This article was originally published April 8, 2015 and updated September 27, 2016.

Want to know what the best stocks in the gun industry are? The outlook for the industry itself is inherently cyclical, but there are firearm stocks that, due to strong management and great operations as revealed through thorough analysis, typically perform well over the long term. Read on to learn the best gun stocks to buy today.

These are my three top publicly traded gun companies.

1. Smith & Wesson Holding Corp (NASDAQ:AOBC)

First up is Smith & Wesson, shares of which have already rallied 38% year-to-date. But that does not mean shares cannot continue their rapid ascent. 

After several quarters of elevated inventories as consumer demand fell last year, the latest quarterly results finally saw distributor inventory remain flat. Meanwhile, internal Smith & Wesson firearm inventory declined by $14 million to $85 million, helped by its ad-hoc approach at manufacturing, which enables it to outsource production of certain key parts to better cope with fluctuations in demand. All told, Smith & Wesson stated that this left the company on track to reach its year-end internal inventory goal of $75 million to $80 million.

The company is also successfully using strategic promotions designed to offset any potential market share loss in the current competitive environment. As a result, though these promotions have negatively affected profits in the near-term, Smith & Wesson continues to be the market share leader for both handguns and modern sporting rifles.

Late last year, Smith & Wesson acquired Battenfeld Technologies, or BTI, a hunting and shooting accessories specialist it predicts will offer double-digit growth over the long-term. Though the purchase did require taking on additional debt, that growth combined with near-term boosts to both revenue and EBITDA should help diversify the Smith & Wesson business over the long haul.

2. Sturm, Ruger & Company (NYSE:RGR)

Next is another promising firearms manufacturer, Sturm, Ruger (NYSE:RGR), shares of which are also up over 40% year-to-date. Like Smith & Wesson, Ruger has benefited from the normalizing inventory situation, but the majority of 2015 gains came on the heels of its quarterly results released in late February.

Specifically, that is when CEO Michael Fifer reversed his assertion three months earlier that Ruger had lost significant market share as a direct result of its decision not to match promotions used by both foreign and domestic competitors.

But this time, Fifer cited more recent import data indicating greater-than-expected reductions in import volumes to the U.S. in the second half of 2014. In the end, Fifer says Ruger may have still lost share, but the latest data was encouraging in that it implied demand for Ruger firearms declined more closely in line with the broader market than they initially thought.

To its credit, Ruger is still solidly profitable and financially sound, ending last quarter with no debt and $9 million in cash on its balance sheet. Ruger also generates healthy cash flow from operations, $55.6 million last year. This gives it the flexibility to return cash to shareholders through both stock repurchases and a variable dividend of roughly 40% of quarterly net income. Based on its current earnings, that would mean an annual yield of roughly 1.4%, making it a great option for patient investors who do not mind letting returns compound as the market ebbs and flows.

3. Cabela's (NYSE:CAB)

Finally, if actual firearms manufacturers are not for you, specialty retailer Cabela's offers a great way to capitalize on the sale of guns, ammunition, and related accessories, no matter who makes them.

Cabela's won't release its latest quarterly results until later this month, but in February, CEO Tommy Millner cited "normalization of firearm and ammunition sales" as one of the key reasons he is optimistic for 2015. Millner elaborated:

I hate to use the word normalization, but it certainly does feel like firearms are doing better thus far in the first quarter. That firearms are returning to more normal levels after a really difficult 2014. I don't have the sense -- being in the business a long time as you know -- that firearms and ammo are doing anything but improving.

For perspective, consumers temporarily shifted away from purchasing ammunition in retail stores given frequent difficulty in finding it. But thanks to long-awaited improvements in retail and stock levels, buyers are finally shifting back to purchasing ammunition in Cabela's stores. As demand for both ammo and guns continues to improve from here, so too should the fortunes of Cabela's shareholders.

Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.