Handguns

Wiley Clapp’s Five Favorite Firearms

Wiley Clapp shares his five favorite self-defense firearms.

3/9/2012

As a guy who has spent all but a few years of his life wrapped up in firearms and their use, I have formed some strong opinions as to what really catches my fancy. Particularly in the last 30 years, as I worked as a writer for various gun magazines, I have had access to virtually everything in the way of firearms. Sometimes I have time for a plain review and other times, I get to keep the gun for a long-term evaluation. Invariably, opinions form and favorites evolve. Here are a few of my favorite self-defense firearms. These are the guns that I would keep to the last. It should be obvious that a different set of five would be used for hunting, competition, teaching, collecting or historical considerations.

Remington 870
Everybody should own a Remington 870 12-gauge pump shotgun, a 60-year veteran of sporting and defensive service to Americans. With a selection of extra barrels, a single Remington 870 can be alternatively an upland game gun, a waterfowl downer, a deer harvester (with slugs and a rifled barrel), a competition piece and, most importantly, an intimidating defense gun. One of the best bargains in your dealer’s rack, the 870 is one of the most versatile guns ever made. For defense use, I keep one with a super-maneuverable 14-inch barrel, and yes, the gun is registered and the tax stamp was paid for. 

SIG Sauer P226
In the great flourishing of automatic pistols that followed World War II, no so-called modern design ever surpassed the SIG Sauer P226 in my affections. Although the entire line of SIG shows a host of innovations, the one with the greatest real-world implications is the model with a decocker and without a safety. I have done some of my best shooting with a P226 in .357 Sig, or with the same gun and a different barrel in .40 S&W. Good springs are the key to keeping an auto working and this one was redone at about the 6,000 round mark (zero malfunctions, by the way). If I paid attention to Clint Smith’s famous rule about getting at least two samples of the ones you really like, then it’s time for me to go shopping.

Smith & Wesson 686
The 686 is a lot handier moniker than Distinguished Combat Magnum, but Smith & Wesson used both to describe a .357 Mag. revolver introduced in 1980. Made on a new frame, bigger than the K and smaller than the N, the 686 came in various lengths over the 30-plus years of its continuing production. They’re all accurate, but the early ones were scary accurate. My 6-inch 686 produced the smallest six-shot group I have ever seen—.29 inches at 25 yards. This is a great all-purpose revolver, and if you are put off by the size and weight of a 6-inch gun, S&W makes them with shorter barrels and even with lightweight Scandium frames. It’s a classic gun of a classic style.

Colt Commander
It just plain stands to reason that the next to the top gun has to be a .45. I kicked this one around for quite a while before I settled on the Commander, as made by Colt’s of Hartford. I have genuine Colts in both steel and alloy. I also have Commander-style .45s from other makers, but tend to stick to the original Colt brand. In a powerful .45 Auto, the light Commander is my idea of the very best mix of size and weight for easy carry and control. One of my all-time favorites, the Colt Commander is the best single variation on the beloved 1911 pistol.

Smith & Wesson Model 340 PD
Choosing my number one gun was extremely easy, because it was in my pocket. Smith & Wesson’s little Model 340PD Centennial has been my everyday gun since I got the first one years ago. A special light alloy (Scandium) frame gave this .357 Mag. snubby the strength to withstand powerful loads. As an internal hammer “Centennial” design, the gun slips in and out of pockets easily and delivers five powerful shots via S&W’s legendary double action trigger system. Every Centennial needs to be equipped with Craig Spegel’s superb Boot Grips and mine got them before it was ever loaded the first time. This is the gun that I invariably carry, and hope I never need.        

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81 Responses to Wiley Clapp’s Five Favorite Firearms

Gary is dumb wrote:
July 07, 2013

Not a 9mm among them? I count three.

lgrishom wrote:
August 17, 2012

any collectors interested in a colt 45 d /1917 new service revolver. information needed

Eric wrote:
July 11, 2012

Here's my list (and 2 cents...) Remington 870 (one with 18" barrel & synthetic stock, one with wood stock and 24" barrel) S&W M&P .40 (one in full size for the house, one in compact for the truck, one in Shield size for the waistband). Bushmaster AR15 w/Magpul furniture, iron sights, for home & farm security. All of the above have proven to be exceptionally reliable and have the ability to hit dead on target within the respective gun's intended range (and my ability!). If left to choose just one gun, it would be the 870. It is the swiss army knife of guns...does a lot of stuff real well. Glad I have options, though!

