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The 4 Most Reliable Tactical Firearms You Can Buy

Image source: thetruthaboutguns.com

Image source: thetruthaboutguns.com

When it comes to choosing “tactically” purposed firearms, I’ve found that it’s easy to drop loads of cash on all the bells and whistles, whether we actually need them or not.

With that being said, there will always be one factor that rules the day for firearms which ultimately take up residence in my gun safe: If the gun doesn’t shoot 99.99 percent of the time I pull that trigger — provided I’ve maintained the weapon and fed it properly manufactured/loaded ammunition — then I’d rather not depend on it to keep me alive when the chips are down and blood loss is a possible outcome for the scenario in question.

Here are a few other criteria that I used to compile the list of the following weapons …

Tacti-Criteria?

Quite frankly, it wouldn’t be difficult to come up with a list of firearms that never fail. However, they’ve got to be somewhat easy to find and purchase, and also be tactically sound. So, here’s what I’ve got:

  • There should be available models for under $800.
  • Compatible aftermarket furnishings are a plus.
  • They should be available in relatively common calibers.
  • Tactically speaking, they should be able to win a gunfight (depending on the nature of the engagement, of course. I wouldn’t ask a bolt action rifle to beat an AR in CQB, but I sure would pick the bolt gun if I was engaging a target beyond 700 yards. And sadly, this would also rule out revolvers, given their lower round capacity and reload speeds)
  • They should have a track record that’s either combat proven or law enforcement tested, or they have obtained above-average positive civilian reviews
  • Last but not least, they should be legal in most states — or easily purchased in states with reasonable gun laws – so NFA Class III’s are going to have to take a back seat on this one

Now that we’ve gotten our “tacti-criteria” out of the way, let’s get started …

No. 4: Remington 870

If you’ve ever seen a Remington 870 in action, there’s no question that these firearms are extremely sturdy beasties. Not only have they seen action on the battlefield, but they’ve also ridden along with quite a few law enforcement officers in cruisers over the years. The 870’s design has quite simply been around for decades, and is known for being robust. If I were to pick a “gold standard” for shotguns, the 870 would be my first choice — aside from, perhaps, the Mossberg 500.

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In addition to the Remington 870’s obvious reliability factor (because honestly, how unreliable could a decades-old pump action design actually be?), this shotgun’s ergonomics makes a short learning curve for folks training to master 870 manipulation and reloading from the side saddle. Throw Magpul’s aftermarket furniture options on an 870, and you’ve got one comfy, modular shotgun that will do the job … every time.

No. 3: AR-15 (Contrary to Popular Belief)

Indeed, I am well aware that I’m likely walking into a possible controversy on this one — but I feel as though I’ve seen enough evidence to suggest that the AR-15 (civilianized M-16) is, in fact, an extremely reliable rifle. Not only would the military have abandoned the rifle years ago if it were not, but manufacturing has done a great deal of advancing since its failures in Vietnam.  Let’s just say that the AR-15’s forward-assist isn’t used nearly as much these days.

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First, this rifle is gas powered semi-automatic, meaning that the weapon should be cleaned and oiled regularly, regardless of apparent carbon resilience. At the same time, it’s incredibly easy to find anecdotes on how the AR had been fed thousands of rounds — only to experience far less than a 1 percent failure rate (usually ammunition-related and not the rifle’s fault). Take this Gun Digest story for example:

So my stash of three tubs would be good for 1,500 rounds, which went downrange in two or three days. How many malfunctions did I have in all that shooting? Perhaps two or three in 14 trips “Up North.” And those were busted cases, from reloading the empties too many times.

This, of course, is a mere anecdote — but let’s face it: that’s not typical of most semi-auto weapons, much less anything under eight pounds and combat-accurate out to 650 yards. And yes, I’d most certainly take an AR over an AK any day of the week — unless it came down to bayonets. Then I’d want a Mosin Nagant.

No. 2: Weatherby Vanguard — 308 Win/7.62 NATO

It’s a rifle, which has pleasantly surprised more than a few marksmen, given its reliability factor, stellar accuracy (with an aftermarket stock that’s properly fit at least) … and because the price seems to be right in that “feasible zone” for those of us in search of a worthy .308 Win/7.62 NATO-chambered bolt gun. If you’re looking for a sub-MOA-capable rifle for target engagements past 650 yards, then the Weatherby Vanguard is a great option.

