The AR-15 rifle
system has been with us for about forty years now, and has proven
itself worldwide as one of the best semiautomatic rifles ever made.
After four decades of refinement, the AR system has evolved into
a battle-proven rifle that has served most of the free world well
in several conflicts as the military M-16.
In its civilian
form, the AR system can be divided into two distinct categories.
The first version is represented by the light and handy short-barreled
carbines that are very useful for most any serious social situation,
such as filling the role of police carbine or defense
of the homestead. The second version of the AR-15 rifle
system is that of a heavy-barreled, highly accurate, long range
rifle for both target shooting and the hunting of small vermin and
predators. There is an almost endless variation of in-between styles
of the AR-15 that can do double duty as a defensive and precision
rifle, but here we will concentrate our focus on the heavy-barreled
AR-15s that excel at the accurate placement of bullets on small
targets at extended range.
First, lets examine
the need for such a rifle. This can be separated into the
needs of the varmint hunter and the precision tactical shooter,
such as a police sniper. The varmint hunter has many good weapons
from which to choose, including bolt action and single-shot rifles
that are capable of fine accuracy. The advantage offered by the
AR-15 varmint gun is that of being able to fire repeatedly without
moving either the gun or the shooter. With a heavy-barreled AR-15,
the shooter can remain in position, moving only his trigger finger
to send repeat shots down range. To a groundhog hunter under normal
conditions, this means very little, but to a hunter on a prairie
dog shoot where you may fire hundreds of rounds per day, this can
A few years back,
we had a situation in which groundhogs were destroying our sweet
corn crop. The corn was tall and thick, and the groundhogs would
leave the safety of their burrows on the creek bank to enter the
cornfield and steal a few ears at a time. They had to cross a five-foot
clearing to get to the corn, and they crossed this at full speed.
Any shot that could be taken had to be made in that five-foot clearing,
at a running target. The area around the field was heavily wooded,
but there was an old combine at one end that offered a good view
of the groundhogs escape route. The groundhogs would enter
the field, grab the corn, and then exit to the safety of their home.
I would watch from the top of the old combine, and when a corn stalk
was pushed over, it would only be a few seconds until the fat little
pigs would head across the clearing. Any shooting had to be quick
and accurate, or the groundhog was home free. Sometimes, as many
as three pigs would cross the clearing together, each with an ear
of corn in his mouth. Sure, a single-shot or bolt action rifle would
have let me harvest one of the little corn thieves, but getting
the second or third was out of the question. This type of hunting
situation is where an accurate semi-automatic really shines,
and none is better than an accurate AR-15 with a good scope sight.
The heavy barrel helps to steady the gun for repeat shots, and the
extra length of the barrel adds velocity for greater terminal effect.
I did not get every groundhog that crossed that clearing, but more
than once I was able to connect on multiple targets, getting as
many as three at a time. After shooting began, the pigs wouldnt
be back that day, but would live to steal more corn the next day.
Without the ability to pop more than one at a time, the corn harvest
would have been greatly reduced that year. As much as I like
a good bolt action .22-250, the AR-15 was the perfect rifle for
in which the heavy-barreled AR-15 excels is in the role of a police
sniper weapon. There are instances in which a skilled police marksman
must make critical precision shots at a hostile target. The target
is often moving around, and if a second or third shot is needed,
it is needed immediately. The AR-15 allows almost instantaneous
repeat shots, without taking the sight off of the target.
With modern .223 ammunition using heavy bullets, the AR-15 has ample
power and penetration to get the job done, with relatively low recoil.
For this article,
we gathered a sampling of some of the best heavy-barreled AR-15
type rifles on the market. This is by no means meant to be a complete
representation of every heavy AR available, but these are each well-built
and accurate weapons. The guns represented here are from Bushmaster,
ArmaLite, Doublestar, Rock River Arms, and DPMS. Each
rifle is of the flat top configuration to easily facilitate the
mounting of a precision scope sight. All of the test guns
were fitted with a heavy twenty-four inch barrel that thankfully
had no muzzle appendages of any kind. To make an accurate AR-15
takes a good barrel. To make an AR-15 that will hold its accuracy
repeatedly shot after shot, it takes a heavy barrel. Each of these
rifles wore a barrel that measured around an inch rear of the gas
block, with the diameter of the barrels forward of the gas block
The Bushmaster, Doublestar, and DPMS barrels were fluted to reduce
weight and promote faster cooling.