L.S.Jones wrote:
June 24, 2012

What,no love for the Browning Hi Power?

Rafael wrote:
May 03, 2012

Each weapon has its purpose. My Ruger Mark II is best for target pratice. My Rossi 38/357 is for home security; ready to rock and ready to roll. My Smith 7 Wesson 40 Cal. competition. and my Ruger LCP 380 for conceal carry. It is what is best for you,so, make the best of it.

Alex wrote:
April 28, 2012

You need to add a rifle! My list is somewhat similar - LWRCI REPR in 7.62, a Glock 19, a S&W J-frame, a 357 Magnum revolver ( make mine a Colt Python), and a Remington 870.

hicusdicus wrote:
April 23, 2012

he Judge public defender is in my opinion the best civilian non gun enthusiast personal self defense weapon ever devised. The Winchester buck and ball is the only load needed.

John Bucy wrote:
April 23, 2012

Top of my list is my XD 45 tuned and 360 stippled by David Bowie. My Glock 23 is well balanced. On weekends a Smith and Wesson 442 is in my pocket or the wife's purse. My 870 can handle game or threats. My Sig 400 is accurate and dependable. I would probably be better off with 2 of the above and more time to train with them.

Jon Gold wrote:
April 21, 2012

I love the list have variations of all of the above except that my Mossberg 500 is in place of the 870

Jim wrote:
April 21, 2012

Great list! But imho the best carry gun is the Ruger LCR with hollow points. The lightweight frame is so light it fits in any pocket with a pocket holster and NO ONE knows its there! Try that with a Colt! :)

steve wrote:
April 07, 2012

First handgun: S&W 686. 357mag with 6 inch barrel. Added CT laser grip. Salesman said it ain't legal for hogs. I said, it ain't for hogs. :)

Peter Pan wrote:
April 04, 2012

Although I have more than 5 firearms, choosing among them I come up with the following list that is very comparable to Wiley's. I have the Winchester Model 1300 Defender shotgun, S&W 586, SIG Sauer P228, Kimber Pro Carry II, and a Colt Detective Special. All great guns and fun to take to the range.

Born-A-Tiger wrote:
March 29, 2012

Mr. Clapp's list is very close to my own. I would chose a Remington 870 for certain. Pump, sqeeze, boom! You get the picture. Awesome. I got one when I was 12 years old and it felt like a golden lightening bolt in my hands! I currently have a SIG Sauer P220 (the .45 version of the P226 if you will), and that gun would be my only one if I could only have one. It's a perfect auto pistol. Reliable, accurate, tough and safe when you need it to be. I also have a S&W Model 14-3, made in 1975, which is the .38 Special version of the 686. The 14-3 revolver is the sweetest, most accurate pistol I have ever fired. Say what you want about .38 Special (which by-the-way is more powerful than the beloved 9mm), you could pick off s bad guy three houses over with that pistol. Shooting one will make you fall in love with shooting all over again. Seriously. I also have a Remington R1 Enhanced .45 ACP. It's new, but so far, so good. It looks, feels and shooots like a 1911 should - effortlessly. I would also have to throw in an M16-A1, because Uncle Sam gave me one for a while, and I learned to shoot, bayonet and butt stroke the heck of everything with that 1-meter long death slayer. Just sayin'. Thanks for reading.

Will Antico wrote:
March 29, 2012

Everybody has favorites. Personally I like Glocks. More law enforcement use Glocks than any other brand of handgun. Is there any Law Enforcement that use any of Wiley's handgun's ? Besides the .40 Cal is probably the best self defense round ever made all things considered.

Crippled wrote:
March 28, 2012

For self protection from anything other than a grizzly bear, I prefer my Taurus Judge loaded with 45 colt and 410 in 000 buckshot Along with my Crimson Lazer sight. Something about that red dot on an intruders chest does wonders !

T smith wrote:
March 28, 2012

New colt 380 in my pocket,Kimber custom stainless 45 on the hip,smith&wesson m&p pro 9mm in the bag,rra elite ar15 in 223,and a Remington 1100 tac4 12g 8+1 and 8 on mesa tac side saddle. Zombies come get some.

S.Burch Jr. wrote:
March 24, 2012

Dan Wesson 357 w/interchangeable barrels, Colt Combat Commander 45acp, Browning Hi-Power 9mm, Colt AR-15 .223, Winchester Model 70 Featherweight .308. & Colt Single Action Army .45 Colt.

Yomur Namemike bindrup wrote:
March 23, 2012

OComments... I all so like the 686,but would rather carry a glock 20 or 29 10mm

Jim wrote:
March 20, 2012

I agree with the list as I pocket carry my S&W 340PD Airlite, love my Sig P226 in .357SIG, keep my Colt Commander .45 or my Kimber Pro Carry II in my car, and my Mossberg 500 12 gauge pump my bed. All reliable and effective if and when needed.

Cris wrote:
March 19, 2012

Sig Sauer will never be passed by a Glock. I work at a firearms store and i have not one person ever come back saying there sig blew up on them. We have had numerous glocks explode. Frame breaks, mag flies out, etc. You cant seriously think they would put a glock on this list? Law Enforcement carry glock because there cheap. They cant afford sig. Another FYI, We have never had anyone in 10 years bring back a Springfield XD. Never sent one to the factory for any type of repair. My recommendations would be a Sig, but if the funds aren't there get a XD.

Jason wrote:
March 19, 2012

Sig p220 or p226, Remington 870 or Benelli Super Eagle, AR15 16" Carbine with Flashlight Forward Assist Grip 1 in 7, Thompson Center 7mm Rem Mag for long range.

Steve wrote:
March 19, 2012

The only handgun I use for home and carry is.......yes the Sig P226 Blackwater, yea yea yea .45 is a bigger round, but consider this, double tap in the chest, and you will be hurt. I dont know very many people who can double tap with a .45. As for shotgun, Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag, have you ever seen what a 3.5 inch magnum 00buckshot does to the tailgate of a truck, if you have, you would not want to be on the receiving end of that.On to revolvers, if the name doesnt say wesson its a door stop, either Smith & Wesson or Dan Wesson, love them both. The 686 combat is just bad ass, Dan Wesson 714 is just as bad, great shooters. But here is the thing, shoot what you are comfy with and always be familiar with your weapon of choice and GO TO THE RANGE ALOT. Practice does not make perfect but it helps....

Dave wrote:
March 19, 2012

The P226 is the first pistol I shot and will always be my favorite. I'm impressed with these picks. And by the way, none of them have (or need) an accessory rail!

Israel wrote:
March 19, 2012

I would have expected Glock 19 listed

Beck wrote:
March 19, 2012

Sig P226, Glock 17, Ruger GP 100, Remington 870,SIG 550.

AJ wrote:
March 19, 2012

For all the cliche go-big-or-go-home sayings about the .45, no handgun cartridge is an all purpose solution.

Jim wrote:
March 16, 2012

Only one gun? S&W model 327 8rd .357 mag with Crimson Trace laser grips...nothing else even comes close...scandium/titanium/tuckable without a holster...given laser is properly aligned, no contest...

Jeff wrote:
March 16, 2012

How does one get a 14 inch barrel to be legal on a shotgun?

Klayton wrote:
March 15, 2012

S&W 586 S&W Mdl of 1955 45APC Ruger Blackhawk 41 mag Colt Python Colt Combat Commander

TOM BROLLINI wrote:
March 15, 2012

As a Marine, cop, & firearms instructor I've had experience shooting most everything from .22 - 50cal & seen people shot with a lot of them & for people, the below are my choices. Also I totally agree with, shotgun, rifle, handgun in order of preference for dropping people at close range. Shotgun 870 with rifled brl(spare cyl brl; revolver - 625 45acp(if it doesn't start with .45 its for girls, auto - 1911 take your pick, carry gun (325PD 45acp or lite wt 1911 - I carry either one); rifle for me is 14" AR15 CAR 1 in 8 twist iron sites, laser, light. (also the same in AR10 except 16" brl - take your pick or whatever AR/AK varient you like.

