The PSA 18" Wylde upper was.... disappointing.... in the accuracy department. Shoot five rounds at 100 yards, find three holes within an inch, and the other two wandering around within four inches or so. 62 grain Federal green tip made four inch patterns, as it does from every AR I own. PMC and Federal 55 grain FMJ, as described. A few exactly on point of aim, the rest go walking away from the party. This afternoon after work, I began the process. I pulled the free float tube and checked the barrel nut for being loose. It's massive, and SO tight I'll need a bench block and a big wrench to loosen it. That will be happening, but not tonight. Moving on, I pulled the flash suppressor to look at the barrel crown. Loosening the cage took hammer blows on the wrench till I got 1/2 of a turn. After that, finger tight. Yes, I am not comfortable with what that tension may be doing to the last 3/4" inch of the stainless barrel. Looking at the crown, I found this:
What am I seeing here? It LOOKS like the muzzle was crowned at 45 degrees, and then the barrel rifled. Or..... am I seeing bullet jacket fouling from the 50 or so rounds I fired yesterday? I'll be scrubbing the barrel, and re-crowning this muzzle before I shoot it again. It won't have a flash suppressor or break on it when I shoot it next. Thoughts?
What we have here is big 'ol pile of AR-15 parts, gathered over a few years. What we also have is a graphic example of one reason why the AR-15 has become the most popular American rifle ever. Used for home defense, target shooting, hunting, plinking, and tyranny ending, Eugene Stoner's 60 year old design still has a lot to offer. Accumulated over the last few years, this pile *was* two working rifles, and a bunch of parts. Not even two months ago, it would have been one working rifle, and assorted parts. Now it seems to be snowballing.
The thing that makes this fun is the design. A person with minimal technical skill can work on these rifles with a few inexpensive tools and a little help from easy to find expert sources. From an AR barky pistol up to a full sized long range precision rifle, they can all be 'assembled' by an average person working on a kitchen table over the morning coffee. Yes, there are certainly levels of quality one can expect from an experienced gunsmith that make their services worthwhile, but with an AR-15 even the common Joe or Joe'ette can do a serviceable job.
To be honest, when it comes to entry level AR-15's, one doesn't really save much moola by building it yo'self. Even with cheaper parts, $500 seems about the bottom price point to build one. Right now, a decent quality completely built entry level rifle runs less than $600 out the door when bought right.
The fun comes in making the rifle YOURS, and that's why I call them Lego rifles. You can swap out furniture with only a couple cheap hand tools. You can change an entire trigger assembly with nothing but a pin punch, an allen wrench, and an on-line video in only 15 minutes. You can go so far as to turn a box full of unattached pieces into a complete, safe, and ready to fire rifle in an hour using less than $100 in tools. Swap out a bolt or barrel, change calibers, make it a shorty carbine or a longish bench rifle... none of it is difficult or daunting for someone with even a little technical skill. On THIS team are parts and assemblies from:
Palmetto State Armory
Chuck Bogardus (custom muzzle devices)
(If ya'll want these linked, let me know)
Of the original two, one was my personal AR-15 with a Spikes heavy barrel 16" upper, a Rock River lower, Timney trigger, and Nikon 3x scope. The other, a Rock River lower with CMMG guts and a Ptac upper from PSA. It was an experiment in a cheap slickside upper that Herself liked so much, she declared it hers. The Eotech is on that upper.
The newest upper is a PSA 18" stainless barrel with a .223 Wylde chamber, NiB bolt, tactical charging handle, and 3.5x14 Nikon telescope on a Nikon P223 base. I expect this to be accurate.... or I'll damn well know why (shooting it tomorrow).
The newest lower was built from the Anderson receiver and a PSA kit in about 10 minutes while I sipped my morning coffee. It seemed a useful way to spend a lazy Saturday morning before everyone else got out of bed. Looking at all these bits and pieces, it seems obvious the Lego rifle assemblies needed to hit the blender. Out came a RR lower with Mako stock and Timney trigger, supporting the PSA 18" Wylde upper and big 'ol Nikon scope. I'll be mounting a Harris bipod on this rifle, and working up an accuracy load. Nothing over one MOA will be accepted.... and I expect better.
The Spikes 16" upper, decked out with the 3x fixed Nikon on Warne QD rings, and rail mounted flame thrower flashlight got fitted to the other RR lower with CMMG insides and basic M4 stock. It also has Magpul BUIS that are sighted at 100 yards. My 'house' gun, and just plain fun shooting rifle. It will do 1.5 at 100 yards all day, and has never once missed a beat in thousands of rounds. The Ptac upper (With the dangerous Bogardus 'Compliance' muzzle device and Eotech holo sight) was setup on the Anderson lower with PSA innards and M4 stock. This is still Herself's rifle, and lives where she can grab it if needed. There are still a few stray parts in the pile, and another stripped receiver to be built up one day. I've had thoughts of building one for each son, and maybe another as a spare..... but at this point which one would I give up? These are MINE!
