Rifle-5.56 mm

Affordable Home-Defense Rifles: AR-15 or M1 in 30 Carbine?

April 2018 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

When we evaluate firearms, there are guidelines we follow. Some of the projects are a result of market forces, where we are guided by what is new in the market place. Then there are reader requests. The following evaluation combines those arenas. Readers have shown interest in the M1 30 Carbine because it is a lightweight, handy rifle with historical overtones that shooters of a certain age respect. Accordingly, we have done comparisons of the rifles head to head and also ammunition testing.

Likewise, we have extensively tested AR-15 rifles and ammunition. So, coupled with experience in handling both rifles and the preference of some of the raters, we cooked up an AR-15 versus M1 Carbine shoot-out, with a slant toward inexpensive rifles for home defense. The M1 Carbine is fairly inexpensive in most examples, including good-quality modern reproductions such as the Auto Ordnance. Until very recently when regulatory bans began pointing anew at the semi-auto rifle, the AR-15 had been increasingly affordable, and we even saw something of a price war going on as late as January 2018. So, with a budget theme in mind, we chose two rifles for a new shooter on a budget and limited the spend to $800, including a reasonable number of magazines and a credible ammunition supply. Counted in this evaluation were the opinions of inexperienced and female shooters, the latter of which we listened to carefully to find a combination of recoil, muzzle blast, and firearm weight the distaff gun owner might prefer.

Some prefer a long gun for home defense for its power and accuracy, and the fact that handguns require time and inclination to master, a rifle can be an easier-to-learn tool, especially if area defense is also a consideration — that is, your yard is pretty large or if roaming predators, such as coyotes and feral dogs, are a consideration. A hard-hitting but light-kicking rifle can give results much beyond what a handgun can do for most shooters, if the rifle is reliable and accurate enough.

The ammunition testing we have previously done in each caliber is an important part of the summary of facts in this feature. In terms of power, the 30 Carbine round in its most-common size, 110 grains, runs slightly behind the standard 223 Remington in a 55-grain bullet. But power isn’t the only consideration for someone using a rifle inside a home. Too much penetration is a problem. Choosing the right round is crucial to balance what’s needed to stop the fight and what’s too much. In previous tests, we found the Hornady 110-grain Critical Defense 30 Carbine round produced 1980 fps and the resulting energy of 957 foot-pounds. Shot into water, that round terminated with an expanded width of 0.47 inch and weight retention of 100%. It penetrated 20 inches of water. A Hornady V-Max 223 Remington load with a 55-grain bullet sped along at 2890 fps and produced muzzle energy of 1019 foot-pounds. That might worry the home defender, but this particular round finished with an expanded width of 0.44 inches of the largest fragment. It retained 50% of its weight and only penetrated 10 inches in water. The AR, again, has the edge because it’s possible to tailor the load to the home, and that’s not as feasible with the 30 Carbine rounds.

How do these rifle rounds stack up to some common handgun loads? They’re much more powerful. As noted above, the 30 Carbine Hornady FXT generates muzzle energy of 957 foot-pounds and the 223 Hornady V-Max 1019 foot-pounds. In comparison, a Double Tap 10mm 135-grain round generates 1555 fps and 725 foot-pounds of energy. A Black Hills 357 Magnum 125-grain round running 1430 fps makes 567 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, and a Black Hills 45 ACP 230-grain JHP clicking along at 850 fps makes a paltry 369 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.

So with those facts in mind, we compared an Israeli Arms International M1 30 Carbine and a home-built AR-15. Average price at outlets was $480 for the 30 Carbine. Also, we found a Universal Carbine in a local shop for $425, and average price for a new Auto Ordnance 30 carbine was $775. We found a new Del-Ton AR-15 for $399 new in the shop. There are many good AR-15 rifles going begging at the beginning of the year for $600 and less. This is a turnaround from a year ago. So, a clear winner on the price scale goes to a budget AR, at least until a new buying boom changes that. For more stable pricing, we chose to test a gun we built ourselves. The test AR-15 rifle consists of an Aero upper and receiver, Brownells barrel, and Brownells bolt. The parts priced out to $600, and we got what we consider to be an average rifle with good components. We realize you can go as high as you want on the AR-15 and spend several thousand dollars, but that isn’t what we are doing in this report.

