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American Rifleman’s 2016 Golden Bullseye Awards

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Article first appeared at American Rifleman.

As staff members of NRA’s original “Official Journal,” now celebrating 131 years of publication, we take seriously the editorial responsibility to annually identify a handful of companies and an individual that together have had a significant impact on the firearm industry during the past year. The NRA Publications Division’s Golden Bullseye Awards represent excellence in quality and innovation and are not handed out without considerable review and deliberation. This year, as is typically the case, the competition was fierce and the discussions animated to decide which companies devised products that were likely to have the greatest impact on NRA members. 

“We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 Golden Bullseye Awards,” said Doug Hamlin, executive director of NRA Publications. “This year’s winners exemplify what NRA members want in their shooting and hunting equipment—outstanding performance, innovative design and value. We congratulate those who have created the industry’s best new products.”

To qualify for consideration for a Golden Bullseye Award, the product must have been: recently introduced and available to consumers prior to the selection of the Golden Bullseye Awards; used/tested by a staff member or regular contributor to the magazine and/or affiliated media; reliable in the field, meeting or exceeding the evaluator’s expectations; innovative in design and function; readily perceived as a value to the purchaser; and styled in a manner befitting the shooting and hunting industry and, perhaps more importantly, its enthusiasts. And while the awards acknowledge the finest in products available in the shooting sports, the Golden Bullseye Pioneer Award specifically honors outstanding personal achievement. The Pioneer Award spotlights the exemplary achievement and cumulative body of work of an individual, or members of a family, team or partnership, responsible for the development and introduction of shooting equipment that has made a profound, positive and enduring impact on the way Americans shoot and hunt.

Following is a recap of the seven winners in each previously established category, along with acknowledgement of this year’s Golden Bullseye Pioneer.

NRA Publications will present its annual Golden Bullseye Awards and Golden Bullseye Pioneer Award at an invitation-only breakfast on Friday, May 20, during the 2016 NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Louisville, Ky.

Rifle Of The Year: Ruger Precision Rifle
When Associate Editor Kelly Young wrung out the new Ruger Precision Rifle at FTW Ranch in Barksdale, Texas, (August 2015, p. 50) he was more than a little pleased at just how accurate it was. In the feature titled “An Interesting Development,” he wrote, “I’ll never forget the sense of pride and accomplishment I felt the first time I fired off a group, walked downrange and realized that I’d placed all of my shots into the same jagged hole.” The story revealed that the gun was not only super-accurate but that it had a unique combination of features—all at a remarkable price. Whether chambered in 6.5 mm Creedmoor, .243 Win. or .308 Win., the Precision was designed and built to offer adjustability, accuracy and adaptability in a long-range bolt-action. Building on the company’s American action, with a full-diameter bolt body and triple locking lugs, the Precision’s bifurcated lower even accommodated multiple magazine styles. With a hammer-forged barrel attached in AR fashion, a fully adjustable and folding buttstock, and an on-board tool compartment that can contain Allen wrenches and hex bits capable of being driven with the bolt knob, the Ruger was truly unique. Of course, because of its excellent off-the-shelf accuracy, Young opined that the late Col. Townsend Whelen would no doubt have found it “interesting” as well.

Ammunition Product Of The Year:Hornady ELD-X
Managing Editor Joseph Kurtenbach, in his feature titled, “We Have The Technology” (January 2016, p. 66), took us behind the scenes at Hornady Mfg. Co. to find out how its ballisticians developed perhaps their best bullet ever, one that delivered excellent terminal performance on close- and extended-range targets, and offered true match-grade accuracy. In the process, Hornady also finally cracked the code on the vexing problem of varying ballistic coefficients exhibited by polymer-tipped projectiles in flight. Kurtenbach witnessed the phenomenon firsthand as the anomaly was recorded on airborne projectiles using Doppler radar. He also took to the field in Africa for practical hunting experience that proved the new projectiles worked on game. The melt-resistant polymer Hornady used in the tip of its new ELD-X bullet meant the elimination of inconsistent bullet performance in flight, giving target shooters and hunters alike a new level of accuracy, consistency and predictability from their ammunition at long range. According to Kurtenbach, the development was likely to have far-reaching implications for the entire ammunition industry: “In order for consumers to make informed decisions about what ammunition best suits their needs, all ammunition will need to be tested using the best technology, currently Doppler radar … it’s a practice that I hope will be adopted by the industry at large.”

