Firearm History

Clone Guns: Are They Worth the Cost Savings?

Marlin 336 lever-action rifle and Rossi clone

When considering the question “Are clones worth it?” it may depend upon what “it” is. Are you a hunter, shooter, collector?

Let’s face it, if you can afford to buy anything your heart desires, you probably won’t have much interest in buying a clone. However, for the rest of us, there are many choices that might put a particular type of firearm within our grasp when we can’t afford a Colt Single Action Army or Winchester Model 94 for Cowboy Action Shooting, or a CZ Shadow for competition. Or how about a Colt Gold Cup, M4, or SIG P226 X5?

Two Uberti revolver clones
Pride of ownership, Cowboy Action Shooting, TV and movie westerns — owning and shooting Italian clones such as these two Ubertis (replicas of the guns used to tame the west) makes perfect sense to keep the memories alive.

Manufacturing Process

For years, Italian firearms manufacturers Pietta, Chiappa, Pedersoli, and Uberti have been cloning the products of American manufacturers Colt, Remington, Smith & Wesson, and Winchester. Most of the revolvers and rifles they clone were popular back in the 1800s but are no longer available from the manufacturers. Their clones are imported in the U.S. at very decent prices. But are these clones any good?

Shotgun and 1911 clones come our way from Turkish manufacturers. As far as other pistols go, there are some Beretta clones, and although they’re not identified as such, many of the other handguns coming out of Turkey are almost direct replacements for various Smith & Wesson or SIG Sauer firearms.

Before I get into sharing some of my own experiences with clones, let’s review a little about how guns are made. Most guns are primarily composed of various types of carbon steel, although they may also include stainless steel, aluminum, and other alloys. It’s safe to say that most of the critical components of modern guns will be made of steel, with carbon steel and stainless steel being the most prevalent.

Carbon steel used in guns consists mainly of 4140 steel, also called ordinance steel. 4140 steel is a hard and durable steel used in gun components such as barrels, bolts, and receivers. 4150 steel is similar to 4140, but with a higher proportion of carbon. It is harder than 4140, but also more difficult and expensive to machine, so it is more often used in MIL-SPEC firearms. 1020 or 1520 carbon steel is low carbon steel. It is softer and often used in gun components that experience lower stresses, such as trigger guards and sights.

In addition to carbon steel, gun manufacturers may also use stainless steel. Stainless steel is a rust- and heat‑resistant iron alloy that contains a large proportion of chromium and other elements such as nickel and molybdenum. As with carbon steel, there are many types of stainless steel with varying properties that depend on the mix of elements added to the iron.

Tisas Army 1911 .45 ACP pistol
Replicas of WWII Army 1911s are made by several companies including this one by Tisas. While it’s true that we have many configurations of 1911 available, having something to represent the original is important to some of us.

Some parts, including frames, may be made of anodized aluminum alloys. The most widely used aluminum alloy is 6061 aluminum, also called aircraft aluminum, which contains magnesium and silicon.

Steel is a sturdy, expensive material. This can make the cost of a steel handgun a bit prohibitive for some people. In contrast, a polymer handgun is easier to manufacture, and therefore, will also cost less. This allows people to save money that they might be able to spend on additional features for their handgun. Because polymer is durable, it is dependable. Plus, there is no problem with rust.

The manufacturing process and the materials for making a clone are the same as for a brand name gun. Furthermore, there is no design work to be done, and this cuts out a significant cost factor. Also, many clones are made in countries with lower a cost of labor and fewer levels of management allowing them to be priced attractively. The lower price does not necessarily reflect lower quality.

Colt Government model 1911 .45 ACP semi-automatic handgun and clone
Except for the small letters on the slide, and the slight difference in color, you would be hard-pressed to distinguish the clone from the original.

My Clone Guns

Three examples from my own collection exemplify the advantages that can be found in owning a clone. The first is a clone of a Colt 1911. There are so many variations of 1911s you can’t really call many of them clones. The model has been tuned and modified in so many ways that a lot of 1911s are essentially new models.

