We were sent the AR-10 A4 flattop in green for our review. The 1” or 30mm mounts are available on the Armalite website.
100 Yard groups came in under 1.5 inches consistently with Hornady Superformance in the 165grain GMX bullet. This one is 1.33 inches.
Our resident US Army Sniper Ben Becker did the accuracy testing with the AR-10 and he had some interesting results.
This 2.03 inch group at 300 yards was surprising for the gun and makes you wonder if with a little tuning it could be an under MOA gun for not a ton of money.
A bigger surprise was this group at just over 2 inches at 500 yards. Unfortunately we won’t be able to go back and test this rifle again as it was sent to to Teludyne Tech for a Straightjacket. At least we probably have a best case scenario for the gun without the Straightjacket.
The competition for the AR-10 in the market mostly consists of one of these three battle rifle configurations. The top is the M14/M1A in the Springfield Armory SOCOM 1 configuration. The second one down is the CETME, which is the progenitor of the HK91/G3, and the FN-FAL, the rifle that used to be called the right arm of the free world. I feel the AR-10 outperforms all of them for various reasons. Possible the one rifle left out is the SAIGA in .308 which is an AK-47 knockoff. I don’t feel it’s a battle quality rifle..
As battle rifles go, probably the most misunderstood of them all is the AR-10. It almost beat the M-14 in replacing the M1 Garand, and its design was actually copied for the AR-15. Made by Armalite in 1956, when the company was owned by Fairchild Aviation and Eugene Stoner worked there, the Armalite AR-10 has a long and storied history. Fidel Castro even bought some. Today’s AR-10, brought back to life by Armalite Inc., is a more mature rifle than the guns of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Even though the AR-10 was Eugene Stoner’s original design for a battle rifle and pre-dated the AR-15, today we think of it as a version of the AR-15 beefed up for the 7.62×51 NATO cartridge (.308 Winchester). There are now a number of other .308 versions of the AR-15 out there, but there is only one AR-10 based on the original AR-10 design and it is still made by Armalite.
There are two questions you have to ask yourself when it comes to purchasing a battle rifle. The first has to be, to AR-15 or not to AR-15. That rifle has taken over the battle rifle market in NATO, police and civilian use for a reason. In 90% of the situations in which you could find yourself, the AR-15, firing the .223 Remington ( 5.56 NATO), cartridge is adequate. The platform is reliable, accurate, light, ammo is readily available (and even inexpensive for surplus ammo), and the bullet tears a heck of a hole in whatever it hits.
Two panes of safety glass between you and your target, however, will slow down the .223/5.56, and possibly take it out of the game. Likewise some house shingles, studs and sheetrock of an outside house wall, or the door of a vehicle with the window rolled down where the bullet has to penetrate both the door and the window. And forget about shots over 300 yards, which is the theoretical limit of the .223/5.56.
At 300 yards the .223/5.56 is about 20% above the muzzle energy of point blank out of a 9mm pistol with a 5 inch barrel (90gr. bullet in the 9mm compared to a 55gr. bullet in the AR). At 400 yards the energy falls off to 20% under this comparison.
If your rifle is the only thing standing between you and harms way, you have to think about the possibility of encountering situations that the AR-15 cannot handle. You can only shoot one rifle at a time. When faced with a real gunfight, the decision to make that rifle an AR-15 might be something you’d regret. In other words, your decision to AR-15 or not to AR-15 should be based on the probability of encountering a situation that the rifle can’t handle, against what makes the AR-15 such a strong rifle to begin with.
NATO chose the M-16, what we now buy as the semi-auto AR-15 platform, basically because:
- The gun is light.
- The magazines of ammo are light meaning you can carry a lot.
- The kick of the small cartridge is light
- The bullet is light, fast, and has a flat trajectory.
- The cartridge has enough force for most post-Korean War/Vietnam battle scenarios.
The effectiveness of the AR-15 round is a book in itself. There are many folks who love it, but the .223/5.56 round has also been much maligned throughout its history. Even today in the battle environments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cartridge, little more than a woodchuck round, is thought to be underpowered for long range desert and mountain fighting. It was picked for jungle fighting, not open field combat and urban environments. And though the low recoil is ideal for “room clearing,” in other aspects of urban fighting, like shooting through walls and doors, it comes up short.
