All posts by Andrew Tuohy

Osprey Defense Scuba Test: Questionable Methods

Okay, if you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that I’m not the biggest fan of piston/op-rod conversions. But hey, if you’ve got a suppressed full auto rifle, you’re getting closer to the zone of performance where the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Some folks may have seen the HK416 OTB test, where it outperforms the Colt M4 – and while that video may also have issues, they aren’t as glaring as this one. The whole point of this test is to show that the barrel can be full of water – as the shooter comes out of the water – and fired with water in the barrel without blowing up. A standard AR-15 can be sealed at the muzzle or allowed to drain for a few seconds, and it will pass this test just fine. Again, if the barrel isn’t full of water, the test is meaningless.

In this Osprey video, some disheveled guy in a black T shirt says some stuff, then a heroic scuba diver emerges from a mud puddle and engages an imaginary target. I know he was only under for a few seconds, but if you’re trying to demonstrate to divers how well your product works underwater, you might want your demonstration diver to properly put on his equipment, to include attaching his low pressure inflator hose (the hose coming over his left shoulder). Otherwise, it just looks very unprofessional to even the most inexperienced divers, such as myself.

First, we’re allowed to see the guy go underwater. Now, in the HK test, the protocol calls for the rifle to be submerged until there aren’t any more bubbles. Here’s the front end of the silencer as it goes underwater. Click on the photos for a larger image.

It’s hard for me to say definitively that there aren’t any bubbles. It’s possible that tiny bubbles are coming out. I’m not seeing any, though. And frankly, with the weapon being submerged at that angle, it’s unlikely that a lot of water would get in there (and it’s likely that, considering the amount of time at which he he holds the weapon at an up angle as he comes out of the water, any remaining water would drain from the barrel). Here is a screenshot just as that silencer goes underwater.

The lack of bubbles alone isn’t definitive enough, but what happens after he starts shooting throws up a huge red flag for me.

See that silver thing hanging off the end of the suppressor? If you watch the video, you can see it flapping as the rifle is fired. That looks suspiciously like some sort of object used to plug the muzzle to me. If there’s some sort of innocent explanation, I’m all ears. At this point, though, the lack of bubbles in conjunction with the apparently plugged barrel makes me very suspicious of their claims.

Edit: An poster whom I know to be honest reports that he is a friend of the diver in the video, and the end of the suppressor was covered in duct tape. Thus, I feel very confident saying that this test was a sham, and the company should be ashamed for trying to pull the wool over the eyes of potential buyers, who will hopefully find another solution.

Spike TV’s Not So Deadliest Warrior

I’ve only got a little time here, but I wanted to debunk a portion of this show. I’ve never watched an episode on TV, but was shown a link to this episode as “proof” that the AK-47 is more reliable than the AR-15. The important stuff starts at around 27:45 or so.

Well, there are a few glaring problems that a lot of people have probably already figured out.

Here, we see both rifles with mud on their sides. Note the mud on the top cover of the AK and near the rear sight. Click on the images for a bigger picture.

And here is the AK as we hear shots being fired. The safety is clearly in the “up” position – the weapon cannot be fired that way. If the safety was off, there’d be a void where the mud hadn’t stuck to the rifle, as we can see from the video, the safety was on when it was slapped with mud. No spent cases are ejected. The bolt does not move. He is not wearing ear protection.

Here is the weapon actually being fired – note the complete lack of mud on the top cover and rear sight. The weapon is never shown from the right side with cases being ejected.

As the “muj” comes off the firing line, we see that his shirt and face are perfectly clean – as anyone who’s fired a muddy weapon with an open reciprocating bolt like an AK-47 or a Garand knows, that mud will come right back at you.

And finally, here we see him wearing orange earplugs, supposedly just as he’s finished firing.

Here is the AR as we hear shots ring out. No cases are ejected, the ejection port cover does not swing open, and we don’t see any steam from the muzzle, as one would expect if the barrel was wet.

More shots being fired. Ejection port cover still closed. In case you don’t know, that means the weapon still hasn’t been fired.

And finally, we see the AR-15 after it “jams” – except that the ejection port cover is STILL closed, and the only way to verify a malfunction is to look through that open ejection port cover.

