Following a series of record-breaking years in firearm sales, many wondered what 2017 would bring in terms of innovation and product introductions for firearms, optics, ammunition and accessories. When it came time to select the coveted 2018 Golden Bullseye Awards, American Rifleman’s editors discovered they had as much to ponder as ever in their decision-making. Selections have been made, and NRA Publications will present its annual Golden Bullseye Awards and Golden Bullseye Pioneer Award at the 2018 NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Dallas, Texas.
“We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 Golden Bullseye Awards,” said Doug Hamlin, executive director of NRA Publications. “This year’s winners exemplify what NRA members want in their shooting and hunting equipment—outstanding performance, innovative design and value. We congratulate those who have created the industry’s best new products and look forward to recognizing them in Dallas.”
Whereas the Golden Bullseye Award acknowledges the finest products available in the shooting sports, the Golden Bullseye Pioneer Award specifically honors outstanding personal achievement. The Pioneer Award spotlights the exemplary achievement and cumulative body of work of an individual, or members of a family, team or partnership, responsible for the development and introduction of shooting equipment that has made a profound, positive and enduring impact on the way Americans shoot and hunt.
The winners of the 2018 Golden Bullseye Awards are covered in brief below, but you can read the full reviews at americanrifleman.org.
Handgun Of The Year
Ruger Mark IV
“Now almost 70 years old, the Ruger .22 pistol has outlasted, perhaps even killed off, various High Standards, the beloved Colt Woodsman and countless others. Was the Ruger perfect? No, but it offered a combination of accuracy, ergonomics and price that couldn’t be beat. And while its operation has changed little through the years, it has evolved.” So wrote Editor In Chief Mark Keefe in “Mark IV: The Ruger Evolution” (April 2017, p. 50). The new guns feature a CNC-machined lower receiver (except for the polymer-frame 22/45s, of course), bilateral safeties and an improvement that addressed the one knock against the design that originally launched Sturm, Ruger & Co. “The biggest news on the Mark IV is that it is easy, I mean incredibly easy, to take down—and put back together. ... It’s in the reassembly that the service to humanity really kicks in on the Mark IV. Simply line up the receiver on the frame screw, allow it to pivot down, then line up the bolt stop with its circular recess through the bolt and receiver, then press the receiver and frame together until it clicks. Easy, peasy.” Meaningful improvement on greatness in gun design is uncommon, but the Ruger Mark IV made one of the all-time best handguns even better, and that makes it deserving of Handgun Of The Year.
Rifle Of The Year
Patriot Ordnance Factory Revolution
“Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to hot rod the 5.56x45 mm NATO-chambered AR-15 platform in an effort to push its ballistics closer to those of its big brother, the AR-10,” wrote a staff editor in our “Dope Bag: Data & Comment” review of the POF-USA Revolution (January 2018, p. 96). “Frank DeSomma, owner and founder of Patriot Ordnance Factory, instead decided to give people exactly what they had been asking for—an AR-15-size platform chambered for the .308 Win. cartridge. Called the Revolution, POF-USA’s newest piston-driven rifle weighs a scant 7 lbs., 4 ozs., and possesses all of the fast-handling characteristics of an AR-15, while boasting the hard-hitting energy of an AR-10.” After reporting on each of the Revolution’s downsized improvements and sub-minute-of-angle accuracy, we summed up with: “POF-USA’s Revolution possesses all the accuracy of a heavier, harder-kicking, bolt-action rifle in a trim, lightweight, autoloading package. Its numerous innovations and well-executed manufacture make it an appealing option for anyone in the market for a .308 Win.-chambered semi-automatic rifle.” Obviously, Rifle Of The Year is a tough call for the Rifleman editors, but the Revolution made it easy on us for 2018.
Ammunition Product Of The Year
Nosler’s objective with the 22 Nosler was to create the “most powerful .22-cal. cartridge that would reliably function in the AR platform,” wrote Field Editor Aaron Carter in his article “Relevant Innovation: The 22 Nosler,” (July 2017, p. 48). Carter pointed out, “Read ‘most powerful’ as ‘fastest’—velocity and energy are interrelated.” Mandating that the new cartridge reliably function in the AR-15, the goal was appreciable velocity gains over the .223 Rem.—think of .22-250 Rem. ballistics out of a .223-size action. In Carter’s words, “Nosler seized the day.” The 22 Nosler’s case is unique, measuring 1.760" in length (the same as the .223 Rem.) tapering from 0.420" ahead of the extractor groove to 0.400" at the shoulder. Due to its increased girth, the 22 Nosler has an appreciably more capacious case.
