By Justin Opinion
Stag Arms LLC
If you were going to build a new AR-15 with a focus on competition shooting, such as 3-Gun—you would very likely wind up with exactly what you get out of the box with the new-for-2014 Stag Arms Model 3T-M. Assuming of course, that you used the best components and wanted a no-nonsense tactical rifle. No strangers to the competition uses of the modern sporting rifle, particularly the AR platform, the folks at Stag Arms know how to build a stage-ready rifle.
Stag Arms ships the 3T-M in a plastic carrying case with egg-crate foam protection and ample room for extra mags. The case can be locked for security, though I do not know whether it would meet FAA requirements. The evaluation unit was supplied with one magazine—an aluminum 20-rounder. The rifle boasts a Diamondhead hand guard, topped with a pair of aluminum Diamondhead flip-up sights front and rear. A very high-end set of sights as standard fare. The furniture on the 3T-M consists of a Magpul ACS 6-position stock, with some cool little storage compartments (pre-filled with dummy ammo too) and an incorporated sling mount. The pistol grip is the Magpul MOE, which has an excellent stippling.
Stag Arms starts with the basics of a standard mil-spec AR-15 and then engineers in the critical performance and reliability that shooters have come to expect from Stag—along with just the right accessories and furniture for an out-of-the-box shooter, without the glitter, sirens and neon paint that some use to market image or perception over practical application.
You won’t find a coffee maker or garage door opener hanging from the rail system of the 3T-M. In fact, you won’t even find much of a rail system on the 3T-M at all, save for the full picatinny top. But from the first moment your hand runs along the small-diameter, smooth and amazingly ergonomic Diamondhead free-floating hand guard, you will understand the “less is more” concept. At 13 ½” over a 16” barrel, the hand guard leaves little but the traditional A2 flash hider and wee end of the barrel peeking out front. This gives you ample room to stretch that arm all the way out for those who like that locked elbow grip. The dimensions of the hand guard are the same all the way down the barrel, and it is about as comfortable as a nice handlebar grip. More than one person who held this rifle at the range went straight home and did some web “shopping” for it.
The chambering of the 3T-M is 5.56 NATO, meaning you can shoot either the increased pressures of 5.56 or less rowdy .223 ammo. You will typically sacrifice some long-range accuracy for this (versus .223 only), but you gain tremendous advantage in versatility, especially when ammo gets hard to find. But in terms of the observed accuracy of this rifle, I have no doubt that it far exceeds the abilities of this shooter. Results with several brands of ammunition varied at 100 yards but produced some respectable groups.
At 50 yards, my results were more consistent – an attestation more to my skill level and trigger control than the rifle, I suspect. I spent far more time at close distances, often inside 25 yards, shooting match-style target setups from various positions. This, to me, is where this rifle really shines. The hand guard, grip and stock were intelligently selected, with well-designed ergonomics. With six positions to choose from via the stock, the length of the rifle can be tailored for nearly any shooter. The rubber buttpad makes the butt of the rifle stay put, even in run-and-gun activity. The grip texture of the Magpul MOA pistol grip was a nice surprise. I had never used that grip before, but you can bet I made a note about upgrading! With front and rear horizontal grooves and a well stippled grip panel on each side, your hand stays put—which translates to better trigger control. The angle of the grip is very comfortable for extended sessions.
The Diamondhead aluminum flip-up sights that come installed on the 3T-M are outstanding and fully adjustable. The “diamond in a diamond” sight picture takes a little getting used to if you’re not accustomed to it, but it allows a far superior degree of accuracy for the shooter who can hold that bead and squeeze the trigger.
Most of the Stag Arms 3T-M is, as mentioned, standard mil spec. So, there are not a lot of surprises or caveats to talk about when discussing the working parts like bolt carrier, trigger group or receiver construction. But I know that AR enthusiasts want the specs, so here are the key items:
Barrel: 16” 4140 steel, chrome lined, government profile with a 1/9 twist
Action: Direct impingement
Lower receiver: 7075 T6 anodized aluminum
Upper receiver: Forged, mil-spec 7075 T6 anodized aluminum
Bolt carrier: Enhanced with manganese phosphate coating
Trigger: Standard mil-spec, rated at 5-8 lbs. My 10-pull average was 6 lbs. 10.5 oz.
Weight: 7.5 lbs.
