“I‘ll take a semiautomatic riﬂe any day of the week over a bolt action, and twice on Sunday.” That’s what my husband told me when I confessed my love of the Mauser M98 bolt-action. A discussion ensued, and we were not talking hunting – we were discussing war. Our passion for riﬂes and history often leads to a great deal of research and conversation. Neither of us has served in the military, but the conversation thankfully extends beyond the theoretics of our living room to those who have ﬁrst-hand experience to tell it how it is, or was. Speaking with veterans is an opportunity neither of us will ever turn down. Our veterans, after all, are our heroes.
IT HAS BEEN MY HONOR to personally listen to tales of heroism and horror from World War II vets who have experiences ranging from retrieving the bodies of their fallen comrades on Utah Beach to ﬁghting in the Battle of the Bulge, the ﬁnal Nazi Germany oﬀensive. I have watched one of the Chosin Few, a US Marine Corps division who fought in the Chosin Reservoir, wipe tears from his face as he divulged only a small part of his experience in Korea; a friend and ﬁrearms instructor who is a Vietnam Marine shared with me the day he almost died, and now celebrates annually; Purple Heart recipients from our recent wars in the Middle East have revealed acts of horror impossible to comprehend without experiencing them ﬁrsthand; and in addition to America’s heroes, I have also heard ﬁrsthand from those who served in the Axis military.
In all these conversations, I have never heard how any particular riﬂe was more responsible than another for saving or taking human life, or for winning or losing a battle. These surviving storytellers instead focus their successes on much more important phenomena: battle strategy, bravery and luck. Statistical history suggests that many soldiers never even ﬁred their riﬂes in combat during WWII. Some data suggests as few as 12 percent, with arguments to the contrary, and at least one expert suggests soldiers purposefully missed their human targets. Similar studies suggest that small arms were only responsible for an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the total WWII casualties.Statistics, however, do not stop the debates. Historians and gun enthusiasts continue to credit or blame particular riﬂes with winning or losing battles. Competitors challenge one another to long-distance matches with antiques, and well-known shooters ﬁlm their time on the range, allegedly staging a direct comparison of era riﬂes to prove one is better than the other.
Like a Porsche, the K98k is German perfection in design and engineering, and carries this ideal through multiple features, but its heart and soul is its Mauser M98 action. Why is the Mauser action so much better than other bolt-action systems? It exempliﬁes two words: strength and reliability.
One reason for the Mauser’s strength is that the bolt’s two main locking lugs were moved to the front just behind the bolt head, unlike early repeaters with only one lug or their lugs positioned at the back of the bolt. These lugs allow for higher-pressure cartridges to be ﬁred safely, and are the reason that the Mauser system is stronger than that of the Lee-Enﬁeld and Mosin-Nagant actions, which require some strengthening to handle the same pressure. Backing up the two front lugs, the Mauser action also includes a third safety lug at the rear of the bolt.
Not only does the Mauser action deliver the power to handle the higher caliber rounds, it also has the strength via its extractor to eject fully loaded, heavy-dud rounds everytime. Not all bolt-actions are capable of this feat, and can leave duds dancing around in the ejection port, causing jams.
AS FOR RELIABILITY, the Mauser action eliminates operator-caused malfunctions that other bolt-actions cannot, including jams due to double loading, failures to load – due to short-stroking or otherwise – and failure to eject duds and casings. It is the Mauser’s large and nearly indestructible claw extractor, which gives the action its control-feed operation, keeping the round under the control of the bolt from the moment it is stripped from the
magazine. The control feed, as opposed to push-open-feed bolt-actions, ensures that each cartridge is held to the bolt face until achieving a positive insertion into the chamber, regardless of riﬂe position. The Mauser action also prevents double feeds, because it is impossible to have a round in the chamber and grab a second round.
Keeping the cartridge on the bolt face until ejected also allows the shooter to reliably extract a round even if the bolt is never fully closed. If you fail to lock the bolt with a push-feed action, you can leave the round seated in the chamber, and you will have to get it to fall out or even pick it out with your ﬁngers – not a good situation for a soldier or hunter. This task may not even be possible, depending on what is causing the malfunction in the ﬁrst place.
As a primary goal for improvement to their battle riﬂe, the Germans sought to ensure that soldiers always loaded a new round. To enhance this feature, they developed the follower at the magazine into a bolt catch. The bolt on a Mauser action cannot be pushed forward while unloaded because the follower in the magazine pops up and blocks the bolt from going forward until it is actually reloaded (pushed down by another round). Also, due to the ejector’s location, it is impossible to short-stroke a Mauser action and close the bolt without ejecting the casing and without loading another round. By the time the bolt is far enough back to eject the empty shell, it is far enough back to grab another round while cycling it forward.
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL German production criteria, it was impossible to cheaply mass-produce K98ks. Each K98k went through an elaborate 25-hour process before it was considered perfect. The barrel was entrusted only to graduates from a special barrel-straightener’s school. It’s no wonder Germany’s unemployment rates dropped substantially after Hitler withdrew from the League of Nations (now known as the United Nations) in 1933.
Of course, times change, and towards the end of 1943 the German standards gave way to the greater need for mass production. Production time per riﬂe was reduced to as little as 14 hours. If you compare only the bolt of an early production K98k with one from a 1944 riﬂe, you will see that the Porsche is now compromised for production purposes and oﬀered as a Volkswagen. The earlier bolt is beautiful and polished; the latter, simple but functional.
THE GERMANS TURNED TO alternative manufacturers later in the war – namely, their prisoners. Albert Speer implemented the supposed plenipotentiary Heinrich Himmler’s earlier request to produce arms in concentration camps. It is estimated that the camp at Buchenwald produced over 340,000 K98ks on behalf of the manufacturer Gustloff Werke. Old photographs depict prisoners at the original concentration camp of Dachau, repairing and assembling K98k riﬂes from components. During my visit to Dachau, there were no obvious signs of the manufacture of K98ks that once took place there. In fact, it wasn’t until after our visit that I learned Dachau prisoners had produced the means to empower their enslavers.