“There’s extra room for propellant, which permits higher velocities. With an increase in velocity comes a flatter trajectory and less wind deflection—boons to varmint hunters and competitors alike—all while boosting on-target energy levels,” Carter wrote. “Nosler achieved its goal with the 22 Nosler. The cartridge is ballistically superior to the .223 Rem. and 5.56x45 mm NATO in all measures—trajectory, wind deflection and on-target energy. Long-range varminters, as well as those who use an AR in .223 Rem. for whitetail deer and feral hog hunting, will benefit greatly. So too will competitive shooters. I can foresee the 22 Nosler appearing on the firing lines at the National Matches in the not-too-distant future.” That confluence of capabilities earned the 22 Nosler the title of 2018 Ammunition Product Of The Year.
Accessory Of The Year
Magpul X-22 Backpacker Stock
In our “Dope Bag: Data & Comment” review of the Magpul X-22 Backpacker Stock (September 2017, p. 94), our evaluator was, to say the least, impressed with the accessory company’s move into the sporting stock segment with a model that possesses not only excellent ergonomics, but great versatility—all for $110. “Most notable about the X-22 Backpacker, however, is a set of unique design features that transforms the gun into a self-contained survival rifle … A storage compartment in the pistol grip is sealed with an O-ring-equipped cap and can be used for a spare parts or fire-starting supplies. A compartment under the cheekpiece, which hinges at its front after pressing a button at the stock’s heel, stores two factory 10-round magazines and additional ammunition or supplies.” We summed up with: “The X-22 Backpacker stock for the 10/22 Takedown represents excellent value in a high-quality, well-designed accessory for one of the world’s most reliable rimfire actions, transforming it into one of the best self-contained survival rifle designs. It would be an ideal upgrade for a rifle stored in an off-road vehicle or aircraft … . Given its sound ergonomics and available accessories, the new stock will not only lend its host 10/22 Takedown a new lease on life, it may help preserve the life of its user in the process.” And that’s why the Magpul X-22 Backpacker Stock is our Accessory Of The Year.
Women’s Innovation Product Of The Year
Ruger American Compact Pro
When Ruger expanded its American pistol line with a compact model in 2017, the gun manufacturer hoped it would be as warmly received as its full-size model had been two years earlier. In fact, the new pistol went on to gain enormous popularity with the concealed-carry crowd, even by those who questioned whether the market needed another 9 mm Luger polymer carry gun. And while Ruger didn’t set out to market the pistol specifically to women, we included it in the second American Rifleman Ladies Pistol Project, an intensive exercise that involved the firing of 24 semi-automatic pistols by 55 women to ascertain preferred carry-pistol features. Survey results provided unequivocal data pointing to the Ruger American Compact Pro (no manual safety), as one of the top favorite new pistols of 2017, having met all of the criteria that the women identified as preferable, including: chambering (9 mm); semi-automatic; striker-fired; barrel length (3.25" or greater); weight (20 oz. or greater); and trigger pull (6 lbs. to 7 lbs.). Ultimately the U.S.-made pistol edged out its closest competitor to win the 2018 Golden Bullseye for Women’s Innovation Product Of The Year for its value to the consumer (real-world price of under $500) and its fully bilateral features, which our left-handed shooters appreciated. (See the complete results of both American Rifleman Ladies Pistol Projects at americanrifleman.org/ladiespistolproject and americanrifleman.org/LPPII).
Shotgun Of The Year
Benelli Super Black Eagle 3
“While several companies have made a run at the Italian-based firm’s stranglehold on the waterfowl market in recent years after its inertia-action patent expired, it’s my hunch that Benelli will reassume its waterfowl and do-all shotgun dominance with its SBE3,” wrote Field Editor Jeff Johnston in “Lord Of The Wings: Benelli’s SBE3” (November 2017, p. 50). “With new features that offer real advantages over previous models, combined with upgrades in reliability, recoil mitigation, handling and aesthetics, I think the SBE has re-established itself as the ultimate waterfowl gun.” Those improvements contained lessons from the 3" Ethos, including a two-piece shell latch and a spring-and-ball detent to eliminate the “Benelli click.” Add to that the 3½" SBE3’s slender and fast-handling receiver, better aesthetics than the SBE II and the company’s Comfort Tech 3 stock system that reduces recoil up to “48 percent more than the competition.” The author wrote that, on a hunt in New Zealand, “Temperatures ebbed below freezing while rain and sleet pelted us like prisoners. I purposely did not clean the SBE3 once during a week of hunting, but rather abused it with mud and more than 1,000 shots.” And the SBE3 ran without a hitch. Johnston called the SBE “a superior shotgun that’ll last generations.” We agreed, and named it Shotgun Of The Year.