Yes.... exactly that. This morning, over my *second* cup of coffee (because I am not a complete idiot), I assembled an AR-15 lower unit. The receiver, an Anderson bought from AIM, and the lower kit being a PSA house-made budget ensemble. Using a video instruction put out by Larry Potter of MidwayUSA, as I always do:
My tools? Minimal. I'm comfortable doing the work over a towel spread on the living room floor, while sipping coffee and half listening to the parrot singing at me from her perch.
A decent screw driver set, since I'm not above using such as a pin punch in a panicked pinch. An AR multi tool, to install the stock nut. A small hammer, to tap in pins. Forceps, to hold said pins till started. A tiny tap, with matching threaded plugs to install behind the take-down pin detent spring. Finally, a needle applicator of CLP to apply a drop here and there as I go. Masking tape is optional, but a good idea. The video explains why. Following the handy video, pausing at each step and replaying as needed to be 100% sure I've got it correct, it took me approximately .5 cups of coffee to get the job done.
The towel on the floor is *supposed* to keep parts in order, and prevent the tiny detents and springs from going too far. In actuality it becomes the ONE PLACE we can be ASSURED that we won't have to look when a Tiny little %$@!&# detent goes flying. The parrot laughed. Ha ha.... very funny.
In other news, MidwayUSA sells a very nice essential small parts kit for AR builders, which has several spare detents and springs in it. After what seemed like only a few minutes, a box of parts became a fully assembled and functioning AR-15 lower receiver group. Next step...... Lego rifles!
Jim Curtis (OldNFO), Author and all round good guy, is expanding his repertoire into Mil-Sci-Fi, and I say it's bloody well about time! His first toe-dip into the genre is Rimworld, Stranded. It's available on Amazon right now as a short story, which we Kindle Unlimited readers get for 'free' as part of our deal. Jim's 'Grey Man' series reveals his vast and deep knowledge of firearms and shooting. Now this move to Mil-Sci-Fi will let him combine that with his military experience, and I expect GREAT THINGS from this. Ya here that Jim? GREAT THINGS. No pressure, my friend.
The grass is tall enough that I'm researching the purchase of sheep instead of a new mower. The back yard has already been turned over to pasture for the neighbors rescue horses. I really wished to go stretch out Liberty, the Garand, in a match today.... But hell, shooting a high power match in a thunderstorm? Grumble grumble......
Yesterday I posted a rant-ish piece regarding PSA, shipping policies, and my disappointment. Shortly after posting it, I had second thoughts and pulled it down. My conscious was whispering at me "Hey fathead.... it's only been a few days..... what kind of twit are you that expects instant gratification??" In this case, the voice in my head was right. The problem was *not* with Palmetto State Armory, if there could even be said to have been a real problem. It looks like UPS registered the address label as being made, and then never updated tracking again till the Upper was practically at my door. It went from "Label made, but we ain't got nuttin yet" straight to "The truck is pulling up to your house now". So there it is... the major component to my next AR assemblage. It lacks a bolt group, and I expect to be ordering a Nickle Boron unit from AIM for this. Then, optics. I'm not putting on opens, but just staying with a Nikon scope. I have several already, and can't pick a single nit regarding their product. Rings will be the Warne ultra high QD steel, as I have those on another AR and they are bulletproof. The lower it will go on is my Rock River unit which I've already installed a 3.5lb Timney trigger in. On the muzzle, a Beehive brake from Chuck Bogardus at Ozark precision.
This upper has an 18" stainless A2 profile barrel with a .223 Wylde chamber. It's light, but has a free floating tube and is noted for decent accuracy. If I do this right, and haven't goofed up anyplace, it should be fairly straight shooting. I hope.
Now, on the topic of muzzle devices..... I seem to be starting a collection. I hadn't planned that, but sort of like kittens.... they just happened.
This has given me a bright idea (Insert light bulb flashing here). Once I get this Frankenrifle shooting decently, why don't I run an experiment in regards to muzzle devices and accuracy? The question in my mind... how much does accuracy change between a bare muzzle, an A2 style flash hider, and an actual muzzle brake? I have a few other muzzle gadgets to toss into the mix... and now that I'm thinking about it I'm really very curious.
Reloaders label stuff. Or... they should. In fact, they should label just about everything they have, once it's not in it's factory container. It's more than just important.... it's a life saver. Long ago, I used to make paper labels on the computer and glue them on boxes. It was so much neater than the 'Masking tape and a marker' method, and made it easier to be accurate. That said, it was cumbersome and time consuming, and led to many things not getting labeled as they should.
Eventually, I was given a real honest to GodBrother Label Machine .... which turned out to be something any OCD individuals such as myself should definitely have. My first official act was to label the givers dog..... with 'DOG', naturally.
No... I'm serious. I labeled the dog. Someone had to do it. Otherwise, it might have been mistaken for a large rat. It was a pretty small dog.
