A few nights back, I disappeared into my gun room, a jumbled mess of ARs and parts in my arms. After some sweating, grunting, and cursing, this is what came out of the room.
It's the perfect AR-15 (for me), and here's why.
- The heart of any AR is the barrel. This rifle has a Centurion Arms 16" lightweight midlength barrel. It's not as light as an A1 profile barrel, but it is lighter than "government" or standard profile barrels. More important, it shoots groups that are highly competitive with my White Oak Armament stainless match barrel, although the Centurion is much lighter. It's capable of hitting point targets well past the oft-published maximum effective range of the M16 (550m). Also the midlength is handy as far as where I like to place my hand on the firearm.
- The front sight base is of the fixed type and is taper pinned in place. A pinned front sight base/gas block will stay in place until the end of days, which is important if you want your rifle to function properly. Furthermore, if the barrel moves relative to the handguard, the front sight will move with the barrel, not the handguard.
- The bolt carrier group is M16 weight/profile, hard chromed, and was properly tested/inspected before shipment. Spike's Tactical used to sell hard chrome BCGs before they switched to nickel boron. I have two of them and I'll never let them go (until they break). Hard chrome is far easier to clean than either phosphate or nickel boron. The M16 weight carrier is what the system was designed to operate with. It's this mass moving at a specific velocity that magazines are designed to feed rounds in front of. Moving to lighter carriers will sacrifice reliability in adverse conditions or extreme temperature ranges.
- The receiver extension tube and buffer/spring are the Vltor A5 type. This system more closely approximates the performance (control and reliability) of a fixed stock/rifle buffer and spring, but allows length of pull adjustments. If I could make one change to the M16A4 used by the Marine Corps, it would be a change to the A5 recoil system. Normally the longer and heavier EMod stock would be used with an A5, but I'm using an IMod because I don't need the weight of the EMod.
- The muzzle device is an A2 because I want a balance of muzzle flash reduction and blast/muzzle signature reduction.
- The charging handle is the Rainier Arms/AXTS Raptor because it's easy to use with either hand and regardless of the method by which I manipulate the charging handle latch, but it does not protrude away from the rifle in a way that would cause it to snag on gear. It also enables more effective malfunction clearing than other types of charging handles I've used.
- The handguard is made by Apex; functionally, what I need from an AR handguard is to protect the gas tube and keep my hand from burning. The Apex handguard does this. It's also lightweight and "grippy" and gives me a few QD socket options. I don't like the way it installs - it's kind of a pain in the butt, really - but once it's there, it's there. It's also a good size and shape (round). If I want to add rails for lights and stuff, I can, but right now I haven't because I don't need them.
- The trigger is a Geissele SSA-E. I use a lot of stock triggers and think they're a lot more useful than some might think, but it is really hard to beat the SSA-E. I like the Rock River two stage as well, but of late I haven't seen them as regularly available as the Geissele.
- The optic is an Aimpoint CompM3 in a GDI mount. I also have a Trijicon TA02 - better known as the "battery ACOG" - in a GDI mount. Because the GDI mounts return to zero within .01 MOA, I can swap the red dot and ACOG back and forth to my heart's content (one-handed!) without worrying about anything unnecessary. The Aimpoint and ACOG are as durable and reliable as you can ask of a firearm accessory, both offering long battery life. I am not normally a fan of the 4x32 ACOG eye relief and this one is no different, but the adjustable illumination is really neat and I somewhat prefer the crosshair reticle for distance shooting.
- The magazine is a Lancer L5 (loaded with 30 rounds of Prvi 75gr BTHP, thanks AIM!), which is durable, reliable, and lets me see how much ammo I have left. It fits in all mag pouches. Also it looks cool.
- The rear sight and pistol grip are Magpul. Thus they are well made and affordable. I highly doubt that I will actually need to use the MBUS rear sight, but it doesn't break when you hit stuff with the rifle, which is important.
So that's my idea of the perfect AR-15. As photographed (loaded), it weighs 8 pounds 7.6 ounces. Unloaded it weighs 7 pounds 6.2 ounces. It's what I plan to use for the 2013 24 Hour Sniper Adventure Challenge, and it's a rifle I plan on owning for a very long time.