Optic Of The Year: Swarovski Z6i
In a staff-generated “Dope Bag” technical evaluation, we took a look through a crème de le crème model from Austrian riflescope manufacturer Swarovski (October 2015, p. 86). Boasting a whopping six times magnification range and characteristically superb optical performance, the company’s Z6i 2.5-15X 44 mm illuminated-reticle scope was subjected to a battery of objective and subjective evaluations. We “shot the square,” finding the scope’s adjustments to be “consistent and repeatable.” We then compared it side-by-side against similar models in the more-than-$2,000 category, learning that when it came to resolution, contrast and brightness, the Swarovski “offered an undeniable advantage, especially in waning light.” Features such as the unit’s high-definition “Swarolight” lenses, zeroable adjustment scales, fast-focus eyepiece and conveniently located illumination settings stood out. We wrapped up our review by noting that, while not inexpensive, “… the scope’s optical quality, magnification range and illuminated reticle, among other features, enable it to handle nearly any big-game hunting situation.”

Women’s Innovation Product Of The Year: Mossberg FLEX 20 Gauge
In a web feature by Senior Executive Editor, Digital, Ann Y. Smith (americanrifleman.org/flex20), the prolific nature of the Mossberg Model 500 pump-action shotgun was personalized in Smith’s “Mossbubba 500,” a circa-1987 shotgun that had been customized with a flashlight and duct tape. She then praised the company’s initiative for introducing the 12-gauge FLEX TLS in 2012, a highly customizable factory variant. Describing the gun’s Tool-less Locking System, she said, “a series of three patent-pending connectors … allow shooters to easily change out stocks, fore-ends and recoil pads for any shotgun application: clay target shooting, hunting or home defense.” Recognizing that the company had always been in touch with its mostly male market base and that it had leaned toward changing out parts to arrive at the perfect shotgun size, shape and form, Smith suggested, “In my mind, there was one obvious feature that might make this perfect for the average female shotgun shooter … .” That feature, of course, was a FLEX in 20 gauge. So she was keen to try one out when the company added four such models. Shooting one extensively at a Gunsite women’s event, on clays and in a series of tactical drills, Smith reported, “The FLEX, weighing in at approximately 6 lbs., was remarkably well-balanced and offered relatively fatigue-free pointing.” Summing up, she wrote, “In the 20-gauge FLEX TLS, Mossberg has delivered a toolless, modular, lower-recoil Model 500. It has proven it is indeed worthy of taking its place next to the original Mossbubba 500—and dare I say even replace it. All without the need forduct tape … .”

Shotgun Of The Year: Benelli 828U
In a feature story titled “Breaking With Tradition” (November 2015, p. 62), Senior Executive Editor Brian Sheetz examined an unexpected new offering from the Italian firm of Benelli, the828U, which is famous primarily for its semi-automatic shotguns prized by waterfowlers because of their unfailing reliability. An over-under with an unusual breeching system, the 828U dared to tread on ground that had typically been populated exclusively by shooters with traditional tastes in shotguns. With its stylized aluminum receiver, “fish scale”-checkered receiver and walnut stock, floating steel breech block, top-lever-actuated strikers and carbon-fiber sight rib, the new gun certainly didn’t look like the same old thing. And with features such as user-adjustable stock cast and drop, and the company’s Progressive Comfort recoil-mitigation system and interchangeable cheekpieces, it didn’t shoot like it, either. Recalling a South Dakota pheasant hunt in single-digit temperatures that saw the gun bring game to bag in fluid fashion, Sheetz also found that its light 6-lb., 8-oz. average weight was not a problem during extended clays sessions. He concluded, “That the 828U breaks with the tradition of previous over-under shotguns and with all other guns that have come from its family before it is without question. And that it does so confidently and beautifully is difficult to deny.”