In regards to reloading, a gadget such as this has become necessary. Not only to label boxes or packages of ammo, but also tools and supplies. Handloaders tend to become gadgeteers, and often create their own tools. I'm no stranger to that, and have bullet seating dies that I've modified for my own cast lead bullets. They are useless now for normal jacketed bullets. So.... one will reside in a case that's been labeled such as '8x57mm cast seating die'. Likewise Speer bullet boxes now retasked to holding shell holders and cleaning brushes. As I put together my own loads, each is boxed or bagged and then labeled, as the label maker resides on a shelf directly over my bench. Costing only a few pennies per label, one of these stuck on a ziplock food bag becomes a great way to keep a short run under control. No more do I stumble across a stray dozen rounds of 30-06, with no idea what I put in them.
With my cased loads, the label goes on the inside of the box. Included are caliber, bullet, powder and charge, and primer. On loads destined to fill an ammo can, the can itself gets a label making clear what's inside. Bullet boxes.... whenever the contents differ from standard, it gets a label. The same with powder. For less than $20, having the ability to clearly and easily label ammo, supplies, and tools... that's priceless!
PSA has been sending me 'Memorial Weekend Sale' e-mails two or three times a day since last week. Finally... FINALLY..... I succumbed. The above, with a decent optic on Warne rings, and swapped onto my RRA lower as wished. That lower has a decent 3.5 lb Timney trigger now, instead of it's original 8 lb two stage fire control unit. Add in a muzzle device designed by Chuck Bogardus, and it will have the makings of darn nice accuracy rig.
Speaking of the Timney Drop-In Trigger..... The Fat Man likes it. Now, I have a few Timney Triggers on other rifles, but this is my first non-stock AR trigger.
I ordered this from MidwayUSA while it was on sale, with Free Shipping yet. Lets talk about the 'Free Shipping'. MidwayUSA uses UPS 'Mail Innovations'. This bastardized mix of shipping methods has the package handed over to the Post Office at some point in route. In my case, The nice folks at the Post Office gave my new trigger a grand tour of several counties in my area, only 'Finding' it when I called in frustration a week after ordering it. My advice? If it's coming via UPS 'Mail Innovations', DON'T look at tracking for a week or so. It will only serve to raise your blood pressure. Anyway, the trigger.... It took less time to install than I spent on the phone with the Post Office. Drop off the grip, without losing the spring and detent that live underneath it. Cock the lower, and remove the safety. Drift the pins on the trigger and hammer out.... and the old parts are out. This happened WAY faster than it took me to put it together a few years ago.
To install the Timney... Drop it into place (get it?), and re-install the old pins. Once the trigger pins are in place, the Timney has set screws to keep one of them firmly in place, and eliminate any play in the unit. These are located under the hammer spring, and a tool is included to tighten them. In a nice touch, threaded plugs are also included to lock the screws into place. There are videos on YouTube available to show how all this is done, which is comforting. Though.... it really does take minutes and is over before you know it. The factory RRA trigger measured 8 lbs on an RCBS trigger scale. The Timney, a consistent 3.5 lbs in single stage.
In this piece from a short time back, I openly wondered what sets one on-line ammo supplier apart from another. Yes, there is price, and that is a primary concern. That said, there are a number of suppliers whose prices fall within the average, or not far off. Once we get into that pack, what sets a dealer apart? I addressed this question to Anne at Widener's Reloading and Shooting Supply. Her reply is interesting, and wraps it up pretty well. Why.... it's almost as if they have given this some thought!
offers several different aspects that we think differentiate us from
the competition while still offering very competitive prices. We have
friendly customer service, ship the same day you order and most of our employees are, themselves, shooters
and reloader. You'll find we have a great staff that care about all our
customer’s needs along with a website that's thorough and secure for
any personal information that is exchanged.
got its start in the late 70’s and has been supplying ammo and
reloading supplies to shooters for decades. To have the opportunity to
serve shooters that long in the competitive world of ammunition and
shooting supplies, you need to do what you’ll say you’ll do and treat
people right. There may be no better barometer than a decades-long track
record to indicate the type of experience you’ll have with a retailer.
Widener’s has been shipping packages for decades and we know how to get
your ammo or reloading gear to your door in great condition.
No Backorders - Fast Shipping:
don’t list products on our website that we don’t have in our physical
inventory. That means no backorders and no questions about when your
order will ship. In fact, the vast majority of our orders are in FedEx
or UPS’ hands within 24-hours of the time you place your order. The past
few years especially we’ve seen shooters place a premium on shipping
speed and we’ve made our warehouse more efficient and brought on
additional staff to ensure even when things are busy, orders get to our
you call Widener’s, there’s a very strong chance you’ll get someone
that picks up the phone right away. Plus, that person answering the
phone has likely used the product you’re asking about. We don’t have
temporary workers or non-English speaking folks answer the phone because
we know the majority of our customers want to speak with someone who is
knowledgeable about ammo and reloading, friendly, and easy to
you email us during business hours, our goal is a friendly, complete
response to you within 15 minutes. We meet that goal on the majority of
customer emails in and we think that has value. There’s peace of mind
knowing the people you do business with are receptive and will do all
they can to make sure you’re not stuck waiting.