Running the Bullpups: IWI, Kel-Tec, Steyr, and FN Compete

January 2018 - Gun Tests Magazine

Bullpups were designed for close-quarters battle (CQB) use in cramped environments where a longer weapon can be a liability. They are smaller and more compact than the typical AR-15 rifle. What also differs is how a bullpup functions. These firearms are configured with the action located behind the trigger group. Your nose rests above the action, not behind it like with an AR or AK. That means the magazine is aft of the trigger, not forward. Thus, your reloading technique changes. Because the action is housed in the buttstock, the overall length is reduced, yet a bullpup still deploys the same barrel length as a civilian AR-15. The balance is different with a bullpup, with the weight of the rifle in the butt, not forward of your firing hand. The ejection port is located in the butt, and each bullpup we tested had a different philosophy on how and where empty cases should be dumped. The muzzle is likewise closer, so reaching out with your support arm and pulling the rifle into your shoulder — like with an AR — is not possible, but the bullpups offer other support-grip options.

Basically, then, everything from reloading to grip and handling changes when running a bullpup, so we wanted to see which bullpup we could adapt to more easily. Our quartet of bullpups included three chambered in 5.56mm, which was the IWI Tavor X95 XB16, the Steyr AUG A3 M1, and Kel-Tec’s RDB. The fourth bullpup was the FN Model PS90 Standard chambered in 5.7x28mm. This is a nice sampling of bullpups because the AUG could be considered the Rolex of bullpups, while the Kel-Tec is the Timex at a much lower price. All performed without malfunctions, so they all took a licking and kept on ticking. One, the IWI, was modular and offered easy caliber conversion. All were optics-ready except the AUG (pronounced “A-U-G” not “awg”), which came from the factory with an optic. One, the FN, we had to study to even determine how to pick it up and shoulder it, but when we did we experienced a clear engineering solution to bad bullpup ergonomics. With the Kel-Tec, we ended up calling it the working man’s bullpup. Nothing fancy, but it kept pace with the other three. In hand, the bullpups feel like an AR-15 short-barreled rifle, or SBR, which require special tax stamps to own.

We tested all except the AUG with either a SIG Romeo4B or a Mepro Tru-Dot RDS. Both are red-dot sights that excel at close-to-medium range. At ranges out to 100 yards, the dot suffices for most targets, but a crosshair reticle would shrink groups. The Romeo4B allows the user to toggle between four different reticles: 2-minute-of-angle dot, 2-MOA dot with ballistic holds, 2-MOA/65 MOA Circle Dot, or 2-MOA/65 MOA Circle Dot with ballistic holds. The ballistic holdover points are calibrated for 5.56 NATO and 7.62x51mm NATO rounds. A feature we liked was the activated motion sensor that immediately powers up illumination when the red dot senses motion and powers down when it does not to extend battery life. The Mepro Tru-Dot RDS we like and have used it for a number tests on AR-style firearms. It features a 1.8-MOA dot reticle and is constructed with an aluminum body and tough polymer frame around a large viewing window. This sight is easy to use when shooting with both eyes open. It runs on one AA battery, and you don’t need any tools to change the battery or adjust the sight. It also turns off when not in use to conserve battery life. Both are good choices for AR applications, and as we found out, these bullpups, like ARs, have a straight comb and optics needed to be mounted high. Be aware that a bullpup is capable of hitting targets at the same ranges as an AR-15 with an appropriate optic.

Two of the bullpups — the IWI and Kel-Tec — are compatible with standard AR-15 magazines, which we appreciated since we have plenty of AR-15 magazines on hand. We used Brownells’ aluminum-body magazines (Brownells.com, $14) Magpul Pmags (Brownells.com, $12.30), and Hexmag tubes (Brownells.com, $12); all were 30-rounders. The AUG and FN used proprietary magazines. Like an AR-15, the FN, IWI, AUG, and Kel-Tec allow the operator to keep his firing hand on the grip while performing a reload with the support hand.

The three brands of AR-suitable ammunition we tested included Aguila 5.56mm NATO with a 62-grain FMJ bullet, 223 Remington Federal Fusion loaded with a 62-grain soft point, and SIG Sauer’s 223 Remington ammo loaded with a 77-grain Open-Tip Match (OTM) bullet. For the FN, we used FN 5.7x28mm 40-grain V-Max and Federal American Eagle 40-grain FMJs. We noticed big differences in recoil and muzzle blast between the 5.56 NATO and 5.7x28mm ammo. The 5.7x28mm ammo was similar to shooting 22 Magnum ammo — minimal recoil and not as much muzzle blast as the 5.56mm NATO.