Due to the Germans attempting to outsmart the Treaty of Versailles’ Control Commission, deciphering the origins of a K98k can be a puzzle-solving process. Special K98ks, such as those issued to the Waffen-SS, bear unique markings. Among the 14 million K98ks produced, over 100 combinations of manufacturer code and date markings are known to exist, with new variations still being discovered.
To me and many other collectors, this is all part of the challenge of collecting historic riﬂes. I have been able to determine that my ﬁrst K98k has a combination of Weimar Beschußstempel and Nazi eagles. The number coding, the date and the combination of eagle styles tell the riﬂe’s tale, and clearly identiﬁes it as one manufactured by Sauer & Sohn in 1939. Also, part of the fun is telling a riﬂe’s tale post-war. K98ks were reconditioned and put to use all over the world. The Norwegian armed forces continued to use recycled K98k actions in military and civilian sniper and target riﬂes into the 2000s. US soldiers even encountered K98ks in Iraq. Some of them, ironically, were employed by the Israeli army, but only after stamping Israeli markings on top of the Nazi symbols.BY FAR THE greatest critique of the K98k is its rate of ﬁre. As with any other bolt-action, soldiers could only ﬁre as quickly as they could operate the bolt. Critics of the German’s bolt-action-armed infantry blame Hitler for losing WWII because he refused to arm his infantry with faster, semiautomatic riﬂes.
When WWII began, the German infantry was not unlike other armies – armed with a mix of bolt-action riﬂes and some form of machine gun. Germany’s strategy for implementing these weapons diﬀered.
They emphasized the machine gun, usually an MG-34 or an MG-42 (Maschinengewehr 34/42) as their primary infantry weapon. A German squad early in the war would have four machine guns, and after 1944 six. The K98k was only intended as the backup support to the more ominous weapon and for sniping. German battle strategy did not intend for individual soldiers to engage the enemy.
In contrast, the Allies employed machine guns as support and point defense weapons. The American’s squad-based weapons, usually Browning automatic rifles, were not comparable to the German’s belt-fed or saddle-drum magazine that could fire faster (1,200 rounds per minute) and longer. This opposite strategy left the American soldiers relying on their individual firepower. In that situation the US rifle caliber .30 M1 Garand was the “greatest battle implement ever devised,” according to General Patton, because at a minimum it equalized the American’s firepower with that of the Nazis.Both military doctrines had advantages and disadvantages. If you arm one squad with K98ks and the other with M1s or submachine guns at less than 500 yards, the soldiers with the M1s or submachine guns have the advantage. But when you add the use of a machine gun to the mix, per the German strategy, that system takes the advantage. Even in urban combat the K98k still had beneﬁts including its powerful ammunition that was better able to penetrate walls and other cover. The Germans recognized the importance of a submachine gun and married its advantages with a higher-caliber round towards the end of the war –creating the Sturmgewehr 44 – but mass production of these new riﬂes was not fully accomplished before the end of the war.
TODAY, THE MAUSER M98 action remains the precision instrument in the world of bolt-actions. Almost every centerﬁre bolt gun today uses a Mauser M98 action and operating principles with minor diﬀerences. Quite an astounding fact, given that Peter Paul Mauser patented the M98 bolt-action design in 1895. Not only does the action live on as the old faithful and reliable of bolt-actions,it carries on as a top-of-the line luxury action as well. For a mere $12,495, the new Mauser M98 Magnum combines the strength of the ’98 action with modernized features. The Mauser action is also appreciated by elite snipers who value the ﬁrst shot, guaranteed hit over faster repeat ﬁre.
Although German WWII K98ks are highly sought after by collectors, they can still be found as foreign capture riﬂes imported to the US. I found mine a couple of years ago on the shelf at a Big Five Sporting Goods store for a few hundred dollars. These war relics live on as inspiration, history and as platforms for the next leap forward.
And yes, dear husband, I see your points about the semiautomatics. They certainly hold their place in both war and hunting. Finding one that provides the powerful, ﬁrst-shot, reliable tack of a Mauser action is indeed possible. For three to four times the price, I might ﬁnd a one to match the power and precision of a M98. ASJ
One tangible connection to the human cost of the Civil War can be found in the Frazier History Museum in Louisville, Ky., in the form of a beautifully engraved Henry repeating rifle, serial number 19. The original owner was Connecticut native George Dennison Prentis, who was the editor of the Louisville Journal from 1830 to 1860 and a staunch abolitionist. After succession, he was an outspoken advocate of the Union even though his newspaper was absorbed by the pro-Confederate Louisville Morning Courier. On July 14, 1862, he wrote a report for the newspaper that praised the Henry.
“It behooves every loyal citizen to prepare himself upon his own responsibility with the best weapon of defense that can be obtained. And certainly the simplest, surest and most effective weapon that we know of, the weapon that can be used with the most tremendous results in case of an outbreak or invasion, is one that we have mentioned recently upon two or three occasions, the newly invented rifle of Henry.”
It is very likely that his Henry was a gift from the manufacturer. The Connecticut-based New Haven Arms Company hoped to make the Henry the standard-issue rifle of the Union Army and sought favorable endorsements in hopes of securing government contracts. As a matter of fact, a similar engraved rifle was presented to President Abraham Lincoln.
Ultimately, 1,731 Henry rifles were sold to the US Government for a $63,943 (about $50 each). Far more (approximately 10,000) were bought by individuals and state regiments like the 66th and 7th Illinois and the 97th Indiana. The rifles were highly prized on the battlefield. Confederates described the Henry as “that darn Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week.”
THE PROGENITOR of the Winchester repeaters, the Henry was a technological marvel in its time. It fired a .44-caliber, self-contained, metallic, rim-fire primed cartridge. The magazine held 15 shots, and one more could be loaded in the chamber, giving it more firepower than any other rifle on the battlefield. It was accurate by the standards of the day too, equipped as it was with a graduated ladder rear sight. Army tests showed it could keep 100 percent of its shots inside a 25-inch circle at 500 yards and a 48-inch circle at 1,000. Bullet weights were either 200 or 216 grains over 26 to 28 grains of black powder, giving it a muzzle velocity of 1,125 feet per second and a muzzle energy of 568 foot pounds. Ballistically it was between today’s .44 Special and .44-40 WCF of the same bullet weight, which leads me to wonder how much energy it had left at 200 yards, much less either of the Army test ranges. Compared to the standard rifled musket of the era, the .44 Henry was a pipsqueak, and that insured it would never be selected for general issue to troops. However, at ranges of less than 100 yards the Henry’s accuracy and power were perfectly adequate, and its speed and firepower proved devastating to the enemy in close combat.
