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As an arms company, Steyr has had a long and storied history of making fine quality firearms that have been used all over the world. The Steyr AUG is one of the best known, which has been fascinating firearms enthusiasts and movie goers since the 1970’s. The AUG can trace its roots to Austria in the late 1960’s when the Austrian Army was looking for a replacement for their Stg-58 rifles, a licensed version of the venerable FN FAL. The AUG was selected for service in the late 1970’s as the Stg-77, in fact AUG stands for Armee Universal Gewehr, Universal Army Rifle. Although this rifle’s design is over 40 years old, its innovative design and futuristic looks are almost timeless and I don’t think it would look too out of place in the hands of a sci-fi star trooper. While there are other bullpup designs out there, some argue that the Steyr AUG was the first commercially successful design.
When the AUG was conceived it had features that had been seen sporadically throughout the firearms industry however the AUG was the first to incorporate them all in one rifle. At a time when many thought that standard military rifles should be made of wood and steel the AUG used gratuitous amounts of polymer for many of its components with the receiver and barrel being made from aluminum and steel respectively. It featured a built in forward pistol grip that helped with stability and folded up out of the way for a more sleek profile when moving in vehicles or buildings. The AUG is probably most recognizable for the integrated optic that took the place of traditional iron sights that were used on many of its contemporaries such as the M16. The optic had only 1.5 times magnification but it was designed for not only aiming but also for rough range estimation to about 300 meters. It provided a considerable advantage over other military rifles of the time and even helped shape 3-gun competition into what it is today.
Caliber – 5.56 NATO
Barrel – Hammer Forged, Chrome-Lined, 1:9 Twist
Barrel Length – 16″ (18.375″ with flash hider)
Overall Length – 28.15″
Action – Gas Piston, Semi-Automatic
Weight – Approximately 8 lbs 5 oz (No optic with empty magazine)
MSRP: $2,099 (either rail), $2,499 (1.5X optic), $2,599 (3X optic)
Check out the Steyr site: http://www.steyrarms.com/
The Steyr AUG of today appears the same in many respects as it did when it was first introduced although there are a few options available that should help it appeal to civilian customers. There are two rail height options and two options for an integrated optic to suit just about any shooter’s requirements. I selected the High Rail version for review because I felt it would provide the most flexibility when going between different types of optics. Steyr also offers a replacement stock that will allow the use of standard NATO magazines however this means that the rifle can only have a right hand ejection port and no bolt release. With Magpul about to start making AUG magazines, I think I’d probably just pick some of those up instead of springing for a new stock.
For anyone that is used to the AR-15, the AUG can feel somewhat alien at first, but it’s possible to become quite proficient with it with a little practice. Probably one of the more important things to remember is when you are operating the charging handle keep your palm up, because it’s never a good thing to leave skin behind on your optics mount. The safety is a cross bolt type so it’s different than the safety lever on the AR-15 but it is easily switched to fire with the right index finger when bringing the rifle into the shoulder. When I went to practice magazine changes they really weren’t nearly as awkward as I thought they would be. In fact with a little practice they can actually be performed very quickly. Despite its peculiarities the rifle is pretty easy to learn how to operate safely and effectively with a generally good layout for righties. Manticore Arms produces an inexpensive brass deflector that clips on the stock that should help left handed shooters prevent getting brass to the face syndrome.
Now you’ve probably seen the part in an action movie where the character effortlessly snaps a barrel into a rifle and gets ready to do some business; well the Steyr literally makes it that easy. Removing the barrel from the AUG is as easy as one, two, three by locking the bolt back, pressing a small button by the front grip and giving the whole thing a slight twist while holding onto the foregrip. This helps make for probably one of the easiest barrel cleaning sessions ever but it also allows different barrels to be switched onto the rifle for different purposes. The original concept behind this was so that the rifle could be configured for different roles and missions from basic rifleman to automatic rifleman to grenadier in just seconds. A gas regulator for the piston operating system is integral to the barrel and has two positions, one for normal operation and another for adverse conditions. The ease at which the rifle can be disassembled for maintenance and reconfiguration continues throughout the rifle, which can be taken down to its major components in well under 30 seconds. Removing the cross pin/sling swivel loop at the end also allows access to the fire control group and a small compartment for cleaning equipment. Cleaning kit compartments such as these are common to some battle rifles so that soldiers could always have the tools that they needed to keep their rifles functioning in the field. I don’t believe Steyr ships the guns with a cleaning kit but one is available from them that includes everything a shooter needs.