Tom wrote:
March 15, 2012

I've had a 686 since the mid 1980s and love the gun. I've taken more deer with it than any other handgun I own. I also really like my series 70 Colt Combat Commander .45.

M2HB wrote:
March 15, 2012

Thompson Vickers Striker CZ-52 pistol

Gman wrote:
March 15, 2012

I don't have a 686 but I do have a '77 nickel Mod. 19 with a 2in. brl. I believe one of the most accurate of all my handguns at 25yds. or less for a shorty. I really enjoy doing up a box or two at the range with it. My 2 primary carry buddies are either my PARA Nite Hawg .45 or Charter Arms .44spl. Bulldog. I feel either will get the job done if the need were to arise. I too like the 870 but have the Mossberg Persuader in a closet corner. I love my Beretta 92FS very fun to shoot. In the woods, when no longer at the top of the food chain, I trust my S&W 629 3" brl. and pray I never have to use it.

Mick wrote:
March 15, 2012

I guess there are as many answers to this question as there are shooters with an opinion (hint: all of them:). My 2 cents: 1) Remington 870 (or Moss500), 2) Glock 22, 3) Glock 32 (what I have on), 4) Springfield XD45 (what my wife carries..I know, hers makes mine look puny), 5) J-frame size revolver like the 442. That is, I would always go to the shotgun when at home, and if not the Glock .40 or XD45. For concealed, I prefer the compact Glock .357 sig (where 1 round is good, 14 is better). For deep concealment in shorts, etc, and lightweight, it is hard to beat a J-frame revolver. Just my opinion. I hate we had to stop at 5 though. :)

Dale wrote:
March 15, 2012

The 870 is #1, 18" barrel for those who can't afford the tax stamp. S&W 342 .38spl, S&W Model 19 with 4" barrel, & S&W 58 .41 mag.

O'DubhGhaill wrote:
March 15, 2012

Glock 17; Glock 26; Mossberg 590; FN FAL; AR-15.

DMoneyTT wrote:
March 15, 2012

Oh, but for self-defense (not classics) it's easier. AK47 or AKM, Remington 870, Mossberg 930, Glock 23, and Kahr cm9.

DMoneyTT wrote:
March 15, 2012

I would say the Colt Single Action Army, the Henry Repeating Rifle of the late 1850's, the 1848 Sharps, the M1 Garand, and the Colt 1911.

Carole wrote:
March 14, 2012

Of all my guns, I love my 1983 4" 686. Super great gun! Dead on accurate. My hubby wishes he had one like it.

Bob W. wrote:
March 14, 2012

Not bad choices but I like the FN FNP .45acp, XDm .40S&W, Springfield M1A, Colt .357 Peacekeeper and a Sig P328 in my pocket.

Bill Johnson wrote:
March 14, 2012

I'll just stick to my Ruger P345, If I need longe range penetration from a handgun my Taurus Tracker in 44 mag does the job. For closer up protection I keep my old 16 ga double barrel handy.

gwot05 wrote:
March 14, 2012

My favorites: Rem 870 tactical, Colt Combat Commander (.45 ACP), FNH FDNP-45 Tactical, M1A Scout Squad rifle.

Mark wrote:
March 14, 2012

Oops, that was FNH in .357 sig.

Mark wrote:
March 14, 2012

I like my 686 and GP100 (same thing); I like my 870; FNP.357; mid-sized EAA 10mm (great, after a trigger job); and my Ruger SRC9.

Lefty wrote:
March 14, 2012

No Colt SAA. How sad.