THE HISTORY OF GEORGE PRENTIS’S Henry rifle is not a happy one. Though he supported the Union, his two sons, William Courtland and Clarence J., believed in the merits of the Confederate cause and actually fought for the South. William took his father’s rifle to war and died leading his troops in the Battle of Augusta, Ky., on September 18, 1862. The rifle and the sad news made their way back home to George. The Henry left his home again, for the last time, when his remaining son joined the Confederate cause. Reaching the rank of colonel, Clarence survived the war and his father pleaded that he be shown clemency. The rifle never came home. Hidden by Confederate soldiers, it was rediscovered a century later in a Memphis, Tenn. basement. ASJ
Let’s say I wanted a rifle, chambered in 5.56, with a 16-inch barrel, and I wanted it to be about the same size as an SMG.
Well, look no further, the Austrian Steyer AUG fits that need.
You’ve probably heard that the US military is replacing the M16/M4 and looking into new rifles and ammo. (US Army and Marine Corp) Wondering why they’re looking into 6.5 Creedmoor in particular? No, its not because the Russians are out gunning us. Here’s the scoop.
There are a couple things you should know about 6.5 Creedmoor and today, we’ll put this round into sharper focus for you. So let’s look at it in more detail so that you’ll see why it works for the military and why it could work for you.
Right off the bat, the US Special Operations Command understood all the good things about this cartridge as an alternative to its existing ammo.
The cartridge was introduced in 2008 as one of the first and best cartridges for precision long range shooting.
At the time, there weren’t a lot of civilians shooting long range, but in recent years, the company has seen demand grow in the hunting industry, and grow as manufacturers continue to put out more affordable long range rifles.
Today, it is the go-to cartridge for many hunters and competitive shooters.
Precision long range shooting skill a learned trait which is an advantage to have in combat and the military seems to be catching onto Creedmoor’s awesome reputation and populatiry for shooting close and tight precision groups at 500 yards or more.
Having a bigger bullet means you’ll do bigger damage to your target, whether your target is a tango or a blood thirsty wild hog.
Our brothers in arms go through enough shit. The last thing they need is hellish recoil.
If there’s one thing you won’t get with 6.5 Creedmoor, is its crazy blowback.
6.5 Creedmoor is specially designed for low recoil rounds without compromising pinpoint accuracy.
Did you also know that it can go subsonic after 1,300 yards?
When it comes to tactical applications, this cartridge packs a serious wallop
There are some long range groups think that there aren’t any real differences between 6.5 Creedmoor and the long-established .308 Win.
But those people would be ill-informed.
The truth is, they are very similar, however there are some things in which they differ.
First there is the huge gap between the two when it comes to ballistics. 6.5 Creedmoor loads can reach a thousand yards with less than three hundred inches of drop with proper windage.
This is true of just about any ammo, particularly Hornady 178 grain HPBT, that is used with a 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge.
The .308 Win doesn’t compare to that kind of numbers.
Another area in which 6.5 Creedmoor often bests .308 Win is in its accessibility.
A lot of .308 ammo is out of stock when you visit the major online ammo dealers.
But if you run a search for Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor 140 gr AMAX, they’re everywhere.
And thats the other thing that is very good news for the military and all of us: there are plenty of dealers – large and small – from which they could order 6.5 ammo in bulk.
Another argument that comes up is about barrel longevity, claiming that the 6.5 Creedmoor only last for 2-3,000 rounds whereas the .308 Win will be good for as many as 10,000 rounds.
This is simply bogus since it all depends on whether you’re shooting 1 MOA.
Theres just no way that the .308 could be reaching that mark at 10,000.
If you’re using it with a precision rifle or for seasonal deer shooting, you’re going to go long ways with your 6.5 Creedmoor, no if, and, or buts..about it, except the butt you put a bullet in.
And thats another thing. Combat isn’t always what it looks like in movies and on TV. For those that have served can tell you that there are many days where you don’t see much action and, even when you do, its not necessarily a rapid fire situation.
But Murphy’s law does exist when the shit hits the fan.
If you’re an active duty sniper (Marksman Observer), you’re gonna get a whole lot more life outta your 6.5 Creedmoor than you would with the .308.
Solving the Problem
What’s really crazy about the 6.5 versus .308 argument is the simple fact that 6.5 Creedmoor was specifically conceived to be a cartridge that would be superior to the wildcat cartridges of the day.
As the story goes at the Civilian Marksmanship Program 2007 National Matches at Camp Perry, Hornady engineer Dave Emary decided to remedy what he saw as a problem among competitive shooters.
As Emary saw it, people were trying to push their cartridges to the limit, attempting to defy the laws of physics by brainstorming methods by which to get their cartridges to perform at levels that weren’t made to. Problems would then crop up as a result of these jeri-rigging formulas.
In Emary’s own words, “People were having a lot of problems with functioning the 6mms. They were running these things at very high pressures to try to get the performance they need to compete.”
“Our solution was to go to a 6.5, firing a lot higher BC bullet, and not have to push it as hard to get what they wanted.”
Emary and his team solved this problem by taking existing .264 cartridges and altering the specs, giving the cartridge the capacity for long-ogive, high-ballistic rounds.
Lo and behold the 6.5 was born, a short-action rifle cartridge capable of insane performance.
Like I said earlier, this cartridge isn’t just a slam dunk for the military should they end up choosing it over the others they’ve been testing.
Its also a damn good option for almost any civilian hunter or gun enthusiast.
If you didn’t hear the news: USSOCOM has adopted the 6.5 CM as their new Precision Rifle cartridge. It was a close call between the 260 Remington and the 6.5 Creedmoor, but the 6.5 CM won the day due to the military’s belief that the 6.5 CM has more room for innovation for the future.
