Review and photographs by Norman Gray
Since the weight of an AR-15 rifle varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model, it can sometimes be an undesirable element for women who shoot them. A fully accessorized AR-15 can weigh upwards of 10 or more pounds with a fully loaded, high-capacity magazine. This weight can cause the shooter to lean backwards to compensate, and in turn, makes these heavier guns unenjoyable. If you’re physically fit and do strength training, weight has a reduced affect, but supporting a heavier rifle will eventually affect the shooter causing them to focus more on the weight and less on the target. If you can identify with this, please read on.
The second concern I commonly hear has to do with a heavy trigger pull. This can be just as much a concern as weight. Women, including my wife, have disparaged the heavy trigger pull of an AR-15 as well as some handguns, especially ones with double-action-only triggers. Many old military rifles including AR-15s have what is referred to as a “military trigger,” and on average have an 8- to 10-pound pull. The original reason for this was so that when the adrenalin was flowing, the shooter would not be able to pull the trigger easily, and experience an unintended discharge. A suggestion would be adding a Timney drop-in trigger. They are easy to install (they drop in using the existing pins) and you have several trigger-weight options to choose from.
While walking the floor at the 2015 Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade, or SHOT, Show I met with the representative from Windham Weaponry. I told them my concerns about women having to deal with heavy ARs and how some companies are starting to employ polymers to reduce the weight of both the upper and lower receivers. Their rep walked me over to a display and handed me their Windham Weaponry Carbon Fiber “SRC.” I couldn’t help but notice the reduced weight of the rifle. I was impressed and knew this could serve as a great alternative to the heavier aluminum receivers. I had seen some polymer receivers around, but at the time didn’t know of anyone who effectively used it for both upper and lower receivers.
Windham states that this rifle weighs 5.85 pounds without a magazine. Using a postal scale I weighed the rifle with the factory sling and an empty aluminum 30-round magazine; it came to 6.25 pounds. I weighed it again with the sling and 30-round magazine (full); it came to 7.25 pounds. At this weight the R16M4 was still lighter than most AR-15s. If you were to add Magpul’s all-steel MBUS-Pro sight set, it would raise the weight 3.3 ounces. For this review I added an EOTech model 518 HWS (holographic weapon sight) which uses AA batteries (13.3 ounces) and a G-33 3X magnifier (11.9 ounces). The total weight with a sling, loaded 30-round magazine, sights and magnifier finished at 8.75 pounds. That’s where most AR-15s start stripped. I approached this like I would backpacking: ounces count and can add up quickly.
This SRC starts with a 16-inch, M4-style, chrome-lined barrel which has a 1-in-9-inch right-hand-twist rate that works well for stabilizing bullets from 55 to 75 grains. It finishes off with an an A2 flash suppressor. The gas block sports a MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail for mounting any front sight you choose, as well as has a standard bayonet lug and sling swivel. A word of caution: use a sight constructed of steel, as the gas block will heat up considerably and possibly melt other sights. The handguards have a double-layered heat shield to protect from the heat and are constructed of plastic. They are easily grasped and can be replaced with a quad rail handguard.
An A2 pistol grip offers your shooting hand a secure grip and, as with most parts, it can be replaced with a grip more suited to your hand size. The six-position telescoping buttstock is easy to adjust; grasp the buttstock trigger bar by the rear-sling loop and squeeze it while moving the stock forward or backward to the desired length of 6.5 to 10.5 inches.
Now we have come to what makes the Windham Weaponry rifle so unique: the carbon-fiber upper and lower receiver. They’re molded to look much like what you’re used to, yet discernibly different, containing more angles than curves. On the upper receiver the Picatinny rail is also made of carbon fiber and offers a strong and secure point to mount optics. The charging handle, dust cover and forward assist button is metal, mainly because they have moving parts or springs and are high-stress areas. When disassembling a normal upper, you would remove the charging handle by pulling it to the rear until it stops, then lifting straight up and out, allowing the side tabs to clear the cutouts in the upper receiver. With this model, you simply pull straight back and out and reassemble the same way. You must use caution when disassembling or reassembling the upper receiver as the bolt and charging handle will fall out if tipped up, possibly causing damage. All other areas of the rifle are the same as common models. On the lower receiver the magazine release, bolt catch, safety selector and trigger are metal as well. The markings for the safety selector are icons molded into the receiver; a bullet with an X inside means safe (safety selector pointing forward) and a plain bullet means fire (safety selector point up). The serial number is etched inside of a box under the selector and highlighted with silver, so it’s easy to read. The trigger guard is oversized to allow shooting in cold climates with fingered gloves, and there is room on the rail for backup iron sights, optics and a magnifier, but it’s tight.
I disassembled, inspected, cleaned and lubricated the rifle and headed to the range. It did not disappoint. Oh and do not fear, the rifle comes with a detailed “how to” manual on safety and instruction, disassembly, cleaning, lubrication and re-assembly if this is your first AR15. I had some random leftover ammo from other tests and loaded them into the Windham-original magazine first. I fired all 30 rounds with no stoppages.
I then fired the test ammunition through the chronograph using the factory and Magpul’s 20- and 30-round magazines; again, no stoppages. I also wanted to see how the carbon fiber dissipated heat. With the help of my son we fired 120 rounds through the rifle and I carefully placed my finger on the receiver, and while very warm, it did not burn my finger. It also cooled to the touch relatively fast despite being a direct-gas impingement system, which means the gas from the round is tapped off from the barrel and moved through a gas tube and then back to the bolt to cycle the action.
This Carbon Fiber SRC performed as hoped with all the ammunition and magazines tested. The cooling and heat-dissipation properties of the carbon fiber are noticeably better than their aluminum counterparts, and so is the overall weight with the accessories tested. If you wish to keep the rifle as light as possible, use a 10- or 20-round magazine with iron sights.
The only problem I encountered was that the rear takedown pin will walk out if not pushed all the way in until you hear or feel a click. Other than that, I highly recommend this rifle to any shooter who wants a light and dependable M4-style rifle. The choice is yours in the end on how light your rifle will be, but rest assured, you’re starting out with a rifle whose manufacturer is confident enough to give you a lifetime warranty that is even transferable. Lastly, something I feel is very important: Windham rifles are 100 percent American made in Windham, Maine, just outside Portland. –ASJ