Monday, November 29, 2021

Mantis X and Blackbeard Review

Mantis X and Blackbeard Review
 No ammo, no problem. Mantis has you covered when you are bored indoors with no extra ammo to shoot. The reality though is that Mantis series of products have been a fantastic training option that spans both training and live fire. In fact, their newest X3 and X10 Mantis X trainers are compatible with live fire, dry fire, airsoft, and CO2 pistols, rifles, pistols, shotguns, and even archery. If you wanted to up your dry/live fire training, the Mantis X smartphone enabled system delivered huge points of data to help you shoot faster and more accurately. Mantis also has the new Blackbeard laser trainer system for the AR15 platform that allows continuous laser fire training with your existing firearm, trigger, and upper. 
Mantis X Gen 2 Trainers - X2, X3, X10 Elite, and X7
I actually tested and reviewed the original Mantis X Gen 1 Dry Fire only system when it was first released and I was wowed by the features it delivered. Unique to the industry, the Mantis trainer could be firmware upgraded anytime to keep it current and up to date with the latest features and functions. I did use it on my airsoft trainers, but it was initially only designed for Dry Fire only use. Still today, I use the old $99 Mantis X Gen 1 system for dry fire training while sitting in on the more boring conference calls. The app feedback has helped me shoot considerably faster and more accurately than dry firing alone plus it is a lot of fun to see the data match up to shots that “feel good”.

The new $99 Gen 2 dry fire only system, dubbed “Mantis X2”, versions delivered a 40% smaller and 50% lighter form-factor than the Gen1 with 3X longer battery life, 4x the data transfer rate and a QD system. Over the years the Mantis team have continually added new features around the base of sensors onboard the X1 and X2 versions. Mantis now offers several additional more advanced models that add additional sensor functions, live fire support, and mounting versatility.
The $169 Mantis X3 version replicates the X2 features but also supports live fire functionality so you can evaluate your live fire shooting performance and transition between dry and live fire training. The new $199 Mantis X7 is similar in feature to the X3 but is specifically designed for competitive shotgun shooters with a unique mount and capabilities specifically designed for those competitors. 

The X10 Elite adds all the features currently available into one unit that includes shotgun and archery analysis, smoothness analytics, consistency comparisons, and analysis of recoil, holster draw, and a forthcoming multi-target, shooting on the move, rapid fire, and moving targets shotgun software addition. The X10 Elite also includes the BR7 adapter and Universal Magrail which provides options to mount to everything from shotgun to anything with a pic rail. I tested the new X10 Elite and was impressed with the added features and ability to support live fire. Especially interesting to me was seeing my performance on rifles. My tests included my AR platforms with calibers from .22LR, 223, 9mm and 300 Blackout and I did not have any issues with the X10 correctly picking up data points during live fire. What is really interesting is attaching this to a precision rifle setup and really being able to see how stable you “really” are for long range shooting. This could be an amazing home dry fire training tool for PRS shooters to really lock down their stability and support training through all the contorted positions PRS shooters often face.

Mantis Blackbeard Zero Modification AR Dry Fire Laser Training
I have pretty much every dry fire contraption available and believe whatever you choose, it will deliver big results. I even have a CO2 powered laser train for my Glock that feels as real as it can for indoor laser training but admittedly requires a substantial amount of setup and will “freeze up” with too high a rate of fire. The Blackbeard is way better than anything I have used to date.
The AR platform has always been a charge & shoot, charge & shoot...etc process which is not exactly replicating the semi-automatic training feel of the AR platform. Enter the Mantis Blackbeard AR Dry Fire Laser Trainer. Mantis engineers really did some significant homework to make the system simple, easy and reliable. Uniquely the Mantis Blackbeard delivers a zero-modification training conversion using your existing AR15 platform - just swap out the magazine, bolt and charging handle with the Blackbeard bolt/charging handle and magazine/battery units. This 20-second swap provides semi-automatic training with Laser functionality for hours. Pull the trigger really fast and blast away and each time the Blackbeard nearly instantly resets the trigger. Though I have tried, I have not been able to outrun the Mantis Blackbeard trigger reset speed. The magazine shaped battery pack provides literally hours of continuous shooting and is easily recharged via a simple USB plug.
Improvised targets like white styrofoam cups show laser hits well, as do the myriad of inexpensive plastic or 3D printable laser targets available, however using LaserLyte and LaserAmmo PET reactive laser targets really delivers a massive amount of realism and training options
If you are looking for a great all season gift for a shooter or are actively training gun owners, both these options are really fantastic purchases that save money with every trigger pull. For the AR platform, literally any ammo (with the exception of .22LR) that feeds these platforms is about $0.50/round these days and the Mantis systems can completely pay for themselves in just over 1000 shots. 
Another obvious benefit is that not everyone can get to the range when they have the time to train, and these Mantis training solutions offer training alternatives that can be used nearly anywhere and anytime the mode hits you. All around these are a very highly recommended training tool. Grab them on via our affiliate program and help in the process.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Bond Arms Roughneck .357/.38 Special