Tisas is a manufacturer in Turkey who makes what I call genuine clones of certain Colt 1911s. One is a direct replica of the M1911A1 used by the U.S. military in WWII. The other is a clone of the Colt M45 Marine Close Quarters Combat pistol. I have both the clone and the original of the Marine combat pistol. On multiple occasions, I have shot them together comparing them in shoot-off fashion. As far as operation goes, there is no significant difference. As far as accuracy goes, the Tisas pistol is slightly more accurate than the Colt.

The second example is a brand name/clone comparison of another military gun, the Beretta M9 and a clone by the Turkish company Girsan, the Girsan Regard. The one thing that stands out about this pair is that whenever I put the M9 and the Girsan on the bench at a shooting event, the shooters invariably choose the Girsan over the M9. I’ve had several shooting sessions where I’ve pitted the M9 and the Girsan in an accuracy contest. They’re about even. Sometimes one wins, other times the other one comes out ahead. Workmanship on both pistols is excellent, and they are both trouble-free.

two Ruger single-action clone revolvers
Ruger’s single-action revolvers are clones of the old cowboy guns, only the operating system inside has been modified for safety reasons.

My third example is a rifle. I have a Marlin 336. I also have a Rossi Rio Grande. There is no significant difference between the two rifles except the sights. I have a Skinner aftermarket sight on the Marlin. I’ve had a scope on the Rossi, but currently it just has iron sights. Either one would make a nice deer rifle. Now that Ruger is producing Marlins, the prices on them are pretty high. That makes the Rossi an excellent choice for a deer rifle or a ranch rifle.

Final Thoughts

There are others. The FN Hi-Power was designed by John Moses Browning with some finishing help by Dieudonné Saive at the FN plant in the Netherlands. Various manufacturers, including ones in Spain and Canada made these guns during WWII. After the war, FN Herstal continued to make them up until 2018.

Recognizing a significant gap in the market, Springfield Armory issued its Hi-Power clone in 2021. FN wasted no time in doing a few upgrades to its Hi-Power and putting it back on the market. I don’t have an original Hi-Power to make the comparison. However, based on my Springfield, I understand why it has been such a popular pistol in the years since it was first issued.

The real advantage to owning any of these clones is the price. The savings on my particular clones varies from 30% to almost 50%. Another advantage is keeping the brand name guns in pristine condition while using the clones. Invariably, guns you use a lot will show signs of wear and get occasional dings and scratches.

My verdict is “yes” most clones perform as well and even sometimes better than their original counterpart. Best of all, they offer significant savings when it comes to cost of ownership.

Do you own any clone guns? Which ones are your favorites? Share your answers in the Comment section.

  • Marlin 336 lever-action rifle and Rossi clone
  • Colt Government model 1911 .45 ACP semi-automatic handgun and clone
  • two Ruger single-action clone revolvers
  • Two Uberti revolver clones
  • Tisas Army 1911 .45 ACP pistol

About the Author:

David Freeman

David is an NRA Instructor in pistol, rifle and shotgun, a Chief Range Safety Officer and is certified by the State of Texas to teach the Texas License to Carry Course and the Hunter Education Course. He has also owned and operated a gun store. David's passion is to pass along knowledge and information to help shooters of all ages and experience levels enjoy shooting sports and have the confidence to protect their homes and persons. He flew medevac helicopters in Vietnam and worked for many years as a corporate pilot before becoming actively involved in the firearm industry.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (20)

  1. I own a Girsan 1911, of course in 45acp and I love it. I also own a dagger full size and the micro. Love them also. They are Glock clones. I expect that I have saved ove $1000 just in those three firearms which has let me purchase green dots, lights, and of course ammo. Well worth the money.

  2. “Also, many clones are made in countries with lower a cost of labor and fewer levels of management allowing them to be priced attractively.” [sic] But be sure the clone manufacturer does not keep prices low by cheating on quality assurance. Failure of a non-quality firearm can injure you, and can injure you if it does not fire when you want it to fire. A firearm must have quality and reliability.

    Me, I find Ruger makes incredibly solid, reliable, beautiful firearms at price points the working man or woman can afford.

  3. I own a stainless steel Tisas 45.I do own a colt commander 45. To me they are both quite well made and precise. No sense in paying double for a Colt when you can buy a SS Tisas that looks and performs the same, maybe better….

