counter 7mm cartridges. With an aggressive ogive, heavy 7mm projectiles have to make jump to the rifling perfectly for acceptable accuracy. This can be accomplished by handloaders, but the 6.8 Western will satisfy most in a factory load fired through a rifle with a factory barrel.
The 6.8 Western has been compared to many 7mm short-action cartridges — but those are wildcats. The 6.8 Western is a cartridge that rifle and ammunition manufacturers have quickly decided to support, so it is likely that it will become mainstream and broadly available for the masses.
Given the close relationship between Winchester and Browning, the first rifles to chamber the 6.8 Western cartridge were Winchester’s XPR and Model 70, as well as the Browning X-Bolt. Guns & Ammo’s editors evaluated the cartridge during several hunts for elk, mule deer and whitetail. Multiple animals were harvested in 2020 and 2021 seasons. Distances spanned from 80 yards (Eric Poole’s Missouri whitetail with a 170-grain Ballistic Silvertip) and 402 yards (Tom Beckstrand’s Colorado elk using a 165-grain AccuBond LR).
Speed at distance, accuracy and power; the 6.8 Western has each one of these requirements for taking North America’s deer, elk and bear. Though existing cartridges such as the .270 Winchester and .30-’06 Springfield are capable big-game rounds, the 6.8 Western benefited from modern manufacturing processes used in its development to tighten free-bore diameter. Traditional cartridges are loose, by comparison, with slower twist rates; that gives the 6.8 Western an edge for accuracy potential. You’re going to find that most makers offering a rifle in 6.8 Western will shoot the variety of factory loads very well.
The 6.8 Western exists for those of us who continue to ask for more performance and efficiency out of their rifles and ammunition. Winchester delivered. If you’re hunting any big game in the contiguous United States, this award should be reason enough for you to pick up a rifle and take it afield.
For more information: Winchester, winchester.com
Optic of the Year: Leupold DeltaPoint Micro
The DeltaPoint Micro is a clever solution for those interested in using a red-dot sight on a pistol, but may not want the increased profile or perhaps don’t have a slide cut to accept one. For the millions who own standard-slide Glocks and Smith & Wesson M&Ps, the Deltpoint Micro is your answer.
Since its launch on G&A’s February 2021 issue, Leupold has released two variations of its DeltaPoint Micro, one for non-MOS Glock pistols and one for the S&W-pattern dovetail. (The M&P model does not fit S&W’s CORE or Shield EZ models.) Both types represent extremely popular pistols.
You may have asked, “Why is the DeltaPoint Micro not universal to all pistols?” The answer has to do with the mounting method. The DeltaPoint Micro attaches to the slide using a dovetail mount that replaces the rear sight. With the factory sight removed, the mount easily slides in. The optic then attaches to the mount and is secured by two screws. As you torque the screws, the mount clamps to the slide’s dovetail.
Unlike many pistol companies, Glock and Smith & Wesson consistently cut the dovetail in the same location on the slide for most of their pistols, which is why it was easy for Leupold’s engineers to develop the sight for those two handgun lines. One aspect to the DeltaPoint Micro is the placement of the circuitry and battery housing; Leupold positioned it just behind the slide. Glock pistols have almost a 90-degree corner at the back of the slide, while S&W slides have a slight angle. As Leupold designs more variants, they are sure to consider the popularity of a pistol and the shape of its slide.
The DeltaPoint Micro is the lowest-profile electronic sight, which means that it’s more concealable. It’s mounted at the same height as factory sights, which also makes dot acquisition fast and intuitive. (And if the battery were to fail, the window functions as rear-sight aperture for alignment with the front sight.) For shooters wanting to transition from traditional sights to a red dot, this DeltaPoint Micro works.
Though the sight window is smaller than other pistol optics, we found that peering through the non-magnified tube helped to find the dot faster than an unfamiliar, taller, open-emitter design. Because the glass is clear, and the 3-MOA dot is sharp, the small window still provides access to the accuracy benefits of a red dot sight while offering increased situational awareness for both-eyes-open shooting.
To adjust the dot intensity, simply push the rubber-capped button to cycle through its eight settings. When the optic senses that it is idle, it turns off to automatically extend its battery life. As soon as any movement is detected, it instantly activates.
The enclosed emitter design is vault-like protection for the DeltaPoint Micro’s advanced electronics, and the thick, angular aluminum housing is extremely tough. Even so, Leupold also backs it up with a Lifetime Guarantee.
Leupold DeltaPoint Micro Specifications
- Magnification: 1X
- Reticle: 3 MOA
- Length: 2.25 in.
- Width: .9 in.
- Height: 1.25 in.
- Weight: 1.1 oz. with CR1632 batt.
- Materials: 6061 aluminum, glass
- Adjustment Range: 100 MOA of elevation, 180 MOA of windage
- MSRP: $399
- Manufacturer: Leupold, 800-538-7653, leupold.com
Suppressor of the Year: Silencer Central Banish 30
The Banish 30 ($979) is a versatile suppressor. It not only works with .30-caliber magnums, but it is also effective at suppressing smaller calibers down to .17. (It directly threads to 5/8x24. Adapters are also available.) Regardless of the host firearm, the Banish 30 is well built, easy to disassemble, clean, and features quality baffles and O-rings.
Like most (if not all) direct-thread suppressors, it will change the point of impact, also called “impact shift.” It was necessary to zero the firearm with the Banish 30 attached. Some may want to first record the zero of their optics or sights without the suppressor attached, but once you start shooting with a Banish 30, you’re not going to want to shoot without it attached. It’s that good.
