Home Authors Posts by Robb Manning

Robb Manning

AR-15 Review: The Colt AR15A4

Colt AR15A4 Review.

Colt AR15A4 Review

I am a long time user of Colt rifles. As one of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children (USMC) I was issued a Colt M16A2, and that’s what I carried and qualified with for most of my 11-year career.

One of my first personally owned firearms that I purchased was a Colt AR-15 Sporter Match HBAR rifle, which I still own, and is my only experience with Colt since getting out of the Marines. In 2004, the Marine Corps retired the A2, and adopted the M16A4.

Improvements included a flattop receiver with removable carry handle and quad-rail hand guards made by Knight’s Armament Corporation (KAC).

A Colt for Today

Colt AR15A4.Upon learning I would be reviewing the Colt AR15A4, I was curious to see if it would be made like my Sporter. As good as the Sporter was, it had some limitations compared to my old military-issued M16.

Bone Up On Legendary Colt Firearms

My least favorite feature was the pivot pin used instead of a front takedown pin. It didn’t allow for the upper receiver to be completely removed from the upper. It was a different size than standard takedown pins, so it couldn’t be replaced with a proper one either.

The half-bolt carrier group (BCG), made to prevent the gun owner from illegally modifying their AR to full auto, was also a feature of the old gun that I’d never been fond of, not because I ever had any intention of doing that, but because it made it harder to swap it out with standard aftermarket parts to ramp up its performance.

In fact, the old Sporter used several other nonstandard parts, such as the trigger pin and hammer pin that limit its customization using today’s wide variety of AR aftermarket parts.

The AR15A4 comes standard with a 30-round Magpul magazine. Patrick Hayes Photo
The AR15A4 comes standard with a 30-round Magpul magazine. Patrick Hayes Photo

Naturally, I wanted to see if Colt was still making their ARs with that forward takedown pin and half-BCG. So upon receiving the rifle the first thing was to look at the front takedown pin, which was in fact not a pivot pin (Colt did away with the pivot pin in the early 2000s). So far, so good.

Next was to open the two takedown pins and separate the receivers, then pull the charging handle and pop out the BCG. It is a standard BCG, and not a half-BCG. It’s a relief to see that Colt has corrected these discrepancies. Further, as of 2009 all pins are standard size.

First Impressions

My first impression is that it is very well made and it can be seen in the details. For example, the selector switch on many ARs has a little bit of play when in the safe position.

The AR15A4 doesn’t have that problem—the selector snaps securely into the safe position with absolutely no play. This is nothing short of a high-quality rifle with all the features you would expect from Colt. One other thing, having become accustomed to AR carbines, it’s been a long time since picking up a full-sized AR, and I have to say it felt good.

The AR15A4 is nearly identical to the M16A4 in every way, with a few notable exceptions. First and most noticeable is the select fire. The M16A4 has burst capabilities for military use, while the AR-15A4 does not.

Second, the selector switch is ambidextrous. Another difference is the AR15A4 has M4 feed ramps, which is not really necessary on a full-size rifle, but it definitely doesn’t hurt, either.

Less noticeable, inside the lower receiver behind the trigger group and hammer is a sear web built in to prevent illegal modifications. Another difference from the A4 issued to Marines is the front handguard.

The Marine Corps issues their rifles with KAC quad-rails, but understandably Colt is not going to equip their rifles with accessories from a competitor, so they went with A2-style handguards.

It comes in two other model configurations: the AR15A4MP-FDE, which is nearly identical except for Flat Dark Earth (FDE) Magpul MOE furniture and an MBUS Gen 2 rear site; and the AR15A4MPFDE, which has all that plus the receivers are FDE coated.

The rifle has a good trigger and trigger reset. It’s definitely not an aftermarket trigger, but feels exactly like a government-issue trigger because it is. Some might complain about that, but this is what a grunt cuts his teeth on, and it works. It’s not the lightest and smoothest, but it’s rock solid and dependable.

Full-Sized Functionality

The A2-style open sights were on center with just two shots and provided for great off-hand, rapid-fire accuracy. Author Photo
The A2-style open sights were on center with just two shots and provided for great off-hand, rapid-fire accuracy. Author Photo

AR carbines have taken the market by storm, but there are benefits to the full-sized AR rifle. The extra barrel length adds weight out front, so muzzle rise is negligible. It’s easy to forget how fast follow-up shots are with the full-length rifle.

Some would argue that the full-length gas system is also more reliable than carbine length. While technically that could be true, carbine-length ARs are still incredibly reliable so it’s almost a moot point.

The longer barrel also means increased muzzle velocity that equates to better long-range performance, which is why the Marine Corps chose it.

