Okay, here are the rules. If you’re going to be a gun collector, you should have these budget guns as the basis of your collection. Naturally, there are collectors who can buy anything they want. To them, money is no object. This article isn’t about that kind of collector. This is for those of us whose every purchase must be carefully weighed and sometimes delayed. I’m going by categories, then what I think is the best gun. In some instances, I opted for the choice of guns that would properly represent the category. Here we go:
Double-Barrel Shotgun — Side-by-Side
I’d want a Stoeger Coach gun as primary in this category. Stoeger Coach guns are based on the Old West stagecoach guard’s shotgun of choice. They are available in single and double-trigger models, in 12 or 20-gauge. Coach Guns are ideal for Cowboy Action shooting and home defense. Once you have the Coach gun, any number or brand of side-by-side double-barrel shotguns would be welcome additions to your collection.
Double-Barrel Shotgun — Over/Under
I immediately thought of the Browning Citori for this category, though any number of other choices are available — the Ruger Red Label, for example. My own collection has some more economically priced O/U shotguns to fill this category — a Baikal 20-gauge and a couple ATI .410 Cavalry models.
Shotgun — Pump-Action
Top of the list here should be a Remington 870, but this category could also be represented by a Winchester Model 12, SXP, or Mossberg 500/590. The pump-action shotgun is one of the most popular budget guns.
Shotgun — Semi-Auto
My first choice for this category is the Browning A5. Although I hunted throughout my childhood with a Winchester pump or a Lefever double-barrel, the Browning semi-automatic was the shotgun of choice for most of my adult hunting companions. Therefore, it was always on the want list for me until I got a nice 20-gauge example. Another good semi-automatic choice is the Mossberg 930 or 940.
Centerfire Rifle — Lever-Action
Ideally, the lever-action category should be represented by a Winchester and a Marlin. The Winchester could be a Model 1873, Model 1885, Model 1886, Model 1892, or Model 94, either new production or a historic gun. The Marlin should be a Model 1895. Clones of most of these are available from Rossi, Cimarron, or any of several Italian gun makers.
Centerfire Rifle — Bolt-Action
Affordable examples are available from Mossberg and Savage. More exotic examples from Howa, Tikka, Ruger, Remington, Winchester, and others. If you can find and afford a pre-64 Winchester Model 70, you’ll be in tall cotton. Likewise, a nice Remington 700 is an excellent choice. My own collection has a Savage 110 and a Mossberg Patriot to satisfy the bolt-action slot, because high-dollar collector.
Centerfire Rifle — AR Style
The field is wide open for picking a nice AR. Ruger, S&W, SIG, and Springfield all have great offerings. There are dozens of rifle makers who just make ARs. My own AR is a Bushmaster with a Bushnell red dot sight. I recommend that your first AR be chambered for .223/5.56. After that you can find one in almost any caliber desired.
Rimfire Rifle — Bolt-Action
The CZ 457 is a tack driver. Savage and Rossi both have affordable bolt-action .22s. My first two bolt-action .22s were a Remington 514 and a Marlin 80, both purchased used for less than $10 apiece. Yes, that was many years ago.
If you want a new Remington bolt-action, it will cost a little over $1,500. Ruger has not put the Marlin rimfires back into production. The Remington and the Marlin are available on the used gun market for reasonable prices.
Rimfire Rifle — Semi-Auto
No question but the Ruger 10/22 should be your first choice here. A couple of follow-ups are the Marlin 60, and Remington’s Nylon 66. A semi-auto .22 rifle is one of the best budget guns for training and practicing your shooting skills.
Rimfire Rifle — Lever-Action
You might want to get several in this category, they’re so much fun. Start with a Henry. The Henry Lever Action is a classic Western-style lever-action rifle, and one of the most popular .22 caliber rifles on the market today, with over 1 million sold. It shoots great, looks great, and is remarkably affordable. It has a beautiful walnut stock, and the action is as smooth as you’ll find on any rifle.
If you can find a good used one, the Marlin 39A is a classic .22 that’s at home in any collection. Rossi also makes good lever-action .22s.
Rimfire Rifle — Pump/Slide
I like the Henry Pump Octagon, available in .22 LR or .22 Magnum. Rossi’s Gallery .22 LR is also a good choice for this category. Shooting a pump or slide-action .22 rifle is pure joy in my book.
Pistol — 1911
I can’t imagine a gun collection without at least one Government-size and one Commander-size 1911. Once you start on 1911s you may find yourself wanting more. Ideally, your first choice for a 1911 should be a Colt. New production Colts include the Competition series and Traditional series.
