RANGE TIME WITH LEAD STAR’S 9MM BARRAGE PCC9
IT’S TOUGH TO BEAT LIGHTWEIGHT, ACCURATE AND DEPENDABLE.
It’s tough to beat lightweight, consistent and dependable.
As an aging jarhead, I’ve always had an affinity for Ar-platform rifles, because they share similar fit and form, although clearly not the same function, as semiauto rifles. ARS, also known as “modern sporting rifles” (MSRS), are markedly tamer than those we employed in the service. Still, fit and form in the context of my service are familiar-feeling and, in a nutshell, comfortable. While the AR’S fit and form are familiar to me, I also appreciate the system’s multipurpose application. Contrary to what some might have you believe, Ar-platform rifles certainly do make exceptional hunting rifles, given appropriate calibers for the game pursued. In the interest of sustenance, these MSRS certainly help fill my freezer. Truth be told, I buy very little meat, and what goes in the freezer is about as organic as it gets.
HOME DEFENSE: PROTECT WHAT YOU LOVE
ARS also make great recreational and competitive shooting rigs. Millions of hardworking folks hit ranges, woods and rural expanses to plink, train and compete in steel, multigun, three-gun, long-range and other match shoots. Of course, countless AR owners count another purpose as the system’s most critical application: home defense. And, considering Department of Justice reports of more than three million home break-ins annually, with more than one million being those pesky, violent home invasions, tools to protect what you love are more important than ever.
ARS make phenomenal home defense rifles and, given the option, they are better choices to engage a threat at distance. I would much rather protect from across a room than up close and personal, and an AR affords the opportunity for more-accurate shooting, as well as higher-capacity magazines than are often used in handguns—a great benefit when your agenda is to use whatever is required to stop a threat. A true 1x-magnification optic, such as a red-dot or reflex sight, is also helpful for quick target acquisition, even in low light.
While ARS are great for home defense, 9mm carbine types are even better. 9mm handguns are, perhaps, the most popular caliber currently used for personal and home defense. The round offers plenty of thug-stopping energy and is exceptionally inexpensive. When it comes to home defense, having an AR and handgun of the same caliber certainly makes sense, and if they use the same magazine, even better.
Over the years, I enjoyed running scores of 9mm carbine rifles. Not only are they practical, ammo is inexpensive, and when it comes to family, virtually anyone you deem old enough to get on the trigger can handle the ridiculously light recoil. Of course, they’re a heck of a lot of fun to shoot, too, and AR innovation has led to some truly jaw-dropping, multitasking 9mm rigs.
Recently, I had the opportunity to test one such rifle—the Lead Star Barrage. “Good-looking” is an understatement. Lead Star’s offering is as sexy a 9mm as I’ve seen and routinely turned the heads of show walkers at last year’s NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits event, where I
first ran into Lead Star owner Derek Hicks. His obsession with building unique, racy AR “Ferraris” that run as good as they look is evident, even a bit infectious. To me, this firearm was an instant must-have ... or at least a must-test in the field.
And so I did. Here’s what I found.
THE WALKAROUND: FIT AND FORM
Derek’s approach to AR design is multipronged, but with a singular goal: to be the premier producer of lightweight, premium-performing, precision shooting systems. To that end, Lead Star Arms offers similarly designed, traditionally chambered AR-15S, as well as 9mm carbine models. The model I tested was the Lead Star Arms Barrage PCC9 9mm Carbine.
Like every other rifle Derek and company produces, this Barrage is quite a sexy, lightweight beast. Even better, while it certainly makes for a fine race gun, as a 9mm carbine with an included 33-round magazine that Dianne Feinstein would be proud of (or not), it definitely fits the home defense bill too.
Aesthetically, this Barrage’s most notable feature is its Cnc-machined 7075-T6 billet aluminum receiver set anodized in a rich, satin-blue finish. Lead Star’s aggressively styled upper and lower receivers are not only skeletonized to reduce weight, their truss design actually increases strength. The satin-blue finish contrasts sharply with the Barrage’s black features and matches the carbon-fiber weave of the BSF barrel perfectly (more on the barrel in a bit). Lead Star’s proprietary 7075-T6 aluminum is anodized to match.
True to Lead Star’s zero-defects focus on machining and assembly, the Barrage doesn’t show any signs of fit or form shortcuts. The Barrage PCC9 I worked with boasted a 15-inch, precision-machined, matte-black, skeletonized 7075-T6 aluminum handguard, a Magpul MOE-K2+ rubber overmolded pistol grip and a Lead Star Ravage aluminum minimalist-style stock with adjustable length of pull. (As a note here: Since my testing, it appears the Barrage stock system has been changed to a Mission First Tactical Battlelink Minimalist model with six-position adjustment—one of my favorites in the lightweight arena.)
