Awhile back I got this idea started with the help of my friend Rich Grassi, editor of The Tactical Wire (free newsletter, LOTS of quality articles and gear reviews). The idea I wanted to investigate is “how cheap can a person go and still get a good AR15 rifle?” Article with pictures and such here.
I have worked with a number of ARs over the years, and most are NOT (to steal a phrase from friend and mentor Pat Rogers) “just as good as…”. People who shoot in volume, run training classes, or work at the agency or program level, start to see trends. One may own a single sample that works fine, or own a sample that never sees hard use, and think “my gun is GTG” when the reality is very different.
I have seen dozens of low end ARs go down hard in the middle of training, something like a broken bolt is a real show stopper. The old adage “Pay once, cry once” is VERY true as far as paying for what you get when buying an AR.
I also have extensive trigger time and experience with many of the AR alternatives, such as the Ruger Mini-14, and find for the most part they are also poor choices for serious use.
My go-to recommendations from LOTS of first hand observation (looking back I realize that I have been using the AR15/M16 system for about 40 years now), and quite a bit of feedback from experienced folks I trust, include; Colt, Bravo Company, Daniel Defense, Noveske, and S&W
The S&W M&P15 Sport AR is not one of S&W’s top tier guns, it’s supposed to be an entry level gun, what many people would use as a plinker. As noted above, lots of the guns in this low end price range (the Sport is, as far as I can tell, the cheapest of the bunch, over the years I have seen them on sale as cheap as $499) are not worth staking one’s life on and would make a poor choice for something like a police “patrol rifle”. The rest of the M&P AR line has been GTG in my experience, with few problems after the initial learning curve by S&W. Pat Rogers had several that he tested, and some serious guys, like Kyle Lamb, trust the M&P15 line. I’ll note that my experience as a agency rangemaster/armorer has been that S&W customer service is top notch, which gives one peace of mind in case any problems pop up.
So……. I start to see a few Sports at the range, one in particular that I got to try out early on was owned by a young man in the Marine Corps reserve who wanted an AR but he had a very tight budget. I noted that his gun was accurate and reliable. We talked about his experiences so far and he didn’t recall any stoppages. I get to eyeball his gun and note that it lacks many of the deficiencies I normally see on low end ARs; the “castle nut” and the gas key on the bolt carrier are properly staked, the bolt is marked as being magnetic particle tested, front sight assembly is square and not tilted, etc.
I jump on-line to talk with some folks that I trust, and also on one of the forums that I frequent where lots of serious shooters, cops and military, hang out. I ask about the Sport, immediately get quite a bit of “it’s a POS!”, due to not being mil-spec, no dust cover on the upper receiver, etc. I find no one has really run one of these guns hard…….
Having been a young cop, paying bills, with a tight budget, babies at home, etc., I get needing to save money and keep spending in check. I start to really wonder if this Sport might be something that a young copper could buy as a patrol rifle “right now” instead of waiting a year or two, or more, to save up for a more expensive rifle.
I got ahold of a Sport for T&E, with S&W understanding that I would be flogging the gun badly and reporting what I found. As noted in the Tac Wire article, I started out at a carbine course at my friend Buck Peddicord’s most excellent training facility at Defense Midwest. Since that time I have run the gun hard several more times, and currently have just under 1000 rounds through the gun.
I have run the Sport clean and dirty, including dumping sand, dirt and gravel directly onto the bolt through the ejection port. The bolt got very dirty and gritty even without me actively throwing crap onto it just due to shooting in hot, dry dusty conditions while training things like shooting from asymmetric prone.
The gun has functioned 100% so far, with Wolf 55 and 62gr FMJ and HP, Tula 55gr FMJ, Federal XM193 and XM855, Hornady custom 60gr 5.56 spec SP, Remington 55gr Core-Lokt SPs, and even some Silver Bear 55gr HPs that I had on hand that have oxidized cases and has choked every other AR I have tried it in.
I note that my test gun has the 1-9 twist barrel, and a melonite bore/chamber instead of a chromed bore. So far I don’t see this as an issue, and the melonite appears to give the chamber quite a bit of slickness to extract crappy or dirty ammo. I will note that the 1/9 twist is giving outstanding accuracy so far with M855 ammo.
The buffer is unmarked, and thus would appear to be a standard weight carbine buffer. Since most carbines are over-gassed, due to the length of the gas system, this would appear to one the reason why the test gun runs so well on low impulse ammo such as the Tula, which many people report runs poorly in other ARs with mid-length gas systems or heavier buffers. Were I to run a lot of M193/M855 or other 5.56 spec ammo, and this was my only AR, I would invest in an “H” or H2 buffer to try and keep the gun from beating the crap out of itself.
I have used MagPul, Tango Down and GI 20 and 30 round magazines in this gun so far, with no issues noted. All magazine have been “drop free” when I hit the magazine release. I should note that more than a few S&W ARs had issues with the P-Mags early on and wouldn’t let the mags drop free when the mag catch has pushed.
Anyway, I liked the gun so much that I ended up buying the Sport out of pocket in order to be able to keep it past the T&E period and continue with testing.
More to follow as I continue to test this gun…………