Let’s manage expectations: Though many believe suppressors “silence” the report of a gunshot, that just isn’t so. The Banish 30 does effectively reduce a .308 Winchester crack by 34 decibels, but with powerful cartridges and short barrel lengths, G&As always recommends wearing hearing protection. Still, the Banish 30 does make a deafening shot manageable and friendly to shooters, bystanders and game.
Attaching any device to a barrel will add weight to the muzzle, but at 10 to 13 ounces, the Banish 30 is light for its 7- to 9-inch length and 11/2-inch diameter. Being light doesn’t mean that it isn’t strong, though. With eight baffles inside to disrupt exiting gas, Silencer Central opted to use titanium alloy throughout for its construction.
In part, Silencer Central’s simple buying process factored into the win for the Banish 30. Working in compliance with the BATFE, Silencer Central offers almost every brand of can, and offers to help you select the right suppressor. Then, let them handle the paperwork. They manage the entire buying process, let you pay for your suppressor in installments, and even set up a free NFA Gun Trust, which allows others to use your suppressor. Once approved, Silencer Central will deliver it directly to your door.
For more information: Silencer Central, 888-781-8778, silencercentral.com
Innovation of the Year: True Velocity .308 Winchester
It’s finally here. Guns & Ammo has been reporting on the development of True Velocity’s polymer-composite-cased ammunition since the June 2018 issue, and the most-asked reader question has been, “When will we see it in stores?”
The wait is over. True Velocity launched its commercial product line direct to consumers in July 2021, and has since announced additional retail availability through MidwayUSA, Palmetto State Armory and other locations.
The first commercial offering is a .308 Winchester cartridge loaded with Nosler’s 168-grain Custom Competition hollowpoint boattail. Nosler’s match bullets were a great choice for this first loading due to the concentric jackets and small meplat for reduced drag.
Guns & Ammo’s testing in various firearms has revealed that True Velocity’s manufacturing process and quality control results in extremely accurate rounds. G&A Editors Eric Poole and Tom Beckstrand have reported single-digit standard deviation figures using LabRadar, and half-MOA five-shot groups when fired through quality rifles.
True Velocity’s composite-case ammunition offers several benefits versus traditional brass cartridges. The interior of the case was engineered and molded perfectly to optimize the powder stack for a complete burn and reduced flash. The case isn’t crimped like brass has to be either, which ensures more uniform bullet seating and neck tension. The end-product is a consistently concentric round, which helps the fired projectile engage a barrel’s rifling for accuracy.
True Velocity’s composite cases offer a substantial weight reduction and reduced heat transfer to the barrel. At the end of the day, range cleanup is a cinch because spent cases are magnetically retrievable.
For more information: True Velocity, 972-487-6500, tvammo.com
Holster of the Year: Safariland 575 IWB GLS Pro-Fit
Perhaps best known for its duty rigs worn and trusted by law enforcement, Safariland isn’t a newcomer to the concealed carry or commercial holster segment. With decades of experience, it was no surprise to us when the 575 IWB GLS Pro-Fit ($68) won the vote.
The 575’s model name carries a lot of information. “IWB” stands for “Inside the Waistband.” Of course, this model was the progression from the 578, which is worn outside-the-waist (also awesome). Both the 575 and 578 feature Safariland’s Grip Lock System, or “GLS.” GLS secures a handgun once holstered and is deactivated with the middle finger when a proper grip is established. (It’s like a button that’s naturally pressed without thinking about having to press it.) “Pro-Fit” means that one holster is designed to accept multiple firearms. Safariland estimates that it can securely fit more than 225 firearms — even those with optics mounted.
Cant is adjustable and two belt-loop options are included: Over the belt and under the belt. The over-the-belt clip allows the holster to be removed quickly and easily. The under-the-belt clip is a more secure alternative. The choice is yours.
Considering this list of bulletpoints, and after reflecting on several months of concealed carry testing, G&A comfortably predicts that the 575 IWB GLS Pro-Fit isn’t one of those regrets that ends up in the forgotten holster bin.
For more information: Safariland, 800-347-1200, safariland.com
Gun Tech of the Year: 3M Peltor Sport Tactical 500
Few products transcend as many different activities as 3M’s Peltor Sport Tactical 500 Electronic Hearing Protectors. Guns & Ammo’s staff tested them as range muffs; a year later we used them for much more.
The Peltor Sport Tactical 500 offers 26 decibels of passive sound protection, which is competitive when compared to other electronic hearing protectors. With two AA batteries installed (or an Alpha 1100 lithium-ion rechargeable battery, sold separately), this set of ear-pro instantly suppressed gunshots and amplified low-frequency sounds. Where other electronic designs offer noise-cancellation by countering sounds with different frequencies, 3M incorporated Gunshot Recognition and Suppression technologies. Clear Voice Tracking technology detected and improved speech intelligibility (among other sounds) for enhanced situational awareness.
The Peltor Sport Tactical 500 features Bluetooth wireless technology that easily sync’d with mobile devices. Listen to music or send and receive calls through the hearing protector. Recessed microphones and adaptive wind noise reduction technology work to minimize the effects of ambient sounds.
Comfort was high, even while shooting. In fact, the low-profile ear cups have cut-outs for optimal use with rifles and shotguns. Getting a stock weld doesn’t break the seal.
Try ’em and you’ll use them beyond the range, too.
For more information: Peltor Sport, 3m.com/PeltorSport
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