Fulton Armory FAR-15 Predator Varmint Precision 223 Rem.
After Gun Test magazines article on "Compact AR Carbines" in October 2007 and a related article on "AR-15 Adjustable Stocks" in March 2008, the magazine was besieged with requests to visit additional limbs on the AR family tree: New caliber performance match-ups, more accessories testing, and national-match gun comparisons were just a few of the suggestions that popped up.
They subsequently chose one of the most popular requests, the AR-15 varmint/predator rifle. They quickly found that choosing guns to test wasnt going to be easy. It seems almost every manufacturer out there was turning out some version of this genre.
There was also a fundamental difference in the definition of the varmint hunter. To some, a varmint hunter is someone who blazes away at prairie dogs and other such small targets from a rest. In parts of the South, varmint hunters are calling in foxes, coyotes, bobcats and other predators. This often requires carrying guns through thickets of brush, and a rest, if available, is a handy tree branch. The guns manufactured for these uses also have this same variety in their construction.
Since they had so many choices, they decided to narrow the field by setting the following parameters: a barrel length between 20 and 24 inches long, constructed of stainless steel, and capable of shooting the most popular ammo weight of 50 to 55 grains.
One of the guns they chose was the Fulton Armory FAR-15 Predator Varmint Precision 003020 223 Rem.
Heres what they had to say:
We knew this test would prove to be hotly contested, so we chose topnotch mounts and scopes for this showdown. AR-15s tend not to fit standard gun cases when set up with the high mounts required to clear the charging handle, and still provide a solid sight picture.
With this in mind, we went to LaRue Tactical (www.laruetactical.com) for the exceptional LT104 30mm QD Lever Mount, $195. This allowed us to position the scope well above the charging handle, yet remove the scope for transport, and re-attach it via two quick-throw levers. Despite being assembled and disassembled numerous times, we never lost zero on the rigs. LaRue has a huge following in the sniper community, and our experience reinforced why this is the case.
Our lone exception to this mounting protocol was the Bushmaster, which came with two riser blocks already installed on the gun. We chose No. 49865 Leupold QRW 30mm Quick Detach Mounts for a robust, portable mount.
Next, we researched scopes and settled on the Super Sniper 16X42 Model SS16X42, $300, a brand marketed and manufactured to the specifications of SWFA, a large distributor of most major brands of optics (www.riflescopes.com). We selected this scope for several reasons. It was a fixed power, so we didnt have to worry with testers fiddling with the magnification, and inadvertently affecting accuracy scores. Next, although fixed power (16x in this case), the Super Sniper had parallax adjustments for given distances present on a rotating indicator dial, along with a fast-focus eyepiece. We had planned on getting 10X scopes, but SWFA had shipped all they had to the Army for their Designated Marksman Program.
After mounting the scopes, each gun was given a good general cleaning, carefully lubricated, trigger pull weights checked on a digital gauge, and then it was off to the range.
An exceptionally volatile Texas spring brought a series of gusty winds, heavy rain, the occasional hailstorm, and a few tornados thrown in for good measure. As a result, we went underground. Our friends at Bass Pro Shops in Grapevine, Texas, graciously granted us permission to use the stores 100-yard shooting tunnel. We found it an excellent choice for extreme accuracy testing, plus it was a designated tornado shelter to boot. We spent the better part of two days recording data in what Bass Pro employees affectionately call "the Dungeon." Our time there also allowed us to schedule testers to come in and fire away, including a young lady who broke away from her teachers job to "school" us, by posting the second best group of 0.49 inch in our tests.
For testing purposes we selected three mid-range bullet weights with different price points: The Remington Express 55-gr. Pointed Soft Point R223R1, $19/20 rounds), Winchester Supreme 55-gr. Ballistic Silver Tip SBST223B, $21.48/20, and Black Hills Match New Production Red Box 50-gr. VMAX ($40/50). We were somewhat constrained in our ammo choices due to a lack of enough rounds of ammo to run our tests properly. The bare shelves at Bass Pro were a shocking sight, and a testament to how difficult it can be to find ammunition these days.
Once we began firing, we took the time to swab each barrel after each ammo change to ensure carbon build-up did not influence the guns accuracy with the new ammo.
The second part of our testing took place under blue skies at the Arlington Sportsmans Club, one the largest private gun clubs in Texas with over 1300 members and offering a full range of shooting opportunities (www.arlingtonsportsman.com). Most of our testers were competitive shooters, and they were very picky about what they liked, and didnt, on the gunsexactly what we wanted.
Fulton Armory is one of the top providers of M1, M1a, and M14, competition guns, and Clint McKee (the owner) and Walt Kuleck (sales manager) have also written books on firearms, including The M1 Garand Complete Assembly Guide, The M14 Complete Assembly Guide, and The AR-15 Complete Assembly Guide.
Their gun arrived in a plain cardboard box, with no gun case, just the gun sandwiched between two sheets of foam, along with a set of tools and directions for the Geissele trigger, and a modified version of their The AR-15 Complete Owners Guide. The FAR-15 inside was a striking gun, complete with a Magpul, PRS Precision adjustable sniper stock, $245, which provides exact cheek-weld and LOP adjustments. Other accoutrements included a target-gray stainless barrel ($35), a tac-latch on the charging handle for easier access when a scope is used ($20), a pre-installed Harris bipod ($80), and a side-cocking module ($125). Rounding out the features were a Krieger heavy 1:13-twist barrel ($390) and a Geissele adjustable two-stage trigger ($200). All of these options bring the gun to a wallet-emptying $1994 retail price.
The side-cocking module deserves a little more explanation. In lieu of the standard charging handle, the side-cocking module replaces the bolt cover and fits into the side of the gun by machining away the brass deflector. The bolt remains open after the last round is fired, but the shooter releases it by hitting the traditional bolt-release lever or tugging backward on the side-cocking module. Even the two lefties in were impressed with this feature.
When we took the gun to the range, it was the first gun the testers reached for when the guns were laid out on a desk. The gun was termed a "Sexy Beast" by our female tester. In particular, they liked the Magpul stock, side-charging handle, and target handle. The testers preference for the Fulton gun was further enhanced when rounds started being sent downrange.
The Fulton turned in the best overall grouping at 0.89 inch, despite some balky performance by the Remington ammo we used that none of the guns could group under 1 inch. The two lefties in the test felt they might have improved their performance, but for the handle that felt it was installed backwards, or as another tester described it like trying to hold a "prickly pear." Southpaws should order any handle but this one if they decide on the FAR15.
We felt the Giessele trigger was the best out of all the guns tested, but was also the hardest name to pronounce. Perhaps the greatest praise was directed toward the side-cocking mechanism. Although it eliminated the brass deflector, we had no problems with the ejection pattern. One tester felt the handle should be black to reduce glare, because his ADD caused him to focus on the "neat little handle" running back and forth.
You might wonder why we listed the prices of each option at the beginning of this review. The reason is that the base price for the FAR15 is $900, and every gun is bench built, so each shooter can pick and choose the options he can afford. As configured, our testers said the FAR15 was a first-class performer that richly deserved the "A" grade we gave it. Its balance and weight will suit both the bench blaster and the predator hunter.