Optic Of The Year
EOTech Vudu 1-6X 24 mm
“EOTech hopes to parlay the accuracy and rugged construction of its 1X holographic sights into its new Vudu series, a lineup of precision-driven, variable-power riflescopes,” a staff editor wrote in a “Dope Bag: Data & Comment” review of the EOTech Vudu 1-6X 24 mm riflescope (August 2017,
p. 84). “The Vudu line … blends features favored by tactical- and precision-oriented shooters, which makes sense given EOTech’s legacy and the sights’ intended applications.” In testing, evaluators appreciated the scope’s solid construction, excellent optical quality and easy-to-use controls.
“That brings us to what is by far the most distinctive feature of the Vudu 1-6X—the reticle. … EOTech took [the first-focal-plane] configuration a step further and designed a reticle that is extraordinarily versatile. At the 1X setting, users will see the familiar Speed Ring reflex reticle so common to EOTech’s holographic sights—a proven design for close-quarters reflex shooting. As magnification is increased, the center dot of the reticle grows and the outer ring expands to the edge of the viewing area. At the 6X setting, the outer ring is gone all together and what remains is a BDC-style (bullet drop compensating) reticle. … It’s a really slick design ideally suited for both short- and extended-range work.” With such a glowing assessment, the EOTech Vudu 1-6X 24 mm garnered the title of 2018 Optic Of The Year.
2018 Golden Bullseye Pioneer Award
Richard Fitzpatrick, Founder, Magpul Industries
While serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1991, Richard Fitzpatrick pondered reinventing a common work-around troops had used for decades to ease handling of M16 magazines. Rather than the duct tape and parachute-cord loops that afforded soldiers under stress a better grip on their magazines, Fitzpatrick tried gluing rubber tubing together as a substitute, but it never worked well enough to suit him. A few years after leaving the Marine Corps, a solution emerged in the form of a dual friction band. He patented the idea and used his savings to pay for a small injection mold based on a simple drawing. Having gone all-in financially, Fitzpatrick knew he would not be able to fund engineering changes if the mold was incorrect. Luckily, the first samples came back perfect.
The inventor named the loop the “Magpul” for “MAGazine PULL.” Though it generated considerable interest, many of its first sales were discretionary unit purchases within the U.S. military, along with direct sales via the company website and through dealers at trade shows. Competitive shooters and soldiers who had the opportunity to try it found Fitzpatrick’s solution was just what they needed.
In short order, Magpul—adopted as the company name—attracted customers clamoring for what has been a seemingly inexhaustible stream of new products that likewise improve functionality and value. A short list includes: the Self-Leveling Follower and MIAD (Mission Adaptable) Grip (2004); PMAG synthetic AR-15/M16/M4 magazines, now the industry standard (2007); MOE (Magpul Original Equipment) stocks, grips, fore-ends, rails, etc.; and the Magpul Masada ACWS rifle, subsequently licensed for commercial release as the Bushmaster ACR (2008); EMAG (Export Magazine), to fit foreign military rifles such as the HK416 and SA80 (2009); and the PMAG 30 Gen 3, a versatile magazine compatible with many rifles, from the AR-15 platform to models previously using EMAGs (2012). Today the company makes a tremendous array of stocks and accessories, plus personal kit including the Everyday Wallet and iPhone Field case.
Known for its Foundations, a series of clearly stated principles, ethics and operational philosophies, Magpul lived up to its creed after the Colorado legislature passed sweeping gun-control measures in 2013. Included was a restriction on the future sale and ownership of magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds. That would have meant the company’s signature product line could no longer be sold in its home state.
Though it came at a time when Magpul was preparing to break ground on a new facility, the company joined other like-minded firearm-industry firms in refusing to yield to the loss of freedom. In an article, “The Magpul Way” (September 2015, p. 66), Fitzpatrick recalled, “The magnitude of what was being proposed forced us into the political arena almost immediately. The decision to uproot and leave Colorado was not made lightly. There were a lot of conversations internally about this, and a lot of sleepless nights; but, in the end, we all agreed that holding true to our principles was the only thing that felt right, whatever the outcome or threat to the business.”
Before the restrictions went into effect, Magpul undertook a massive effort to produce and distribute as many standard-capacity magazines as it could. A number of PMAGs were given away for free; many more were sold at sharply discounted prices, with all proceeds going to recall-election campaigns targeting chief anti-gun politicians, two of whom were ultimately voted out of office.
When the magazine ban went into effect, Magpul as a company made good on its word. Following a detailed search, manufacturing, distribution and shipping operations relocated to Cheyenne, Wyo., while the corporate office moved to Texas. Despite all that, the company has maintained a presence in its home state, vowing, “Magpul will … support efforts to restore rights taken away from lawful gun owners in Colorado.”
Richard Fitzpatrick retired from day-to-day operations in March 2017, but continues to be involved as a major shareholder and member of the Magpul board of directors. His ingenuity and leadership created a pipeline of product innovation that played a key role in fueling consumer excitement around tactical rifles and training, resulting in a sales phenomenon that benefitted the entire firearm industry.