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2022 was a very good year for the Outdoor Life shooting squad. We reviewed more firearms than ever in Outdoor Life’s 124-year history. And while getting to pull that many triggers is a blessing in itself, the fact that so many of the guns were outstanding shooters added to our collective joy.
Along with myself, Outdoor Life Editor-in-Chief Alex Robinson, OL Staff Writer Tyler Freel, and OL Gear Editor Scott Einsmann contributed to this roundup of the rifles, shotguns, handguns and air rifles that impressed us most in 2023.
This rifle is right in our wheelhouse. It is a wonderful creation that melds top-notch components—Shilen barrel, Mack Brothers action, a carbon-fiber stock of Nosler’s own design, and Triggertech trigger—into an effective, accurate and rugged hunting tool.
It excelled in each venue and won a coveted Editor’s Choice as the year’s best all-around hunting rifle in the process. —John B. Snow
Hybrid rifles are all the craze, specifically those attempting to bridge the gap between hunting rifles and heavy precision long-range rigs. Among all those efforts, the Seekins Havak HIT is the most intelligent and interesting to come along.
This is because the feature set on this 11.5-pound rifle is unlike any other on the market. With very little effort, the user can switch between standard and short-action cartridges thanks to the ability to swap barrels and change out bolt faces on the bolt body add magnums to the mix.
My HIT is chambered in 6.5 PRC and 6 GT currently and shoots lights out with both. But I can add the 6.5 Creed, 6mm Creed, and .308 Win. to my battery by ordering more barrels.
This degree of customization wouldn’t count for much if the rifle didn’t perform. But it does. And at $2,400 it is an amazing value for what you get. That earned it a Great Buy award at the gun test, but it is also the most intriguing new rifle to debut in the last year too. —JBS
The CZ TS 2 Racing Green made a stellar showing at our 2022 Gun Test, winning an Editor’s Choice award, and a firm place as our favorite full-sized pistol of 2023. In this pistol, CZ has brought a competition-ready package that’s a smile-producing bullet hose. It inherits the comfortable ergonomics and low bore-axis of many of CZ’s other race guns and comes with an ultra-crisp trigger that you’ll only find in hammer-fired single-action pistols.
The TS 2 Racing Green has green, knurl-textured, aluminum grip scales, oversized controls and magwell, a flat trigger shoe, and comes with three 20-round magazines. It also comes with a Gas Pedal-like thumb rest that makes the heavy pistol even easier to control. You can find this pistol for under $2,000, and the only negative is that although the safety is ambidextrous, the over-sized controls are set up for right-handed shooters only. You can read our full review here. —Tyler Freel
The Super Black Eagle has become an iconic duck hunting shotgun for its reliable action, light weight, and marvelous shootability. Put an SBE in almost any waterfowler’s hands and they’ll crush ducks with it. The 28-gauge version of the shotgun has all the same features as its big brother — carbon fiber rib, Comfort Tech 3 stock, included shim kit — it’s just much lighter and slimmer.
With a 28-inch barrel, the shotgun weighs just 5.5 pounds. I shot the SBE 3 28-gauge on several hunts throughout the fall, and even at its minimal weight, recoil from 3-inch duck loads was gentle. This made the gun infinitely fun to shoot. It came to my shoulder quickly and swung through birds smoothly (unlike some sub-gauge shotguns which feel whippy). I think this is one of the reasons that some hunters talk about the 28-gauge being somehow deadlier than it should be. There’s no real magic to the 28-gauge, it’s just that the minimal recoil allows you to maintain your fundamentals and focus on your target. You end up hitting birds with the core of your pattern, which drops them dead. After killing several greenheads in a row with this little gun, it can begin to feel like magic. But in reality, it’s just good shooting.
