Gun Digest

AR-15 Review: Del-Ton Tapco

A reliable rifle, but one thing I’d have to change is the SAW-shape grip. As you can see, the extra length and swell doesn’t do anything for my grip.
A reliable rifle, but one thing I’d have to change is the SAW-shape grip. As you can see, the extra length and swell doesn’t do anything for my grip.

Del-Ton makes good rifles, even though some shooters are so class-based they won’t acknowledge any rifle not made by the “best” or “mil-spec” companies. Their loss, says Patrick Sweeney in this AR-15 review.

There are those who spend an inordinate amount of time producing lists that rank items. The top ten this, the bottom ten that, the “good” the “bad” and the “ugly.” Okay, that last one is a movie, but even movies get ranked. In the AR-verse, those who rank go to a lot of trouble to rank rifles and producers. Woe to the manufacturer who does not make the top of such lists.

Combining with Tapco, Del-Ton offers a nicely-spec’d rifle that is a good starting point. Or just a good rifle, period.

Well, there are makers of ARs you should avoid. But a lot of the talk is based on assumptions, small sample sizes and just plain “I had a bad rifle, so they are all bad” reasoning.

I’ve wanted to investigate the Del-Ton rifle line, but I never managed to get around to it, until now. And in case you haven’t made the connection, Del-Ton is one of the companies that some list makers love to hate. The Del-Ton carbine sent to me is a collaboration between Del-Ton and Tapco.

Located in Elizabethtown, North Carolina, Del-Ton offers a huge array of rifles and carbines, as well as parts for them, accessories and all the mouth-watering goodies you could ever wish to bolt to your AR. Many of the items they list are made by manufacturers who are on the tops of lists of “good” ARs, so it is kind of hard to square that with “Del-Ton isn’t good” venom.

Tapco comes in for its share (fair or not) of dislike, and again, I can’t see it. Sure, they may use different polymers, formulations that won’t stand up well to NATO-spec chemical, biological and radiation warfare decontamination. Do you really need that? And if you do, let me know where you live, so I can stay the heck away.

Marked with the Del-Ton logo, a stylized DTI, and with the flat-top rail slots numbered and filled, the carbine is smoothly finished and deep black. No purple or gray here.

The rifle itself is your basic stoner-style carbine, direct gas impingement with a 16” barrel complete with M4/203 barrel cut, and a fixed front sight base. The important parts are all in the details. Not that the details themselves are always critical, but attention to detail tells us a lot about those who make an item.

The front sight is fixed, but it is “F” marked and the correct height for an M4 carbine. While the rifle as-sent did not come with a rear sight, any you would wish to bolt to it will line up correctly with the front sight. Some makers overlook this and ship a flat-top upper with a non-F height front sight, presenting problems in getting the thing to sight in. Not so with Del-Ton.

Del-Ton makes good rifles, even though some shooters are so class-based they won’t acknowledge any rifle not made by the “best” or “mil-spec” companies. Their loss.

It is also held on with taper pins, another good sign. The barrel has a 1/9 twist, which isn’t mil-spec, but common, and has a 5.56 chamber. And yes, that is a detail that is critical, as I mentioned in the chapter on the differences between this and the .223. I used my Michigun chamber gauge to check, and while I can feel a little bit of rubbing at the rifling leade, the neck and throat are 5.56 length and diameter. Well done, Del-Ton.

The stock is standard M4, but with a twist: it is sand/desert color (aka flat dark earth), made by Tapco and so-marked. (And just as a small departure from my usual dispassionate, reasoned and detached observation, who the heck named this? I mean, “dark” earth? Where would this color be dark? Some place with white sand beaches? Okay then, in the Caribbean it is dark. The rest of the world calls it tan, beige, sand or worse.) The stock slides on a commercial-diameter buffer tube, while inside of it is an “H” buffer. While military-diameter buffer tubes are theoretically better, I’ve given up caring about which is which. Does it fit? Yes, this one does fit well. Then we’re fine. The buffer tube castle nut is staked, heavily, and in two places.

Inside, the hammer is a modified (the top, autosear lug is ground off) M16 hammer, the carrier is a shrouded (M16) carrier with the auto-sear shoulder ground back. The trigger pull is proper mil-spec, in that you can feel the over-travel when you dry-fire, but when shooting you don’t.

The Tapco handguard offers rail estate, albeit a bit portly for my tastes. But some of the shooters who tried it loved it, so it simply proves you should try things for yourself.

The carrier key is properly (read: heavily) staked, and the interior of the gas tube and the carrier are both properly hard-chromed. While the carrier and bolt are not marked as to the manufacturer, they have the typical machining marks that you’d see on carriers by any of the top-quality makers. That is, none, as the surface is properly bead-blasted before being parkerized. Obvious care has gone into these parts. If Del-Ton doesn’t make them themselves, they take care in obtaining them from someone who knows how to tend to details. The extractor spring is correctly installed and has the black insert in it.

