October 30, 2023
Guns & Ammo editors, contributors and staff have determined the firearms industry’s award recipients for 2023. G&A’s staff evaluated the merits of every new product during the course of multiple firearm industry events and field activities. Nominations were made at the conclusion of the annual Outdoor Sportsman Group (OSG) Roundtable in Grand Junction, Colorado. Only products made commercially available since the fourth quarter of 2022 — and were not considered for last year’s awards — qualified for nomination.
G&A acquired several samples of each nominee throughout 2023 to achieve a representative evaluation. Products that warranted any doubt in reliability or durability were struck from the list of candidates. All-new designs, as well as those having the most potential to benefit the broadest range of readers, were given additional merit when scored. To decide a split decision between comparable new products, the more affordable option was favored during the voting process. New for 2023 is the creation of a “Red Dot” category.
The winner for each category was determined by popular vote, but nominated products had to meet three criteria: First, the product must have been new and available for purchase in 2023. A line extension of an existing product did not earn full points as another possessing innovative features and engineering. Second, the product must have demonstrated quality and reliability to a degree that met or exceeded its design objectives. Lastly, the winner offered the greatest availability and interest to the largest audience. G&A’s staff awarded these points after surveying in-store availability and confirming retail pricing to ensure that new products exist for sale and provide great value.
Voting concluded on September 6, 2023. Congratulations to the winners.
To maintain the credibility of the Guns & Ammo of the Year awards, no manufacturers, advertisers, or sales representatives were consulted or involved with the selection process. What follows is the ultimate list of 2023’s best new products.
Innovator of the Year: Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson announced that it was moving its headquarters and significant elements of its operations from Springfield, Massachusetts, to Maryville, Tennessee, on September 30, 2021. S&W was based in Springfield since it was incorporated in 1852. Citing legislation that threatened the company’s ability to manufacture certain firearms, President and CEO Mark Smith said, “This has been an extremely difficult and emotional decision for us, but after an exhaustive and thorough analysis, for the continued health and strength of our iconic company, we feel that we have been left with no other alternative.” The prohibitions affected 60 percent of S&W’s revenue in 2020. After receiving strong support from Governor Bill Lee and the state of Tennessee, 750 jobs were relocated to the Knoxville area; 550 from the Springfield plant, 150 from Connecticut, and 50 from Missouri. The facilities in Connecticut and Missouri are closing to streamline manufacturing and distribution operations. Despite the challenges endured while moving to Tennessee, S&W and its Performance Center managed to develop and introduce several all-new designs and clever enhancements to its healthy catalog of products.
Among the new-for-2023 list was the M&P Folding Pistol Carbine (FPC), a rifle chambered in 9mm that feeds from either one 17- or two 23-round magazines loaded through the pistol grip design borrowed from the M&P M2.0 models. Besides the magazine inserted in the grip, onboard quick-release storage of two spare magazines is located within the stock. The 161/4-inch threaded barrel is shrouded by an M-Lok accessory-ready handguard. With a push of a button, the 30 3/8-inch FPC folds at the center to a length of 16 3/8 inch.
S&W also launched several new pistols including the easy-to-rack and easy-to-shoot Equalizer 9mm, as well as metal-framed M&P M2.0 and Competition models, and the M&P 5.7 series. The internal hammer-fired, gas-operated M&P 5.7 introduced S&W’s new locked-breech TEMPO barrel system where the barrel doesn’t cam open until the bullet passes the gas port. This design was quickly followed up with the M&P 22 Magnum that offers a staggering 30-plus-one capacity.
It would be understandable if a person overlooked the releases of S&W’s latest 10mm autos, revolvers, and .308-based Volunteer X and 5.56 NATO/6mm ARC Volunteer XV AR-pattern rifles. For the sum of these efforts, though, S&W unanimously earned G&A’s Innovator of the Year award.
Handgun of the Year: Springfield Armory Echelon
Springfield Armory announced the Echelon 9mm striker-fired pistol on July 12, 2023. It was developed around an internal, stainless-steel chassis design termed the “Central Operating Group” (COG). The COG is the serialized “firearm,” which is removable from the polymer grip module. Three grip sizes — small, medium and large — and one color — black — were made available at launch, but the platform was engineered to enable future product development and support user-configurable aftermarket enhancements. The grip module also integrates one of three sizes of removable backstraps, but each backstrap cleverly includes a pin punch. All three backstraps are included, also.
The grip features an adaptive grip texture that was well received when it was introduced on the Hellcat, and the high-grip triggerguard undercut, and steep grip angle, help to lower the bore-axis in relation to the grip for better control and easy sighting with optic sights.
Though “optic ready” is a familiar descriptor at this point, the ability to universally accept a range of optic footprints is still a challenge for most brands. Most solutions typically involve a specific combination of adapter plates and screws. Springfield Armory addressed this differently. The Variable Interface System (VIS) features a milled slide to further lower the sight in relation to the bore-axis and grip. With the coverplate removed, more than 30 optics can directly mount to the slide without plates. This is possible due to the user-configurable pin set that can be arranged for almost any optic. The low mounting solution also enables back-up use of the Echelon’s Tactical Rack U- or three-dot tritium night sights within most optic windows. Installing aftermarket suppressor-height sights to co-witness with the red dot is unnecessary. Even as a standalone sighting arrangement, the iron sights are excellent.
The slide is also a work of tactical art. There are angled, tactile cuts for front and rear slide manipulations, but the right and left sides are subtly tapered, providing flared ledges ahead of the ejection port and underneath the rear sight to improve racking.
Standard-length magazines have a 17-round capacity for 9mm, but extended magazines hold 20. Both magazines styles proved perfectly reliable.
There has been a lot of concern surrounding the safety of striker-fired duty pistols. Springfield Armory got ahead of this by integrating a second sear safety in the COG. It prevents unintentional discharges, should the firearm be dropped. Lastly, all of the action components are machined from tool steel and polished for a clean trigger feel. Reset was positive and the trigger averaged a sub-5-pound pull.
Guns & Ammo witnessed the conception and development of the Echelon, culminating in an overseas plant tour and range evaluation. With more than 10,000 rounds fired through several production samples, its long-term durability and accuracy are promising. From its optic-ready capability to its extended-capacity magazines, the Springfield Armory Echelon is a compilation of user feedback, intelligent innovation, and modularity. It signals the future for duty-ready pistols.
Rifle of the Year: Gunwerks Nexus
Gunwerks did not base the Nexus rifle system on the constraints of any existing rifle-action — not the Model 70, not the Mauser, not the Springfield ’03, and not the Model 700. Those cylindrical action designs were conceived with considerations given to the manufacturing limitations of a machinist’s lathe and drill press. Though the Nexus utilizes a bolt-action concept, if you remove the NXT action from the stock assembly, you will find that the bottom of the action features complex angles and bevels designed to accept interchangeable trigger units, double-stack magazines that can be loaded from the top, and a barrel-attachment system that supports the recoil lug. The NXT action design is unique for its many forward-thinking concepts, optimized engineering, and manufacturing that requires multi-axis CNC machines and state-of-the-art processes.
The Nexus rifle is a blend of technology, practicality, and luxury. Weighing just 7 pounds, the Nexus combines a carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel, carbon-fiber stock, and an action and bottom-metal machined from 7075 aluminum. To underscore the significance of the NXT, it is unusual for an action capable of firing magnum cartridges to be made of a metal other than steel or titanium.
The Nexus is limited in chamberings to just three precision rifle cartridges (PRC): 6.5mm, 7mm and .300. Gunwerks will follow these with other popular offerings, but this decision was intentional. It was important that Gunwerks demonstrate its accuracy potential at extreme ranges by optimizing the system for high ballistic coefficient (BC) and very low drag (VLD) bullets of modern design. Just as it was important for Gunwerks to move beyond traditional rifle actions for the Nexus, the cartridge choices complement that reasoning.
A key feature of the Nexus is the user-changeable barrel, another unusual feature for a lift-and-pull bolt-action rifle. Barrels are in either 20- or 24-inch lengths and made of lightweight-profile stainless steel that’s tightly wrapped in heat-wicking carbon fiber. The muzzle is threaded and complete with a directional brake to reduce felt recoil. While testing samples in each caliber — including .300 — Guns & Ammo’s staff commented that recoil felt similar to shooting a rifle in .223 Remington. A close inspection of the muzzlebrake’s angled blast chambers signaled the detailed engineering applied throughout the Nexus.
The Nexus stock is also clever, luxurious and feature-rich. The vertical grip is perfectly angled for resting a thumb alongside or behind the action, and the remaining fingers find comfort while gripping the leather-padded frontstrap and reaching for the trigger. The leather on the grip is accompanied by the same leather on the comb touching your cheek. The lightweight carbon-fiber stock is uncumbersome to handle, and underneath is a flush-fit magazine and bottom-metal at the periphery. Underneath the forend is a full length of Arca rail that leads to just enough length of Picatinny rail to mount a bipod.
Gunwerks’ Nexus is the most expensive rifle to win G&A’s award, but it earned every vote.
Shotgun of the Year: Beretta A300 Ultima Patrol
Beretta introduced the A300 Ultima Patrol shotgun at the 2023 SHOT Show in Las Vegas. It is based on the semiautomatic, 3-inch-chambered A300 Ultima, a new-for-2022 synthetic-stocked shotgun that was aimed at halving the price of its A400 Xtreme Plus sporting models and filling a price-point gap in Beretta’s lineup. The A300 Ultima Patrol did it better.
There are not many options for a 3-inch-chambered autoloading shotgun, especially one with a tactical configuration for less than $1,100. Like the A300 Ultima, the Ultima Patrol features the same action and enlarged controls of the field gun. It also has an enhanced, ramped loading port inspired by competition shooting — meaning that it won’t cut your thumb when loading multiple shells into the five- or available seven-shot extended magazine tube. Using the large bolt handle to rack the bolt, it’s quick to single-feed the chamber through the ejection port and smack the large bolt release to send it forward into battery.
The synthetic stock was expectedly shaped for the American market, but the gripping surface was unexpectedly tactile for a mold that simulates aggressive checkering. The texture is also on the forend, of course. When gripping the A300 Ultima Patrol and transitioning between targets or moving, the shotgun doesn’t slip.
In the shoulder, the stock feels compact with a 13-inch length of pull. Most defensive-use and tactical shotguns feature stocks with a length of pull ranging from 131/2 to 141/2 inches. Regardless of the user’s clothing, the A300 Ultima Patrol proved more comfortable and maneuverable than its competitors when handling in confined spaces.
With the seven-plus-one-capacity model, the extended magazine tube features a unique barrel clamp with M-Lok on each side. The M-Lok slot readily accepts and conveniently positions an accessory such as a light, which is recommended for defensive and tactical use. The five-plus-one model features the familiar magazine tube cap with a sling-swivel attachment point, perhaps necessary for restrictive areas that limit a shotgun’s magazine capacity. Additionally, there are three quick-detach sling mounting points and a seven-slot Picatinny rail atop the receiver for mounting an optic.
When mounting a reflex or holographic sight, shotguns featuring an optic rail often have a standard sight system that positions an aftermarket optic awkwardly high, and standard sights do not typically co-witness. Worse yet, the shooter must break the cheekweld with the stock. The A300 Ultima Patrol features a useful post/aperture sighting arrangement that co-witnesses with many reflex sights. The comb height isn’t perfect for using optics, but Beretta offers a fair compromise for both sight types.
Only available in 12 gauge with a modified choke, the A300 Ultima Patrol weighs only 7 pounds and includes one modified choke. It is offered in black, gray, or with a “Tiger Stripe,” but, regardless of the finish, the A300 Ultima Patrol won for its ergonomics, reliability and value.
Ammo of the Year: Hornady 7mm PRC
Hornady created the best 7mm magnum cartridge in its 7mm Precision Rifle Cartridge (PRC). The 7mm PRC is a non-belted, long-action, centerfire cartridge that utilizes long, heavy-for-caliber bullets without exceeding 65,000 psi of chamber pressure. The loads feature temperature-stable, magnum-speed propellants, providing consistent velocities nearing 3,000 feet-per-second (fps), and a long barrel life. A list of riflemakers already chambering the 7mm PRC includes Mossberg, Ruger and Savage, while Best of the West, Gunwerks, Horizon Firearms and Seekins Precision are among the custom shops.
Hornady offers three loads for the 7mm PRC. The lightest is a 160-grain CX bullet in the Outfitter line, which is an accurate and effective monolithic-copper hunting bullet. The Precision Hunter line offers a heavier 175-grain ELD-X bullet complete with Hornady’s “Heat Shield Tip” that supports long-range hunting. For target or precision shooting, the Match 180-grain ELD-Match load is the ringer.
