October 31, 2022
Guns & Ammo editors, contributors and staff are set to declare the firearms industry’s award recipients for 2022. Only products made commercially available since the fourth quarter of 2021, and were not considered for last year’s awards, qualified for nomination. G&A’s staff had the chance to evaluate and discuss the merits of products in-person during the course of multiple firearm-industry events, including the annual Outdoor Sportsman Group (OSG) Roundtable in Grinnell, Iowa. Several editors and contributors attended training events and hunted with these products within the last 12 months for further evaluation.
Products that were evaluated to be all-new designs, as well as those that had the best potential benefit to the widest range of readers, were given additional merit when scored. When deciding between two otherwise equally important new products, the more affordable choice broke the ties in our voting. G&A acquired several samples of each finalist throughout 2022 to achieve a representative evaluation. Products that warranted any doubt in reliability or durability were struck from the list of candidates.
The winner for each category came from a point system, but nominated products needed to meet three criteria: First, the product must have been new and available for purchase in 2022. A line extension of an existing product didn’t earn as many points as one possessing innovative features and engineering. Second, the product must have demonstrated quality and reliability to a degree that met or exceeded its design objective. Lastly, the winner offered the greatest availability and general affordability 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.
Innovator Of The Year
Springfield Armory was nominated for several awards in 2022. On their own, certain products were named as a finalist in various categories. After many discussions, however, Guns & Ammo decided to reconsider its “Innovation of the Year” distinction to recognize Springfield Armory’s steady introduction of new pistols, rifles and optics spanning the fourth quarter of 2021 and the third quarter of 2022. More than line extensions — although there were several of those, also — several products typified the company’s aggressive strategy to dominate the market demand, including the continuation of “The Armory Life” digital and print magazines.
Looking back, we should have seen this coming. In 2019, Springfield Armory launched the Hellcat pistol, and the Model 2020 bolt-action rifle appeared in time to see the year of its name. In 2021, the Hex Optics brand was created featuring the Wasp and Dragonfly red-dot sights. Then came the SA-35, arguably the best tribute to the original P.35 High Power ever.
Bridging the gap of a duty and custom Model 1911, the Emissary 1911 arrived in November 2021, as well as the traditional-styled Garrison 1911 and Ronin variants of the EMP — all in the same month. In December 2021, Springfield Armory announced the Saint Edge ATC, all while the fourth issue of “The Armory Life” print magazine reached the milestone of 150,000 copies in circulation. Line extensions of the XDm Elites kept the brand on our minds, but the Hellion bullpup rifle commanded the news in April 2022. Though based on Croatia’s unobtainable VHS-2 service rifle, the Hellion had received a complete contemporary design for the American market that simultaneously antiquated its predecessor.
In 2022, we saw the release of the Hellcat RDP and Hellcat Pro, as well as 9mm versions of the Garrison and Emissary 1911s and the XDm Elite OSP in 10mm. Drawing the most excitement in 2022 was the launch of the Prodigy 1911 DS. Available in both 4.25- and 5-inch configurations, these pistols specifically targeted the growing desire for more double-stack 9mm Model 1911 pistols sought by action-pistol competitors and law enforcement officers from expensive, small-batch manufacturers.
Springfield Armory hasn’t shown signs of slowing. Guns & Ammo’s editorial staff is already anticipating several news-breaking introductions for 2023, as well as line extensions to satisfy shooters’ expressed wants and needs. Springfield Armory won Guns & Ammo’s first Innovator of the Year award for its continued pursuit to satisfy brand loyalists and gain new ones.
Handgun Of The Year
Taurus GX4 Series includes standard and T.O.R.O. versions of the GX4 11-round models, as well as the larger 13-round GX4XL. These pistols were all introduced in one calendar year. The GX4 was Taurus’ first micro-compact, and its price opens the door to new shooters for concealed carry.
With bold investments made since its move to Bainbridge, Georgia, Taurus continues to impress us with its introductions such as the Executive Grade 856 revolver, G3X/G3XL and TX22 line extensions. The most impressive handguns in 2022 were the GX4, GX4XL and the optic-ready T.O.R.O. versions. With a starting retail price below $400, these affordable carry pistols offer substantial capacity, micro-compact concealability, 2.5-inch or better 25-yard accuracy potential, and dependable reliability.
The GX4 series was engineered to take advantage of Taurus’ new and efficient manufacturing processes. Final assembly takes place in the U.S. The pistol was designed around an internal stainless-steel chassis, which facilitates future developments for the GX4. We’ve already seen an example of this with the introduction of the GX4XL. It features the same grip module, but a longer barrel and slide. Underneath, the GX4 and GX4XL are built on the same chassis design and use the same striker-fire action parts. The trigger is a highlight on the GX4 series, sporting a good pull weight for safe and deliberate use in a self-defense situation.
