Wednesday, January 14, 2015

2014 Pandemian Product of the Year Awards

2014 Pandemian Product of the Year Awards

Unlike many of my editorial counterparts, I like to actually wait for the year to become reflective before I announce my Year’s Best selections for Firearms & Accessories. After my 2014 reviews wrapped up, I broke down what was the best of the best products of the 155 articles published and decided which deserved special recognition.  I call these awards the “Pandemian Product of the Year Awards”. Pandemian Award Winners were categorized three categories; “BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK”, “BEST PREMIUM PROJECT”, and “Innovation Award”.  I have also had the great pleasure to work with a few of these companies on charity projects for Lone Survivor Foundation and Mercury One such as Barnes Precision, Black Rain Ordnance, San Tan Tactical, HiperFire, Burris, Mission First, and PWS.

The “Pandemian BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK “category awards was by far the toughest for me to rank as there are some outstanding products out there without breaking the bank. Winners in that category delivered the challenging mix of extreme quality and value.

If your wallet has no limits, the “Pandemian BEST PREMIUM PRODUCT” category award is where you need to skim to. Each product in this category delivered some of the most feature rich products with exemplary quality. Even though some of the products in this category were not “the” most expensive I tested/featured, they proved themselves to be better in some way.

“Pandemian Innovation Award” winners took the route less traveled and delivered something truly innovative to the market beyond another “Me Too” product. Winner in this category should be saluted for their innovation and out-of-the-box designs.


Barnes Precision Continues to deliver the highest quality and most accurate rifle for the money and still manages to include innovative features that most high-end AR-15 still lack. You can spend more money and get fancier, however it will likely not out-shoot or deliver higher quality than the BPM. At the very tail end of 2013 I published a review of this NP5 coated BPM-15, but I really developed a deeper love for the rifle through 2014. This year I reviewed the BPM NP5 coated rifle and it delivered everything I loved about the original BPM-15, but with a full NP5 Nickel Boron coating on every part on the gun including detents and trigger group.
Review Here -

Over the last couple years, the tricked out and feature loaded Black Rain Fallout-15 reviewed back in 2011 continues to take my abuse and still deliver smiles from all the custom touches on this AR15. Then I reviewed BRO’s NY Compliant rifles and it was awesome and then I reviewed their BRO-308 which finally delivered reliability in a 308 platform. I also like that fact that beyond the custom greatness of the rifles, they generously support charitable organizations.

Without question, the San Tan Tactical receivers are the finest, highest detailed, most feature rich AR15 lower receivers in the industry. They are spectacular and are also one of the most expensive in the industry with the exception of total custom receivers, but worth every penny. If you want the top end in AR15 receivers, San Tan is it. Recently they just released a new matching billet upper as well.

The $600 price range is very competitive with the likes of Glock, Ruger, S&W, and Walther all delivering top notch guns in this price point… and then H&K dropped the VP9 on the market like a monkey wrench thrown into a machine. H&K delivered a top notch premium 9mm with arguably some of the best ergonomics in the industry (2nd only to the H&K P30) with a striker fired trigger that is just a hair less crisp than the reigning Walther PPQ M2 pistol. On top of all its striker fired greatness, the VP9 is even completely magazine compatible with the famed and popular P30. Paired with expected H&K reliability and accuracy, the $600 retail pistol is changing minds about what is expected in this category.

The P30 is hardly new, however it was new to me and the P30L (Longside) was new to the market. This is the finest most high quality defense pistol on the market from my opinion. The ergonomics are sublime and once you understand the defensive ideas behind the P30 design and experience the amazing accuracy, you never want to carry anything else.

Despite all the whining, Glock introduced yet another gun no one ever said they wanted. The G42 .380 ACP chambered single stack pistol was the single biggest disappointing Glock release ever… and then we all went out and bought one. The volumes were so high that the G42 model outsold the sum total of all other Glock models combined in 2014 according to inside Glock sources. The G42 is everything we want the Walther PPK to be, but in a total reliable and lighter shooting format. It doesn’t matter what you think of this gun initially, just buy one, install a clip draw and carry it everywhere and fall in love with a gun you never knew you needed.

