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

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