Perhaps the only drawback with this particular rifle is the fact that, while it might have great ergonomics for some of us, the stock isn’t properly free-floated (a common gripe with the Vanguard) — which will slap at least 1MOA of accuracy variance on every shot. If you’re looking for a tack driver, then you’ll want to get an aftermarket stock on there; however, if you’re only concerned with combat accuracy, then you might be able to get away with the Vanguard’s manufacturer stock from the factory.

At the end of the day, what isn’t under debate is the fact that the rifle’s operation is smooth, beefy, and won’t give you any function problems. Granted, it’s tough to mess up a bolt-action weapon, but Weatherby seems to have surpassed expectations in this regard.

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Interestingly enough, even well-known tactical gun/gear reviewer “Nutnfancy” gave the Vanguard a preference (overall) instead of the Gunsite Scout in his review of the .308 Ruger carbine. That wasn’t exactly something I would have expected at least, but after seeing the review, I can understand why he was fond of the rifle.

No. 1 Glock (19)

Perhaps I’m just biased, but I’m going to come right out and say this…

When it comes to firearm reliability, I can think of only one brand that truly seems to have an iconically renowned reputation for its inability to fail: Glock. This is perhaps why it’s rumored that the Glock 19 and the 17 are neck and neck for being the most commonly owned handguns in the world.

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Both the 19 and the 17 are Glock’s 9mm models; however, the reason why I picked the 19 is because of its added utility for civilian use as a compact concealed carry weapon (as the 17 is the full-size model, but practically the same gun). In addition, the 19 can accept G17 magazines and Glock’s 33-round mags as well.

But then, I come back to the primary issue as to why the legendary 19 made the top pick in this list. Let’s just say that this particular firearm could basically be placed in a category of its own in regards to its reliability/durability factor. For instance, one competitive shooter’s experience was all-too-typical of Glock’s reputation…

I purchased my Glock 19 Gen4 in mid December, 2013; just about one year ago. In this past year since purchase, I’ve put more than 30,000 rounds through it in training and competition. In those 30K+ rounds, for every round I fed into the pistol, I pulled the trigger it went “bang.” Every round fired every time.

So basically, the blog’s author, Andy Rutledge, fed his G19 Gen4 a whopping 30,000 rounds over the course of a year’s worth in competitive shooting without a single issue — possibly even correcting for ammunition factory loading defects. The only occurrences where he ended up having malfunctions was due to admitted “operator error” — which, for how many rounds he’d put through the weapon, were considerably few and far between. Why?

Well, that’s the other reason why I’m fond of this particular weapon. Glocks are extremely simple to use (while also maintaining an abnormally high safety standard). This is why it’s most common to carry a Glock with one round in the chamber, as the gun WILL NOT shoot unless the trigger is depressed along with its safety mechanism.

When it comes to the G19, it just doesn’t get much more common, reliable, simple and safe. And while it might not be as perty or classy-looking, as a custom 1911 in 45ACP … I’d rather win the fight with a reliable ugly gun, than lose with a stove-piping gorgeous one.

What would you add to the list? Delete from the list? Share your opinion in the section below:  

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31 comments

  1. While I have no issue with the firearms listed as being useful defensively a point to be considered is the use of a firearm in a survival scenario. A “wheel gun” i.e. SW, Colt, Ruger etc. has the ability to be fired even when it’s been dropped in the mud – a lot of hunters including myself will use the “six-shooter” when in the field – typically large caliber (.357, .44, even the .454). These work better than generally used semi-auto calibers especially if a large predator is involved. Same theory applies to the venerable single shot 12 ga. Even if dirty still shoots.

  2. I question the inclusion of the Weatherby Vanguard. I have seen then, they are decent guns, but don’t really match your criteria of being combat proven. Instead, if you want a bolt rifle, I would suggest the Remington 700. I know it is almost a cliche, but there is a reason for that. You can pick one up for under $350 new, there is an almost endless supply of aftermarket accessories, and both the army and the marines use a variant of it.

  3. The title is not “Reliable Tactical Firearms”, it is ” The four MOST reliable tactical firearms”. The AR-15 simply is NOT the MOST reliable. The semi auto version of the AK-47 is without peer in reliability. My son was in Desert Storm as a Sargent in the first marines division that was the first to go through the Iraqi lines. He cleaned his M16 more than once a day but could not keep it running in that fine sand. His jammed as they were attacking. He picked up an AK-47 that was buried in the sand and shook it off and fired it. He put his M16 on his back and used the AK for the rest of the battle. He was not the only marine to do this. He said ammo was no problem there were magazines full of it everywhere.
    We have both AR’s and AK’s. But if a SHTF situation takes place; he will take his AK with him. not the AR and he is a Marine that has been to war.
    The AK is not as comfortable or as accurate as the AR. But it is more reliable. The AR is reliable, but the AK is without peer in reliability. We have several of each. All of our AR’s have jammed sooner or later. None of our AK’s have ever jammed once.

