Ted’s essays

a basic home armory

Inspired by the “10 Guns Worth Keeping” article that I copied and linked below is my more fundamental version of that here.

Author Bob Campbell describes his double-handful with make/model specificity that is always welcome to people considering one or another of the recommendations. However, as I read through the article I was confident that my long and short guns were functionally every bit as good as his favorites, perhaps better in my opinion.
Of course opinions are like ________ , everybody has one.

I am a mid-pack shooter with at least a little experience in most shooting sports, and have at various times been student, competitor, certified and active as a junior rifle coach, range officer and president of two different gun clubs. In shooting as with many other of my endeavors, I am an excellent teacher of things I understand. That combination has had me help a lot of first-time and novice shooters to a higher level beyond hitting the broad side of a barn.

Thus I approach the topic of recommending guns from an understanding that novices need the information in a straightforward fashion while experts already know it all. I am also confident that the examples of each that I like are within spitting distance of being as good as his.

More importantly, I think his 10 gun recommendation list is too big. If you have 6 or 8 and want to justify another, maybe you need his list, but to those with more modest armories, I wanted to give that audience a checklist of firearms you really ought to have in more generic terms.

First on my list is the 20-gauge youth-stocked shotgun. I go into full detail about that choice with this article: your first home defense firearm, but the short story is they are effective, straightforward, relatively easy to understand, safe operation is comprehensible to newcomers and they are very versatile.

I am not going to recommend online sources for the guns below as I think you should buy from a local human who can help you with the gun ownership process. Just beware of the tac-ti-cool dudes with Hollywood-esq recommendations far off what I outlined below. Gun store clerks are about 30% that way.

Though personal situations may alter the order for the rest, a .22 LR rifle is among the list toppers for the next gun every household SHOULD HAVE. Bolt action has an edge over semi-automatic as the manual, mechanical operation is better understood for newcomers, and safety demands that shooters KNOW ABSOLUTELY when a round is chambered and ready to shoot. Better still, for under two hundred bucks, you can buy a new bolt-action .22 rifle that is reputable, reliable, accurate, fun to shoot and can be effective for taking small game and self-defense.

I do recommend iron sights rather than a scope on this rifle. Shooters should really become accomplished with the rugged, reliable, ubiquitous concept of lining up front sight, rear sight and target while squeezing off a round before they move on to easier, more delicate scopes. Another consideration is a “youth stock”. This makes it usable by people with smaller bodies, like women and children. Men can adapt easily, though full-sized would be more comfortable for them

A close relative and solid contender for third position would be a semi-automatic, self-loading .22 LR rifle. The Ruger 10-22 created the market for low-cost rimfire semi-auto rifles, but there are quite a few now in that modest price range that are inconsequentially better or worse. These are a great way to begin understanding the function and features of self-loading firearms, and the low cost of long rifle (LR) ammunition put them head and shoulders above anything else for that crucial element of learning to shoot: TRIGGER TIME.

Handguns are handy. They can be with you almost everywhere from nightstand to holstered while working or playing. When a strong, urgent need for self-defense arrives, your handgun is most likely going to be your only choice. My list topper here is a .357 revolver. Taurus makes excellent ones with modest pricing. I always recommend revolvers to novices as their operation is straightforward, and therefore much safer than a semi-auto.

Barrel length is significant. Everybody loves how a “snubby” fits on their bodies. But extremely short barrels do not give the powder time to completely burn which means lower velocity as the bullet leaves with a large muzzle-blast flame chasing it out. The front sight is so close to the rear sight that lining up on targets demands a much higher skill level to actually hit what you intend to hit. A 3.5″ to 4.5″ barrel is much more practical. The extra weight, by the way, means the handgun absorbs more of the recoil – a feature you will appreciate when you begin shooting. Which brings up weight. The less expensive steel construction is preferable to the exotic light-weight alloys which will sting you with every shot fired.

