10. Springfield XD
Caliber: 9mm Parabellum, .40 S&W, .357 Sig, .45 ACP
A Croatian design known as the HS2000, Springfield Armory licensed the design for their own manufacture and renamed it the XD (Xtreme-Duty), creating a number of sizes, finishes and calibers, for a service sidearm directly competing with the Glock. The XD was labeled “gun of the year” by multiple publications after its release, and it’s performance has been repeatedly stated as excellent.
The XD has been praised for being ergonomically superior, with a decent trigger, applied safeties (which the Glock has been both criticized and lauded for lacking) along with similar caliber and capacity.
It’s a perfect design for those looking for polymer, who just don’t like the Glock. It’s large caliber versions tend to be less a handful than Glock variants, as well.
9. Smith & Wesson M&P
Caliber: 9mm Parabellum, .40 S&W, .357 Sig, .45 ACP
Smith & Wesson had experimented with polymer pistols several times. Their Sigma became widely known as a sub-par pistol with a terrible pull and poor accuracy. Their next plastic pistol would be a significant success, competing with the Glock’s dominance, much like the Springfield XD. Distinguishing itself internally and ergonomically from the rest, the M&P series was met with immediate adoption by many within the United States, as well as a number of international communities.
The pistol introduced a number of useful features, such as exchangeable backstraps, like the Springfield XD and Walther P99, self-cleaning frame rails, and a striker that does not require dry firing for dissembly. All packaged into a frame that is fairly comfortable to shoot. Night sights are standard, and the gun lacks sharp edges.
The M&P series redeems the failings of the Sigma, as a very underrated service and carry pistol that’s steadily gaining in popularity.* While not as flashly, or used in movies as often, the M&P is a good shooter, not only for the buck, but well worth carrying in a duty holster or in the bedstand.
8. Ruger Double Action Revolver Series
Caliber: .38 Special / .357 Mag / .44 Mag / .454 Cassul
Capacity: 5 or 6
Trigger: Double w/exposed hammer
Ruger is known as the company that innovated the field of affordable, mass produced revolvers. Their Service Six was a staple of police and private citizen armories for many years, as was the GP100 after. With solid construction that stands up well to full power ammunition and a cylinder release not displaced by recoil, Ruger has been directly compared to designs by S&W and Colt. Ruger seems to produce a revolver for every possible use:
The GP100 series, full sized revolvers still strong from the days where every patrolman packed a .357 Magnum revolver with a four-inch barrel and speedloaders. The SP100, all-stainless wheelguns with an exterior as smooth as a cue ball, and made small enough to be carried comfortably in a purse or belt holster, but with the weight to control recoil. For sheer power, the Redhawk and Super Redhawk, with extended barrels and scope mounts, have been steady favorites of big-bore hunters, packing the formidable .44 Magnum and .454 Cassul chamberings. Such firepower is available even crammed into a snub-nose, like the Alaskan in .44 Magnum.
Their selection even extends the Blackhawk series of modernized Single Action Army revolvers, and the classic New Vacquero, designed with cowboy action shooters in mind. In a market where the giants like S&W and Colt have all but thrown away their revolver designs, Ruger remains a favorite for many.
7. Ruger .22 LR Series
Caliber: .22 Long Rifle
From the picture to the left, it makes sense why people tend to attribute the Luger to the design of the Ruger. However, most of the shape and internal build came from the Nambu pistols used by the Japanese in World War Two. Ruger had examined and reproduced captured pistols, and used the cocking system and grip in his design, the first of Ruger and Sturm Co.
The first model lacked even a serial number, simply being called the “Standard.” It was produced for thirty years before the Mk1 Target and Mk2, the variant which most will recognize, were produced. The current model being the Mk3, each version added improvements, like a better magazine release, added safeties that were easier to manipulate. Ruger, a pioneer in investment castings, managed to keep the price down, and over three million units have been sold. For a single model from a single company, that is quite the achievement. Ruger Mk2’s are quite often found suppressed or accurized for target shooting as well.