  4. I enjoyed reading the article and comments. I have a few clones and my favorite is the Sars B6 Hawk. This this the clone of the original CZ-75. This is the steel frame, not to be confused with the Sars B6P which is the polymer frame. The trigger is outstanding. The main caution I would give is the slide safety is backwards to most handguns. That take some getting used to.
    Also, the Rock Island 1911 .45acp and the Stoeger Cougar 9mm clones as mentioned in the article are outstnding.
    I look forward to your comments,
    Thanks

  5. Well… does my 1981 Winchester Mod 94 count as a clone? I mean, it was the first year after the Winchester employees bought the factory. Same people, same tooling. Etc. Only other two things I have that are close is the H&R Pardner Pump which is essentially an 870 clone and an RIA M206 which is close but not exactly a Det. Special copy. My Smiths are actual Smiths… spaeking of which… @Rockit… when I was an LEO and instructor we used to carry the 686. Had some of those blow barrels from s***** barrel pins they were using at the time.

  6. I personally own a Cimarron replica 1873 Colt single action. This gun has served me very well for years. It even survived a house fire about 3yrs ago. I took it from the ashes, cleaned it up and oiled it. The gun never missed a beat. I still own it and shoot it as much as any of my newer pistol. It’s one tough old gun.

  7. I have a Hungarian version of the hi power, a Rock Island 1911A1 and a Tisas clone of a Beretta 380

  8. I love the Browning Hi-Power but it always bit the web of my hand. I replaced it with an Arcus which at the time was the only one with an extended beavertail. An Israeli firearms manufacturer displayed a Hi-Power with a beavertail frame at a Shotshow one year, but I never found it in production. Glad for all the upgrades.
    I have noticed some clones are slightly thicker/heavier – possibly to compensate for a difference in metal tempering?

  9. I have many Italian clones. Most of them shoot very good. My Taylor Schofield can’t hit anything and my Navy Arms Remington rolling block in 45-70 will key hole when shooting a .459 405 grain bullet that I shoot in all my other 45-70. The rest of my clones all shoot very good have giving me no problems. I have seven rifles and five single actions pistols and two 1911 clones.

  10. I’m no where near an expert but concerning the Beretta M9 and Girsan Regard which I own, it’s a little known fact that the M9 is produced for Beretta by Girsan so the Regard is far more than just a clone. Apart from a few improvements on the Girsan, like a steel recoil and 17 round mag, the Regard is an M9 for half the price. I absolutely love my Girsan Regard.

  11. I currently own a Girsan MCP35 Ops which IMHO is the ultimate refinement of steel double stack 9mm. Girsan systematically improved every negative of the FN P35. The magazine disconnect iss gone. The beavertail is lengthened, which keeps your hand from being pinched. The flat trigger gives more control. It has a picatinny rail for lights. It has a large red front sight. The magazine now holds 15 rounds and the fairing is slightly flared. My entire family loves shooting it, more than my Walther PPQ, Browning BDM or Sig P365.

  12. Modern materials and manufacturing technology can make some clones of older designs better than the originals. A number of older designs, like the P35 HI POWER, can be refined and upgraded to a level that even 30 years ago would seem not possible. While there are a number of clones that I would like to see, (Savage 99, Remington 788, etc.), biggest issue is if the quality/workmanship is present.

  13. Early years of my experience, I learned the hard lesson the clones at that time were pretty sub-standard, even to the point of dangerous, as in out of time on one, and actually warping the frame on another, which makes me “cautions” when considering the options. Advance to present day, and starting to think about some of the modern clones, the value for the money, and about that time, I witnessed not one, but two, popular brand clones in .357 Mag promptly send their barrels down range. Those experiences are probably what has steered me towards being a Ruger fan first, then other brand names, and to date, still no clones yet. Lessons learned the hard way seem to stick longer. 🙁