Since it is nearly the same rifle issued to Marines, it also functions just as reliably. The rifles issued at training units and regular units have seen a lot of use and abuse. Yet, of all the dozens of M16s I’ve fired in 11 years, I can count the number of malfunctions I’ve had on one hand and most of those were blanks being used for force-on-force training.

The M16A2, and subsequently the A4, are the gold standards of reliability, and I trust them with my life. The AR15A4 is no different. In the 400 rounds I put through it, I had not one hiccup. That is out of the box with no cleaning, just three drops of CLP.

The ammo used for testing was American Eagle 62-grain 5.56x45mm NATO XM855 and a couple of magazines of Independence Ammo 55-grain AR 5.56 FMJ. The AR15A4 chewed through them like nothing. Sighting in, the A4 performed impressively. At 25 meters, with iron sights, it took two shots to get to center, then shots three, four and five were all touching.

With an Aimpoint PRO, the three five-shot rapid-fire groups could each be covered with not much more than a Kennedy half-dollar.

From a standing rapid fire, at 25 yards, a whole magazine was dumped inside of a plate-size area. Without a doubt this rifle will perform just the same as the M16A4s being issued. That is, at 500 meters all rounds could be placed in the bull’s-eye of a man-sized target.

Shooting the AR15A4 is a pleasure. Not that any 5.56/.223 AR has a lot of recoil, but with the reduced muzzle flip of the longer barrel and gas system, this thing can really rock and roll, and stays on target while doing so.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve fired a full-size AR, and let me tell you, it just felt right. It brought back a lot of memories, and more importantly it reminded me that if tight quarters aren’t an issue, the full-sized rifle is a superior weapon.

Colt AR15A4
5.56×45 NATO
Chrome-lined, 20-inch government profile barrel with 1:7 RH twist
30-round Magpul
Single stage
A2 front, A2 detachable handle rear
Full-sized A2 style stock
7.71 lbs.
39.5 in.

Find Out More About Iconic Colt

ARs for Whitetails

Tactical deer rifles.

Modern hunters want modern guns and the light-hitting .223 isn’t the only caliber offering for tactical rifles.

Choose the Right AR

The first decision you’ll have to make is what size AR you want. There are two sizes to choose from, with the most popular being the AR-15 that our military uses. Then there is the larger original size most commonly referred to as the AR-10—most commonly chambered in .308 Winchester.

Whether you choose the standard sized AR or the larger size will determine what calibers you’ll have available to you. The larger sized AR will give you options in the high-power cartridge range, such as the .308 Win. The standard sized AR has fewer whitetail cartridge options, but its smaller, lighter size is better suited for hunting in tree stands and confined spaces such as deer blinds and is easier to carry.

Small-Platform Calibers

Ambush Firearms 6.8 SPC II.
Ambush Firearms 6.8 SPC II.

Whitetail hunting for me is spent in a tiny hang-on tree stand or sitting in a tripod blind. The best choice for these confined spaces is the standard AR-sized rifle.

The small receiver with carbine length barrel and collapsible stock are tough to beat when maneuverability is important. Following are two deer-suitable calibers that are growing rapidly in popularity for these smaller rifles. Note that I limited the choices to those that are most easily found on the shelves of local stores.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a huge advocate of the 6.8 SPC (Special Purpose Cartridge). It’s my favorite AR cartridge.

A lot of shooters agree, with it being the second-best selling AR cartridge on the market right now, and it’s not because of a big corporate push, but rather the people who shoot it and hunt with it. Thankfully, more ammunition manufacturers are jumping on the 6.8 SPC wagon, making it more common on store shelves and everywhere online.

Offerings range from good-quality budget ammo from Sellier & Ballot and American Eagle to high-end custom loads from Wilson Combat. Silver State Armory makes excellent ammo at a great price, as does Federal Ammunition.

Having a giant like Federal behind the cartridge makes it a sure bet you’ll be seeing more of it. Additionally, just this year Federal released the Fusion MSR 6.8, ammunition specifically designed for hunting with 6.8 SPC ARs.

Of all the AR deer cartridges on the market, the 6.8 SPC is the most versatile, and I believe it’s the best. It’s perfect for whitetail, great for hogs and it doubles as a fantastic defensive round. The .270-caliber bullet shoots flat and retains its energy well down range. A 95-grain bullet leaves the barrel at 2,850 feet per second and has 1,715 foot-pounds of energy. A 110-grain bullet flies at 2,700 fps with 1,780 ft.-lbs. of energy.

Hot on the heels of the 6.8 SPC in popularity is the .300 BLK (AAC Blackout). But I have to confess, I’m not on the bandwagon here.