Bond Arms Roughneck .357/.38 Special

If you talk to Gordon Bond, founder of Bond Arms, he notes “We are not selling derringers, we are selling double-barreled handguns”. His clarification really is that derringers have very often been associated with cheap & low quality guns and what Bond Arms is manufacturing is an outstanding bomb proof 100% American Made stainless firearm that just happens to be double barreled. Once you hold a Bond Arms you understand, can feel the heft of the stainless steel and see all the finishing steps that Bond is taking for an incredibly fine quality firearm. The Bond Arms firearms also have a lot of focus on safety including features that are rarely found on “typical derringer style” firearms. Most of the Bond Arms handguns range from just over $500 to over $1300 which brings us to the insanely inexpensive $269 .357/.38 Special, 9mm or .45 ACP Roughneck. 

Barrel swap to optional 4-inch barrel
The raw wax lost 100% stainless castings are precision CNC milled to exacting dimensions, bored and chambered, and then the standard polished models required a huge amount of sanding, grinding and polishing which adds significant cost. There was so much hand work involved, that Bond arms employed the use of two high tier automotive finishing robots nicknamed the “yellow robot twins”.  Gordon wanted to leverage robotics to deliver about 60% of the frame and barrel’s precision grinding, finishing, polishing. The main drive to robotics for Bond Arms was an otherwise risky reliance on a very high-skilled one-year apprenticed person to reach the level of speed, precision, and accuracy that the robots can achieve with 100% precision.  According to Gordon Bond, it was such a sophisticated use of robots, he was told many times it could not even be done. The twins are presented trays of precision CNC milled and chambered casings, and they systematically pick each one up and perform all the finish steps against various grinding machines and belt sanders. It really is almost magical to watch.

As a “toss it in your pocket” gun, there is no gun I feel more comfortable with backing around potentially with my keys, tac light, and/or knife all just four inches from my family jewels. Any other gun with a round in the chamber presents a substantial accidental discharge risk where just the right condition could occur where any number of items in my pocket could accidentally pull the trigger. With the Bond Arm firearms, the garbage in my pocket would need to manually cock the 10-lb hammer and then reposition and pull on the rather hefty 8-lb trigger which is just not going to happen even on my tight pants days. 

The Roughneck, Rowdy and Grizzly models all represent an incredibly high quality, extremely high tier of handgun safety, and are simple to use options for defense or for a bit of range time fun. The only quality gap customers might see are some swirly tool marks, tiny casting imperfections, and rough areas that would never be acceptable on Bond’s current line of products. On my Roughneck, I could see some casting marks on the frame bridge and trigger guard. For $269, the Roughneck is one heck of a quality gun considering really any other alternative. Where else can you get a solid stainless gun, with bomb-proof construction and reliability with the ability to convert to another caliber or barrel length in under a minute. Extra barrels of any caliber and length range from $130 up $230 with other custom barrel options available and are 100% cross compatible with any of the frames.  As a base to start custom laser engraving, hand engraving, or just some insane cerakote, these are clearly the choice I would make and a fantastic option for very little money. My only want on this little gun is some fancy grips which serve no other purpose other than make me stare at my gun more. A word of caution, these are pretty addicting to buy and add barrels to, so I would caution buyers that your first Bond Arms gun will be the beginning not the end of the journey.


The Bond Arms Roughneck is based on the “Backup” model which is one of Bond’s most popular 2.5-inch barreled models with a removable trigger guard. Like all Bond double barreled firearms, the Roughneck is fully compatible with all accessories, barrel lengths and all sixteen caliber options Bond offers and you can even remove the trigger guard. If you want to customize your Roughneck, it is just a grip or barrel swap away from supporting another configuration or caliber. So why is the Roughneck nearly $200 less than other comparable Bond Arms models? The simple answer is using all the same parts but with drastically reduced finishing and polishing, the full answer is a bit longer.

Having toured Bond Arms, you start to realize that there is way more to all the finishing and almost insane amount of QC that goes into such a deceptively simple firearm. You forget at first that these are 100% stainless firearms with lots of hard to sand, polish and inspect curves vs the much simpler and less expensive injection molded lowers with blocky nitrided slides found on most guns today.  What Bond Arms faces is a double barreled handgun with all the finishing requirements of a fine quality revolver.