Many target shooters have taken to the Ruger Precision Rifleand my targets gets shredded to pieces. The results are always incredible. At long range, many are saying the the CM leave 2.8 inches at five hundred yards.
Ruger Precision Rifle
But the advantages for game hunters is where this one really shines. Its got a sick muzzle velocity due to its extra powder space and its able to accommodate a wealth of different medium-burning rifle powders.
If you’re anything like me, you wouldn’t automatically think of long-range shooting when it comes to big game. After all, ethical hunting requires limiting your range to as short as possible to ensure a clean kill.
That being said, it should also stand to reason that if 6.5 Creedmoor can take out a target at 500 yards, its going to take care of business at 100 yards with no problem.
From personal experience, I’ve seen how this can perform in a close quarters situations and I was every bit as impressed as I was when I hunted with the .308.
The round went right where I wanted it to and I bagged a deer without a rechamber. Like I said: clean humane kill.
Better grouping and more affordable ammo makes the 6.5 Creedmoor a no-brainer for those who camp out a lot at the firing range.
When we take into account the rising cost of ammo in the last few years and the scrutiny that many firearm and ammo companies have faced, 6.5 ammo maintains a reasonable price point and remains readily available.
And when it comes to high-end ballistics, you can’t beat these suckers. The BC numbers on these bad boys are awe-inspiring (approximately .610 G1 at 140 grain). If you’re looking to impress, you really can’t go wrong with the 6.5’s remarkable 1,400 fps at 1,000 yards(!).
If you want the very best from this cartridge, you’ll have to get into reloading. You can start with our Beginner’s Guide To Reloading. But if you’re not into that, then you’ll need something you can pick up at the store.
If you’re on the range to have fun, you don’t want to spend a fortune. But this also isn’t the kind of caliber that you buy cheap, crappy ammo for – you’ll want something that shoots consistent and for a fair price.
Sellier & Bellot is what you’re looking for, from 9mm to 6.5CM they make a good product for a good price.
Of course, once you’re ready to really stretch your legs and see what this bad boy can do – it’s time to get out the good stuff!
Match grade ammo isn’t cheap, but it is amazing. Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor Extremely Low Drag match bullet is outstanding for factory ammo. Your mileage may vary, but I’ve been getting half-MOA with this ammo.
When it comes to hunting ammo, you want great ammo. Not only for accuracy but also with a bullet that will expand and do a lot of damage to your target to ensure a clean, humane kill.
Hornady with their Super Shock Tip bullets gives that every time. A polymer tip gives you the ballistics of FMJ with the expansion and killing power of a hollow-point.
A cool cartridge is only as good as the weapon that throws it, just like a weapon that throws it is only as good as what it throws.
For a budget hunting rifle, it’s hard to beat the Savage Arms 12 FV – not only is this a solid rifle out of the box, but it is at a price that is hard to beat. I commonly see this is the $370-$410 range.
I already said it, but when it comes to long-range target shooting the Ruger Precision Rifle is just too good to beat. For the price, the options, the aftermarket, and the out-of-the-box quality – you want this rifle.
A dedicated rifle for every role is the dream for many of us, but if you don’t have the room in your safe (or your budget) for that then you might want to consider a middle of the road do-it-all rifle.
The Tikka T3x is that rifle. Rugged, lightweight, smooth as butter action and outstanding trigger – a Tikka T3x is my go-to hunting rifle.
On the precision side, Tikka offers a 1 MOA from the factory guarantee and lives up to it!
Once you have your ammo and rifle picked out, you’ll want to invest in a quality scope. Depending on what role your 6.5 Creedmoor will be filling you might want a couple of scopes!
For hunting, you’ll generally want something a little lower magnification, like this Vortex Crossfire II 2-7x.
But if you’re looking to do some real precision shooting, really put this cartridge to the test, then you’ll need something with a LOT more magnification: Vortex Golden Eagle 15-60x fills the bill!
Another important thing to keep in mind when purchasing any cartridge is maintenance. If you’re going to be participating in extended shooting sessions, you should always bring along the proper gear for cleaning your rifle and cartridge. Maintenance will help you to sustain that pinpoint precision you’re hoping for.
I always take my J Dewey Rods’ Complete Bolt Action Rifle Cleaning Kit with me when I know I’m gonna spend all day at the range or out in the field. The 6.5 kit costs around $30 and includes everything I need for proper upkeep.
You get a BAC Chamber Kit, a B-6.5 Bore brush, an M-22 Bore mop, a CH-308 Chamber brush and a 100 count of P-221 1 ½” Round Patches.
So what’s the bottom line? Quite simply, 6.5 Creedmoor is a formidable cartridge for tactical and target shooting applications alike.
At the end of the day, the battle between 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Winchester will wage on, but I think it’s clear that 6.5 Creedmoor isn’t going anywhere.
If anything, it’s only going to continue to grow in popularity as more and more long range shooters embrace it.
What about you! Did you get the 6.5 Creedmoor? Take any game this year with it? Do you agree with the military adopting it? Let us know in the comments!
Reviews by Megan Kriss, revised by ASJ Staff
Are PSA’s low prices too good to be true?
For years I’ve heard of Palmetto State Armory and their ultra-affordable AR-15s. The only negative things were some finishing issues and shipping delays here and there.
But… for a long time I was a little obsessed with name brands and scoffed at sub-$500 rifles.
I finally bit the bullet…
I got three of their uppers (16″ 5.56 with front sight block, 16″ 5.56 free-float rail, 18″ stainless .223 Wylde), one of their lowers, and shot a lot of rounds through them.
By the end you’ll know if a PSA rifle/upper is right for you…and the best model to get based on your use.
Table of Contents
PSA sent me these three uppers and one lower for testing.
But they are going through the same testing procedures I do for all my other guns.
And at a higher round count since reliability is key when I recommend more budget-friendly options.
I spoke with PSA and the reason their AR-15s are so affordable is due to full vertical integration. From raw metal to the finished product…they do it themselves.
PSA has their Freedom line which is their most affordable and is pretty much mil-spec (meets military specifications).
However, like I outlined in our AR-15 Buyer’s Guide…I like a mid-length gas system way better than the standard carbine-length.