  4. There are two pump shotguns produced in very large numbers in this nation; the 870 and the Mossberg 500. The 870 is certainly much nicer looking. But the 500 is built to Military specs. I have a friend who is a gunsmith who specializes in shotguns. He gets many 870’s to repair, but very few 500’s. He said if everyone bought a 500 it would put him out of business.
    The 870 can jam while loading and require the user to tear it completely down with tools to get back in operation. The 500 rarely jams this way, and if it does it can be fixed fast and easy in battle. The 870 loading gate will grab your glove while loading, the 500 will not. If the ejector breaks in the 870 you have to send the gun back to Remington. You can repair the 500 with a screw driver with ease.
    The 870 is a very nice shotgun, but the 500 is simply more reliable.

    • I would take an 870 just for the simple fact of being able to add an extended magazine tube onto it. If the gun was such a maintenance nightmare, Remington would have fixed or eliminated the firearm from their manufacturing. It is also used by many law enforcement and military, as well as thousands of hunters and shooters.

    • A friend and I used to go thru hundreds of reloaded WinX in heavy loads. He carried a Mossberg 500 and I fired a Winchester 1200 Defender. No failures of any type in either and my 1200 works as well with one hand as it does with two. It also has 2 operating rods like the Remington. I have rifle sights on it and slugs will bust a pumpkin at 75yrd without target blocking holdover, with a 40yrd zero. There was a version carried by Marines in Vietnam. I feel most any brand of pump shotgun could be relied on.

  5. I would toss an AK-47 into the mix. They are about as reliable as any firearm can get. More reliable than an AR-15 especially during a SHTF scenerio.

  6. Mini-14’s and AK-47’s are much more reliable than AR-15’s, and wheel guns work in almost any situation and with either hand. “Most reliable” was the key phrase in this article, not “most popular”.

  7. I agree with almost everything in the article. . . . I believe Glock is the correct choice of handgun, however I prefer the G-20 and its little brother the G-29 in the 10 MM configuration because of the manageable higher firepower they possess over the 9 MM, ,40 Cal, and .45 ACP, but ANY of these calibers would be a good choice. . . . The only thing more reliable than a Glock is a revolver, and a large caliber .44 Mag or .454 Casull would be a great sidearm to have for protection from large animals like bear, wolves. moose. . . The S&W .460 and .500 are just to large to lug around all day. . . . . I would take my Winchester Model 70 in a .308 over most any other rifle. . . .The Winchester has “controlled round feed” which is great for many reasons, but the Remington 700 uses the same Winchester designed bolt without the controlled round feed feature and both are simply the best designed bolt since the Mauser. . . . I agree on the shotgun and the REM 870, Mos 500, and Browning BPS are all comparable qualitywise, with the nod going to the first two because of availability of repair parts. . . A good double barrel or even a single shot 20-12 guage might be a good choice for those not mechanically inclined or new to firearms. . . .I think it a good idea to have a good .22 cal rifle for small game hunting also. . . and lots and lots of ammo !

  8. Agree with you on the Glock 19 Gen 4, my favorite carry due to its excellent repuration! I use Hordany Critical Defence Bullets!

    • This website is extremely biased toward’s Glocks I’ve noticed. A sig will handle more stress. Steel slide. Almost 99% metal part’s. Weighs as much as a G19. Carry’s 15 round mags but you can buy 32 round mag’s or 17+! with pinky extension mag’s for fairly good price. Been used by seal’s/police/navy aviator’s/ many LE dept’s,ect.

  9. In my experience the AK-47 and its variants including the israeli Galil are more reliable than the M-16/AR-15. That was also the conclusion in Israel after severe testing caused them to base their Galil on AK-47 design rather than M-16 design. Although the M-16/M-4/AR-15 have been vastly improved, I wouldn’t trust them on any scenario but a spotless range. Even then, I remember the first time I shot the M-16 in the military. With spotless guns on a clean range in perfect conditions and factory military ammo, we still had some stoppages!

    As to pistols, the Glock is excellent and being so popular, there are lots of holsters and accessories available. I have seen recent articles about possibly defective strikers, so I would look into that before buying my next Glock.

    • Sam,
      I’ve not seen any information on “defective strikers” on Glock pistols specifically or in general. Could you be more specific? Thanks.

