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Speaking of gun lust...

Last weekend I was on the range for the first time in I-can't-remember-how-long, helping out with a rifle class taught by my friend Georges Rahbani. One of the rifles on the line was an old Colt SP1, complete with skinny barrel, A1 sights and stock, and the teardrop forward assist.

I'd forgotten how light and handy those original guns were. My main AR is a mid-length Rock River with a very heavy barrel, and the SP1 felt like a feather in comparison. I was so taken (or would that be re-taken?) with the gun that I think I'm going to build a 'retro' AR-15.

There are companies that specialize in making
vintage-style uppers and lowers, the stocks and handguards are readily available, and the only issue is the skinny barrel. They’re a lot harder to find, especially if you want anything other than the 1:12 twist. I’d love a 1:8, but would settle for 1:9. Finding one of any decent quality is another matter.

If nothing else, I’m sure Pac-Nor could do something for me if I hand them enough money. It’s that last part that bothers me!

(And no, Jim, it won't be chambered in .32-20.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

A new idea in AR-15 lowers.

A large percentage of accessories produced for the AR-15 comes under the heading of "tacticool" - fashionable, but of dubious value. Every once in a while, though, someone comes up with something that screams "now why didn't I think of that?"

AXTS Weapons Systems has introduced a slightly modified AR-15 lower that addresses the issue of manually locking the action open. With a normal AR, to lock the bolt back you have to find and manipulate a tiny bolt catch with your left hand, while operating the charging handle (designed for left-handed use) with your right hand. Whether you're trying to clear a double feed under fire or just locking the action open as an administrative task, it's a juggling act. If your hands are a little on the small side, like mine are, it's even more awkward.

The A-DAC Lower Receiver adds one internal part: a plunger that goes between the magazine catch and the bolt catch. When the magazine catch is pressed, the bolt catch is activated. With this system, locking the bolt back is simply a matter of pressing the magazine catch with the right hand (like we always do) and operating the charging handle with the left hand (which we always do.) The procedure is now consistent with all the other ways that we normally handle the AR, and consistency is a big contributor to efficiency.

The Firearm Blog has an article and a video about the lower. (The comments show a certain lack of comprehension: the magazine catch is not transformed into a bolt release, only a bolt catch, and the gun still functions completely normally for those people who aren’t aware of the modification. From a training standpoint, I don’t see a downside. I do agree with the rants about the stupid 'action' music, but then again most of the shooting shows on television do the same cheesy thing. I'm talking to you, 'American Guardian'!)

My only concern is whether the plunger can get bound by oxidized lubricants or dirt, thereby activating the bolt catch inadvertently. Time will tell; I'll give the system a year or so, and if this concern proves to be unfounded I might just buy a couple for myself.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Attack of the clones.

It comes as no surprise to long-time readers that I'm a fan of the 6.5mm rifle caliber. Though I've only owned a single such rifle - a 6.5-284 screamer - the ballistic advantages of this particular diameter intrigue me to no end. It seems to be a "sweet spot" in rifle calibers, where drag coefficients and sectional densities combine to make extremely efficient cartridges. Their stability in flight, ability to resist wind, and deep penetration are the stuff of legend.

I've wanted a 6.5 Swedish Mauser for the longest time, but I wouldn't turn my nose up at the modern short-action version, the .260 Remington. I'd love to have a Mannlicher in 6.5x54 (with the full stock for which Mannlicher is most famous, of course) but have never been able to justify the high tariff. If I see a rifle, nearly any rifle, in 6.5mm I usually salivate! (Well, perhaps not for a Carcano. It's not the cartridge I mind, it's the rifle in which it is usually encountered. Mr. Whelen would not have found it at all interesting.)

Given this fascination, it should not be a shock to learn that I relish the idea of a 6.5mm cartridge chambered in an AR-15. I actually considered buying a 6.5 Grendel upper not too long ago, but held back because of the high cost. The Grendel is a proprietary cartridge, for which barrel, rifle, and ammunition makers must pay a royalty to the owner: Alexander Arms.

I'm all for free enterprise, but that particular enterprise is far from free. The royalties necessary to use the Grendel cartridge have kept prices much higher than, say, the unrestricted 6.8SPC round. I wondered why someone didn't simply clone the Grendel cartridge and give it a different name.

