AR-15 Evolution: 51Fifty’s Evolve-15 Rifle

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Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

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The only AR-15 system of its kind is well worth your trigger time!

As a writer of all things pew-pew, my greatest joy is finding diamonds in the rough, or at least in our unceasingly mundane sea of mediocrity. In the AR world, let’s call some what they are… laser-engraved, OEM forged component truck guns touted as premium and priced to match – it’s mind-numbing and we’re inundated – holsters might be another example but another story for a different day. Today, that diamond in the rough is 51Fifty’s Apex Series Evolve-15 direct-impingement rifle and a solid search, or just trust me, reveals there is nothing else like it on Earth. To learn why, read on.

51Fifty Rifles isn’t a bandwagon “premium” truck gun producer born of the desire of investors to turn barrels of greenbacks. It grew legs, even a bit by accident, through the unwavering rifle-building passion of a non-veteran with a deep-seated passion to give thanks and pay homage to our nation’s military, veterans and first-responders; in fact, the company grew legs simply on the back of owner, Keith Berry’s build-projects donated to such service-committed folks, and one more in 2015, the first as 51Fifty formed, for his father, Ron. It was Keith’s most important build and perhaps his most impactful. Ron passed on in 2017 and Keith continues growing 51Fifty in part for his memory, in part to pay homage to those he first served and continues to honor, and in part, to innovate his ass off and offer things to a watered-down segment of industry desperately in need of hot, fresh product development.

My first visit to his SHOT Show booth was a testament to his drive, as well as his early success – his contributions in the AR community do not go unnoticed; in fact, his prototypes, at least over the previous two years of SHOT Show exhibition, have created quite a buzz and his innovations, designs like R.A.C. takedown system (discussed more in depth in a bit) and dual-ejecting receivers, are overt, front-facing… obvious. And, in a world where manufacturing, raw materials, OEM parts, and assembly often are foreign or a mix of foreign and domestic, 51Fifty is committed to 100-percent US production.

True to 51Fifty’s commitment, all sourced materials and parts, as well as all machining, are exclusively American. Berry has been able to make good on his American-made commitment in part through his partnership with Optimum Parts Company.  

Optimum Parts Company

Owned by Dave Moore and Marty Tanguay, Optimum Parts Company’s tagline “Accuracy by design” truly underscores their reputation for American-only focused precision machining, reliability, and multi-industry, multi-national reputation. Of course, like Berry, Optimum has a passion for firearms, and more importantly, a passion for designing OEM parts some of the world’s most accurate competitive shooters rely upon. While Optimum’s most touted offerings are Pinnacle single-piece scope mounts, the company also produces upper and lower AR receivers, handguards, and muzzle brakes with painstakingly tight tolerances.

Moore and Tanguay’s focus with Optimum was a perfect fit for Keith Berry’s 51Fifty plans and a partnership was formed – both wholly focused on staying true to “Made in America.” Today, all 51Fifty machined components are produced by Optimum Parts Company; in fact, Berry relocated 51Fifty to the northeast, near Optimum Parts Company, specifically to strengthen that partnership and enhance efficient collaboration, and parts supply in the best interests of both parties. Honestly, if you’ve seen the movie Step Brothers, think Dave Moore and Keith Berry, except their values aligned from day one, and neither owns a drum kit. What they produce together though, is extraordinary innovation and quality, currently best showcased in the 51Fifty Apex Series Evolve-15 Rifle.

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Optimum’s Pinnacle Series single-piece scope mounts are available in ELR bolt-action and cantilever styles in 30-30mm tube sizes and 0 – 60 MOA

The Walk-Around

Not long ago, stemming from two years of visits to the shared 51Fifty-Optimum Parts Company-RadcoLube SHOT Show booth, I received a 51Fifty Evolve-15 for testing and evaluation. In the world of vanilla black guns, it’s sometimes tough to get excited but the approach to designs and purposes for such innovative modifications to a system largely unchanged for more than 65 years, is refreshing and well worth talking about.

In terms of fit, form, and function, the most noticeable, both in aesthetics and feeling, was quality. At sight, and especially the first time you pick up the Evolve-15, you recognize the system is a high-quality build. The Evolve-15’s OPC-produced billet 7075-T6 aluminum upper and lower receivers and 6061-T6 aluminum handguard not only exhibit exceptionally high-polished, coated finish, their fit together in a complete system is clearly tight and perfectly aligned without making takedown of the system problematic (more on that in a bit). These structural bones of the Evolve-15 are perfectly aligned. To the touch, the system screams quality, leaves zero slop to be questioned, and is incredibly well-balanced.

