Caleb’s Top 5 All-time rifles

Caleb has posted his picks top all time rifles:

  1. The M1 Garand
  2. The Ruger 10/22
  3. The AR-15 family
  4. The ‘98 Mauser family
  5. The Brown Bess Musket

It is hard for me to argue with his picks. I think the addition of the 10/22 is interesting. While it is a cliché, I think the AK-47 should be included. Regardless of what you think of the gun itself, it is probably the most influential rifle of the past 60 years. I would replace the Brown Bess with the AK.

Brown Bess Musket. Image from Wikipedia.

Caleb discusses his picks in more detail on the latest episode of the Gun Nuts Radio podcast.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Lee

    I would argue with a bunch of entries.

    1. Brownbess – Britain used this gun to create their empire. It went to India, Africa, North America…

    2. AK-47 – has changed the lives of the most amount of people in the 3rd world

    3. Maxim Machine Gun – Changed the way we fight wars. We can no longer stand in lines and charge each other

    4. Arquebus – Helped changed fighting from cavalry charges to infantry armies

    5. The lowly cannon – Changed combat from forts to field engagements by making castling obsolete

    If you want to rank guns that change American culture, then a new list might include the Garand, Colt Peacemaker and the Kentucky Rifle.

  • I would replace the Brown Bess with at least a RIFLE. Darn 50 yard musket. Might as well put the Roman Gladius short sword on the list of top five rifles.

  • “It is hard to argue with his picks.”

    Quite the opposite actually, but that’s one of the big pleasures of talking guns.

  • Jay.Mac, lol, true. I meant it is hard for *me* to argue. I expect y’ll to argue about it 😉

  • Nooky

    My personal list (and why)

    1. Sig 550. The best of both worlds, Ak 47 mecanism and reliability. West style excellent ergonomics and modularity. Extremely accurate from 0 to 600 m. Best magazines I ever handle. Cons: Weight, dont have the latest refinement in ergonomics (like ACR). the 5.56 ?

    2. AK 47. Cheap, reliable, strong, easy. good firepower. Cons: ergonomics, magwell, sights, accuracy.

    3. FN FAL. Strong, powerfull, reliable, good ergonomics. Cons:weight
    3. Garand/M14/M1A. Strong, powerfull, good ergonomics, reliable Cons: weight, mag capacity and noise for the garand

    5. WF K31. Probably the most accurate and rapid classic military rifle ever made. cons: low mag capacity: 5 (that can be easely corrected)

    I didn’t have the chance to touch the G36, FN SCAR and ACR but I think they have a good chance to compete in this list.

  • SpudGun

    As well as the AK, there’s no mention of the following –

    Winchester 1873

    Lee Enfield SMLE

    Browning Automatic Rifle

    Barrett .50


    I wonder what qualifies as a Top 5 Rifle? Military use? Civilian sales? Technical innovation? Because there’s a difference between ‘favourite’ and ‘top’ IMHO.

  • Matt Groom

    If I were to pick the top five most influential long arms of the past 300 years, I would pick long arms that changed the way wars are fought and that changed the course of history (in no particular order):

    1. STG-44: While the original ‘Assault Rifle’ made little impact on its own, it is the template for both the AK-47 and the AR-15 which dominate battlefields across the world to this day.

    2. M1 Garand: More than any other piece of equipment, this rifle is most responsible for America’s victories on land in both theaters of WWII. Neither the Third Reich nor the Imperial Japanese had anything that was even remotely comparable to the M1 Garand in any significant quantity, and the M1 Garand directly influenced the second most important rifle of the war (in terms of actually usage), the M1 Carbine.

    3. 1886 8mm Lebel: The invention of this rifle rendered every other rifle on the planet obsolete, not just as a military arm, but as sporting arms as well. The first firearm to use smokeless powder, it was also the platform that launched the world’s first modern boat-tailed, spitzer-type bullet. No matter what rifle you own, if it was made after the 1886 Lebel, it was heavily influenced by this rifles innovations.

