If you’re into guns, you know there is a list of the quintessential firearms you need to (at least one day) own. Both older and newer guns, these are the guns that have stood the test of time since their original invention. This list recognizes the best of the best—true innovation, time-tested designs and iconic styling—in the firearms industry. Though not all will be your favorites, there is no denying how each are classic in their own way.
Though today’s models will incorporate improved and advanced materials and machining standards, none of them have deviated much from the original functionality—just one of the reasons why it makes every single one of these guns on this list, guns everyone should own.
In no particular order, here are the top 12 guns every gun guy needs to own…
Colt Single Action Army
Also called the Peacemaker, M1873 and Colt 45, the Colt Single Action Army has essentially been the same since 1873. This single-action, 6-round revolver was developed by two engineers William Mason and Charles Brinckerhoff Richards at Colt for the U.S. government trials in 1872. Its official service name was the New Model Army Metallic Cartridge Revolving Pistol. The first Colt SAA had a 7-1/2-inch barrel and chambered for .45 Long Colt. Throughout its lifetime, the Colt Peacemaker has been made in 30 different calibers and multiple barrel lengths and even been discontinued and reintroduced quite a few times. It was the most popular handgun to carry from 1865 to 1895. During its lifetime (still in production,) it has been made in 30 different calibers, multiple barrel lengths and been discontinued a few times. A current production Peacemaker costs close to $1,800, but there are many different manufacturers that make a replica SAA which are considerably cheaper than Colt.
Designed by one of the godfathers of firearm invention, John Browning, the 1911 is perhaps the greatest semiautomatic pistol ever created. The Colt 1911, a short-recoil operated single-action semiautomatic pistol was adopted by the U.S. military in 1911 and served until 1986. The 1911’s core operating principle hasn’t changed since its inception and hundreds of manufacturers have copied it in various forms—there is a 1911-style gun in almost every caliber and size today (I exaggerate, but not much!) The original M1911 has a 5-inch barrel and 7-round single-stack magazine. Today standard sizes are the Government with a 5-inch barrel, the Commander with a 4.25-inch barrel and the compact Officer’s model with a 3.5-inch barrel. Many manufacturers today make 1911s in .22 LR and .380 ACP in sub-compact, highly concealable sizes.
The M1 Garand, designed by John Garand, was the first semiautomatic rifle to be standard issue in the U.S. military. Replacing the M1903 Springfield in 1936, General George S. Patton described it as “the greatest battle implements ever devised.” This gas-operated, long-stroke piston self-loading rifle is chambered in .30-06 Springfield and fed with 8-round clips. Field stripping is easy and back then it gave American soldiers a great advantage because the reduced recoil and higher rate of fire over the bolt-action rifles. The M1 was definitely revolutionary. Surplus M1s are available to purchase through the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) and online auction sites.
No other semiautomatic pistol has made such an impact on the firearms industry as the GLOCK G17 has. Though not the first plastic pistol produced, it certainly was the most mass-produced and marketed. Austrian businessman Gaston Glock, who had no experience designing firearms, invented the GLOCK 17 for the Austrian military. The gun has since dominated the law enforcement market. In the 1970s, Glock began making knives, training grenades and machine gun belt links for the Austrian military. When the Austrian military began searching for a new service pistol, Mr. Glock was determined to develop a winning design which held a lot of rounds, was durable, reliable and easy to operate. The GLOCK 17 has only 36 parts and no external manual safety. Extensive testing found the gun incredibly reliable and law enforcement and soldiers were more accurate with it than previous pistols. The 9mm G17 was without a doubt, a game-changer. This striker-fired pistol paved the way for the most popular guns of our day.
Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum
Otherwise known as the Dirty Harry gun, the S&W Model 29 in .44 Magnum didn’t actually feel very lucky until it made it into the movies. Even though it was the most powerful handgun on the market at the time, the Model 29 wasn’t a commercial success when it was introduced in 1955. Made for dangerous game hunting, the model 29 had a blued finish and a 6-1/2-inch barrel. It’s been discontinued and reintroduced as special runs or limited editions over ten times throughout its history. It is currently available for $1,169 (MSRP) as part of Smith & Wesson’s “Classics” line.
The gun for beginners, youth, small game and plinking fun is the Ruger 10/22. Developed by Bill Ruger and Henry Sefried in 1964, the Ruger 10/22’s original design resembles the M1 Carbine and operates on a simple blowback system. It is chambered for .22 Long Rifle and uses a Savage 99 rotary magazine. Since its introduction, more than five million Ruger 10/22 semiautomatic rimfire rifles have been sold. According to Gunmann.com, it is “…the best-selling civilian rifle of all time.”