Convenient Site Navigation and Customer Empowerment:
for customers that see ammo and reloading gear as a commodity, they
value their time. If you have to navigate around a site with poor layout
or struggle to understand the SKU of the product you’re looking at,
you’re wasting time. We know that time is valuable and we’ve invested
in Wideners.com to
make it as easy to use as possible to save you time. We know we can’t
foresee every question but you’ll find descriptions on all our products
spelling out each product’s ideal use situation and all should be
new-shooter friendly in terms of jargon.
Now, I'm not saying everyone should rush over to Widener's and buy up all their stuff. I'm just saying Anne makes some good points, and thinking back on years of buying ammo on-line, she has pretty much nailed every point that either irritated me, or caused satisfaction.
It was roughly four years ago that I discussed building this first aid kit. That link will take you to the primary post back then, where all the why's and wherefore's are batted around. Since then, the kit has mostly lived in my vehicle, that being the one place I know will be near me 'most' of the time. Anyplace else, and I'd be too far away to access the emergency kit at least half of every day. So far, this home built emergency med kit has survived three different vehicles, and quite a few (Decidedly minor) events. Today was time to de-pack, evaluate, replace, and RE-pack the bag. Needful things were found here or ordered from Amazon, and the kit goes back to it's home. Fresh batteries in the flashlight, and swap out all the self-adhesive band-aids. Dates were checked on medicines and anything close is being replaced.
In that time, what has been most used? Surprisingly, the one thing most often used and restocked so far? Benadryl Gels. Not only is the girlfriend allergic to some common things, but others have hit that hard as well. Being deep in a forest of New York state late at night, and hearing "It's getting hard to breath" can really focus a man's attention. Next most used, besides common bandaids? The Steri strips. These things magically bridge the gap between 'Put A Band-Aid On It!' and 'Awe crap.... that really needs stitches'. I recall a 2 O'clock knock on the bedroom door.... "I was doing an avocado, and cut my hand really bad". Yes.... stabbing a knife into your hand counts as cutting it I suppose. After cleaning it up, I steri-stitched it closed. The next day it didn't look bad at all, and I don't think she ever did see the doc about it. The duct tape was removed some time ago. Far too useful to leave in the bag, I suppose. I also didn't like sending someone into the bag every time they wanted tape for something. Too often, I worried the whole kit would get moved or raided.
Added in at the suggestion of knowledgeable people, a CPR resuscitator. I was SUPPOSED to get the training I need to properly use this widget, but that slipped by the wayside as so many things do. Not only is it difficult to find such training around here, any first aid training at all can be a chore to round up. Yeah, I know.... get off my ass and find it! In the meantime, here's a handy YouTube video that lends a clue.
Something overlooked before, but added now. Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and antacids. While all these are well represented in my home, my work, and the girlfriends purse (larger on the inside than the outside), having them in this kit as backup can't hurt. Something I'm damn grateful to have never needed yet, the Israeli blowout bandages. It's comforting to know they are there, but with luck they'll never be called to duty. Again, a handy video on their use. As always, I'm happy to hear good ideas from all the shmart people in the tribe. Any thoughts? Suggestions? Pointed barbs of sarcasm aimed at my ignorance? All are welcome!
I'll link this story to where I read it (The Firearms Blog), but beware they are a linkfest site, with heavy advertising. It seems Mossberg bought up the old Chip McCormick patent for drop in triggers a while back, and has now decided to go after a bunch of small fry companies making such gadgets. I'm afraid things like this DO color my buying decisions. The firearms community is not particularly huge, with most companies we deal with being quite small. A relatively big company in the business that's attacking small entrepreneurs strictly for financial gain,. and limiting our buying choices by doing so..... that's a company I will avoid doing business with. It's not the first time Mossberg has pulled this stunt. I understand it as a business move, but understanding does not equal agreement. Just because the law says you CAN do something doesn't mean it's the RIGHT thing to do.
Is commercial ammunition a commodity? A box or two... we all trot down to our local shooting emporium.... but what about larger quantities?
When I wish a case or two of ammo, I don't buy it at a local gun shop. The markup is just too stiff. I believe in supporting the good folks who have local stores, but I simply can't afford to throw cash away like that.
So, the question stands. Is bulk ammunition a commodity? Do we shop solely by price, like we were buying heating oil? Personally, I have dealt with SGAmmo and Widener's, and found both to be excellent to deal with. I understand Tam deals with Lucky Gunner... and that has to be a solid endorsement. MidwayUSA is a Go-To for all sorts of gear, components, and parts.... but I have never brought myself to pay their ammo prices. Out of curiosity, I picked a staple ammunition and checked a number of sites for pricing including shipping. A 1000 round case of Blazer Brass 9mm Luger 115 grain FMJ. The results:
Looking at that, I know where I'm going to order from, (If I needed more just now). That said, I have to wonder if there isn't something more to consider here. What value added is there to on-line ammunition sales?