Before the robot twins, everything was at a stand still until the highly skilled human could get back on the production line after unforeseen sickness, personal schedules, vacations, turnover, and personnel issues. The human risk to business was too high for the critical finishing step and robotics allowed an even higher level of consistency. They could also run 24x7 lights out if needed with the same precision on every frame and barrel. There is still a cost per hour to cover with robots and the human tray sequencing and staging required which means Bond Arms had to figure out a way to not use the yellow robot twins for the Roughneck. 

The Bond Arm Roughneck uses all the same quality stainless castings but instead are finished with a very abbreviated process that is just minimal hand deburring of the frame and barrel after CNC casting clean up and then are heavily bead blast plus minor surface milling boring, rifling and chambering of the barrel. The normal inspection, testing and QC processes remains, but overall a lot of time is saved. According to Gordon, omitting all that sanding and polishing is such a significant time savings that four or five RoughNeck’s can be made in the same time as it takes to build just one $543 Texas Defender. Obviously, that savings allows Bond Arms to still offer a very high quality $269 hand cannon that anyone can afford with no cuts in material or functional quality. In fact Bond Arms offers three firearms in this less finished and less expensive format including this Roughneck .357Mag/.38Spl, 45ACP, or 9mm and .45 Colt/.410 Rowdy & another larger gripped Grizzly model.


Frankly, the first time I passed by the Bond Arms booth at SHOT show, I just did not get it.  As a tactical handgun shooter with a fairly significant amount of training, it really did not check a lot of my tactical boxes, that is, until Gordon handed one to me at the show. I would bet Gordon Bond sells the high majority of his guns by putting them in peoples hands. The nostalgic design certainly sucks you in, but the heft and quality makes you take notice. If your mindset is that derringer style guns are light and cheap feeling, then you have never handled anything from Bond Arms. After you suddenly realize these guns also happen to have various length barrel options for all your favorite defensive calibers in only a tiny 4.5-inch length which is shorter than a Ruger LCP .380, you start to see them as a strong backup option. What made me a believer in the design was my first time shooting .357, 9mm, .45ACP and 45 Colt/.410 models, it not being a scary experience and the ability to swap between all those barrels in under a minute each. 

All of these calibers are no joke from a power perspective in a 4.5-inch format. Defensive .410 rounds from my larger gripped Ranger 2 is stout and the power is obvious and seeing what .410 defense rounds can do out of one of these is impressive.  For the handgun rounds, I saw groups that were really very close to what a lot of snub nose revolvers delivered. The followup “shot” was surprisingly fast and reloads are actually pretty quick. I do think rimmed cartridges are a bit faster to extract and reload. With statically the chance of having to use a gun being low and most defensive shooting occuring in an “average” of 1.5 shots, two shots is doable and loaded with hot .357 Magnum rounds they pack far more punch than a comparably sized .380 that may require four rounds to do the same job. The .38 Special/.357 Magnum chambering is really flexible, consuming everything from low recoil rounds, to hot .357 Magnum, to birdshot snake rounds, and some of my home brew gallery and triple .38 lead ball reload rounds.  For me, these Bond Arms have been fantastic little backup guns typically shoved in a pocket or a Galco tuckable holster, usually used for my Ruger LCR, or a custom pocket holster. Bond Arms BAJ - In WaistBand Holster is another quality and simple option.

Obviously there are not target guns and are not going to replace your competition S&W R8, but they do deliver accuracy much better than you would expect. The reality is that you have two barrels which inherently are going to both have marginally different points of impact even when manufacturers with the tier of CNC equipment Bond Arms is using. At normal 7-yard distances, two round 1-inch groups are certainly doable with some attention to a consistent grip and a stable shot. The net is this is a very serious gun and after dozen rounds, the design and performance is confidence inspiring when you start to stretch out to distances you would not believe were possible with a 2.5-inch double barrel firearm. I was banging on silhouette sized steel even at 50-yard which is way beyond nearly any normal defensive distance. 


From a safety perspective the Roughneck and all other Bond Arms firearms are super safe with the ability to assure it is unloaded by swinging the barrel completely open and stare down both barrels from the safe breach end. They have also included an adjustable safety detent on the hammer blocking safety which can increase or lower the safety selector tension. My preference is to lock it in “fire”. In practice, I did find a few draws where I accidentally clicked the safety on during the reload and pulled the trigger only to have the hammer fall on the cross bolt safety. My carry method is the hammer down, so the safety could be an issue for me, however the safety is extremely safe and allows for cocked safety-on carry as well. Bond also includes a rebounding hammer which blocks the hammer from touching the firing pins unless the trigger is held and retracting firing pins to assure the firing pins can never be out during a reload. The rebounding hammer also works as a trigger decocker safety which allows you to hold back the hammer, trip and release the trigger while you ease the hammer forward until it rests in the rebounded position - decocking the gun safety. If your finger is not on the trigger and your thumb slips during that decocking, it will not fire. Would you expect anything less for a premier quality handgun?