Length: 33 ½” – 37” (varies with stock extension)
Takedown, cleaning and reassembly are all standard operating procedure. The rear takedown pin on the copy evaluated was always a bit tricky to get started for re-assembly. I got in the habit of keeping something at hand to tap it with, but after half-dozen repetitions it loosened up. The bolt carrier has a manganese phosphate coating that greatly aids in lubricity—not to the point that you don’t need to lube it, but it is a noticeable difference and also makes the carrier easier to clean. The gas key is properly staked. I did not baby this rifle; I wanted to see what problems it might have if someone neglected it a bit. Until I was ready to put it on a bench at 100 yards, I didn’t clean or lubricate it at all, except for a few initial drops around the bolt carrier.
I also didn’t discriminate about the ammo I fed it. It got everything from the good stuff with museum quality brass cases to the cheapest steel-cased stuff, and lots in between. It never failed in any way. No feeding failures. No extraction or ejection failures. Every round went fully into battery every time, and she purred like a kitten when she cycled.
The fit and finish of the Stag Arms 3T-M is superb throughout. The anodized aluminum of both upper and lower have a consistent finish with seams and joints that meet so well they look more like lightly scored lines. Everything from stampings to part fitment seems to have received the kind of attention that one expects from a top-tier manufacturer. The mag well has a nice bevel, which will help you three-gunners with those speed reloads. I used several different magazines with the 3T-M, including P-Mag 30-rounders, and all worked flawlessly and dropped free and fast when released.
Each time I pulled the 3T-M from the case at the range, it drew attention. “Hey, is that a Stag Arms?” was usually the subtle lead-into “mind if I have a look?” I was tempted to point to the double-sided branding on the cheek rest of the buttstock and make some remark, but I never did. My, how I’ve matured! The truth is it was fun to let folks take a look and handle the rifle. I enjoyed the opportunity to see it for the first time—time and time again—through the eyes of others. I was both interested and amused by which details were important to different people, like the one who spent five minutes exploring and admiring the many storage compartments in the Magpul furniture. But overwhelmingly what got the most attention was the Diamondhead hand guard. Stag Arms made an excellent choice with this selection, and it leaves no question as to the intended purpose of this AR as a competition gun. One minor drawback of the hand guard is that, except for the full length (and perfectly fitted) picatinny rail at its top, it is bare of places to affix accessories like light, bipod, etc. But if you want those, you can get add-on rail sections for the hand guard direct from Diamondhead. And if you don’t need or want them, you have a lot of real estate for gripping the rifle.
I didn’t sling the rifle, but if I were to I think I would go for a single-point sling attached at the steel ring (actually, there are two, for right or left hand use) located at the intersection of the buffer tube and lower receiver. The reason I probably never mounted the sling was because it never felt like I needed it. The 3T-M is so cleanly built that it is a non-issue to navigate through a moving course of fire with it, change shooting positions and grip styles, all of which come so easily and naturally, thanks in large part to the ergonomic design of this rifle. There are no edges, corners or tabs that can snag on clothing or gear. Champion shooters learn early on not to equip their guns with anything that does not contribute to better and faster shooting. While I might wish that Stag Arms included at least a bipod mount, I have to respect their decisive approach to the 3T-M, making it a lean, mean machine with no identity crisis at all.
While it may be designed to appeal to the action-oriented enthusiasts, such as 3-Gun competitors, the Stag Arms 3T-M is also a born and bred AR-15, and with that moniker comes an expectation of accuracy. Many of the hundreds of rounds I pumped through this rifle were fed from a rest at varying distances and with varying sighting options. For my initial out-of-the-box experience, I simply flipped up the Diamondhead aluminum sights, shouldered the rifle and put some rounds down range. Next was resting the open-sighted rifle on bags and adjusting them to punch center of paper at 25-40 yards. The sights are easy to adjust, particularly the rear for windage. It doesn’t take long to start making good groups with the open sights.
Next, I moved up to a red-dot optic that would be more indicative of a competitive or tactical operator’s use. I chose the Aimpoint PRO (Patrol Rifle Optic) for this purpose, and it was perfectly suited. The Aimpoint and the Diamondhead sights co-witnessed perfectly and gave me the fast acquisition sight picture I needed to run this gun through a moving course of fire.
In the past year we have seen our share of turmoil in the firearms market—and no one gun better exemplifies this than the AR-15. Coveted as a symbol of our American liberty and hated as a symbol of “assault and violence”, the AR-15 platform has been the focal point of the “interesting times” in which we live. For most of the past year, you could not find inventory to purchase, and what you could find was being sold at often exploitive prices (supply and demand 101). Now that the market is reaching some equilibrium, consumers once again have more choice and perhaps an even higher standard. Stag Arms has earned a reputation as one of the few “go to” brands for the modern sporting rifle because it gives the customer high quality and intelligent design at a reasonable price. My experience with the 3T-M indicates that this tradition is alive and well at Stag Arms. Best suited for close-range work and fast acquisition, add a few extras and it is a competent distance shooter too.