Shoot .38 Special ammo. When that is comfortable, add some .38 Special +P defensive ammo. If you are still comfortable, go for the full power .357 magnum. There isn’t much better in handgun stopping power for normal shooters. A revolver built to handle .357 will easily run the other stuff forever without hiccup.

———- STOP there ———-

Shoot a lot with the above before you move on. Be familiar with gun safety, operation and maintenance. You will never regret owning any of the above and should hang on to them for life. You can always introduce a new shooter with ’em, but moreover, they will keep coming back out just cuz the practice is good, the fun factor is great, and TRIGGER TIME is how you hit your intended targets.

Okay graduate, it is time you get one of the most popular rifle platforms in the USofA, an AR-15. The variety of setups and configurations is dizzying, as is the versatility. Keep it simple. Once you have one of your own, you will undoubtedly get to see many variations with abundant add-on options. Because they are so rugged, iron sights are a good choice in a defensive, potentially rough-use rifle. At least have iron sights mounted in addition to a scope if you choose to go that route. Skip the gee-gaws, dingle-balls and fuzzy dice. The basic rifle is your best starting point.

Even caliber choices are confusing with people bragging about this over that. Go with the absolutely, far-and-away most popular 5.56 NATO, which can also shoot civilian .223 (note a .223 rifle cannot safely shoot 5.56 – it matters). Ammo is everywhere, and effective for defense and hunting up to and including deer.

I leaned back in my chair ruminating on what I had written so far and smiled as I realized my next recommendation would be another AR-15 platform rifle in 5.56, but this one gets a Strike Eagle bullet-drop-compensating (BDC), range-finding scope. A lot of hugely talented shooters run near the top of their sports LOVING their red-dot scopes… which are perfect for the game they love, but not so practical. My recommended Strike Eagle works with or without the battery, facilitates quick target ranging AND acquisition, plus offers long range precision. It currently adds $400 to the cost of your rifle, which is significantly more than the cheap junk, but a fraction of the expensive stuff. More magnification is not better as it limits your up-close capabilities.

By now you also ought to have half-a-dozen 30-round AR-15 magazines and similar number of the more compact, handier 20-round magazines. I am fond of the “GI” aluminum magazines with green followers, but there are plenty of choices. Remember that reliability is EVERYTHING. Here is a magazine review with links (Brownelles is a good supplier).

The final piece in your basic entry-level armory is a .30 caliber rifle. Military surplus has a cool factor going for it, but basic functionality is king at this point in your collection. Your basic modern hunting rifle in .308 gets my nod for adequacy, affordability and practicality. Unlike many modern ammo choices, .308 ammo is everywhere, even in quantity on the military surplus market. Since you have the semi-auto entry covered, a bolt-action with decent scope would be my recommendation, though for just a little more money, an AR-10 that operates just like your other AR would be a good choice. You can get an adequate Mossberg with scope for $500. Remington, Ruger and many others have similar setups. Of course those seeking long-range bragging rights will have to triple the cost, but almost never use the theoretical advantage.

Speaking of bragging rights, don’t concern yourself with those guys who “consistently hit golf-balls at 500 yards”. Intelligent conversation ended when they made that crap up. Do not seek further information from them, and certainly waste no time challenging their frail egos. More importantly, game animals tend to move around too much for reliable, clean, ethical shots beyond a few hundred yards. Human enemies presenting a real threat to you and your community are hard to reliably identify past a few hundred yards. Handgun battles are typically close range affairs, within 10 yards.

Hardware requirements for long range shooting are extremely rare… maybe when you are up to that 10-gun standard discussed below.

P. S. The gun safe is a definite consideration if your home is frequented by untrainable people. However, a gun required for self-defense is not a “wait a minute” option. Most of those on my list need to be easy and convenient to you when you are highly stressed and in an extreme hurry. Safe storage has no single easy answer, but I do not trust electronic locks for anything important.

