Evaluating The Colt AR15 Semi Automatic Rifle

Colt M16A2 History

Civiliain cousin to the military’s M-16, the Colt AR15 rifle has all of the features needed to be a top choice in combat

Ray Andrews (1980)

Photos by Tari Schnept-Lightbody and Ray Andrews

Ask just about anyone to name a rapid fire, high velocity, combat or assault oriented rifle that can be legally owned by civilians, and most all will pick the Colt M16A2 Semi Automatic Rifle. Manufactured by the Colt Firearms Division of Colt Industries of Hartford, Connecticut, the Colt AR15 is the civilian cousin to the widely recognized and respected military version of the M-16.

Design differences between the U.S. military model M-16 and the civilian AR-15 is of course that the M-16 can be switched from a semi-automatic mode to a fully-automatic machine gun mode with a simple flick of the selector lever.

Other than this full-auto versus semi-auto feature, the rifles are virtually identical, with the AR-15 being one of the more popular combat choices selected for use by many of the police department’s elite SWAT teams around the country.

Although there are many other rapid fire, civilian combat rifles available, the AR-15 is probably the best known and widely accepted of the bunch. In its civilian version, the Colt AR15 (Assault Rifle) is offered in two different models.

The base Colt AR15 is called the Sporter, while the CAR-15 is a smaller and lighter weight carbine version that comes complete with a shorter barrel (sixteen inches) and a collapsible buttstock. Mechanically though, both guns operate on the same principle, and both can lay down an impressive field of fire in an extremely short period of time!

Kissing cousin to the Military model M-16, the Colt AR-15 Sporter model is a lightweight, fast handling combat/assault rifle that weighs about seven and a half pounds.

Having gained a great deal of notoriety in its use during the Vietnam War era, many veterans exchanged their military M-16 rifles for the civilian model AR-15 upon returning home to the States. The popularity of this rifle was almost instantaneous and it continues to be one of the most popular choices as either a combat/assault or home defense/survival rifle.

Early in the Vietnam War, the design of the rifle was criticized by many soldiers because it had a tendency to jam, especially in the midst of a long fire-fight. In defense of the gun’s design, the major problem was that since the rifle was almost continuously used as a fully automatic weapon, it would eat up ammunition at an amazing rate.

In turn, this would cause the rifle to heat up rapidly and diminish overall accuracy. In addition, everybody knows that most military ammunition burns about as clean as Mexican gasoline in a finely tuned race car! The result being that most rifles quickly became fouled with powder and lead residue that was often difficult if not impossible to clean in the middle of a battle zone.

More than anything else, this accounted for the major problems associated with the Colt design. Since then, the rifle has been given a chrome plated chamber that is less likely to foul because of the powder residue buildup.

Although the rifle looks like something out of a Buck Roger’s movie, all of its main features have been designed for practical field use. The rear sights are mounted high on a hand grip bar that make it easy to carry.

While some “nothing-know-it-alls” will try to tell you that the design of the Russian-made AK-47 is superior to the Colt AR-15 or M-16, most of their assumptions are going to be based upon misinformation and from listening to too many other “nothing-know-it-alls!”

As an interesting side-note, when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, their infantry troops were equipped with a newly modified AK- 47 that closely resembled the Colt M-16. In addition to having incorporated many of the desirable features of the Colt combat rifles, the newly designed Russian AK-47 is now using a cartridge that is very close to the .223 or 5.56mm caliber ammo used by our military.

Both the carbine version and the Sporter AR-15 comes with a wide nylon shoulder strap that enables the rifle to be carried quite comfortably over long distances. Weighing in at a little more than 7 pounds, you can almost forget you have it draped over your shoulder.

In the Sporter model of the AR-15 tested by Combat Illustrated, the assault rifle tipped the scales at exactly seven and a half pounds. In the carbine version of the CAR-15, the rifle weighs in at six pounds. The Sporter AR-15 is a gas operated semi-automatic combat rifle that fires .223 caliber or 5.56mm cartridges from its standard five-shot magazine.

The AR-15 Sporter has an overall length of thirty-nine inches and a barrel length of twenty inches. The barrel is made of chromoly vanadium steel that has a black oxide finish to eliminate reflective glare. The receiver is a black anodized metal, while the stock is made of a glass fiber reinforced high impact phenolic plastic.