In conclusion, this test was a complete farce, as is, I assume, the rest of the show. I assume that the impacts we see are just squibs being controlled by the guy on the computer.

Reduced Pay for Executives

Today I saw a bumper sticker that read, “If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention.”

I don’t know if that person was a liberal who applied the sticker during the Bush administration, or a conservative who applied it after the election of President Obama. Either way, it’s very applicable to our present times.

Today the White House announced that it would move to slash the pay of executives at companies which accepted bailout money.

“Fine, sure,” you say. “Those AIG folks shouldn’t have gotten those big bonuses.” Well, that’s another matter…

But are you aware that the federal government coerced some corporations to take bailout money?

In effect, the government has suddenly, and with practically no opposition, taken over a large portion of corporate America. Soon, I fear that it will be hard to distinguish the two.

To borrow a phrase from a certain scumbag, “Dude, where’s my country?”

Time Magazine, 1941: Report on the Garand

We’ve all heard that the M1 Garand is the “greatest battle implement ever devised”, and many folks speak of it as if the weapon never malfunctioned. It’s pointed to as an example of how a semiautomatic rifle with a piston and an op-rod is immune to external influences such as mud or dirt.

Unfortunately, this article from 1941 tells us that that simply wasn’t the case. One sentence accurately describes the testing: “Sum & substance of the findings was that the Garand was a fair-weather rifle.”

Roy Dunlap’s book Ordnance Went Up Front tells us:

“The M1’s were going to ruin for lack of cleaning in the holes up front-the poor guys did not have anything to take care of them with, and often were not in a position to shoot them often enough to keep the barrels clear of corrosion (grass won’t grow on a busy street-regardless of the corroding primer compound, if a .30-06 barrel gets a bullet through it every six or eight hours it will stay in pretty good shape). As a result of the fouling of gas cylinders and pistons, a large percentage of our semi-automatics were becoming singleshots.”

The Garand was certainly an excellent rifle, but its legendary status in some circles proves to be a little too excessive.

How to Maintain Firearms Proficiency on a Budget

This article is intended for shooters who, like me, can’t afford to shoot as much ammunition as they would like, or as much as they need in order to stay proficient. The answer isn’t exactly a secret, but I thought I’d talk about it anyway.

.22 Long Rifle ammunition has been in short supply over the past year or so, though it’s starting to become available again. I buy the Federal 525rd bulk packs at Wal-Mart for around $13.50, and also the slightly more expensive ~300rd packs of Federal AutoMatch, which functions very well in my ammo-picky Kimber .22 conversion for my 1911.

AR-15 conversion kits are currently available for around $150 including a 26rd magazine, while pistol conversions vary based on manufacturer and the model of pistol. Generally, they’re between $250 and $350, though you might find bargains on used kits. Rifle mags by Black Dog Machine are excellent and cost between $25 and $35. Pistol magazines – again, this varies by manufacturer, but I bought some for my 1911 from Brownells for $20 recently with my FFL discount. If you want to build a dedicated .22LR upper, Spikes Tactical offers excellent examples.

Many people believe that 1/7 twist barrels will cause 36-38gr 22LR ammo to be wildly inaccurate. I have found that 1/7 does reduce accuracy, but the weapon is still very functional for carbine training. Click this link for a video example.

I most often shoot at a small spinning target set made by Birchwood Casey that has an auto-reset function. The steel plates are 2.5″ in diameter, which provide more of a challenge to hit at 25 yards than larger targets. At that distance, these targets approximate shooting a 10″ plate at 100 yards, which is good training for either carbine or handgun. Generally, if you can shoot a smaller target with good accuracy, you will be able to hit a larger target with good speed and accuracy. I spend a lot of time shooting bullseye with small targets and my 1911 conversion, and this pays off when I shoot under more stress.

For those wanting the effect of greater recoil during training, or an inexpensive training rifle that could double as a duty rifle, Smith & Wesson 5.45 uppers and rifles are a great option, and ammunition is around $150 for a 1080 round tin at the moment. I’ve used my 5.45 upper in several carbine courses and even at 600 yard shoots, where the high ballistic coefficient of the .221 diameter bullet means that even corrosive surplus ammunition is surprisingly accurate.

