The Best Gun

By Scott Longman

What’s the best gun you’ve ever owned?

Right there, that question invites global conflagration.

I’ve asked this question around campfires, at casual ranges, at government ranges, at force-on-force drills, on deer hunts, on upland game hunts, at parent-teacher conferences and, worse yet, homeowner’s association meetings, and always received magnificently emphatic responses. Sometimes expressed as follows, but it really does come down to one question. I mean, after “Get out!”

“What do you mean by best?”

Well, fair enough.

For some, it’s a deep emotional attachment, be it from a grandfather, father or other mentor, sometimes without relation to the weapon’s actual utility. Worn once-blued steel and hardwood seem to own the roost, lovingly kept. A deer gun, a bird gun, a squirrel gun, all of vintage and, wonderfully, almost all still perfectly operable. In contrast, sometimes, it’s a war trophy, like a Luger or a Mauser. Sometimes it’s the kind of war trophy we don’t address.

For others, it’s all about pursuit of a particular species. Waterfowlers will give a different answer from upland gamers, will give a different answer from whitetail aficionados, and further different from elk hunters, varminters yet something else, and far and away different from African big game hunters. Despite all landing under the collective tent of “hunting,” that group will come up with Ithaca 10 gauges, Benelli 12s, Remington 700s. All perfectly valid, each to his own.   

Some will cite use in war. I was once privileged to live next door to a WWII infantry lieutenant who had fought his way across Europe, holder of the Silver Star. You can imagine the white-hot crucible that formed his young opinions on weapons, life and everything. Without the slightest hesitation, for him it was what no less an authority than General George Patton called “the greatest battle implement ever devised,” the M1 Garand. Another much younger friend had experiences in Iraq, which led him to say he would never trade an M240. Another there had the M9 pistol preserve his corporeal self, a device that he would never again be without.

Some are law enforcement. While our nation’s police forces rightly continue to proliferate both the patrol rifle and the shotgun, the overwhelming number of here-when-you-need-it stories are of handguns. In my most recent of surveys, SIGs and Glocks prevail, with an honorable mention to Smiths, Berettas and Springfields.

What of concealed carry holders? Here, things diverge rather significantly, usually by human vintage. Among older folk, snubbie revolvers predominate, usually Smiths and Colts, but some Rugers/Rossis/Tauruses thrown in. Then there is another layer of the .380 pistols that I won’t dignify by naming. Worse yet, the I-couldn’t-find-a-sharp-stick folks carry some flavor of .25 ACP.  The fat part of the curve falls to modern compact and subcompact nines, with the Glock 19 and the SIG 365 tying for pole position. But then, there are the Real Old School Guys, almost always someone who has had at some point to shoot a felon to stop an attack. Those experiences reset their value system, and they don’t much seem to mind size and weight: I can’t tell you how many such grayhairs I’ve met who daily carry a full-size M1911A1, or a Smith Model 27 .357, or a Colt Python, each insistent that they could take down the Siegfried Line with it. Look for untucked Hawaiian shirts or photographer vests in July.

So, taken in totality, it really comes down to “which weapon has most enhanced our lives.” It might be sheer emotion for a loved one, in what Marcel Proust called remembrances of things past. It might be that it has stood guard with us for years or decades. It might be that it has led to grand hunting adventure, and food on the table for us and those around us. And in what Masaad Ayoob once highlighted as “the gravest extreme,” it might have saved our lives and/or the lives of loved ones.  

I highly recommend you start asking the question. Over time, you’ll end up with a great collection of stories, and more importantly, a great collection of new friends. And as to my best gun?  A Remington Nylon 66 .22, my father’s, the first ever live firearm I fired. 

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