One aspect of this rifle that I both like and somewhat loathe is the limited amount of rail space available to mount modern optics and accessories. The simple, straightforward configuration of the AUG though makes it an excellent choice for a reliable basic carbine that can serve many purposes. The high rail version of the AUG in particular can allow the mounting of a variety of optics using some of the same mounts that can be used on the AR-15. However, the limited amount of rail space can also require some creative solutions when adding accessories such as a weaponlight in combination with a red dot or magnified optic. Not wanting to focus on the negative though I tested the rifle’s full capabilities the best I could using two optics that are essentially at opposite ends of the spectrum. To test accuracy and the feasibility of the rifle to engage smaller, precision type targets I mounted a Nightforce 2.5-10X42 Compact NXS scope in Nightforce rings. To use the rifle in a more conventional sense I affixed an Aimpoint CompM non-magnified optic for CQB-type environments. Mounting both optics came with its own considerations, mainly making sure that the path the charging handle must follow is clear. This is not only for functional reasons but also personal comfort as it’s not fun leaving bits of yourself on the optic’s mounts when you go to load the rifle. Flipping the mount so that the mounting nuts were on the right side cured this issue with both optics.
For anyone that likes to shoot and lives on the east coast of the United States, you know that it’s been a particularly challenging winter. The way things worked out with the range openings and closings I had the opportunity to shoot the AUG for accuracy first. Accuracy testing consisted of 100 yard groups with a variety of ammunition and engaging steel targets from 200-300 yards. This was hardly scientific or conclusive but it could provide a somewhat base line for accuracy and give me an idea of what I was working with. Seeing a magnified optic atop the AUG may look a little strange but it was actually quite comfortable to get down behind. A majority of the accuracy testing was performed with Federal 69gr Gold Metal Match ammunition but I also tried a few rounds of American Eagle 50gr Tipped Varmint Bullets. While the AUG was a comfortable rifle to shoot I felt that the trigger was the largest hindrance in obtaining the best possible accuracy. It wasn’t so much that it was heavy but that the trigger pull weight felt inconsistent so at times it felt as if the trigger was actually pushing back. A common complaint amongst many bullpup designs though is that the triggers are often pretty nasty compared to its more conventional brethren so I won’t hold it against the AUG. That being said the groups weren’t too horrible all things considered. The Federal Gold Medal Match yielded two 10 shot groups that averaged just under 2″ center to center and a 3 shot group of the tipped varmint was right around inch. Now that isn’t going to win any benchrest matches but I believe that with a skilled marksman you’ll have a reasonable hit percentage as longer ranges.
Since I had the Nightforce already mounted up and I thought I’d do another little test to determine if there was a zero shift from disassembling the rifle and then reassembling it. It was something that was always in the back of the mind because of how the rifle has to be disassembled for cleaning and maintenance. The test was pretty simple, shoot a five shot group, remove the barrel, shoot another 5 shot group and see if the mean center of the group is drastically off paper or otherwise not where I intended it. After shooting and removing the barrel three times I came to the conclusion that there was no discernible zero shift when removing and replacing the barrel in the receiver. Granted, I was using XM193 ammunition that in the best of circumstances is good for about 3″ give or take at 100 yards so the 4″ group size wasn’t all that bad when taking the trigger into account also. I stretched the rifle out to 300 yards on steel at Peacemaker National Training Center’s Independence Range and even with 55 grain ball I didn’t have much trouble connecting copper to steel. All of this was also after I’d removed the barrel multiple times and even completely disassembled it on the bench prior to shooting. I was pretty impressed by this point.
A little while later the weather turned and I was able to switch configurations to the Aimpoint and get it zeroed at 50 yards back at PNTC’s Independence Range. For this trip I also took a good friend and shooting buddy with me to assist and it wasn’t long before we made our way to the Training Bay for some CQB-type drills with the AUG. Up close the rifle was nothing short of amazing. I guess because much of the weight is towards the rear of the stock the recoil impulse is very smooth and it’s easy to stay on target. The rear weight bias also makes it easy to present and get on target quickly or when transitioning from target to target. The forward grip lent itself to a comfortable fighting stance to further deal with the recoil, although this is another area where AR-15 shooters used to a more extended arm grip could feel a bit awkward. AR-15 shooters that are used to a magazine well grip will probably find the stance pretty similar when picking up and firing the AUG. I think the thing that surprised me the most when shooting with the AUG at close range was that I didn’t really notice the extra-heavy trigger pull like I thought I would. To me it felt like a slightly heavy standard mil-spec trigger, not good for precision work but serviceable for just about everything else. By the end of the day I’d gone through half a dozen magazines and all in all I was pretty happy with the rifle. It was utterly reliable, comfortable, accurate enough for a general purpose rifle, and user friendly once you got used it.
Before I picked up this rifle I was not a fan of the bullpup configuration because it was so different from what I was used to. It looked funny, I’d heard stories about how awkward they were to operate, and that the triggers were horrible. Spending time with the Steyr AUG has definitely changed my perspective and while I don’t think it would replace any of the AR-15’s in my safe I think there’s certainly a space for it.