Still, it’s very popular and has a growing fan base of hunters. The primary advantage to the .300 BLK is that it is available in subsonic rounds in stores. However, subsonic performance on whitetails negates this advantage. I talked to Chris Lucci, owner/operator of the Wild River Ranch (WRR) in Texas, about the .300 BLK. Chris tests this stuff, using it in the real world, and between him, his staff and his clients, a lot of whitetail and hogs are killed at the WRR.

Hunting subsonic with the .300 BLK is, as far as ballistics are concerned, like hunting with a 9mm MP5, and the deer don’t always go down like they should. A suppressed 220-grain bullet has a velocity of 1,020 fps and 508 ft.-lbs. of energy.

A supersonic, nonsuppressed, 110-grain bullet has a velocity of 2,350 fps with 1,349 ft.-lbs. of energy. If opting for the .300 BLK, I would recommend staying away from the subsonic rounds. For most hunters, it simply won’t matter.

M&P10 (.308 Win. MSRP $1,729). What’s not to like about this 8.1-pound camouflage beauty? Comes with a Magpul MOE stock and an 18-inch barrel, which makes it maneuverable.
M&P10 (.308 Win. MSRP $1,729). What’s not to like about this 8.1-pound camouflage beauty? Comes with a Magpul MOE stock and an 18-inch barrel, which makes it maneuverable.

Large-Platform Calibers

When not constrained by the tight confines of a small blind or platform, the larger sized ARs in the AR-10/SR-25 models give you a lot of excellent choices in caliber, and most weigh in at around eight to 10 pounds, so they’re still plenty light. Here are five calibers that all make excellent choices:

.308 Win.—The .308 Winchester, also known as the 7.62x51mm NATO, is one of my top two favorite cartridges of all time. An excellent all-around deer hunting cartridge, the .308 Win. was designed to replicate the ballistics of the .30-06 Springfield, but in a length that fits in a standard-length action rifle. The .308 Win. has more bullet options from more manufactures than just about any other rifle cartridge. It’s capable of excellent accuracy with excellent performance—a 150-grain bullet leaves the barrel at 2,820 fps and has 2,648 ft.-lbs. of energy, twice the energy of the .223 Rem.

7mm-08 Rem.—Much can be said about the flat-shooting 7mm (.284 caliber), and with its outstanding accuracy, it makes an excellent long-range whitetail choice. Based off a necked-down .308 Win. case, the 7mm-08 has all the virtues of the 7mm, but delivers it in the AR-10/SR-25 platform. A 140-grain soft point exits the barrel at 2,860 fps with 2,542 ft.-lbs. of energy.

.243 Win.—Developed in 1955, the .243 Win. (6mm) met immediate success and was soon chambered in the rifles of several U.S. manufacturers and almost every European gunmaker. Its parent cartridge is the .308 Win., which makes it perfect for the AR-10/SR-25 platform. At the light end of bullets, its high velocity makes it an excellent choice for smaller game, and at the heavy end it’s suitable for whitetail. The 80-grain is fast at 3,550 fps and 1,993 ft.-lbs. of energy. For whitetail, the 100-grain bullet leaves the muzzle at 2,960 fps with 1945 ft.-lbs. of energy. New bullets from Barnes, Hornady and Lapua have made this an even more lethal whitetail bullet.

.260 Rem.—Another cartridge from the .308 Win. family, the .260 Rem. is a good long-range cartridge and is excellent for whitetail. It’s also a good choice for shooters who are recoil sensitive. Performance wise, the .260 Rem. far exceeds the .243 Win. and is not far behind the 7mm-08 Rem. A 140-grain bullet leaves the muzzle at 2,750 fps and has 2,351 ft.-lbs. of energy.

.338 Fed.—Following a trend, the .338 Fed. was spawned from the .308 Win. and necked up to a .338-caliber bullet. Excellent for close- to mid-range whitetail, elk and bear, it’s borderline big in areas with small-framed whitetails, but will still work. Surprisingly mild in recoil compared to other cartridges in this caliber range, a 180-grain bullet travels at 2,830 fps with 3,200 ft.-lbs. of energy.

The continued growth of the AR in the hunting field demonstrates the effectiveness of the rifle. With more makers designing them for hunters and the continued expansion in caliber choices, it’s no wonder why they’ve become so popular. With the effectiveness of these .223-alternatives, there’s little reason to use the .223, even in areas where legal.

Deer-Worthy AR Calibers:
6.8 SPC
.300 BLK
.243 Win.
.260 Rem.
7mm-08 Rem.
.308 Win.
.338 Fed

Hunt-Focused Tactical Rifle Manufacturers:
Ambush Firearms
Colt Manufacturing
Rock River Arms
Smith & Wesson

This article appears in the November 18, 2013 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine