Bucket List Guns: Six Firearms You Need to Shoot Before You Die

(Editor’s Note: The following is a submission from freelance writer Dabney Bailey. Videos were added for context.)

Life is short. Not all of us get to go out action-movie style, guns blazing as rock music screams in the background. Since you probably won’t have a Mad Max-style dramatic exit filled with glorious explosions and weapon fire, it’s up to you to make sure you get in all of your gun excitement before the grim reaper comes a’knockin.

So, you’d better get started on your guns bucket list. Let me help you get things going with 6 guns that you just have to fire before you kick that bucket:

1. M1 Garand

Dubbed by General George S. Patton as “the most deadly rifle in the world,” few guns have as much history as the legendary M1 Garand. Not only do these rifles have a hallowed place in military firearm history, they are also growing in popularity across the United States through the Civilian Marksmanship Program (Read the GunsAmerica series on Garands from the Government). Firing off a few rounds with this precision rifle will help you understand what life was like for soldiers during World War 2 and the Korean War.

2. Winchester Rifle Model 1873

“The gun that won the west” may not be as high-tech as the M1 Garand or many of its modern-day counterparts, but what it lacks in engineering wizardry it more than makes up for in style. I don’t care who you are – there’s just something viscerally appealing about operating the lever of this true American classic.

3. AK-47

The AK-47 is perhaps the most notorious weapon on the face of the earth. It earned its dastardly reputation by being the go-to gun for enemies of the United States. And can you blame them? AK-47s are almost frustratingly reliable. Take it apart, throw it down a mountainside, and pour sand into it – odds are good that it will still fire. AK-47s entered service in 1949, and there are still decades-old rifles that are fully operational in the harsh conditions of humid jungles, arid deserts, and everything in between.

4. .44 Magnum (S&W, Ruger)

Who needs subtlety when you’ve got this hand cannon hanging from your holster? Firing this weapon will turn your hand muscles (and whoever is staring down the barrel) into a quivering pile of goo.

If you’re more of a traditionalist at heart, you could safely replace a .44 Magnum on this list with something that has a bit more history, like a Colt Single Action Army. Whatever your choice, just make sure that you get your hands on some kind of revolver – you definitely won’t regret it.

5. Tommy Gun

Military organizations and shooting enthusiasts have spent centuries perfecting the art of marksmanship. The isosceles stance and the weaver stance are just two examples of shooting innovations that can help you hit your target every time.

But shooting isn’t always about proper form and perfect accuracy. Sometimes, it’s about holding a gun at your hip and burning through your ammo with maniacal glee. Few guns can hold a candle to Thompson submachine guns when it comes to spray-n-pray hip-fired shooting. Don’t forget your fedora and cigar.

6. M4 Carbine

Alright, that’s enough with the classics. Let’s move onto a shining example of modern-day engineering, the M4 Carbine. The M4 was built from the ground-up to be the pinnacle of military rifle technology, combining versatility, customization, and reliability into one perfect platform.

Look at it this way: any weapon good enough to serve as the go-to rifle for the U.S. Army is sure to promise a one-of-a-kind shooting experience.

About the author: S.H. Blannelberry is the News Editor of GunsAmerica.

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  • pjw February 12, 2018, 7:38 am

    May I suggest the prime component, will be friends and family experiencing the shooting experience together. All you have to do is “ plug and play “ what ever gun that makes your heart go bang. My first experience with a gun, was plain Jane .22
    plinking cans from a fence rail at a family picnic. That Smokey and loud afternoon at my Aunt and Uncles home in the country
    exposed me to a life of gun fun.

  • Will Liesen November 6, 2017, 6:01 pm

    I’ve fired all listed and own most of them.Great choices! I have to add one more. One needs to fire any gun owned by their Parent or Grandparent preferably with them. I have several from my grandfather who has long passed on and when I shoot them you can’t beat the nostalgia and memories.