For reloaders, Hornady offers 7mm PRC brass cases, as well as die sets, shell holders (#5) and cartridge gauges. At the range, Guns & Ammo’s staff tested the 7mm PRC, finding it delivers 20 percent more energy than the 6.5mm PRC with less felt recoil than the .300 PRC. The faster velocities and high BC bullets meant that its practical effective range was extended, also.
Hornady’s 7mm PRC was met with excitement and enthusiasm from those who seek maximum efficiency while using VLD bullets. The cartridge excels at both hunting and competition. It especially makes sense for hunters who climb mountains and could be faced with a once-in-a-lifetime shot opportunity at an elk, sheep or goat. The 7mm PRC strikes the balance between bullet weight and downrange performance.
Optic of the Year: Leupold Mark 5HD 2-10x30mm
Leupold presented the Mark 5HD 2-10x30mm first focal plane (FFP) scope at the 2023 SHOT Show. With an MSRP of $2,000, it isn’t an entry-level scope, but it is one that’s certain to last a lifetime and support a variety of platforms, including AR-pattern rifles in 5.56mm or 7.62, as well as hunting rifles that chamber medium-range cartridges.
Though the Mark 5HD family isn’t new, the 2-10x30mm model with five-to-one zoom ratio is a fresh design. It features Leupold’s Three-Turn ZeroLock adjustments — rare for a 2-10X scope — and side focus. The 2-10X model maintains the Mark 5HD reputation for providing high performance and precision, but it does so in a shorter — 11 inches — and lighter package that’s ideal for tactical carbines and hunting rifles alike. Eye relief measured 3.6 inches at 2X and 3.7 inches at 10X; eye relief was comfortable for use on both modern sporting rifles (MSR) and traditional bolt-action rifles.
The field of view at 2X measured 52.9 feet at 100 yards, and 101/2 feet at 10X. When looking through the glass, its high resolution and flawless clarity on any power were immediately apparent for every lighting condition from edge to edge. The incredible light transmission is an achievement made possible through the 35mm maintube and FFP lens configuration. Though the 35mm maintube diameter suggests a thick scope, it only weighs 24 ounces.
Guns & Ammo’s test samples were equipped with Leupold’s illuminated TMR reticle with milliradian (mil) adjustments. For those preferring minute-of-angle (MOA) adjustments, the PR1-MOA reticle is an option.
Like all Leupold scopes, the Mark 5HD is designed, machined, and assembled in the USA. Though the 2-10x30mm proved durable and accurate, it is completely protected by Leupold’s Full Lifetime Guarantee.
Technology of the Year: Sightmark Wraith Mini
Sightmark bridged the gap between military- and commercial-grade thermal optics. The Wraith Mini 2-16x35mm thermal riflescope is a product that combines digital infrared (IR) technology with a 384x288-resolution thermal sensor to produce crisp, focused images in both day and night conditions. A 2X optical magnification and a 1-8X digital zoom that brings the target area closer through an OLED display. Given the 1024x768 display resolution, even when magnified to 8X, the image quality is useful for close-to-medium engagements.
Images are presented in rich color or grayscale with excellent clarity despite thermal contrast variations on objects against the environment. The Wraith Mini features a 1,400-yard temperature detection range, five thermal color palette modes and nine reticle colors that are quickly selectable through the use of an easy-to-navigate menu, which is controlled by a round, rubberized touchpad.
Inside the aluminum housing, the Wraith Mini supports five configurable firearm profiles that allow storage for multiple zeros for different bullet weights, cartridges or suppressor use. This speeds up re-zeroing the unit when mounted to a different rifle. Also built-in is a camera with audio recording. The shooter can record memorable moments to a high-capacity memory card. The Wraith Mini is powered by two CR123A batteries, which last about 31/2 hours in video mode and 41/2 hours in preview mode. The Wraith Mini can also be charged using the included USB cable.
Rugged and dependable, the Wraith Mini 2-16x35mm is a fun, attainable thermal riflescope that is a must-have for those who like to shoot or hunt in the dark.
Holster of the Year: Safariland IncogX IWB
Safariland teamed up with Travis Haley of Haley Strategic and updated the classic Incog inside the waistband (IWB) holster. The IncogX IWB holster is an evolution of the original concept that now accepts pistols equipped with red-dot sights while offering a wide range of handgun fits from various carry positions. The IncogX allows for a full firing grip prior to the draw, and features passive retention with the triggerguard and ejection port, as well as adjustable tension functionality.
