Innovation in firearms design has always meant finding a way to make guns more accurate, more reliable, less expensive to produce, and for the end user, easier to operate and maintain. And when it comes to trying to satisfy the restrictive demands of different state laws, the word innovation can once again be applied. Naturally, we’d like to see talented people work toward solutions without so much regulation, but we also wondered if makers seeking ways to satisfy the legalities of certain policies, a better firearm, or at least a promising new design, would emerge.
For insight into the world of regulated firearms manufacture and sale, we visited Todd and Amy Arms & Ammo in Petaluma, California (TandAArms.com). A family-owned full-service gun store run by retired Marine Todd and his wife Amy, their bustling shop serves as the epicenter of gun goodies in the more-gun-friendly area of Northern California. At Todd and Amy’s, we learned that several inventors have been tackling the problem of providing workable solutions to producing 50-state-legal long guns for some time, including fixed magazines, variations on the pistol-grip stock, and even pump-action designs. In this test, we will look at three production rifles that incorporate elements of AR-type-restricted design found in states such as California, New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, and others. Because of constantly changing laws in these states, you must know your local regulations to see if a particular rifle conforms to your state’s regulations. We do not guarantee these firearms will remain legal to own in any state, so check before you buy.
1. Our first choice was the $1135 CA Compliant “AR-15” Saint from Springfield Armory chambered in 5.56mm/223 Remington and featuring a full-float barrel.
2. Next was a pump-actuated “AR-10” from WorldofTroy.com chambered in 243 Winchester. List price of the Troy Pump Action Hunting Rifle was $899.
3. Our third test gun was a full-length bolt-action rifle from Uintah Precision chambered for 6.5 Creedmoor. Why is a bolt-action rifle in this review? Because the threaded barrel, upper, and handguard are configured as an AR platform that was designed to fit an AR-10 lower. Uintah sells the upper alone for $1295, but they were able to supply a matching lower so we had a complete rifle for our tests. Therefore, in the Uintah’s specifications chart, the term “as tested” denotes measurements taken for the upper receiver only, as your lower may vary.
For ammunition supply we relied heavily on new selections from Black Hills Ammunition. Black Hills is a family-owned business that came to prominence by developing a 223 Rem. load topped with Sierra’s 77-grain bullets for the U.S. military, therefore vastly improving the stopping power of the select-fire M16 rifle and its semi-auto civilian-version AR-15. Our Springfield Cal-legal Saint was stoked with four different rounds manufactured by Black Hills ammunition, ranging in bullet weight from 60 grains to 77 grains. Much of Black Hills production still relies heavily on military contracts, and this stamp of approval is why we so often favor their ammunition.
Range Data: Springfield Armory Saint CA Compliant
|Black Hills 5.56mm NATO 77-gr. TMK|
|Average velocity||2720 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1265 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||0.6 in.|
|Black Hills 5.56mm NATO 69-gr. OTM|
|Average velocity||2788 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1191 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||1 in.|
|Black Hills 5.56mm NATO 62-gr. Barnes TSX|
|Average velocity||2944 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1193 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||1.2 in.|
|Black Hills .223 Remington V-Max|
|Average velocity||2775 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1026 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||0.9 in.|
Range Data: Uintah Precision UPR-10
|Black Hills Gold 6.5 CM 147-gr. ELD-Match|
|Average velocity||2650 fps|
|Muzzle energy||2292 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||0.7 in.|
|Black Hills Gold 6.5 CM 143-gr. ELD-X|
|Average velocity||2615 fps|
|Muzzle energy||2172 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||0.9 in.|
|Hornady Match 6.5 CM 140-gr. ELD-Match|
|Average velocity||2702 fps|
|Muzzle energy||2270 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||0.8 in.|
Range Data: Troy Industries Pump Action
|Black Hills Gold 243 Win. 58-gr. Hornady V-Max|
|Average velocity||3391 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1488 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||1.1 in.|
|Black Hills Gold 243 Win. 80-gr. Hornady GMX|
|Average velocity||2836 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1429 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||1.8 in.|
|Black Hills Gold 243 Win. 95-gr. SST|
|Average velocity||2630 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1459 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||2.1 in.|
To collect accuracy data, we fired five-shot groups from a sandbag rest. Distance: 100 yards. We recorded velocities using a LabRadar chronograph.