(After comments begin rolling in :-)
So, issues besides price include shipping costs (which I lump into price), speed of service, and delivery concerns. What can an on-line supplier do to earn our business? I'll use an example. In my real life job, I work on cars. Personally, I order and use about 100K a year in parts and supplies. When I choose a supplier, price is part of the equation, but it's not the sole deciding factor. Getting the right parts, of decent quality, and in a timely manner..... these things are important and will cause me to spend a bit more. All these factors are under the control of my suppliers, and easily balance out the cost issue. I choose to spend money accordingly. Now, how does this translate when choosing an on-line bulk ammo supplier?
I was giving the nightstand Taurus PT908 a good run, while working on the reset. One shot from DA, followed by another shot SA, as quick as I could. The trigger reset on that pistol is... challenging. Several times in the 250 rounds I fired, I missed the reset and had to start again. Now, this pistol has a flamethrowing 600 lumin light mounted on it, and I left it on for this session. After all, it's how the pistol normally is equipped, so I should practice with it in place. I even practiced actuating the light for about half the session, even though it made no difference at 50 feet in harsh sun. 250 rounds of muzzle flash, with half of that being reloads sporting Bullseye powder...... left a mark on the light. Yeah..... that's dirty, that is....
I've been shooting mostly 55 grain FMJ ammo in my AR's because they shoot it well, and I have me a fair bunch. On occasion, I've shoot the 62 grain green tip in them, with mediocre accuracy. Certainly noticeably larger groups than the 55 grain bullets.
But the thought keeps ringing in my brain: My AR's have 1 in 7 twist rates. They are SUPPOSED to shoot heavier bullets better...... %$#@ it. Before I begin ordering heavy bullets by the bin full, I thought I would just give something a shot. I bought a single lone box of Hornady 75 Grain Super Match ammo. This stuff costs like gold, and by accounts is one of the best AR match loads on the market. Want to see what happened?
This rifle has a Spikes heavy barrel upper with a mid-length gas system, a 1/7 twist, and a 3x fixed Nikon optic on it. I shot it from the bench, on a decent rest but still hand held. My heart beat was weaving the cross hair a good inch across the bull as I did my breath, breath, squeeze. The groups were fired three rounds at a time, with cooling time in between. The target on the left, 55 grain PMC Bronze bulk ammo (The one flier was called). The target on the right, the 75 grain Hornady $uper Match. I shall note.... if I had shot the 62 grain M855, the group would have fallen between these two in size. I'm open to suggestions here.
Some random thoughts running through my mind as I wait for the tea to brew (I do mine from loose leaf in a percolator. Don't leave your spoon in, unless it's stainless). A couple AR lower receivers rolled in, and are now stashed for a time when I (a) have money to buy parts, and (b) have time to build a couple. Bought as investment in the face of almost certain mass stupidity in the near future, I suspect these receivers will grow up to be interesting additions to the family. One, likely will turn into an A2 match rifle. The other a heavy barrel accuracy rig with a telescope on it. That, of course is all subject to rapid and frequent changes.
In other internal mumblings, the sound of keys jangling woke me with an idea.... See, here at the Dark Castle I've amassed just a bit more than the safe will hold (And when will someone design a safe that holds Mosins??). That means I needed an armory..... you know..... a closet. So there is a closet where all the extras go. Being that somehow, through insanity I suppose, I have allowed children to abide in the Dark Castle again, that closet also gets to hold all the medicines in the house, and anything else I don't want those rotten crumb crunchers getting into. Yes, it has an entry lock. Yes, we need to get in multiple times daily. Yes, that is a pain in the ..... it's a pain. Imagine every day at 4:30 AM "Where the hell did I leave my keys THIS time??" That is where the idea came in... why don't I see about an electronic lock for the armory?
A quick peruse of Amazon via cellphone as I lay half awake, showed a wide selection available. Enough that the decision got set aside til after the mornings tea had a chance to dissolve some of the sleep from my eyes (and stomach). Requirements: Simple to use, not crazy difficult to install, a key backup of course, and not so wildly expensive that I cry if it turns out to be a POS. Any of my gentle readers here who have experience or ideas on this, please chime in. I only wish to buy one of these things.... not a collection like my Big Box 'O Holsters. Speaking of holsters, and this speaks to how my mind wanders before the tea smashes the fog, I recently renewed my carry permit. While in our Sheriffs office, I asked the nice man how busy he was lately. He said it had finally slowed down a bit, and lately they only had about 50 new applications a day. In a county of 500,000. I take these numbers as promising, and tweaking them in regards to time and assumptions, I am thinking about 10% of our population have carry permits. Also in regards to holsters... and another example of how convoluted my brain works... I need practice with my carry pistol. The G30 needs to get another 500 rounds of .45acp very soon, less my sad skills fade to zero. Thinking that thought, I wonder if it's time to consider a switch? I've carried that compact Glock for many years, and I'm happy with it. On the other hand.... 9mm ammo has come so far lately. Is it time to trick up a 17 or 19 for carry duty? The tea is ready.... and I am ready for it. Ya'll have a fine weekend my friends, Ya hear?
