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.
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 Remington870 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.
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.