On top of that, the gun patterns well. I shot at 40 yards with Hevi-Shot’s Hevi XII 3-inch, No. 4, 1 oz. loads and the gun averaged 107 hits inside a 30-inch circle (83 percent patterns). The patterns proved the little 28 was a 40-yard killer, and I saw the same results in the field. Read my full review of the Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 28-gauge here. —Alex Robinson
As a sheep hunter, I always get excited about new ultra-light rifles, and the Christensen Arms Ridgeline FFT Titanium is one of my favorite new rifles of 2023. I tested and reviewed one chambered in .308 and packed it along on a 14-day sheep hunt here in Alaska. The rifle is available in several calibers, but the short action weighs in at a mere 4 pounds, 14 ounces without an optic. Its most significant features are its titanium M700-style ridgeline action, 20-inch carbon-wrapped barrel, and foam-core FFT carbon fiber stock. The FFT parts are made in a low-waste process that bonds the carbon fiber together in an OSB board-looking pattern. In addition to the stock, the bolt knob and magazine bottom-plate are FFT carbon fiber. The Ridgeline Titanium is light, handy, and accurate. —TF
This modern take on one of the most iconic military service/target pistols won our hearts over after just a few pulls on its crisp single-action trigger. The P210 is a design that dates to the late 1930s, but in Carry trim it got many upgrades to make it an appealing option for concealed carry in the 2020s. Aluminum is used instead of steel for the frame to save weight, and the barrel was cut from 5 inches to 4.1 inches for the same reason. It has an oversized safety lever and grips machined from G10 that provide a secure hold on the gun and remain comfortable even after long shooting sessions. It won an Editor’s Choice award in the mid-sized handgun category during our annual test of the year’s best handguns and we did an in-depth review of it as well. —JBS
When I wrote my review of the Kimber R7 Mako I mentioned that it might not catch your attention out of the gate. That sentiment was prescient, as the Kimber failed to wow the Outdoor Life handgun test team during our annual roundup. At least initially.
But once the scores were tabulated and the dust settled, guess what—this little optics-ready striker-fired compact walked away with two of our coveted awards, taking an Editor’s Choice and a Great Buy in the very competitive compact handgun category.
Turns out Kimber got the R7 right. It handles well, carries easily, comes with a CTS-1500 reflex sight installed if you want, and carries a wallet friendly price tag. I’m willing to bet if you got your hands on one, you’d be impressed too. —JBS
John B. Snow
This Finnish sniper rifle became one of my favorites after just one range session. Of all the rifles I’ve ever shot—and there have been many dozens over the years—the Sako TRG 22 A1 is the most accurate of the lot, which is quite an achievement. But there’s more to the TRG 22 A1 than just an ability to shoot teeny-tiny groups. The overall design and execution of the rifle is a marvel, as I unpack in this review.
The ergonomics on the chassis are pulled from the Sako M10, which is the best chassis currently made. The only thing you can fault it on is the lack of an integrated ARCA rail on the handguard, which I hope Sako addresses in the near future. With that fix, this rifle would qualify as perfection itself. —JBS
The FX Impact is nimble enough for a squirrel hunt, and accurate enough to win the biggest air rifle competitions. Part of what makes this air rifle so accurate is its dual regulators and the quick tuning features. While testing this air rifle tuning took mere minutes and the rifle produced ½-inch groups at 50 yards. Another reason why the FX Impact M3 was chosen as one of the best air rifles is its impressive shot count. We get 56 shots (two mags) per fill on a high power tune. From the woods to the bench, the Impact M3 impressed us and is easily our favorite air gun of 2023. —Scott Einsmann
Even though Fabarm has been making shotguns for more than a century, the Italian company has been overlooked by most American duck hunters. The XLR5 Chesapeake very well may change that. OL contributor and diehard duck hunter Joe Genzel field tested the gun this summer and said it was one of the most capable and well-made auto-loaders he’s shot in recent memory.
This is a gas-driven, 3-inch, auto-loader with some unique features. The bolt-release button is located on the left side of the action, which means that as you load the gun with the action facing you, you’ve got to hit the button blind. That takes some getting used to. The receiver and barrel are finished in a bronze Cerakote and the checkering on the pistol grip and fore-end are abrasive and grippy. Waterfowlers will appreciate both features. Last but not least, the Tribore HP barrel system is the pride of Fabarm. The company drills their own chrome molybdenum steel—a corrosion-resistant alloy that can stand up to high pressures and temperatures—barrels from a solid block of steel.
In summation, the Fabarm XLR5 Chesapeake is a high-end duck gun that’s poised to take on Beretta and Benelli. Read Genzel’s full review on the Fabarm XLR5 Chesapeake here. —AR
The field of 10mm pistols is getting more competitive, and we’ve seen several notable entries in the past couple of years. Our favorite new 10mm pistol of 2023 is Sig’s P320 XTen. The XTen is a line extension from Sig’s successful P320 line, and it has the X-series grip module. Unlike other pistols that are wholly up sized from 9mm chamberings to 10mm, the XTen maintains essentially the same external size and ergonomics as the full-size 9mm P320 pistols. It’s got the slimmest and most comfortable grip of any 10mm I’ve shot. The 5-inch barrel has a well-supported chamber, and the frame sports a 5-slot accessory rail for mounting a light. It’s got a good trigger, crisp reset, and easy-to-reach controls. The Glock G20 still has a firm hold on the 10mm double-stack market, but if pistols like this keep chipping away at its shortcomings, it won’t be king for long. Read the full review here. —TF
Accuracy International has built their reputation on sniper rifles for law enforcement and the military that incorporate accuracy enhancing innovations in a battle-hardened format so that their operators can get peak performance under even the worst conditions.
