IF RI­FLES COULD TALK

OLD SCHOOL FLASH­BACK FROM THE JUN­GLES OF ’NAM

Recoil - - If Ri­fles Could Talk - BY BRIAN McCOMBIE

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.

PER­FOR­MANCE

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.

PER­SPEC­TIVE

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.

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