With continual improvements from over forty years of use, the Ruger is still a classic that is widely held as a necessity in any collection. It’s a good gun to gift onto children as a starter gun, or to friends to just plink with. Cheap ammo, lots of ammo available, and also cheap ammo. Like all .22s, the Ruger needs good high velocity ammunition and regular cleaning (.22 LRs are even dirtier than most rounds) to keep functioning.
While it won’t ricochet inside a skull as much as we’d hope, .22 LR is far from harmless, and they make good survival guns.
6. Taurus Judge
Caliber: .45 Long Colt / .410 Shotshell
Trigger: Double w/exposed hammer
Called Taurus’s craziest success, it is a wonder if the Judge deserves to actually belong on this list. It’s name allegedly came from Miami Judges purchasing the Taurus 4410s for self defense. It is definitely a bit of a unique piece, firing the .410 shot shell as well as the .45 Long Colt. Though pretty damned intimidating, it should be noted that these chamberings are rather expensive for the ultimately mediocre stopping power they offer. The big gun is awkward to load or reload with shotshells due to length, and few holsters are made to fit the gigantic cylinder.
.410 is normally used for plinking or shooting snakes. However, the Judge is not completely a one trick pony. It has been cited as being intended for very close range defense, as a bedside gun or car gun, where the somewhat erratic spread pattern ensures hits, and the lack of penetration prevents breaking through interior walls. With a version capable of accepting 3 inch shells instead of the previous 2 1/2 inch version, the Judge may be a decent point blank defense.*
*The difference is that a 2 1/2 shell only holds three pellets, while a 3 inch packs five, with more power behind them, too.
5. Sig Sauer P220 series
Caliber: 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 Sig, .45 ACP
Trigger: Double / Single
The Sig P220 was the result of trying to cheapen the excellent Sig P210 handgun. The result was one of the most successful and highly regarded pistol designs, one that expanded into an entire family of automatics. The P226, while failing to win over the US military for general issue, became adopted by the Navy SEALs, the Army CID (as the P228 compact variant), as well as numerous law enforcement agencies. Variants such as the P239 have gone so far as being adopted by the elite United States Secret Service, and a cartridge introduced by the P220 series, the .357 Sig, has become one of the major success in the firearms industry.
Outside of the US, the Sig P226 is popular in British law enforcement and military, notably being a favorite sidearm of the Special Air Service. Sig P225s are available quite commonly on the used gun markets, being extremely common before the Glock became more popular.
The company itself however, has been a bit less stable. Swiss being unable to easily export firearms, Sig collaborated with Sauer, a German firearms manufacture, to market their products around the globe. Eventually, a separate SigArms USA branch was established, before the company went back to Sig, then Sig Sauer. Over the years, they, like H&K and other competing firms, have run numerous training courses centered around their products. However, unlike H&K, Sig offers nearly all of it’s products to the civilian market.
The Sig is known for being supremely accurate and reliable, due to both excellent ergonomics and well thought out mechanical design. The slide rides within the frame rails for less play, the trigger is slick and the grip well-shaped. The original double action with decocker mechanism has expanded into such variants as the Sig 250, with a swappable firing mechanism, the Sig 226 X-5 with 1911-style controls for competition use, and Sig has recently produced it’s own 1911s. For many, Sig means quality.
4. Beretta 92F (M9)
Capacity: 15 / 18
Trigger: Double / Single
The Beretta has a reputation outside of the firearms community for being underpowered, unreliable, and cool looking. But the pistol that won over the US military is not without it’s strong points. It is reliable, accurate, and durable enough for most work. A rocky initial service have not stopped Beretta from continually improving it’s most famous design.
