Mar 282020

By ILya Koshkin

Late last year I somehow managed to convince my wife to go take a rifle class with me at Frontsight.  The class is basically a close range carbine class that focuses on the fundamentals of aiming and presentation with vast majority of the shooting done within 50 yards off hand.  There is some positional shooting done (prone and kneeling) and some shooting from 100 and 200 yards. Given that the class has a huge emphasis on the fundamentals of gun handling and safety, I thought it was a good class for her to take and I was right.  She learned a lot and had a sense of accomplishment by the end of the class. I even managed to convince her to go take another class with me, but the whole coronavirus situation put that on a temporary hold.
I have a bunch of ARs, so I simply gave her one of the lighter ones I had that was equipped with a collapsible stock.  Before we went to Frontsight, she shot an AR-15 exactly once in her life and the class was perfect to give her some basic proficiency.  I can teach someone to run an AR just fine, but convincing her to practice when we are home is tricky. However, once we got to Frontsight, she was pretty much captive audience for two days and I let the instructors do their job.  The progress she made in those two days of class was really tremendous (I was learning to properly operate my AK, so I stayed all four days, while she did the first two days and then flew home to go back to work).

I am 6ft tall and weigh around 270lbs (if weighed before dinner. After dinner all bets are off, but I am not subjecting my scales to that kind of abuse).  My wife claims to be 5’4” (since she started going to gun classes with me I stopped debating that point) and weighs quite a bit less than half of what I do.  
When she agreed to go to that Frontsight class last year, I picked out the lightest AR I had that was set-up with a collapsible stock and figured we are good to go.  That same rifle worked well for my 15 year old nephew a couple of years ago, so I figured it should work fine for her. Let’s just say I did not think that through really well and upon returning home I kicked off a new build specifically for her.  I picked up most of the components during Black Friday which saved me a ton of money. A few remaining pieces have been slowly trickling in and now that I am home because of the whole corona silliness, I finished the build. The only thing left to do is tune the gas system, which will have to wait until local ranges open again.
The AR-15 she used back in November is the top one in the picture and the new one I built for her is on the bottom.

The new build is as follows:

  • Odin Works Zulu 2.0 stock 19.7 oz
  • Odin Works O2 15.5” handguard 9.7 oz
  • Faxon 16” Match Pencil barrel 19 oz
  • Smith Vortex (I think) flash hider 3 oz
  • M4E1 lower receiver  8.61 oz
  • Voodoo Low Mass Carrier 9.5 oz
  • Bravo Mil-Spec Upper 7 oz
  • Crimson Trace CTS-1400 Red Dot Sight 3 oz

That adds up to 79.5 oz or almost exactly five pounds.  With all the small parts, TriggerTech adjustable AR trigger, Defiance grip and a sling, it adds up to 6.8  lbs. I used all standard lower parts except for the adjustable AR trigger from Triggertech and Strike Industries pins that make disassembly a touch easier.

The rifle she used for the class last year weighed almost the same.  In its present iteration it has Crimson Trace’s excellent 3.5x Battlesight, so it weighs 8.1lbs with the sling, but during the class she used a HiLux MM2 red dot sight.  The prismatic scope weighs 13 ounces more than the red dot, so as configured during the class it was right at 7.3lbs.  

I built it several years ago and it has worked flawlessly since:

  • AR15 Performance Scout profile 16” barrel  28 oz
  • Double Star forged lower 8.6 oz
  • Standard LPK with Geissele SSA-E trigger
  • Mil-spec upper (Bravo, I think, but it has been a while)  7 oz
  • Bravo KMR Alpha handguard 10.2 oz 
  • MilSpec BCG 11.4 oz
  • Carbine buffer extension tube 3.8 oz
  • Mission First Tactical Buttstock 6.2 oz (this is easily my favourite inexpensive furniture)

There is only half a pound of difference in overall weight, but there is a huge difference in swing weight since that extra half pound of weight is all in the barrel.