A LOOK UNDER THE HOOD: FUNCTION (PART I)
Similar to the Lead Star’s focus on top-shelf fit and form features, function components are equally impressive. A look “under the hood” of this particular Barrage revealed a BSF carbon-jacketed, match-grade, 16-inch barrel with a 1:10 twist. To date, I’ve tested four precision Ar-platform rifles: three 6.5 Creedmoors and a .224 Valkyrie—all with BSF barrels—and have averaged ¼ MOA groupings at 100 yards. All four also grouped ½ to 1 MOA at 1,000 yards. In fact, the .224 Valkyrie delivered 1 MOA performance at 1,200 yards.
BSF’S most notable feature is the carbon-fiber weave; on this Barrage, it is woven in blue and black to match the receiver set. The carbon-fiber jacketing is also ported consistently around the barrel and throughout its length for rapid cooling. Unlike wrapped carbon-fiber
ARS MAKE PHENOMENAL HOME DEFENSE RIFLES AND, GIVEN THE OPTION, THEY ARE BETTER CHOICES TO ENGAGE A THREAT AT DISTANCE.
barrels, BSF’S carbon jacket only touches the barrel at specific installation points and is installed under tension, resulting in increased barrel stiffening as it warms. Of course, "warming" is darned near figurative, because the vents and space between the barrel and carbon-fiber jacketing actually provide airfoil-type cooling. In previous testing, I have had no problem grabbing the BSF barrel after back-to-back magazine dumps.
For reliable cycling, the Barrage utilizes a proprietary bolt carrier group complete with last-round-bolt-hold-open functionality, much like the standard bolt-function of an AR-15 BCG. The bolt, itself, is constructed of 8620 steel and includes a standard 5.56 ejector and improved firing pin. On the other end of cycling lies Lead Star’s TACCOM 3-Stage buffer system. Per Lead Star, the buffer assembly softens recoil and helps ensure the BCG stops just behind the bolt catch; of course, the Barrage’s blow-back gas system also plays a major role here.
The Barrage also features a single-stage Hiperfire Hipertouch Eclipse trigger with robust adjustability and an ultra-comfortable Hipershoe finger pad. Hiperfire’s triggers have built a reputation for crisp breaks, short overtravel and positive resets. Together, the Hiperfire trigger and other function-related components had me chomping at the bit for a little range time.
TRIGGERED: FUNCTION (PART II)
Not long after receiving the Barrage, I headed to Triple C Shooting Range, a shooting mecca nestled in the center of a 3,000-acre working Texas ranch just south of Fort Worth. Triple C’s many outdoor pistol and carbine bays, obstacles and zeroing lanes, as well as numerous midand long-range shooting lanes from 300 to 2,000 yards, make it the perfect location for all of my firearm testing.
Once at Triple C, I set up at the zeroing range and mounted a Pinnacle 5-30x50 first focal plane riflescope. Sure, it seems a bit much on a 9mm carbine, but when it comes to precision shooting, I want my point of aim ridiculously clear and close.
For stability, I also installed an Accu-tac BR-4 Gen 2 bipod and used a squeeze bag under the stock. As is the case for all my firearms testing, group results and overall zeroing my setup is simple: It’s nothing more than the optic, rifle, bipod and squeeze bag. My results are easily duplicated by
seasoned shooters employing the same equipment. As a final point of interest here, my ammoof-choice for testing was Hornady 115-grain FMJS handloaded by my good friend, Mike Burks. He offered, so who was I to refuse?
The ZRO Delta M4 DLOC scope base and optic lined up incredibly well for the stock height, and I had no trouble establishing both sight alignment and sight picture. After checking and adjusting for my natural point of aim, I slowed my breathing, relaxed on the stock, reached my natural respiratory pause and squeezed the trigger. As shooting pertains to 9mm carbines, my first experience with the Lead Star Barrage PCC9 was downright blissful. Even on this sub-6-pound rig, recoil was negligible, and it didn’t take long to establish zero.
Once zeroed, I used a Magneto Speed Gen 3 chronograph to test muzzle velocity and energy, which averaged 1,282 fps and 420 ft-lb of energy.
Soon after, I set about seeing what kind of group the BSF barrel and Mike’s ammo would deliver. While I shot several sub-1-inch groups at 50 yards, my best performance was a sub-½-inch three-shot group—sub-1 MOA performance at a respectable distance from a 9mm! Of course, with good ammo, I’ve come to expect these types of results from top-shelf barrels such as BSF.