I first examined the KRISS Vector submachinegun at IWA in 2011. I did not understand why it needed to exist. I spent an evening at a Cuban cigar lounge in Nuremberg with some executives and tech guys from the company explaining my opinion to them. There was a former Swiss police officer who worked on the Sphinx pistol program (the companies are related) in attendance; he nodded as I spoke with a barely perceptible smile on his face. Essentially, I didn't see why something as large and heavy as the Vector, even in short barrel format, needed to be in a pistol caliber. And if it was to be in a pistol caliber and marketed to US law enforcement, as the vice president of the company intended to do, then it should be in .40, not .45.
It took two years for me to get high speed video of the Vector, but I see nothing which changes my mind. I am not shown firing it on video, although I did shoot it numerous times. The two shooters in this video are physically strong, experienced in the use of firearms, and doing their best to keep the weapon on target.
The operating system is supposed to reduce muzzle climb through the reciprocating components moving down at an angle instead of back towards the shooter. It's also claimed that the system will reduce recoil.
What I felt and observed is that the weapon jumps up and down in an arcing motion as the shooter fires it. If a strong shooter using good technique fires the weapon, the muzzle will stay close to being on target - but this is hardly a property unique to the Vector. The motion of the firearm is rather violent and causes the upper and lower halves of the Vector to briefly separate from one another and the variable power optic to flex. With +P ammunition, this motion was so violent as to cause the magazine to fall out of the weapon numerous times.
The cumulation of all this movement is a rather sharp shock delivered to the shooter, requiring a very brief pause before the sights or optic can be reacquired and the weapon fired again. In the end, it does not matter if the weapon comes up at an angle or makes a tiny rainbow motion - there is still a small period of time during which the shooter will be unable to put a round on target, and I am not convinced that the KRISS Vector reduces this time period by any margin.
Last weekend was the first of what will hopefully be many firearm training courses taught by myself and Jim Staley of Deliberate Dynamics. Writing about it wholly from my perspective would be a bit self-serving, so I'll share some photos/video and the feedback I solicited from the 14 students who attended the course. If you're interested in attending our next course, scheduled for July 27/28, you may sign up here.
I asked for their honest opinions, and will summarize/compile them here in the interests of brevity. If any students wish to comment on this post, they are welcome to do so (some already have).
The stuff everyone liked:
- Taking high speed video of each student on the range and reviewing it in front of the whole class back at the lodge really helped everyone improve their manipulation and understanding of the firearm. Here's a sample of most of the group, although each student was filmed individually as well.
- Chronographing each rifle/ammo combination, as well as taking photos of the muzzle flash of each, was educational/useful/enlightening.
- Many students had no idea that they were capable of shooting as far as they ended up doing so (depending on rifle, ammo, and shooter, 500 to 900 yards). Everyone was shooting an AR-15 in 5.56/.223.
- Shooter/spotter drills with the target unknown until the timer buzzed were very useful.
- Reloading and target transition portions of the course greatly improved the shooters' efficiency with the firearm.
- Everyone seemed to love the range and the lodge.
- The group was great and everyone got along swimmingly.
The recommendations for improvement:
- There was a lot of downtime, especially on the first day. Some of this couldn't be helped, as we only had one high speed video camera and one chronograph. However, we'll definitely be cutting down on this in the future, organizing the curriculum so that there are multiple training evolutions occurring at once.
- Including items such as a shooting mat or binoculars on the recommended gear list would be nice.
- Incorporate a more rigorous final test/drill/competition/exam/feedback. This was originally planned, but would have resulted in a lot more downtime as our planned course could only have been used by one shooter at a time. We will, however, be incorporating this into the curriculum in the future.
- We had some technical difficulties with vehicles, although they did not present a major obstacle to the course or to the shooters getting range time.
If I may, here are a few accolades from students:
- "I felt like it was a good use of my time, I learned a LOT and I enjoyed myself."
- "Overall I know I learned a lot more about myself as a shooter. And your high speed video definitely helped everyone diagnose issues they wouldn't have otherwise seen. Nice job."
- "I want to say thanks for putting on such a great course. I've been through a good number of schools and classes in the military that were just miserable. Yours was a good balance of seriousness and relaxation to make it very enjoyable."
- "I had a great time shooting with you guys. The drive was long as all hell, but I loved the location and learned that my shooting platform while standing sucks and my reloads are inefficient and full of fail."
- "They gave us practical information throughout the course, with explanations of the positive and negative of why something is done. Both Jim and Andrew have a wealth of knowledge and an ability to teach."
- "(I) learned an enormous amount in a very short period of time."
- "I really enjoyed the class. I thought you guys did a great job especially for it being the first time you put this together. It was educational, challenging, and it was also a good time."