AR-15 Carbines for Less Than $1300: The Winner is a ‘Saint’

April 2017 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

A staff member recently paid $2300 for a complete AR-15 carbine without regret. But you may have noticed complete uppers selling for as little as $400 during the last rounds of holiday sales and complete carbines selling for less than $700. Why pay more? One answer would be to take advantage of the latest technology in terms of manufacturing, helpful features and improved ammunition. Forged rather than cast aluminum is now the standard, and machining is more exact thanks to computer numerically controlled (CNC) automation. The efficiency and versatility of barrels have been upgraded to take advantage of heavier bullets able to land a more effective blow at greater distance. Barrels with twist rates of 1:8 inches and even 1:7 inches have replaced the original-issue lands and grooves that spun the bullets at a rate of 1:9. Handguards are now modular platforms for lights, lasers, and sights, and ambidextrous fire controls are becoming more popular as well.
With the desire for a more up-to-date AR-15, we went shopping and found that we didn’t have to break the bank — just get comfortable within a price range of about $900 to $1250 dollars. What we came up with was three AR-15s with upgrades that distinguished them from more traditional models.

Takedown ARs from DRD, Ruger, Windham: Who Takes the Cake?

July 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine

Espionage novels and movies are filled with rifles that are transported in a brief case, quickly assembled, then used to fire incredibly accurate shots. But is the ability to transport a disassembled AR in a small case or knapsack more intriguing than practical? Couldn’t an AR already be considered a takedown rifle? Can’t you just disassemble the lower receiver from the upper receiver and tote the two pieces in a duffle bag? These were a few questions team members had as we started looking into takedown AR-15s. 

On one side of the debate, a takedown AR can be discreetly carried without the normal gun case that announces to all what is inside. A takedown AR is something one might consider adding to his bug-out gear should flood, fire, or worse coming knocking on the door. Takedown ARs also have the ability to swap calibers, allowing a user to perhaps opt for 300 AAC Blackout on a pig hunt, use the 5.56mm NATO for home defense, and 9mm for low-cost training. This caliber-swap feature gives these ARs the ability to use whatever ammo is available at the moment. We’ve all experienced the ammunition shortages of the recent past, and there is no reason to think it won’t happen again. These ARs can feed whatever ammo is available. Another plus on the takedown AR side is easier cleaning.

On the other side of the debate, parts that are assembled and reassembled wear faster than parts that are fixed, and the more complicated a design, the more likely it is to break and the harder it is to get spare parts. Also, we wondered how zero might shift when removing then replacing the same-caliber barrel? And, how would a different caliber affect point of impact? Of course, price is always a consideration, and the cost of these takedown ARs is high — more than four times the cost of an entry-level 5.56mm AR priced at about $550. Can’t a shooter just buy two rifles and set them up with optics at the same cost or less?

To answer these and other questions, we gathered three models from DRD Tactical, Ruger, and Windham Weaponry. These manufacturers have taken the modularity characteristics of the AR to a new level, each offering its own unique takedown design. Operationally, the DRD and Windham are direct-gas-impingement models; the Ruger uses a piston system.

All in, these takedown rifles get smaller by separating the barrel from the rail, which we estimate as a reduction in length of about 8.5 inches. With all three takedown ARs, the rifle is broken down into three main components. One thing to note: The rails or handguards on these rifles are not compatible with aftermarket parts. You must use the handguard the AR is shipped with because it is a key part of the takedown design. You can, however, customize these ARs with other aftermarket parts like stocks, pistol grips, triggers, sights, controls, muzzle devices, and so on.

DPMS and POF 308 Semi-Autos: Heavy Hitters, or Just Heavy?