Black Hills has lagged noticeably behind other makers in offering 6.5 Creedmoor (or 6.5 CM) commercially, and now we think we know why. As of this writing, it has been announced that SOCOM, i.e. USSOCOM (Special Operations Command), is evaluating chambering 6.5 Creedmoor and phasing out the use of 7.62×51 (308 Winchester) ammunition in AR-10-type rifles. The Uintah rifle was fed Black Hills 143-grain and 147-grain ammunition, plus 140-grain rounds loaded by Hornady. Our pump-action Troy rifle was treated to three rounds from Black Hills Ammunition, each topped with Hornady bullets. The 243 Winchester ammunition featured Hornady’s 95-grain Hornady SST, 80-grain GMX, and 58-grain A-Max bullets.
To ensure that our rifles had the benefit of high-grade optics, we relied upon the Nightforce ATACR 5-25x56mm SFP Enhanced riflescope (No. C554), featuring 0.10 Milradian click adjustments and extraordinarily clear glass. The reticle was illuminated by pressing the button at the center of the parallax adjustment turret, but “Enhanced’ might very well refer to the interaction of the big, bold reticle constructed with fine lines, maximizing the capabilities of second-focal-plane design. Overall construction was robust, but relatively compact. We also tried out the Nightforce SR 4.5×24 Competition riflescope designed for the High Power Service Rifle division when it occurred to us that the California Legal Saint AR-15 may be the gun of the future for competitors in California.
If you are a longtime subscriber to Gun Tests, then you’ll remember when reliability was our main concern, and we often found function problems in various firearms. Now, thanks to modern manufacturing methods, today’s firearms are so consistent we rarely have to say anything about how well a particular gun functions. But with these guns, we felt like we were turning back the clock. Reliability and function were once again our main concern as we collected accuracy data from the 100-yard benches at American Shooting Centers in Houston. Did we have three rifles displaying worthwhile innovation, or would the demands of creating a rifle to satisfy the demands of lawmakers spoil the progress of a proven design? Let’s find out.
Springfield Armory California Compliant Saint w/Free Float Handguard ST916556BFFHCA 5.56 NATO/223 Rem., $1135
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
The Saint CA Compliant with free-float handguard is a great way to go legal in 50 states. The M16/AR-15 was originally a fixedstock rifle. The ambi safety makes the best of the necessary stock configuration. A superior muzzle brake was a nice surprise.
|ACTION TYPE||Semi-automatic, direct impingement|
|OVERALL LENGTH (min/max)||35 in./36.2 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT (w/ scope)||7.2 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||7.1 lbs.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||7.8 lbs.|
|UPPER RECEIVER||Forged 7075-T6 aluminum|
|LOWER RECEIVER||Forged 7075-T6 aluminum|
|BARREL LENGTH/TWIST||16 in./1:8 in.|
|MUZZLE DEVICE||Muzzle brake|
|BUTTSTOCK||Survival Systems Option Zero|
|LENGTH OF PULL (min/max)||13 in./14.2 in.|
|HANDGUARD||12.5 in. M-Lok free float|
|REAR SIGHT||Flip up, dual aperture|
|FRONT SIGHT||Flip up|
|SIGHT RADIUS||17 in.|
|TRIGGER||7.8 lbs., single stage|
|CARTRIDGE CASE DEFLECTOR||Yes|
The California or CA Compliant Saint variant is available in two configurations. Model number ST916556BCA offers a Magpul two-piece composite handguard and carries a list price of $998. What the extra $137 gets you on our test gun is a free-float handguard. Not only is this a more rigid structure with 12 inches of numbered Picatinny rail across the top, but its slim octagonal profile offered M-Lok channels on the remaining seven sides. The aluminum handguard was a Magpul product held in place using locking plates on both sides attached with two sizable Allen bolts. The operational advantage of free floating the handguard off the barrel is any pressure you put on it, weight of accessories, resting the handguard to support the rifle, attaching a bipod, or tugging at it with a sling, is isolated from possibly moving the barrel offline. Front and rear flip-up sights were supplied, with the rear unit offering both a large and a small aperture. Click adjustments accounted for half-minute adjustments front and rear.
The 16-inch chrome-moly-vanadium barrel had a 1:8 right-hand twist with a muzzle brake that shoved gases to either side so it didn’t kick up dust. The top of brake showed bleed holes to add some downward pressure as well. It was Melonite coated to resist corrosion. Bravo Company supplied the oversized trigger guard framing a nickel-boron-coated trigger. A forward assist was in place, and the Saint ran on a mid-length gas system utilizing a low-profile gas block. If this all sounds like the AR-15s we know and love, two aspects on the state’s “Assault Rifle” components list (not our term) were avoided to make the Saint California “legal” or in the proper jargon, compliant.