    4. The Maxim Gun: This gun more than any other is responsible for the end of large scale wars of Honour. No weapon, no matter how effective or brutal was able to break the system of marching in formation into battle, a system that had existed since the time of the Ancient Greeks, as decisively as the Maxim Gun.

    5. The 1853 Enfield Rifle: This rifle was one of the first (if not the first) rifles designed to use Minnie Ball designs and was a direct influence on every muzzle loading military rifle until the advent of cartridge arms. Never had a rifle existed that could fire so quickly and so accurately with so much power before.

    No disrespect to the AR-15, the AK-47, the Mauser 98, or the Brown Bess, but they were merely improvements or standardizations of designs which were already in widespread use, not really innovations in any real sense. They were used far and wide, and influenced the history of the world in their own right, but they did not create the genre they existed in.

  • I would agree with everyone who suggested adding the AK series rifles. One of the problem with a 5 number list is that it is simply too short to encompass as wide a range of excellent products as rifles. The Lee Enfield which served on every continent with verve and which did come off better to the MAuser in engagements like the famous Battle of Mons in WW-1 also merits inclusion.

    But then, short lists are fun, I guess. Everyone has a view that could be listed as a competing five best rifle list and provoke more discussion. Few things can be better than shooting or talking about guns!

  • “Kentucky” rifle (not standardized) – first wide-spread use of rifles as standard weapons

    Dreyse firing pin rifle – first effective breech loading rifle in service.

    Mauser 98 – greatly proven and very strong bolt action system

    M1 Garand – first successful automatic rifle in production

    Mkb 43 – first assault rifle in production.

  • Nick T.

    In my opinion, I thing the AR series doesn’t really deserve a spot on that list, but then again, hes not saying all time best rifle in what aspect, every one has pros and cons, and to me the AR just seem like toys… my top 5 would include things like the mosin nagant, or AK47, real steel and wood guns, that is how I think they should be…

    I’m preparing for the shit storm I’ve brought on myself now! 😀

  • Komrad

    It really depends on what your talking about. This just says top five. That could mean any number of things. Best value, most revolutionary, best hunting gun, best fighting gun, most made(AK takes that), most used (AK), most reliable, and the list goes on. For top five most influential military rifles:
    1.AK-47 and sons
    Most widely used and
    2.M1 Garand and sons (M-14, Mini-14, etc)
    The first successful semi auto
    3.Ar-15 and sons
    spawned several gun control debates and has a large after market
    4.Needle Gun
    started self contained cartridge revolution
    just needed one more and couldn’t think of anything better

  • Martin

    The only pick I disagree with is the 10/22. They’re all representative of excellent milestones in weapon/rifle development. I have no idea what would make the 10/22 so special. Personally, I don’t like them. I’d rather have a Marlin model 60.

    I tried several times to narrow a list down to just 5, but couldn’t do it. Firearms development has spanned nearly 500 years, with some huge advances in the past century. It’s impossible to list a top 5 that everyone would agree on because of all the opinions on what constitutes good criteria. Actions, propellants, bullets, etc. They’re all important, and you could fill a top 5 for each category, and have very few matching weapons.

  • Dave

    The AK has to be somewhere on the list. It was the first assault rifle that was actually widely used.

    The Garand. The first semiautomatic military rifle that was used by whole armies.

    The Mauser, for obvious reasons.

    The various M-16/ AR rifles. Like it or not, it is the tip of the spear for the most powerful military in the history of the world thus far. That has to earn it a few extra points. On top of that it is wildly popular in the civilian market.

    The FAL. The rifle for the folks that didn’t use an M-16 or an AK.

  • Matt Groom

    I’m not going to bust anybody’s balls on this, since it’s just an opinion, but for those of you who advocate the AK being on the list and the Garand not being on the list I give you this:

    The AK is just an M1 Garand flipped upside down, with the magazine where the top used to be. Look at it. Even the trigger is the same. It didn’t get made from stamped steel until Hugo Schmeisser was forced to work on it by the Soviets. There were other effective Semi-autos in infantry use before the M1 Garand, but never one as standard.