Someone finally did.
As The Firearm Blog reports, Les Baer has cloned the Grendel cartridge and has released it as the .264 LBC-AR. (Who came up with that mouthful?) It is a functional equivalent of the 6.5 Grendel, and I hope it catches on. If it does, my AR may finally reach the 6.5mm nirvana I've long sought.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Circumstances change. Hardware doesn't. That's a problem.

Last week I heaped scorn and derision on AR-15 foregrips ('Pharoah's Beards'), and feedback suggests I need to expound on the subject.

The issue with foregrips is that they limit how you interface with your rifle. That's a fancy way of saying that they get in the way; instead of the hardware (the rifle) allowing flexibility in use, it becomes more specialized - less flexible. The rifle no longer responds to the user's will, rather the user now must adapt to the accessory's limitations, in addition to the rifle's.

As long as the AR-15 is being shot from a standing, squared off position, the Pharaoh's Beard feels like a great invention. A real incident, however, may demand more. The shooter may have to contort himself into a stable firing position because of the surrounding cover; the opponent may be at a radical angle (in any direction) from the defender's point of view; rapid fire from a compromised 'stance' may be needed as the defender rapidly moves relative to the attacker.

When any of those things happen, the changed body position requires a modified relationship to the rifle. With a plain forearm, the support arm simply moves to the necessary position and the shooting commences. With some sort of foregrip hanging off the rifle, one of two things will happen: the shooter will doggedly maintain a grip on the thing, all the while trying to get his body to do things that it isn't structurally capable of doing, or the shooter will realize that the grip isn't working, and try to maneuver around it to get to the best placement. Sometimes he can, more often he can't, because that accessory is taking up the very space he needs. Bottom line: less-than-optimal shot placement and less-than-optimal response times.

Most people test these things in a range-perfect stance of some sort; they don't push themselves or their equipment. In such undemanding circumstances, foregrips seem to work well. The further from that ideal world, the less well they work. You can decide for yourself if that's meaningful to you.

I see this frequently with students in class. Georges Rahbani, who I've mentioned many times in this blog, runs his 'Fighting Rifle' course as a triad: three separate 2-day classes, based on real-life encounters, that rapidly ramp up critical survival skills. The first class has the students working on fairly traditional range platforms: standing, kneeling, etc. Foregrips seem to work in that environment, because they're designed to facilitate just this kind of handling. The environment isn't asking much of the shooter, which is important to understand.

By the time the second class rolls around, students discover that they're not in Kansas any more. The environment now asks much more of the shooters; the concept off 'ideal' is dispensed with, and 'field expedient' becomes the new paradigm. As that occurs, the students who showed up for the first class with gizmos and gadgets on their rifles find themselves hurriedly removing them during breaks.

Why? Because they've discovered that their options are limited, not increased, by added hardware. They've learned that the situation dictates their response, not the other way around. The more universal their equipment, the easier they can adapt their response to the situation; the more specialized the gear, the less they're able to do so.
Conceptually, this is the same thing I said last week; substitute 'gear' for 'technique', and the same lessons apply.

There is also an issue with attitude, with perception of the rifle's role. Georges asks his students: "Is your rifle a fun toy, or a serious tool?" If it's strictly a recreational object, a ballistic tinker toy, go wild - hang whatever you want on it. (Tacticool accessories, it must be admitted, are a heck of a lot of fun and building just the "right" configuration can be an enjoyable hobby in itself. Machined aluminum is like bacon - it makes everything better!)

Otherwise, save that money and use it to buy more ammo. You'll be better off.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Gas piston rifles.

Last week's arrival of Ruger's SR-556 rifle has a certain segment of the shooting community swooning with delight. I'm not at all certain the hoopla is justified.

There are those with the opinion that a gas piston system has merits over the direct gas impingement operation used in the standard M-16/AR-15 family of rifles. There are perceived shortcomings in the impingement system, but in my experience, over many rifles and uncounted thousands of rounds of ammunition, most of the complaints are imagined or overblown.

One supposed problem has to do with the AR-15 gas tube, which leads from the sight block into the upper receiver. That tube, so the detractors say, will get clogged with carbon from the hot combustion gases, and ultimately fail to cycle the action. Frankly, I've never seen a tube that had any buildup inside, let alone a clog.

A few weeks back I was helping an acquaintance with some work on his AR-15, and part of the job involved pulling the gas tube out. I inspected the tube, and the inside was shiny clean. Just to prove my point to the gun's owner, I swabbed the tube with a long, dry pipe cleaner (commonly sold as a "gas tube brush.") Nothing showed up on the white nap of the cleaner. This is a gun which has been heavily used, to the tune of thousands of rounds of mixed ammunition - and the gas tube had never been touched, yet was still pristine.