The design has a history deeper than may be apparent. It’s overall appearance was taken from the Beretta 1934, a straight-blowback sidearm popular in WW2. Gradually improvements were made to the design, the first design to be imported into the US being the 951, a single-stack 9mm. When Beretta opted to follow the market trend of “wonder nines,” they made the 92, following the same classic lines of their previous models, the same European heel-magazine catch, thumb safety (which was arguably better than the current one), along with the locking block mechanism from the Walther P38.
When the US Army conducted in the XM9 trials, Beretta submitted the 92SB, which relocated the magazine release to a conventional push-button design behind the trigger, and added a safety-decocker on the slide. With an aluminum frame and an open action that assisted function, the Beretta edged out most of it’s competitors, losing to the Sig P226 in terms of performance, but ultimately winning the contract as the 92F, or M9.
Early combat trials in the Gulf War and South America proved the 92 an effective design. However, in the second Gulf War, the Beretta started to run into serious issues. The most well known is slides breaking in half. The problem was sourced down to over-powered ammunition, and Beretta confusing materials for contracts. (With the US military? Quite a feat!) The redesigned 92FS had a reinforced locking block that did not allow the slide to leave the frame if it broke. Other problems continued when the US military issued lowest-bidder magazines with improper lubricants. Complaints about the Beretta and a call for the old .45s continued. The situation is the same today, though with marginally better magazines. It has been speculated that the open slide has been a cause of many problems, as there is a clear shot to the locking block during operation.
In civilian use, the 92 has had no such problems, being steadily popular for every year of it’s production. Even with the modernized 90-Two and the Px4, the 92 has been as prolific as always. Parts and accessories are widely available. Notably, the 92 has been used to great effect in the USPSA Production category, and is also a common choice in IDPA Stock Service Pistol.
One area the Beretta has been constantly criticized in was ergonomics, with a big grip, long trigger and an overall size that simply seems too big for the tame round it fires. This can make it difficult to shoot for those with small hands. However, the slide stop is extended and the magazine release is quite large, assisting manipulation.
The 92 series is ideal for duty work, competition and home defense, although somewhat large for concealed carry. It’s elegant lines have given the Beretta a huge pop culture reputation, and the chances of finding one during an apocalypse are pretty good.
3. FNH Five-seveN
Capacity: 20 / 30
When the requirement was set out for a PDW (Personal Defense Weapon), a compact firearm granting better firepower than a pistol without the training requirements and size of a rifle (much like the M1 Carbine of WW2), Fabrique Nationale designed a totally unique sub machine gun firing a new pistol round, the P90 (named so for the fact the bullets rotated ninety degrees before feeding). With it, came a new pistol, named after the cartridge. The Five-seveN packs a significant amount of firepower into a pistol of it’s size and weight, without the terrible ergonomics similar concepts had been prone to.
What truly distinguishes the design, of course, is the unique caliber. This chambering generates even less recoil than a 9mm Parabellum, so little that the gun utilizes a delayed blowback mechanism to operate properly – the bullet rubbing against the barrel on it’s way out is literally the operating system in itself. Despite this, the gun is very simple to break down and maintain.
This is also the primary weakness of the gun. With a caliber that’s been round for well over a decade by now, 5.7mm is not especially common, still far behind peciuliar-but-common rounds like the .357 Sig. On top of this, the round is a royal pain in the ass to load, because the cramped cartridge leaves next to no margin for error. However, it’s lack of total popularity have made is significantly easier to find and purchase than many popular chamberings. Regardless, if the 5.7mm plays any central role in apocalypse armories, it requires a good stock of ammunition and components.
There is good reason to own a Five-seveN, however. 5.7x28mm is essentially a miniature rifle round, designed specifically to defeat the Warsaw Pact CRISAT body armor, twenty layers kevlar with a tough titanium plate. It is a round that will casually punch through the heaviest of soft body armor at any range up to nearly a hundred meters. Even for civilians who do not have access to armor-piercing ammunition, the Five-seveN has staggering ballistic capabilities and retains it’s accuracy at far past the range of other handguns. With a magazine that holds twenty rounds without modification, the Five-seveN is truly a rifle stuck into a pistol, with the capacity and firepower to match.
