A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.
–Thomas Jefferson, 1785
I spent January through April getting as much time with my AR as I could. If I went for a walk for fun, the AR came along. It gave me something to look through when I wanted to get a better look at some game. If the dog wasn’t back by bedtime, I went on a search and took the AR just to get some time spent carrying it around and handling it. When I was on the range, no matter if I was setting up targets, walking to check them and back, or whatever one does on this “firing range”, I had the AR with me. In the house, except for showering (most of the time), I tried to keep the AR by my side.
I’ve been shooting ARs since about 2001, but I’ve learned the difference between a level of familiarity that ‘looks’ like competence, and having it down to the point of it being an extension of your will. I won’t say that I’m exactly there yet, but I’ve gotten a little further down the road. I’d like to share some of my observations about the AR in comparison to a bolt action. These are probably obvious to many of you.
I’ve mentioned before that I really appreciate the ergonomics of the AR. The safety is right where the thumb is, the mag release is only a half inch worth of movement, insert a mag after going dry and “why, by golly there’s the bolt catch”. It’s just well thought out in terms of gun handling. Duh.
I’m in love with the longer handguards, and I think the keymod system is the wave of the future. The old carbine length plastic handguards never endeared me to the feel or handling of the AR. I’ve never been a fan of quad rails and they were one of the things that had me biased against the AR in terms of a good handling rifle for someone who knows the difference. There’s really something to be said for a rifle with solid, well-designed handguards, and having the gas block covered along with most of the barrel makes for a very clean appearance and easy to handle platform.
I found the handguard to be useful when shooting as well. I have always been wary of setting my stock down on a hard object to use as support. I went to the trouble of making a front bag (the BMF) for the front of the rifle when using an object for support. I finally just started resting the handguard on stuff when I could use support on things as varied as piles of wood, wooden fence posts, barbed wire fences, trees, stumps, etc… The slim profile of the Noveske handguard on my rifle also made it easy to use vertical support as well. It’s nice to see this trend becoming the norm with other brands as well. Oddly, my experience indicates that for me, supported standing is second only to prone in terms of steadiness. I haven’t tested it to know for sure and I don’t know why that might be, but I have had great results from many different variations of supported standing.
I had an Atlas bipod on my rifle for most of the time I spent with it. The rifle still handled well for me. One thing that I got spoiled with is that the bipod, being mounted as far forward on the handguard as I could get it, put my bipod feet farther forward than my muzzle when it was folded. This allowed for my muzzle to be protected from accidentally getting in the snow, mud, or dirt. It might have lead to me being a little sloppier in handling my rifle than I normally would, but when you take a rifle out into the real world sometimes no matter how careful you are a distraction could create a lapse in “muzzle vigilance” and it could end up hitting the ground. This increased use of the bipod feet may have contributed to the early demise of one of the feet.
Where the AR completely crushes the bolt gun is in ease of carry. I made a “tactical style” sling that had a shooting loop I could use and a quick adjustment for overall length so I could cinch it down tight to my body. While the sling isn’t quite as refined as I’d prefer, it made the entire experience of carrying and transitioning to an effective shooting position a lot more streamlined than I’m used to with a bolt action. When you’re doing more walking and looking than shooting (and there is no extreme imminence to the rifle being needed quickly), the ability to let go of the rifle and have it still ready to shoot quickly is extremely useful. This is something that has been reinforced for me since getting my bolt gun back and using African carry with a traditional sling. While African carry is not difficult as modes of carry go, it doesn’t really free up the hands like the tactical sling does.
Doing a lot of prone shooting with the AR gave me a newfound appreciation for 20 round mags. It got the point where I would look for mags for my range session, and finding 30 round mags everywhere was an annoyance (and no, you can’t have them).
I really appreciated having a collapsible stock. For most standing shooting, I favored a “mid-collapsed” setting, while for positional shooting of just about any kind I preferred to extend it fully. This made for consistent eye relief through a range of positions. The downside to this is that it makes for one other thing to do before firing. The upside to that downside is that if you forget it’s not really the end of the world and you’re not really any worse off than with a fixed stock, except…
The CTR stock I have on my AR, while it does have that ‘lock’ on it, still is not completely solid. When I pull back on the pistol grip to seat the butt in my shoulder pocket, I can feel a slight ‘click’. I also wish the comb of the stock was a bit wider, as this would provide as good a cheek weld as I could want when combined with my Nightforce low Unimount. I like the idea of the Magpul UBR, but it costs about ten million dollars and is around a hundred pounds (actually $250/1.6 lbs -two and a half times the price and twice the weight of the CTR). There is also the Ergo F93, which was a Magpul design and the precursor to the UBR. It’s about midway between the CTR in terms of price and weight, but it’s also uglier than sin. That shouldn’t bother me but it does. I’m starting to consider some of the Magpul offerings that are similar to the CTR in design and use, but are a little wider in the cheekpiece. I can deal with the slight movement.
As for reliability, I’m a huge fan of my Noveske upper. It might have cost me $1100 for an upper assembly, but in 1236 rounds, with only two full cleanings (full meaning I cleaned the barrel and chamber, and wiped down and lubed the rest), I have only had two slight irregularities in function due to the bolt carrier not being completely in battery. I caused both of these incidents. Both occasions resulted in a click instead of a bang and no firing pin indent on the primer. Since my 1911 days I have babied my slide letting it down on an empty chamber. Maybe I’m getting too relaxed, but sometimes the transition between dry and live has been a little ‘soft’, and while going through pre-live fire warmup just prior to shooting I end up inserting a mag and chambering a round. I feel the round chamber, so it’s not like I’m torching one off unexpectedly, but it’s probably time to start making a clear delineation when I actually go live so that I don’t end up doing something more than just inducing a malfunction. All that is to say that the gun has functioned flawlessly when I do my part.
It would seem as though, like a bolt gun, this AR works fine unless the operator screws something up (not operator like the telephone kind, nor of the Delta Force kind, just of the kind that work a machine). In comparison, my FN did have some magazine issues that caused failures to feed that occurred in the 800-1000 round count range, if I remember correctly. It’s a little skewed, because I have a lot more AR mags than bolt action rifle mags, but I have had far fewer problems with the operation of the AR than with the bolt action. I thought that would be the case. Taking the operator out of more of the operating cycle can be a good thing when everything is set up correctly.
The rifle seems to have decent precision. I have shot only one load that the rifle seemed to like, but my reloading room status is the same as my sewing room status, which is to say not complete/machines in storage.
The major event of the rifle in terms of function was the breaking of the Rock River 2-Stage hammer after 1236 rounds with this upper. I would add approximately 200 rounds to the round count on the trigger from when I had this trigger installed in one of my light weight ARs. I just replaced it with a Geissele SSA-E trigger today. Hopefully it fares better.
What should be obvious is that this is not an apples to apples comparison of the AR vs. a bolt action. They have different roles and capabilities, most significantly the cartridge. This is just a list of the things that have struck me about the platform. There was a time when I had contempt for the AR platform. I am definitely willing to reconsider a lot of my former beliefs in this regard.