With the introduction of the AT-X, AI has taken that successful blueprint and created a switch-barrel system for civilian competition shooters and precision rifle enthusiasts. The AT-X is astounding accurate, delivering 5-shot groups in 6.5 Creedmoor that averaged .456 inches during our annual gun test. The rifle’s ergonomics provide excellent feedback to the shooter making this one of the most pleasurable rifles we’ve ever shot. It was the Editor’s Choice winner in the precision rifle category last year.
For a switch-barrel system the price isn’t crazy though it is still steep. AI is building the AT-X in a number of cartridges in addition to the 6.5 Creed, including the 6mm Creedmoor, .308 Win., and 6 BR. —JBS
The Polymer-frame, striker-fired pistol category is a tough one to stand out in, but at under $300, the Stoeger STR9-F did just that. This pistol is half the price of many other full-size pistols in its category, but we loved it. Reliability and shootability are what matter most for any budget-priced pistol, and this one hits outside its price-class.
The STR9-F is something of a Glock clone with ergonomics like Smith & Wesson’s M&P pistols. It’s got a comfortable grip, a flat trigger shoe, and 3-slot accessory rail. The rounded slide has aggressive cocking serrations on both front and back and comes with good factory 3-dot sights. It only includes one 17-round magazine, and comes in lackluster packaging, but we simply could not find a reason not to like it. Read our full review here. —TF
Mossberg’s latest, and perhaps best, turkey gun is the 940 Pro Turkey, which is an extension of the JM 940 Pro line that the company introduced in 2020 with the help of iconic competition shooter Jerry Miculek. The most interesting feature on this gun is the cut in the receiver to mount a red dot sight with a Shield RMSc-pattern footprint. This pattern uses just two screws and the cut keeps the sight low on the gun for a sleek profile. The low mount prevents the shooter from needing to take their cheek off the stock to see through the sight. You can see the same clever design in the 940 Pro Tactical.
Gear Editor Scott Einsmann and I both killed spring gobblers with this shotgun (24-inch barrel version) and found that it carried and handled just like a turkey gun should. The gas system soaked up some of the pain, but there was still plenty of recoil from the 3-inch magnum loads we hunted with. We also patterned the gun with Federal Heavyweight TSS 1¾-ounce No. 9 loads at 40 and 60 yards. All patterns were shot with the X Factor, XX-Full .670 turkey choke that came with the gun. At 40 yards the Pro Turkey produced an average pattern of 161 pellets inside a 10-inch circle. At 60 yards it averaged 68 pellets inside a 10-inch circle. This is solid performance confirming that the 940 is easily a 60-yard gobbler gun. Coming in under $1,000, the 940 Turkey Pro is one of the better bargains in the semi-auto turkey gun field. Read my full review of the Mossberg 940 Pro Turkey here.—AR
The Taurus G3X was an unexpected and pleasant surprise in our 2022 gun test. It’s a budget-priced pistol that falls into the compact polymer-framed category—and under the shadow of the Glock G19. The G3X is similar in size to the G19, but with a more vertical grip angle and fine stippling texture that provides excellent traction. Every member of our test team noted that the G3X was accurate and very comfortable to shoot.
The G3X has some smart features, including beveled corners of its slide, front and rear cocking serrations, and a 3.2-inch barrel (which is shorter than the G19). It might not be the best-looking pistol, but as far as function-for-price goes, it’s a winner. It comes with two high-quality magazines as well. If there’s anything a budget-priced handgun can’t get away with, it’s reliability issues. Fortunately, we didn’t have a single malfunction with this pistol while shooting a variety of ammo. You can read the full review of the Taurus G3X here. —TF
In states with straight-wall deer rifle restrictions, the .350 Legend has become very popular since its introduction a few short years ago. This year I tested several .350 Legend rifles and Winchester’s XPR Stealth is my favorite. The XPR stealth isn’t a beauty queen, but it’s a nicely made, functional, and very accurate deer rifle. It has a 16.5-inch barrel and an 11/16-inch x 24 threaded muzzle that’s suppressor-ready. The XPR’s action is smooth with a short bolt throw and it’s appropriately sized for the little .350 Legend cartridge (unlike some other .350 Legend rifles). The trigger is crisp, and it delivered stunning accuracy for its class and cartridge. —TF