Each of these rifles
has a stainless barrel, with the exception of the Bushmaster, which
has a chrome-moly barrel. The pistol grips of the ArmaLite and Doublestar
are of the standard hard plastic AR-15 type, while a rubber finger
grooved pistol grip is featured on the Rock River and Bushmaster,
and a target type pistol grip with "Olympic style" hand
rest is included on the DPMS. Trigger pulls were measured with a Lyman digital trigger pull gauge, and are as listed here:
Each of these rifles
weigh in the eight and three-quarters to ten pound range, providing
a very stable yet still portable shooting machine. During the test
firing of these guns, each of them fed, fired, and ejected every
round without a hitch, using a variety of ammunition, both factory
and handloads. Two really great performing loads in each of these
guns were factory loads from Winchester. Their 55 grain Ballistic
Silvertip premium ammunition performed superbly, as expected,
but also the 62 grain USA full metal jacket ammo grouped
very well, in some cases beating out the Silvertip. Each of the
rifles tested had fast twist rates to handle the heavier bullets
well. With every load tested in these rifles, all groups measured
less than one inch, with most measuring half of that. This was while
shooting at a range of 110 yards with a moderate gusty wind. I believe
that each of these rifles are capable of very fine accuracy with
the loads that suit it best. Half inch groups with factory ammo
is very good, and each rifle tested did that or better with the Winchester Ballistic Silvertips.
Shooting with each of these fine firearms was a pleasure. The AR-15
rifle system has proven itself in recent years to be an excellent
platform for a varmint and target rifle. With practice and a good
scope sight, accurate hits at several hundred yards are easy. The
recoil is light, and the ergonomics of the AR system is almost perfect.
The heavy barrels on these guns are free-floated for consistent
accuracy. The flat top receivers are perfect for mounting
a precision scope. I like to keep a heavy and a light AR around,
but if I had to choose only one, I would keep a heavy. They
are easier to shoot well at long range, have less muzzle blast,
and greater velocity than a short barrel. For a fast shooting varmint
gun, they cant be beat. For a police sniper rifle, the heavy AR
is almost perfect. Where legal, they make a good deer rifle with
the proper ammo in skilled hands. Follow-up shots on a running
coyote are easier with a heavy AR than any other type of rifle.
You can check out the complete specifications on each of these fine
rifles at the following websites.
Bushmaster Varminter: www.bushmaster.com
Rock River Arms:
Choosing any one
of these rifles would be a winner. Look at the websites, compare
prices, and check the specifications that best suit your needs.
I recommend any one of the rifles tested here, and regret having
to send them back.
For further reading, check out these articles by Jeff Quinn:
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Click pictures for a larger version.
Heavy-barreled AR-15s tested (top to bottom): Doublestar, Bushmaster
Varminter, Rock River Varmint, ArmaLite M-15A4(T), DPMS Panther.
All the guns tested for this article featured heavy stainless
steel barrels, with the exception of the Bushmaster Varminter's
chrome-moly barrel. Left to right: Doublestar, Bushmaster Varminter,
Rock River Varmint, ArmaLite M-15A4(T), DPMS Panther.
Jeff tested trigger pull weights on all the rifles with a Lyman
digital trigger pull gauge.
ArmaLite's M-15A4(T) features a standard hard plastic AR-15
style pistol grip, round composite hand guard, unfluted stainless
steel barrel, and an accessory rail on top of the gas block.
The Bushmaster Varminter
features a rubber finger-grooved pistol grip, ventilated checkered
aluminum hand guard, and a fluted chrome-moly barrel.
The Doublestar rifle features a standard hard plastic AR-15
style pistol grip, checkered ventilated aluminum hand guard, fluted
stainless steel barrel, and an accessory rail on top of the gas
The DPMS Panther features a surprisingly comfortable "Olympic
style" adjustable pistol grip, adjustable butt plate, and fluted
stainless steel barrel.
The Rock River Varmint rifle features a rubber finger-grooved
pistol grip, checkered aluminum hand guard, unfluted stainless steel
barrel, and a "skeletonized" accessory rail on top of
the gas block.
Both the Author and the Webmaster were very impressed with all
the rifles rested. Boge freely admits he can't shoot with the likes
of Jeff, but a quality rifle and scope, coupled with a good shooting
rest such as the Target
Shooting Inc. Rifle Rest, even makes Boge shoot well!
All rifles were tested with a Pentax Lightseeker 6-24X variable
scope. The Lightseeker is a very impressive scope, featuring a 30mm
tube and target-style adjustment turrets. Parallax adjustments were
perfect, the variable-power adjustments were precise and repeatable,
and the scope offered a very clear and bright picture. A quality
scope such as this is essential for accurate shooting, and the excellent
array of rifles tested deserve the best!
All guns tested shot extremely well with all ammunition types
tested, but Winchester's .223 ammunition stood out from the crowd.
All the rifles tested preferred the Winchester offerings above all
other factory brands. Winchester's "USA" budget FMJ ammo
even proved the equal of their premium Ballistic Silvertip ammo
in some of the rifles!