IF RIFLES COULD TALK
OLD SCHOOL FLASHBACK FROM THE JUNGLES OF ’NAM
When you’re a solider and don’t want to die in combat, you need a rifle you trust, especially when the sh*t’s coming at you fast and horizontally. For John Plaster, that rifle was the CAR-15.
A Green Beret staff sergeant, Plaster got to Vietnam in 1968. He was assigned to the Studies and Operation Group (SOG), which despite the academic-sounding name was in the business of kicking ass. And business was damned good, in Laos, that is, where Plaster and his Green Beret comrades ran daily missions to play havoc with North Vietnamese men and materials moving down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Plaster’s weapon of choice was the 5.56mm CAR-15, officially designated the XM177E2. It was a shorter version of the M16A1 and was developed for Spec Ops teams in need of a lighter, more maneuverable weapon for covert missions. Through numerous firefights and many close calls, Plaster’s CAR-15 got him through the worst of it, alive and intact.
“A major benefit of the CAR-15 was its short length,” Plaster told me. “Making our way through thick jungle and constantly manipulating our way through vines and bushes, the CAR-15 was more likely not to become entangled compared to an M16. Our engagements were closerange and intense — so this size difference truly mattered.”
He continued, “I think most SOG veterans are sentimental when it comes to their CAR-15. Even today, a half-century later, I still remember my CAR’s serial number: 905442.”
AN HOMAGE TO THE PAST
While it isn’t a carbon copy of
Plaster’s favorite lifesaver, the new Brownells XBRN177E2TM Carbine is a pretty faithful reproduction of Plaster’s CAR-15. Chambered in 5.56 NATO, the rifle features a 12.7-inch barrel and the old-school M16 carry handle complete with A1 iron sights. It also has a polymer CAR two-position buttstock, and a retro six-hole, rounded handguard — both replicating those found on the original.
Of course, there are differences, the big one being the original CAR-15 could switch to full-auto rock ’n’ roll. It also featured a moderator/suppressor at the end of the shorter barrel, while the Brownells version sports a pinned and welded flash hider with no suppression capabilities. The flash hider brings the total barrel length to 16 inches, avoiding the whole NFA Tax Stamp hassle. The ejection port cover on the XBRN177E2TM is an A2-style cover, not the original’s A1.
My plan on Day One with the XBRN177E2TM was about getting those open sights aligned with the bullseye. Actually, it became a learning curve about twist rates and bullet choices for the original CAR-15.
I started off my shooting of the CAR-15 with Black Hills Ammunition’s 223 Rem loaded with a 52-grain match hollow point bullet. My first shots at 50 yards
were on paper, and on a horizontal line with the bullseye — but 8 inches to the left. Easily fixed.
For sights, the XBRN177E2TM employs an elevated A1 front post and an A1 flip-up aperture rear sight embedded in the back of the carry handle. The rear sight is adjusted by depressing the tiny pins on the right side of the carry handle with something pointy (the tip of a 223 round works fine), while a screwdriver in the left-side slot turns the sight in the required direction.
A handful of adjustments and several shots later, the XBRN177E2TM was pegging nice groups on the bullseye at 50 yards.
I loaded the 20-round magazine (included) with Reaper Outdoors 5.56x45mm firing a 77-grain Sierra OTM bullet and let off 10 shots at another 50-yard target.
And was shocked to see holes all over the target in an 8- to 10-inch circle, with none even near the bullseye. What the hell?
At the target, I saw the problem. The 77-grain bullets were tumbling, smacking the paper damn near sideways. So, I tried Black Hills 223 Rem 62-grain Match King Hollow Points. While not nearly as unbalanced as the heavier Reaper bullets, these 62 grainers were still drilling through the paper at an angle — and generally avoiding the bullseye, too.
Paul Levy, director of product management for Brownells, told me the rifle was made as closely as possible to the original. This included using the original rifling twist, 1:12. That numeric designation refers to how fast the rifling inside a barrel does a full twist; the 1:12 twist does a complete revolution every 12 inches.
However, to stabilize longer, heavier bullets, a faster twist rate is required. Most of today’s AR-15s are rifled with a twist rate between 1:7 and 1:9. The U.S. military’s M4s are 1:7. But the XBRN177E2’s 1:12 is just too old school to put an accurate spin on any of the bullets I shot weighing over 55 grains. I asked Plaster if he’d had any problem with bullets tumbling or other accuracy mishaps with his CAR-15.
“We zeroed our CAR-15s at 100 yards, at which distance they shot groups of roughly 1.5 to 2 inches, using 55-grain standard military ball ammunition,” he said. “That’s not pinpoint accuracy, but the great majority of our firefights took place at well under 100 yards, due to the heavy jungle we fought in.”
After some trial and error, I settled on three rounds to test the XBRN177E2TM for accuracy: American Eagle MSR 5.56 NATO and a 55-grain FMJ bullet; Black Hills 223 Rem with a 52-grain match bullet; and
Team Never Quit’s 223 Rem training round featuring a 45-grain frangible bullet.
I also decided the 100-yard accuracy testing with the iron sights was only going to prove that my middle-aged, glasses-wearing eyes may need a new prescription. So, I attached a scope to the XBRN177E2TM, a Nightforce NX8 1-8x24mm, mounting it atop the rifle’s carry handle with a Brownells AR-15/M4 Carry Handle Mount.
It was an awkward set up, as carry handle and scope mount put the optic way too high for a cheek weld on the stock. I got it steady, though, with a sandbag rest, and I know my groups were tighter than they would have been otherwise.
For accuracy, the Black Hills 223 Rem averaged the best five-shot groups at
1.59 inches. Overall, the groups here went from 1.30 inches to 1.90 inches. The American Eagle 5.56 had the single
best group at 0.934 inch, but the average was much larger at 2.28 inches.
Team Never Quit rounds averaged 3.34-inch groups of five shots. That poor showing surprised me. When I was trying out different varieties of 223 Rem and 5.56 to find ones that didn’t tumble, the Team Never Quit rounds pegged a 1-inch group at 50 yards. Why did the groups expand so drastically at 100 yards? Rifle doesn’t like the ammo or vice versa is the easy answer. I’ve used the TNQ ammo with other AR-15s and recorded MOA results.
I’ll take some of the credit for the largest groups, but I think the reality of the XBRN177E2TM and accuracy is this: if you find an ammo punching groups at 2 inches or under, that’s about the best this rifle will do, given the twist rate.
The XBRN177E2TM has an average Mil-spec trigger: some grit and an uneven pull, but it did start to smooth out after 200 rounds. My Lyman Digital Trigger
Pull Gauge measured the trigger’s pull weight at an average of 4.5 pounds. When shooting fast and furious, the XBRN177E2TM heats up. But the handguard does a good job of protecting your hand, while the rifle itself cools off fast.
For a sharp-looking rifle that’s a lot of fun to shoot — at the range and just plinking
— the XBRN177E2TM is tough to beat. With its nimble size, it would also be a fine a home-defense AR, able to blast out many rounds quickly. Are you a military history buff or just like the combat-ready look of the original CAR-15? No question, the XBRN177E2TM was made for you.
For more on John Plaster and his time in combat, check out Secret Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines with the Elite Warriors of
SOG, his memoir of his service with SOG.