For little money above the standard-model’s price, shooters can opt for the T.O.R.O. models. The acronym is more than a word that sounds like the call from a bullfighter; it stands for “Taurus Optic Ready Option,” a feature being offered on other models of Taurus semiautomatics, as well. On the GX4 series, adding a red-dot optic extends the effective engagement range and accuracy potential of the 9mm cartridge. The GX4 T.O.R.O. models feature a low factory optic cut that accepts many popular mini red dots without an adapter — with one exception: Trijicon RMRcc. Taurus got in front of that concern, though, and developed an optional adapter plate.
The future of the GX4 appears predictable. We could see future models feature interchangeable grip modules in various colors, slide and barrel assemblies. We could also imagine upgradable components such as frame modules for different hand sizes that accept a pistol light or laser aiming device.
Regardless of preference in terms of size, capacity, sighting arrangement and grip configuration, the GX4 touched more readers than any new handgun. Price aside, the GX4 is a carry pistol worth every reader’s consideration.
Rifle Of The Year
Marlin Model 1895 SBL was the first Marlin-produced rifle since Ruger took ownership. Though it handles and functions like the Model 1895 SBL we once knew, Ruger and Marlin engineers had to redesign the platform after learning the left-over receivers, wood, parts and machinery acquired from Remington were generally unusable, out of tolerance, warped, or incompatible with Ruger’s lean manufacturing environment. Product drawings needed fixing, and a lot of parts weren’t being made to print. Marlin rifles used to be made by skilled hands doing it for years with little documentation. In less than a year after purchasing Marlin, a new product line was created at Ruger’s Mayodan, North Carolina, factory. What Ruger and Marlin revealed on December 20, 2021, was a new rifle. Every part is gauged, a total of 130 times by computer, laser and by hand, to ensure they meet every dimensional specification.
The Model 1895 SBL is chambered in .45-70 Government, a cartridge originally developed for use in the Springfield Model 1873 “Trapdoor” rifle, and later the Model 1884. The first lever-action rifle designed to feed the .45-70 was John Marlin’s Model 1881, a few years ahead of John Browning’s Model 1886. Both rifles ejected spent cases out of the top of the receiver, but Marlin distinguished its products with the Model 1895. Among other features, it had a solid-top receiver and ejected cases at the side. This appears fortunate in history because it later facilitated the acceptance of optics.
Though interest in lever actions diminished by the early 2000s, the rifle type enjoyed a revival during the last 10 years. Firearm enthusiasts gasped as Remington descended into bankruptcy, but breathed a sigh of relief when Ruger announced that it had purchased the brand in 2020.
Excitement for the Marlin 1895 SBL has been contagious. The new version of the Model 1895 SBL exudes quality, reliability and accuracy beyond previous iterations. It is an optimistic symbol for the great things that may soon come from Mayodan.
The Model 1895 SBL is made from stainless steel and laminated wood, but the fit and finish is better than previous generations. The barrel also conceals a threaded muzzle to accommodate suppressors, a nod to the increasing prevalence of these devices. The inclusion of the rail on the topstrap continues the Marlin tradition to support optic mounting. Again, another nod to how these rifles are used today.
The Model 1895 SBL was just the first of what will become many Marlin rifles, some classic favorites and others featuring contemporary configurations. That process has already started. On September 26, 2022, Sturm, Ruger & Company announced the reintroduction of the Model 1895 Guide Gun, Ruger’s first introduction of a blued, alloy-steel Marlin.
Guns & Ammo selected the new Marlin Model 1895 as 2022’s Rifle of The Year for its quality and expectation for bright future.
Shotgun Of The Year
Benelli SBE3 28 GA. The 28-gauge has been with us since the late-19th century, but it would be more than another century before Benelli would chamber a Super Black Eagle 3 (SBE3) for it. What makes the SBE3 28-gauge shotgun so groundbreaking? Despite the name implying that Benelli simply added a 28 gauge to the SBE3 series, Benelli had to reengineer the shotgun (as it did with the Ethos in 28-gauge for 2017). Once the SBE3 was ready, Benelli decided to unveil it with eight models differentiated by barrel length and finish.
Within five years, Benelli seemingly legitimized the 28 gauge for waterfowl hunting — with the help of new bismuth and high-performance, ultra-dense tungsten shotshells, of course. The 28 gauge is not just for shooting teal buzzing at arm’s length in front of the blind, either. The SBE3 has a 3-inch, 28-gauge chamber, which is a game changer. Last year, Outdoor Sportsman Group National Endemic Sales Manager — and passionate waterfowl hunter — James McConville and I thoroughly tested the SBE3 28-gauge on ducks in Ohio. We used 1 3/8-ounce, 28-gauge TSS loads from Federal’s Custom Shop to shoot a limit of birds that consisted of a mixed bag of teal, black ducks, mallards and pintail. The performance on that hunt was impressive for Benelli’s new 5.5-pound gun.