      While I am in agreement with my personal and professional experience with the Glock 19 as well as the Remington 870 12 gauge shotgun when I was in law enforcement (we preferred slugs over buck shot)
      I’m not so sure this article is “definitive”, it should be titled, “My Personal Choices….” instead of THE BEST.
      There is nothing wrong at all with personal opinions and intentionally subjective articles IF, we qualify them as such.

  10. I am a 61 year old female who is in a wheelchair. I do not have a lot of upper body strength. Which weapon would you suggest for me? A rifle, a shotgun, or a hand gun.

    • ValerieP,
      It’s YOUR choice. Get what first FITS your hand, then start test driving (firing) a number of hand guns that “Fit” YOU. Being confined to a wheel chair, a hand gun, is most likely what will work best overall for you. Find one that FITS and you are accurate with, then practice and don’t worry about it.
      ONLY HITS COUNT, caliber doesn’t mean anything, a miss with a .45ACP, .40S&W, 9mm or a .44 magnum is STILL A MISS.
      Nobody wants to get shot with any caliber of firearm. No suspect I ever dealt with, before, during or after a shooting incident, either as the “victim”(usually drug deals gone bad), or the suspect, ever said, “I only got shot with a _______________(fill in caliber here)”. Not a single one in 27 years.
      So, find what works for YOU best, then enjoy being empowered. You deserve it.

    • Not bad advice! I would also include the following… Practice other aspects of gun ownership such as loading, assembly and disassembly, cleaning, etc. For example, I had a female roommate in college who went to a gun store looking for a compact carry pistol. She handled and fired more than one. After buying one and getting it home, she found she wasn’t strong enough to pull the slide back (the gun store person had loaded the guns and handed them over to test fire). I did it for her and she kept it that way. She traded it in for something else as soon as she was able.

    • It is the hits that count and not the noise you make. Over most of my life I have been a competitive shooter. In 1960 & 61 as a rifle shooter with the Camp Lejeune base rifle team. In the 1970s, 80s and early 90s as a pistol shoot and team Captain with the Army Reserve. Problem with the pistol is it is less forgiving and require a great deal of practice. I am a fan of the 1911 Colt, but if you do not reload and have to buy .45 ACP ammo at retail price you will need a second mortgage before you learn to master the weapon. So as a first weapon I would recommend a .22 auto loader. My choice was a Ruger MK-1 with a bull barrel, I have added a Hi-Standard Victor and Unique for target use. Also have a H&R 9 shot M901 for field use. Even at todays ammo prices .22 LR is the cheapest if you can find it. I have had a CCW permit since 1974. Biggest threat have been pit bulls, who seem to instintively know when their life is in danger and retreat rather than attack. I love my Colt Lt. weight Commander, but I live in FL where the uniform of the day is typically shorts and T-shirt. I have what I call my American Express card, a custom Colt 2 inch Police Positive in .32 New Police, that weighs 14 oz. empty and holds 6 rounds. Handloaded to 875 FPS with a 115 gr. cast flat point. Then when it gets over 100 degrees I have a little Jennings .22LR. My choice in rifles is the good old M1 Garand good out to 800 yards. In 1960 I fired the Garand at Perry out to 1,000 yards on the old 5 V ring target. Walked of the line with a 94, the first 20 spots were where tied at 100-20V.
      To the woman in the wheel chair, I would suggest a Ruger MK-ll with bull barrel and a spare magazine under a lap blanket. Practice until you can keep your shots in a 6 inch circle at 25 yards.

      • Dave:
        American Success Card is more like it! I also enjoy my 1911 pistols, and am struggling to find an acceptable method of carry in the summer time for me. Long pants where I live are better(lots of brush and poison oak), haven’t yet gone to a lightweight for carry “comfort” yet. Will probably look very hard at a Glock in .45 ACP though.
        I admire that you even HAVE your Colt, I’ve not ever even seen one in real life in that caliber! Well done, sir.

  11. Glock, Glock, Glock, Blah, Blah, Blah! I will run my American made Smith&Wession, M&P, against your Glock any ole day of the week. Mud, dirt, sand, rain or shine, anytime, anywhere! M&P runs just as well as Glock, and doesn’t feel like you are gripping a 2×4. I’ve shocked my die hard Glock friends more than once, and I keep coming back for more. Glock is a good gun,yes. Just not made here in the USA. Biased you say? Yes, Yes I am.

    • I was trained on a Smith which in three cases broke down during my time in L.E. Once the department switched to Glock, my groupings decreased to half there former size and I’ve never experienced a breakdown with my Block.

