Surefire G2 Nitrolon: superb tac light at a great price.

Surefire has long been a leading manufacturer of handheld lighting devices. They have a strong reputation for producing very rugged and reliable lights for the toughest of applications. In 1987 they introduced the 6P model which quickly became the standard light not only for first responders but also for a broad section of the military user base. With this original model still in production over twenty years later, Surefire decided to produce a polymer model that would sell for under $40. Enter the G2 Nitrolon.

The G2 (and it’s larger sibling the G3) is made from a very tough polymer and uses a 60 lumen incandescent bulb. This makes for a very lightweight tactical light that is still able to withstand the rigors of being mounted on a combat weapon. I purchased a G2 last year and have put many thousands of rounds through the various rifles on which it was mounted without any issue. The polymer construction is also nice if you ever need to hold the light in your teeth. If you’ve ever had a Maglight in your teeth and bumped something with it you know what I mean.

The G2 is waterproof, has a well-designed reflector, durable lens and a very nice end-cap switch. The switch is push-button momentary and twist-on constant like most lights nowadays. I am sure you can replace this with a pressure switch if you like. I normally don’t because I mount the light just forward of my forward vertical grip, making the light button easily reached by extending my index finger. (I like my GripPod more forward than most folks because this facilitates the bipod function better.)

I mounted my G2 under the gun since this keeps the overall width of the weapon reduced. To do this I used this Quick Detach Tactical Light Holder from Command Arms Accessories. This is their Model FAS2, which is very light, holds the light securely yet comes right off the rail with the bush of a button. I normally leave the light on the gun but there are occasions when one might need to remove it and not having to find a wrench and pay the money/weight/size price for a fancy quick-disconnect mount is a real plus for me. It’s not like you need to hold a zero on the light, right?

Of course once you have used a Surefire they are confident you will be a repeat customer. They sell several add-on kits for this model, including two different power LED conversions and a larger light head, which is supposed to better focus the beam. The LED kits will extend the battery life considerably (from 1 hour to 10 hours) but for my limited low-light use I don’t see a need at this point.

My friend Aaron was up shooting this weekend (He had to escape the firearms Black Hole that is Boston) and as an EMT, he immediately recognized the light on my SR-556 as the G2. That pretty much says it all.

So, for less than $70 you can have a very solid, bright tactical light mounted on your rifle which is about as good a deal as you will find these days.

Sig556 and Sig522: a comparison

Sig_side-by-side_1I recently had the chance to check out a Sig522 rifle, owned by my friend Dashiell. While I was evaluating the rifle it was pointed out that our friend Bill had the Sig556, on which the 522 was modeled. Wouldn’t it be interesting to look at them together? Shazam! It was done.

I had both rifles for a week, during which time I shot them both several times, separately and together. What follows are my thoughts on the subject.

But first, some current events…

There is quite a trend lately by firearms manufacturers to build copies of their battle rifles chambered in .22lr. It seems to me that two things are driving this. First, a .22lr version is cheaper to buy and much cheaper to shoot than a 5.56/.223 version and second, the brand name and the form factor attract many folks who might not be nearly as excited by say a Ruger 10/22, which is arguably the best all-around .22lr rifle currently in mass production. Speaking of Ruger, even they have succumbed to the allure by producing the SR-22, which at its core is in fact a 10/22. Here’s how they summarize the rifle:

“The final product is an affordable, feature-loaded rifle that faithfully replicates the AR-platform dimensions between the sighting plane, buttstock height, and grip. Although it looks really cool out of the box, there is an extensive array of accessories available allowing a custom configuration, limited only by the shooter’s preferences.”

The SR-22’s internals are pure 10/22 but wrapping it in an AR-15 “skin” is apparently a marketing requirement. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time that companies have jumped in like Lemmings to the sea, but perhaps there’s more to the story. After all, buyers aren’t foolish enough to buy a $400 rimfire rifle just because it “…looks really cool out of the box…” would they? OK, some undoubtedly will, but there’s more to the story I think.

Stay with me for a minute.