The feed ramps are M4, lowered down into the receiver cross-section ramps, and the machining was done before the upper was anodized.

The handguard is the Tapco Intrafuse handguard. It is a rigid but not free-float handguard, with a rail the full length on top and bottom, and half-length side rails. The bottom and side rails have covers, while the top rail is left alone. You can leave it as-is, or take the cover or covers off and mount gear there. With the covers on, the handguard is a bit portly. But some like that, and if you find it is just a bit biggish, you can take the covers off. Me, I like to run handguards as small and trim as I can, so leaving them off would be my choice.

However, I left them on for testing simply because it makes it easier to keep everything together when it comes time to send stuff back. (Yes, I send stuff back. Manufacturers are not commonly in the habit of sending out expensive freebies, and in the early years I would get requests for the missing bits and parts, if I wasn’t careful to keep things all together.)

The pistol grip is one of those things that just puzzle the heck out of me. The Tapco pistol grip on this rifle is their take on the SAW/M249 grip. The angle is different from the original AR, and the grip itself is wider, with a taper out towards the bottom. Those that love the SAW will love this one. Me, I am not a fan of the M249 grip.

To be fair, while every time I handled the Del-Ton carbine while not on the range, I curled my lip a bit whenever I had to hold the pistol grip, when I was shooting it I never noticed what kind of grip is on it. Always go by what improves your score or performance and not what feels or looks good at the moment. And especially don’t go with what is “tactical” cool, or mil-spec. If it improves your score, it is good. If it doesn’t, it isn’t. And if it hurts your performance…..well, ditch it.

Along with the rifle, in a Del-Ton marked hard case, came a pair of Tapco Intrafuse Gen II magazines, also in flat dark earth. Tapco has continued to compete in the magazine arena, and the Gen II magazines feature anti-tilt followers, with generous gunk clearance to allow unwanted debris to pass, a 17-7 stainless spring, and improved feedlip dimensions that make the Gen II a drop-free magazine even when loaded. I was not to the stage of AR abuse that I later began, so I didn’t have a chance to abuse either the Del-Ton or the Tapco magazines.

Really, if you didn’t turn it over and look at the “Del-Ton” on the other side, could you tell it wasn’t a “tier one” rifle?

Since the rifle arrived lacking a BUIS, and I needed something with which to aim, I simply bolted on an EOTech sight to do drills and added an Insight ATPIAL to check sight tower clearance and function. The EOTech bolted right on (no surprise there) and the ATPIAL cleared the sight tower, so I was good to go. In blasting a bunch of ammo through the Del-Ton carbine, I found only one problem: one of the magazines was not happy with a match 52 grain hollowpoint load I find to be quite accurate.

An “F” marked front sight forging, so your folding rears will fit and getting zeroed won’t be a hassle.

To be fair, this is a varmint load, designed to be a prairie dog tactical nuke and not what you’d use in a defensive carbine. It is also far too expensive to be used simply blasting in a defensive carbine class. Plus, only one of the magazines had problems, and then only occasionally. Everything else fed flawlessly. A definite case of “if it hurts, don’t do it.”

If I were to use the Del-Ton carbine as a defensive rifle, I’d certainly make sure it worked 100% with whatever defensive load I was using. If I really had to use the 52 grain varmint load, say on varmints, I wouldn’t worry about occasional malfunctions. I have never read yet of a shooter being charged by varmints.

For formal accuracy testing I clamped a 30mm Famous Maker 4-12X scope in a LaRue mount on top of the receiver. What I found was that this particular rifle loves, to an excessive degree, Hornady TAP 55 grain ammo. I would have to seriously over-indulge in coffee to give myself the shakes sufficient to shoot a group over 1.5 inches in size. Most hovered right under one inch.

The rest of the ammo I tried shot equally gratifying groups. One detail I wanted to check was the accuracy with one of the new heavy bullet loads. Some 1/9 barrels shoot the 75 and 77 grain loads fine, others aren’t so happy with them. The Del-Ton carbine showed a bit of accuracy drop-off, but still shot well. I would have to spend some time with it to see if the accuracy improves as the barrel breaks in, or not.

I didn’t have a chance to go out to the National Guard base and thrash the little plastic “ivans” on the computer pop-up course, but I have no doubts that with it I could easily post more clean scores. Del-Ton, I should have looked at your rifles earlier, but I’m glad I finally did.

Now, if someone tells you that Del-Ton isn’t as good as something from the ABC tier, well, maybe, maybe not. The real questions are these: Does theirs work better? Does theirs shoot more accurately? Can they shoot theirs faster and more accurately than you can shoot yours? Unless the answers to all of these is an unequivocal “yes” then pay no attention and keep on shooting.

This article is an excerpt from the Gun Digest Book of the AR-15, Vol. 4.

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