Steve wrote:
March 14, 2012

Love my 1911's! You can't beat a GOOD 1911! I also have the S&W 686 in 4 inch, love it too!Colt? I have had a couple, but the "plastic" Mainspring Housing on my last Commander , I did not like the idea. I opted for a Dan Wesson V-Bob. Commander size & nice shooter, ALL STEEL!

Pete Hallock wrote:
March 14, 2012

Excellent list. Walther P-38 beats any 1911A1. Get over it, you have to make you shots fast and hit your traget. Mosssberg 500 is the front line chosen military shotgun. .

EJM wrote:
March 13, 2012

I use a Mossberg 500 insted of a Remington 870. Works just as well. Also have .45 ACP and .357 Mag.

Gary wrote:
March 13, 2012

J B Herren: I have mentioned this site before and if you haven't visited it, please go as you will thoroughly enjoy it. For all others who have an open mind, you will finally get a definitive answer on what works and what doesn't. And why. No BS, just the facts. http://www.gunthorp.com/Terminal%20Ballistics%20as%20viewed%20in%20a%20morgue.htm

J B Herren wrote:
March 13, 2012

Gary: How very well said! Clint would be proud. Stopping a confrontation requires stopping power. Or we could use the wish & hope system.....

LTP wrote:
March 13, 2012

Anything in 45 ACP. Hits like a bowling ball.

Blake wrote:
March 13, 2012

i only agree with the 870 being on the list... the other four? DPMS ap4, my glock 22 and 24 are my bearcountry favorites and for the two legged variants i prefer the judge

Karl wrote:
March 13, 2012

Bob, OK. I'll buy that. Thanks.

DougBob wrote:
March 12, 2012

I'm kind of partial to my Glock G29 10mm Auto!!

george wrote:
March 12, 2012

of all the guns i sold was my 686 i miss it i do have a ruger sp101 2.5 inch in 357 what wrist cruncher i have an 870 tactical i love will have a sig p226 someday shot one once loved it

Richard wrote:
March 12, 2012

My #1 favorite is my Colt Double Eagle in 45ACP followed by my Glock 31 (.357 Sig) then my Colt Trouper .357mag, then my Springfield Armory M1A and for target shooting my T/C 7mm TCU w/20inch barrel and 2-6 Burris Scope. They are all lot's of fun.

darkk wrote:
March 12, 2012

mine are a Kahr CM( 9mm, Ruger SP101 magna ported trigger jobbed 357 mag, Para Odnance P10-45 Limited, a Remington model 97 12 ga. pump and a Bushmaster AR15 to round it all out

Jim wrote:
March 12, 2012

I should have never got rid of my 2 1/2" 686...

Rob Barbour wrote:
March 12, 2012

I would have to add a glock 23, there is a reason glock dominates the law enforment market in the U.S.

Chris wrote:
March 12, 2012

I am a plain ole COLT FAN!!!! My favorites are the Officers model 45ACP and My Defender 45 ACP. SORRY you just can't beat em!!!!

Chris W wrote:
March 12, 2012

Love my selection. Ruger SP 101 4"customized and ported, Wilson Combat Recon SPC II 6.8, Wilson Combat 1911 RDP full size 4" bull barrel, Wilson's newest 1911 UCP unlimited, full size 5" barrel, stainless and both .45 ACP and several shot uns for hunting and home defense. along with a Sako 300 WSM for serious hunting

ArmsVault.com wrote:
March 12, 2012

All great guns. But I'm partial to the Sig P226!

John wrote:
March 12, 2012

I have a Taurus PT145, and a Taurus 1911. My wife has a SCCY 9mm. We feel well protected

Steven S. wrote:
March 12, 2012

I own the same guns and carry a Ruger super blkhwk for bear country in a El Paso chest rig. I too am over the 60 mark and still believe that if you need a REAL gun,you NEED a real gun. I also have a few AR's and such !.

Jason Pounds wrote:
March 12, 2012

I only got two but they work for me..Springfield XD 9mm and a XD 40 Sub compact

dana wrote:
March 12, 2012

love your choices the sig p226 is a great choice you didnt mention that is also comes in the 9mm I have the p250 with both the 40 cal and 357 sig barrels

Bob wrote:
March 12, 2012

Karl, you are asking how can a bullet that is .357" in diameter make a group smaller than its own size. That is possible because groups are typically measured center to center, not outside diameter to outside diameter.