The Saint CA Compliant does not have a vertical pistol grip, nor does it have an adjustable stock.
The design of the Survivor Systems Option Zero stock fills in the area behind the contour of the vertical grip, making it impossible to wrap the thumb around its circumference. This is true for both right-handed and left-handed shooters, and a safety lever was found on both sides of the stock. The Safe position is when the lever is parallel to the bore. The Fire position is altered from the common placement by the lever being held diagonally, pointing roughly from 8 o’clock to 2 o’clock. This works well in concert with the grip. In fact cupping the face of the grip with four fingers while the thumb rides the strong-side safety is the very same grip technique currently in favor with competitors in the Precision Rifle Series competitions as well as being taught to the current generation of military snipers and Designated Marksman. The trigger had the slightest increment of compression and broke at about 7.8 pounds.
The Option Zero stock is one of several products from SurvivorSystems.com. List price is $150, and it is available in black, phantom gray, and flat dark earth. Changing length by not simply working a lever and sliding the buttstock fore and aft was the second component necessary for compliance with California law. Instead, you had to remove the two bolts running through the buttpad and choose up to four 0.37-inch-thick spacers to set length of pull to your personal specification. We chose none and attached the buttpad directly to the stock. However, the supplied bolts were too long unless at least two spacers were in place. A trip to the hardware store for shorter bolts solved this problem. One additional benefit of the Option Zero stock was a secondary magazine well tucked into the structure immediately ahead of the butt pad. Any-length magazine could be stored there, and the release was the same mechanism as the primary magazine well from which the rounds fed into the chamber.
The Saint ran without any malfunction, and the muzzle brake did, in our view, an extraordinary job of keeping the gun stabilized. We tried firing with a variety of different-capacity magazines and also configurations, Magpul’s polymer P-mags (which are now becoming standard issue to the military), plus vintage steel- and aluminum-body magazines. We also used a $42 Bob Sled from CreedmoorSports.com to make sure the Saint was willing to be top loaded one round at a time to see if it could be a worthwhile investment for the West Coast High Power Rifle competitor.
From the 100-yard benches at American Shooting Centers, we found that the Saint excelled when loaded with Black Hills 5.56mm ammunition topped with 77-grain TMK (Tipped Match King) bullets. All groups hovered around the 0.55- to 0.65-inch mark. This confirms the Saint was more than accurate enough for competition, and the power of the 77-grain rounds should make it a good bet for feral-hog hunting. Black Hills 223 60-grain V-Max rounds landed consistently in groups measuring less than 1 minute of angle (MOA) and so did the 69-grain OTM (Open Tipped Match) 5.56 mm rounds. Our 5.56mm Black Hills rounds topped with Barnes 62-grain TSX Water Resistant rounds printed groups that averaged about 1.2 inches across.
Our Team Said: The last time we tested a Saint AR-15, it did not have a free-float handguard, but it still performed well. The free-float models, of which there are two, are even better and worth the extra $137, in our view.
The only time we weren’t sure how to handle the CA Compliant Saint was when we picked the gun up and expected our thumb to wrap around the pistol grip. We learned to carry it like a standard stocked rifle, and we’re on board with the thumb resting on the strong side safety. The extra capacity afforded by the Option Zero stock allowed us to carry two magazines at a once. In our home state of Texas, that means up to 61 rounds could be immediately available at any time.
Troy Pump Action Hunting Rifle 243 Winchester, $899
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
A modern take on an old design, this gun was actually a lot of fun. Most accurate with the rounds topped with lighter bullets, the Hunter proved more portable than other AR-10 frames.
|OVERALL LENGTH (min/max)||36.75/39.25|
|OVERALL HEIGHT (w/ scope)||7.2 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||9.1 lbs.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||9.8 lbs.|
|UPPER RECEIVER||Forged 7075-T6 aluminum|
|LOWER RECEIVER||Forged 7075-T6 aluminum|
|BARREL LENGTH/TWIST||18 in./1:10 in.|
|MUZZLE DEVICE||Troy Medieval muzzle brake|
|BUTTSTOCK||Troy Battleax CQB|
|LENGTH OF PULL (min/max)||11.5 in./14 in.|
|HANDGUARD||13.2 in. Troy TRX2|
|REAR SIGHT||None supplied (optional)|
|FRONT SIGHT||None supplied (optional)|
|TRIGGER||6.5 lbs. (average) singe action|
|CARTRIDGE CASE DEFLECTOR||No|
Just imagine if there were anti-gunners in the 19th century clamoring for all rifles to remain as single-shot muzzle-loading designs. The Troy pump-action rifles would have been considered “assault rifles” in that historical fiction, but, today, manual-pump operation (or as some might have it manual slide action) puts our test gun in the category of being legal in all 50 states, at least for now. But are there any advantages or appealing aspects to this design, aside from not being semi-autos?