  • Pummalo November 25, 2016, 7:10 am

    It just goes to prove everyone has and opinion just likeassholes

  • Buck Conner November 6, 2016, 12:44 pm

    Everyone has showed excellent reference to a number of fine firearms, the biggest problem I see is the availability of them, like the full auto arms. To buy one you’ll need to do the paperwork, background checks and purchase a Class III permit for each of these type of weapons. In times of trouble you be on the ‘wanted list’ big time with the government having the paperwork mentioned.
    I had a Class III permit for a Mac 10 at the time of the violent murder of Denver talk-radio icon Alan Berg at the hands of a white supremacist group. It wasn’t a week went by and my Mac was picked up for testing by the ATF. Do a search on Alan Berg to read the whole story, he asked ‘for it and he got what was needed’ was many folks thoughts.
    You have to be careful and keep a low profile on your choices and purchases, the less paperwork the better.

  • Ronnie May 30, 2015, 1:02 pm

    Try the Thomson Contender in.223with scope Quarter size area hits at 100yards.

  • Glen Wilkerson May 27, 2015, 10:11 am

    I would add one more, either a (relatively) inexpensive bolt action upper for an AR platform, a Barrett, or, if you are ever lucky enough, a Browning M2 – but a .50 BMG something…

  • Shawn Miller May 26, 2015, 10:09 pm

    You should add a “Sharps” replica 45-70 loaded with real Black Powder, with target peep sights. Nearly as accurate as any modern bolt action, all the way out to 1000 yards! Lots of fun with the deep “BOOM” and all the stinky white smoke.

  • Daniel Hess May 26, 2015, 6:57 pm

    I feel this list is too short, but I can’t argue with any of the entries. The Garand and Winchester are two of the most iconic rifles in history, the AK and M4 are the top choices in today’s battlefield, the Tommy Gun is one of the most notorious for its use with gangsters and the 44 mag is probably the most recognized caliber on a world wide scale due to a certain movie series.

    I do believe there should be other entries. A flintlock firearm should definitely be included, it just has that archaic nostalgia to it. The Single action army would probably be included as well, though it almost more of a companion to the Winchester 73. If this list is open to everything I would say the mini gun and M2 would be two awesome adrenaline pumping experiences, as well as the 50 BMG sniper rifle. Others would maybe be the desert eagle and maybe the Trapdoor Springfield

    • Joe McHugh May 26, 2015, 9:54 pm

      With all due respect, the AK and M4 are less than “top choices on today’s battlefield”. The AK47 couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from the inside of that barn. The M4 suffers from the same thing as the M16A2, namely wind born dust and grit. Both rifles are underpowered and cannot reliably punch through a concrete block wall to get at the opposing enemy, like the M14 could. And long range shooting? Most troops with the M16A2’s and M4’s wait for the guy armed with the M21/M14 rifle to show up. The small assault weapons were OK for house to house, or close up jungle fighting but that’s about it.

      But the worst feature of the M16A2’s and M4’s is their nasty self-fouling characteristic. Every shot introduces dirty expanding gas into the receiver/ magazine area. Even the cheap AK47 has a gas piston to prevent this jamming problem. Why didn’t the designer, Eugene Stoner include a gas piston in his design? He was trying to keep the rifle cost down. What a laugh! The AK47 with a gas piston costs about $37.00 in American money, while the M16 family of rifles without pistons, costs over $600.00 to replace.

      Troops can carry more of the small cartridges than the 7.62 mm stuff? They NEED to carry more of the little rounds to make up for their limitations. M14 kicks too hard? Guess what it does to the bad guy and the bad guy directly behind him, and the bad guy directly behind him, etc, etc.

      If the M16A2 and M4 rifles are so problematic, why doesn’t the Army and Marines just replace it? Cost! Up to 5 million of the little black rifles and all of their parts would have to be discarded. That doesn’t take into account the Millions of rounds of ammunition that would also become useless.

      Except for the weight advantages, ALL of the reasons for replacing the M14 rifle were bogus. America didn’t provide the best rifles for our fighting men, it provided the cheapest rifle available. Want to know more about this matter? get the book
      “The Great Rifle Controversy” by Edward Clinton Ezell. ISBN 0-85368-686-6
      The current mainstay combat rifle of the U. S. Army and the Marines is an unmitigated shame!

