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In conversation with some of the fine people at FN, they said that one of their most-requested items, year after year, was a true copy of the guns that they sold to the United States military. In 2015, they finally announced that they would be introducing a series of three rifles called the Military Collector Series. This series would consist of the M16, M4 and the M249 SAW. This article is the second in a three-part series reviewing these heritage guns. A few months ago I had the opportunity to review the M16; take a look if you haven’t, as it serves as a good introduction to these rifles. I also had a chance to review the M249S (see our reviews of the M249S and the M16). Now, I have gotten my hands on the M4 Carbine.
- Chambering: 5.56 NATO
- Barrel: 14.5 inches (16 inch with compensator)
- OA Length: 30.5-34.2 inches
- Weight: 6 pounds
- Stock: Six-position collapsible
- Sights: A2-style front, folding rear
- Action: Direct gas impingement
- Finish: Matte black
- Capacity: 30+1
- MSRP: $1,749
Unboxing a gun from this platform always raises the same question in my mind, and the FN Collector Series M4 Carbine was no exception: “What will I need to add or subtract from this rifle to make it ready to use?” The AR 15/M4 platform has to be the easiest gun in the world to customize to exactly how you roll. As such, there is a standard set of features that I always look for in a carbine meant for serious work. The package that FN supplies to the military includes some of the most crucial add-ons that I find myself applying. The adjustable buttstock was already in place, along with an ambidextrous selector switch (this is particularly important to me as a left-handed rifle shooter). The metal flip-up rear sight with easy-to-use range settings was nicely mated to the traditional A2 front sight. The barrel was covered by a Knight’s Armament M4 RAS adapter rail that was equipped with rail covers and a forward pistol grip.
The list of things that I wanted to add to this rifle was fairly short: a good sling, a bright white light, some kind of optic and lots of magazines.
As I began to work the controls, everything was smooth and operated just as one would have expected on a rifle such as this. The only thing that caught me off guard was the trigger pull—it was smooth, but heavier than I had expected. I grabbed my digital trigger pull gauge and ran some tests. When tested on the foot or tip of the trigger, the pull was consistently 7 lbs. 4 ozs., but when tested more towards the center curve of the trigger, it was 8 lbs. 14½ ozs. This was by no means unusable, it was just a little heavier than what I had experienced on the M16, at 5.5 pounds measured at the foot. When I inspected the internal fire control parts, everything appeared to be functioning properly with no visible obstructions or drag.
M4 vs. M16
Carbine is a French word for a short rifle or musket used by cavalry. The original word was carabin, which meant “mounted musketeer.” The M4 is the perfect definition of a carbine version of the M16. The six-position collapsible buttstock paired with the 16¼ (14½ -inch barrel plus permanently attached flash suppressor) serve to shorten the rifle from 39½ inches in overall length of the M16 to a petite 30½ inches with the stock collapsed. The M4 also drops down from the M16’s 8.2 pounds to 6.6 pounds. You do give up a few features in exchange: The storage space in the A2 stock is eliminated, along with the additional barrel length and site radius.
It’s important to also consider the features that are retained: the lower receiver and all of its internals are exactly the same. The upper receiver, bolt and bolt carrier are one-for-one interchangeable. The mil spec rail on top of the upper receiver is identical. The Knight’s Armament M4 RAS adapter rail system looks like someone shrunk an exact copy to fit the 4-inch-shorter barrel.
Let’s Have a Few Words about MIL-SPEC
Mil-spec, simply put, means that a specific type of material along with a defined manufacturing process results in a part with a correct set of dimensions. This part is inspected by an approved government inspector. With the exception of one additional hole in the receiver, same differences in the lower parts group and the 14.5-inch barrel, this carbine is a true (or at least as true as you can buy) mil-spec gun. I would refer you back to the first article in this series to review a few of the specifications for the parts going into this rifle.
One of the key things that you will find on this rifle is the UID Label. The UID label is a label or tag with a Unique Item Identifier (UII) encoded in a 2D Data Matrix barcode, as well as human-readable product tracking information.