Troy Industries is well-known among military forces offering a long list of accessories and weapons upgrades found at TroyInd.com. WorldofTroy.com is where the company’s staffers list their complete firearms, including modern CQB AR-15s, a Mogadishu/Blackhawk Down replica, two forms of manually-operated rifles cycling rounds via a bolt action, and the subject of this evaluation, a pump-action rifle chambered for 243 Winchester. Other Troy pump guns were chambered for 223 Remington, 308 Winchester, and 338 Federal. Further differentiation was choice of buttstock, including an adjustable-length folding stock and the Troy Lightweight BattleAx CQB Stock supplied on our test rifle. The BattleAx CQB offers a large storage compartment behind the pad, QD attachment points on both sides, and a sling loop located rearward atop the comb. A solid lock/release panel is out of the way on its underside, allowing the stock to be anchored at five positions, including full compression. The lower profile of the buttstock offered plenty of room for support.
The beefy AR-10 forged lower was impeccably machined and finished, including an integrated trigger guard that was oversized but contoured upward at the rear to allow for a higher grip position. The fully checkered polymer grip was also a Troy product and offered a hinged floorplate for additional storage and access to the mounting bolt. The one variation to the lower assembly was a pin running vertically through the front of the trigger guard. This was the slide release.
The forged upper offered a Picatinny rail that continued forward the full length of the 13-inch-long handguard. The handguard was attached to the upper with four massive bolts. This was a necessity because the handguard also supports the slide-action assembly, accessed by a polymer handle offering a brief guard profile to the rear and a larger guard profile at the front end. Sliding action was smooth. The handguard did not offer attachment points per se, but we were able to attach a sling using loop hardware from BlueForce. For attaching a light or laser, we would recommend mounting across the Picatinny rail atop the handguard so that the light was situated to the side. With the scope in place, any form of mounting hardware would be well out of view. The barrel was tipped with Troy’s $45 Medieval muzzle brake, featuring an impact-ready front surface of crowns and points. One 10-round Magpul Pmag was supplied, but it will operate with any-capacity magazine suited to the cartridge.
Our shooters’ initial session from the bench overemphasized the need to stabilize the rifle with forward pressure on the slide because it didn’t seem to want to stay locked forward. Opposite of what one might expect, working the slide vigorously in dry-fire practice resulted in the locking mechanism improving to the point to where we didn’t have to worry about it staying shut. This was comforting because hunting rifles often find themselves supported by natural features such as tree limbs or outcroppings. Sling carry is another necessity for a hunting rifle, but the only QD attachments points were on either side of the buttstock. Up front, we used a $12 ULoop from Blue Force Gear to provide a sling loop. The Galco Safari Ching Sling turned out to be our best choice because it offered quick access to a cuff loop that aided in controlling the slide action.
The trigger press was clean, breaking at about 6.5 pounds on average. Accuracy from the 100-yard line pointed to a definite bias toward lighter bullets. While our Troy pump-action rifle delivered average-size groups of the 2.3 inches and 1.8 inches firing Black Hills 95-grain Hornady SST and 80-grain Hornady GMX rounds respectively, loading the Black Hills 58-grain Hornady V-Max rounds told a different story. Groups firing the lighter bullets measured between 0.9 and 1.2 inches for an average that we computed to 1.1 inches center to center. Looking back at 243-chambered rifles we’ve tested over the years, we think this says more about current rifle technology versus older models chambered for the same cartridge. In our July 2002 review of 243 hunting rifles, we saw a marked preference for 100-grain bullets across the board.
Our Team Said: Using the Troy pump-action rifle required a different shooting mindset. The biggest advantage was portability. The Troy was compact, making getting in and out of tree stands easy. Unlike most AR-10s, we enjoyed carrying the Troy over the shoulder, and we even found that Galco’s Safari Ching Sling with elbow support fed nicely into the slide-action protocol. Magazine capacity could be as much as 20+1, depending on where you live. The Troy Pump Action Hunting Rifle may be just the truck or ATV gun for chance meetings with pests such as coyotes and pigs.