Left_rearThe Sig556 is an export version of the Swiss SG-550 military issue rifle. Actually, Sig has based enough of its business here in the US to establish themselves as a US arms manufacturer, so technically the rifle is not an import for us. The parts however are mostly from Switzerland and Germany.

I found the rifle to be a great handling weapon. It is a bit heavier than a standard M4-style AR-15 but lighter than my Ruger SR-556. It feels really solid. The rifle uses standard AR-15 magazines. (I used stanag and PMags without issue) The trigger was adequate but had a long take-up and reset. I suspect one could get perfectly accustomed to shooting this rifle and the ergonomics were great except for the safety. It is simply too far forward to reach with my thumb unless I un-shoulder the rifle and twist my hand 90 degrees around the pistol grip.  I found it much simpler to use my index finger to operate the safety on the right side (strong side) of the receiver. This is not easy to do after being so accustomed to the AR platform. In fairness, it is much easier to operate than say an AK-47.

Right_rearThe setup of Bill’s Sig556 included an optional fore stock with small rail sections. This allows quick-disconnect sling mounts, etc. The rifle also sports a nice CompM3 battle sight, which is awesome. All this works just fine for me except for that darned safety. Shooters with larger hands will have no problem however.

With this rifle’s long-stroke piston, solid design and manufacturing, and the Sig reputation for quality, I am certain this gun would be a reliable weapon. For shooters with smaller hands it might be problematic however.

One functional issue I must mention is that the rifle is tough on brass. At first I couldn’t find my spent casings. After several minutes of looking further and further afield, I found them about 30 feet away at about the 1 o’clock position.  The gun does have a gas adjustment so perhaps this could be dialed down a bit to keep the brass closer and more at the 3 o’clock position. casesI didn’t want to mess with Bill’s setup so I left it alone but I will say that every single case (a couple different factory loads and several different handloads) was dented significantly in more than one location on each. As a reloader this is a major concern. I would not reload these cases. Some would, noting that a full-length sizing die would do much to restore the case to its original dimensions. Nevertheless I suspect these dents would not be fully removed. Some were worse than those in the included photo. Given the tremendous stresses these cases endure, I would not feel comfortable reloading the brass coming from the Sig556. Of course if you don’t reload then this is irrelevant.

Ruger SR-556, Sig556 and Sig522

OK, so the Sig556 is a nice gun. But what about this .22lr version?  Glad you asked. The Sig522 is a very interesting firearm to me. Leaving aside it’s pedigree, it is just a fun gun to shoot. The included mag holds 22 rounds of .22lr and with the weapon’s heft (slightly less than the Sig556) there is essentially zero felt recoil. I had intended to shoot only about 100 rounds and before I knew it I had burned a whole brick! This is of course the beauty of .22lr. All this for about $16. With the rifle’s top rail the installation of optics is easy and then you’ve got a pretty close replica of the Sig556. So, why have this thing?

Three_UpI think that aside from pure cool factor, there’s a very good reason to have the Sig522: for training purposes if you happen to already shoot the Sig556. Perhaps it is obvious to others but this was a novel idea for me. Training with .223 rounds can quickly become a very expensive proposition, but if a shooter with a Sig556 wanted to get in some trigger time on the cheap, the Sig522 would work nicely as a substitute. This is particularly true when the actual shooting isn’t the most critical component of the tactical training. For movement drills, room clearing, stacked approaches, etc., this rifle would allow the same muscle memory development as the 556 and would even allow the trigger pulls, but without the cost associated with the 5.56/.223 rounds. Is this ideal? Probably not, but it beats dry fire drills or simply not training.

So, in summary I like both these guns and I think the 522 is a good replica for the 556. I can’t say that I would go buy either of these guns myself, especially with the safety location on both, but I can appreciate what others like about them. I will say that if push came to shove I would not hesitate to depend on the Sig556.

IO, Inc. AK-47: Quintessentially Soviet

With the expiration of the so-called Assault Weapons Ban (don’t get me started!) there has been a proliferation of Kalashnikov variants sold in the US. These rifles are almost always built on parts manufactured in former Soviet bloc countries. This is possible because the parts are imported to the US then built into rifles by US companies with a few US-made parts such that they qualify as domestically-produced firearms.