She finally got the hang of it toward the end of the class, but the weight and, most importantly, the weight distribution, of the rifle gave Lea a ton of problems.  There was just too much weight up front for her to be comfortable with the gun and we did a LOT of presentation drills. While recoil did not bother her too much when the rifle was mounted to the shoulder properly, she did manage to get a black eye after being bumped with the stock: it was too low on her shoulder and there was no cheek weld so she got hit with hard plastic.  She took it like a champ, this being a freak accident, and only made fun of me a little. However, some other family members (my brother mostly) had way too much fun at my expense, and I did not enjoy explaining that there was no spousal abuse here.

Aside from having a little bit too much weight up front for her, there were a couple of other things I simply did not think about.  One was the plastic stock, so for the new build I used Odin’s Zulu stock that has a soft recoil pad and neoprene sleeve on the buffer tube.  It adds a little weight, but that weight is right by the shoulder and I was not really going for an ultralight build in order to keep the recoil soft.  Zulu stock also has a small secondary spring in the buffer tube which softens the vibrations of the buffer slamming into the back of the tube and lowers felt recoil a little bit.

The biggest reason I ended up getting a lightweight bolt carrier was that Vuduu (Adams Arms) were discontinuing it and it cost me less than a standard BCG would.  The bolt has Lifecoat on it, so it should be easy to clean and I like this carrier’s integral gas key. No need to worry about staking. The carrier is not quite THAT light, so I do not anticipate reliability issues once I get the Superlative Arms gas block properly tuned.  Worst case, I will switch to a heavier buffer, which keeps with my theme of keeping weight toward the buttstock of the gun.

I did try to shave off a lot of weight up front, so I used Odin’s rather svelte O2 handguard, especially since they had a bundle on sale that included the handguard, stock, endplate, mag button and charging handle with matching anodizing.  I did want to make this build look good. I chose a long 15.5” handguard to make sure there is no chance of touching the barrel.  

The barrel is Faxon’s Match Pencil profile.  It is reputed to be fairly accurate owing to the Wylde chamber and 5R rifling, and I will test that.  I have used their less expensive NATO chambered pencil barrel and had good luck with it. Given how thin it is, it will heat up and I wanted to give it plenty of space to dissipate heat.  This handguard is very lightweight despite the length and not ultraslim. With slim handguards and small hands, it is possible to get too close to the barrel and the gas block for comfort at the end of a long shooting string.

The flash hider is fairly beefy and I might switch it out to something else later, but I already had it so I used it.  Years ago when California decided to outlaw flash hiders I took them off of all my ARs, so I still have a few here and there.  Now that I left the People’s Republik of Kommiefornia in the rear view mirror, I can use them again.

Another problem I had not anticipated was the grip.  Trigger reach with MFT beavertail grip turned out to be too long and the little gap at the back of the trigger guard was uncomfortable even with the little rubber spacer from Ergo.  For all of the malfunction clearances, where you support the gun with your right hand and manipulate the controls with your right hand, After a little digging around I stumbled onto Aero Precision’s M4E1 lower that has an integral trigger guard and smoothed out edges.  Kriss’ Defiance grip matches it perfectly, so that there is no gap to dig into your finger when supporting the rifle one handed. The Defiance grip seems to work really well for small-to-medium hands, so both of us find it comfortable. I might get another one and experiment a little on other rifles.

I’ll post an update once I finish messing with the gas block and get a good grasp of what the barrel can do.  Many pencil barrels have significant POI shifts when they heat up, but the lower grade pencil barrel from Faxon was pretty decent.  I do not mind groups opening up. It is a very thin barrel after all. However, I want the aggregate POI to remain the same. I have high hopes for this Faxon barrel, but time will tell.

Stay tuned for the shooting report.  Once I get an idea of how the rifle does, I may also re-visit the optics choice a little.  For now, it will stay with CTS-1400 red dot from Crimson Trace. It has good collimation quality and has held zero flawlessly so far.

