Saturday, May 22, 2021

Bootleg CamLok Handguard AR Barrel Swap Setup

Bootleg CamLok Handguard AR Barrel Swap Setup

If you want a swap barrel setup for your AR15, the Bootleg Camlock Handguard may be the ultimate handguard for a one-gun to-many barrel setup. Imagine investing in one really nice upper, one premium tier bolt carrier, a single custom charging handle and just swapping out barrels of different calibers and lengths without another $100 upper, without another $150 carrier, charging handle, $100+ handguard, or ultimately another optic. It is a cool idea that has merit with many use cases, clutter reduction, and a whole boatload of cost saving potential.

[Pictured - PWS Mod 2 Lower with Ballistic Advantage 10-inch 9mm and .223 Wylde Hansen barrels, Beyer Lightweight .22LR Benz chambered match barrel with Ruger SR. The HiLux 1-4 CMR easily adjusts to different bullet drop and on all barrels so far, the windage has never moved. An ATN night vision monocular add night vision support to the optic. Not pictured are BA Hansen 300 Blackout and a very rare 5.45x39 barrel]

.22 LR, 9mm, 223, shown
For this build, a single Bootleg Upper, Bootleg CamLok handguard, and a few extra CamLok barrel nuts were used to swap between 10.3-inch Ballistic Advantage .223 Premium match barrel, 9.5-inch Beyer Match .22LR barrel with Black Dog magazines, another BA Hansen .300 Blackout 10.3-inch barrel, and a BA 10-inch 9mm Barrel with Saber Defense and Matador Arms Glock Mag adapters… and it worked wonderfully.

The PWS Piston Upper that came with the PWS lower is really fantastic, and would be my primary choice for defense, however having the ability to swap with this level of adaptability with a canvas knife roll full of barrel caliber options is a game changer for me without any compromises.

My focus was a packable truck gun that delivered everything I could want in a SHTF, training, and fun gun with the least amount of weight possible all while still supporting many different caliber options. The reality though was that I discovered a swap barrel format that I really love and will start using to downsize my AR collection. Additional build add-ins are a Hilux 1-4 optic with Aero Precision mount and a Primary Arms 3-9 scope with a QD mount if I want to get the potential of all these barrels. The lower receiver is a PWS Mod 2 lower receiver.

BOOTLEG CAMLOK BARREL SWAP PROCESS

The Bootleg CamLok MLOK handguard is available in a variety of lengths and attaches with a simple smooth barrel nut and a handguard that has a durable plastic adjustable cam lever (like really good mil-spec plastic) that tightens the handguard onto the barrel nut. The whole setup is solid, slip-free, and dependable to mount. The Bootleg CamLock handguard include the barrel wrench tool and are available in 7, 9.2, 13.4 and 15-inch lengths all with MLOK accessory attachment slots with prices ranging from a very affordable $135-$159.


Sure you could technically do this same process with any handguard setup, however a standard build is a more complex process to swap barrels because of the gas block trapping the barrel nut, potential removal (and loss) of screws and bolts retaining the handguard, and the requirement to basically completely rebuild the upper with each swap.


With the Bootleg handguard and spare barrel nuts, you open the adjustable cam lever on the handguard and slip it free, use the included barrel nut tool or standard hooked castle nut tool to remove the barrel nut, slide out the barrel/barrel nut/gas block assembly, and slide on a different barrel assembly, tighten the barrel nut, and slip the Bootleg CamLok handguard back on. Adjust your zero for the appropriate barrel and you are ready to go. I used oil based paint pens to make a color on the barrel and matching zero color-points on my optic turret. I can swap barrels in under 2 minutes and I have not seen any relevant shifts in zero between swaps from the initial zeros. I have found most quality rings and optics mounts will remount and return to zero as long as they are mounted to the same picatinny slot which can easily be marked. If I want to swap optics with barrel swaps, I can do it easily without too much worry of rezeroing.


Despite what many people do on their builds, AR15 barrel nut torque should only be 30-35-ft/lbs which is not much. For this setup, barrel swaps should not require a vise and action block just to remove and attach a barrel in the field. I found that using the grip as one leverage point and a simple right angle ⅝-inch driver with the Bootleg barrel nut tool was all that I needed to disassemble and swap barrels at the range with about the right amount of torque. You will need extra barrel nuts if you are running a gas system based barrel like on 5.56 and 300 Blackouts, however you really only need one extra barrel nut to share between blowback action barrels like .22LR and 9mm since they will not trap the barrel nut with a gas block.



REALITY OF A SWAP BARREL SETUP

Unless you go all Rambo, it really is quite difficult to shoot two guns at once… at least very well, but most of us still have boatloads of guns. We all think we need complete builds, however once you really understand that optics can remount and be easily re-zeroed to a marked point without firing a shot. Builders should start to wonder why their safes are full of single caliber builds and/or uppers. There is a lot of money invested in even just four upper builds with $300+ in just an upper and handguard for each separate upper which could instead get recycled using the Bootleg CamLok handguard. 


For the builder on a budget this is a significant savings of about $1200+ across four calibers. An example of the money savings is a swap barrel setup between the 5.56 and 300 Blackout - the builder only needs to buy the barrel, gas block and gas tube every other component including the bolt carrier can be shared. 