There are many companies that have gotten into the business of parts-built AKs, some of which have good reputations and some not-so-good. One firm that has been quietly building a name for itself is IO, Inc. of Monroe, North Carolina. I purchased one of their AK-47C rifles in 2009. This rifle has proven to be a perfect incarnation of the iconic weapon. That means that the rifle is a no-nonsense, no-frills rifle that just runs and runs. The imported parts are Romanian so the quality is probably not as good as a Yugoslavian kit but with this platform we are talking about relatively minor differences.

When I received the rifle I was surprised at how well it was put together. I have shot a lot of kit guns and I’ve seen some really awful fit/finish jobs. This rifle was nicely appointed with Tapco buttstock, pistol grip and Galil-style front stock. Tapco is no Magpul but they are good at making decent inexpensive components. The gun also came with a Tapco 30-round magazine, which I didn’t like much because it was too smooth and hard to grip.

Within about 300 rounds I did experience a problem: the tiny trigger disconnect spring broke. I contacted IO and they wanted me to send the gun back to them for warranty repair. The cost of the spring was nothing compared to shipping costs so I said “no thanks”. Honestly, they should have just sent me the spring but perhaps I spoke with the wrong person. Anyway, while tracking down that little spring locally, I formally met Glyn, our local USPSA guru, and the rest is history.

While the trigger was apart I took the opportunity to replace the “shepherd’s hook” trigger group retaining spring with a flat steel plate. Brownell‘s had everything I needed, as usual. That Shepherd’s Hook is really tough to reinstall so I was glad to see it gone. Also the retaining plate can’t break like a spring can. Since this repair/modification, I haven’t had any sort of failure or problem with the rifle and I’ve put several thousand rounds of Winchester, Wolf and Mil-Surp ammo through it.

A few other things I changed: I installed a 3-point sling because I just can’t get into that low-carry business. I want to actually aim my shots. I’m funny that way. Second, I installed a Tapco side-folding stock. The stock is a bit longer than the fixed unit it came with, which I don’t particularly like, but the benefit of the folder outweighs the slightly longer length of pull. Being able to wield the rifle in close-quarters is a big plus in my opinion. That and stowing it becomes much easier. Another must-have item for me is the excellent FSC47 “flash-suppressing compensator” from Primary Weapons Systems. With the heavier AK round this device makes a big difference in felt recoil and in target reacquisition. The funny red O-ring really is the right part: the comp stays put due to a spring-loaded retaining pin so the O-ring is just to stop the rattling of the comp on the barrel. Yeah, it’s an AK thing. 😉

I would consider this a good “truck gun” if I didn’t already have the SU-16C. Nevertheless, it is a solid performer that I would recommend to anyone looking for a decent, low-cost AK.

UPDATE: see my IO Inc. AK-47 update for 2013 post for further information about a problem that developed with this rifle.

PWS FSC556 compensator/flash hider

For many AR-15 shooters the A2 “birdcage” flash hider is all they ever know about muzzle devices for their rifles. This device does a modest job of dispersing unburned propellant and/or flaming gases such that the flash signature of the weapon is reduced. The birdcage also keeps the gases going up and to either side so as to avoid kicking up dust and debris when firing from positions on or near the ground (prone usually). Both these effects help in concealing the shooter’s position from detection and in keeping clear the shooter’s visual field. Flash hiders are also frequent targets of gun control advocates.

During the 1994-2004 Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) these devices were restricted. In some states they still are. What weren’t restricted were compensators or muzzle “brakes”. A compensator is a muzzle device (attached to the threaded end of a barrel) designed to redirect gases in such a way as to counteract recoil. This is normally back, up, sideways and/or some combination of these directions. Some of these devices are extremely effective. I had a CETME .308 (7.62×51 NATO) rifle that had very little felt recoil due mostly to the use of a very efficient muzzle brake.

There are some amazingly efficient flash hiders also. The Vortex makes use of four tines that extend forward from the muzzle for a few inches, over which the tines make a small but critical synchronized twist. This device virtually eliminates muzzle flash. It’s hard to believe unless you see it. Youtube has demonstration videos comparing the birdcage, a Phantom flash hider and the Vortex. You can also see the video on this page from Vortex. You really have to see it for yourself. Of course the Vortex does no compensating, nor does it avoid the dust signature.

