SEPTEMBER 23, 2014

Is a Low-Cost AR Worth the Trouble?

That's not a factory option: that's dirt added to the M&P15 Sport just before a carbine class. LT Chuck Haggard dumped dirt onto the carbine fivetimes during shooting tests.
Most police agencies in this country are small agencies and nearly half of all cops in the group known as "state and local" work in agencies of ten or less sworn officers. Forget the TV stuff - no one gives you all your gear. Even in some agencies considered "large" by state and local standards - ca. 100 and up - officers can be allowed to select certain equipment and that sometimes includes rifles. Aside from that, if you take your issued duty carbine to a training class on your own time and own dime and something happens to it - say a catastrophic failure - the outfit may experience some minor heartache and pass it along to you. Keeping that in mind, ace police trainer and currently serving peace officer Chuck Haggard kept catching questions from all kinds of officers - from trainees to seasoned troops - "what carbine is a good buy for backup (say, use at home), training classes that could substitute for the patrol rifle?" His answer had been, "Buy cheap, buy twice." You get what you pay for. As the buildup in agency patrol rifle usage has risen since the 1986 Miami FBI Shootout, the Norco Bank Robbery, and North Hollywood - to mention a few - the patrol carbine is seen as good basic general police issue. It should be. Cheap copies tended to be nothing but trouble. Time has marched on. A few years ago S&W rolled out the M&P15 Sport. A 5.56 x 45mm carbine, it lacked the M4 profile barrel, lacked a forward assist and did without a dust cover. Chuck spoke to me about it. "You know, they ask about it. I look on the internets and see the comments: "It's junk, it's not 'mil-spec.' It doesn't have a forward assist. And with no dust cover, it's not going to run." Okay. So? "Think we could try one out?" I thought we could and contacted Smith & Wesson. They were happy to help. I asked what else he needed. "I'm only worried about function and durability," he said. "One of the Bushnell Red Dots might be a good fit though."
The M&P15 Sport didn't know it was dirty -- and being fed mixed ammo. It just chugged through every exercise, including repeated NSRs.
Available at big stores for a little bit of nothing - comparatively speaking - the Bushnell TRS-25 Tactical Red Dot with Riser is kind of understudy to a hard duty expensive reflex sight that could help burn in good habits in training while keeping the main optic on the duty rifle. Everything took time to get arranged, but I got the carbine and optic together and taped the rifle with Chuck's ID number. He came around to get it and took it to a one-day basic carbine training/refresher class. I waited for his report. This was in the email: "Ran perfectly, and I was trying to make it choke. Shot in very dusty range conditions, asymmetric prone with the ejection port down, lots of dust and sand floating around due to muzzle blast, various mags including old GI issue, several different types of ammo including under-powered (ammo), Wolf, Tula and PMC, hot 5.56 spec M193 and M855, and Hornady's Custom SP load for KHP (Kansas Highway Patrol). The crudded up ejection port pic was after I picked up a handful of sand and gravel, dumped it onto the closed bolt/ejection port, then did a 30 round mag dump followed by a mag of five round NSRs. It took five loads of dirt and gravel over the (in-battery) carbine. Ran like a top, holds zero (optic)."
The first ten rounds fired, at fifty yards, to begin the process to zero the carbine.
Here's the detail: Arriving at the class, he ensured the area around him was safe and carefully lowered the carbine, optic and all, onto the parking lot. Onto the closed bolt he applied a generous coat of range dust and gravel. Then he went to shooting. The dirt addition was repeated four more times during his tests. Checking the zero was first. The rear sight is the Magpul MBUS. From prone at fifty yards, Chuck fired a group into the headbox of a USPSA target. The sights were almost on, took only minor adjustment. He fired the second ten rounds, adjusting the Bushnell TRS-25 to the top of the front post, this in the "A" zone in the body of the target. The target was taped. From prone at seventy-five yards, he fired a group with Federal American Eagle 62 grain FMJ. Based on the fired cartridge held for scale in the blurred cell phone photo, it appears to be about a 1 1/8" 5-shot group. He fired a selection of ammo from XM855 to Tula to Wolf to Federal American Eagle. Magazines were stagger-loaded with mixed 5.56mm NATO rounds and .223 Remington sporting rounds. Four 30-round magazines of "non-standard response" drills were fired in rapid succession (NSRs are seven round bursts to the high center of the target.) Chuck said the rifle was steaming. He consumed about 330 rounds of ammo at the class. He consumed another 150 rounds on another range outing using the M&P15 Sport.
Notes: The carbine fed and fired 5.56mm NATO ammo without difficulty. Some commercial guns are known to choke on NATO ammo as the chambers aren't cut deeply enough. There were no problems experienced with the lack of chrome plating of chamber and bore. In fact, his accuracy load for the M&P15 Sport was M855 62 grain ammo. The carrier key bolts are properly staked, as is the castle nut. There is an MPI marking on the bolt. He encountered zero stoppages. Chuck noted the trigger was one of the best he'd had on an out-of-the-box carbine. I tried it and I agree. That's a lot of quality for a sub-$600 carbine - first responder price at Quantico Tactical, where Chuck's officers were seeing it for sale. Using the Bushnell TRS-25 red dot sight - a lightweight, bright zero-mag optic with a 3-MOA red dot -- I fired several hundred yard groups with the gun. The 77 grain OTM load by ASYM - a match load with a bullet "too heavy" for a 1:9" twist in a 5.56 gun - gave a 1 ¼" group for my best effort. The Liberty Silverado 55 grain load put five rounds into 1 3/8" at the same difference. The TRS-25 dot certainly helped as did the excellent trigger on the sample M&P15 Sport. Not sure you can beat performance like that for $599. Quantico Tactical Smith & Wesson Bushnell TRS-25 -- Rich Grassi