  • Stainless steel double-barrel and frame

  • Compatible with all standard Bond Arms barrels

  • Patented rebounding hammer

  • Retracting firing pins

  • Cross-bolt safety

  • Spring-loaded, cammed locking lever

Model #: BARN

MSRP: $269.00

Caliber .357Mag/.38Spl, .45ACP, 9mm

Barrel Length 2.5"

Grip Material Rubber

Grip Size Standard

Sights Front blade, fixed rear

Length 4.5"

Weight 19 ounces

Trigger Guard Yes

Friday, August 13, 2021

New Stuff for Articles - Faxon, Eotech, Mossberg, Walther, ATN, Sig, Hawke Optics

 New Stuff for Articles

Thankfully product is starting to flow again and I can get back to product reviews and new builds.  A few things have hit my desk that looks like they are going to be a lot of fun.

ATN Night Vision Monocular - I did a few articles for one of the magazines I write for with this product, and now can work on my own articles and reviews. I recently used these for some night hunting activities and the ATN Monocular works amazing, just mounted in front of any optic. One of the things you will notice with this 1x monocular is that is very very clear. More to come with this.

Faxon 10/22 Barrels - These guys have made fantastic AR and pistol barrels backed with shocking accuracy all for an affordable price. I am looking forward to what this stunning flame fluted barrel will deliver. This barrel features a threaded muzzle and target match crown. If it is anything like the rest of the Faxon line, these should be a great shooter.

Hawke Optics - If you have a crossbow or high tier airgun optic, you likely own or know Hawke optics already. They are a large UK brand who has really only concentrated on the crossbow and airgun markets, but their optics are outstanding. As most airgunners and bowman know, most rifle optics cannot handle the two way recoil of airguns or crossbows. The Hawke line up was constructed around airgun and crossbow recoil and thus is also recoil proof for all rifle calibers up to 50 cal. The Sidewinder series is so good, I purchase two.

Sig Whiskey3 5-24 - If you don't know the BDX enabled eletro-optics line from Sig you should. It really is pretty amazing stuff to be able to range and have the reticle automatically show you the shooting solution.  Sorry no pixs yet on this. 

Eotech Reborn- Eotech finally is its own company again. I have some of their new products and there are more coming through 2021 and 2022. Exciting to see them back at R&D and churning out new innovations.

Mossberg JM Pro 12 Gauge - This thing is nuts fast. My review in Tactical Retailer published so now I can to the unencumbered review for  If you love to watch shells pour out of a shotgun, this is your gun. 

Walther PDP - The next upgrade to the PPQ series. If you loved the PPQ, then you will likely really love what they did with the PDP that is the basis for the next generation of performance pistols from Walther.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Building a Thank You AR15 Pistol

Building a Thank You AR15 Pistol 

Like many of you, I have a great family. My brother-in-law is an especially kind chap and decided his sister and I needed three vintage original release movie posters. Allegedly he had them stored in his basement since 1982 - an Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of The Lost Ark and Psycho II all in mint condition. If you are a product of the 80’s like I am, these movies are part of my history and frankly I was nerded out. After a lot of back and forth on compensation he would not take a dime for them and noted it was part of his get rid of junk strategy. Framed on the wall, the posters looked so good I could not in good conscience go without reciprocating with stuff I had stored in my basement… but in my case, I have gun parts. Thankfully he is a gun nut also and was thrilled with the idea of swapping crap from our basements.

Enough Stuff for an AR15 Pistol - As a writer and gun builder, over the years I have accumulated a large pile of parts that when combined with a surprisingly small number of purchased parts can make a quite nice AR. In this case my brother-in-law would get a 10” 5.56 Nato Ballistic Advantage barreled AR15 pistol based on an uber legal non-braced design. AR pistols are wildly more prevalent now than they were even just a few decades ago when even most gun people were largely unfamiliar with AR15 pistols. If we look at sales stats, approximately 20-30% of AR owners also own an AR pistol all thanks to the Sig Brace introduced just over seven years ago. They are now one of the hottest selling firearms in the last five years. Though AR15 pistols are no longer even remotely rare in gun culture they are a more rare version of unicorn for non-gun people than AR15s, so in this case I wanted to build to an uber legal more understood spec.