Likewise most good compensators do little to reduce the flash signature. This has historically been of little concern to the primary users of brakes: competitive rifle shooters. The Miculek comp is one of the best on the market at keeping the sights on or close to the target after each shot, allowing for very quick follow-up shots. However, cardboard and steel targets usually are shot during daylight and they almost never shoot back so hiding the flash is of no consequence.

Enter the Primary Weapons System FSC series of flash hiders. These units combine an initial stage that does a good job of mitigating muzzle climb and general recoil, and a second stage that has four short tines that mimic the Vortex’s flash suppression on a small scale. Like most things that involve compromise, the solution is effective on a limited basis. The comp effects are significant. If a primary goal is to make quick follow-up shots then the FSC devices are very good and the flash hiding is good enough to keep the flash out of the shooter’s optics, again allowing for quick additional shots. It’s tough to blink your way through blindness after getting an eyeful of flash, especially through magnified optics. A side benefit is that the downrange view of the flash is also reduced quite a bit but nowhere near as much as the Vortex.

Another feature of most compensators is that they are really loud in the area around the shooter. With a plain muzzle all the gases and compression waves travel away from the shooter. A brake sends a lot of that back into the immediate vicinity of the shooter. This can be pretty dramatic, especially indoors or under an enclosed firing line. The CETME I mentioned earlier would have a profound effect on those on the firing line with me. One nice thing about the FSC units is that this is not nearly as bad as a traditional compensator.

I have an FSC556 on my main AR-15 now and an FSC47 on my AK-47. I have found that these comps are just about the perfect blend of features for my needs: good braking, reasonable flash suppression and modest noise levels.

And if you must know, yes they look very cool on the rifle.

Combat Optics: who shall be king?

With the explosive sales of AR-15 and similar rifles in the U.S., the accessory market is likewise booming. One area of particular interest is that of combat optics.

The magnified rifle scope has been around for generations and is still widely used by hunters and military/law enforcement snipers. It provides a tremendous advantage in making long shots accurately. The non-magnified or “1x” optics are a recent development.

Given that most combat engagements are at short distances (less than 200 meters) the value of a red dot 1x optic is great. Both eyes can and should be kept open so the the visual field is unencumbered, allowing for better situational awareness, and the target acquisition time is extremely short. The current offerings for this type of sight are broad, ranging from $40 units at Wal-Mart to $800+ units closely matching military models.

A word should be said here about the Trijicon ACOG sight. ACOG stands for “Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight” and it is a remarkable product. The classic ACOG was originally offered in a low-power magnification configuration (3-4x) with both tritium and fiber optic illumination. This allowed for an illuminated, highly-visible reticle in day/night/indoor/outdoor conditions in a very rugged package that required no batteries or adjustment. The product line now includes offerings from 1.5x to over 5x magnification and with a dizzying array of illumination and reticle options. They are not cheap, going for $1-1.5k. For medium-distance engagements this sight is awfully hard to beat. It is however not a 1x sight and for close-quarter battle (CQB) it loses out to the true 1x sights.

The key feature for good 1x optics is that they offer unlimited eye-relief and are parallax-free. Eye-relief is the distance from the optic that the eye can be and still keep the full sight image. With magnified scopes the shooter’s eye must be kept at a certain distance from the scope in order to see the entire downrange image. With 1x optics the shooter’s eye and the optic can be any distance apart. This allows for “Scout” configurations where the sight is far forward on the rifle. For CQB the advantage is that the sight picture will be accurate more quickly as the weapon is shouldered. Similarly, parallax-free means that as the shooter’s eye moves around behind the sight, the sight image and the point-of-aim (the dot or other reticle) are still accurate and distortion-free. Again, this allows much faster target acquisition since the sight image is accurate as soon as the reticle is visible to the shooter, even when the weapon is not fully shouldered. This early acquisition is crucial for quick shots.