Made of Boltaron, the body is wrapped in a microfiber suede that yields a functional quality to the holster. The IncogX does not slide around as easy due the the microfiber’s friction when a belt is cinched over it. The IncogX also features new belt clips that are more adaptable for positioning. The clips open outward and slide down with the holster, which then snap and lock over the belt. To unlock the clips, a finger tab is used to flex the clip open, releasing it and allowing the holster to be pulled up.
Additionally, a strut is paired to a rear clip, which lets the user customize how hard the pistol grip presses against the body. Easy-to-install concealment shims — no tools — work like a wedge to keep the holster tight against the body.
At the opposite side of the holster, above the pistol’s slide, an optional pouch called the “Mag Caddy” can be added for fast access to a spare magazine when worn in the appendix inside-the-waistband (AIWB) position. The Mag Caddy is also tension adjustable for fit.
The sight channel height measures .406 inch, supporting pistols equipped with suppressor-height sights that co-witness with slide-mounted optics.
The IncogX was a carefully thought out carry rig supported by a proven brand.
Suppressor of the Year: Surefire SOCOM RC3
SUREFIRE has released a low-back-pressure solution for suppressor users. The SOCOM RC3 reduces back pressure by 60 percent versus the legendary RC2, according to laboratory tests. The challenge for SureFire was figuring out how to offer a suppressor with reduced backpressure that still offered unmatched flash reduction and sound suppression. The effort was the culmination of nearly 3 years of design research and development.
The science behind low back-pressure technology is groundbreaking. The gas pressure sent back into the rifle system is less with the RC3, too, so the host gun doesn’t “beat itself up,” as the saying goes. This also translates to a reduced felt-recoil impulse, which helps users keep their sights on target between shots.
With less back pressure, there is less carbon fouling. This makes for a cleaner firearm that runs longer between maintenance cycles. Most importantly, however, the lower back pressure also means that the shooter’s exposure to harmful chemicals and toxins is reduced.
SureFire championed the use of Inconel construction with its first SOCOM suppressors more than 15 years ago. That combat experience has been carried over in engineering the RC3, providing extreme durability. For shooters already familiar with SureFire suppressors, the SOCOM Fast-Attach muzzle devices are backward compatible with the RC3 for a seamless transition, and to ensure accuracy and repeatability.
Measuring the same profile dimensions as the RC2, the SOCOM RC3 is a low-profile design that minimizes length and bulk to maximize a firearm’s handling and maneuverability. For its size and weight, the RC3 has no equal. It combines advancements in science, engineering and manufacturing to reduce sound and flash while increasing safety.
Red Dot of the Year: Ruger ReadyDot
Ruger became an optics brand in 2023 when it launched the ReadyDot. It is unlike most micro reflex sights for many reasons, but its $99.95 suggested retail price makes it more attainable than any of them. It fits most (if not all) optic-ready compact handguns used for everyday carry, and it sits extremely low. Suppressor-height sights are not necessary to co-witness the red dot with most handguns’ factory sights. Also important is that no battery is required.
When handling the ReadyDot, you’ll notice that it’s lightweight — .3 ounce. This is due to its polymer construction, which includes the housing and the lens. The second noticeable feature is the red/orange coil of fiber optic where a battery compartment is usually expected, but no batteries are powering the ReadyDot. The fiber-
illuminated dot reticle’s intensity adjusts automatically to ambient light. At 15 MOA, the dot is especially large though it is not magnified. Sight acquisition is fast and easy, which simply overlays onto a target. Sight settings are fixed, so there is no windage or elevation adjustment screws to zero either. Given the size of the dot, there is no need for the user to precisely tune the dot position for close-range shooting. This sight is as simple and easy to use as a reflex sight can be.
The ReadyDot mounts to an optic-ready pistol slide with an RMSc footprint. The effort is as uncomplicated as mounting any reflex sight — easier, in fact. The ReadyDot includes a T10 Torx wrench and two M4x0.7 8mm screws for installing the sight to a Ruger Max-9 pistol. However, when evaluating the ReadyDot with other popular carry pistols, G&A’s staff found that each pistol’s standard optic cover screws secured the optic. And it worked great!
The Ruger ReadyDot is an affordable pathway for new shooters and those exploring the use of a red dot with little investment. Its affordability and simplicity make it a winner.
Do you think the winners deserve their spot, or are there more worthy contenders? Let us know your personal winners of 2023 by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org, and use "Sound Off" in the subject line.
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