It has a Safety/Fire selector located on the left hand side of the frame, and fully adjustable sights for both windage and elevation. The AR-15 comes complete with two magazines, a cleaning rod, cleaning brushes, and a black nylon rifle sling for carrying it on your shoulder.

All of the cleaning accessories fit neatly into the small trapdoor storage compartment located at the rear of the buttstock. For the technical buffs, the rifling down the barrel of the Colt AR15 has six grooves with a right hand twist that measures one full turn in twelve inches.

The charging bar handle the rifle is pulled back until it locks. At this point you simply push the handle forward and the first shell is automatically chambered and ready to fire.

Now that you have all of the technical specifications of the Colt AR15, it would probably be nice to know how the rifle operated under field, bench and combat firing situations. To begin with, the Colt AR15 is so well constructed that it feels virtually indestructible in a shooter’s hands.

Its lightweight design is quick to shoulder and can be carried for long periods of time without feeling like you are lugging around a lead-filled baseball bat! Unless you have used a Colt AR15 or M-16 in the past, the rifle is going to take a little getting used to.

This is one weapon that should not be purchased and left stashed under a bed or left in the box buried in the back of a dusty closet until needed. The AR-15 should be fired on a regular basis so that a shooter can stay proficient with it and feel comfortable with its operation.

Both of the magazines supplied by Colt are plugged to accept only five rounds. Plugs can be easily removed and enable you to load twenty rounds. To load the AR-15 the full magazine is inserted into the magazine well.

In terms of a conventional rifle, the AR-15 looks kind of funny. To many it resembles something out of a Buck Rogers’ movie as it comes complete with a front and rear sight that are mounted higher than traditional sporting rifles.

While some people will get turned on by scoping the AR-15, it is really not needed because the design of the rifle is not for the one-shot, long range shooter. Our suggestion is that you learn to work with the standard iron sights on the rifle and leave the fancy AR15 scopes and night vision sighting devices to your pet deer rifle!

The Fire/Safe Selector is located on the left side of the receiver and can be flicked to the appropriate setting with the shooter’s thumb.

One of the most impressive features about the AR-15 is its choice of ammunition. As we said earlier it fires a .223 caliber cartridge that is available almost everywhere.

Considering that in a combat situation it is unlikely that you will be able to trot down to your local mom and pop sporting goods store to purchase additional ammo, it is comforting to know that the weapon will handle all types of civilian reloads, commercial leftovers or standard GI issue.

The .223 or 5.56mm cartridge fires a bullet that reaches out to long ranges by design, is extremely flat shooting and travels at high velocity. In terms of killing power, it will quite effectively take somebody out up to 400 yards or more.

If you are planning on using the AR-15 for double duty and want to go hunting with it, it does not make a very effective sporting rifle on big game at ranges much more than 100 yards. Even though the bullet has a great deal of speed, it is not known for its knockdown power especially on deer-sized animals at long range.

When hunting, you strive for a cartridge that has high velocity, but also has a great deal of knockdown power to anchor or stop the animal in its tracks. In any sort of given combat situation, almost the opposite is true. When firing at hostiles in Vietnam soldiers often said that one wounded VC was often times worth ten dead ones.

To sight the AR-15, shooters have to learn to look down the high mounted rear and front sight. Both are fully adjustable for both windage and elevation.

The reason being that the wounded would often slow up the others and enable our troops to launch a successful ambush of the enemy or proceed with a less pressured retreat.

As many veterans will attest, it usually takes four healthy soldiers to care for one wounded comrade, whereby it slows no one to step over a cold corpse! As is the standard, the AR-15 comes out of the box with two magazines. Both of these have been plugged to accept a maximum of five rounds.

The Black Rifle Colt AR15 - M16

In a combat situation, five rounds are going to severely limit your fire power. The reason the magazines are plugged by Colt is that the Federal Regulations regarding hunting, limit the capacity of cartridges.

If you do not plan on using the AR-15 for hunting, the magazines have a bottom plate that can be slid back and the plug quickly and easily removed. Once removed, the magazine has a twenty shot capacity and provides all of the lead spewing capabilities one could ask for.

Even though the Colt AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle, it provides all the fire power anyone could ask for. You can literally empty the twenty round clip in a few seconds!

To operate the AR-15, the magazine is loaded and inserted into the well of the receiver. Once locked into place, the charging handle is pulled back until it locks. The charging handle is then pushed forward and the chamber mechanism automatically picks up a cartridge and locks it in the chamber.