Late in December I finally put my hands on a Burris XTRII 1.5-8 Fast Fire combo on my Ultimate AR15 build which is a review coming shortly. This optics features stunning clarity a d 2nd focal plane with a reticle that zooms with the magnification and assures perfect ranging at any magnification. What makes this set up a great deal in the premium product category is that it combines a premium top end optic with a mount and reflex piggy back sight.

From full adjustability from comb to trigger length the FN SC-1 delivers everything you could possible need for any professional clays competitor. The SC-1 packs more top end features into an over under clays gun than any competitor on the market. It is a spectacular gun which I have pushed over 1000 rounds through at this point and every time I shoot it, I like it even better.

There may be new versions of the same cartridge match AR15 triggers, and the same for single and two stage match triggers. Then Terry Bender came along with a totally new and innovative AR15 trigger which has pushed the envelop of trigger feel, speed and reset with a design that is nothing like any trigger design on the market. HiperFire’s 24C has just dominated the 3Gun industry this year. If you have not tried one of these new trigger designs then you are completely missing out.

I love the knife designs from James Williams and almost exclusively carry one of his CRKT knife designs daily.  The Shizuka Noh Ken is the newest CRKT James Williams design and is just a little smaller than the larger Otanashi. From my perspective the perfect size to maximize defensive use and still remain within most jurisdictional blade length limitations. Add in the performance of this knife in a smaller blade size with top end features such as G10 handles and brass bearings and you have in my mind a spectacular cutting tool.

BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK PACK - DRAGO Sentry Pack for Ipad/Tablets
Noting that Drago packs can often can be found for under $40, they are an amazing value that mandated recognition. This tablet focused pack delivers more features than packs three times the cost in a 1-day sized pack that will handle daily commutes to cross country day trips. 

The single sling pack features plenty of space for a small laptop or tablet, cell phones, lights, handgun and more.  If you own a tablet you owe it to yourself to pick one of these extremely inexpensive packs up. For the money there is nothing better.

INNOVATION AWARD  - Mission First Tactical Torch Light
This is another why didn’t I think of this idea. Image a tiny little light that delivers more than enough light for navigation in a CQB setting and plenty of light for target identification all in a size that you don’t even notice it's there.

Every defensive firearm I own has one of these on it.

I used the PWS CQB brake on a number of builds over the last year and you will see it again prominently featured in more reviews to come. The PWS CQB brake is a modified and patented Krink style brake which deliver an unsurpassed level of sound redirection compared with any other similar brake I have tested on AR15 pistols. If you want to move the bark and sonic bite away from the shooter, the PWS CQB brake design is the best I have tested or shot.

LAG Tactical Holsters are unique not necessarily just because of the design of the holster, but because of the vast array of custom options the buyer can set up during ordering.  

There are a ton of Kydex holster manufacturers, however none that I am aware of offer all the custom options LAG Tactical does in their production holster design. If you have a special need, they can meet it. My IWB/OWB LAG holster version was for my H&K VP9 and it has been an incredible holster for not a lot of money.

INNOVATION AWARD - Resco Patriot & Manus Watch Review
There are literally 100s of “Military Watches” out there, however Resco delivers a super premium watch movement in a watch design which is durable and gorgeous dive style watch. 

Not only does Resco offer $10,000+ watch quality at around $2000, each and every watch is made by the owner of Resco who is a real life active duty Navy Seal.  Beat that every other company who says they are military “rated/approved”.

INNOVATION AWARD - Dolos Quick Release Barrel Handguard
The Dolos delivers the ability to remove or attach an AR15 barrel instantly with just a quarter twist for storage and then quickly re-assemble with no perceptible re-zeroing required. 