– Ted –

10 Guns Worth Keeping

Guns Worth Keeping

There are many “keepers” in life. The most important keeper in the home is watching TV in another room as I write this —  she is my most important.

As a peace officer, keepers kept my belts together and prevented the holster belt from sagging. A firearm that is too good and too useful to trade or sell is a keeper.

Like many of you, I may trade up when the need is there or when a new introduction is attractive. I have traded three or four for a single piece, and I have not always gotten something better than the firearm traded.

What follows is a serenade to 10 solid handguns, rifles and shotguns that have earned the title “keepers,” and are definitely guns worth keeping.

1. Heritage Rough Rider

The Heritage Rough Rider is the least expensive revolver that I know of. There are inexpensive centerfire revolvers and self-loaders that are just cheap. They aren’t my favorites.

The Heritage single-action .22 rimfire is trouble-free, friendly, and more accurate than it should be. I am never happier than when firing single-action ‘cowboy guns.’

I have done quite a bit of gunsmith work, and hang around gun shops often. I have yet to see a Heritage in need of repair or adjustment.


The Rough Rider features a manual safety that allows safely keeping six rounds at the ready. This revolver isn’t expensive. Why trade it, it isn’t worth much on trade-in, but it is worth more than its modest price in utility.

The Heritage is a great plinker, trainer and small-game handgun.

Heritage Rough Rider
The Heritage Rough Rider is an impressively reliable firearm.

2. Smith and Wesson Military and Police

I am working up a curriculum for a gunsmithing school that includes the different generations of the Smith and Wesson M&P revolver.

While there are important differences, all of the revolvers from 1899 to the present are reliable, smooth and accurate. My friend Darrell owns one that is the most accurate revolver he owns.

The K-Frame .38 Special is just the right size for most hands. The .38 Special is the most powerful cartridge the occasional shooter wishes to handle. There is no smoother and faster-handling revolver.

Used examples are still available at a fair price and if you’ve got one, you have one of the best guns worth keeping.

M&P Revolvers
The author owns several Military and Police .38 Special revolvers.

3. GLOCK 19 9mm

The GLOCK is a baseline for self-loading handguns. There are less expensive pistols claiming similar performance, but corners have been cut to lower the price.

There are more expensive handguns as well. You must ask — is it possible to improve on GLOCK reliability? The GLOCK 19 is arguably the best balanced of GLOCK handguns.

The 9mm Luger is a powerful cartridge, and the GLOCK holds 15 cartridges in a relatively compact grip frame.

This is an affordable and useful handgun, one of the best service and personal-defense handguns ever offered.

GLOCK 19 with Light
The GLOCK 19 is an exceptionally reliable firearm.

4. SIG Sauer P229

The SIG P229 is widely regarded by SIG fans and one of the best-balanced and smoothest handling SIG pistols. SIG handguns are famed for reliability and accuracy.

The SIG trigger action is among the smoothest double-action first shot triggers. The single-action pull breaks at crisp 4.2 pounds. A favorite is a .40-caliber version.

The .40 S&W hits hard. Any accuracy problems with the .40 are not apparent with the P229. The P229 isn’t inexpensive, but it is well worth its price.

This is a nice-sized handgun that is suited to personal defense and hits hard.

SIG offers a touch of class along with accuracy and reliability. The P229 is one of those guns worth keeping.

5. Browning Hi-Power 9mm

This pistol has it all — reliability, superb accuracy and emotional attachment. My oldest son built this pistol for me. The trigger has been tuned to a crisp let-off and a Bar-Sto barrel fitted.

The Browning Hi-Power is easily the most accurate 9mm I own. It is also a superlative carry gun, accurate, easy to use well and completely reliable. It is at the top of my keeper list.

Browning Hi-Power
A classic Browning Hi-Power with a great deal of emotional attachment is a keeper.