Winchester has something new out in the way of cheaper 9mm range ammo. Well.... new to THEM but not new to the shooting world. It's Steel cased pistol ammunition. Some years back, I shot a bunch of the imported steel cased ammo in both rifle and pistol, as a test to see what it was all about. I've been shooting Soviet steel cased Mil-surp for years in my Mosins and such, but that is a different animal. One has different expectations of brand new commercial ammunition as compared to 40 year old military surplus ammo. Coming under the names Tula, Brown Bear, Silver Bear, and Wolf, these imports are about the cheapest range ammo one can buy. Always with steel cases coated in ..... something, these inexpensive cartridges proved to be hit and miss for me, quite literally. Not that I'd object to having a few cases tucked away, but one has to limit expectations with them. Their quality (for me) was a bit iffy, with wide velocity variations. Worse, in the rifle cartridges the coating on the cases would eventually play havoc with my chambers and make extraction problematic.
So, what has Winchester done with this product? They say the cases are made here in the USA, with their own special coating to inhibit rust. In addition, they are using a brass jacketed lead core bullet, and Winchester powders and primers. Delivered in a box of 150 rounds (Three trays of 50 each) from Wideners Reloading and Shooting Supply, they are priced there just a bit under Winchester White Box. WWB is typically one of the cheapest of the American made range ammo offerings, often found on sale at various suppliers. At this point, Widener's is the only place I see this new Winchester ammo for sale. The basics: A 115 grain FMJ bullet, with a lead core and a brass jacket. Winchester says it trots along at 1190 FPS. My own Chrono testing across a 20 round sample gave a velocity average closer to 1150 FPS out of a S&W 9c compact pistol. Velocity variations were considerably tighter than I recall the import ammo having, mostly staying within about 20 FPS.
Function was 100% with all 150 rounds through this pistol in the space of about 30 minutes. No failures of any kind to report. Accuracy was at least on par with any bulk 9mm Luger I've used, and better than many. I didn't bench it, but holding all the rounds inside a 4"x6" index card at 50' while shooting offhand was not a problem. Recoil was light, about what one would expect for target ammunition. An old box of Golden Sabers was sacreficed after the Winchesters, just to serve as comparison. The less expensive steel cased Winchester was quite mild and civilized in contrast. For me, the real question.... once function was assured.... was how bad the pistol would be fouled. My experience with the import steel cased ammo left something to be desired when it came time to clean the pistols, so I had qualms there.
I guess Winchester was being straight. Field stripped after 150 rounds of the USA Forged, I couldn't have told you it wasn't their White Box I was shooting. Yes, it was dirty, but nothing out of the ordinary. It was the kind of dirty that tempts me to wipe it down, use up a couple Q-tips, spray some lube, and call it good. In the field of grunging up a pistol, the Winchester is way, way ahead of the import steel cased ammo. On the ammo itself, I have nothing negative to say. It performed decently and exceeded expectations in every way compared to the imports. If a shooter just doesn't care about having reloadable cases leftover, I can't see any reason not to buy the Winchester USA Forged if it's cheaper. That said.... it would be nice if the price on this new American made steel cased ammo stabilized a little closer to the import end of the spectrum, rather than nipping at the heels of the White Box. If it were a bit more reasonably priced, I might lose interest in reloading my own 9mm target ammo!