Why No Pistol Brace? - Pistol braces have been approved by the ATF for over seven years as a legal AR pistol accessory, with an estimated fifteen million sold from SB Tactical, Shockwave, Gearhead, Magpul and Mission First Tactical all offering brace options. With that noted, there is just so much going on politically right now with pistol braces that I didn’t want my brother-in-law to have to worry about whether the specific pistol brace he had was legal, now not-legal or failed some type of idiotic ATF proposed point scorecard. At least right now, no one is talking about non-braced AR pistols, so I wanted to stay in that realm. I have written many times about having an AR pistol in your vehicle and that I highly recommend a build similar to the build shown here - 10” barrel, no brace, and an A2 rifle length buffer tube assembly. 

From discussions with LEO contacts, I continue to believe LEOs are wildly uninformed about the legality of AR15 pistols and pistol braces and frankly so are a lot of even gun people. Add in goofy ATF regulations and position papers that are vague for even the experienced and informed Class-3 owners and there is a boatload of confusion. I had a discussion today with an AR owner who kept referring to “braces” as “straps” despite a lot of attempted correction and was wildly misinformed about what braces are.  Imagine the compounded confusion when there is both an uninformed owner and LEO at a traffic stop. Based on those discussions, this is the build without a brace that would generate the least amount of LEO hassles. It is kind of like being married, do you want to be right or happy? In this case with AR15 pistol braces, do you want to be right with an odd looking brace and pistol configuration and experience a 3-hour traffic stop, three cop cars and an ATF encounter or be happily on your way after a brief discussion about your typical looking AR pistol. In this case, the build looks like an old fashioned AR15 pistol which is a good thing.

Basement Stuff AR15 Build - In this case, I had just done a redu on my Stoner Prototype build and had a stripped Brownells M16A1 which was a collaboration between NoDak Spud and Brownells to faithfully recreate the M16A1 receiver. In this case, I thought my Iowa based brother-in-law would appreciate an Iowa labeled Brownells lower receiver. The lower was built out with an unlabeled parts kit which I assume was either CMMG or Aero precision since those are the primary kits I purchase. 

A Seekins trigger guard, Mission First Tactical grip were added for comfort and HiperFire EDT Trigger to deliver a good accurate rifle and nice trigger feel. The buffer tube used was a standard A2 rifle length buffer tube that was Red Lock Tite’ed in. To ensure no one can ever suggest that a stock could be attached, I drill out the rear stock screw threading and also cut off the rear square wrench lug. To protect the rear of the buffer tube, I superglue a ¼” piece of foam under a 1-⅛” (28mm) rubber cap protective cover (five for $8.99 on Amazon). Note also these are listed specifically as a “protective cover” and not a “bumper” like other similar covers are. The entire buffer tube was covered with automotive carbon fiber wrap and then custom wrapped in leftover paracord. Regardless of your shooting style, this length of buffer provides several advantages. It is longer than stubby carbine length buffers and also more comfortable to shoot. Also, the rifle buffer systems are generally softer to shoot and with a bit of tuning, this format can be really soft to shoot.

With the plan to add an adjustable gas block, I wanted to pull as much recoil out of the gun as possible and that is all about reducing reciprocating mass combined with reduced gas pressure. As you see in a lot of competition guns, they are running adjustable gas blocks, reduced mass carriers and/or reduced mass buffers. For this build I reduced the rifle buffer weight from 5oz down to 3oz which is the same weight as a standard carbine buffer weight. In this setup, we can substantially reduce the gas pressure, still retain full reliability and also take advantage of the longer slower rifle length spring geometry. The now lighter rifle length buffer is still used so that the carrier still travels the same distance rearward, however the net recoil feel is overall a world softer. 

A flat top Brownells upper which along with the 10” 5.56 Nato Ballistic Advantage barrel purchased on a flash sale were the only two parts I ordered for this build. The barrel was tipped with a non-identifiable adjustable gas block and an AR-Stoner stainless flash hider. I have found that pistol builds are loud to begin with, but the standard birdcage flash hider is still one of the quietest muzzle devices for an AR, so why make it louder. The handguard was actually an older rifle length Clark Carbon Fiber handguard that I cut to length for this build and used the other half for another pistol build. Carbon fiber has the unique property of cooling faster which makes longer and hotter shooting strings a lot more comfortable to shoot - plus it looks freaking awesome. The upper was trued and lapped and the barrel mounted with LockTite 638. A NiBo WMD bolt carrier group and Phase 5 charging handle were used.