It gives you more rail space and a softer shooting impulse since the gas tube is longer and gas block is more forward.
Unless you’re going for the pure M4 look…I’d opt for something in the mid-length arena. Or at least their Magpul MOE furniture models so you can add some rails in the future.
For my upper with a FSB (front sight block…that triangle thing you see above), I went with a 16″ mid-length Magpul model and Nitride-coated barrel.
This gives me a longer handguard (with M-LOK), ability to add rails, Magpul rear flip sight, and a nicer barrel finish compared to phosphate.
Since it has a pinned FSB…it’s a little front-heavy….but that’s the nature of the beast. The FSB is pinned well and the handguard is really on there. You can see my segment of Picatinny I added to the handguard’s M-LOK attachment points.
The next upper would be my favorite overall setup. 16″ mid-length with a 13.5″ M-LOK free-floating barrel and Nitride barrel.
Now you get the benefit of not having a FSB which helps the weight balance, and also having a free-floating handguard that increases accuracy by taking away contact points on the barrel.
For absolute reliability I’d still opt for the FSB model…but free-float AR’s are now the standard, you can attach a lot of stuff, and the gas block is really on there.
The last model is the 18″ .223 Wylde which is a relatively new chambering that will shoot BOTH 5.56 and .223 but offers a slight accuracy edge. Usually you’ll see the more accurate barrels in stainless which is what we have here.
This comes in an even softer shooting rifle-length gas system and 15″ M-LOK free-floating rail.
All came with mil-spec A2 bird-case flash-hiders that were installed correctly and didn’t require superhuman strength to take off and switch for some compensators.
PSA seems to have three tiers of barrels.
The two 5.56 uppers I received were Nitride coated instead of regular phosphate…while the Wylde was stainless steel.
Nitride (two left black ones) is smooth while stainless is…stainless. The BCG on the right gives you a sense of what the rougher texture phosphate looks like. Nitride is supposed to be a little tougher and I like the smooth look.
I took apart the free-floating 5.56 and Wylde. Straight gas tubes…
And at least 35 in-lb of torque on the gas block with some sort of weird spill on the 5.56.
There’s not too much to say here…everything is where it’s supposed to be.
If I had to nitpick…there’s some super small machining marks on the forward assist for two of the uppers I had. Not even sure you can see them in the pics.
The Magpul mid-length polymer handguard is what it is. A great update to the mil-spec plastic handguard that can’t attach anything.
The free-floating M-LOK handguards work too. The thin profile feels great in the hand…but could use a little more TLC in the CNC to get rid of sharper edges.
Also the 13.5″ is a little on the purple-ish side and a little off in orientation between receiver and handguard…but nothing an Allen wrench and a small turn didn’t fix.
The more “premium” Wylde upper was properly aligned and colored.
As mil-spec as they come. Everything is as it should be and the gas-keys are properly staked.
The 5.56 uppers had phosphate coated BCGs (mil-spec) while the Wylde had a Nitride coated one.
If I had to nitpick again…the coating is a little bumpier than other phosphates I’ve used, but since only the rails of the BCG contact anything…there’s no real downside.
I found that the mil-spec phosphate BCGs were not MP marked (magnetic particle inspected) while the more premium .223 Wylde one was.
All the bolts were listed Carpenter 158 steel (mil-spec) but I’ve seen some PSA models where it is 9310 steel. Fine for civilian use but if you really want mil-spec…go for the Carpenter 158. The carriers were all 9620 steel (mil-spec).
Charging handles were mil-spec as well.
Since I’ve gone with aftermarket charging handles…I cannot go back (Best AR-15 Charging Handles).
I built the lower as a kit so I added a few dings here and there (How to Build an AR-15 Lower). I got the Magpul kit which has their buttstock, grip, and trigger guard.
This one also comes with PSA’s EPT trigger which is silver compared to mil-spec phosphate black. Much less grit!
But for this one I did have a little trouble threading the grip screw initially. I’m thinking the coating was a little thick since I had to muscle my way through the initial turns.
Otherwise everything installed as it should.
What really matters…right?
I took a bunch of ammo, a buddy, and the two 5.56 uppers to the range. With the goal of putting as many rounds downrange as possible.
I cleaned the barrels but otherwise did not do any break-in procedures. I started with ~300 rounds of Wolf Gold (Best AR-15 Ammo) through each one before the accuracy tests.
For the 16″ with FSB…there were two failures to load a new round after a magazine change in the first 40 rounds. However after that it shot without a hiccup.
For the M-LOK free-floating version, there was one failure to load on the first magazine change and no more problems afterwards.
This is likely due to all the parts breaking in.
Recoil was standard and mild for both 5.56 uppers. After a few mags I was easily hitting 12″ plates at 100 yards with my EOTech.
But still made me realize how spoiled I’ve been with adjustable gas-blocks and compensators (Best AR-15 Upgrades).
For the free-floating version, if you grip around the gas block like I do…you’ll feel a little heat when dumping rounds. Not enough to burn…but enough to have a red hand after 500 rounds.
Here’s my buddy and me at our second range day. I’m running my competition lower with a much better trigger (Best AR-15 Triggers).
The uppers worked flawlessly after the initial break-in on the following lowers:
While the lower worked with the following uppers:
The 5.56 barrels are the middle of the road for PSA. Let’s see how they fare.
I let the barrels cool down and then ran through Wolf Gold, PMC Bronze, American Eagle, and Federal Gold Match.
I used my standard testing platform for all my AR-15 stuff…
Targets were placed at 100 yards and I shot at a pace of around 1 shot per 10 seconds. 10 shots each group.
Mil-spec is 3-4 MOA which means 3-4 inch groups at 100 yards. The FSB version falls within that (targets are 8″). With PMC Bronze doing the best of the plinking rounds at around 3 MOA.
Gold Match does the best but keep in mind it’s about $1 a shot. If you’re shooting that on a regular basis you’re probably looking at other rifles (Best AR-15s).
All in all…it’s as I expected. When there’s a front sight block there’s a whole lot of stuff touching the barrel which doesn’t help accuracy. Let’s see the free-floating model.
