October 2007

Compact ARs: The Bushmaster Patrolman’s Carbine Is Our Pick

A smooth trigger was the major difference in this showdown. Other players included the Smith & Wesson M&P 15T, DPMS RFA2-AP4A Patrol Carbine, and the Stag Arms 15L Model 2TL.

The wildly popular AR15 platform is spurring modifications on over-the-counter guns that heretofore were the province of do-it-yourselfers who had a Brownells catalog and a credit card handy. Two modifications of the original design found on more and more ARs are the "tactical" forend, consisting of a four-sided Picatinny rail and flip-up sights that can be raised into position when needed. The tactical forend is especially useful when applied to a flat-topped receiver topped with a matching Picatinny rail. The forend rail can receive any type of laser or illuminating device that carries a clamp. These features were developed to answer the needs of military and law enforcement and action-riflecompetitors.

The AR15 platform lends itself to fulfilling the needs of the user like no other design, which made our task of assembling four different carbines both a challenge and a pleasure. They are the $1554 Smith & Wesson M&P 15T No. 811001, the $1054 DPMS RFA2-AP4A Patrol Carbine, the $1150 left-side-ejection Stag Arms 15L Model 2TL Pre-ban, and a Bushmaster Patrolman’s Carbine No. BCWA3F 16M4, which comes with options that bring the total suggested retail price to $1534. Each of these compact ARs offer the tactical forend and flip-up sights mentioned above and a flash hider, adjustable-length stock, and single-stage trigger. Also, the DPMS Patrol Carbine, the Stag Arms 15L, and the Bushmaster came with A2-style front sights that were adjustable for elevation. The S&W gun lacked that feature.

All four were chambered for .223 Remington or 5.56mm rounds. For test ammunitions, we chose two premium rounds and the highest quality, most economical remanufactured ammunition we could find. The premium rounds were 62-grain Hornady TAP and 62-grain Federal American Eagle FMJ ammunition. To perform the bulk of the work, such as zeroing our scopes and performing rapid-fire drills that ate up hundreds of rounds, we chose 55-grain full-metal-jacket rounds from Georgia Arms http://www.georgia-arms.com/.

Our test procedure was arduous. To collect accuracy data we fired five-shot groups from the 50-yard benches at American Shooting Centers in Houston http://www.amshootcenters.com/. Each gun was tested with the supplied open sights and with a Millet DMS-1 variable power scope set at 4X magnification. Mounting the scope with Zeiss rings upon a one-piece riser from Yankee Hill Machine (part number YHM-227A, $33 from yankeehillmachine.com) made the transfer from gun to gun simple.

We chose Millett’s new 30mm 1-4X scope because it offered flexibility of magnification and also a reticle that we felt was suitable for tactical as well as longer distance applications. The reticle featured a horizontal crosshair that stopped short of the circle that designated its center. The vertical line reached only from the six o’clock border of the lens to just below the circle. We liked this reticle because the open field in the top half of the lens offered a less cluttered view for the operator. In addition points such as the bottom of the circle helped us visualize quick hold over positions for additional elevation. Inside the circle was a small black 1-MOA dot and the circle itself was backed by orange-colored illumination. The intensity of the illumination was controlled by an eleven-point dial found on the left side of the scope directly opposite the windage control.

When shooting groups we were actually able to center the dot on the 0.75-inch wide diamond found at the center of our Birchwood-Casey three-inch target spots. For speed shooting we simply used [IMGCAP(2)]the black ring. We would have preferred that the orange illuminated ring was visible in daylight. That would have made target acquisition much faster. Hidden behind the black ring, the orange was only visible in lower light conditions. This was helpful for tactical entry, but the Gun Tests action rifle team was a little disappointed.

For speed shooting and fast-action handling tests, we moved to Phil Oxley’s Impact Zone in Monaville, Texas (theimpactzone.us). First, we recorded elapsed time from the draw. Start position was low ready with the muzzle about 45 degrees with the ground and the safety on, with buttstock pivoting on the shooter’s pectoral muscle. The stock was adjusted to the first position short of full-length. Target distance was 12 feet. This drill was performed ten times.

For our rapid-fire test we added two more targets spaced 4 yards apart. In this drill the supplied open sights were used, and the trigger was shown no mercy. We hammered the IDPA-style cardboard silhouettes (measuring 30 inches high by 18 inches across) with one shot on each target, then two shots on each target; two shots to the body one to the head, four shots on each target, etc. Each gun was left smoking. Here is what we learned.

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