Optics I really went back and forth on. These little 10” barreled pistols can deliver amazing accuracy with variable powered optics, however I wanted to keep build squarely outside any potential ATF questionable zone and they are making some noise about magnified optic equipped braced pistols. With just a red dot, this build would side step that issue. I used an old but proven Bushnell TRS-25. Sure it is not a top end Aimpoint, Sig or Holosun, but it has worked and continues to work even if it is only rated for 2000 hours or 3 months of constant-on use. My brother-in-law could easily add a clip-on magnifier like a Vortex, Burris, or Holosun to improve precision if needed.

This build also gave me an opportunity to cull through my bin of AR15 magazines and send my brother-in-law a bag full of random magazines that ranged from Hexmags, Mission First, IMI, and ETS which were all lightly used.

Testing - Having built many AR pistols with this 10” barreled configuration, the results are predictably impressive. With a clip-on magnifier, I shot a few .25” 50-yard groups with a 4x magnifier and without the magnifier the groups at the same range were around the .50-.75” range. These are super accurate little builds that can really impress. I repeated an interesting experiment where I tuned the gas block with a full 5-oz weight rifle buffer and then swapped to my custom tuned 3-oz rifle buffer. It is pretty cool to feel how much difference that 2-oz buffer weight reduction and substantial gas pressure reduction can make with felt recoil.  The net is this little build shoots fast and can be unpinned and dropped into any backpack which is all legally covered under a concealed carry permit. 

If you have not tried a 10-12 inch AR15 pistol build you are missing out of the best of the AR pistol platform. This barrel size prevents the deafening bark of shorter barrels and retains much of the velocity and accuracy of rifle length barrels.  With the buffer and carrier weight tuning and an adjustable gas block these can be shockingly soft shooting and a true pleasure to shoot.

Out of State Transfers - So you want to sell some guns to your next of kin friends, or in my case transfer a gun to a brother-in-law out of state. In-state, at least at this point in time, individual to individual sales are still legal as long as you do not have any reason to believe the person you are transferring to (transferee) would not otherwise be prevented from purchasing or owning a firearm - note check you local laws. 

Out of state transfers are more complex and require the transfer to go through a FFL dealer. You will need to ship the firearm to the FFL dealer of choice for your transferee and typically requires inclusion of a copy of the ship to FFL dealers license a bill of sale with a copy of your driver's license, your name, shipping address, and phone information (Transferer) and the name, shipping address, and phone number of the Transferee. Check with your local laws, however currently the ATF allows non-FFL individuals to ship rifles or shotguns through USPS, UPS, and FedEx as long as it is declared a firearms shipment and is shipping to an FFL dealer and the above noted information is included in the shipment. Pistols and any other type of firearm must be shipped via FedEx priority overnight or UPS. Generally, I have found that FedEx is less of a pain in the butt to work with on firearms shipments than UPS, but that depends a lot on your local branches.  The FFL receives the shipments, checks the firearm into their books and contacts your transferee to complete the paperwork and pick up the firearm. Unless you are shipping to some insane place like California, New York, Illinois or some other communist state, the process is usually smooth.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

What Would Stoner Do? - A Custom AR15 Prototype

 What Would Stoner Do? - A Custom AR15 Prototype

What if Eugene Stoner had somehow seen or imagined all the cool AR design innovations and manufacturing techniques of today and decided to build a custom AR for himself with the tech from the 1960s? It is a question that comes to mind after a few scotches. Here we are today making all these tricked out ARs, but WWSD - What Would Stoner Do?

A few years ago, I worked with Brownells to build the starting point of this build - something that never was. See that build here. As you might remember, Stoner built the infamous hyperlight prototype based on the AR10 platform, but never an AR15 prototype. A few years ago, I built a representation of that companion prototype of the AR15 platform - that build was used as a starting point for this custom Stoner build. My previous 6-lbs, 1-ounce prototype build really answered the question of what would that smaller Stoner A15 prototype potentially have looked like if he would have used a touch of the modern designs that could have been manufactured back then. Where I stopped injecting new design elements with that build was about where Stoner left off with the AR10 platform, plus a few tweaks like adding a skeleton Ace stock, HiperFire EDT trigger, and Fiber Optic front sight post. Those few gentle upgrades were based on the supposition that he rethought a few things in between his original AR10 prototype and release of the AR15 while still remaining well within materials and manufacturing reach back then.

If Stoner would have seen or imagined all the tricked out AR formats now, he would have certainly built one himself. For this build, I wanted to build the custom AR15 that Stoner would have built for himself based on current design innovations that could have been manufactured then and some elements that might have required some custom hand work. It is easy to speculate his intent for a custom build since much of Stoner’s design work was focused on reducing weight and increasing portability. He also had access to the most cutting edge materials, manufacturing and talent in the aerospace and firearms industry. 