Much better! Looks like all the groups closed up. PMC Bronze and American Eagle are pretty even at what looks like 2 MOA. Gold Match is still the ultimate winner but it’s not THAT much off from PMC and AE.
When you have a free-floating handguard there’s less contact with the barrel and the accuracy shows.
Now how about the .223 Wylde we’ve forgotten?
Since this is a more premium barrel and made for accuracy…I did a break-in procedure with it as well as with PSA’s .224 Valkyrie (coming soon).
I cleaned the barrel and shot 1 round through before using copper solvent and a brush. Repeat the shoot and clean for 5x total. Then I changed it up to 5 shots before cleaning. Repeat 5x.
I then plinked ~200 rounds.
Finally, I was ready…
I used a different lower with a Triggertech trigger which I might actually like more than my Hiperfire (Best AR-15 Triggers). I started running low on Gold Medal so the last group only has 4 rounds.
It really looks like the FSB version instead of something that uses a tighter chamber and a free-floating handguard.
I’ll continue testing but right now looks like I would stick with PSA’s regular 5.56 offerings (free-floating of course).
The thing with PSA is that they are always in and out of stock of everything. And they have almost every combination under the sun…which makes it nice but also a headache to find what you want.
No fuss of building anything…out of the box ready to go.
I again like mid-length gas systems and it looks like their Nitride barrels are GTG. Their more premium selections (CHF) should be great as well if you have a little more to spend. I haven’t spent time with their regular barrels (phosphate), but other reviews vouch for them.
I personally like free-floating M-LOK handguards since they give you added accuracy and lots of space to put stuff. Unless you really want the look of a FSB…go for free-floating!
Already have a lower and want an affordable upper? There’s a bazillion options again…so here’s a search for 16″ mid-lengths to narrow it down a little:
Remember to choose the options with BCG (bolt carrier group), CH (charging handle), and Magpul MBUS (flip backup sights) if you need them.
Looking at complete lowers? I prefer the Magpul editions…mil-spec buttstocks and pistol grips are not great.
A little something I learned recently…retailers must add on a 11% tax for fully assembled firearms.
PSA has rifle kits which…if you’re a little handy…will save you a bunch when you build your own lower.
And be sure to get a stripped lower since the kit will contain everything except that.
Follow our How to Build an AR-15 Lower guide to put it all together.
After some minor break-in to loosen things up…my PSA uppers were fully reliable at my current round count of 1500 across all three.
It’ll do its job within mil-spec with regular plinking ammo, and seems to like PMC Bronze overall the best (Best AR-15 Ammo). Little bummed out that the .223 Wylde didn’t perform as well as it should.
Magpul kit makes it pretty good with the buttstock and pistol grip. Free-floating handguard is thin but a little too sharp around the edges.
Pretty average here but could use more consistency in color.
Bang for the Buck: 5/5
You can get a fully reliable AR for under $500…and even lower if you get the kits.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
The online legends are true.
Based on my testing I can totally recommend Palmetto State Armory for an affordable AR-15 that will go bang every time.
My favorite would still be their mid-length free-floating options…but their more M4-looking FSB ones also fit the bill.
For now…stay away from their Wylde and soon I’ll have reports on their .224 Valkyrie and more. Plus I’m going to put much more rounds in all three and update if anything changes.
And once you get one…check out our AR-15 Definitive Resource for everything AR.
What do you think of the review? Is a PSA AR-15 on your horizon? Or if you already have one…how’s it working out for you?
The post Palmetto State Armory (PSA) AR-15 [3 Rifle Review] appeared first on Pew Pew Tactical.
Looking for bull barrel accuracy in a lightweight package?
Check out the new generation of barrels…carbon fiber, baby!
We cover the most popular ones in Best Carbon Fiber Barrels…but today we focus on BSF which brings us perforated carbon fiber instead of a wrap.
Plus…compared to the others out there…the BSF is the most affordable (I use that term loosely).
I only heard about BSF in the last year but they are making a splash in the carbon fiber (CF) arena with their perforated barrels instead of standard wraps.
My understanding is that there’s a 416R stainless steel match barrel underneath there that is covered with CF. However…95% of the CF doesn’t even touch the steel (only 4 contact points: chamber, before/after the gas block, and near the muzzle).
This creates air gaps that cool the barrel through the perforations.
I was lucky enough to try this out in a new build thanks to Rainier Arms who sent me a barrel for testing.
The barrel was a sight to behold. Even the wife said it was cool…and by now all the barrels and uppers around the house look the same to her.
I tried out the 16.5″ .223 Wylde in 1:8 twist which clocks in at 26.9 oz. Compare that to a standard M4 profile 16″ barrel at 28 oz. If you want to go bull barrel stainless…it can reach 3 lbs (48 oz). I couldn’t find exact numbers since I could only find 18″ bull barrels that are over 3.5 lbs.
My full build which contains all my favorites:
It is a little more difficult to install since there’s no barrel shoulder to gauge where to put the gas block. But if you have an electronic caliper…you should be good.
My go-to Superlative Arms block (this time in .936 for the bull barrel) went on easily after I made a small etch marking on the stainless section of the barrel.
Otherwise with my combo of the Brigand Arms CF handguard…I found that it rubbed the top of the gas block. Which technically makes it no longer free-floating…but I wanted to see how it would shoot still.
What you’ve been waiting for…does it actually work?
I conducted two rounds of tests…one with the touching CF handguard and one with the free-floating.
200 round break-in, targets at 100 yards, and shooting at a fast pace (as soon as sights were back on target) with no cooling down period.
And an assortment of my Best AR-15 Ammo.
If these were my regular groups with some cool-down and a slow steady shooting pace…I’d be a little disappointed. But I wanted to test how the heat dissipation worked and how it would perform in a little more competitive arena.
In that regard…I’m pretty impressed. It was pretty happy with Wolf Gold (the cheapest ammo) and very happy with Gold Match ($$$).
I also shot 30 rounds as fast as I could at the range and held the barrel. Only warm!
In my second round of tests on another range day, I used the Midwest Handguard and Aero upper. And a new Triggertech trigger which I actually like the most now.
And the results were on par…
All in all…pretty happy about the groups when I was shooting as fast as I could get on target with no cool down.