Many have tried to deliver this level of simplicity, however the Dolos does it and its an amazing innovative product that completely changes the stowable size of the AR15 platform.

Without going into a history lesson on 10mm, the 10mm was neutered after the FBI whimped out on the full power of the 10mm. The Federal Premium Vital Shock 10mm Auto 180 Grain Trophy Bonded JSP features the only full power hunting focused JSP bullet option I am aware of. The 10mm Auto round is an extremely viable deer round especially when this round is delivering about 20% more power than your typical .357 magnum round which is impressive. Consider that there are a number of “Lite” .44 magnum rounds that this Federal Premium Vital Shock 10mm Auto 180 Grain Trophy Bonded JSP overpowers and you start to really appreciate how this round sits nicely between hot .357 Magnum and standard loaded .44 Magnum rounds.

INNOVATION AWARD - WMD Ultimate CHassis Review
WMD didn’t modify the design of the AR15 platform, nor did they offer a upgraded page full of model to fit every need. What they did do was deliver an innovative product which took a great AR15 base chassis and coated it entirely in WMD’s NiBx Nickel Boron coating and then provide that Ultimate Beast Chassis to buyers so that they can finish the chassis with the furniture grip, stock, forend of their liking. Great innovative idea that saves the user from buying something that sort of fits their needs and then wasting money replacing existing components. WMD’s NiBx treatment delivers a totally impervious solvent, salt, corrosion, and weather proof AR15 platform which is insanely slick operating.

I was possibly the last editor in the world to review the IWI Tavor in 2014 however I think I was one of the very few who received training by Israeli Special Forces. After that training I get this gun, I love this gun, if you break into my home at night this will be the last thing you remember having pointed at you before you are laying on the floor. I have pushed well over 7000K rounds through this Tavor equipped with an Eotech 912 and it has never been cleaned or lubed since it was pulled from the box, never jammed, or failed to cycle. The IWI Tavor is phenomenally reliable. It is such a great innovative platform that I ordered another one in Black just to have another to play my version of Tavor Barbies accessorizing and modifying without tearing down my home defense gun. If you buy one gun this year, it should be a Tavor.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ultimate AR15 Build with a 3Gun Slant

Ultimate AR15 Build with a 3Gun Slant

The other day at the range was an interesting one where it seemed that everyone was showing off their custom AR15s. It was the one range trip I was not sporting my latest in custom billet AR15 mastery but just my rather beat up and harshly used Anderson Manufacturing truck rifle, however it got me thinking.  If I was going to play the game of whipping it out and measuring the level of customization of our AR15s and price tags, I thought building an Ultimate AR15 was a valid endeavor… or at least yet another excuse to build a custom billet AR15.

The next build always starts somewhere and in this case it all started with a stunning Hart custom fluted 17” AR15 .223 Wylde barrel I had ordered and then pretty much forgot about for eight months. The fortuitous arrival of the barrel was timed just about the same time I was finishing up all the charity AR15s for the Lone Survivor and Mercury One Foundations.

As a writer for over 350 manufacturers, I have access to parts, but parts in this case are not enough. Each part for this Ultimate AR15 build was certainly selected from a performance perspective, however looks were also of paramount importance and each needed to have a “Wow Factor” which would push this build over the edge.

Hart Custom Hex Fluted 17” Barrel - $650 - If we are going to play the mine is better than yours game, in my opinion starting with a barrel 1” longer than everyone else’s standard 16” barrel is the way to go. Actually the 17” barrel was an idea by Hart Barrels as a compromise between the very popular 18” 3Gun lengths and the compact 16” barrels on 90%+ of the AR15s on the market.  

The profile of this match chambered .223 Wylde barrel (its the match chamber which was designed to optimally shoot both 5.56 Nato and .223 Remington) is basically a modified M4 profile with a full bull barrel behind the gas block and a mid-weight profile in front of the gas block. According to Hart, their profile should shoot just as well as a bull profile unless you are one of the few precision shooters who can impact hundreds or thousands of an inch downrange. His comment was that it should easily be a sub-MOA barrel for any decent shooter with match ammo… and he was right.  