Stone was big on light portable rifles and in fact his first produced rifle was a take-down bolt action AR-5 survival rifle chambered in .22 Hornet. The AR-5’s barrel unscrewed similar to the AR-7 .22LR Henry Survival Rifle (another Stoner design) currently produced today for easy storage even in small spaces. The focus on the AR-5, AR-7, and most other designs including the AR-10 prototype were all around lightweight newer materials and manufacturing methods while retaining functionality. Stoner also agonized over ergonomics, comfort and shootability. Stoner was somewhat limited in that the final intent of his designs were to make money and obviously no one in their right mind would shell out $2000 for a custom rifle - right? What if he didn’t have this limitation at that time and was building for fun. For this build, I pimped out my original Brownells based AR15 prototype Stoner style with weight, stowability, ergonomics, comfort and shootability as design goals.

The Original AR15 Prototype Build

My original Brownells 6 lb, 1 oz AR15 prototype build started with a faithfully recreated XM16E style A1 upper (aka carry handle upper) and matching Brownells branded M16A1 style lower receiver that Brownells worked with Nodak Spud to faithfully recreate. For this build I retained the carry handle upper, 18” Faxon 5.56 Nato pencil barrel, Daniel Defense front sight base, Clark carbon fiber handguard, but from there a number of upgrades were made. The idea for this build was to really push the limits based on innovations and designs of today without exceeding the machining, forming capabilities and materials of 1956-1960s. We have a whole bunch of cool AR15 design tech that could have been made back then and I wanted to base this build on that idea.  When I look at custom hand formed and tooled firearms from the 1800s and early 1900s, it should be obvious that anything is possible, it is just the speed of manufacturing, cost, and the materials that limits the possibilities - don’t believe me disassemble a Browning A-5 Shotgun.


Receiver & Ergonomics - Forging was typical technology of the day which means that the receiver did not have to specifically look like Stoner originally designed it and could have included many more custom elements. A modern example used in this build was the San Tan Tactical SST-15 ambi lower; though it is a 5-axis billet machined design it could have been almost completely formed by forging and required minimal finish machining.

In fact the similar innovative design and ambi functionality offered in the lightweight MOD2 lower receiver from Primary Weapons Systems is a forged lower receiver just like Stoner could have manufactured. Frankly, I would have used a PWS MOD2 lower here as a perfect example of what forging can deliver, but could not get my hands on one.

PWS Mod2 Forged Lower Ambi Reciever

The San Tan SST-15 and PWS Mod 2 lower receiver design innovations would have added a lot of ergonomic improvements, shootability, and features including ambi-controls for magazine and bolt release. Both the PWS and San Tan lowers also feature integral adjustable tension screws to tighten upper and lower receiver fit, and ambi controls for magazine and bolt release. I added a Battle Arms Development ambi-selector to assure that this AR15 of yesterday is just as comfortable for lefties as correctly handed people. :)  Battle Arms Development take-down pins were used as well to improve the ergonomics of pulling pins and disassembly. For the grip, I used a mil spec standard finger groove grip, ground it down flat, hand stippled it with a wood burning iron, and then milled slots for a custom paracord wrap. The last final ergonomics touch is a latchless Mega Arms ambi-charging handle on the upper. I think Stoner would have liked these extra details. 

Carry Handle Upper & Improved Sights - The XM16E style A1 (carry handle) upper, WMD NiB-X Bolt Carrier Group, 18” Faxon 5.56 Nato pencil barrel, forged Daniel Defense front sight base, Clark carbon fiber handguard were carried over from the previous build because they worked amazingly well. The upper was still a great base to create a custom build from.

Stoner would have also likely carried over the A1 style carry handle upper as he believed it offered a lot of utility carrying the rifle, but he would have wanted to improve the sights for night use. He would have looked at something to illuminate the front post beyond fiber optics and would have found a way to use Tritium (discovered in the 1930s) on the front sight post. XS Sights’ CSAT Precision Target sight set delivers both a daytime high contrast white stripe front sight with tritium insert and a rear triple aperture designed by Paul Howe that combines a standard ghost ring 100-yard aperture with a dual aperatured second sight with 100-yard precision peep aperture and a 7-yard zero top notch aperture. Though a standard ghost ring aperture is just a flip away, the single high precision and notch aperture allows shots from 7-yards to 100-yards plus without flipping the sight. This is definitely an innovation Stoner would have loved because it adds zero weight, improved sighting ergonomics, and improves day/night sighting options.  