The AR-15 is the most popular rifle in the United States. It’s even called “America’s Rifle.” It is estimated that there are anywhere between 5 and 10 million ARs in circulation. The AR-15 was an off-shoot design of Eugene Stoner’s AR-10 made intentionally to be a contender to replace the M1 Garand. The U.S. military never adopted the AR-10, but eventually, the Air Force purchased the AR-15 in a select-fire model designated the M16 in 1961. By 1965, the M16 became the primary service rifle for most military. In 1989, Eagle Arms (now Lewis Machine and Tool) made their own semiautomatic AR-15 and marketed it to civilians. Because of its ease of use, low-recoil and adaptability and customization, the AR-15 suits almost every shooter from beginners to professional competitors, young and old. It’s a fun gun to shoot and the .223 caliber is significant for certain types of hunting, self-defense and recreational target shooting. It’s a great all-around gun.
The Mikhail Kalashnikov designed long-stroke gas system rifle is the most prolific firearm in the world. It’s original design—wood stock and furniture, steel receiver and a curved 30-round magazine are so recognizable that even non-gun folks know what it is. Design on the AK began in 1945 and was fully adopted by the Soviet Armed Forces in 1949. The AK is cheap (relatively speaking) to make, incredibly durable, reliable and simple. Kalashnikov’s design was inspired by combining the M1 and the German StG 44. About his design, Kalashnikov is reported to have said, “I was in the hospital, and a soldier in the bed beside me asked: ‘Why do our soldiers have only one rifle for two or three of our men when the Germans have automatics?’ So, I designed one. I was a soldier, and I created a machine gun for a soldier. It was called an Avtomat Kalashnikova, the automatic weapon of Kalashnikov—AK—and it carried the year of its first manufacture, 1947.”
The Beretta M9 replaced the 1911A1 as the Army’s sidearm in 1985 and was the standard issued sidearm for all branches of the U.S. military until 2017! This combat-tested semiautomatic pistol was developed by Pier Carlo Beretta, Vittorio Valle and Giuseppe Mazzeti in 1975. Originally called the 92 SB-F, this open slide design incorporates two distinct innovative features—a double-stack magazine and direct feed. It operates on the short recoil principle and holds 15 rounds of 9mm. It’s been nicknamed the “World Defender” because it is so reliable in extreme conditions, running over 30,000 rounds without a malfunction. The Beretta 92 is one of the most popular guns used by Hollywood, making appearances in some of the greatest action movies and popular television shows ever including Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Terminator 2, CSI and the Walking Dead, plus countless others.
There are plenty of classic Winchester firearms to choose from and having more than Winchester in your collection is worth boasting about; however, we’re highlighting the 94 because it is “The Gun that Won the West.” Wikipedia describes it as “one of the most famous and popular hunting rifles of all time.” Designed by John Browning, the Winchester Model 1894 is a lever-action rifle that has stood the test of time and is now used in cowboy action shooting and medium- to big-game hunting. It was the first commercially-available American repeating rifle to use smokeless powder. Though it is now famous for the .30-30 Winchester round, it was originally chambered for either .32-40 or .38-55 Winchester. The gun was so popular that by 1927, the one millionth one was made and presented to then-President Calvin Coolidge. The 94 saw service in World War I serving the United States and World War II serving the Canadian Pacific Coast Rangers.
Carl Benson, the engineer who designed the Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun, intended to create a beginner hunter shotgun with few parts and ease of use that had a low production cost. Introduced in 1962 and perfected a decade later by the incorporation of dual action bars, the Mossberg 500’s simple yet durable construction, adaptability, reliability, versatility and affordable price tag made it Mossberg’s best-selling firearm and one of the world’s favorite shotguns. Available in many different configurations, the 500 has interchangeable barrels, a wide variety of stock options and plenty of aftermarket parts and accessories. It sees service in military and law enforcement agencies around the world. In fact, according to Mossberg it is the only pump-action shotgun “to pass all U.S. Military Mil-SPEC 3443 requirements.” There have been over 10 million Mossberg 500s produced. It’s an icon and an innovator. Field & Stream shotgun editor Phil Bourjaily says, “The 500 has also been a platform for innovation. It was the first gun in the industry to offer a cantilever-mount rifled barrel; the first to have interchangeable comb inserts; there was even a .50 caliber inline muzzleloader barrel for the 500.” You’re truly missing out by not owning one.
Engineered by Mike Walker to increase accuracy and make production cheaper for Remington rifles, the Remington 700 bolt-action rifle is the most top-selling bolt-action “of all time.” (Remington.com) Introduced in 1962, the Remington 700 isn’t a fancy rifle, yet it is incredibly accurate and reliable due to its cylindrical receiver, tight tolerances, fast lock time, innovative bedding and groundbreaking action—utilizing a three-piece recessed bolt with two forward dual opposing lugs enclosing the cartridge base. More than 5.3 million have been sold in what is quite possibly the most variety of configurations available for any rifle. The famous Remington 700 action is used in military sniper rifles. Any hunter needs a Remington 700, in whatever caliber and finish you prefer.
Far from an exhaustive list, these 12 are just some of my personal favorite firearms. My must have guns for any collection are not necessarily your must have guns for collections…for example, I’m pretty sure at least one of you are offended that I included the AK on this list.