Although Hart’s standard barrels are stunning looking meticulously smooth barrels, Hart delivers some of the most amazing looking barrels once their fluting and finishes are applied. Across the industry, barrel finishes a generally service grade with rough profiling and fluting. In the AR15 side of the barrel industry, it seems that beauty is not one of those extra costs people care about. Instead of seeing machine and tooling marks on the barrel, Hart’s are finish is supple and glass-like. 

The extra Hex fluting option I selected is simply a work of metal artistry and beauty which deserves cultural attention in the formal art community.  Looking down the polished and lapped bore, you see the art behind the production. Add in the absolutely perfect satin finish and I have a barrel which is second to none in the looks department and arguably one of the finest shooting target match barrels available anywhere. If your soul burns for a sultry looking and deadly performing barrel, Hart is the answer.

SanTan Tactical STT-15 PILLAR Billet Receiver Combo - $469 - Mil-Spec will due on the battlefield, however not for this build.  Of course, one of the world’s most finely crafted barrels deserves to be mounted to the the world’s best receiver set. I have handled and tested just about every receiver set out there on the market and no one packs all the quality, fit, finish and features into jaw dropping billet 7075 aluminum like SanTan Tactical. Like the Hart barrel, this receiver combo is a masterpiece of AR15 design.  I have tested a SST15 lower in a previous build, however SanTan Tactical just recently released an equally awesome billet upper. I must admit it is the most badass upper receivers I have ever seen and I have seen more than a few.

SanTan is not just about offering an ambi-everything billet receiver with looks that deserve a supermodel to be draped over it. SanTan put a ton of research into developing a design which offers all the features and cool factor with a design significantly stronger than mil-Spec forged receivers. They have videos of abuse testing which exceeds normal mil-spec standard. Not an easy task however they did it.

SanTan Tactical does all this in a design which is still elegantly simple without all the blockness of a typical “fat billet” look. My only regret was not opting for a two-tone bronze and black finish like the Mercury One builds, however there is always a next time.

AXTS Raptor Charging Handle - $90 - There are many... many charging handles on the market, however none deliver the simple elegance of the totally ambidextrous AXTS Raptor Charging handle. The design has been licensed to companies such as Rainer Arms and has been noted by more than one writer including myself as the ultimate Ambi-Charging handle. I have used AXTS charging handles in many top builds and a number of charity builds and I think its one of the best and smoothest cycling charging handles around and from a functional ambi-use, there are none better. What better fit for an Ultimate AR15 than the this gorgeous symmetrical charging handles from AXTS.

Sharps Rifle Company Relia-Bolt -$99 - Early this year, I reviewed the Sharps Reliabolt and was impressed with the science, design and engineering thought which was put into the bolt. Beyond Chrome and NiBo coatings, the AR15/M4 bolt has not changed at all since it was initially designed until the Sharps Reliabolt. Sharps engineers looked at all the potential bolt and carrier failure points and redesigned their Reliabolt to improve reliability in extreme wear, impacted weapon, and alignment situations. I personally have never had any issues with even standard phosphated bolts with proper lube, however I can understand how the Sharps design would greatly enhance reliability and continue operation in near catastrophic weapon conditions. In the case of this build, the Sharps Relia-Bolt delivers a “wow even the bolt is custom” look with arguable one of the most reliable bolts on the market.

Battle Arms Development BAD ASS Ambi Selector $ 79 and EPS Enhanced Pin Set $40 - There stock pivot and takedown pins and selector switches and then there are the groundbreaking designs that Battle Arms Development created. The B.A.D. designs delivered the first ambi-selector switch with style never seen before and features never thought of. Battle Arms absolutely delivers on the cool factor, however they also offer unique features such as short throw switch design on the ambi-selector. Their Enhanced Pin Set delivers a super easy install and and simple design removal features which prevent your punch from scuffing your high dollar receiver. Battle Arms adds that custom touch to any build, especially this one.