 Posted by at 10:48 pm
Mar 062020

I stumbled onto this excellent piece by The New Rifleman. That right there is an excellent does of reality:

Also, the Everyday Marksman started looking at the Meopta Optika6 5-30×56 with my reticle in it. I value his opinion, so I am really happy to see he likes my reticle:

On an unrelated note, just got an e-mail from Palmetto that they have a bunch of Chinese SKS rifles for $350 until March 9th. Milsurp rifles are really drying up, so if you are in the market, this is a good price.

Palmetto generally has some really interesting daily deals that are worth checking. I never paid a ton of attention to Palmetto Armory in the past, but I was researching different weir ARs and stumbled onto their KS47, which is basically an AR that takes AK mags. So far, it has not skipped a beat with any ammo I was able to throw at it. Next step will be some accuracy testing. I ordered a few different ammo types, so I will chrono them and check accuracy.

 Posted by at 10:42 am
Feb 232020

A few months ago, I stared compiling a list of video explanations I need to put together:

Then, life happened and I did not get to do most of those. I did address some and over the course of the next few weeks I plan to do some more.

Please let me know if there is something specific you want covered. The Youtube playlist where these videos will be added is called DLO Explanations and all the videos are automatically copied onto the gunstreamer website as well.

The ones I am looking to do next are on the following topics:

  • Apparent FOV in riflescopes
  • Low light performance of LPVOs
  • Why is the exit pupil calculation breaks down on low power and some other general exit pupil considerations
  • Tube diameter. This lunacy comes up again and again, so it has to be revisited

Any other suggestions?

 Posted by at 3:17 pm
Feb 212020

It is official. Element Optics website went live and it looks like they have a good number of scopes out in the reviewer’s hands.

I had a nice meeting with these guys at SHOT and I really liked what I saw. The key people behind the brand are smart, well funded and full of energy. Most importantly, they are shooters so they understand the end goal. In too many optics companies there is a strong disconnect between shooters and engineers. I know this will sound odd, but I mean it as a compliment. The guys behind Element, while hunters and shooters, have enough of a nerdy streak to stay on top of the technical stuff.

In other words, I have high hopes that they will do it right.

The first scope available will be the Japanese-made Nexus: The rest will be along shortly, I am sure. A brief look at the initial dealer list seems to be taking advantage of the existing FX Airguns (FX is behind Element Optics) dealer network which is a pretty good thing. I am sure that will grow.

Given that NRL22 competitions now have an airgun, I have a hunch we will start seeing FX airguns with Element optics scopes on them. I have two small kids and NRL22 is where I want them to start shooting. Perhaps, I will start them with airguns. FX airguns are likely the most accurate long range air rifles on the market now, so perhaps that is a good place for my kids to start.

 Posted by at 4:32 pm
Feb 152020

This came up elsewhere, but it got my interest peaked, so I think I will look into that a little more.

I have a lot of experience setting up my rifles in a dual optic configuration. Usually, I go for a magnified primary (either prismatic or LPVO) and an offset small red dot.

Crimson Trace CTS-1100 with offset Hawke Micro RDS

I have also been messing a bit with a piggybacked red dot set-up. That has an advantage of being ambidextrous, but I find rolling the rifle a little bit easier than lifting my head up. I am still experimenting with the options though.

Elcan Spectre OS 4x with Doctersight III

With all that, the paranoic in me still wants some sort of a back-up sight that does not depend on batteries. I have played a little bit with fixed offset BUIS from Dueck Defense and they worked OK, but were a little bulky. The obvious solution to that is the folding offset BUIS made by Magpul, Troy, MI and several others. I have been planning to look at a couple for a little while, but one thing where I am sorta mixed is that folding sights are not “always on”. They need to be deployed. With RDS or fixed offset sights, all I need to do is roll the rifle a little and I am there. Just now I have accidentally stumbled onto the XS Sights’ XTI DXT/DXW setup that looks to be lower profile than the Dueck sights, but they are always there.

I will probably pick up a set and do some experimentation. Any of you have experience with these?