  14. Overall I’ve had great luck with Turkish pistol clones, but far less so with their shotgun clones. Filipino 1911s have been mostly trouble-free, while Brazil’s Taurus has been, well, Taurus. Rossi/Braztech lever action rifles and revolvers are reliable and have given me good service (though some can benefit from a bit of stoning). I snagged a used Rossi Rio Grande 45/70 for a song a few years back and keep it by the back door as a bear rifle. I’ve also had good luck with Bersa pistols, but I have read of some failing. I’m not sure if I’d call all of them clones, but their pocket pistols took a lot of cues from the Walther PP series. Chinese Norinco 1911s were considered outstanding, but are no longer imported. I wish I had kept one. Russian Baikal shotguns are solid, but banned from importation since BO was in office. I wish I had bought a Russian Baikal 45/70 double rifle. I seem to recall they briefly offered this SxS as a rifle/shotgun combo (spare barrels?). Their IZH 94 over/under combo gun is reminiscent of the old Savage Model 24. Stoeger offers some decent and affordable shotgun alternatives, and their Turkish built Cougar pistol is a close copy of the Beretta PX4 Storm.

  15. I have a Taurus PT101 that’s a SS clone of the Beretta 96 (40S&W). For those not familiar, the Beretta 90 series was available in 9mm (model 92 and variants) and in 40S&W (model 96 and variants). Beretta decided to close their factory in Brazil that was manufacturing the 90 series pistols. They discovered the cost of shipping the manufacturing machinery back to Italy or to the US was more expensive than the machinery was worth. Taurus stepped in and bought the Brazil factory including all of the manufacturing machinery and began producing series 90 clones on Beretta designed and built machines with the Beretta trained employees. They labeled their clones as PT90 series and PT100 series. So anyone acquiring a Taurus clone of a Beretta 90 series pistol is literally getting a top quality pistol that is comparable in every way to the Beretta at a lower cost.

  16. As a frequent shooter at Cowboy Action events, clones have been a mainstay. I have over the years bought a few originals (a 1897 Winchester I bought from Griffin and Howe for $300, a Marlin 1894 in .32-20) but my work horses are “clones” like Ruger Vaqueros and various Italian clones of 1871, 1873 Colts and S&W top breaks. I shoot the replicas because they are still making them still making parts for them and if you wear it it or break it then the gun did its job. I have a harder time working a 100-150’year old original to death… they don’t make more of them…

  17. Having spent most of my 77 years in the firearms industry, I look at the Turkish clones very favorably. They are much better built than many of the name brands. I’ve had to return brand new Springfields and Colts, but never a Tisas or a Girsan. As far as Hi-Powers, none of the new generation clones can compare to an original Belgium FN. Of the clones, I favor the Girsan and absolutely hate the SA-35. The very first SA-35 I received promptly shot the firing pin over my shoulder the first time I released the slide. The new FN products lack the sophistication of blued steel and walnut. We all want to buy American products, but when they are overpriced and of questionable quality, we have to buy what’s best for us.

  18. I bought a Cimarron clone of a circa 1880s “Cowboy pistol.” I had consistent cylinder timing problems to the point that it was potentially dangerous to shoot. I had multiple fail-to-fire rounds in the first box of 50 rounds. Misregistration was as much as 1/16 inch, thus failing to ignite the primer. Had the primer ignited the misregistration with the barrel could have been catastrophic.

    After one cycle of warranty repair, which was unsuccessful, I was able to return it to Classic Firearms for a full refund. Thanks to CF for allowing that.

  19. Several years ago I realized thst, other than a couple of relatively obscure, off-brand pistols, I did not have any 9mm handguns in my collection. Deciding it would be smart to have a couple of quality 9mm pistols, I decided on the Beretta 92 platform. I obtained a new 92F, and a Vertec variant, with the newer, straight backstrap profile. I also bought a cpuple of the Girsan clones, to preserve my Berettaa. Both the real Berettas and the Turkish clones are outstanding pistols, and I have to unpack a Beretta to remind myself that it is, arguably, superior to the Girsan

  20. I have several 1911s, none of which are Colts. Of those for general use and EDC (when I do carry), I would say I prefer my Smith Performance Center ProSeries. I love that gun. It has a 3″ barrel and seems to me to be a perfect shooter, almost aims itself for me, I put Crimson Trace grips on it for those times when the light is low and the sights might be a challenge to find. I usually look at a store’s collection of 1911s to rate the quality of a store’s merchandise. There are many 1911 clones out there and some are very good replicas of the old WW2 model like I carried overseas. I have only seen a few that I looked at and said, “Not so much…”

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