Not only is the SBE3 28-gauge semiautomatic light, it’s also tough. Underneath any one of the camouflage wraps is Benelli’s outstanding BE.S.T. (not a misspelling!) surface treatment. The diamond-like surface coating was nominated for G&A’s Technology of the Year award because it proved to protect several models against harsh abrasion and the corrosive effects of salt-water environments. The proprietary finish is a hybrid Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) and Plasma Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition (PECVD) technology that utilizes electricity, radio frequencies and plasma in a vacuum to deposit the coating uniformly. What is unique about the method is that Benelli’s engineers created a process that operates at low temperatures to avoid altering the ballistic properties of the barrel and barrel extension. BE.S.T. is perfect for both Crio-treated barrels and heat-strengthened parts. Benelli backs BE.S.T.-treated parts with a 25-year warranty.
The SBE3 28-gauge is not just a waterfowl gun, though. With light 3/4-ounce loads, it’s also great for small game, including doves, cottontails and squirrels. If you are a public land upland hunter and do more walking than shooting, the lightweight 28-gauge is superb. Chasing chukars in the lava rock hills of Eastern Idaho is one of my favorite pursuits, but it demands a light gun because much of that country is vertical, and all of it is rugged.
The SBE3 28-gauge also features Benelli’s Comfort Tech 3 recoil-reduction system, which sports multiple chevrons in the stock that compress to reduce kick. The Comb Tech is another key detail, which replaces the traditional hard comb with a soft molded insert. The oversized controls and beveled loading port continue to make this SBE3 easy to handle, and, most importantly, the brand’s signature Inertia Driven operating system is at the heart of this 28 gauge. Excess gas exits from the muzzle so there is minimal cleaning and maintenance required.
Before Benelli got involved, hunting with a 28-gauge meant “compromise.” However, the 3-inch-chambered SBE3 has made hunting with 28 gauge mainstream. This year, we learned just how much fun a subgauge could be.
Ammo Of The Year
Federal .30 Super Carry offers more capacity than a 9mm, and more effectiveness than a .380 ACP. The .30 Super Carry (SC) features a .312-inch-diameter projectile loaded in a slightly tapered and rimless case. The overall length measures 1.169 inches, maximum, with a max pressure rating of 52,000 psi. Velocities for both Federal’s 100-grain full-metal-jacket (FMJ) and defensive HST loads averaged 1,205 feet per second (fps), producing 322 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.) of energy. That’s about the same muzzle energy as a 9mm Luger, but the SAAMI-approved cartridge dimensions allow handgun manufacturers the opportunity to reduce grip circumference and overall size for easier concealment. On target, the increased speed translated to a flatter trajectory — less drop — and extended range.
Smith & Wesson and Nighthawk Custom were the first two firearm manufacturers to develop pistols that chambered .30 SC. Rather than designing new platforms that perfect grip circumference and size for the new cartridge, they quickly adapted existing models for the new round. Smith & Wesson chambered its popular Shield Plus OR pistols ($549, smith-wesson.com), as well as its Shield EZ ($521). Nighthawk Custom released its GRP and President Model 1911 Government-style pistols for the .30 SC, as well ($4,600, nighthawkcustom.com). Capacity in the 1911 increases to 12-plus-one rounds with the .30 SC.
During Guns & Ammo’s extensive testing of this cartridge, we found it to be accurate, reliable and effective in ballistic gel to 12 inches. The .30 SC projectile typically expands as well and penetrates as deep as a comparable 9mm load.
The .30 SC is a forward-looking cartridge. The way the industry innovates is to push the boundaries beyond what already exists. The introduction of the .30 SC paves the way for the future development of new pistols (and pistol-caliber carbines) that use modern manufacturing to optimize a capacity, dimensions, ergonomics and weight.
Optic Of The Year
Leupold Mark 3HD scopes were a sight for sore eyes. Any time performance becomes more affordable, we take note. These optics offered unparalleled performance for the price.
Mark 3HD scopes are built on a 30mm maintube and feature a second focal plane (SFP) reticle. Magnification options vary between 1.5-4X to 8-24X. Unlike just about every other scope costing less than $1,000, Leupold’s are made almost entirely in the U.S. Many parts in Mark 3HD scopes were designed years ago, and Leupold is good at making them. Not having to re-engineer erector assemblies allows Leupold to update other features such as the exposed elevation turret. The exposed turret is new for the Mark 3HD, which offers 5.6 mils of elevation because it is limited to a single rotation. However, this turret also has a zero stop. These also have new objective lens assemblies with updated materials and coatings.