February 2016 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only

The last five years have been a roller-coaster ride for the gun industry, with an emphasis on AR-style rifles, which at one point were sold out nearly everywhere and were often selling above MSRP when you could find them. Now, AR sales are mostly down, except for a segment of the market that seems steadily abuzz, the larger caliber ARs, most commonly the 308 Winchester chambering. Most of the larger population of AR-15 owners can’t be sold on the larger chambering simply because of heavier rifle weights, but steadily emerging, is a group of gun enthusiasts who seem not to be deterred by the extra weight. This is evident by the many 308-caliber AR-style guns on the market today made by many gun manufacturers, including Patriot Ordnance Factory and DPMS. These firms are not newcomers to this market; DPMS, in fact, was one of the first companies to develop and manufacture a line of 308 Win. AR rifles about 15 years ago. 

We approached this test as if we were already gun owners, and we were considering whether to add a .308 semi-auto to our existing collection to add range above and beyond what our 5.56/.223 semi-autos could develop. So we chose two slightly different configurations to see what seemed like the better mix of weight, handling, and recoil. One of our test guns was a DPMS LR-308-AP4, which has an MSRP of $1269 in its base configuration (with an aluminum free-float handguard), and a suggested retail price of $1399 with an optional free-float quad-rail, as tested here. It is a 16-inch-barrel carbine with a direct-gas-impingement operating system. We pitted it against a Patriot Ordnance Factory Gen3 P308-20 BLK with an MSRP of $2599. This 20-inch-barrel rifle uses a 3-position short-stroke gas piston system to operate the action (your choice of normal, suppressed, and bolt-action operating modes). 

We used a three-person test group for this evaluation, all proficient shooters in their area of interest. One was a longtime AR-15 5.56 rifle shooter and collector. The second team member prefers large-caliber bolt-action rifles, and the final member mainly shoots 22 rimfire rifles and pistols. Would trigger time behind either of these 308-caliber AR-style rifles convince them to part with a lot of money to buy one?

Two Ways to Go Lighter with An AR: M&P Versus Daniel Defense

October 2015 - Gun Tests Magazine

Most gun owners choose a handgun or a shotgun for home self defense, with fewer of us picking a rifle for that job. Part of the equation certainly has to do with the portability and maneuverability of the handgun in tight spaces and, in most homes, short hallways. With a 9mm Luger or 45 ACP semi-auto or a 38/357/44 Special wheelgun, we believe we can shoot well enough with enough power and enough capacity to keep firing until the threat stops threatening us. Handguns are also easy to secure by safe or lock from nosy kids who ought not be looking in mom or dad’s night stand, but who often do anyway. Other homeowners prefer the snick-snick of a pump or autoloading shotgun in 12 or 20 gauge (the gauge doesn’t much matter on the receiving end). But rifles, in particular AR-15s, deserve at least a look in this area because they can be short enough, light enough, deploy enough capacity, and be powerful enough where it counts. Oddly, it is power that stops many self-defense shooters from considering the 5.56 NATO-chambered rifle for home defense, because they don’t want to have to worry about penetration through sheetrock, wallboard, or even bricks. According to at least one expert, the trick is to choose the right bullet for the self-defense rifle, because the rifle itself has a lot of advantages over a handgun or shotgun.

J. Buford Boone III, owner of Boone Ballistics in Northport, Alabama, provided expert testimony for the NRA’s litigation wing to challenge state attempts to restrict or ban AR-15s (Friedman v. Highland Park, NYSRPA v. Cuomo, Shew v. Malloy, and Kolbe v. O’Malley [now Hogan]), with the banning states’ arguments being that civilians shouldn’t own long guns that look like military rifles. NRA countered that the prevalence of the AR as a home-defense choice isn’t known, and that the landmark Heller decision protects firearms that could be used by civilians in and around the home. That’s where Boone’s expert report comes in.

Boone has a list of ballistics credentials a mile long, one of which is that he is a retired Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and had primary oversight of the FBI Ballistic Research Facility (BRF) from April 1997 to August 2012. Boone said in his expert report, “The AR-15 rifle has characteristics that make it particularly suitable for defensive purposes.” 

So with Boone’s endorsement in mind, we went looking for a couple of rifles that, with training, could be used by a range of folks — from husky men to small-framed women — in the close confines of a home. That meant the shortest non-SBR barrel, an adjustable-length buttstock, the ability to be fired accurately and fast with open sights or optics out to 25 yards, and either the ability to accept a light or have a handguard shaped appropriately so a light could be held with the front hand. We found two very different approaches that, naturally, cost very different dollars.