I have used the Big Dot sights from XS on handguns (back when they were still called Ashley Outdoors) and thought they worked quite well. The sight picture is styled off of old express sights used on large and dangerous game so it should be quite effective at close distances. I have used those old iron sights a little and liked them.

Honestly, I don’t need more projects, but this looks interesting.

 Posted by at 3:24 pm
Jan 262020

I’ll do a series of videos on my takeaways from SHOT and add all relevant links and pictures into this post.

The first video is up on Youtube.

Recording of the first FacebookLive session I did on this.
Part 2
Part 3
Tangent Theta 3-15×50 Hunter with MOA turrets and reticle
 Posted by at 4:50 pm
Jan 122020

I have a confession to make. I have quite a few AR-pattern rifles and my interests in them have always leaned heavily toward the latest and greatest. I have another confession to make. For the most part I still do. I am a techy guy and I like techy stuff.

However, when I was working on a couple of optics articles for Guns and Ammo’s Retro magazine, I took a closer look at Vietnam-era M-16s and there is definitely some nostalgic appeal there. Now, the articles I did were on the Occluded Gun Sight (OEG) like the ones made by Armson and on the first night vision scope. The original night vision is out of my reach, but Armson OEG is in production, so I started conceiving a retro build.

At around the same time, I decided to review Brownells’ new 3-18×50 MPO scope, which is really growing on me. That is when I discovered that Brownells really put some time an effort into supporting the retro replica market. They have a bunch of AR variants that seem to be rather faithful reproductions of many originals including some prototypes that I have barely heard of. To people who are into retro builds none of this is news, I am sure, but it was news for me.

Also, it turned out that Brownells sells a re-incarnation of the original Colt 4x scope made by the original manufacturer. Me, being a nerdy optics guy, I kick off gun reviews based on what optics I want to look at, so between Briwnells’ Retro and Armson OEG, that was enough for me to start making detailed plans.

Brownells Retro 4×20 (Butler Creek’s tini bikini scope cover did not come with it, but fits perfectly)

Originally, I was going to procure the pieces and build one up from scratch, but now I am sorta questioning that plan. As much as I like working on guns, I am not convinced I can do better than Brownells has done and if I procure good quality components, I am not at all convinced it will be cheaper.

To be entirely honest, the variant I am really curious about the the BRN-PROTO Rifle with its vertical charging handle, but that will not work with carry handle mounted optics, so I will file this one away into the “some day” folder. For a bit there, I was just going to buy one of Brownells’ retro builds and be done with it, but then I stumbled onto something that changed my mind.

The original M16 had a 1-14″ barrel twist. Most of Brownells’ retro models utilize a 1-12″ twist to make the bullet a little more stable at distance. All of the complete 5.56 rifles they have are bult with that barrel twist.

However, as it turned out, one of the complete uppers they have utilizes a 1-7″ twist. While it is not historically accurate, it is imminently more practical for me since I have quite a lot of 5.56 ammo of all manner of bullet weights and I would like to be able to shoot whatever ammo happens to be on hand with this retro build.

With all that in mind, my plan is as follows:

  1. Get a complete upper assembly from Brownells with 1-7″ twist when it is back in stock.
  2. Get retro appropriate grip and stock
  3. The rest I can procure locally. I’ve built enough lowers over the years that I probably have enough pieces in the spare parts bin to complete a couple of lower assemblies. All I need is a mil-spec stripped lower receiver.

I think that will be retro enough for my purposes.

Lastly, Brownells is not the only game in town for this kind of stuff, but they seem to have the most extensive assortment of relevant pieces. JSE Surplus seems to be another good source and, of course, a few minutes of searching the web will yield a ton of information on different retro builds.

Generally, there is so much information out there on AR-15s and how to select the right components that it is sometimes difficult to filter through the BS. If you are new-ish to ARs, I strongly recommend checking out the AR-15 article series on Everyday Marksman website. Matt knows his stuff. Except for those time when he disagrees with me. Then, he is just plain wrong.