I highly recommend attending pistol and/or carbine courses with centerfire weapons to build basic skills and learn drills, then maintain those skills and practice those drills on your own time with either .22LR or 5.45 weapons. This has greatly boosted my marksmanship abilities, because I can shoot longer and more often, and the cash outlay for an AR-15 conversion, a few thousand rounds of .22LR, and a steel spinner target will still be less than the cost of 1000 rounds of the cheapest 5.56 ammo.

The Failed Promise of the “Piston” AR-15 Conversion

A few years ago, piston/op-rod conversions for AR-15s were all the rage.

We were bombarded with propaganda about how unreliable the standard AR-15 was. We were led to believe that our rifles, which had worked just fine for years, were suddenly obsolete with the introduction of a spigot, op rod, and other parts to replace the gas tube, that we’d have the “reliability of an AK-47” as a result. Many conversions became available in a matter of months.

And for a while, everything seemed fine. Until, that is, people started putting rounds downrange with them.

Most of the conversions were poorly designed, and quite a few people had broken parts as a result. You see, much more force was being put on certain parts – such as the gas block and the bolt carrier – due to additional reciprocating mass. This also has the effect of increasing felt recoil and in some cases led to barrel whip, decreasing accuracy.

Most people are unaware that every AR-15 is piston-operated. The tail of the AR-15 bolt acts as a piston. What the AR-15 truly lacks is an operating rod. You’ll see me refer to “op-rod AR-15s” in this article – I am referring to what others may call piston ARs.

In order to understand why such a conversion isn’t the best option for a standard AR-15, you need to know how an AR-15 works. I’ll try to distill it to one paragraph.

Gases from the fired case (which expands, by the way) travel back through the gas tube, for a specific amount of time based on the distance between the gas port and the muzzle – we refer to this as dwell time. Does this gas simply “push” the bolt back? Not exactly. Gas travels inside the gas key of the bolt carrier and expands rearward, forcing the carrier back, while it also pushes the bolt forward. As the carrier pulls back, the cam pin moves in its slot in the carrier, causing the bolt to rotate and unlock. At the same time, the gas that’s still in the barrel is keeping the case expanded to fill the chamber. Once that gas is vented out the front of the barrel, the case shrinks, allowing the entire assembly to pull back while the extractor continues to grip the rim of the case.

Now, the piston conversion. Some of these items vary based on the exact conversion, but this is a general overview.

As soon as the bullet passes the gas port, gas enters the gas block and pushes against whatever components the individual manufacturer has decided to place in the way. The effect is that the operating rod pushes against the top of the bolt carrier – and instead of having the gas enter the carrier and exert pressure parallel to the bore fore and aft, the rod hits the carrier key – or modified one piece carrier – which has the effect of causing the bolt carrier to move at a tail-down angle. There isn’t any gas pushing the bolt forward while the carrier unlocks, so the carrier just pulls the bolt back and forces it to unlock from the locking lugs of the barrel. The piston/op-rod assembly, which is under spring pressure, starts to move forward to its “at rest” position, however, in some cases it will slam forward with enough force to shear any pins holding the spigot in place – that’s why you won’t see many standard FSBs on piston conversions any more.

I mentioned the carrier moving back at an angle – why is this bad? Well, it rubs against the buffer tube at the 6 o’clock position. No big deal, right? Well, my Ares conversion had enough carrier tilt, as it is called, to knock the unstaked castle nut loose, which allowed the buffer tube to rotate out of position when I twisted the rifle while the stock was still in my shoulder, which caused the buffer retaining detent and spring to fly out from their normal position – which stopped the weapon from functioning. This was obviously an extreme case, and a very compelling reason for a staked castle nut, but it was disconcerting, to say the least.

So, do op-rod AR-15s have a place at the table? Yes, they do. You’re probably confused, because it seems like I’ve been bashing them for a long time now. Well, these rifles do work very well in short-barrel configuration, when dwell time isn’t long enough for the AR-15 to work properly. I’ve owned 7.5″ and 10.5″ AR uppers that functioned perfectly, but if I were to do it over again, I’d buy an LWRC if I was going to 10.5″ and under. I believe that 11.5″ SBRs, with properly sized gas ports and proper weight buffers, will offer the same reliability when compared in numbers and over the long term. I do not feel that this is the case with 10.5″ and under barrels. Many folks who shoot SBRs also use suppressors, and those folks tend to migrate towards LWRC and similar brands. It’s not always the case, but a reduction in blowback is a pleasant change for high volume suppressor shooters.