If you don’t find a Colt you like, Springfield or Kimber would be good alternates. For Commander-sized guns, try the SIG Sauer Fastback Emperor Scorpion Carry or Smith and Wesson 1911SC E-Series Round Butt Scandium Frame Commander.
I don’t want to leave this category without mentioning Rugers. Ruger’s Government-size and Commander-size 1911s are available in both .45 ACP and 9mm.
Pistol — Semi-Auto
Oh, my word! Here there are choices, choices, choices. Here are a few you can’t go wrong with: Beretta PX4, Beretta 92, CZ-75, FN 509, Glock 19, Ruger American, Smith and Wesson M&P, SIG Sauer P226, Springfield XDm, Taurus G3, and Walther PDP — and the list goes on…
Pistol — Micro Semi-Auto
What are being called “micro pistols” are all the rage now. Everybody (meaning manufacturers) has one now, some have several. Assuming you don’t already own one, two, or several, start with the S&W Shield, Ruger LC9, Springfield XDs, or Glock 42. Some have a little more capacity than the early single-stack models including the Ruger Max 9, S&W Shield Plus, S&W CSX, and Glock 43.
Pistol — Rimfire Semi-Auto
My first gun writing gig involved a rather extensive attempt to match a variety of .22 handguns with .22 ammunition to determine which ammo each of the guns would shoot reliably. It was commonly understood that .22 pistols were finicky. All of that changed when Taurus introduced its TX-22 handgun and proved it was possible to build a .22 semi-automatic pistol that would digest practically any brand of .22 ammo you fed it.
The gauntlet was down, and Glock proved it could do it too, with the G44. SIG took up the challenge and met it with the P322. Kel-Tec was next with its P17. I started to say I couldn’t wait to see what Ruger would do, but it already has .22 pistols that worked with its SR22 and Mark IV. If you only have room for one of these in this category, get a Taurus TX-22, either the full size or compact.
Revolver — Single Action Army
If you can afford a Colt — new or old — get one. Colt’s making them again. If the Colt is beyond your reach right now, Cimarron has some beauties, as does Uberti, Taylors & Company, and a few others. Get one of these in .45 Colt or .44-40 to be most authentic.
Revolver — .44 Magnum
There are two choices here if you want a truly classic example of the .44 Magnum handgun — a Ruger Blackhawk or a Smith and Wesson Model 29 — the Dirty Harry “Are you feeling lucky?” gun. Having one of each revolver would be truly awesome.
Revolver — Centerfire Double-Action
I would go with a Smith and Wesson Model 686 or Ruger GP100 in .357 Magnum. After that, a S&W Model 10 or Model 36, and a Ruger SP101 in .38 Special would be good supplemental additions to this category.
Revolver — Rimfire Single-Action
Here’s where we have more fun with Cowboy Guns, starting with a Ruger Wrangler or one of the older Rugers such as the Single-Six or Single-Ten. Heritage is another good source of .22 SAA-style guns with its Rough Rider Series. Once you start adding guns in this category, you’re likely to keep adding them as they are relatively inexpensive and a whole lotta fun.
Revolver — Rimfire Double-Action
The best examples I can think of in this series are the Ruger SP101, Smith and Wesson Model 17 or Model 617, Taurus 942, or Taurus Tracker.
Bonus Category — Military Firearms
If you have served in the military, have relatives who served, or are in general supportive of the military, you may want to reflect that in your gun collection. We’ve already covered the AR-15 and 1911. I recommend making the M1 Garand battle rifle a central part of your military tribute. The best place I know to get one is through the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP). Another rifle that would be nice to have is an M1 Carbine.
For handguns, the Beretta M9 25th Anniversary and SIG Sauer M17-Commemorative would be great additions to your collection. Only 5,000 SIG Sauer M17-Commemorative Edition pistols were produced for sale. Each M17-Commemorative pistol is serialized M17-0001 through M17-5000 and includes the Army’s required unique identifier (UID). The M17 is sold in the same cardboard packaging as delivered to the U.S. Army. From the pistol to the packaging, the M17-Commemorative Edition is identical to the U.S. Army’s official M17 service pistol.
Another good example is the SIG P226 MK25 which is identical to the pistol carried by the U.S. Navy SEALs. The railed P226 chambered in 9mm and engraved with an anchor on the left side of the slide is the official sidearm of the SEALs.
If you’re a collector of guns or want to be a collector of guns, I hope I’ve challenged you. If you have other recommendations or a problem with any of my recommendations, share them in the comment section.
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