Timney Triggers AR15 Skeletonized Match 3lb Trigger - $280 - I am a huge fan of Timney, been to the factory and met the team. I have also used Timney triggers in many many builds and they were also supremely outstanding. Timney's AR15 3lb triggers are awesome, crisp, and very fast shooting. The company added a skeletonized AR15 trigger design which adds just that much more cool to arguably one of the best match triggers on the market.

The Timney Match AR15 trigger is a drop in cartridge style with all precision EDM internal trigger parts. I choose the 3lb version to get the most out of the Hart Barrel and deliver a look which screams custom even from a part which delivers little in terms of style.

Burris XTRII 1.5x-8x-34mm Fast Fire III Combo 34mm Tube - $1577 - One of the newest and hottest top end optics is the new Burris combo optic which combines both the a 1.5-8x scope with a Fast Fire III piggy backed on the optic. This style of combo has become "the" hot setup for the 3Gun crowd and allows very fast transition shots between very close and longer range targets.  Burris' version of this combo features a giant 34mm tube for maximum light transmission, stunning clarity, a Dual Focal Plane ranging/BDC reticle, calibrated CQB trajectory illuminated reticle, huge 5x zoom magnification, 25% thicker tube construction, and Zero Click Stop technology.

If you want to impress others with the quality of your optic it better be clear when you start looking through it and that is what has impressed me with the new line. The new XTR II line features Hi-Lume multi-coated lenses, optimizing target resolution, contrast, and low-light performance which delivers a super clear image which surprises everyone looking through it. The internals are all hand-fitted and are triple-spring tensioned for absolute shock-proofing. When I first saw this optic at Shot Show earlier this year, I fell in love with the clarity, features and the factory assembled combo complete with mounts. Being a believer of reticles which deliver real shot data, the Burris is one of the few sub-$1000 optics which deliver true dual focal plane capability which zooms the reticle with the magnification. This feature retains accuracy ranging of the reticle graduations throughout the entire zoom range and makes shot quicker regardless of what power your scope setting is on.  Love this optic!

Geissele 13” Super Modular Rail - $300 - Some of my favorite custom rails are those from Apex, Barnes, Troy, ALG, SLR and Precision Reflex, however in this case I choose the Geissele Super Modular Rail. It is the only rail I know of which has been 3D machined with machine beveled and rounded edges. The resulting look is that the rail has been custom hydroform cast from solid billet to an artful level equal to the SanTan Tactical receivers. 

The Geissele Super Modular is what I consider the top end of quality in handguard rails with comfort and profile second to none.  On top of the looks and exquisite 3D machining, the rail offer all the regular creature comforts of other top end rails with open platform rail placement plus the stability of a long non-indexing barrel nut which allows the installer to deliver perfect barrel nut torque setting and a higher strength overall handguard to receiver union. The Geissele is the top end of rail and it deserved and earned its spot on this build.

Syrac Ordnance Retrofit Low Profile Gas Piston Conversion Kit - $299 - If you are a gun person you may know the name Jason Adams. If not, he is the guy who invented the gas piston system for AR15s and founded Adams Arms. Jason left his own company and started Syrac Ordnance where he created one of the finest adjustable gas blocks in the industry. Now they have expanded to deliver Low Profile Retrofit Gas Piston Conversion kits which actually fit under nearly every low profile handguard in the industry and are light weight.  At the moment Syrac is attempting to snag every handguard in the industry for testing just to assure compatibility, however the retrofit system slipped easily under the Geissele handguard.