    The AK has had such widespread influence because it was given away for free. It is in no way “the best” at anything. It’s sorta like arguing that AOL was and is the best internet provider because they gave away so many of those god-damned CDs with thousands of free hours.

    I considered the Dreyse Needle Gun, since it was the archetype of future bolt action designs, but it wasn’t the first successful breech loader, nor was it the first successful self contained cartridge gun, and it was notorious for leaking gas. It could be argued that if it wasn’t for the Needle gun, better repeating actions, such as straight pull actions or pump actions, may have become the standard. In a sense, the Needle Gun crippled arms development.

    • Matt, I don’t disagree with what you say. But this is my opinion:

      – The M1 was the first autoloading rifle widely deployed. And also a fine rifle. It will always have a special place in history.

      – Autoloading did not start with the M1. Civilians were using semi-auto rifles before WWII. That JMB designed autoloader that chambered the .30 Remington would have made an excerlent military rifle, although military thinking back then was opposed to intermediate cartridges.

      – The direct influence of the AK gives it a special place in history. So many of the worlds arms are direct decedents of the AK-47. Each year more guns are designed that are essentially AK-47s with a few modifications.

      -Needle gun was important – but a crappy implementation, as you said.

  • James

    We’re seeing Top 5 or Top 10 lists everywhere, just watch the Military Channel. The problem with this list is the author doesn’t define the criteria for the picks, other than, I guess, his opinion. My opinions:

    1. Drop the Ruger 10/22, a fine rifle, but how is it significant?
    2. Include the AK-47 family. You may not like it (I don’t), but it has ben one of the most influential weaposn of the 20th century.
    3. No needle gun or Mauser 98, I pick the Mauser 1871. This is the modern bolt action. Everything else is just improvements on the basic design.
    4. The Tower Musket (Brown Bess)? Please, this is an ordinary smooth bore flintlock musket, no different from those used by every army from 1700 to 1850.
    5. How can some posters include the Maxim Gun in a list of rifles? The Maxim is very significant, but it’s not a rifle. If you include the Maxim, How about the Thompson, the first practical submachine gun.

    Anyway, if we’re going to have Top 10 lists, let’s also publish the criteria.

  • Clodboy

    The Garand may have been the rifle that won the war, but it had some design flaws that, in hindsight, seem pretty obvious:
    * no box mags
    * small ammo capacity
    * oversized cartridge
    * no full auto
    * scopes have to be offset from the barrel

    The AK, on the other hand, has stood the test of time for over 60 years now. Did Kalashnikov “borrow” some ideas from other weapons? Sure. But sometimes, the best form of innovation is to take the best parts from several competing designs and condense them into an efficient new package.
    By taking the reliable gas system from the Garand, the StG44’s ergonomics and large box mag, and a cartridge that had proven itself both in semi-automatic (SKS) and fully-automatic (RPD) designs, he pretty much wrote the definition of the modern assault rifle.

  • Matt Groom

    @ Clodboy:

    Oh, please!

    * no box mags: It has a box mag, but it’s loaded with an En Bloc clip, which is just as fast and dramatically cheaper. Until we had modern manufacturing techniques, detachable magazines were practically fitted to each gun individually for proper function. There are few exceptions to this in the pre-WWII era. The En Bloc clip is cheaper and more reliable.
    * small ammo capacity: Compared to what? You can’t apply 1950’s and 1960’s technologies to a weapon that was developed in the 1930’s! Originally it was 10 rounds of .276 Pedersen, which was DOUBLE the firepower of most military rifles of the age!
    * oversized cartridge: Again, it was developed for the .276 Pedersen, a decision which was vetoed by the Army’s chief of staff, Douglas MacArthur, who insisted that the new rifle be chambered in the old cartridge.
    * no full auto: Do you really want to fire an 11 lbs .30-06 full auto? If history has taught us anything, it’s that full auto on a standard infantry rifle is an engineering and logistical nightmare that offers no benefit in combat other than psychological. The M-14 was full auto, and it was almost never used in that capacity because it’s absurd. The main complaint about the M4 stem from it’s unreliability after too much full auto fire!
    * scopes have to be offset from the barrel: There were no ACOGs in the 1930’s, and scopes have always been far too fragile for use in combat. Up until the 1950’s if you had a scope on your rifle, you had to have some kind of recoil buffering system on it to keep from losing your zero every time you pulled the trigger! Really durable scopes were NON-ADJUSTABLE fixed powered, usually not more than 4x and were zeroed by the armorer in their mounts. Windage and elevation adjustments in the field were made Kentucky. Even today, a modern tactical scope can easily cost more than the rifle, and nobody was considering the issuance of scopes to anyone but specialized personnel. The US didn’t even maintain a Sniper school until Vietnam.