Deer Slayer wrote:
March 12, 2012

Gotta roll with the Sig P226 in .40 S&W. Capable of dispatching bears at close range, comfortable in the hand, and completely reliable with not a single problem through thousands of rounds. Understandably the choice of US Navy SEALS. My favorite long-time duty companion, but the Glock 27 in .40 S&W is still my first choice for concealed carry. My 2¢ for what it is worth.

Gary wrote:
March 10, 2012

For Chase. The good old "comfortable" vs. "comforting" argument. Reminds me of my friend who likes to walk the Rockies here in Colorado. He carries a 2 1/2-inch .357 in case he has an argument with a bear. "Why do you carry that .357 when you have a 6-inch .44 Magnum at home?" "It's just so 'comfortable' to carry and shoot, I can slip it in my pocket and just forget it's there. If I have to shoot a bear, I'll just shoot him in the head." Well, that might work for him but for the rest of us, a chest shot at a charging bear might be the limit of our "shot placement" ability. And a little more power would be appreciated. The weight of my .454 Casull in a shoulder holster is the definition of "comforting" in bear territory and I never have to question if I am adequately armed. I have another friend that has arthritis and doesn't like shooting the big boomers but he owns a lot of them. At the range, he will fire off a few rounds of full-power ammo for familiarization and then enjoy running a box or two of light loads through them for fun. The point is that in a defensive situation, you will only be firing off a few rounds so why not go big? Make your own decision when it comes to comfort vs. comforting, but it would be better to err on the side of comforting.

Ted wrote:
March 10, 2012

Love them all and use them all except the snubby 357...have the 640 instead..

Jerry in AZ wrote:
March 09, 2012

Dadgumit Wiley, I've got almost the same line-up, but yet every one is different. Remington 870 vs Winchester 1300 S&W 686 vs Model 27 Colt Commander vs Kimber Crimson Carry S&W 340PD vs S&W 637 Biggest difference: SIG P226 vs Browning High Power Sorry about the last two, but I just don't like hammerless. :)

Stu wrote:
March 09, 2012

Almost mirrors my list, although I chose a Ruger BH in 45LC over a 686.

Chase wrote:
March 09, 2012

Man up? Ca mon now, Gary. It's what your comfortable and accurate with. Mouse gun? You're better than that. Just pick whatever gun that you can put two to the chest. Great article, though. Good read.

Toby wrote:
March 09, 2012

This guy hasn't obviously been able to afford a Wilson Combat

Karl wrote:
March 09, 2012

What, no M4 with a .5 MOA red dot, 1/2 point sling, 100 round magazine and light house strobe light? :-)

Karl wrote:
March 09, 2012

Honest question: How did your .357 revolver make a .29' group?

chris shannon wrote:
March 09, 2012

great group of choices . though many could not afford the sig so I went for s&w sd40 . I like its' feel and very comfortable to shoot . holds great groups at critical defensive range (less than twenty feet ) .At a cost of about four hundred dollars .

Big Al wrote:
March 09, 2012

All good, sound, senseable choices.

Greg Badacour wrote:
March 09, 2012

Glock 32 357sig Ruger Security six 4in 357mag Colt CAR Galil Remington 870 police

Randy wrote:
March 09, 2012

good stuff

Gary wrote:
March 09, 2012

Now that is a serious list, not a .380 or 9mm to be found. I can't imagine a better battery of self-defense weapons. Now I am used to recoil in a handgun, but the second-most hand-hurting experience I ever enjoyed was firing the Smith 329PD, a 25.1 ounce Scandium/Titanium N frame in .44 Magnum. Number one was your Smith 349PD, all 11.4 ounces of it. To say it was a handful is to understate the experience. To everybody out there that thinks 6 rounds of mouse gun trumps 1 round of a serious man-stopper, you should consider manning-up to one of the above. But maybe not that 340PD, it still hurts just to think about firing it.