The AR-10 is bigger, two pounds heavier, somewhat front heavy, and somewhat more unwieldy than an M-4 sized AR. If you can handle the physical size and 9 lb. weight of the rifle, the field of battle benefits of the larger, more powerful round would tend to favor the AR-10. The ammo, of course, is also heavier, but in a home defense scenario, or even a police scenario, how much ammo do you think you need to carry? Nobody is humping a pack, body armor and 300 rounds of ammo besides the rifle here.
Just to compare ballistics, an M4 length AR-15 shoots a 55 grain bullet at about 3100 feet per second muzzle velocity (I recently clocked some Hornady TAP out of a 16” M4). This equates to about 1200 foot pounds of kinetic energy at the muzzle. The .308 Winchester, also Hornady TAP, fires a 168 grain bullet at 2700 feet per second out of a 20” barrel. That is over 2700 foot pounds of energy, and the .308 is extremely flat shooting as well.
At 500 yards the .308 has roughly one and a half times the energy of a .44 magnum at the muzzle. I’d call that apples and oranges.
We are framing this in the question of “battle rifle” but we aren’t really talking about actual battle rifles, which are for the most part selective fire and capable of fully automatic, or at least 3 round burst fire. The weight of the rifle and cartridges, unless you are a very slight person for whom the gun is unmanageable, doesn’t pose a huge difference between an AR-15 and an AR-10. It comes down to a matter of preference.
The second question you have to ask about choosing a battle rifle (after to AR-15 or not to AR-15), is which of the .308 platform rifles is best for you. Part of the decision on the AR definitely involves recoil. The kick of an M4 size AR is almost negligible. It certainly doesn’t hurt your shoulder, and shot to shot in rapid fire the muzzle climb is easily controlled. All of the .308 battle rifles available kick more than the AR-15, but some are better than others. The AR-10, with its gas system similar to the AR-15, is definitely the best. Here are the other .308 contenders and some aspects to consider if you are thinking about a .308 battle rifle:
1. The FN-FAL – The gun that used to be called the right arm of the free world can longer count itself among the most popular battle rifles on the planet. You still see them in service on Animal Planet where the guide usually is carrying one in Africa, and some African and South American nations still count them as their main national arm, but the day of the FAL is dwindling as it cedes its place to the ubiquitous AR-15.
I have been a fan of this rifle since I began shooting, and I haven’t ever shot one that didn’t go boom every time you pull the trigger. The gas system is adjustable on them so you can lighten the kick some to where the gas is mostly bleeding off and less force is being directed backwards. Combined with it’s weight, generally over 9 lbs., this brings down recoil substantially.
But not as much as the AR-10. Not even close. And if you back the gas down too much, you get failures to feed if you limp hold the gun. Controlling recoil with the FAL this way is tricky. I’ve always considered the punch of the cartridge worth the extra thump, and an FAL for sure thumps you.
The biggest downside to the FAL is considered to be the heavy, unwieldy and lanky nature of the rifle itself. This gives you a distinct disadvantage cornering with the gun, and I wouldn’t want to rely on it for quick room clearing type of work.
The advantage of the FAL is price. When we aren’t in a political black rifle boom, an FAL can usually be found for under $600. What you’re buying is generally a parts kit that has been deconstructed out of country and rebuilt here in the US by a private gunsmith with an Imbel receiver. Not a bad option on a budget. They are generally ugly and dinged up, but otherwise perfectly reliable rifles that shoot into 2-3 inches at 100 yards.
DS Arms also offers a professional version of the FN-FAL called the SA-58, however I have not reviewed one to date. They are comparable in price to the AR-10 or a little higher.
2. M-14/M1A Family – History buffs have a warm and fuzzy for the successor to the M1 Garand in US Military service, and many M1A rifles are still proudly serving their country today over in the sandbox. As .308 battle rifles go, the M14 is extremely reliable and effective.
The problem is, it is also extremely heavy and the muzzle tends to climb when you shoot it fast. Even my 16” Socom comes in well over 9 lbs and it has a plastic stock. And it kicks pretty hard for a .308 gas rifle. Don’t get me wrong, the M14 is great rifle and I love it, but compared to an AR-10, out of the box, I don’t think it is as good a rifle.
If you check out the Wikipedia page on the AR-10 it has an interesting explanation about why the M14 beat the AR-10 for the military contract back in 1957. It seems that Eugene Stoner and his crew decided to send an experimental aluminum alloy barrel with the test gun, and it subsequently blew up. If they had sent the steel barrel who knows what would have happened. All of our affections might be directed to the old reliable AR-10.
