Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ruger SR-556

Before I get onto the subject at hand, I want to make a comment regarding my Rock River Arms carbine.  If you follow this blog, then you already know how much of a fan I am of this gun.  It has been a solid shooter from day one, and has given me zero problems, with the exception of a few faulty rounds of ammunition, which you can't blame the rifle on.  I spent some time and money building it up from the basic carbine, and have learned a lot on this platform.  Unfortunately, I've learned so much about the AR rifle in general that I've grown out of the RRA.  So, with mixed emotions, I sold it to a good friend of mine, who will be able to use it in a similar capacity that I've used it.  Hopefully, he will enjoy it as much as I have.  As for me, it is time to move on.

I have spent the last couple of years looking at many different AR types, building my knowledge base and working out the "mil-spec" definition and how it applies to me.  When I talk about the AR rifle, I have to liken it to something completely relevant to me, and the field I work in.  Now, my definition may or may not work for you, but then again, I'm not you, and the things that go on in my head are completely unique to me and my needs and/or tastes in firearms.

I have come to the "brilliant" conclusion that for the civilian shooter, there is no "mil-spec" weapon.  Oh sure, there are military quality guns that undergo similar QC standards that a government contracted manufacturer must adhere to, but in the end, a civilian buyer can only buy something that, in the best case scenario, very closely approximates a "mil-spec" weapon.  For one thing, a mil-spec gun is typically a select-fire weapon, which most civilians are ineligible to purchase.  I know, no fun switch for me.  To be honest, I don't need it.  But there are some mil-spec features that I do think I want and need, and there are some features that are limiting to my tastes and desires in a good quality firearm.  I'm not going to discuss the ins and outs here because everyone has a different opinion, and what works for you may not work for me and vice verse.  You'll just have to make up your own damned mind.

To me, there are three grades of AR15 out there: commercial grade, professional grade, and somewhere in between.  It's kind of like talking tools to your mechanic buddies.  You have Craftsman, which is great for the home user/ do it your-selfer who may bust out a wrench or a socket on the weekends.  Of course, there is the creme De la creme grade of professional tools like Mac or Snap-On.  Then there is the middle of the road like Craftsman Professional tools.  No mechanic would be embarrassed to have Craftsman Professional tools in their box because they are high quality, high value professional tools that cost a little less than Snap-On, but carry the same warranty and look just as nice.  In many ways, these tools outclass the big boys because companies that manufacture these "middle of the road" tools can take liberties that the established professional grade tool companies either cannot or will not take due to the limitations they have.

So, where does Rock River sit on this scale?  Well, that depends on who you ask.  If you asked the DEA a few years back, it would have been professional use.  Some police departments use them.  For the most part, however, sales of RRA guns are to civilian users who may or may not put a lot of rounds through them.  I certainly haven't put as many rounds as I would have liked to put through mine, but I put more than the average owner will.  For the weekend warrior, plinker, or concerned citizen, the Rock River Arms carbine is more than enough gun. 

For me, however, I want and need a little more.  I'm not just some guy who has a passing interest in firearms.  I'm more of an enthusiast that derives great pleasure from it, and I also have a responsibility to protect my family from outside threats; you determine what threats I'm talking about.  Anyway, I'm not a professional shooter either.  I don't make a living with my gun.  If I did, I'd probably have one of those uber nice guns that LWRC makes or perhaps even a SCAR.  But I'm not a professional, so I don't need a Snap-On grade weapon.  What I need is something that is durable, maintainable, familiar, and in the middle.  What I need is the Craftsman Professional equivalent of firearm that will work for me in a SHTF scenario, without rule of law, but also get pounded on for recreational shooting and still maintain a decent price point.

I know what you are thinking now.  "The title of this thread is SR556, but in your last entry you talked about building a Mega Arms AR15!"  I know, and please bear with my seemingly scatter-brained methodology for a moment.  Yes, I am in the middle of an AR15 project.  This is a long term project that I plan on slowly building up as my knowledge and experience increases.  As my experience increases, so too will my preferences for what I want to build.  Yes, I'm building a fighting gun, but as it sits right now, it's nothing more than a chunk of aluminum in a plastic baggy with a cool logo engraved on the side.  I have a lot more learning to do.