That’s not to say that a suppressed SBR sans op-rod won’t function. Many shooters have reported 0 malfunctions in high round count carbine courses with such setups, and often suppressed LWRC SBRs get just as filthy as their standard counterparts.

Still don’t believe what I’m saying? Well, I’ll defer to those with far more experience than I. I’m unaware of any experienced instructor who oversees carbine courses on a regular basis who is an advocate of piston/op-rod conversions on barrels longer than 14.5″, and most will say 11″ and under. Even those like Larry Vickers, who was heavily involved in the development of the excellent HK416, feels that they are unnecessary for unsuppressed standard carbine applications, and continues to teach classes using, in most cases, a Colt or Daniel Defense rifle without an op-rod.

This article went way longer than I had planned. However, if you walk away with a better understanding of how an AR-15 operates, and a greater appreciation for its exceptional reliability potential, as well as the usefulness of op-rod ARs in niche applications, I’ve met my goals. Thank you for your time.

Personal Defense – More Than Just a Firearm

I’m a big proponent of concealed carry. I carry everywhere that I legally can.

However, I’m not of the opinion that simply carrying a gun means that I’m “covered”, that I’m “safe”. Yes, Rule 1 of a gunfight is “Bring a gun”. However, my personal defense philosophy is based on the concept of avoiding, or reducing, confrontation. If you haven’t heard the phrase “the mind is the final weapon”, you need to start wrapping your head around it. Your mindset will mean the difference between success and failure in a crisis, and in some cases, it will mean the ability to avoid a crisis.

If you have a job that takes you in harm’s way, you won’t have the options that “regular” people have – for example, if you’re a police officer, you won’t be able to avoid confronting a dangerous person.

However, for the rest of us, the concealed carry Jack and Jills, we need to realize that carrying a gun doesn’t turn us into invincible superheroes. Carrying a handgun does not make us police officers, bodyguards, or the solution to an active shooter at a mall. As tragic as such a situation can be, your first responsibility is to defend yourself and your family or anyone who might be traveling with you. Running to the sound of gunfire sounds romantic, but it rarely ever turns out that way.

If you knowingly put yourself in a dangerous situation – this could be anything from visiting a bad part of town to choosing to escalate a confrontation when you have the option to de-escalate – you’re not doing yourself any favors. Obvious situations like not walking down a dark alley can be avoided by most, but do you pay attention to the mannerisms of people you see or encounter in your daily life? Do you evaluate someone as a possible threat, or does the thought never cross your mind?

I highly recommend the book The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker, who runs a very successful executive security company. While I disagree with his stance on firearms – and find it ironic that he abhors personal firearm ownership while paying his employees a bonus if they have concealed carry permits – he is one of the world’s foremost experts on personal security. Whether you’re a single female living and working in a big city, or a Soldier about to deploy to Afghanistan, you’ll learn a lot from this book.

The tools of personal defense and safety are vital – the flashlight to identify friend from foe, the knife to cut a seatbelt that may trap you in a burning vehicle, the handgun to neutralize a violent attacker, and other items which you may be limited to due to legal constraints, such as pepper spray or a Taser. Being cognizant of threats, however, and of your own limitations, is even more vital.

AR-15 – Build or Buy?

This is an often-asked question on various forums. Should you piece together an AR-15 from individual components, or should you buy one off the shelf?

The answer really depends on budget and needs. If you’re on an extreme budget, you should be able to piece together a rifle for less than the cost of buying it whole – if only because complete firearm sales in the United States are subject to an 11% federal excise tax. If you need a specific weapon for a specific task, you may have trouble finding what you need at your local gun store.

Many people succumb to the siren song of the kit rifle – what seems to be an impossibly good deal on everything but the lower receiver. Unfortunately, these kits are often composed of the lowest quality parts available. While an AR-15 for $550 sounds like a great deal, keep in mind that you still need to buy ammunition, magazines, etc – if you can’t budget for those extra costs, you may want to look into another firearm.