Traditional gas piston systems are bulky and heavy, however Syrac's system is about the same size as a traditional direct impingement system and very light for a gas piston system... actually impressively light. The system allows any current standard AR15 direct impingement owner to just swap their carrier and gas block with the Syrac kit to convert their rifles to a uber reliable gas piston system. Its a beautifully engineered system which add just that much more reliability to this Ultimate AR15 build. The Syrac Low Profile gas Piston Conversion Kit includes a premium carrier, pushrod, and adjustable gas block; considering what you get and build flexibility of the low profile design, its a very competitive price for a gas piston conversion. Installation was as simple as slipping in the Sharps Relia-Bolt into the included Syrac carrier and mounted the Syrac gas block piston and was up and running after following Syrac's install and tuning instructions. The Syrac gas system delivers a system which they claim will outperform direct impingement system and prevent that horrible hot gas blown back into the action.

ALG Defense Single Chamber Brake - $35 - You may find it odd that on a super premium build that I have chosen a simple $35 brake.  The reality is this build is so over the top it actually needs a little elegant simplicity to balance out all the wow. ALG Defense delivers amazing products at very little prices and their Single Chamber Brake does an awesome job in a tiny little package. Due to the length, the installed ALG Brake delivers an overall mounted barrel length which is 1/2" up to an 1" shorter than most standard aftermarket brakes. An excellent all around brakes which echo'ed the hex squares on the barrel via its single large open chamber.

Mission First Tactical Engage Grip $34.99 - I often flip flip back and forth between Magpul and Mission First Tactical, however my preference is the ergonomics of the Mission First design. MFT was also the first company to offer grey which you should know is the "new black" from a style perspective. Usually I hate finger grooves on grips however MFT's grip works for me and looks great so why not use this on the Ultimate AR15 build.

XLR Industries Tactical AR15 Stock $225 - I was going to go my typical route with stocks and reach for an Ace Skeleton Stock, however I found a cooler option. After working with XLR Industries on some .308 Remington 700 chassis, I decided their Tactical AR15 stock would be perfect for this build and something very few have used on AR15s. On top of the stunning machining and finish beauty of the XLR Industries Tactical Stock, it offers complete and full adjustability including adjustable length of pull, adjustable cheek rest height and for-aft position, adjustable recoil pad height, and adjustable recoil pad cant. The XLR Industries Tactical AR15 stock utilizes a carbine length gas system, so it is fully compatible with any AR15 system.  What I liked most about this stock for this Ultimate AR15 build was that it provided ultimate adjustability and comfort for the shooter.

So the big question is, does it perform as well as you would expect? This build shoots like a dream after I worked through tuning and fitting the build to my preferences. As with any adjustable gas system you will likely work through a magazine full of rounds to assure the adjustable Syrac Piston system was tuned properly to my rounds and the stock was fit to my comfort. My best 100-yard group was right at .26" off the bench which is one of my best 100-yard groups. Not that I am capable of doing that over and over, but .5"-.6" 100-yard groups were pretty normal with the setup with high quality match ammo. It is a very high precision build far more capable from an accuracy perspective than my capabilities. The build delivers everything I could ever want in a high end 3Gun/DMR style AR15 and it does with a level of style that simply blows people away.

If you start to add up all the components you get to a stunningly expensive $4,278... yeah damn! Generally it is tough to push past the $3000 mark with a AR15 build unless one of the insanely expensive German optics are added. All the way beyond the $4000 price tag is into the cost of Class 1 firearms. This is definitely one of the tip top custom AR15 firearms I have ever seen or handled, but I could have even gone further. Believe it or not I looked at having a custom made Hydro Dip pattern made for just my builds, however at this time the cost was even too expensive for this build. Meanwhile, back at the range this build just delivers blank looks with a level of customization that people cannot even comprehend beyond "What the F***?" and "Holly S***", but what else would you expect from a build which was twice the price of my first car and 2-3 times the price of most “custom” AR15s.

Final Build Cost $4,278 - Yes that just happened!!!


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ALG Defense -
Battle Arms Development -
Mission First Tactical -
Sharps Rifle Company -