Firing the Colt is as simple as slipping the Safety selector to Fire and pulling the trigger. Although the .223 cartridge is known for its loud report (noise) the recoil kickback is minimal. Since the Colt AR15 is gas operated and incorporates the use of a built-in recoil buffer, there is almost no kick to the shoulder.

Unlike some of the other combat cartridges in which you either have to be built like a football player or be equipped with shoulder pads, this assault rifle would be a perfect choice for young shooters as well as women.

The Colt AR15 is built with no shortcuts in either quality or workmanship, and is designed to be tough and durable under a variety of conditions. Its low profile and non-glare finish make it an ideal rifle to fire from a prone position.

In terms of firing speeds, there is really no practical need for the AR-15 to ever be converted to a fully automatic weapon. Although some nuts are more than happy to sell you black market or underground plans for converting the rifle into a machine gun, you are defeating the purpose and accuracy of the weapon by doing so.

In addition to ruining the rifle, it is a federal crime to be in possession of a fully automatic weapon without a license; and the Feds would be more than happy to slap the handcuffs on you and haul your behind off to the State Pen for ten years! Anyone that tells you that the semi-automatic AR-15 does not have enough firepower is full of bunk!

The AR-15 will recycle as fast as you can pull the trigger. With a little practice you can completely empty that twenty round clip in less than four seconds! With all that lead flying in such a short period of time, you don’t have to worry much about anything being left standing in its path!

With a little practice, practice, shooters shooters will find that the AR-15 fires equally well from the hip. Fired in a combat situation, you can literally cut our target in half and never raise the rifle above your hip!

The AR-15’s lightweight design is quick to shoulder and sight, but in any sort of combat situation it fires equally well with one hand, from the hip or while on the run. Again, with a little practice you can cut a target in half at a dead run and never raise the rifle above your waist.

All shooters know that when firing for the greatest accuracy, you should always use a rest or support of some kind. Unfortunately, in a combat situation you may have to take your shot where ever and when ever you can.

Using Honady Frontier factory ammunition with a fifty-five grain solid bullet, the AR-15 spits out the bullet with a muzzle velocity of about 3,300 feet per second.

Since the sights on the rifle are fully adjustable for both windage and elevation, it is possible to zero it in and obtain very tight and accurate groups. Fired from a bench rest at 100 yards in a slow fire fashion, we obtained five-shot groups that measured about two inches in diameter.

From the bench rest with the AR-15 being fired as fast as we could pull the trigger, the grouping grew to about five inches in diameter. From a standing position without a rest, the rifle grouped at about three and a half inches when fired slowly, and eight inches when rapid fired.

History of the Colt AR15

Anyway you care to interpret it, the Colt AR15 is plenty accurate under virtually any given circumstance. To make the evaluation even more complete, we fired 100 rounds through it as fast as we could run through the magazine and insert another.

The .223 cartridge makes a lot of noise when fired, but its lack of any sort of recoil makes it an ideal choice for women shooters who might otherwise shy away from some of the big-bore cartridges.

This was done, to see if the barrel heated up too quickly and cause misfiring, jamming or diminished accuracy. Firing 100 rounds through any weapon in less than thirty seconds is asking a lot, and the Colt AR-15 is built to take it.

On a man-sized paper target at twenty-five yards, eighty-two of the 100 rounds scored fatal hits in the stomach, chest and head area. Twelve rounds were in the arms and would have virtually blown them off, while the remaining six shots were scored as misses.

For combat firing, those are exceptional results. Even though the barrel heated up to a point where the muzzle would blister the skin, the high impact plastic hand guard remained cool and the high mounted sights were not affected by heat distortion from the barrel.

The AR-15 comes standard with a muzzle break or flash suppressor. Although the flash suppressors are available for almost all of the combat rifles, they often cost $15 to $20 extra and must be bolted or screwed into place. On the AR-15, the muzzle break is built onto the end of the barrel and does an excellent job of diffusing the blast, especially if the rifle is being fired at twilight or in low light conditions.

The AR-15 comes complete with cleaning rod, brushes, etc., that all store neatly into the trapdoor plate of the rifle’s buttstock. For combat use, it is suggested that these components be wrapped in cloth to keep them from creating noise.

After use, or should the weapon jam, you will find the AR-15 extremely easy to dismantle for cleaning, un-jamming or repairing. A small plastic pin on the side of the receiver is easily removed by hand, and the entire receiver and barrel assembly then rotates forward approximately forty-five degrees.