 Posted by at 2:15 pm
Jan 052020

One of these scopes is about to go onto my list of recommendations. Somewhat unusually, it is about to land there before I fully finish with my review, so I figured I should qualify that a little.

Here is the qualification: I really like this scope.

MPO stands for Match Precision Optic and that is Brownells’ house optics brand. They are starting out with two models aimed at general purpose precision shooting for people who are not inclined to drop upwards of $3k on a really fancy scope. The two models they have are 3-18×50 and 5-25×56, both built in Japan on 34mm tubes.They had sort of a soft introduction earlier on, but now both models are available.

Before I move on, apparently Brownells also sells a retro 4×21 scope that fits onto an AR handle. I never quite paid attention to that, but I have a retro AR project that I am conceiving. I think that will be a perfect opportunity to test Brownells’ Retro scope.

Getting back to the MPO…

The model I have been testing is the 3-18×50 with the N-OMR reticle. Honestly, for a general purpose scope under $1k, this is probably the one to beat. By going directly to the OEM and being the only retailer, Brownells is able to keep the price lower that similarly configured competition. I started talking about these a little since the MPO is part of a 50mm Precision Scope article I am working on.

In a nutshell, the MPO 3-18×50 I have here, is as good as or better than any similarly configured and similarly priced FFP scope I have seen to date. To be clear: I have probably seen all of them, so do not take this statement lightly. It is not the shortest, nor the lightest. Size-wise, it is decidedly midpack and given the moderate price, I am very comfortable with that. I am leery of excessively ambitious designs on a budget. Everything in this scope just works. Image quality is very good. Turrets track as they should with a zero stop integrated into the elevation turret and windage turret covered. The reticle, while looking somewhat unusual with its double lines, works very well across the entire magnification range. Illumination is well calibrated to keep the reticle visible even in low light. In other words, the MPO 3-18×50 is both intelligently configured and well executed.

To be clear, it is not going to outperform most $3k+ scopes. As much as I like the MPO, it is not going to make me give up my Tangent Theta 3-15×50 or March-F 3-24×52. These are better than the MPO, but at triple the price, they better be. When people ask me whether the ultra high end scopes are worth it, the answer is usually “Yes, No and Maybe”. When I am about to drop $3k on a scope, I typically have a specific application in mind where something less expensive will probably not do. The March 3-24×52 is the lightest FFP crossover scope on the market with the broadest magnification range while maintaining excellent image quality. That’s why I have it. Tangent Theta is the best optimized 3-15x scope I have seen to date and it is lighter than everything similar other than March. TT315M is the perfect scope for a precision gas gun and that’s how I use it.

However, if someone comes to me without a very specific application in mind, I will usually steer them toward something less expensive that works well overall. Brownells MPO is exactly that and I can buy three of these for $3k. If, for example, I was getting into PRS-type shooting, for $3k I can equip three platforms: 5-25×56 for the bolt gun, 3-18×50 for a precision semi-auto and either one for an accurate rimfire. Add some appropriate rings and you are good to go. Most importantly, the sight picture you get is exactly the same on all three platforms and you are likely to manage it without mortgaging your kidneys to finance the whole thing.

The MPO punches above its weight class. Looking at what is out there, I am not sure what I would take in the under $2k market over the MPO. I think MPO 3-18×50, Tract Toric UHD 4-20×50 and SWFA SSHD 5-20×50 are the 50mm objective precison scopes under $2k, with an honorable mention going to the EOTech Vudu 5-25×50 that I am also impressed with due to how compact it is.

Here are a couple of videos from my Youtube Channel that touch on the MPO among other designs:

Here are some through the scope videos as well. I will probably redo some of these to get better focus, but for now they will do.

 Posted by at 11:26 am
Jan 052020

This is a topic I keep on coming back to since I like accurate rimfires, especially when it is cold outside and I am strongly inclined to shoot indoors.