I’m sure if I started hand-loading I could really close up the groups. But it’s a pain to prep .223/5.56 brass so I stopped doing that. But even with this I was ringing steel at 300-400 pretty easily on a 1-6x scope.
No failures of any kind in the ~400 rounds I shot through.
Great groups when you consider shooting with no cool down and as fast as I could get back on target. A 5 would be consisten sub-moa even at high speed.
I’d make it a 10 if I could. But it really stands out…especially with the sweet carbon fiber drilled holes.
Bang for the Buck: 3.5/5
It’s $500…would I count it as double a really high quality 16″ Wylde barrel? Probably not. But if you’re at the top of your game or want an unfair advantage in relation to your groups opening up due to heat…this could be it. However…the most affordable out of other CF options.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
I believe the hype of carbon fiber barrels now.
Take a lightweight bull barrel profile with great groups at speed…and you have a winner. If you have the coin for a sweet new build…check out BSF. It’s definitely my new competition rifle.
Ringing steel at 100 was easy standing up and with a 1x. The rifle was well balanced and once I got the Superlative Arms gas block tuned in…it felt like a pea shooter.
I’ll be reporting back as I get more rounds and comps through it.
Otherwise…check out our other Best AR-15 Barrels for something more bang-for-the-buck for the everyday shooter.
Deer seasons in most of the USA doesn’t start until September – but if you’re looking to harvest some whitetail this year you’re probably already planning your hunt now.
Hopefully, you’re planning on shooting and developing your loads for upcoming hunts and maybe spending some time hiking, working out and getting ready for long days in the field and packing that hard-earned venison back to the trailhead. If you haven’t started yet, get going.
This fall some 10 million hunters will go afield in search of the whitetail buck of their dreams. On average, about 6 million deer will be harvested.
Though the numbers seem astronomical, consider this. In 1900 it is estimated that less than 500,000 whitetail deer remained in the US. As of 2013, there were an estimated 32,000,000 whitetails.
A true conservation success story and one that points to the hunter as the true conservationist.
The whitetail deer is the most popular big-game species to hunt. Partly because of the sheer numbers, but also because the whitetail can be found from as far north as the Arctic Circle in Canada to Brazil and Peru in South America.
From the east coast to the west coast whitetails can be found in every state in the Lower 48.
Whitetails live in vastly different habitats. You may find them in the edges around agricultural operations such as beans, corn, and alfalfa. Some you find at high elevation in the aspens in Colorado and Wyoming. Others prefer the tight, close confines of the river bottoms.
Because of the adaptability of whitetails, where you hunt will largely determine the rifle and ammo combination needed to be successful.
The whitetail is the smallest of the deer species in North America. On average a mature buck will weigh about 150 pounds, and a doe about 100 pounds. They are thin-skinned and have a relatively dainty bone structure.
So cleanly killing a whitetail does not take a specialized or heavy rifle and cartridge. A well-placed bullet from nearly any centerfire rifle will allow you to ethically take whitetail deer.
There are a lot of options when it comes to rifle and cartridges, let’s take a look at some good choices for whitetail hunting to get you started down the path to a whitetail hunting career.
You’re kidding, right? With all the fast new and sexy cartridges out there, why do I list the .30-30 first?
In all likelihood, the .30-30 Winchester Centerfire has taken more whitetail than any other cartridge. Often packaged in a compact, light and easy to carry lever-action rifle, the .30-30 makes a lot of sense.
There are a lot of whitetail in the river bottoms and thick forest and swamps. Shots will be short. You’ll likely be on a stand or stalk hunting and catch a glimpse of a whitetail sneaking through the woods.
Traditional open sights or a peep sight are quick to acquire and quite accurate for 50-100 yard shots.
Any good bullet designed for tubular magazines will be fine. My Winchester Model 94’s prefer 150-grain flat-points.
Normally you need to use round nose or flat nose bullets in a tube magazine for safety reasons, however, Hornady now offers a tube magazine safe spitzer cartridge using their FTX bullets. Although these cost a bit more than standard .30-30 rounds, they offer better penetration, better accuracy, longer range, and more reliable feeding.
The .308 was originally designed as a military cartridge. Sportsmen quickly realized that the .308 cartridge design was very accurate and could be housed in short action rifles, making them quite handy in the field.
The .308 gives up very little performance as far as velocity and energy compared to the 30-06. What it doesn’t do is recoil very much. A .308 with good 165 – 180-grain bullets will easily handle all your whitetail hunting from very close cover to 300+ yards with good optics.
Another military cartridge adopted for sporting use. The .30-06 is a do-it-all cartridge.
With the exception of big bears and the dangerous game of Africa, you would be well-served with a quality bolt action rifle in .30-06 to take on virtually any big-game species on the planet.
In fact, in his book “One Man, One Rifle, One Land” JY Jones writes about his quest to take all 43 North American Species with the same .30-06 rifle.
Loaded with bullets from 150-180 grains, the .30-06 is a solid choice for someone who wants to hunt big game and do their hunting with one rifle.
I know, ‘who hunts deer with an AR?’. Truth be told, lots of folks do.
The AR is one of, if not the fastest selling rifle platform available today. The simple fact is the AR is today’s modern sporting rifle.
Light, handy, ammo is stocked in every gun store in the nation and in all different loads, and priced so an AR-15 is within reach of nearly anyone.
However, several states require deer hunting to be done with a cartridge larger than .23cal and/or have magazine restrictions for what can be used in a hunting rifle – check your regulations before deciding on your rifle!
If it is legal and you do choose standard .223/5.56mm as your cartridge you should be aware that although possible, these cartridges limit you greatly. Choose heavy grain, soft tip ammo and keep your range within 150 yards and a standard AR-15 will serve you well.
But if you’re looking to expand your options – you can always choose a new upper for your AR-15 and unlock a whole new world of ballistic possibilities!
Uppers in cartridges such as 6.5 Grendel and 6.8 Remington SPC are fine options – however, the far more popular is the .300 Blackout.
The .300 Blk gets a lot of press for use in AR’s and some specialty handguns. It was designed in part to work well in AR’s as well as for use in suppressed weapons systems.