Lately M1A rifles have been easier to find than they were even a year ago. Springfield has been putting out more of them and the black rifle frenzy has calmed down. The price is now comparable to AR-10. An effective battle rifle, yes. A practical purchase as your main battle rifle, I don’t know. I’ve never met an M-14 I’d throw out of bed for eating soda crackers, but given the choice to work rooftops in Fallujah with one or the other, all factors considered, I’d take the AR-10.
3. The CETME/HK91/G3 Family – Among all of the .308 family of battle rifles, I find the HK91 to be the least practical. Even though the gun is steel and over 9 pounds, it kicks like a mule. What many people don’t know about this gun is that H&K didn’t design it. It started its career as the official rifle of Spain, called the CETME, and the HK91/G3 became clones of it. The magazines and most parts are interchangeable.
About 20 years ago, Century Arms brought in truckloads of CETMEs from Spain as surplus. These guns are still on the market and still work perfectly. Most are clean as a whistle on the used market and you can find them at gun shows and on GunsAmerica for around $500. Sometimes you even see them being fire-saled for $400.
I would argue that the CETMEs on the market are the best value in a battle rifle that you can buy. They kick, but they are clean, work perfectly, and are fairly accurate. They don’t have rails or widgets, but Leapers does have an aftermarket kit for the CETME, though I haven’t tried to install one yet.
The PTR-91 is a modern US made version of the CETME/HK-91 that I have not reviewed. The prices are generally under the AR-10, in the $1,000 range, with tactical rail models in the $1,400 range. It is a formidable battle rifle, but I don’t believe the recoil issue would be any different, and at full price it would be my last choice.
The Armalite AR-10
Writing about guns is sometimes like writing about hammers. If it does what it is supposed to do you don’t have much to write about. This green AR-10A4 version that Armalite sent us to review is as good an argument for the AR-10 as any example you could find. The trigger is superb and it shot easily into 1.5 MOA at 100, 300 and 500 yards. We had no feeding problems with several hundred rounds of ammunition ranging from the high end Hornady Superformance to white box Olin to steel cased Tula. The action is so strong, positive, and I would even call it violent, that when you drop that bolt on a full mag, you feel like the gun could never fail you, like you’re holding a world class rifle.
Recoil is not painful shooting the AR-10. It still kicks of course, but it is nothing like the rifles above. I found it extremely manageable. Shooting the rifle in rapid fire is different in a hard to describe way. It isn’t like shooting an FAL or an M-14 where the bolt comes back exactly timed with the recoil. The recoil on the AR-10 is spongy, like you can feel the slight delay from the gas system.
The weight, length and front heaviness of the AR-10 are definitely downsides. It just doesn’t come around, up or down as quickly as an M4. Unless you’re a big and strong man, the weight will make you feel sluggish with the rifle, whereas with an M4 you will feel quick and reactive. It is also harder to hold on target off hand because of the heaviness of the barrel vs. the lightweight aluminum receiver and upper. If you are not a big man, or, like me, you’re a big man in all the wrong places, you should feel the weight of the AR-10 before deciding on it above an M4 sized AR-15.
Our test gun came with the “forward assist” option, which is that little button for your thumb that you also see on many AR-15s. This is so that if you limp hold the gun and the action doesn’t fully lock up with the bolt, you can force it forward manually with your thumb, allowing you to fire. I tried to limp the gun to get it to need the forward assist but I was unable to get it to fail. That bolt is downright violent and I can’t see it failing to lock up unless you dunk the gun and have some seaweed stuck in there or something. Nonetheless, the forward assist option is available.
Whether to buy a genuine Armalite AR-10 or one of the many copies out there these days is really up to you. Some of the copies are coming from top notch companies and may be great, but I can’t say because I haven’t shot any of them. The way I see it, Armalite is the only company legally allowed to use the AR-10 moniker, so if you want a real AR-10, you buy the Armalite. If you just want a .308 battle rifle in the AR pattern, do your homework on the other options. At some point I expect to get some of them in for review.
Today’s Armalite AR-10 is at the top of its game and should be a serious consideration if you’re shopping for a battle rifle that won’t let you down. You can get them with match triggers, match barrels, M4 buttstocks and with just about any rail pattern you could want. In the AR-10T version, the gun is also available in several hunting calibers. MRSP ranges from about $1,500 upwards, and street price is generally in the $1,300 and up range, depending on options. I don’t feel you could buy a genuine Armalite AR-10 and lose money on the gun, and you definitely won’t have buyers remorse when you get it. They are really nice guns.