While there’s some new and some old in the Mark 3HD line, these passed the same destruction and reliability tests as more expensive models.
Technology Of The Year
Streamlight TLR-7 SUB evolved from the TLR-7, introduced in 2018, and the TLR-7 A, introduced in 2020. These are all 500-lumen bright, compact, rail-mounted lights. The TLR-7 A was distinctive with its interchangeable high and low tail switches used to best match the unit’s position in relation to the shooter’s grip. It could be ergonomically configured regardless of hand size or size of the host handgun. When mounted to the frame of a most compact and full-size handguns, the light was near flush with the muzzle. Its width ensured that its profile wouldn’t be too difficult for holster makers to mold retention features, either. At that time, holster companies were receiving frequent requests from law-enforcement agencies to accommodate a duty pistol equipped with a light.
The TLR-7 Sub packaged this technology in an ultra-compact (2.51 inches in length), lightweight (2.39 ounces) unit with the same 500-lumen output. Streamlight optimized fitment to proprietary rails by offering the TLR-7 Sub for specific models. The list first included the popular G43X/48, SIG Sauer P365 and a short 1913-rail for handguns, such as on the Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0. In 2022, a TLR-7 Sub model was introduced for the Springfield Armory Hellcat series.
These lights operate from a single CR123A battery, which can be replaced by removing the LED bezel, also a master on/off switch — no need to remove the light. The beam reaches an advertised 141 meters and has a run time of 1.5 hours.
The TLR-7 Sub has quickly become the standard by which other lights developed for specific models of concealed carry pistols are judged. This is, in part, due to the competitive retail price of $226.
Holster Of The Year
Crossbreed Holsters Rogue System is the brand’s first entry into the all-kydex concealed-carry category, and it comfortably links an attached magazine carrier using a pair of flexible rubber straps. It balances comfort and functionality through user-customized options: Adjustable retention, different clip options, and a concealment wedge. A concealment claw is included, which pushes against the belt-cinched inside waistband, and the adjustable retention means you can choose to make the draw smoother with less resistance, or increased security.
At crossbreedholsters.com, a series of drop-down menus indicate just how many combinations of preferences are possible. Seven major handgun manufacturers (not including the generic “1911” category) are targeted. Then, select the model and whether you draw from the right or left side. The kydex is only available in black, but you can personalize the Rogue System with flair — as in with colored hardware. Anodized black screws are standard, but Cerakoted Magpul FDE, Blaze Orange, NRA Blue and SIG Pink are optional for an additional $9.95. The selectable clip options include a pair of J-Hook 2.0 ($9.95), a set of V-Clip 2.0 ($9.95), a pair of UltiClip 3 ($19.95) or the UltiClip XL ($24.95).
If you need to alter your setup for driving a vehicle or to accommodate clothing constraints, the magazine carrier is detachable. This allows you to reposition the primary holster from an appendix position to your strongside.
Concealed carry is a lifestyle that requires flexibility. The more you live with a handgun on your waist, the more you realize you need to consider how to carry a spare magazine and how to position it for comfort. The Rogue System addresses both.
Suppressor Of The Year
SilencerCo Harvester EVO combined an unheralded level of features and performance in an economical package. The brand’s Harvester line has always consisted of so-called “everyman” suppressors designed for general use without being prohibitively expensive and, with a retail price of $680, the Evo is no different. The Evo offers features and materials that are normally reserved for more expensive suppressors.
When the Harvester Evo was introduced in December 2021, it was hard to believe that the can could be made from exotic materials, but it is. Cobalt 6, Inconel and 17-4 stainless are the ingredients. The Harvester Evo is made almost entirely from Cobalt 6 (blast baffle) and Inconel (all the other baffles), which means that it is almost indestructible.
The Evo has a length of 6.24 inches and weighs just 11 ounces. It is light enough and compact for easy carry when it’s attached to the end of a rifle. What allows this model to be so light for a mostly Inconel suppressor is that the Inconel baffles are stamped and thin. Stamping Inconel was a manufacturing obstacle that required expensive equipment. Yet, SilencerCo figured out how to do it and made the investment. Now this cutting-edge technology exists in the Evo, and will likely work its way into future models. Inconel matters because it is extremely durable, so mag dumps with the Evo are more tolerable than using an all-titanium suppressor of similar weight.
The Harvester Evo is just as at home on a precision rifle as it is on an AR. The Evo also features the Bravo pattern for mounting devices, also known as “1.375-24,” or the Hybrid Universal Base (HUB). The Evo accepts any HUB mounting system you may already have, and doesn’t require you to switch to SilencerCo-specific muzzle devices. It’s a thoughtful touch that makes it even more accessible.
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