If you want to hunt with the .300 Blackout, stick with bullets that 150 grains and you will get adequate energy and penetration on deer-sized game out to 200 yards.
While the above cartridges will likely serve the vast majority of whitetails hunters just fine, there are those who may wish to stretch the yardage a bit or pursue bigger game. If you want to stay in the AR platform look closely at the AR-10 platform and move into the .308 Winchester with 150 or 165-grain bullets.
We’ve laid out the differences between the AR-15 and AR-10 and should Help You Decide Between the AR-15 and AR-10.
Now you have a powerful cartridge in a semi-auto package capable of taking game cleanly at extended ranges. You will pay a penalty in weight and cost, but it is a viable option if you plan to hunt in areas where shots may be long.
These are the only 2 bullets I’ve recovered from game shot with a Nosler Partition.
While not at all an exhaustive list, I believe anyone looking to start big game hunting with whitetails will be well served with the above choices.
As for what rifle to buy, you have to decide. My personal experience has been mostly with bolt actions; Remington Model 700, Tikka T3 Lite, Ruger Mod 77, Ruger American Predator and semi-custom Mauser 98’s. All work well. All are accurate. All kill whitetail deer just fine if you place your shots correctly.
If you’re interested in the newest iterations of hunting rifles, check out our Best New Hunting Rifles of 2018.
Now that you have a rifle in hand, what else do you need to have to be able to spend the entire day in the field hunting?
I’m a little over-the-top in what I carry. I grew in the Scouting program and I am a firm believer in Being Prepared.
Also, being from the Northwest I carry more gear than the average hunter because we have wide temperature swings, it will most likely be raining and/or snowing and I want to be sure I am 100% able to function on my own and not be a burden on my partners.
Let’s take a quick look at the very minimum I would have in my pack for a day of whitetail hunting in northeast Washington. I will not go too much into clothing since that is a regional and seasonal variable that everyone needs to deal with on hunt-by-hunt basis.
In the photo below is my gear:
Here’s a quick run-down of what you see and why. Starting in the upper left of the photo:
Again, this is what I have found works for me. Every area and every hunt is different, so adjust your gear accordingly. But you will find after a few trips there are some things that always get used and will go in your pack every time you go hunting.
A note on meat care: I mentioned boning your deer. I am a big proponent of quick and quality field care. I will go out on a limb here and say that most ‘gamey’ meat results from poor care of the animal in the field.
With any animal the number one enemy is heat. Get the animal broken down and cooling immediately. That means skin off, and meat off the bones. There is a tremendous amount of internal heat and the quicker the meat is separated from the bones, better.
Because nearly all of our hunting is done in the backcountry we bone our animals on spot using the ‘gutless method’. Check the link and do some research on your own. I think you will find it’s a quick, clean and easy way to care for deer.
They even have videos taking you step by step as they clean a Bull Elk!
Because whitetails live in such vastly different habitats, tactics must be adjusted depending on the location. However, there are a few things that remain constant that will help you tag a whitetail this year.
Whitetails are creatures of habit. They stay pretty close to one area and tend to use the same trails and routes. My preferred method of hunting is to find an intersection of two or more trails in the timber or edges of food crops. I’ll then find a good place to sit, usually on the ground with a tree or log to my back.
Then I get comfortable and wait. Be sure to situate yourself so you are downwind of the prevailing winds in the area. If you have too much scent blowing across or down the trail you may alert the deer.
Take another look at my pack list. Once I leave camp I intend to stay out until dark. I have my lunch, a closed-cell foam pad to sit on and appropriate clothing. Yes, I get cold. Yes, I get bored. Yes, I have sat in the pouring rain and wet snow all day.
But here’s the deal. Most hunters go back to camp in early or mid-morning. Most go back when the weather sucks. I have found that whitetails, especially in cold weather tend to get up and mosey around about 11 in the morning. They get stiff and cold too.
They will get up, eat a little, take a leak and maybe look for an area in the open if the sun is out. I have killed the majority of my whitetails mid-morning.
Whitetails like thick stuff. Human eyes are good, but not great. For the most part, we detect motion.
So if a whitetail is moving through heavy timber or brush you may notice the movement, not necessarily the deer. With binoculars, you can pick apart the timber. You see more color. You see shapes.
One of my PH’s in South Africa taught me a lot about thick cover hunting. He always said, “look through the bush.” Meaning, look beyond the stuff on the edges.
Look through the screen. Change the focus on your binoculars so you see through different layers of the cover. You will be surprised how much more is out there than if you just sit and watch.
Whitetail bucks are solitary creatures. However, if you can hunt a late season, your odds go up.
In general terms, the rut begins to crank up in mid to late-November and will run through December and January in many parts of the country. As the rut approaches, the bucks begin to wander more in search of ladies.
As such, they spend more time on the move and are a lot less wary. They are intent on breeding. Not necessarily paying attention. That said, if you are hunting a late season and you have some does or youngsters walk past your stand, get ready.
Often a buck will be following behind to determine if a suitable mate is ahead of him. Be sure you are dressed for the weather this time of year. It will be cold and often wet.
While in your sitting spot keep your rifle across your lap and at the ready.
You will often only have a couple of shooting lanes and even if the deer are just walking you only have a few seconds to make your shot.
If you have to reach for your gun and make noise or sudden movements, you will very likely not get a shot. You must be ready to quickly identify if your buck or deer is legal and then make a very quick decision to either shoot or not shoot the deer.
I shot this buck on cold November day after I had built a fire to warm up and have some coffee. It was 11 am.
How can you not? You are hunting. You are in the woods, with a rifle in your hands, a tag in your pocket and a whitetail somewhere in the neighborhood.
Yeah, you may walk miles. You may freeze on stand. You may get wet.
So what? You’ll likely be in camp or home sometime tonight. You can get dry, warm and fed when you get back.
Take a camera and shoot photos of your gear, your stand, your rifle. Shoot a pic of that pesky squirrel telling the whole basin you are under his tree.
Hunting is about making memories and enjoying your outdoor heritage. Tying your tag on a whitetail and enjoying the pure organic protein the venison provides is a bonus.
What deer have you harvested? Planning your first trip? Let us know in the comments!