    • Dennis,
      I invested heavily in Glock before the S&W M&P line of polymer beauties appeared on the Consumer Horizon. I agree they are superior to the Glocks in ergonomics, hands down. Now IF, I wasn’t already so heavily financially invested, I would go in a heartbeat for a stable of the M&P pistols.
      I’ve fired a number of them in 9mm and .45ACPm, (never have been a “fan” of the .40S&W at all), I notice (my subjective opinion) very little difference in accuracy between the two.
      Since I AM a hardcore S&W K-frame junkie(and not ashamed of it), were I looking hard at pistols, the M&P line would be my only choice at this point.
      I’ve seen both Smiths and Glocks Ka-Boom from a variety of ills and incidents. In my subjective experience, they are about equal, except for the ergonomics. Smith wins that hands down.
      We are all responsible for our own salvation, and at this point in my life, I see no appreciable difference overall in “use” between either the G-19 OR the full size M&P 9mm pistols. BOTH will keep you alive, both are reliable, both are accurate. What else matters? The Kimber name? (synonymous in my book with major mandatory factory trips)

      • A K frame junkie! Bless your pea-pickin’ heart. I have high regard for the revolver and as such I have my S&W model 10 HB at the top position. Mine has been glass beaded and parkerized. Pachmayr Presentation grips and a full polish of the lockwork powered by Wolfe reduced power springs. My handloads put it at the lower range of .357 pressure without any warning signs. My S&W Model 28 with published handloads shakes the screws loose and ties a 41 magnum’s energy. Such fun! ;-)

  12. Instead of the Glock 19, I prefer the Glock 23. Same frame, same reliability, but .40 caliber of serious stopping power. Plus, I can use the 9mm conversion kit and practice a lot more at the range for less $. I have several ARs, including a piston-conversion, and like them a lot, but the VZ-58 is simpler and more reliable, using the same rounds as the AK-47 but with the superior Czech design,milled receiver, lighter weight, and less recoil. I liked it so much I bought a second one and they are about the only long guns I take to the range any more.

  13. I read the article a couple of times…. Glock, absolutely. Shotgun, absolutely. AR15 absolutely… however for .308 I personally like the Remington 700 pss. After 8 yrs in the Army, and a SWAT Sniper team leader for over a decade, I have seen as shot just about everything. These guns have proven themselves in far more than just my experience, and unfortunately I do have alot. I prefer the 40 cal. Glock for more stopping power, but in a real fall out, 9mm ammo would be much easier to come by since it is used world wide. But, everyone has preference, and if you like it, trust it, and know how to use it, then get what you want….I did. B

  14. Just a couple of things. 1) I am in the AR15 group. I’ve killed more bad guys around the world than most people will ever dislike. If you can’t keep your weapon clean than you deserve to die. The AK was designed for use by morons. Also after 300 yards the round falls away. Nuff said. 2) Will never buy a glock as he is a neo-Nazi and I’m a Jew. I chose a S&W Sigma in 40 and 9mm. 3) The Mosin Nagant 91/30. I have a 43 Izzy w/ an Archangel stock, Timney trigger set at 2 1/2 lb pull w/0 over travel, bent and polished bolt, bipod and 4×16 Sheppard scope. You don’t need all the toys but a great weapon with lots of cheap ammo.

  15. While these are good guns, I find it hard to believe they’re the MOST reliable guns that exist. For one thing, the Glock and AR15 depend on magazines, which can be broken or lost. Are we talking about “reliable guns for a week in New Orleans after a Cat 5 hurricane” or “reliable guns for living like Daniel Boone for the rest of our lives” ? Those are two very different scenarios, and I would choose quite different guns for them.

  16. I realized it was a joke when they said the most reliable gun available was a glock.

  17. 40 year shooter

    Training with a Glock can be a big concern as the grip angle is (wrong) as it is different than the vast majority of hand guns in the world. So people who are proficient with one do not hit much with any other weapon. They shoot low. That being said if you run out of ammo or lose your gun and pick one up from a downed person you may not be able to properly defend yourself.

  18. The # 2: Weatherby Vanguard — 308 Win/7.62 NATO

    Is a Weatherby Vanguard a piss pour choice for a lot of reason mainly feed issues and weak bolts that break easily

    They are have lousy accuracy most of the time

    the receiver gets warped easily and the bolt bends or breaks then you have Club or a boat anchor!!!!!!

    One thing parts for a HOWO Vanguard rifle are hard to come by on a good little own a bad day.

    You would be better served with a Savage Axis, or a Ruger All American in 308

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