The way I see it, Anybody can spend a lot of money and buy the most superific, whizbangious , extra special operatortorious, and ermagerd expensive AR-15 on the market, and then proclaim it the best functioning rifle one can buy. Just like a person can buy a hammer, or buy an Eastwing framing hammer... both will do the job for 95% of the people who need a hammer. The professional carpenter though, might appreciate the extra quality of the Eastwing. Yeah.... I own an Eastwing, a hand me down from my Dad who DID use it professionally. What I don't own is a hyper-expensive whiz bang AR-15. Instead, I have a few I put together myself and enjoy shooting quite a bit. Are they fancy? Nope. Do They Function? Yes... so far at 100% with not a single issue. With that in mind, I was curious about the cheaper incarnations of such beasties. Will they function reliably? Sure, they may not be pretty, but will they hammer the nail every time or not? Figuring to start with an inexpensive complete upper, as I had just assembled a lower and it was wanting a top half... I procured a PTAC complete slick side upper from Palmetto State Armory. It came complete with a bolt group and charging handle, A-2 style front sight, and built in rail on the receiver. All this, for only $269. Pinned to the completed Rock River lower, the entire rifle came in just over $500. Nicknamed 'El Cheapo', it certainly looked the part. No forward assist, no dust cover, and a wide open field of possibilities for sighting, since it had none on the back. What I really wanted to know was... would it function reliably? Lets face it, what can a man expect from an upper receiver group that cost under $300 shipped to the door? I determined to give it a hard run, and see what it would do. Short of burying it in sand, I figured the harshest thing I could inflict on an AR upper is to run it bone dry for an extended round count. In this case, I pulled the number 500 out of.... um..... the air. 500 rounds on a dry and dusty AR-15, a platform that once had a reputation for being fussy about cleanliness and lubrication. The fine folks at Wideners Reloading and Shooting supply got
wind of this, and sent along a big box of Federal 55 grain ammo. The American Eagle number in the Federal lineup, it may be one of the most popular AR fodders available. Good quality, reliable, and not too pricey. A solid choice for this test. Take note.... Supplying the ammo for this was Wideners idea. They are a bunch of shooters just like us, and seem dedicated to their sport and their customers. It might be a thought to include them on the list of folks we do business with, seeing as how they've been serving shooters for a long, long time now. The rifle had an Eotech holographic sight mounted on it, for ease of shooting. Also... it's just plain fun to shoot with. A comment: It seemed funny to have a sight installed that cost more than the whole rifle put together. Range time with El Cheapo and the PTAC upper; This really falls into two categories. Functionality, and accuracy.
Accuracy was reasonable from the PTAC with 50 yard groups under 2" and 100 groups hovering just under 4" Now, if this was an expensive upper those numbers would upset me, but not so for a $269 unit. The thing is, maybe this rifle is more accurate than that. Recently I have been questioning my aging eyesight when it comes to more precise shooting, and the Eotech
gives no magnification to assist my elderly peepers. To that end, when I get a spare scope and the gumption, I will mount some glass on this rifle and really go after it's best accuracy.
That leaves function. Here, I have nothing to report. Nothing.... and I mean nothing. Failures to feed? Nope... nothing. It chambered every single round perfectly. Failures to fire? Nope.... nothing there either. Bangity Bangity like boring clockwork. Failures to extract? Again, nothing to report.
What else is there to say? 500 rounds on a bone dry AR upper, of the cheapest kind I could locate, and not one malfunction of any kind.
Now, I know that might change if the round count on the rifle was 5000 rounds instead of 500, or even 10,000 rounds. I'd never expect a direct impingement design AR to go uncleaned and un-lubricated that long. It would be a hateful thing to subject any rifle too, let alone a dirt cheap M4-gery. The final word.... would I recommend this PTAC upper to someone who wanted to build a cheap but functional AR-15? I can only say Yes, I would. I'll be keeping this one, and glad to have it. My next AR-build will probably be something a bit nicer, but I have no qualms at hauling El Cheapo out of the safe and putting rounds down range with it.
Okay.... those might not be the exact words, but I did get an E-mail asking my thoughts on cleaning products for our firearms. I thought I'd jot a few notes here amongst us friends, and let everyone poke and prod with their own advice. (I'll link where I can). I break my cleaning and lubricating down into a few basic areas.
Removing copper from a bore
Cleaning up after corrosive ammo
For general cleaning, I break out one of two products. Breakfree CLP, or Ballistol. They are different products, but serve many of the same purposes. Intended to be 'all in one' gun cleaning and lubricating agents, they do a decent job most of the time for most gun maintenance jobs. Ballistol is the better bore fouling remover in my humble opinion. CLP is what I sent to my friends in the sand, and they seemed happy with it.
CLP, we are all most aware of already. I prefer to use it in the needle applicator, although I do have spray cans for some jobs. The needle applicator lets me put a drop into a trigger mechanism, or on a Q-tip or patch without making a mess. I also use it in my air tools at work, and the same spray can has lasted me two years so far in that role. Ballistol.... that's an old beastie indeed. Ginned up by wily Germans about a hundred years ago, it has really stood the test of time. I use it as a general cleaner, but it's my all-time favorite go to
on my old Mil-Surp rifles. It's designed to work on corrosive ammo residue, and it does a bloody good job. It can also be mixed with water to do bore flushing, and makes quick work of black powder fouling (if you are into the dark arts).
