As I write, it is exactly one month past the Presidential election. Sales of CCW-type handguns have remained steady (Black Friday NICS checks broke another record), but sales of black rifles are slumping.
I suspect this is because just about everybody who wanted to buy an AR-15 has pretty much done so, with the rush starting just after the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. If I am right, it will be a great disappointment to a couple large manufacturers who have just introduced ARs of their own.
Sales of AR-15 accessories, however, have never been stronger. This only makes sense, as there are more ARs in private hands than ever before. And the great thing about the AR-15 envelope is that it is so easily modified.
Someone of little skill and zero experience can, in just a few minutes and using only hand tools and perhaps a YouTube video or two for reference, replace every single part on the rifle down to the barrel and the receiver. The AR-15 has been described as LEGOs for men.
It would be impossible to cover even a fraction of the new products introduced every year. Instead, let me cover a few that I have been using for weeks or even months and that have proven themselves to me.
SGM Tactical Steel 30-round Magazines
I’ve had two of the new steel AR-15 magazines from SGM Tactical for a while now, and recently took them and my favorite AR (the personally camo-painted Alexander Arms rifle I’ve covered in these pages extensively) down to a machine gun shoot in Ohio.
My youngest son and I put 450 rounds through the rifle using these two magazines in less than four hours without one single problem. About two weeks later I went to an indoor range with my son and, using a Springfield Armory Saint, put another 100 rounds through them with zero malfunctions.
While 550 rounds won’t break any records as an exhaustive torture test, it’s enough to prove to me that these magazines work. And you can never have too many magazines.
SGM Tactical magazines have proprietary black non-tilt followers and are constructed of cold-rolled SK-5 steel. They have a proprietary electrodeposition gloss black finish that looks very nice and has held up through however many mag changes it takes to go through 550 rounds. As steel is heavier than aluminum, the magazines empty weigh about 4 ounces more than a standard GI mag. These magazines are made in South Korea and have a suggested retail of $12.95.
Having no problems admitting when I am ignorant, I asked Kevin Phillips of SGM Tactical about the finish and why these mags were made of SK-5 steel, which isn’t technically a “stainless” steel—as most of the steel AR mags on the market are stainless. And got an education. First he told me, “The finish is similar to Parkerizing, but it bonds to the metal and has anti-corrosion/rust factors in it.”
As for the steel, he told me, “There are two different versions of SK-5 steel. One is the same as 1080 carbon steel, however what we are using is a cold rolled metal that has the same hardness but isn’t carbon steel. Stainless steel would be too stiff and brittle for feed lips because they need to move a little.”
My response? “Are you saying that companies which make their magazines out of stainless steel are screwing up, because stainless doesn’t have the right flex/is too brittle for feed lips?”
Phillips told me, “I am saying they are not actually using stainless. They are using a cold rolled steel as well and fudging what they are saying it is. I think in the mag business it’s very common for people to fudge steel type and Rockwell hardness and such. With us, what you see is what you get.”
Geissele Automatics (www.geissele.com) became rock stars in the AR world when Tier 1 ninja deathstalkers began using their fabulous triggers in combat. Their newest trigger is the SSP, Super Speed Precision, and it’s the one I’ve been waiting for.
I’m a sucker for single-stage triggers, and that’s what I prefer on my ARs. I love Geissele triggers because they add no more parts or complexity to the AR trigger system, while providing vastly improved trigger pulls. However, the only single-stage AR trigger they’ve had is the S3G (Super 3-Gun) and its variations, which do not feature a crisp break but rather a rolling break.
Okay, they’ve had two, with the second trigger being a VTAC exclusive with the same rolling break as the S3G, only with a 4.5-pound pull. I do not like that rolling break at all, and have been waiting for them to introduce a single-stage trigger with a crisp break—and now they have, the SSP.
The Geissele SSP ships with two different weight trigger springs. The lighter spring is advertised as providing a 3.5-pound pull, and the heavy trigger spring a 4.5-pound pull. Note that the hammer spring is a full-power unit, so you won’t have any light strikes on hard military primers. The trigger has a standard curved bow.
The SSP should be available by the time you read this, but right now all I’ve shot have been early production models of this trigger. The one unit I shot at the Big 3 East media event had the light trigger spring installed, and it felt closer to a 3-pound pull than 3.5, however I did not have a trigger pull gauge with me. The break is crisp and reset is amazingly short, which means you’ll be able to shoot it fast.
When I got my own sample trigger I installed it in my favorite rifle, the camo-painted Alexander Arms 5.56. With the heavy trigger spring installed the trigger pull measured exactly 4 pounds, which is exactly what I was hoping for.
And okay, yes, shut up, I know the dang rifle came with the perfectly excellent Alexander Arms Tactical Trigger which has a crisp single-stage pull of 4 pounds—but that trigger has extra parts in it, and doesn’t have as crisp of a feel to it as I’d like. I’m a spoiled gunwriter. Now can we move on?
For a “tactical” AR trigger, I think 4 pounds is perfect, because I’ve found that when wearing gloves, trigger pulls seem to feel about a pound lighter, and with a pull under 4 pounds you can’t really feel the break through gloves/with cold fingers. Wearing gloves and shooting rifles with 3 pound triggers I’ve had the rifles go off when I thought I was still taking up the slack.