    Not to mention, the M1 Garand had what were probably the best iron sights ever put on any rifle any where for any reason up until that point in history. An aperture rear sight that was click-adjustable for elevation AND windage with a blade front with protective ears was a revolution unto itself, and they were and remain dramatically better sights than anything ever put on any AK variant that I am aware of. I would pick a Garand over an AK for that reason ALONE.

    The original AK-47 used a milled receiver and weighed as much as an M1 Garand, but it had worse ergonomics, awkward controls, poor quality control, lousy tolerances, awful accuracy, and shitty wood. The AKM was less an improvement than it was a simplification of an already simplified M1 Garand.

    And lest those of you who think the AK was the first of anything be tempted to pick up a history book, there were literally DOZENS of selective fire, intermediate caliber firearms produced all over the world decades before Kalashnikov was driving tanks. None of them succeeded because without Soviet slave labor, none of them were economically, logistically, or tactically viable. If you give something away for free, it doesn’t make it the best of anything!

    60 years is not a long time, even in firearms technology. The flintlock ruled the world for over 300 years. If centerfire cartridges are still around 50 years from now, I’ll be shocked.

    • Matt, the Vektor R4 ( / R5 / R6 ) has an HK style aperture sight. Personally I don’t like the idea of mounting a apature on an AK dustcover …

  • Brad

    If we broaden the list of weapons beyond mere rifles, which inclusion of the Brown Bess (a smoothbore musket) and the AK (a selective fire automatic weapon) indicates, then the roster of important small arms should include…

    1. The matchlock musket, which accelerated the revolution of gunpowder warfare.

    2. The socket bayonet flintlock musket (of which the Brown Bess is an adequate example), which ended the use of pike and sword as important infantry weapons.

    3. The practical breech-loading rifle with self-contained cartridge ammunition (of which the Remington rolling block is a fine multi-national example), which cemented European colonial domination over the whole planet.

    4. The Mauser bolt action rifle.

    5. The AKM assault rifle. As universal as the Mauser once was.

    I’m torn by leaving the list at only five though, here are some weapons of honorable mention.

    1. The pre-Civil War Colt Revolvers. First practical repeating weapons.

    2. The minie-ball rifle-musket. Mass adaption of rifled weapons.

    3. The Spencer repeating rifle and carbine. First mass use of repeating fire cartridge weapon.

    4. The Gatling gun.

    5. The Lebel rifle. First smokeless powder weapon.

    6. The Browning .50 caliber heavy machine gun. Still going strong after 88 years!

    7. The MG-42 GPMG. Enormously influential design and still in use after 67 years.

    • Brad, good list. I would add M1911 pistol. After nearly 100 years it is still one of the post popular still designs – considering the level of manufacturing and material technology Browning had to work with – it is a marvel of invention.

  • Komrad

    Ooh. I like the inclusion of the Lebel. That was an immensely important design.

  • Brad

    Thanx for the kind words.

  • Dylan

    1. Stg 44- spawned the evolution of intermediate rounds and the assault rifle
    2. Mp5- Revolutionized close quarters battle, accurate and small
    3. Mg 34/42- Revolutionized squad tactics
    4. M1 Garand- Just kicked ass
    5. Ak 47- Cheap, realiable, can run it over with a tank, bury it for 5 years and pick it up and fire it