The Black Rifle Revisited
By Charles E. Speck
Since I wrote the article, “The Black Rifle Comes of Age” for this magazine in January 2012, there have been many more positive changes and additions that I’d like to review for your enlightenment. Wow! Have there ever been some changes! Many new magazines devoted to them as well. These changes have taken place because of the ever growing demands for more accuracy and handling qualities of the Modern Sporting Rifle.
Back then, I thought there would only be refinements to existing parts of the AR since I felt most everything had been made that could be made for the AR. The only constant seems to be the continuous changes in way ARs are built and the parts that are made for them. More than likely there will be more changes down the road but here’s what I have seen and used that really makes the AR a better Modern Sporting Rifle.
Of course, this isn’t all the changes and improvements, but just the few I have used or have some knowledge about. Continuing changes are what makes the AR such an interesting rifle! I’m all about getting the most accuracy and enjoyment out of shooting the AR, and this article is primarily going in that direction. Believe me, they can be just as accurate as most bolt action rifles, and more than many if you pay attention to the details.
Here's one type of adjustable gas blocks. There are several styles on the market to meet various needs
Adjustable Gas Blocks
One of the newest developments is the adjustable gas block. This is perhaps the best thing to ever go on an AR to improve function and help improve accuracy. There are several styles but they all do one thing vastly better than the standard gas block, and that is controlling the flow of gas back to the carrier. You know of course that gas pressure is what runs the bolt and thereby feeds and ejects rounds to and from the chamber. Too much pressure also beats the bolt and carrier against the recoil spring and buffer as well as the shooter. This causes accuracy to suffer, along with cases and bolts. With the adjustable gas block, you can literally dial in the minimum amount of gas needed for function. This will greatly save wear and tear on the parts as well as make the shooting much more pleasant.
Don’t be intimidated! Adjusting the block is very simple. It only takes a few shots and turns of the adjusting screw to get to the minimum gas needed to function reliably. It’s that easy! The shooting experience will be much more pleasant and accurate. It’s a win- win addition and probably THE BEST change in the AR system, so far.
The twins, Wicked Wanda on the bottom and Little Wicked Nell above. chambered in 223 A.I. They are incredibly accurate, in part because they have super triggers, superb barrels with adjustable gas blocks, and Nightforce scopes. Both are wearing suppressors with heat shields, brass catchers and Scope Shield Alaska covers. The “girls” have had Cerakoting done to their A2 stocks and Wanda had her barrel coated as well. Each will group five rounds inside a half inch at 100 yards almost all of the time!
These are not really a part of the AR, but let’s talk about suppressors. Back in 2011, there were 285,000 approved by the BATFE, and in 2014 that number grew to over 571,000! There is now a magazine devoted to them! If your state allows the use of suppressors, and at least 39 states do, you should check them out. I highly recommend them. Like the adjustable gas block, they improve accuracy and the enjoyment of shooting the AR.
Suppressors are legal in most states and many, about 34 states, allow hunting with them. Be sure to check state (and Federal laws just to be sure) prior to hunting and if traveling, make sure you are legal going to or through other states. On the range, your fellow shooters will definitely appreciate it!
There’s a big difference between a muzzle brake or no brake and a suppressor both in noise levels and accuracy. The suppressor wins in both categories. It also tames recoil so you won’t miss the brake. I don’t know about you, but I tend to flinch! Two big reasons are recoil and the loud muzzle bang. Suppressors minimize both of these so you will shoot better and enjoy shooting even more. When I introduce people to shooting suppressed, the grins just keep coming! Anyone new to shooting will definitely enjoy it much, much more with a suppressor.
True, if the bullet is leaving the rifle at faster than sonic speeds, it will still cause the sonic crack. No getting around that fact. However, the crack is downrange and that crack shouldn’t be damaging to your ears. I’ve even used a suppressor with great success on a bolt gun in 7 STW with a 150 grain bullet leaving the muzzle at 3200FPS! Much sweeter to shoot than with the brake I did use.
