With the addition of a simple bipod the Precision Rifle was ready for the range. I was very interested to see how this would all come together. This project was a study in focus. My goal was to build a rifle that could put 75gr .223 bullets on target at longer ranges and to do so at a very low cost. That being said it would require some key choices. With everything you see in these photos the total cost of parts was right at $850.00. Continue reading “Precision Rifle Part V: Sum of its parts”
Precision Rifle Part I: Palmetto State Armory stripped lower
Eugene Stoner would be amazed at how popular his creation has become over the last 50 years. As “America’s Gun” there are many sources for information and parts. It doesn’t require a lot of tools or even mechanical aptitude so when Brian told me about his plan to build a carbine in early 2012 I figured it was a good time for me to build my first AR-15 as well. I had been thinking about a precision rifle for a while so that would be my project. Continue reading “Precision Rifle Part I: Palmetto State Armory stripped lower”
Timney 667 AR-15 trigger: Finally!!
After nearly two years shooting my Ruger SR-556 I finally broke down and bought an aftermarket trigger for it. I had long considered this purchase and after looking at Chip McCormack, Geissele and Timney I finally decided on the excellent Timney AR-15 competition trigger. The specific model I chose was the 667, which is the 3 lb. pull version. I also went with the solid trigger shoe since I could see no reason to pay another $25 for something (skeletonized trigger) that is essentially cosmetic. Don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful things but a trigger is, well, a trigger. Continue reading “Timney 667 AR-15 trigger: Finally!!”
AR-15: Handguards and Barrels
Recently a friend asked me a few questions about an AR-15 he was considering for purchase. It prompted a lengthy response on my part that I thought would be good to share here. The rifle in question was a Smith & Wesson M&P15PS, which is a piston carbine with traditional carbine-length handguards. Here is a summary of his questions:
Do you know if it’s possible to put a longer handguard on a carbine setup? The handguard always look so short which seems to be bad for retention and also for possibly burning your self or resting it on something… I would like to put a longer handguard on the M&P piston one, but would then need to put a rail mount sight further down the barrel do you know about people doing stuff like that?
As you can imagine, I had a few things to say about this setup:
I don’t know much about that particular model but on paper it looks like a decent, relatively basic rifle. I don’t see a forward sling mount and the barrel is the “M4 contour” which I would avoid personally given the relative thinness of the barrel at several points along the barrel. Sure, it probably won’t matter under light use but a medium or heavy barrel will last longer and dissipate heat better, especially under rapid or extended fire.
You asked about the handguard. The standard carbine-length hand guard is 7-8″. Mid-length is usually 9-10″ and rifle length is 12″. Given that this rifle has a piston system you might be limited in what you can do. Specifically, you mentioned concerns for having the hot components touching stuff. I’m not really sure this is something to be concerned about. I can’t imagine ever reaching my hand that far forward while carrying or shooting the gun although I do like the 10″ rail on my SR-556, which covers most of the gas block. Perhaps with your reach it could be an issue but that setup is standard issue for M4 military users (82nd Airborne, Rangers, etc.). You might touch something with the barrel or gas block, but that’s possible with any AR-15.
So, with the gas block you have, there may be no way to put a free-float tube on that rifle without it being some sort of over-size (large diameter) tube. You can of course replace those handguards with anything else that will fit a carbine setup but that will by definition not go beyond the front handguard ring, i.e., not achieve your stated goal.
My preference is and has always been to have a free-floating handguard with an integrated rail system (quad rail). This is because you can attach a sling, bipod or whatever you want and not have it create any stress on the barrel. If you press hard into a sling that is attached to the barrel, you can significantly change the geometry such that your shot goes way left (or right in your case). Same goes for bipod: it can make the POI go high if attached directly to the barrel as is the case with rail systems that simply replace the stock handguards.
The rifle in question looks quite good as a general purpose carbine. Put an optic on the top rail and you are all set. However, you don’t have any mounting points for lights, FVG, bipod, etc. and if you created a sling mount on the hand guard, that would stress the barrel as mentioned.
If this is to be a patrol carbine you have to ask yourself which features are really important. Would you even use a sling? Probably only in a SWAT/HRT role I would think. Same goes for FVG, bipod and perhaps even for a tactical light although I certainly keep one on my AR at all times. Bad things don’t always happen in the daylight.