Thankfully, the incredible surge in demand after the election of President Obama resulted in many manufacturers increasing production, which has driven down costs and made available many high quality parts and rifles. The simplest way to “build” an AR-15 is to buy a complete upper receiver group and complete lower receiver separately, and attach them via the two push-pins. High quality upper receiver groups from Spike’s Tactical and Bravo Company are available in the $600-700 range, and lower receiver assemblies in the neighborhood of $250 – saving several hundred dollars over the cost of buying a complete Colt 6920 or Daniel Defense XV, both of which are excellent rifles.

Building your own rifle from the component parts is a fun, rewarding process, but sometimes frustrating if you don’t know what you’re doing – there are many resources on the web which will assist you with this. However, the cost of the tools required will often mean that you’ll go over the cost of a comparable complete rifle.

The bottom line is, if you plan on having just one, buy it complete or buy the upper and lower separately. If you want to seriously dive into the hobby and find out exactly how everything goes together, build it from parts – but do it right if you do (and try to keep your bench cleaner than mine!). I’d also like to add that having just one AR-15 is often a difficult proposition.

Bravo Company USA “BCMGUNFIGHTER” Charging Handle

Bravo Company USA is a well-respected manufacturer of AR-15 components and rifles, as well as a major stocking dealer for companies like Vltor and LaRue Tactical. Their upper receiver groups have achieved high regard in professional circles because of consistently high quality and attention to detail. For several years, Bravo uppers were not available, due to the low supply of a certain small part. Paul Buffoni, who runs the company, wasn’t willing to sacrifice quality for profit, so he stopped selling his uppers.

That should tell you something about the level of quality the company wants to achieve. Their latest product, developed in conjunction with the engineering geniuses at Vltor Weapons Systems, is incredibly simple, yet so innovative that it practically renders its predecessor obsolete.

The product I’m referring to is their “GFH”, or Gunfighter charging handle. Originally, the AR-15 charging handle was meant to be manipulated with the index and middle fingers of the right hand, one finger on either side of the receiver, thus distributing force more equally as the latch is disengaged by the index finger. There were other methods, but all were variations on a theme, and required the firing hand to come off the pistol grip.

As the years passed, though, new methods were developed, and many shooters choose to use the “knife edge” of their left hand to move the charging handle, while others use their fingers and thumb, but only on the left side of the handle. With either method, the standard charging handle latch has a lot of stress placed on it, and all of that stress was directed at a tiny roll pin that served as the rotational point of the latch as well as its only attachment point. If that roll pin broke, the latch and spring would fly out, and the charging handle could no longer be secured to the upper receiver.

Furthermore, some companies developed extended latches, that allowed for easier one-hand operation of the charging handle. These latches only served to increase the force put on that roll pin, and even if the pin survived, the weak material of the latch would not. Here’s a charging handle that I bent before I ever loaded a round into the chamber of the rifle.

I read about the new Bravo Company charging handle with interest, because it seemed to be specifically designed to eliminate problems with the standard handle, while also addressing the small size of the standard latch. When they sent me one to review, I was thoroughly impressed with the design and execution. As you can see from the following picture (stolen from BCM), the above problem simply couldn’t happen with the BCM part.

Furthermore, the extended latch is just long enough to allow me to manipulate the charging handle as the military trained me – with the knife edge of my left hand – without any difficulties. There are currently two latch sizes, Medium and Large. I’d recommend the Medium unless you have large optics mounted at the rear of the upper receiver.

As I said before, this charging handle essentially renders obsolete all of its predecessors. I hope this BCMGUNFIGHTER line of products expands to include other, equally well designed products.

Spike’s Tactical 16″ CHF Upper

Recently I was sent an upper receiver by Spike’s Tactical for test and evaluation. In the interests of fairness, this upper was provided to me for free. I still approached it from a critical angle and tried to find problems with the upper – of which there were none to find, making my job a little harder.

If you’re familiar with Rob Sloyer’s infamous “Chart” detailing what makes a good fighting carbine, well, this upper checks every box but one. The bolt is not HPT’d, also known as “proof tested.” Proof testing is where a special high pressure round is fired, making flaws or cracks more obvious during subsequent magnetic particle testing.