If you hunt with it, the quarry won’t know where the sound is coming from. A groundhog found that out when I missed on the first shot. He ran to his hole because of the dirt kicked up near him; but he didn’t go down. Just sat there wondering what that was all about. My next shot didn’t miss because I kept him in the scope and didn’t have to bolt another round into the chamber like a bolt gun would have required. Hunt varmints with a suppressor and the farmer and his neighbors will like it and likely you’ll have more places to hunt.
The Black Rifle RevisitedScopes
I talked about scopes in my first article on the Black Rifle and believe it needs to be discussed again. Remember, I said in part that to get the best accuracy out of your ARs, you need a good scope well mounted in good rings. You can’t get that if you use a cheap
scope in well mounted good rings, nor can you by using a good scope in well mounted cheap rings, and definitely not by badly mounting either one! Again, neither will work optimally in poorly mounted rings. In other words, don’t skimp on any of these parts! I’m all about accuracy, and all my ARs have quality scopes.
If you can get your eyes on the winter copy of Varmint Hunter magazine, issue #81, there’s a fine article by Norman E. Johnson titled “A Discerning Look Inside The Riflescope: Why Guns Fail To Remain Sighted”. What Mr. Johnson says is most informative about how scopes work and why they fail, among many other valid points about scopes.
Scopes are being improved every year. Reticles are being addressed for the different shooting styles and demands of shooters. Lenses and internal parts are vastly superior today than they were just ten years ago! Scope tubes are stronger and side focus is the norm today. Light transmission is better with larger objective bells and 30 mm tubes. There are even 34 mm tubes offered. In better scopes, the adjustments you make for windage and elevation stay put so your zero stays where you put it. With these improvements it isn’t unusual to have ARs shooting less than a 1/2 MOA! Yes, believe it or not, but they sure do.
That’s some of the updates and changes I know about, but I’m sure I still haven’t seen it all. Scopes and mounts continue to improve and so are the factory ammos, powders, bullets and ballistic computer data for ranging. Barrel makers are certainly heeding the call for better barrels with more contours, lengths and chamberings. It is now easier to make long, accurate shots using the assistance of hand held computer ballistic programs coupled with smarter reticules in scopes.
Yes, the Modern Sporting Rifle is continuing to evolve! Many, many calibers to choose! These are just some of the reasons they are so much fun to shoot! You can have it built in any way you want, for whatever you want to do with it. You can do many differing uppers on just one lower, if you like. That lower can be changed out too; from solid A2 to any kind of collapsible or adjustable stock you want. The AR platform is the most exciting concept in the sporting rifle world since, well, I think the bolt in bolt rifles! If you have resisted it, I urge you to try it. You will be impressed as to what they can do and how much fun you can have!
Me and Roger Hanks.
This was a very long shot in South Dakota. I could not have done it with an “ordinary” AR. This was Wicked Wanda shooting a 55 grain Sierra at a chronographed 3600 fps back in VA. The shot was laser ranged and witnessed by two people, including my good friend Roger Hanks, with me in the picture. Yes, that’s 862 yards to a prairie dog! Took more than one shot, but by George, I did it!
The good folks at Nightforce verified that the bullet, at that elevation and location, should still be sonic to almost 900 yards and doable. The other witness was my friend from HS Precision Rifles, Josh Cluff who also ranged it. Everything was right that day: the rifle, ammo, scope, as well as the light breeze directly behind me going straight away to the target! Having good friends to witness it: priceless!
Many thanks to my wonderful proofreader, my niece Jessica. Without her this would look like the writings of a fifth grader. Well, maybe not quite that horrible….
Thanks also to the many builders of quality parts and complete ARs. You make shooting them a joy!
Many thanks to the folks at Nightforce. They not only make fantastic scopes; but support our troops. They are there when you need them and they have helped me too.
Thanks also to my good friend in Pueblo, CO, Mr. Lee Mosher. Lee made my first AR upper and got me hooked on accuracy with the AR. He built more for me and has many times come to my aid in solving problems and explaining how things work. He is a good friend and advisor.
Thanks to Josh Cluff, Director of Sales and Marketing, HS Precision Rifles, for his gun knowledge and his friendship.
Thanks to Jeff McPeak of T&J Tactical in Radford, Va, for not only building some of the finest suppressors available but also for helping me with other rifle needs and issues.