From this point virtually all moving internal component parts can be reached for cleaning or repairing. With few exceptions, the gun can be broken down and reassembled in a few minutes. A complete instruction manual with diagrams on how it breaks down comes with the rifle and shooters should learn what makes it tick both inside and out.

A small plastic button on the receiver is depressed, and the entire assembly of the rifle rotates forward for easy cleaning and repairing.

For those who are planning on using the Colt AR15 in a combat situation or as a home defense or survival rifle, there are several minor modifications that can be made to make the gun even more shootable. First off, several companies make an after – market accessory brass catcher that easily slips onto and off the ejector port.

Since this centerfire brass can be reloaded time and time again, this simple device can help you retrieve those empty cases that might otherwise end up being lost as the rifle spews out the cases all over the place. Another suggestion would be to take the cleaning rod and brushes and wrap them in a cloth rag before inserting them into the storage compartment of the buttstock.

If you don’t, those loose pieces rattle around and make so much noise that a successful sneak would be impossible. If available through your local sporting goods store or military surplus house, we suggest that you purchase several of the larger thirty or forty round clips that are often available at a low cost.

Twenty rounds in any magazine may seem like plenty, but when fired rapidly, the AR-15 can eat them up in a hurry! If these larger capacity clips are not available in your area, then buy up some additional twenty round clips and tape them together in an upside down, off-set fashion.

The Colt AR-15 comes out of the box with a factory installed flash suppressor or muzzle break. In addition to diffusing the heatr the muzzle break will help diffuse the flash and enable more accurate shots in low light conditions.

This way, when the first clip is empty you simply pull it out, flip the magazines over and insert the full one. With an assault rifle such as this, anyone can learn to quick change the magazines in less than one second. As everyone knows, quality is going to cost.

Probably the hardest thing to get used to on the Colt AR-15 is the price tag. Constructed with no short cuts in quality, the AR-15 is one of the more expensive combat rifles offered today. In the AR-15 Sporter version the rifle runs about $450. If you want the lighter weight carbine CAR-15 with the collapsible buttstock, it will run about $500.

Modern AR15 Rifle

While there are certainly assault rifles that will cost you appreciably less, you will be hard pressed to find one that reflects the built-in quality. For those who are planning on using the Colt AR15 in a combat situation or as a home defense or survival rifle, there are several minor modifications that can be made to make the gun even more shootable of the Colts.

Considering that replacement parts for the AR-15 are commonplace through the military, National Guard Armory, etc., this is a vital consideration to anyone with a broken rifle who plans on staying alive. Those fancy handmade one-of-a kind rifles may be pretty, but would be virtually impossible to repair or find replacement parts for in a combat zone.

Few if any would opt for a bargain priced parachute that works only sometimes. Why should it be any different with a rifle that you are going to be dependent upon to save your life? If the price tag is within the budget, the Colt AR15 is going to fit the need for all.

COLT AR15 SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer Colt
Model AR-15 Sporter
Type Semi-automatic Rifle
Action Gas Operated
Caliber .223 Civilian or 5.56mm Military
Barrel Length 20 inches
Overall Length 39 inches
Drop At Comb None (Straight Line Design)
Drop At Heel None (Straight Line Design)
Length Of Pull 13 inches
Weight 7.5 Pounds
Stock Glass Fiber Reinforced High Impact Phenolic
Sights Metal—Fully Adjustable For Both Windage And Elevation
Finish Black Anodized Receiver, Black Oxide Barrel
Price As Tested (1980) $425
Civiliain cousin to the military's M-16, the Colt AR15 rifle has all of the features needed to be a top choice in combat Ray Andrews (1980) Photos by Tari Schnept-Lightbody and Ray Andrews Ask just about anyone to name a rapid fire, high velocity, combat or assault oriented rifle that can be legally owned by civilians, and most all will pick the Colt M16A2 Semi Automatic Rifle. Manufactured by the Colt Firearms Division of Colt Industries of Hartford, Connecticut, the Colt AR15 is the civilian cousin to the widely recognized and respected military version of the M-16. Design differences between…

A look at the world's most famous combat rifle in the early days. The Colt AR15 Semi Automatic Rifle AKA The Black Rifle had a rough beginning in combat.

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Colt M16A2 Semi Automatic Rifle
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Colt M16A2 Semi Automatic Rifle
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Colt M16A2 Semi Automatic Rifle
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