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The 51Fifty Evolve-15 is built to precise machining and finish tolerances. The tested model was coated in 51Fifty’s polished Fool’s Chocolate finish

In terms of innovation, the most obvious at first sight is an integral, full-length Arca Swiss rail precision machined into the bottom of the handguard – to my knowledge, indeed, an industry first and we welcomed, practical modification serious shooters are sure to appreciate. The handguard also boasts a Picatinny rail, M-LOK and screw attachment points to mount a secondary 45-degree red-dot sight, as well as a laundry list of other shooting accessories from laser illuminators and flashlights to forward grips and digital-optic battery packs.

Rounding out my walk-around, I also noted a minimalistic six-position adjustable stock, shortened and flared mag well, QD-cup sling mounts, premium controls (including an ambidextrous 45-degree selector switch) and one additional pivot/selector-style switch. The Evolve-15 is quite a looker, even dressed in a mind-numbing black; however, my test rifle arrived in a rich, polished Fool’s Chocolate coating. The contrast with black controls and sub-components was nice, like eye-candy, and a nice touch. The AR industry has become increasingly more about representing a shooter’s lifestyle as much as it is about performance – It shoots as good as it looks applies here.

AR-15 Evolution: 51Fifty’s Evolve-15 Rifle
The Evolve-15’s integral Arca Swiss rail makes installing bipods like this Accu-Tac BR-4 G2 Bipod quick and easy!

The Gut Check

As I mentioned, folks certainly like a good-looking rifle and the Evolve-15 fits the bill; however, good looks don’t mean a thing if it’s not reliable or accurate. In terms of fit, form and function, the latter has so much more to do with those “nuts and bolts” you don’t see on the walk around. Like people, it’s what’s inside that counts most – the guts. Fortunately, the Evolve-15 shines here, too!

To begin here, let’s circle back to that additional pivot/selector switch. What the hell is that?

Recall my opening statement – “There is nothing else like it on Earth.” This is where my statement’s rubber meets the road. The Evolve-15 features 51Fifty’s patented R.A.C. (Rapid Action Cam) System. As the innovation’s name implies and in 51Fifty’s words, “The R.A.C. replaces the out-of-date take-down and pivot-pin system. Using a locking cam with opposing lugs, R.A.C. locks the upper and lower receivers together tighter than has ever been possible.” What? Stay with me here as I walk through the process.

With the rifle cleared, the bolt carrier group in its home position, and primary selector switch on fire, the operator rotates that special R.A.C. switch. Once the switch stops, the receivers break open much like a breach-loaded shotgun – the receivers separate at the charging-handle location and once the uppers and lowers are perpendicular, the machined hook at the pivot-pin location releases its grip on the forward connection. At this point, the upper and lower receivers are completely separated WITHOUT THE USE OF TAKE-DOWN OR PIVOT PINS!

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Separating the upper and lower receivers takes just seconds and begins with moving the selector switch to fire, then rotating R.A.C. switch
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Once the R.A.C. switch is rotated, the rear of the receivers unlock
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Simply rotate the upper and lower receivers to a 90-deg. angle to free the pivot pin from the upper receiver’s hook
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Using 51Fifty’s R.A.C. system, the Evolve-15’s receivers have been separated without activating traditional takedown or pivot pins

Additional Apex Series Evolve-15 guts include a suppressor-optimized, ambidextrous charging handle; adjustable captured buffering system; fluted, match-grade, 16 in. to 20 in. barrel crowned with a four-port X-Brake muzzle device; full-auto rated, NiB-coated bolt carrier group; adjustable gas block and a match-grade Hiperfire PDI GL Trigger set at 2 lbs. My test rifle featured a 16-in. .223 Wylde barrel with 1:7 twist and mid-length gassing.

Trigger Time

For testing, I took a short trip to Three Curl Outfitters in Avalon, Texas, my routine go-to destination for thermal and aerial hog and predator hunting. While the property boasts lodging, skeet and more, the private shooting range is where I do much of my shorter-distance range work – target berms range from 50 to 600 yards. Up top, I mounted a Sightmark Presidio 1-6×24 Riflescope and up front, an Arca Swiss compatible Accu-Tac BR-4 Gen 2 Bipod. As a rear rest, for practical application’s sake, I used a simple Tactical Tailor squeeze bag. All testing was done at 100 yards using Hornady’s 73-grain ELD Match .223 Remington ammo, as well as Hornady’s BLACK 62-grain .223 Remington.

With the rifle set up, locked and loaded, I settled behind it, acquired my target and squeezed the Hiperfire PDI GL trigger. True to the average 2-lb. trigger pull I noted with the Wheeler gauge previous to my range day, the trigger was exceptionally light and crisp. The adjustable gas block was spot on, affirmed by case ejection at roughly the 3:30 position, muzzle rise was non-existent and recoil energy was also incredibly comfortable, a testament to the X-Brake’s performance as well as the smaller caliber cartridge.