Lastly, you mentioned the need to place a front sight further down the barrel if you covered or otherwise compromised the existing front rail, right? Be aware that this would only be ideal if the sight is rigidly attached to either the barrel or a free-floating handguard. In other words, if you cover that existing gas block with some sort of after-market extensions, they may not be rigid enough (mounted in the handguard rings) to keep zero with the new front sight. The plastic handguards don’t usually have to be held very tightly in place.
So, I would say that it is probably hard to go wrong buying any M&P product but depending on your intended purpose this particular model might be too much of a compromise. Then again, it might be perfect as a light, simple, accurate piston gun. Only you can determine that.
Well, you knew you would get an earful, didn’t you? 😉 Darn it, I need to get back to my blog!
And so I have.
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.
Ruger SR-556: my latest AR-15
With Ruger’s foray into the AR-15 market, many have taken notice. Some because Bill Ruger always said there was no reason for civilians to own “high-capacity” semi-auto rifles. Others because this seems like an awfully late arrival to the party. After all the noise died down we discovered that the rifle was in fact a very nicely built, well-appointed, great shooting gun. I tried shooting one twice and was very much impressed. When it came time for a new AR-15 it was the obvious choice to me. Yes, I really wanted the Masada/ACR but we know what happened there.
I got my SR-556 from a local dealer at a very good price then installed my Magpul CTR stock, GripPod forward vertical grip/bipod, sling mounts and the Aimpoint CompM3 and away we went. The gun is awesome. The weight at 8 lbs unloaded is a full pound heavier than my Bushmaster but this is to be expected with a piston system and a 10-inch quad rail. I think you get what you pay for with weight. This is “good weight”, so to speak since I would want a quad rail anyway and the 2-stage piston system is superb.
I don’t notice any difference in the recoil impulse from any other 5.56 AR-15. Also the inside of my buffer tube shows no signs of the dreaded carrier tilt problem. In fact I can’t see any markings at all in there. After about 1k rounds the gun still shoots beautifully. My accuracy using the CompM3 is dependent on my vision, which is simply not that great. I can get 2″ groups at 100m from the bench, which frankly is better than I’ve ever done before with those optics. At 25m all five shots touch so I’m very happy. With a scope I suspect one could do much better at distance.
The gun runs very cool and clean. Yes, I can touch the bolt carrier immediately after a mag dump. The upper receiver, bolt carrier group and the chamber appear almost as if the gun hasn’t been fired. This is just amazing and very welcome compared to the sooty mess that is the normal direct gas impingement system experience. The only “gotcha” is that the gas block, piston and regulator valve do in fact get quite dirty. The good news there is that they are very easy to disassemble and clean. This contrasts sharply with the usual AR cleaning regimen.
I personally do not like the Troy Industries rail covers as they make the quad rail too big. I really like the Ergogrips Low Pro rail covers for taming the quad rail. They make it really comfortable to grip, they protect your weak hand from getting cut on the rail edges and they cover up those annoying white indexing labels on the rails.
I also am not a big fan of the standard M4 buttstock. I hate when they rattle and I don’t like the lock release because it is so obtrusive. The Magpul CTR is the best stock I’ve ever used for a multi-use carbine. It locks up solid, there is nothing on which to snag clothing or other material, it has a built-in quick-release sling mount and it is beautiful to look at. This is essential kit for any AR that I own.
The Hogue grip is just wonderful. I really like how sticky it is. I have not noticed it catch on clothing or tactical vest but it does provide a very solid connection between my strong hand and the rifle. I would not change it.
As I’ve already mentioned the Troy battle sights are outstanding. I had originally intended to swap them for Magpul MBUS sights but when I tried the Troys I was hooked. Also, they are just as light as the MBUS sights. No-brainer there.
So my initial impressions of the SR-556 are very positive. It is everything I love about the platform without the thing I disliked the most: the DI system. I expect I will have this rifle as a permanent member of the collection.
UPDATE Fall 2010: I’ve lately switched to the Eotech 5.12 over the CompM3. Also, I neglected to mention the sling, which is detailed here.