Uintah Precision UPR-10 Bolt Action AR-10 Upper Assembly, $1295
GUN TESTS GRADE: B+
Capable of very good accuracy, this was a dream upper in need of a little refinement. This makes it possible to have a matched set of semi-auto carbine and a bolt-action precision rifle.
|OVERALL LENGTH (upper only)||34.5 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT (w/ scope)||N/A|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||6.8 lbs.|
|UPPER RECEIVER||Forged 7075-T6 aluminum|
|BARREL LENGTH/TWIST||26 in./1:8 in.|
|MUZZLE DEVICE||None/thread guard|
|LENGTH OF PULL (min/max)||N/A|
|HANDGUARD||15 in. M-Lok free float|
|CARTRIDGE CASE DEFLECTOR||No|
Uintah Precision is located in the town of Duchesne, Utah, located just west of the junction of the Strawberry and Duchesne Rivers in the Uintah Basin. Uintah Precision makes bolt-action uppers that fit directly on AR-10 lowers. According to the maker, an AR-15 bolt-action upper is in the works for the new 224 Valkyrie cartridge, so we would have to assume that several AR-15-compatible builds are in the works as well. Uintah Precision supplied us with an AR-10 lower complete with a Magpul PRS Gen3 adjustable stock for the purpose of our tests, but customers have to supply their own.
The UPR-10 upper assembly is a deceptively simple design, consisting of a threaded barrel looped through a 15-inch M-Lok handguard and attached to an upper receiver machined to index a manual rifle bolt. We’re not sure who made the free-float handguard, but it was pleasingly coated, rigid, and held in place via four bolts in line, clamping on at 6 o’clock just ahead of the upper receiver. The bottom half was an Aero Precision product, and the pins were treated to anti-rotation struts. The rubber grip was by Hogue. The upper receiver, bolt, and bolt handle were each made by Uintah Precision. The trigger was supplied by Velocity, but according to the maker, the bolt was designed to work with every trigger currently available. To date, only the Trigger Tech trigger has needed additional polishing to function properly. Uintah uses Shilen’s match-grade barrels and has developed a proprietary method of chambering the barrels so that the bolts are fully compatible with a wide range of cartridges.
To access the bolt all we had to do was push out the rear pin and let the upper rotate away from the lower half. Then rotate the bolt from its lock position and pull it rearward. During normal cycling, the bolt stops on the fortified end loop of the lower. An AR-10 firing pin was used for ignition, and it was held in place by a roll pin much like the folded cotter-style cross pin used in the AR design. The pin exhibited about 0.12 inches of free float. Lockup was achieved by three equally-spaced lugs on the bolt face and was bolstered by the bolt stem seating into the relief in the lower receiver. The standard-design bolt latch and release was left in place but served no purpose and didn’t play a part in the bolt-action operation. Actually, the bolt was relieved to work over the latch so the user does not have to modify their lower to attach it to the bolt-action upper.
Firing from support at a distance of 100 yards, the Hornady 140-grain ELD Match rounds delivered groups measuring about 0.85 inches on average, with little variation. The Black Hills 143-grain ELD-X hunting rounds averaged slightly less because we did have a sub-0.70-inch-wide group. The Black Hills rounds topped with Hornady’s 147-grain ELD-M bullets were the most accurate, ringing up groups ranging from about 0.52 inches to just less than 0.8 inches across. Our calculated average read 0.66 inches, but not without some difficulty. At times we struggled, with feeding and cycling not being not as smooth or as quick as we would have liked. Furthermore, the grip lines on the bolt knob were unnecessarily sharp. Certainly, smoothing the bolt-handle knob would be simple.
Regarding cycling, we found that if we stopped our upward rotation of the bolt before it made contact with the upper wall of the relief in the receiver, the bolt handle was better aligned with the channel and the bolt rode smoothly to the rear. So, we think a change in the diameter of the bolt stem or a change in the opening on the side of the receiver is in order. In terms of the double feed, we think a change in extractor spring rate or a slight reconfiguration of the extractor blade would solve the problem.
Our Team Said: We found Uintah’s bolt-action upper-to-AR-10-lower concept immensely appealing. Having a matched set of a bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles with the same stock fit has long been a dream of many shooters, and what Uintah has achieved largely meets this goal.
Written and photographed by Roger Eckstine, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.