Tactical Gun Of The Year: CMMG Mk47 Mutant
In a “Dope Bag” review (October 2015, p. 84), readers who yearned for the pairing of a familiar cartridge with a favorite platform were likely excited by the following opening statement: “With the emergence of the CMMG Mk47, we see an effective melding of the 7.62×39 mm Russian cartridge with America’s rifle—the AR.” Explaining that the Mutant benefitted from the same basic operating system as the AR and had a similar manual of arms, staff writers were quick to point out that the magazine-related aspects of the gun were pure AK. Functioning of the rifle was flawless, and accuracy with one factory loading measured little more than one minute of angle. We praised the Mutant as “pleasant to shoot” due, in part, to its efficient AK-style muzzle brake. We also noted that the 7.62×39 mm cartridge had the advantages of “adequate supplies of affordable loadings, increased bullet mass and frontal area, and legality for hunting in some jurisdictions where .22-cal. center-fires are not allowed.” Finally, we also lauded the rifle for the way in which its designers “went back to the drawing board” to ensure that they had devised a result that we characterized as a “functional and reliable hybrid.”

Handgun Of The Year: SIG Sauer P320
For handgun authority and American Rifleman Field Editor Wiley Clapp, who penned a feature story titled “Tomorrow’s SIGs Today” (April 2015, p. 64), the SIG P320 represented a significant departure in design for the respected maker of hammer-fired guns. But the P320 was striker-fired, and employed a modular frame chassis design wherein the module is the serialized receiver, making interchangeability of entire grip sections both practical and paperless. Reviewing full-size and compact models in 9 mm Luger, Clapp found them to be “businesslike” in appearance, controllable even in fast-paced shooting exercises and unfailingly reliable. “The P320 is obviously the system designed to carry the SIG Sauer banner deep into the 21st century.” And, referring to the military’s Modular Handgun System program, Clapp stated, “Only time can tell which marquee—if any—is going to win the big service pistol race … it seems clear that the P320 is as good as any and probably better than most.”

Accessory Of The Year: LaserLyte Score Tyme Target
The magazine’s “Dope Bag” reviews generally focus on firearms and optics, but some shooting accessories represent a combination of sophistication and usefulness that can only be addressed in a similar manner. Such was the case withLaserLyte’s Score Tyme Target (May 2015, p. 77), a laser-activated, battery-powered LED display that occupies minimal space on a bookshelf yet can actually make the user a better shooter. With 147 LEDs to register “hits” from a suitable laser-equipped pistol, the Score Tyme’s multiple modes can be started and reset remotely. During hours of testing we found the unit to perform exactly as it should and to be quite a lot of fun in the process. Using the company’s blue polymer faux pistols, we practiced drawing, aiming and firing at the unit to build muscle memory. We concluded, “When it comes to pistol training, there is no substitute for pulling a trigger. LaserLyte’s trainers offer a means for high-volume practice shooting that is easy-to-use and completely safe, anywhere.”

Pioneer Award: Randy Brooks, former president/CEO, Barnes Bullets
Randy Brooks grew up as an avid shooter and hunter in his native Utah, and in the 1970s took up custom-loading ammunition to help support his young family. At the urging of friend Fred Barnes, founder of the namesake component bullet company, Brooks acquired what remained of the firm after new owners had allowed it to languish. Soon the family’s basement became the company workshop, where Randy, his wife, Coni, and daughters Chandra and Jessica seated bullet cores in jackets.

Brooks’ development of a new dangerous-game solid won favor with gun writers, including NRA Publications Senior Field Editor Charles Askins, who wrote, “[L]et me assure you, these slugs really get the job done!”

Even so, the company struggled until Brooks devised the product that would forever change big-game hunters’ expectations for bullet penetration and terminal performance, the all-copper Barnes X Bullet. Although it took three years of trial-and-error experimentation with homemade hand and machine tools, Brooks perfected the process for manufacturing X Bullets. Then, over the next two decades, he continually improved the design and modified it to fit a host of new applications. Today’s Barnes TSX and related variants are among the world’s most highly regarded and oft-imitated hunting bullets.

After selling the company to Remington Outdoor Co. in 2010, Brooks continued to develop new products, including the well-received Barnes VOR-TX loaded ammunition and new projectiles intended for military use. As an Army veteran, he is proud that Barnes bullets are now serving with American troops and security officers around the globe.

Brooks is an accomplished big-game hunter, particularly experienced on dangerous game in Alaska and Africa. He is a staunch supporter of NRA and the freedoms protected by the Second Amendment. Though much of his success can be attributed to lead-free bullets, he steadfastly refused to cooperate with anti-gun and media forces that repeatedly sought his validation for banning lead projectiles.


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