Julie Goloski-Golob is a kind and gentle mother of two. She posts photos of delicious homemade food on Facebook and shoots for Smith & Wesson in competition, having won three Bianchi Cups (and a lot of other stuff) along the way. She is one of America's finest shooters, male or female.
In one of the finest examples of how bad my memory is, I started talking to her about a year ago regarding her book SHOOT. I read the book when it came out and found it to be an easily accessible introduction to firearms and the shooting sports. I wanted her opinion on a number of topics, so I sent her a list of five questions relating to shooting. She responded to my questions an embarrassingly long time ago, and I forgot to post her answers. One of my questions wasn't worded very well (it had to do with competition vs. military trainers), leaving us with only four; without further ado, here are my questions and her answers.
Andrew: Do you think competition shooting is relevant to those who have no interest in actually participating in competition shooting? Why or why not?
Julie: I think competition shooting is definitely relevant to those who choose not to compete the same way Olympic swimmers and chefs are relevant to those who swim or cook recreationally. Whether it's Michael Phelps or Julia Child, those who practice and excel at their craft have much to offer enthusiasts. The same can be said for those who work diligently to improve their shooting skills in competition.
Competition shooters are constantly pushing the envelope when it comes to speed and precision. These shooters are doing things with firearms that would be considered an incredible run twenty years ago. An example would be the El Presidente drill (http://www.uspsa.org/classifiers/99-11.pdf). Back in the day a 10 second El Prez run was considered top notch. Today, using a Production Division gun (a striker fired or double action gun with few modifications from stock) and scoring all A-zone hits, a 10 second run today would be a C-class level score, a national percentage between 55 and 60%.
Competition shooters also have a lot to offer when it comes to intense durability testing as well as research and development. Let's face it. Shooters tend to send a lot of rounds down range! If something doesn't work well, or doesn't hold up to the rigors of an intense day of training, a competition shooter is likely to discover it. Look at red dot optics as an example. Use of these little wonders were introduced into shooting sports and at first were plagued with reliability issues. Competitors started out with heavy, bulky dots, some as large as soda cans. Putting them through the paces in matches, shooters proved that this sort of sighting system is faster than using traditional iron sights.
Andrew: If you could identify one element of pistol shooting as being more important than any other, what would it be?
Julie: Taking speed out of it and just assessing pure shooting down to the fundamental level, the ability to shoot an accurate shot with a pistol comes down to being able put the sights on the target and keep them there until the shot breaks. You can have a horrendous grip and be standing on one foot and still shoot an accurate shot, but if the sights aren't on target when the gun goes bang it won't happen. So the most important aspect of being able to score a good hit comes down to the ability to engage the trigger in such a way that the sight picture stays on target until the bullet exits the barrel.
Andrew: Do competition shooters mostly use the same styles and techniques, with victory in competition coming down to an individual's skill (or luck), or are there an array of techniques/styles/stances/etc which some shooters find give them an edge?
Julie: At first glance, to some it may appear that competition shooters use all the same styles and techniques. Most competition shooters in practical shooting sports are using the isosceles stance and the basic skills of draws, reloads, one-handed shooting, etc. all look very similar when you break things down to that level. There are subtle differences in style though based on athleticism, strength and body type.
Travis Tomasie and Dave Sevigny, with their athletic backgrounds in soccer and hockey, are especially good when it comes to footwork. Todd Jarrett and Max Michel have incredible twitch reflexes and their hand-eye speed make them super fast on draws and reloads. Bob Vogel and JJ Racaza are strong and flexible and that allows them to be both aggressive and controlled. Then there are the legends like Rob Leatham and Jerry Miculek who have worked so hard for so long, they can draw on hundreds of thousands of rounds of experience. Unlike other sports where the majority of successful players are close to the same height and build, shooters represent a much wider spectrum. The best shooters play to their strengths and work on their weaknesses in order to win.
Andrew: Do you call it a "slide stop" or a "slide release" - and if someone calls it a "slide release," are they in the wrong?
Julie: I never really thought of it! I think I probably use both terms depending on what I am describing. I use "slide release" when I am talking about slide-lock reloads. I refer to the part as a slide stop when I talk about the slide locking to the rear. I don't view one as being correct or incorrect. To me, both terms are interchangeable.
Thank you, ma'am, for your patience and your well-thought-out answers.
For those who couldn't make the May 25/26 AR15 course taught by myself and Jim Staley of Deliberate Dynamics, we have two more classes scheduled: one on June 22/23, and one on July 27/28. The May class is full. If you'd like to sign up, you may do so here.