Thanks also to John Pierce, Esq., Attorney At Law, a Virginia attorney who does NFA Trusts and Gun Rights Restoration cases across the commonwealth of Va.
Thanks also to God, who has given me such a wonderful, blessed life! If you are privileged to be able to shoot and enjoy the out of doors, you too have His Blessings! Remember to focus on the good things in your life, there’s a lot more of it than the bad!
(For those not Trekees, that means “Live Long And Prosper”)
Charles is a Virginia Christian clay and target shooter, hunter and reloader. He has been doing this for over forty years and says he is still learning! Charles has written a couple articles and had an article written about a gun he had commissioned called "The Patriot," which is the only gun ever to commemorate 9/11. Charles loves side by sides and accurate rifles.
The Black Rifle RevisitedIf you have used a suppressor, you know that they can get really, really hot! Not only that, but they will put a ton of mirage onto your scope making accurate shots more difficult. Yes, there’s now an answer even for that. Companies saw the need and answered the call for a heat proof wrap that will also cut way down on the mirage. Several makers are offering them and I have one that is in two parts. The inner core is rated to 3,000 degrees and the outer to 2,000 degrees! You probably will never wear out the inner core and if either wraps need to be replaced for whatever reason, the outer is affordable and both are replaceable. They come in several color patterns to choose too.
I’m sure you know one of the problems with suppressors is the time it takes to get the approvals. That can be dramatically cut by setting up an NFA (National Firearms Act) Trust. That also enables you to have family members included (and even good friends) as trustees. Purchasing more than one suppressor can be done at one time with the shorter wait period. Of course, the fee/tax per unit still has to be paid.
There are many lawyers who are qualified to set up the NFA Trust and their fees are not as high as one would expect. I know of one who only charges $100 and the trust can be completed in less than forty five minutes! He has many satisfied customers (and I am one) that are happy with his services and the trust agreement. There are more advantages, and maybe questions, to having the trust that you should discuss with your attorney and or suppressor sales person. This isn’t hard to do and has many advantages.
Here is a factory DPMS, AR 10. It has been CeraKoted in red, white and a shade of blue. You can see the adj. gas block, too. The forend is a stock, solid but appropriate unit. This may be called “old school”, but it still has its place. It’s very different from Wanda and Nell’s.
A group of 5 forends in a semi circle.
Forends! Forends! This is just a very few of different forends available. There are numerous others.
So on to another of the changes on ARs: the forend. You can just about have any length, weight, shape, or attachment system you desire. A new, lighter, slimmer forend can make an AR more comfortable and easier to carry. Methods of attaching them to the platform are also more varied to suit many tastes. Free floating forends won’t touch the barrel and therefore will add accuracy to the rifle. If you looked at the picture of Nell and Wanda, I bet you didn’t realize those barrels are 26 inches long! The forends are the key to the balance. Key Mod is a new style whereby you can add accessories wherever you like and as many as you want. They have come a long way from the original, solid and heavy one.
These are only three styles of the many stocks you can get. At the top is the standard A-2, followed by the collapsible and lastly, the ARFX Skeleton. You can also see two styles of the many variations of grips. (The top and bottom are the same, but different color.)
The stocks are also going through evolutionary changes. You can get collapsible, solid, and slightly adjustable to fully adjustable stocks. You can have them colored as well! CeraKote is very popular because of the vast pallet of colors to choose from and it is very durable. Yes, you can even have wood stocks!
The trigger in an AR is a key element in getting the most accuracy out of your rifle. Triggers keep getting better and better! You can now get excellent single or two stage triggers and be confident they will perform for a very long time. Geissele has even brought out its “enhanced” version of their already super good trigger. Timney is making an excellent single stage trigger.
There are several new companies making excellent triggers, too. I’ve just put two from Alftmann Tactical in two of my ARs and am very impressed not only with the trigger but with the support from Art Elftmann and his staff. Shooting a single stage trigger is new for me and I am happy! Good triggers are at the core to good shooting experiences. It’s good that they keep improving them. There’s one for every shooting style and they too are getting better all the time.
So, you don’t think ARs are accurate? These are just a few of the better targets shot with several different ARs. These may not win a benchrest match, but it sure does impress me that a semi-automatic can shoot this well!