Even better, the following weekend, I took the Barrage to Triple C’s mid-range lanes that feature targets ranging from 300 to 1,000 yards. For longer-range shots, Burks hand-loaded 115-grain +P. The hotter loads, along with the BSF match-grade barrel, produced a 5-inch group at 300 yards. Not one to quit, I went a just bit farther to engage a 12-inch steel gong at 400 yards ... and scored hits with three out of five shots! All told, I fired more than 800 rounds with zero misfeeds throughout testing,
PER LEAD STAR, THE BUFFER ASSEMBLY SOFTENS RECOIL AND HELPS ENSURE THE BCG STOPS JUST BEHIND THE BOLT CATCH; OF COURSE, THE BARRAGE’S BLOW-BACK GAS SYSTEM ALSO PLAYS A MAJOR ROLE HERE.
of five shots! All told, I fired more than 800 rounds with zero misfeeds throughout testing, training and recreational range time. The Barrage’s reliability is the best I’ve experienced to date from a 9mm carbine rifle.
A BARRAGE OF FINAL SHOTS
Recreational trigger time with the Lead Star Arms Barrage was fun and far exceeded my expectations, further underscoring my belief that a 9mm carbine, in my opinion, remains a solid home defense option. If you choose to keep one within reach for such a purpose, consider iron sights or, again, a reflex or red-dot optic designed for quick, low-light target acquisition. Throughout testing, the Barrage PCC9 carbine became my go-to home defense firearm.
In our get-what-you-pay-for world, I’ve become a huge fan of Lead Star Arms. The Barrage retails for a respectable $1,499.99. This price includes its ultralight 416R stainless QPQ 16-inch, 1:10 twist barrel—quite a deal, considering the Barrage’s solid performance, precision machining, innovation and overall reliability.
Even so, I’m always on the lookout for those pesky cons. The problem with this is that there really aren’t any to speak of. Hands down, the Barrage is the finest PCC9 carbine I’ve had the privilege of running. My complaints are essentially subjective or to be expected when you shoot hundreds and hundreds of rounds without checking components.
The Barrage included the 33-round Glock-compatible magazine; however, I found it a bit excessive for regular testing (it’s perfect for home defense, recreational shooting, etc.). Even with a bipod and squeeze bag, I had to work a little to keep the magazine from bottoming out on the shooting bench. More than once, I switched to shorter magazines to achieve a lower, more stable shooting profile. Of course, this magazine really is purely subjective. I do like the magazine for home defense, as well as recreational shooting, but for my precision work, I made the move to a shorter mag.
Near the end of my testing—again, after 800 rounds or so—i noticed the handguard had rotated about 1/8 inch. The issue was remedied immediately by loosening the two Allen head mounting screws a tad more to free up the handguard and then rotating it back into its original position and tightening the screws. The complete repair took under two minutes; and, to be honest, this is a common occurrence in modern sporting rifles. Dealing with it was a good overall maintenance reminder.
CONTRARY TO WHAT SOME MIGHT HAVE YOU BELIEVE, ARPLATFORM RIFLES CERTAINLY DO MAKE EXCEPTIONAL HUNTING RIFLES, GIVEN APPROPRIATE CALIBERS FOR THE GAME PURSUED.
i Near right: After shooting a 5-inch group at 300 yards (bottom), the author turned his attention to the 400-yard target (top) and rocked it with three out of five shots. i Far right: The Barrage delivered a 5-inch group at 300 yards in a half-circle rounded to the left. h Left: Precision shooting was easy, considering the BSF match-grade barrel and Lead Star’s proprietary muzzle brake.
i Right: Shooting Hornady 115-grain FMJ ammo handloaded by good friend Mike Burks resulted in an average muzzle velocity of 1,282 fps.
h Even with the bipod and squeeze bag, the 33-round mag bottomed out on the bench.
h Left: Up close or reaching out, the Lead Star Barrage was a rock star at the range.
i Near right: A little concentration and great PCC9 performance resulted in this ½-inch (submoa) group at 50 yards.
h Above: A good reflex sight is a great low-light optic solution for virtually any home-defense rifle.
h Left: A skeletonized receiver set, ergonomic controls and ultra-light recoil make the Barrage comfortable to carry and easy to shoot.
h Left: The Barrage is packed with premium features such as this ridiculously crisp Hiperfire Eclipse trigger.
The Barrage the author tested came with a BSF carbon-jacketed, match-grade, 16-inch barrel that complemented the satin-blue receiver quite nicely.