Key point: Consider this your comprehensive list.
5 Best Revolvers
The revolver was one of the first multi-shot handguns. The revolver concept was preceded by the so-called “pepperbox” handgun, which used multiple barrels to arm an individual with multiple ready-to-fire bullets. This was later refined to the revolver concept, which saved weight by using a single barrel served by a revolving, cylindrical magazine holding six or more bullets. Although semiautomatic pistols have overtaken revolvers on the U.S. market, there are several good revolver designs that command attention. Simpler, less prone to jamming and capable of firing more powerful ammunition than the semiautomatic, revolvers still have their place.
The Ruger LCR was introduced in the mid-2000s as a lightweight, concealable self-defense weapon. Just 13.5 ounces and 6.5 inches long, the LCR fits easily into a pocket, hip or ankle holster. Like most small revolvers, it has a five-round cylinder. Ruger originally introduced the LCR in .38 +P configuration, meaning it can fire both typical .38 Special ammunition and higher-pressure, harder-hitting +P rounds. The gun’s 1.87-inch barrel, aluminum and polymer frame, and corresponding light weight make it the easiest of the pocket revolvers to shoot, although it still has a considerable amount of recoil. The double-action design means a single pull of the trigger will advance the cylinder to a fresh round and cock the pistol. As a result the LCR lacks a hammer, making it easier to draw from behind clothing without snagging.
Smith & Wesson 686
One of the most popular revolvers in production, the Smith & Wesson 686 revolver is a medium (“L frame”) revolver chambered in the powerful .357 Magnum caliber. The 686 is designed to handle the heavier magnum round while pairing it with a heavier barrel and a six-round cylinder. Like all .357 Magnums, the 686 can shoot the less powerful .38 Special ammunition. The 686 features a four-inch barrel, has an overall length of 9.6 inches and weighs two-and-a-half pounds. It also adjustable sights, a double-action firing system and a stainless steel finish. A deluxe model comes with a larger, seven-round cylinder.
Sturm Ruger’s answer to the Smith & Wesson 686, the Ruger GP100 was introduced in the early 1990s. The GP100 was the successor to Ruger’s Security Six and Speed Six pistols, but uses a large frame very similar to the 686’s L frame. The GP100 is slightly heavier and the design slightly more angular than the 686, but it makes an excellent introduction to full-size revolvers and an outstanding home-defense weapon. The GP100 has since branched out into many other calibers, including .22LR, .327 Federal Magnum .and 44 Special.
Sturm Ruger’s other line of popular revolvers has a distinctly Old West flavor to it. The Ruger Blackhawk line of pistols look similar to the old Western Colt Single Action Army revolvers of the nineteenth century, but with a host of modern features to keep them viable in the twenty-first. Cold hammer-forged barrels and a stout, beefy frame make the Blackhawk a manageable firearm in .357 Magnum, .41 Remington Magnum, the traditional cowboy calibers .45 Colt and, unusually, the World War II–era .30 Carbine. Like old-time cowboy revolvers, the Blackhawk’s cylinder must be loaded through a loading gate.
Taurus Model 85 Ultra-Lite
Although the semiautomatic pistol market has a large number of foreign competitors, Taurus is the only major overseas player in the revolver market. Among the Brazilian company’s many offerings, the most popular is the Model 85 Ultra-Lite. The Model 85 is a good choice as a home-defense handgun or concealed-carry piece, in the same class as the Ruger LCR. The .38 Special pistol can handle +P ammunition, with a five-round cylinder and comfortable rubber grips. The Model 85 is seven ounces heavier than the LCR but, unlike Ruger’s compact revolver, has a hammer allowing for single-action operation. This allows the Model 85 to be cocked first with a hammer, resulting in a much lighter trigger pull.
5 Best Rifles:
Warfare in the post-9/11 period is primarily infantry-focused, with ground troops taking part in small-unit actions against insurgents and guerrillas. Fought on a wide variety of terrain, from arid desert regions to jungles and even cities, infantrymen have relied on their service rifles to get the mission done. Here are five of the best weapons, and how the wars of the twenty-first century changed them.
Originally developed by Colt to fulfill a contract for the UAE, the M4 carbine was later accepted into U.S. Army and Marine Corps service. The M4 carbine is very similar to the M16A2 assault rifle, but features a shorter 14.5-inch barrel as opposed to the twenty-inch barrel of the M16. Like the M16A2, the M4 carbine fires the 5.56-millimeter round from a thirty-round magazine and has both semiautomatic and three-round-burst modes. Recently, as a result of battlefield experience with the M4, the U.S. Army decided to upgrade the weapons to the M4A1 standard. The -A1 carbines have thicker barrels for accuracy retention during sustained fire, an improved trigger, ambidextrous safety controls and the ability to fire on full automatic.
The primary service weapon of the UK’s Army, Navy and Air Force, the SA80 assault rifle was first fielded in the 1980s as a replacement for the L1A1 battle rifle. The rifle is a bullpup-configuration weapon, with the magazine and action positioned behind the trigger group. This allows for a more compact weapon system. Like the M4A1, the SA80A2 fires the 5.56-millimeter round and can accept the same magazine. Unlike the American carbine, the British one uses a short-stroke gas-piston system. In 2002, the weapons were upgraded to address a variety of shortcomings, including a modified bolt, extractor and hammer assembly, vastly increasing weapon reliability. In addition to the UK forces the SA80 has been sold to a number of Commonwealth countries, but overseas sales largely never materialized.
The Fusil d’Assaut de la Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Étienne, or FAMAS assault rifle, was adopted by France in the late 1970s. The assault rifle was a bullpup configuration, like the SA80A2, that came standard with twenty-five-round 5.56-millimeter magazines. Manufactured by GIAT, the rifle had an overall length of twenty-nine inches with a nineteen-inch barrel—nearly rifle length. The weapon weighed only 7.96 pounds. Intriguingly, unlike standard infantry assault rifles, FAMAS has radioactive tritium sights for night firing and a built-in bipod with arms that swivel up and store above the barrel. FAMAS’s blowback action gives it greater recoil than other weapons in this category. FAMAS is currently being replaced in French Army service by the Heckler and Koch 416.
The Heckler and Koch 416 assault rifle is arguably a step up from the M4 carbine. Outwardly similar to the M4 in appearance, internally the rifle uses a gas-piston operating system, not the direct-impingement system used by the M4. This allows the rifle to run cooler and require less cleaning of the upper receiver, although it does reportedly make the 416 slightly front heavy. While the M4 and HK416 both share the same ammunition magazines and 5.56-millimeter round, the 416 has a longer sixteen-inch barrel, imparting a slight increase in range and velocity to the German-made weapon. The 416 is designated the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle in U.S. Marine Corps service, and is being issued to all Marine infantrymen.
The standard weapon of the Russian Ground Forces is the AK-74M. Developed in the 1970s as a replacement for the iconic AK-47, the main difference between the two weapons was the use of smaller, lighter 5.45-millimeter ammunition. The weapon, equipped with a thirty-round magazine, saw extensive use in the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and was issued to frontline Soviet Units, particularly airborne, naval infantry and Germany-based conventional army units. The rifle has a side folding stock, 16.3-inch barrel and an overall length of thirty-seven inches. In 2015, the Russian Army adopted a number of Western-style upgrades to the AK-74M, including a skeletonized stock with adjustable cheek weld, a rail accessory mounting system similar to that on the M4 developed by Piccatinny Arsenal, foregrip and improved muzzle brake.
Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami. This first appeared in January 2018 as two separate articles and is being republished due to reader's interest.