If you are hauling this weight around, you can save two pounds by not carrying another upper, handguard and carrier. For that extra weight savings, a .22LR barrel, bolt, magazine, and suppressor can be carried.


Trim down your inventory. The reality of my firearm inventory is that I rarely shoot 300 Blackout so why have $600-$800 invested in a complete upper plus optic when all I really need is just a barrel assembly for around $300. The 9MM PCCs I shoot a lot as do the .22LR, but even then I can spare three minutes to make that swap and twist the turret to the zero point. 


The interesting part of this experiment was some of the off camera build antics such as playing around with a number of various barrels including a .223 16-inch barrel, or a 10-inch Beyer .22LR barrel that allows a shorter suppressed upper. If you really wanted to get flexible, buying another Bootleg CamLok handguard in another shorter or longer size could add even more flexibility beyond a caliber change to provide barrel length flexibility as well. With that setup you could have your 4-inch, 10-inch pistol barrels and short handguards and 16-inch 9mm barrel and handguard using the same bolt carrier (5.5.6/300 BO) and upper. 


ACCURACY

From an accuracy perspective there is no compromise with the swap barrel setup for any of the pistol length barrels used. The .22LR Match Beyer barrel, CMMG carrier, and Black dog magazines will cluster consistent 1/2-inch groups at 50-yards with match grade ammo. It is a fantastic setup. Similarly the Ballistic Advantage 9mm barrel with a Stern Defense Glock magazine adapter and Stern NiBo 9mm carrier will deliver easy 1-inch groups at 50-yards with Defensive grade factory ammo. Even some insanely crappy MaXXTech steel cased stuff shot well for me at 25-yards. A really great AR platform trainer. The BA .223 Wylde, 300 Blackout and 5.45x39 barrels are all extremely accurate as well and can all outshoot many rifles. The interesting thing for me was with a trued receiver face, every barrel held the same windage adjustment for me at 50-yards which is more than good enough for the intent of this build and makes rezeroing between barrels significantly easier.


For longer range barrel swap builds with longer rifle length barrels, I am sure the zeros may move around a bit more, however I would not hesitate to use the Bootleg Camlock for a precision rifle build. The only concern I would have would be for focused precision builds, I usually bed the barrel to the receiver to squeeze just a bit more accuracy out and that method would not work well with this type fo barrel swap.



THOUGHTS ON THE BOOTLEG CAMLOK HANDGUARD

As a very jaded writer in the industry for well over a decade, I feel like I have seen it all, tested just about every gadget available but this Bootleg Camlock handguard got me thinking. The Bootleg Camlock has the cool factor paired with legitimate utility that a lot of builders will feel is appealing all with very few disadvantages. The really funny thing is that the owners of Bootleg really did not have this application in mind until I brought it up to them. They just thought this would be an easier handguard for people that tend to fidget with their AR builds a lot such as making adjustable gas block adjustments easier. I told them what I wanted to do and they were more than happy to oblige with a few extra barrel nuts. Bootleg noted they will be happy to sell the extra barrel nuts, but have not figured out the pricing yet. Likely, the spare barrel nuts will likely be quite affordable. 


We as modern AR builders do a lot of builds simply to test a barrel which equates to a lot of money just to see if you like a caliber, barrel quality, or barrel length. The Bootleg CamLok handguard drops a huge amount of potential cost from the equation. If you hate the barrel, the CamLok barrel nut can be stripped off the barrel for the barrel to get sold and a builder is not taking a bath on the cost of an entire upper. If you do love the barrel, you have the option to keep using the Bootleg Handguard or invest in a complete upper build. For a guy like me who is rolling through reviews of one barrel after another, this is a huge cost savings.


DECLUTTER
Just like every other AR owner opening your safe makes you smile, but there comes a point where you really wonder if you should be downsizing to concentrate training on just a few builds. A lot of the uppers gathering dust could be stripped of an awesome barrel and the rest sold off for better optics, perhaps one of those fancy billet receiver sets and maybe even some cerakote. 


What if we could drastically reduce the need to build yet an AR upper, just to test or shoot a different caliber. For most AR15 owners that could include .223/5.56, 300 Blackout, 9mm, and .22LR versions of various barrel lengths. Short barrels for compact packability and longer barrels for more velocity and potential increased accuracy.


Without going down a rabbit hole about how an AR15 format pistol can legally shoot any length of barrel while a rifle is limited to only 16”+ barrels, let's assume you want a really flexible AR15 and that should be an AR15 pistol build affixed with one of the many “braces” for comfortable shooting. 


FINAL THOUGHTS

Bootleg was originally a spin off investment from Primary Weapons Systems that focused on the direct impingement market. The quality of Bootleg is phenomenal. A few years ago Bootleg became its own company separate from PWS.  If you see the uppers look a lot like the upper from PWS you might have guessed they were related somehow already. I have used many Bootleg uppers over the years for builds and what makes these ultralight uppers fantastic is that they are not billet, they are very tough forged 7075 uppers… yes forged. The gas adjustable BCG is another unique item that is really an amazing product especially for suppressor owners to be able to adjust gas pressure on the fly. Honestly, everything made by Bootleg is supreme quality.


I really did have that WTF is this look on my face when I first saw the Bootleg Camlock handguard, but now I get it and love this setup. For the builder this is an amazing setup that saves a tinkerer and builder a ton of time and money. For the person that wants to try a lot of different calibers, this is an amazing solution. 


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