In the meantime, I still need a automatic rifle in the corral to learn on and to teach my family to shoot with, and defend the home if need be.  And now the question comes in, "But if you still need a fighting gun in the house, why not just keep the Rock River?"  To be honest, I've had this nagging feeling for a long time, and I've considered putting the RRA up on the auction block a few times.  Heck, a few months ago, I actually wrote up an ad in the local classifieds, but deleted it before I hit the "submit" button.  And the next question gets asked, "Why not take the money from your RRA and put it into the Mega?"  My wife asked this question a few times and try as I might, I could not convey to it her in a way easily understood, but the reality is that it all comes down to economics.  Sure, having a thousand bucks to dump into a high end AR build will go a long way to get me there, but it still would not be enough.  After spending it all away, I'd still be a few screws short of a complete rifle, and that's unacceptable.  Plus, I want to take the build slow.  I want to save up a little at a time, research the components until I'm blue in the face, and then when I'm sure it's what I want (in theory at least), then I want to drop coin.  But I don't want to go into a build hastily.  All parts must work, and that level of engineering requires a lot of thought and deliberate processing of the information available - and there's a lot.

My middle of the road gun of choice is the Ruger SR556, model 5902, catalog number: SR-556FB.  Now, this isn't exactly in the middle of the road.  On the spectrum, this is leaning more toward professional grade than commercial grade.  The barrel is as close to mil-spec as is reasonably possible, the bolt carrier is chrome plated and one piece.  This gun is a piston gun, which supposedly makes it more reliable.  I want to test that against all the data I've collected on my DI Rock River carbine.  The buffer and tube are mil standard.  There are other features that I like on this weapon as well.  The included Troy Industries BUIS are costly extras that are incorporated into this design.  In addition to those, the quad rail is longer than carbine length, which will help me get my orangutan arms up to drive this gun as forward as possible.  One of my gripes about the carbine length hand guards is I always want to put my hand up around the gas block, but we all know that isn't practical.  Plus, having the flashlight up on the 7" rail makes it a bit busy.  I also look forward to having the same gas adjustment that I had with my old FN FAL.  That's something I've missed with my AR15.  I also like being able to shut the gas completely off for single shot use.  You can do this with the SR-556.


Now, in another entry, I had expressed interest in the SR-556E, which is priced considerably lower, but my enthusiasm for that gun was tempered with the realization that after I added sights to it, it would cost about as much as the street value for a new SR-556FB model, which comes with the sights installed.  Another thing I found was the barrel was not chrome-lined.  This hasn't been a problem with my RRA, but it has a chromoly barrel, and I've really wanted a chrome-lined barrel ever since my first cleaning session. 

I've read about carrier tilt issues with piston guns before, and it bears enough relevance to be mentioned here.  Carrier tilt is where the operating rod (I think Ruger calls it a transfer rod) pushes the top of the bolt carrier key and forces the bottom rear of the bolt carrier downward.  This causes the bolt carrier to slowly grind away at the buffer tube and detent, which could lead to a problem down the road.  I recently looked at a picture of the bolt carrier and saw it has been radiused in the rear to compensate for this problem.  Either way, this gun has been out long enough now that most issues are under control and in the event it should fail, Ruger customer service is outstanding.  Anyway, I didn't mention it to bash the gun.  It's just a data point to consider.  Fortunately, I haven't read about very many cases of this happening.

Regarding weight, this gun comes in naked at just under 8 lbs.  It seems a little fat for a 5.56 rifle, but bear in mind that heavy 41V45 hammer-forged barrel, piston, and extended rail make up much of it.  These are good weights in my opinion though.  A heavy barrel is something I really liked about my RRA.  It's nice to be able to shoot a lot of rounds and not worry about the barrel warping or losing accuracy as a result.  One thing that nearly everybody seems to agree on is that Rock River guns are accurate.  Mine was no exception.  Then again, it didn't have a chrome-lined barrel.  Chrome-lining will make it less accurate on the bench.  But if I can put down a 2 MOA group at 100 yards with the SR-556, I'll be happy. 

So, now it's onto the phones I go.  It's time to start calling the local vendors in my area to see who can get me this gun for the least amount of money.  I hate calling gun shops.  I might just walk in instead.

-James

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