Wipe down cloths.... I use Sentry Solutions Tuf-Cloth. Yeah, kinda gimicky, but they work well for me and don't leave an oily residue that holds dirt and dust. I keep mine in the original bags they come in, or in a zip lock. Don't leave them
out, it cuts their life span by a bunch. Kept bagged, I use about one a year... yes, they will do that. Lubrication? Well..... the CLP needle dropper for some things, but honestly... plain old Mobile-One 5w30 motor oil. Why pay a fortune for some whiz-bang trumped up incarnation of Canola oil when a quart of Mobile One will last a lifetime and perform with perfect satisfaction? Needle applicators can be had on Amazon, if you are allergic to shopping (People... ugh) like I am. Copper removal from a bore.... a touchy subject. There are a LOT of different approaches to this, but I always come back to relying on basic chemistry. Yes, a boatload of arm tiring scrubbing can wear away copper bore fouling, but why do that? Chemistry is our friend, and a simple, but careful, application of ammonia will turn copper fouling into a nasty blue goo that pushes right out of the bore. On copper fouling, I use the ancient Sweet's 7.62 formula, or on a nastily fouled Mil-Surp with corrosive ammo, straight up Parson's Ammonia found in the grocery store at $2.49 a quart. In both cases, I treat copper removal as an intermediate step in bore cleaning. Some scrubbing with regular bore cleaner to remove propellant fouling, and then a soak with Sweet's. Follow with another bore cleaning to remove the blue goo, and protect with my choice of lubricant for that rifle.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE about using ammonia based copper removal products, including Sweet's 7.62. 'Soak' means a couple minutes.... not hours. The chemical will attack the metal, given time. That's bad news for a good rifle bore. I limit copper removal to my high velocity rifles, and some rougher bore Mil-Surps that live in the castle armory. Even then, only about once every few hundred rounds or so. That's about it. A handful of products and a few simple procedures, and no great stress over it. My shootin Arns are in good shape and work every time. Disclosure: Yes, I am an Amazon affiliate. If someone buys something through a link I post, I get a tiny percentage of the purchase in the form of Amazon credit. With this, I usually purchase shooty stuff and review it here. Think of it as a way to support the blog.... and my thanks to you for it! (A quick check shows me it's up to $2.08 for the month. Huzaaa!)
(Edit editorial: Another read found a handful of ridiculous spelling and syntax errors. I thought we were friends here! Why doesn't anyone tell me about these things?)
Today's postal delivery brought a very cool thing to The Fat Man's hands. A muzzle device... a flash suppressor... a very pointy reminder of the dangerous end of this rifle. This special accessory for the PTAC (El Cheapo) upper's barrel came by way of Chuck Bogardus, a fine machinist and all round good guy out of St. Louis. In his mad scientist machine shop, he hand crafts muzzle devices like this flash suppressor, and also muzzle brakes. 5.56 or 30 caliber, his product is pretty damn nicely made. I paid $25 for this beauty, shipping included. Chuck's work is good, and his prices reasonable. The thing is..... no one will find this device in a store or catalog. There's one man, and one man only, who makes these. If you just have to have something this special for your rifle, contact Chuck at email@example.com, or friend him on Facebook (facebook.com/thebogie). Herself, already liking this AR I put together, took a gander at this after it was installed. She pricked her finger on the sharp points, and then pretty much declared it her rifle now. Damn.
150 rounds into a 500 round no-clean and no-lube test, and the PTAC upper seems to be functioning perfectly so far. Using the first 5 magazine loads of the 500 rounds sent along by Wideners Reloading and Ammunition Supply, the rifle was sighted in. Then.... out to 100 yards and used to bring a new shooter into the AR family. She took to this rifle like a duck to water, quickly announcing it fits her much better than my own slightly larger, and considerably heavier bull barrel carbine. "I Can't hit that target from here!" Yes..... yes she could. In fact, her very first ten rounds of anything larger than .22 rimfire fired in her life mostly populated the black on a standard smallbore target.
The rifle functioned flawlessly. There were no Failures to feed, fire, or eject. Accuracy was acceptable, with steady 10 rings on the 50 yard sight in target, and all in the black at 100 yards. I suspect a scope may be required to reveal the upper's true accuracy potential. Moving to dirt clods on the 200 and 300 yard berms, hits were like clockwork.
An interesting discovery, of no significance to the test, my issues with the Eotech holo sight giving me a line instead of a center dot were resolved. It turns out eye and eyeglass placement made every difference, with a more squared up aspect being required to give me a clear picture through the bifocals. The slick side upper, lacking forward assist and dust cover, also lacks the bump behind the ejection port normally found on an AR. This minor lack allows the ejected shell casings to ding against the right side of the receiver, leaving a bit of brass marking. It also has the ejected cases hitting the ground way off to the right, about 5 positions down the range. I'd hate to be
standing behind the shooting positions to the right of this rifle as it's fired. On the other hand, the empties piled up like dirty gold, in a small area. General impressions so far: It's a decent upper for the $269 price tag. Fit and function are all there. With only 150 rounds in, I simply can't find anything to grouse about yet. (Honestly... I'm beginning to wonder if 500 rounds of no-clean and no-lube is enough to really stress this upper. Maybe I should stretch it to 1000?) Yeah, it may look a bit funny being a 'slick side' upper, without the features we normally expect on an AR receiver. That said.... it functions just fine.
So far. Disclosures: Wideners was kind enough to donate the ammo for this testing. Nice people, and clearly a company populated with shooters. Give their site a visit if you like. The upper being tested, I just bought that for myself. I'll likely be buying more of PSA's products, depending on how this test works out.