Low Mass and Adjustable Gas - The WMD bolt was retained, but the carrier was replaced with a JP Rifles Lo-Mas LMOS Aluminum Alloy carrier to reduce weight along with a matching low-mass buffer. Up front, the Daniel Defense front sight base was drilled and tapped as a converted adjustable gas block to take advantage of the lower mass carrier and buffer assembly. Many… many years ago this was how myself and others created the first adjustable gas blocks before they were widely produced. To pull even more recoil out of the Stoner custom prototype and limit muzzle rise, a PWS FSC brake was installed. The brake combined with the low mass carrier & buffer and adjustable gas block delivers a sizable overall weight reduction and a near recoil-less gun with negligible muzzle rise. Stoner would have thought these updates were addressing a whole boatload of things on his wish list including increased shooter comfort, faster follow up shots, improved shot-to-shot accuracy and an overall lighter gun.

Weight Reduction - To reduce the overall weight even further beyond the carrier/buffer, the astoundingly light 4.3 ounce Brigand Arms Carbon fiber stock would have been possible with carbon fiber and even fiberglass forming of the day. Though not as rugged as the previously used Ace Skeleton stock on my original build, it would have certainly been as strong and Stoner’s choice to conserve weight on a personal custom build. Another innovative PWS part I use is their PWS Ratchet Lock Castle Nut & Endplate set which prevents any loosening of the buttstock without requiring castle nut staking.

Portability & Stow-ability - Portability and take-down features were really appealing to Stoner as were showcased in the AR5 and AR7 designs, so I thought it appropriate to add a Gen1 Dolos Take Down adapter to this build. The Gen 1 Dolos kit is no longer made in favor of the new Gen 2 kit, but the Dolos kits do happen to be compatible with Midwest Industries handguard threading and perfectly sized to epoxy on a Clark Carbon Fiber Handguard.

The original carbon fiber handguard was trimmed down to fit behind the front sight base to allow room needed for barrel removal. The Dolos system addition allows the entire 18” barreled rifle to be tucked into nearly any backpack and assembled/disassembled in just seconds. It is faster than unpinning the upper and the net stowed length is just the barrel length instead of the barrel length plus attached receiver length. This would have been a fairly simple to manufacture design innovation he surely would have wanted to use this to check off his portability and stowability goals. [Pictured - The Customer Prototype build slips easily into a Hazard 4 Plan B sling pack. ]

Trigger Tech - I used what is arguably the most advanced trigger on the market, the HiperFire HiperTouch Competition trigger. These would have been possible with forgings and some manual milling and delivered a fast and advanced trigger, this would have been the ultimate for Stoner. 

Adaptability & Training - The last and final accessory would surely have been a CMMG .22LR adapter kit. Stoner loved small caliber arms and touted continual practice. What better accessory would there have been than a CMMG .22LR kit that would have allowed inexpensive practice and even quieter small game hunting? He would have considered this essential.


This build weighs in at a feathery 5.3-lbs which is nearly a 1-lb weight reduction from my original prototype build. Considering this is an 18” barrel that is quite an accomplishment. More importantly it would have hit the X on Stoner’s primary weight reduction design focus. With a scant 5.3-lb AR that can also be easily disassembled into a pack, it would have been a go-to favorite gun for him on every trip all while still delivering far beyond the ergonomics, comfort and shootability of the original design. 

With a 5’ish-lb gun he would have experienced the magic that low mass carriers, buffers and adjustable gas blocks can deliver. What should be a gun that lets you feel every pull of the trigger, instead delivers recoil more similar to a pellet gun recoil all while shooting flat and very fast. With the drop-in .22LR CMMG kit this particular Faxon barrel has delivered .5-inch 25-yard groups with SK Rifle Match ammo and is more than adequate for a fun day plinking at the range and using typically does not require me touching the sight zero. 

As I exclaim “holy freaking hell” every time I lift one of my heavy precision ARs, I think of this gun. It delivers an awe-inspiring set of features for a rifle just over 5-lbs. Had I stayed with a standard lower receiver or even a 4.3-ounce polymer James Madison Tactical 80% lower and left off the Dolos kit, retained the lighter HiperFire EDT trigger, the build would have tipped under 5-lbs. This has become one of my go-to fun guns and without question makes me appreciate the design brilliance of Stoner. He would have been impressed with all our advances on the platform today.  For me this represents everything that was, could have been and is today around the flexibility, utility, and configurability of the AR15 design and should be no surprise this is one of my more heavily shot firearms. 

A huge thanks to Brownells for their continued support and support in helping make this build possible. If you have not been to Brownells, they have everything you could need for any AR build. 

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