It was the SSP in my Alexander Arms rifle at the abovementioned machine gun shoot in Ohio where my son and I fired 450 rounds in less than four hours without issue. The break is so crisp and the reset is so short that the pull feels lighter than 4 pounds, and I was able to work the trigger as fast as I could some 3-pound triggers I’ve tried.
I think my email to Joe Plunkett at Geissele pretty much sums up my feelings toward the SSP: “I love it so much I want to marry it.” That trigger is never coming out of my rifle.
I have to admit that when I first examined the Leupold LCO (Leupold Carbine Optic, www.leupold.com) at whatever recent SHOT Show where it was introduced, I was less than dazzled.
Featuring a simple and small 1 moa red dot, it was a heavy (9.5 ounces) and expensive optic. Current MSRP on the LCO is $1299, and I’m seeing it for sale online for about a grand. When it comes to red dots, the one to beat is the Aimpoint T-1, and even though it too is overpriced, it retails for hundreds of dollars less than the LCO.
Sure, the LCO is “Designed, Machined, Assembled in the USA” and American man-hours don’t come cheap, but the Aimpoint is made in socialist Sweden where labor costs are about 12% higher. Just sayin’.
But when I actually got an LCO in to test, I have to admit that it has grown on me. While I still think it’s too expensive to be appropriately competitive in today’s marketplace, the more time I spend with this optic the more I like it.
That seems to be a common experience—I was recently at a media event at Gunsite, talking to Chris Mudgett (the No. 2 guy at our sister publication Guns & Ammo), and somehow we got to talking about the LCO. He voiced the same praise of it that I did.
The glass is great on this optic, and its big window (32mm) construction means there is absolutely no tube effect. It’s not quite as open as an EOTech, but it’s close. Not only is the glass Leupold uses very nice, but it is as close to untinted as I’ve seen in a red dot.
Leupold doesn’t depend on a dark tint to make their red dot pop, and yet at its brightest setting it is more than bright enough to use in direct sunlight. The sight is nitrogen-filled and advertised as being waterproof and fogproof. Illumination is provided by one CR123A battery, and much like the vaunted Aimpoint battery life is listed in years (five).
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, are the simple, intuitive controls. The On/Off button is just that, a button. Brightness of the dot (16 settings including NV compatible) is controlled by a knob on the left side of the unit, and the end of that knob is where you’ll find the On/Off button.
Anyone in 10 seconds can figure out how to turn the optic on or off and adjust the brightness in total darkness, and gloves won’t slow you down.
Recently, I took my youngest son to an indoor rifle range with the Springfield Armory Saint and the LCO. First he sighted in the rifle with the provided iron sights, which he’d never done before, then he mounted the LCO and sighted that in—also a first. Even the windage and elevation adjustments are easy to use.
The LCO has a machined aluminum body with a built-in mount. It is designed to be mounted on an AR-style rifle, so it is set at the correct height from the factory, you don’t have to worry about tracking down the right riser (so I admit that does save you some money right there). The elevation and windage controls have .5 moa adjustments.
I’m not a fan of the satin black finish they’ve chosen, or the etched white writing Leupold has put everywhere on this “tactical” optic, but that’s a personal preference and could be remedied very quickly with a can of flat black Krylon spray paint.
If the suggested retail was $899 instead of $1299, or they offered the best-in-class-for-combat EOTech-esque circle/dot reticle at their current price, I bet they’d sell twice as many even if the different reticle cut battery life by two-thirds. I’ve passed that opinion on to Leupold, but what do I know?
Magpul Enhanced Magazine Release
I have to admit a sort of evil glee at yet another landmark “tactical” company selling yet another “tactical” part directly derived from competition gear. The FBI mandated Glock put a magazine well on the new G17M, which means all the irony-blind tactical types who previously wouldn’t even spit on mag wells because “they’re only for gamers” (no matter their utility) will now be turgidly waxing poetic about them like Glock newly invented the wheel.
Oversize magazine releases for ARs were first invented by and for competition shooters, and Magpul is considered the quintessential “tactical” company. And yet they are selling their Enhanced Magazine Release. They are far from the first company to offer an oversized magazine release for the AR-15, but they’re the first one I’ve ever installed on a personal rifle.
The great thing about oversize magazine release buttons is they do not affect reliability or even function, they just make the button bigger and therefore easier to hit when things about you are getting exciting. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…”
Okay, two more great things about this upgrade—it’s relatively inexpensive (MSRP $19.95), and easy to install. You don’t need any tools to remove your standard magazine release unit (unless fingers count), or to install the new Magpul one. All you need is a hex key to attach the oversize paddle once the magazine release body itself is installed.
The Magpul button is just about twice the size of the standard magazine release button, and over half of it is serrated. I’ve never had much trouble hitting the GI spec mag button, but the Magpul unit is a nice inexpensive upgrade option, has no downside, and is one more way to personalize my rifle.