The two leading companies in the 1x arena currently are Aimpoint and Eotech. Many others have imitated the design, some well and others not so much. My first 1x optic was an Eotech clone bought on eBay for around $80. It was modeled on the 5.11 model which uses N-type batteries. It was reasonably useful but was lacking in design such that there was quite a lot of parallax and the reticle was not very bright even on the highest setting. In bright snow the sight was useless and unless my eye was centered behind the sight the point-of-aim was way off. Caveat Emptor!

After trying out a few real Eotechs I finally replaced the clone with a real model 5.12 which is non-night vision and uses two AA batteries. The difference was dramatic. The Eotech is made in Ann Arbor Michigan and was the first common holographic weapon sight. The use of a holograph allows for complex reticles to be placed on the glass of the sight with great precision. The majority of Eotech sights use a large 65 Moa ring and a 1 Moa dot in the center as the reticle. The ring guides your eye much like the ghost ring of some popular iron sights. This allows the 1 Moa dot to be found very quickly and overall shot time to be really quick. From my experience this is the very best reticle for CQB.

Among the short list of shortcomings for the Eotech were 1) battery life, 2) mounting options, 3) controls and 4) size/weight. The fact that the holograph requires a laser means that the run-time will necessarily be shorter. For non-military use this is frankly not much of a consideration. The Eotech can run for a month or two continuously. The good news is that the unit turns itself off after 2 or 4 hours, depending on the way it was turned on (left or right button). It is likely that most shooters will need to replace the AA batteries due to chemistry limitations rather than actually running them down.

The Eotech mounts on a mil-std-1913 rail with a built-in clamp on the bottom of the housing. It works perfectly on an AR-15 and will co-witness with iron sights. If considering another rifle then the sights might not work as well. On my Kel-Tec SU16C  the Eotech sits too high. The good news is that with this integrated clamp the sight does return to zero nicely when reattached to my AR-15.

The 5.12 controls are just OK. They are push-buttons on the back of the housing which is a problem if you want to use a magnifier behind the sight. The buttons are also tough to manage with gloves, especially thick ones. I find it takes a bit more work to turn them on and adjust the brightness than knob-activated sights.

Weight/size are also a small negative for the 5.12 since it is a little heavier than others but the visual field is very large so it can be argued that it’s a good trade-off. The AA models are longer but they offer extremely common batteries and a very simple, quick and easy battery change.

Are these major problems? Not for me but I did want to at least mention them. The overall impression for me is that for an AR-15 this sight is superb and well worth the $400 price tag. Nevertheless I felt compelled to get my hands on an Aimpoint to see how it compared.

I found a used CompML2 on eBay for around $325 (new around $400). The sight came with a Burris Xtreme mount of the 1″ variety which was too high for my tastes. I have noticed that lots of folks put their optics up at the 1″ mark and I can’t understand why. Perhaps they have a standard A-post front sight base (FSB) and this keeps the optic above it. In any case I bought a 1/2″ version of the Burris mount which keeps the sight nice and low allowing a nice tight cheek weld. It also allows the Troy backup sights to co-witnesses right in the center of the optic.

Using this sight with its 2 Moa dot has worked really well. The dot can be dialed up to very high brightness, which also makes it look bigger if that is required. The control knob has very positive clicks for feedback and can be operated even with thick gloves. The battery life is supposed to be 5 years on one of the brighter settings which far outshines (pun?) the Eotech. This is nice but hardly a huge factor for me. The field of view is smaller too but in some ways that helps to find the dot fast. Many people have reported that they felt the CompM series to be more rugged than the Eotechs but all I can say is that both have worked really well and taken quite a beating from me without (almost) any failures.

I eventually replaced this sight with a CompM3 after accidentally damaging the sight. The sight was still functional but the cracked front lens was a distraction. The M3 adds night vision which will likely never be used by me. Otherwise it is functionally identical.

The negatives on the CompM2/3 are 1) it doesn’t come with a mount, the glass is somewhat small and 2) the simple reticle doesn’t compete with the Eotech “circle of death”. It is however light and the battery life is amazing. The durability issue is unsettled in my mind.