After the initial shooting, including some barrel seasoning, I opted for more considerate shooting and mounted a TiON Dragoon 7.62 CQB Titanium Suppressor. This was my first experience with a TiON suppressor. First impressions last and my initial observation, given its titanium construction, was that it was quite light for its size — more on that in a bit. With the rifle suppressed, I enjoyed more comfortable shooting and dramatically reduced noise level. it’s certainly one of the quietest suppressors I have put to work, even as a .30-cal model used on supersonic 5.56, and the features are equally impressive – learn more about the TiON Dragoon 7.62 CQB Suppressor below.

Aside from the skies darkening and then opening up to dump an inch of rain on me, testing was virtually effortless. Initial velocity testing with Hornady’s ELD Match ammo resulted in an average, decently consistent speed of 2592 fps through the suppressed 16-inch barrel. The standard deviation was 12.1 and extreme spread was 33. Unfortunately, as I quickly gathered the ELD Match’s ballistic data, I was out and had to switch to Hornady’s BLACK 62-grain .223 Remington. Even so, I eeked out a sub-½-MOA three-shot group at 100 yards, before getting in my own head and opening it up slightly to a .592-MOA five-shot group (shot numbers in the image were randomly assigned).

AR-15 Evolution: 51Fifty’s Evolve-15 Rifle
When it rains, it pours. Fresh out of .223 ELD-Match, the author switches to Hornady BLACK 62-grain .223 Remington ammo and hammers out a solid five-shot group!

TiON Dragoon 7.62 CQB: Revolutionary Sound Suppression

What’s not to love about precision-machined, premium-quality suppressors named after Revolutionary War elements like Minuteman, Grenadier and Dragoon. While the suppressor I used in 51Fifty testing was the Dragoon 7.62 CQB, measuring a more compact 7.5 inches, I also now own a Dragoon 7.62 QD measuring 9.5 inches. The CQB model is rated up to .308 and limited full-auto while the larger 7.62 QD is rated up to .300 Weatherby Magnum and limited full-auto. Both are constructed of titanium and weigh 11.46 oz. and 12.95 oz. respectively. That is to say, TiON Dragoon suppressors are comfortable on the bench, on the hunt and on the barrel of a shouldered rifle on long treks – perfect for shooting and hunting in virtually any environment.

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The TiON Dragoon 7.62 CQB Suppressor, pictured here, measures 7.5 inches, weighs just 11 ounces and mounts in seconds using the Dragoon 7.62 QD Mount. Perfect for hunting, or simply a more comfortable shooting experience, the Dragoon’s noise suppression was quite impressive!

To me, noise suppression was certainly comfortable enough for isolated shots without hearing protection although I would advise shooters to wear protection even while shooting suppressed. Without advocating for shooting without hearing protection, I can affirm ancillary shots one might encounter on a hunt, as an example, were still comfortable to me. I also appreciate TiON’s ridiculously fast, proprietary QD mounting system and Total Breakdown Technology (TBT). The latter means TiON suppressors are designed to be completely disassembled, baffles and all, without tools for deeper cleaning and improved maintenance.

As a final note on the TiON Corporation, the company was originally founded in 1993 as Freedom Armory. In late 2012, the company was renamed Freedom Armory Machine Works to better tout precision manufacturing with state-of-the-art equipment. It wasn’t enough. The company finally decided to rebrand manufacturing to better isolate and showcase precision manufacturing capabilities, especially with respect to suppressors. As a result, the company kicked off 2019 as TiON, Inc. Since that time, TiON has become a highly respected suppressor innovator and manufacturer. From .22 plinkers and striker-fire pistols clear up to big bore ARs and long-range calibers, TiON offers a top-shelf suppressor solution sure to meet your primary caliber needs while also covering a wide cartridge gap. Learn more about TiON, Inc. and the technology behind their suppressors at www.TionInc.com

AR-15 Evolution: 51Fifty’s Evolve-15 Rifle
Another photo TiON’s Dragoon Suppressor and the Evolve-15’s integral Arca Swiss rail

The Final Shot

The 51Fifty is a big winner, one of the best AR15-platform rifles I have shot in recent years. Coupled with some of the most exciting yet practical innovations I have seen throughout my years of covering AR rifles, it’s one I’ll soon need to add to my safe. If you’re ready to plunge into premium performance AR rifles, appreciate revolutionary design enhancements, and want to own a precision-machined rifle nobody else on your block owns (yet), the 51Fifty Apex Series Evolve-15 is quite the prize. As a final note, considering the robust performance, reliability, and build quality of the Evolve-15, it sits at an exceptional price point, starting with a MSRP of $1776. Learn more at www.51FiftyRifles.com.

AR-15 Evolution: 51Fifty’s Evolve-15 Rifle
Rain or shine, the 51Fifty Evolve-15 is ready for work

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