    • Buck Conner November 6, 2016, 12:29 pm

      I have to agree with Daniel. We all have most of the modern firearms talked about or have considered them. Some have even got into reloading the weapons they have in their stock pile. That’s great, but what happens when the ammo runs out or you have used up all your primers or bullets?
      That’s were the FLINTLOCK comes into play, if you run out of balls, you have shot or if need be you can use about anything that will go down the muzzle. My family has collected period weapons for over a 100 years, you would be surprised at what we have pulled out of some of them. Broken glass, handmade nails, small river rocks, to hand made linked chain. All probably used as last chance loads in terrible times. For ignition any rock that will throw a spark will work in a last ditch effort, powder can be reproduced with old recipes of our forefathers.
      Thank you Daniel for the suggestion, folks something to really consider for your collection.

  • DGinGA May 26, 2015, 5:49 pm

    #5 is NOT an M3 grease gun. It is a semiautomatic Thompson. The real ‘tommy gun’ fired from an open bolt and was fully automatic as well as semi. A semiauto is better than nothing – but can’t compare with 1200 rounds per minute from a 1921.

    • Manshooter March 10, 2017, 12:59 pm

      I wouldn’t call it better than nothing..It’s better than MOST things! 😉
      Your right, it’s not the same as a full auto Thompson, but the grins on the people’s faces that I let shoot mine would be hard to tell apart from the real thing.
      Sure, I would love to have the shorter bbl and the selective fire mode, but unless I move to TX or Ohio etc..There is no way its going to happen for me.
      My Tommy ALWAYS draws a crowd at my range, or any other I go to.
      Of course people are to shy to ask to fire it..But I offer five rounds to anyone that wants to say they shot a Tommy gun. They can shoot more..But I have to charge enough to cover my reloading costs and a little cleaning time..But still FAR less than a box of factory ammo would cost. (Most people even try to pay me for the five rounds! Laugh!! I dont accept it of course, their big grins are payment enough.)
      My last outing with it, 14 guys hung around till they had a chance to shoot it. Three bought full boxes of ammo to shoot through it after the “free five!”
      I don’t mind, as long as they help.pick up the brass..They even seem to enjoy doing that! Laugh.
      The biggest kick is watching the kids see their dad or mom shooting one of histories most recognizable guns, that they have seen in the war movies their dads watch.
      All in all they probably shoot it more than I do.
      But, they usually leave me their phone numbers for times I want a shooting companion. I have also scored a LOT of access to good hunting areas as well. It’s just being friendly is all..That doesn’t really cost you anything in the end.
      True, it’s not a “Chopped Chopper” like the roaring 20’s, but it’s close enough for most people, especially those with cell phones, to take pics of them with it to show their friends.
      I did upgrade a number of years ago to a Hornady progressive reloader over my RCBS rock chucker. Made it a LOT easier to let others shoot it.

  • Joe Gorline May 26, 2015, 5:34 pm

    so # 5 is an m3 grease gun? what are you guys smoking? That’s a thompson as sure as bullfrogs are waterproof.

  • Steven LIpe May 26, 2015, 2:54 pm

    Patton did not call the M1 the “most deadly rifle in the world”. In a letter to the superintendent of the Springfield Armory, Patton referred to the M1 as, “The greatest battle implement ever devised”. I agree with him.

  • Damon May 26, 2015, 11:34 am

    Awesome. I’ve fired every weapon on this list.
    Now, my own personal bucket list of five would be;
    1) .45LC Gatling gun
    2) Beretta 93R in burst mode
    3) Barrett .50
    4) BAR
    5) Kriss Vector

    • KEN June 30, 2017, 6:06 am

      Everyone will have their own select gums, but I own 2 vectors I do own and it’s a decent carbine. When does a 9mm or a 45 acp ever have a kick too it, especially in a rifle length. The blow back operation is horrible and I lose a lot of brass because it ruins many of the cases. If Kriss would make it in a 44 rem mag I would consider another one. The 10mm is nice, but I will hold off for now.

  • durabo May 26, 2015, 11:24 am

    You forgot the blessed BAR, which I fired in the early Fifties while a cadet at Valley Forge Military Academy, in its annual bivouac at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation. Finest support weapon ever designed.