This is not to say that the gas tube never develops deposits. If an owner insists on cleaning the gas tube, using any kind of solvent, the residue from that material could carbonize and adhere to the walls of the tube. CLP-type products, which contain oils, would be especially prone to leaving behind soot. I suspect those who complain of dirty gas tubes have done just that, which ironically causes the condition which they're trying to avoid in the first place!

My solution? I never touch the gas tube, period. I don't put any oil, bore cleaner, or other liquid into the tube. I've found that they stay perfectly clean, no matter how many rounds are fired through, without any attention whatsoever.

Another common complaint is that the gun "defecates where it eats" (though usually the term is somewhat more colorful.) The gas tube outlets in the upper receiver, which supposedly gums up the bolt and leaves deposits in and around the chamber.

Yes, the chamber area does get dirty on the AR-15 - but I can tell you, over many thousands of rounds of shooting both, that it gets no dirtier than an FN-FAL (and is significantly cleaner than any HK rifle.) In our rifle classes, our students will shoot 800 rounds over 2 days; I've never seen a chamber area dirty enough to impede functioning.

The bolt itself does get dirtier than on other rifles, but in reality suffers no more than any other system. Again, comparing to the FN-FAL, the area that gets dirty is simply shifted - on the AR-15, it's the bolt, while on the FAL it's the gas piston head. Both have to be cleaned with about the same frequency, and failure to do so will induce the same failure in each rifle. To me, it's a non-issue, because until someone develops a true self-cleaning rifle I'll be forced to do it myself regardless of the design!

Redesigning the AR-15 with a gas piston, according to supporters, supposedly makes for a more reliable system. I can't imagine how adding more parts to any mechanism makes it more reliable, but perhaps there is some new engineering principle which says it can be done. It would certainly be news to me!

I do have significant experience with gas piston designs. I'm a longtime FN-FAL user, having shot many examples and huge amounts of ammunition. In my experience, the gas piston is in fact the weakest point of the whole gun. On the FAL, if the piston is even slightly bent it will bind in the upper receiver boss, and the bolt will not be able to travel forward into battery. Alignment of the gas block and the upper receiver has to be perfect, otherwise binding will occur in one (or sometimes both) places.

I could go on, but my point is that a piston is not necessarily a guarantor of reliability. This, coming from someone who is a huge fan of the FAL!

Ruger's new gun will probably sell very well to those who believe in the piston concept, but the ironic thing is that Ruger will have to work twice as hard just to equal the reliability of the standard AR-15. First, because more parts doesn't always translate to better performance, and second because a piston is likely to demand more careful construction and assembly - areas where Ruger, to be fair, does have a bit of a problem.

-=[ Grant ]=-

On the current fad of Stoner bashing.

No, not THAT kind of stoner - I mean Eugene Stoner!

Websites, forum postings, and blog entries heap scorn and derision on the M-16/AR-15/M4 family of rifles. Why? Everyone has a different reason, but it comes down to the old saying about greener grass. I have no doubt that the same kinds of grousing appeared when our military switched from the .45-70 cartridge to the 'puny' .30 caliber!

What's amazing is the amount of engineering effort and money being spent to produce add-ons to "improve" the gun's operating system. Fixing the gun's "ills" has become big business, and everyone seems to be cashing in on the latest fashions.

I won't bore you with my analysis of the rifle or its engineering; there are lots of armchair commandos out there who have already done so. Instead, I'll simply relate what a good friend of mine tells me about the platform.

Some background: this is a guy who survived a particularly brutal civil war in his native country, shooting and being shot at on a very regular basis. He didn't have the benefit of being in a heavily armed squad with mobility, air and artillery support, a division armory, and the prospect of getting out in a matter of mere months. He had to survive, with only one M-16 rifle and an extremely thin ammunition supply, for
years against a well financed enemy hell-bent on killing his people and taking over his country. His rifle was, quite literally, his life.

He fought against the vaunted AK-47 fielded by his enemies (and occasionally with them when they were carried by his allies.) He therefore has unique and important experience with the two weapon systems that none of us is ever likely to accumulate. What is his take on all this?

"The AK-47 isn't as good as you think it is, and the M-16 is
better than you think it is."

Most opinions I politely listen to; a few I take to heart. His fall into the latter category.

-=[ Grant ]=-