I’ve found only a few other topics that evoke as much passion as discussing mil-spec in regards to civilian rifles. I am not making an assertion here that certain parts cannot be better or worse than mil-spec grade. What I do assert is that if you are looking for a replica that is as close as possible to what the military currently issues, this is it.
When it came time transport the M4 to the range, I grabbed the Rifle Sleeve from First Tactical. I had a chance to meet the folks from First Tactical at Shot Show this year, and I quickly discovered that they are the people who originally started 5.11 Tactical. They have a lot of creative ideas and produce products that are reasonably priced. When I got back home from Shot Show I ordered a rifle sleeve to try out for $59.99.
What I particularly like about this rifle sleeve is the attention to detail and the innovative simplicity that they have employed. They have employed a molded barrel mount that holds the front of the gun, along with an adjustable rear mount that can quickly be detached from the gun. They have silenced all of the outside straps and padded them where needed.
I also had a rummage through my assortment of optics before heading out. I ended up in an internal debate between a red dot optic or a variable power 1X6 scope on the M4. My brain apparently resolved this for me by opting to pack no optic at all! I’ve said many times that a gunfight is a “come as you are” affair, so I decided to begin my range testing with the rifle equipped as it was fresh out of the box- with only the adjustable sites equipped.
On The Range
I’ve never claimed to be anything more than an adequate rifleman. Even still, as the years go on my eyes tend to support long-range shooting less and less. With this in mind, I decided on 25 yards for my initial shots from the FNH rifle. I reasoned that at this distance I would at least be on the IDPA cardboard target, if not on the Caldwell Shoot-and-See that I had stuck to the center of the cardboard. To my pleasant surprise, the first shot from the rifle was almost dead center of the bull’s-eye. The next two rounds were approximately an inch below, but they were touching each other. With nothing to adjust or change (thanks brain- who needs optics anyway?) I then ran the target out to 50 yards. Without changing my point of aim, the rounds were striking a few inches high but still close together, if not touching.
The moment of truth had arrived and I was determined to take this thing to one hundred yards with just iron sights. As I made the walk back to the shooting bench, my only doubts were in my ability, not the rifle’s. Keep in mind that we’re talking about a 16-inch barrel and a trigger that is in the 8-pound range. As I settled down behind the rear peep site I realized I could not see the red dot! So, I walked back down to the target and used the orange ovals that were included to heal the Shoot-and-See target, creating a sort of landing pattern that I could pick up from 100 yards. This allowed me to find the horizontal line to come in from the side, even though the image was fuzzy to me.
After all the extra work and plenty of time, I was able to deliver a three shot group that I could cover with a quarter, while firing Winchester white box .223 ammunition. I’ve got to say, I have done worse with other carbines that had better triggers and high-powered optics installed.
To ensure that this was just not an alternate universe experience, I asked a friend of mine who serves as the sniper on our SWAT team to see what his results were with the M4. His results were similar, if not identical. He also remarked on the heavy trigger, but also agreed that it had a smooth, although heavy, pull.
Over the course of a half dozen trips to the range I fed this gun eight different kinds of ammunition and three different types of magazines, and exposed it to four different shooters. This gun ran flawlessly for every shooter, in every combination of ammunition and magazine. This was by no means a torture test, but approaching 1,000 rounds through the gun without any cleaning leads me to believe that this sample is plenty reliable.
The Bottom Line
As I begin to sum up my thoughts on this rifle I am astounded by just how accurate it is! I am very thankful that FN makes such accurate rifles for our military. On the downside, I think I could’ve enjoyed this rifle more with about half of the trigger pull that it came with out-of-the-box. As detailed above, this did not affect the function, accuracy or reliability of the gun in any way. The FN Military Collector M4 comes nicely equipped, not stripped—short of a few basic accessories this gun is ready to go out-of-the-box. Every detail of this rifle is collector grade: The finish that is applied to the rifle, the magazine that is true military, the Knight’s Armament accessories; even the receiver, which is marked with three positions: safe, semi and auto.
If having a military replica in your hands is important, there really is nowhere else to turn. The good news is that this rifle is not a toy; it’s built for serious purposes and will deliver on its heritage. I know from what FN has shared with me that there are more than just a few of us out there who want one of these. So, if you are one them, definitely pick one up!