    • Joe McHugh May 26, 2015, 8:58 pm

      I agree with you that the American Browning Automatic Rifle was a fine fire team weapon. However, another Automatic Rifle of the same era had it beat. The British Bren gun magazine held ten more rounds but the really great thing about it was its quick change barrel. The Bren could put a lot more firepower downrange all day long, if it had support team members carrying the extra ammunition magazines.

  • BillyBobRedneck May 26, 2015, 9:55 am

    (1)Serbu 8″
    (2) HK MK23 with Osprey
    (3)M24A3 300 win.mag
    (4) MP5SD with a beta mag
    (5) M4 Shrike belt fed
    (6) M60E4
    M2HB 50 Then top them off with a Shelby Cobra 427 side oiler !

  • Addison Miller May 26, 2015, 9:37 am

    Error in #5… You have it listed as a “Tommy Gun” and it is actually the M3A1 GREASE GUN. I carried one of these in Nam. The Tommy Gun refers to the Thompson…

  • Keith Rockefeller May 26, 2015, 9:35 am

    #5 is not a Tommy gun (Thompson Submachine gun). It’s an M3 “Grease Gun” submachine gun. I would add shooting a Kentucky Rifle, Brown Bess Musket, 1861 Springfield Civil War musket, 98 Mauser, SMLE #1, mk 3 or #4 mk 1, Colt Peacemaker, Colt 1911, Walther P38, PO 8 Luger, and Sharps rifle.

    • S.H. Blannelberry May 26, 2015, 9:43 am

      Good catch! Video adjusted.

  • Jim May 26, 2015, 8:46 am

    Not a bad list, though there are others that could have gone on it. I would have added a 19th century single shot. I have fired the Sharps, Remington Rolling Block, Trapdoor Springfield, Winchester High Wall, and the Martini-Henry, all with black powder. Every shooter should experience this sometime.

  • Brad A May 26, 2015, 8:19 am

    What do I do now? I shot most is them by the time I was 18?

  • Mark Anthony May 26, 2015, 7:26 am

    Replace a 44 revolver with a Semi-Automatic like a Desert Eagle and Im Good with this List! Also replace the M-4 with a SAW M-249 Automatic from FN Herstal like the one’s I shot in the US Army and the list Would be Better !!! Ha,Ha,Ha 😉

  • Joe May 26, 2015, 6:02 am

    Well, if I could replace that 1873 gun with a model 94, I could say that Iv’e covered all the bases and will be awaiting my prize at the mail box.

    • Ed May 26, 2015, 4:08 pm

      Well I have fired all of these except not for sure about the 1873 Winchester. Can I say shooting a 1860 Henry was close enough?

      • Joe May 27, 2015, 7:21 am

        Works fer me, as long as my prize is better then yers

      • Joe May 27, 2015, 7:21 am

        Works fer me, as long as my prize is better then yers

  • Will Drider May 23, 2015, 11:33 pm

    Good Topic! Love the lever gun, thompson and Garand. The .44 is good but for a bucket list it should be a Single Action Army. The loading, fireing single or fanning and rodding out spent cases are all enjoyable steps. The AK and M4 are common and mundane.

    I would add:
    Black powder cap and ball or flint lock. Nothing like slow ignition to check your steadiness. Fire, smoke and a big hole are sure to please.
    Any pistol with a silencer. You will ask Santa and the ATF for one.
    A “Reliable” 1911 45ACP (38 Super is acceptable). I am amazed by the number of shooters out there who started with wonder nines or poly pistols that have never held much less fired a 1911. A mechanical thing of beauty that you should dance with at least once. 1911 Are again availabe at bargain prices. Check out some reviewers you trust and get one.
    Climb the bolt gun caliber ladder. Barrels being equal, a bolt gun will have higher velocity and felt recoil then a semi auto. A large population of shooters have bought black rifles and never go beyond 5.56 or the Tacti-cool round of the month. Heaven forbid if a rifle weighs over 9 lbs! This may be generational as well as a geographical exposure shortfall not having a need for anything larger. I would bet a beer or three that most black rifle shooters never shot a 30.06 or larger rifle. I not saying everybody needs to shoot a 500 Nitro or 50 BMG but please take advantage of any oppertunity to shoot the big boys when you can. I for one, am always glad to share a couple of 300 Whby Mag rounds with the youngsters. A good investment for the overall health of the 2A.

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