So, which do I use? Well at this moment I have the Eotech on my main AR-15 but for the last few weeks I have been running the CompM3. I keep going back and forth. The Aimpoint is easier to turn on and off and may be more rugged but in actual use that Eotech sight picture is unbeatable.

Another significant question for many folks will be, “Do I really need a $400 sight at all?” It’s a fair question. If you are betting your life on it you might say yes, especially if this is for military use. However, I use a $40 Tasco red dot on my Kel-Tec that I have found is ideal for use on my “truck gun”. Would this be my choice in a SHTF scenario? No but it works great for a low-cost, relatively dependable rifle that if stolen from my truck would not break my heart or the bank.

As for the Aimpoint/Eotech question, you’ll have to decide that for yourself.

AR-15 Backup Sights: evolutionary process

With the proliferation of flattop rifles it is inevitable that backup iron sight (BUIS) systems will become more important to shooters and manufacturers. On my first AR-15 I had a front sight base (FSB) that was the traditional A-post design. This design integrates the gas block and the FSB as a fixed unit. I took off the removable carry handle and purchased a simple rear sight so that I could co-witness the iron sights through the optics. I found out quickly that this really wasn’t the best solution. With a cheap Eotech clone on the rifle, the FSB was so high that I had to raise my cheek weld much too far just to see over it. Eventually I took the plunge and replaced the FSB with a low profile gas block from Doublestar. This was really nice because it allowed me to put my optics as low as possible. This makes the zero much more consistent across the first 200 meters. So, what to do for iron sights?

I tried some different BUIS systems and I frankly didn’t like how bulky and heavy they were, not to mention how expensive. Having been a fan of Magpul products I was delighted when they introduced their Magpul Backup Sights (MBUS). I bought a front and rear set from eBay for about $110 and was immediately convinced these were the best option for my rifle. The sights are polymer so clearly they would not withstand the same level of abuse as their metal cousins but for my purposes they were good for 99% of any situations I could envision. Besides, anyone who has seen the PMag torture test videos can understand that with Magpul the bar is set very high for product performance.

I found the sighting adjustment to be an easy task and deploying the sights could be accomplished with only one finger. Likewise, folding them back down was also a one-finger operation. I was sold: these were the right sights for me. Eventually those sights went with the gun when it was time for a replacement. I have since used these sights several more times.

I recently purchased a Ruger SR-556 (more on that later) and before it arrived I ordered another set of MBUS sights for it. My plan was to remove the Troy Industries sights and install the Magpul units instead. The only gotcha for this scenario is that the gas block on this gun is just too hot to use for mounting the MBUS front sight. Yes, plastic does melt when it reaches barrel temperatures. When I received my rifle the Troy sight on the front wasn’t even mounted on the gas block anyway so the sight radius would be unchanged. Just for fun I shot the rifle with the Troy sights and was amazed at how much I liked them. The sight picture is like an H&K with those round front “ears” fitting perfectly into the circle of the rear aperture. Hmm. I had a feeling that I was about to trade down in terms of the sight picture. Nevertheless, I had already purchased the MBUS sights and figured that I was already comfortable with that sight picture. Besides, who needs all that weight?

I removed the front Troy sight and made a startling discovery: the sight is extremely light. Oh boy, now it was really interesting. All my reasons for using the MBUS were gone! One last hurdle remained: the “Ruger” moniker shone bright white on the front beveled edge of the Troy sights. I honestly loathe having bright, distinct logos on any “tactical” gear. If the idea is to be unobtrusive then why on Earth would I want to announce my position with bright white letters? I struggled for several minutes before deciding to return the Troy sight to the gun and give those a try. If I get really OCD I can just use a Sharpie on the lettering.

I have put quite a few more rounds through this setup and while most were using optics I have used the Troy sights enough to feel that this is the right setup. I will keep the MBUS sights for another rifle but for The Beast (my pet name for the SR-556) the Troys are wonderful. They also take up surprisingly little space when folded down.

So, for me I think both are great products. If I had to start from scratch I can almost certainly say that I would opt for the less expensive Magpul sights but damn, those Troys are nice!

Smoke ’em if you got ’em!