6. Remington 870 12-Gauge Pump

This is my longest serving long gun. The Remington features an Adaptive Tactical stock set. I like the folding stock and the ability to mount a light if need be. The 870 is a model of reliability.

If there are only four shells in the magazine, well, #00 buckshot tends to be decisive. Four shells equal 36 holes with buckshot. The pump action is smooth and the Remington points well.

Mine is the rifle-sighted version. I like this for overall accuracy with slugs. The front post has been replaced by an XS Big Dot tritium sight, giving the shotgun 24-hour utility.

This shotgun has been with me for years. I have gradually upgraded it. I once fitted a stock that did not suit me, it was made of cheap plastic. The Adaptive Tactical combination is a quality rig I like.

Others will find the factory wood stock better. For quick storage and use as a truck gun, nothing beats this relatively inexpensive and effective combination.

I also have a new in the box Remington 870 DM (Detachable Magazine) version just in case.

Remington 870 DM
A good pump-action shotgun is a handy thing to have. Many feel that it should be a Remington 870.

7. Benelli M4 12-Gauge

This is the most expensive of the ten firearms tested. It would make a good piece of trading stock, but by the same token, as many of you will understand, if I traded it, I would probably never have another shotgun like this one.

It wasn’t easy to obtain this one. The Benelli M4 is gas-operated, in contrast to the Super 90’s inertia-driven system. This is among the most reliable firearms I have used.

It has never failed to function, save with very light training loads using rubber buckshot! Recoil is modest compared to the 870. The M4 features interchangeable choke tubes and excellent peep sights.

The front post has been replaced with an XS tritium dot. The Benelli is well worth its price, because after all, it doesn’t get any better. Definitely one of the nicest guns worth keeping.

Benelli M4
Benelli’s M4 is in a class by itself.

8. Remington 700 .30-06 Springfield

My favorite rifle cartridge for hunting, as opposed to target shooting, is the .30-06 Springfield.

Not long ago, I was pleased to find a used bolt-action rifle with a cut-up stock — someone had attempted to make a youth model stock.

The rifle sports a Bushnell Varmint scope, among the best buys on the planet. It was fitted with a McMillan stock and Huber trigger. I will cover these in detail at another time.

The Remington 700 has been an enjoyable rifle to build up and fire. There is sweat equity in this one. One of my favorite guns worth keeping.

Remington 700 with scope
Remington’s Model 700 rifle is a rifleman’s dream when properly set up.

9. Aero Precision AR-15

This is a rifle built for me by my eldest son. I have no sweat or financial equity in this one. The rifle features an Aero Precision upper and lower receiver, a Hyperfire trigger and a first-class barrel.

I fitted a ROMEO1 red dot sight. This rifle has been a great all-around shooter. It is reliable like all good AR-15 rifles.

The rifle is light enough and accuracy is exceptional. This rifle is a good example of a properly built rifle. Use Aero parts and the proper tools, and you will own a gem.

Aero Precision AR-15
The author’s Aero Precision custom AR-15 rifle is the perfect rifle for his use.

10. Springfield M1A SOCOM

Sometimes you need a .308. I have surprised my friends, I suppose, when the talk turns to a SHTF gun. I am glad that my fate is more in the hands of our tawny young warriors these days.

Just the same, if in the unlikely event I really needed an all-around survival rifle, this is it. The .308 hits hard and will take deer and boar-sized game cleanly.

The rifle is fast handling and reliable. Accuracy is good to excellent out to 200 yards. The short, fast-handling rifle is a great choice for the one rifle shooter.

It isn’t as accurate the Remington 700 and certainly not as easy to use as the AR-15, but what it does, it does very well.

Springfield M1A SOCOM
Nothing says keeper quite like the Springfield Armory M1A rifle.

These are 10 guns worth keeping. I go over and update the list from time to time, but there are constants that never change. Reliability, power and usefulness are at the top of the list.

What are some of your guns worth keeping? Why are they “keepers?” Let us know in the comments below!