Elftmann Tactical New 3-Gun Trigger
I have reviewed Elftmann Tactical’s (www.elftactical.com) triggers in this publication before, and really like them. In fact, I have Elftmann triggers in two of my AR pistols, including the 9mm AR sitting in the corner about 6 feet from me right now. The new 3-Gun trigger is a single-stage design with an adjustable trigger pull.
Elftmann makes drop-in cassette triggers with very light, crisp trigger pulls. Unlike almost all competitive triggers, the trigger pull weights are easily user adjustable by a screw just behind the disconnector.
Unscrew it to lighten the trigger pull—unscrew it too much and the disconnector won’t. Screw it in to make the pull heavier, and if you screw it in too far, the hammer won’t fall. This can all be done without removing it from the receiver if you decide you want to change the pull weight you initially dialed in.
Elftmann has gone with a new skeletonized design, not just with their hammer but also with the trigger unit housing, so that the total weight of the unit is only 2 ounces. Even if you’re not building an ultralight AR, every ounce matters, and if a reduction in weight doesn’t affect the performance of your trigger unit, I don’t see a downside.
Perhaps most importantly the double-wound hammer spring is full power, not reduced like you’ll find with some match triggers.
Elftmann offers this and most of their units with both straight and curved triggers, both of which are skeletonized. It took me a while to warm up to their looks, but I like them now. As for the straight trigger version, let’s just say that I hate the feel of all straight AR triggers, but I hate the Elftmann the least.
All of the Elftmann triggers are completely drop-safe, because of a simple ledge they machine into the bottom of the hammer that catches on the front of the trigger bar if the trigger is not pulled when the hammer falls.
This 3-Gun trigger (like many Elftmanns) is advertised as having a trigger pull adjustable between 2.75–4 pounds. In my experience the adjustment range isn’t quite as wide as that, but if you want a crisp single-stage trigger adjustable between (at least) 3.0–3.5 pounds, with an amazingly short pull and reset, the Elftmann is for you.
Elftmann triggers are cassette-type triggers, and the problem most cassette triggers have is walking receiver pins because the hammer and trigger springs are not exerting any pressure on the receiver pins.
Elftmann’s solution? Two screws in the body of the cassette. Once it is installed, just tighten those pins down and they bind against the aluminum floor of the lower receiver (check with Elftmann if you’ve got a polymer lower). For best results, tighten those screws down as much as you can.
A “3-Gun” trigger should be quick for those lightning-fast splits, and the Elftmann is. I don’t have a fast trigger finger and I’m able to do .14–.16 second splits between shots with the Elftmann, which works out to about 400 rpm. That’s why I have an Elftmann in my 9mm AR pistol, so I can shoot it as fast as a subgun. Suggested retail on the Elftmann Tactical 3-Gun trigger is $279.
Daniel Defense 32-round Magazines
So many companies have come out with polymer-bodied AR magazines that even keeping track of them all is problematic. ETS, HexMag, Lancer, MFT, Magpul and Troy are just the ones I can think of offhand, and I know there are more.
One new magazine offering that I’ve been taking with me to the range over the past few months is from a company whose name should be familiar to Firearms News readers—Daniel Defense (www.danieldefense.com).
Instead of just making “another” 30-round AR-15 magazine, Daniel Defense decided it needed to do something a little different, and so their polymer magazine holds 32 rounds “in the same size magazine as industry-standard 30-round magazines”. Sort of. Let me get back to that.
The magazine has a non-tilting follower in high visibility yellow and a texturing that is much more aggressive than it looks. The body is molded from carbon-reinforced polymer and it has a slotted baseplate that is easily removed. Suggested retail on the magazine is $20.
As for dimensions, the body of the DD magazine is 1/8″ longer than that of a Magpul PMag, and most of that is at the rear (but remember, the PMag is already a quarter-inch longer than a standard GI aluminum 30-round magazine). DD then adds a slotted baseplate. As a result, the OAL of the 32-round magazine with baseplate is .8″ longer than a GI 30-round magazine.
So, how does Daniel Defense fit in two extra rounds? There are three fewer coils in the spring, (15 vs. 12), and the legs on the rear of the follower have been shortened considerably, while the back of the magazine body is an eighth of an inch longer than a PMag and half an inch longer than a GI magazine. It should still fit into most magazine pouches.
I can’t say for certain how many rounds I’ve put through the two DD magazine samples I have over the various trips to the range I’ve made in the last six months or so, but I’ve never experienced a problem. I have nothing negative to say about it, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
At $20 suggested retail, yes, the DD mag is more expensive than a lot of its 30-round capacity competitors, but then it’s not a 30-round magazine. It is the same price, but a lot more compact, than the 40-round PMag. It is a lot lighter and a lot cheaper than the $129.95 PMag 60-round drum or the other high-
I have +5 aluminum basepads from TTI on some of my PMags, and installing them makes the mags only 1/8″ longer than the DD magazines, while packing 35 rounds. But the TTI mag extensions alone are $39.99 apiece and add weight in addition to length and width.
I guess the question is, how many more rounds than 30 do you want, and how much are you willing to pay for them? I like the fact that with the DD magazines, my extra-capacity options have expanded.