Beyond that, every specification equals or surpasses “mil-spec.” We see that word thrown around a lot, and it’s both good and bad. When it comes to the M4, generally, a mil-spec item is a good one. There are improvements that can be made – say, a 5 or 6 position stock instead of a 4 position, as long as the replacement is of equal quality – but if you were to be in the middle of a firefight with a mil-spec Colt M4, you would be well equipped.

So, what do I mean by “surpassing mil-spec” with regard to this upper? Well, the barrel is hammer forged. What is hammer forging? Essentially, a larger-than-normal barrel blank is placed over a mirror image of the rifling; the barrel is then hammered into shape. I’ll leave the technical info to the metallurgists, but real world reports from high-volume shooters indicate longer barrel life.

Upper Receiver Teardown

I’m of the opinion that the barrel and the bolt are the heart of any AR-15, and a quality example of each will lead to excellent reliability. This upper has essentially the best barrel you can purchase for the AR-15 – hammer forged by Daniel Defense in Georgia.

The bolt is also top-notch and includes a strong extractor spring with an o-ring.

The bolt carrier is properly staked, and marked by Spike’s Tactical with their logo.

The upper receiver had M4 feed ramps machined prior to anodizing, and the barrel extension matches them perfectly. You can see the excellent job that was done by whoever did the chrome lining in this picture. Sometimes, barrels have uneven chrome lining “shadows” at either end – that won’t really affect anything, since the bore and chamber are the important parts, but attention to detail always impresses me.

Why have M4 feed ramps? Well, the military found them to be necessary with this gas system length and in sub zero temperatures. I’ve also found them to be helpful in the case of magazines that may not hold the top round at the proper angle, resulting in failures to feed in non-ramped uppers.

In this photo, you can see parkerizing under the front sight base, which also happens to be the proper height for the upper receiver and gas system length, and is marked as such. Why is parkerizing under the FSB important? Well, I’ve had non-parkerized barrels rust even in this dry Arizona climate, making FSB removal very difficult. It won’t affect function, but it’s something that I like to see on my rifles, because I change things around from time to time.

Here’s the gas port. Why do I mention the gas port? Well, this is where gases from the fired case come out of the barrel and into the gas tube. Some civilian manufacturers make their gas ports too large, in order to maintain functionality with weak, underpowered ammo.

Unfortunately, because the gas port erodes over time, this means that the overall life of the barrel is shortened, and too much gas goes back into the action from the very first round on. It’s like buying new tires that have half the original tread depth. This gas port is a good size, .068, and the rifle functions with all ammo. Sometimes you’ll see gas ports above .1″, and in extreme cases, over .2″. Steer clear of these barrels.

Also included with the upper is the Spike’s Tactical ST-T2 buffer, which is an excellent upgrade for any rifle, as I’ve found. It’s heavier than standard and H buffers, and does reduce felt recoil. The added weight also helps maintain proper functioning.

ST-T2 Buffer
ST-T2 Buffer

Function Testing

Since receiving the upper, I’ve fired a wide variety of ammunition through it in an attempt to make it malfunction. I’ve fired everything from military M855 to handloads specifically loaded to be almost impossible to extract by hand. The extra power extractor spring and o-ring, however, prevent the extractor from slipping off the rim of the case, and I’ve yet to have a single malfunction with the upper. I even hand the rifle off to random folks at the range, who’ve shot mags full of their own Wolf and other steel case ammo, Ultramax factory reloads, etc. Its reliability is very impressive.

Accuracy Testing

Firing handloaded 73gr Berger HPBT bullets in Lake City cases, using Varget powder, I fired this ten shot group, which measured 1.45″. That’s more than adequate from a non-free floated carbine barrel. Often we see three or five shot groups bandied about, especially in magazines – the only problem is, if you laid three of those three shot groups on top of one another, they’d probably triple in size. I like firing ten shot groups, because after ten shots, your group size won’t increase much more, if at all. Therefore, ten shot groups are a good indicator of the maximum spread you could expect from a barrel.

Eagle eyed readers with five fingers on each hand will spot only 9 holes – 10 were fired and 10 impacted the paper. None are hiding under the calipers.

Final Thoughts

In summary, I can’t think of any changes I would make to this upper. I prefer midlength gas systems, but a carbine length gives you more options if you want to shorten the barrel in the future. The build quality, accuracy, and reliability of this upper are second to none.