Day at the Range

Building an AR-15 – Part 3: Testing & Final Impressions

I have by now made several trips to the range with my newly built AR-15. During the first trip I went through the typical new-build testing procedures. One round in the magazine at a time. Safety on, safety off. Bolt holding open after each shot on the empty magazine. Bolt release working as it should. Magazines inserting firmly and releasing freely. Brass ejecting at roughly 2 o’clock very consistently and not overly forceful. Possibly slightly over-gassed, not particularly surprising. Anderson ZeroThis initial testing was done on a bench using  both front and rear bags while zeroing the Burris AR-332 red dot at 50 yards. As you can see from the target on the right, I was able to get a decent zero by the ninth and tenth round.

What I like:

The rifle seems solid. The Anderson lower and upper receivers fit together snugly and everything feels rigid. Just a minimal amount of wiggle but this wiggle only presents itself when you are looking for it. The finish on the Anderson receivers is a matte black and doesn’t hold onto finger prints very easily but does appear to scratch somewhat more readily than I prefer.

I really like the convenience of the Magpul B.A.D. lever. Primarily for locking the bolt open but also for releasing it. Just a far more convenient location. I have always felt that the process of locking the bolt back with the traditional bolt catch was an awkward and inefficient process. Assuming the B.A.D. lever holds up over time I expect that all my rifles will ultimately be equipped with this handy add-on.

The Lantac Dragon muzzle brake? Silly effective. So little muzzle rise, I’d feel like I was shooting a .22 if not for the unmistakably louder report. Is the cost worth it? Not sure it really is. The 5.56 round doesn’t exactly create a lot of recoil anyway and although I can see a real benefit, I don’t think I will be buying any more at $100 each. For a dedicated competition rifle it does seem like a worthwhile addition.

The Faxon barrel sure is a beauty. The nitride finish is a nice touch and the barrel just appears to be expertly finished. The barrel was the single most expensive component of the build. As it should be. The jury is out on the accuracy of the barrel. I can’t say I have extensively tested its accuracy. Anderson 50yI have only bothered to shoot it out to 50 yards using the red dot and the results were unremarkable. My primary goal was testing a variety of ammunition I had on hand, including Wolf Gold .223, PMC .223 and American Eagle 5.56. I wasn’t making any particular effort to shoot for max accuracy, primarily making sure the dot was on target and pulling the trigger. It would be interesting to put a scope with a little more magnification and see what the rifle is truly capable of at 100 yards or so. Just haven’t bothered to do so yet.

The Rock River 2-Stage trigger is worth mentioning. It was a breeze to install and has been rock solid functionally. I typically don’t bother checking a trigger’s pull weight unless it is exceptionally heavy or light. And then just out of curiosity. The Rock River trigger has an obvious 1st stage of take-up, a firm wall and then a crisp break. It’s good. Good enough at least that I don’t recall giving it much thought at all while shooting. It is exactly what a decent trigger should be : predictable, consistent and tactile.

I won’t bother talking about the butt stock, pistol grip, hand guard or gas block. I did an extensive review of these components in Part 2. The rest of the rifle’s components are pretty standard fare. No complaints but nothing noteworthy either. Parts kits? Meh. Don’t have enough experience to be able to say whether they are any better than others out there. Bolt carrier group? Seems like any other. Staking looks good and proper.

The next couple of range trips were focused primarily of shooting offhand. Getting a feel for the rifle with more rapid rates of fire. See how it truly handles. And it handles very well. The rifle points well and gets on target easily and I think the ergonomics of the hand guard and the overall rigidity of the rifle have everything to do with this. The muzzle break makes it Anderson AR Offhandeasy to stay on target and 3 x magnification of the Burris Red Dot seems perfectly suited to quick offhand shooting. I did have two identical malfunctions on my second outing at the range. I can’t say that I have ever had a malfunction in an AR-15 quite like this one and further research seemed to indicate it was quite uncommon. During the course of rapid fire the bolt would get stuck in the forward position but not quite completely in battery. But completely locked up. The forward assist was useless and only with considerable force could the charging handle be pulled back and the round ejected. What I found was a round with two relatively symmetrical gashes on the brass casing right below the neck. At first I thought these marks had been caused by the barrel lugs. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how this might be happening but it was the only thing that made sense at the time. The round after-all had been chambered. The only thing that kept it going into full battery was deformation that resulted from the damage. Anderson MalfunctionI however remained unconvinced that this was the cause, the damage didn’t line up with the barrel lugs. I finally took a closer at the bolt itself and came to a surprising revelation. The gashes in the brass casing perfectly matched the lugs on the carrier bolt. Apparently the bolt had caused this damage in the process of chambering the next round. I have to assume the damage was done as the bolt was traveling back to the rear of the receiver. I poured over the internet and only found one photo of a round that showed similar damage. And the cause of the malfunction in that instance was never clear from what I read. The malfunction was intermittent and after it happened again on the next magazine I packed it up for the day.

I ultimately decided that the magazine was at fault. I had been using a random metal mag that was marked as Windham Weaponry. Not even sure where I picked this magazine up but I’m fairly certain I’ve used it extensively in a variety of rifles with no problems. I have made it out to the range again to test this theory and I have yet to experience another malfunction of this kind after a 100 rounds or so using several different magazines.

What I don’t like:

If you have ever shot an AR-15 then you are probably are familiar with the “sproing” sound that the buffer spring can make inside the buffer tube. Owning several AR’s and shooting some of my friends AR’s as well, I have never been more annoyed with this particular aspect of the AR until now. Honestly, I rarely notice it. But this rifle drives me crazy in this regard. So much so that I am seriously considering upgrading to a silent capture system to eliminate it. The trouble is, these systems aren’t cheap and will net little in the way of added functionality. I may instead experiment with some different buffer weights first, but this too is going to cost some money. I may just need to get over it.

That’s it. I have few complaints as you can see and have to consider the build an absolute success. Overall I am very pleased with my first AR-15 build. Frankly the experience of going through the process from start to finish was probably the most enjoyable part. The fact that the rifle looks good, feels good, and performs good is like icing on the cake. Now, what to build next…

 

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