Caliber: .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 Sig, 10mm, .45 GAP, .45 ACP
Capacity: 8-32, or 100 round drum
The Austrian army for the longest time had stuck with the Walther P38, a reliable and workable design. However, the Walther couldn’t keep up with the times completely, and the politics called for a new service pistol. Contracting a man who had absolutely no experience with firearms, they got a lot more than they expected. Gaston Glock, following rigid requirements set by the Austrians, produced arguably one of the finest pistols ever made. The first successful polymer framed pistol, (the first polymer pistol being the short lived H&K VP70) the Glock 17 was slow at first, but took it’s hold within the decade. Today, it commands a staggering 65% share of the Law Enforcement handgun market in the US.
However, as huge a following the Glock has, there are reasons people dislike it. As a no frills military pistol, it held a lot of rounds, was simple to maintain, and fed ball ammunition without a hitch. Everything else was secondary. The original design lacked a drop-free magazine and any type of grip checking. Though most things have changed with the years and thousands of Glocks sold, there are a few things that hold true. For all the applauding and citation of safety the Glock gets, even to the extent of being called a “safe-action” pistol, it has absolutely no applied safeties. Unlike a thumb, slide, or even grip safety, someone does not need the slightest knowledge of the Glock to make it fire.
An oversized chamber tends to beat up brass, and the barrel is not suited to lead bullets, both of which are issues with reloading ammunition. While not everybody reloads their rounds today, during a time where resources are short, reloading could very well be the only option. There have been some rather extreme examples of accidents (right) but fortunately they’re extremely rare. Some cases have indeed been attributed to the oversized chamber, but there are still some that happened seemingly for no reason at all.
However, a good number of manufactures produce match-grade barrels that alleviate both of these problems. Rule of thumb, stick to factory ammunition, or buy a new barrel if you plan to reload a lot, especially with .40 S&W.
In terms of ergonomics, there are few glaring issues with the Glock series, with a trigger lighter than most and a fairly slip frame, although large-caliber variants have suffered from an excessively wide grip. Modification is also a bit tricky on the Glock. The Tenifer finish is nearly impervious, so milling and cutting is generally out of the question. Another curious aspect is although a multitude of manufactures produce magazines for the Sig or Beretta, no decent manufacture produces Glock magazines. Extensions are widely available, however, and they add two rounds to the capacity.
All Glocks past the second generation come with standard accessory rails for a illumination or a laser sight, and crimson trace also produces a laser grip that mounts onto the right side of the pistol. Skyline industries produce a “carry clip” that allows the Glock to be more easily carried in a waistband.
Above all, the Glock is the paradigm of reliability in a combat pistol, not perfect by any means, but damned good enough to exist for probably as long as gunpowder and cartridge weapons are going to. It’s trouble free design makes truly a gun for any user.
Caliber: .45 ACP (original)
Capacity: 7 / 8 / 10 / 15 (original)
*Much of the research for this comes from the Gun’s Digest book of the 1911 Volumes One and Two, by Patrick Sweeney. It’s well worth your time, for not only the history of the 1911, but almost every aspect of shooting it, maintaining it, even competing and reloading ammunition specifically for a 1911.
The 1911 is a pistol whose history is more complex than it’s design. It has served for one year short of a century, as easily the longest lived pistol still in common use. Towards the end of the nineteeth century, the US Army was switching from big-big revolvers like the Single Action Army, to lighter, higher velocity designs of the thirty-eight caliber. However, early experience, including a number of alleged conflicts with drugged-up natives, lead the Army to set out requirements for a new service pistol, an autoloader. The Thompson-LeGarde tests, conducted against animals set for the slaughter, lead them to the conclusion that the .45 was the ideal caliber.