If money were no object, I’d pick a fancy Anchutz and be done with it. My buddy Brian, on the other hand, swears that when the Lord created rimfires he meant the Vudoo. Based on the accuracy Brian is getting, he may be onto something, but that is still more money than I want to spend. FOr the longest time, I have been aiming at Volquartsen Summit with its straight pull biathlon-like action. That is still in the $1300-$1500 range. While cheaper than the Vudoo, I am having a hard time dropping that much cash all at once on a rimfire rifle. Money is always an object not just for me, but also for people who have been peppering me with questions lately on what is the best rimfire rifle on a budget.

Historically, I would send the tinkerers into the 10/22 land which provides for ample opportunities to rebuild your rifle multiple times. Many people enjoy the tinkering process (and I do have a 10/22 just for such occasions).

For people who just want to shoot tiny groups, my sorta standard recommendation was always CZ. I have a lot of mileage with a CZ452 that is more accurate than any inexpensive gun has any right to be.

However, apparently gun companies noticed that there is a market for accurate rimfire rifles and options abound. CZ is easily one of the bigger players there with the new-ish CZ457 line. Ruger has introduced their Precision Rimfire RPR. It is styled right, since it kinda looks like a chassis gun and seems to be adequately accurate. However, it feels a little too plasticky to me and the accuracy results, while good are not as consistently good as from some of the competition. Honestly, when trying to line-up behind it, there is something about the RPR that feels off to me. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but it is there. Maybe it is the grip or something else, because the stock is very adjustable.

Another option is one of many Savage B22 variants. I looked at a few and for the money they have a lot to recommend themselves, but the ones I have seen did not have the slickest feel. Accuracy-wise, they seem to be broadly comparable to Ruger American (which is the basis for the RPR).

Then, more recently, I discovered that Tikka has a T1X rimfire in 22LR and 17HMR. Tikka makes some tremendously accurate and reasonably inexpensive barrels, so that got my attention. Naturally, I did what all nerdy people do in situations like this and read every shred of published information available on the internet.

These seem to have remarkably consistent barrels, so if you really want world-class accuracy on a budget, it seem to come down to Tikka T1X and CZ457. CZ has an edge with user swappable barrels, but honestly, I just want an accurate 22LR. If I want an accurate 22WMR or 17HMR, I’ll just buy another gun. Tikka is available in 22LR and 17HMR, but the barrel are not user replaceable.

If you like traditional wooden stocks, there is a CZ out there with your name on it. CZ457 Varmint runs a bit under $500. If you prefer synthetic stocks, T1X standard stock fits my six foot tall frame exceedingly well. T1X in either 22LR or 17HMR is also right under $500 like the CZ.

If you want a chassis or a fancier stock, there are good options out there for both CZ and Tikka. CZ can be had from the factory in a Manners stock, but then you are right at $1k. MDT, Oryx and KRG all make chassis systems for both CZ and Tikka, with the most affordable being the KRG Bravo for Tikka T1X which costs right around $350.

Another weird thing I found is that most CZ 457 models are not threaded for suppressor use. Several models are, but to get one of those you are looking at extra $150 or so. Both T1X models have threaded muzzles.

Ultimately, it is kind of a coin toss, but I think I will pick up Tikka T1X in 22LR, slap a picatinny rail on it and a nice FFP precision scope, and head over to the range. I’ve been kinda itching to try some sort of a precision rimfire competition, so perhaps I will eventually add a KRG Bravo chassis to it as well.

 Posted by at 1:09 am
Dec 092019

A while back I wrote a little bit about two articles I did for the Guns and Ammo Retro magazine:

I just stumbled onto one of them available online.

If you havn’t had a chance to see it in the magazine, here is the link:

I am now thinking about doing a retro AR-15 build with an Armson OEG on top. I think Brownells has a several models of retro ARs, so I could probably just pick up one of theirs.

I’ve built a ton of ARs for myself and they are all fairly modern in appearance and design: free floated handguards, nice triggers, updated stocks, etc. The one variety I do not have is a classic Vietnam era configurations with fixed sights, fixed stock and plastic handguards. Maybe it is time I pick one up, put an ArmsonOEG on it and be an entirely different kind of a poseur…

 Posted by at 2:07 am