I recently shared the Top 5 Pistols reviewed in 2023 per YouTube view counts, and while those were all good pistols, they weren't the five that stand out in my mind from the year. Some viewers noticed that and so here are my top five. Note that this is not me saying these are the "best" guns, but they are handguns that had some sort of significance for me. As with the other article I'll link to the full reviews and post updated pricing (as of the date this was written). This was a tough selection to make as we had the pleasure of reviewing several great guns this year (44 not counting videos yet to be published), but these were what came to mind first.
Why Should You Care? That's a reasonable question. Handguns are afterall a matter of personal preference and a big part of why they come in so many different shapes, sizes, and configurations is beause we all have our own budget, needs, interests, and preferences. While I refuse to ever deem one handgun as "the best", and can argue in circles one model against another I do have my preferences. My taste comes from having reviewed over 400 handguns and shot dozens more. My taste also comes from spending more than 50 full days in some type of handgun training course. I've shot in the dusty desert, shot in freezing rain and snow. I've competed in bowling pin matches and 3-gun, and helped dozens of people find what fits their hands and needs. My point is that I have a deep library of experiences to draw upon when evaluating a handgun and have refined my taste over the years. Always a student, always advancing.
#5 Sig Mini-Racer 365
More the culmination of parts than a pistol, this build celebrates the modularity of Sig's platform. With the addition of the Sharp's Bros grip module the tiny Sig P365 swelled out enough to be comfortable in my large hands. Combine that with the P365 X-Macro compensated slide, an optic, and maybe even a DPM Systems recoil assembly and you've got a very small pistol that shoots more like a full-size competition gun. All with the same "firearm" what could have started as a simple P365. I know Sig has developed a mixed reputation as a duty gun (deservingly or not), but as a simplified tinker project they're loads of fun for the right amount of coin.
P365 Specter Comp slide (different from what I used) $499.99 direct from Sig
Sharps Bros Grip Module: $275.45 from Optics Planet
Cusotm Works P365 FCU: $349.99 at Palmetto State Armory
#4 Extar EP45
Without much thought the idea of a lightweight, large-formant pistol chambered in 45acp doesn't sound like what we're supposed to want, but in reality it makes a lot of sense as a self-defense tool. Extra barrel length ensures those hollow points will have plenty of speed, and for in the house it's hard to argue against 45acp as a great option for harming bad guys, but with less noise, and reduced chances of passing through the exterior walls of your house. Extar did their magic again with recoil management and made a firearms that's fun to shoot too. Now if we can just get 45acp ammunition costs back down...
#3 Grand Power Mk23 X-Calibur Match Co
What would a list of Graham's picks be without including a Grand Power? Viewers know my affinity for the brand and their incredible recoil-reducing action type, but this one was extra special for me to get my hands on. The Match models were previously never in the US and offer an even smoother shooting experience thanks to a stainless steel railed dust cover. Adding to the magic is that the Mk23 generation are optics ready. Reaffirming my love for Grand Power is that they reinvented their action type for the Mk23 generation. Can oyu name another company who updates their action type with a new generation? How about even another company who creates their own action type? Few can make that claim.
#2 BUL Armory SAS II UL 3.25
This pistols was my introduction to BUL Armory handguns and really made me rethink a lot of things. On the tabletop I could see that the pistol was finely made and every part seemed designed for the build intent of a lightweight and compact doublestack 1911. What blew me awayy were the range characteristics. Typically something this small and light, especially with a short barrel is not something I enjoy shooting, but the SAS II UL 3.25 proved me wrong. I enjoyed the pistol so much that it replaced my beloved K100D for summer carry as it was lighter, smaller, and held a higer capacity. I even ran this pistol at the Guardian Conference; a situation in which most people chose their "easy" gun to shoot. The only thing holding me back from being completely enamored is the short barrel meaning carry ammo selection is crucial. Remember, in the US ammunition is loaded for a 4" barrel and the velocity that creates. As soon as you go below 4" you run the risk of your hollow point performing more like an FMJ. Yes the article was written in 2022, but the videos came out in 2023 and I spent a lot more with with it this year.
#1 BUL Armory SAS II TAC 4.25
Most of what I loved about the SAS II UL 3.25, but in a larger form factor, slightly more aggressive grip texture, higher capacity, and that all-important (to me) barrel length. The SAS II TAC is like shooting in easy mode. I had to swap the blacked-out front sight for a fiber optic, but otherwise love the gun. Just like the little brother mentioned before, I must caution that as carry options these require a responsible trigger finger, but wow are they great to shoot. As soon as the weather cooled off this year I hung up the SAS II UL 3.25 and holstered this monster of a gun. It hasn't yet replaced the mind meld that I developed with the K100, but it's getting there.
Overall 2023 was a good year. It seems the market is getting competitive again which means we can expect new products and price wars. Teya and I enjoyed our experience at the Guardian Conference and look forward to offering a class of our own there in 2024. Registration is open for the 2024 conference, so if you're interested in a literal buffet of training I suggest registering sooner than later.