Gun Digest

Gun Review: ArmaLite AR-30A1

During testing, all of the four brands of ammo performed well with the ultra-accurate AR-30A1.
During testing, all of the four brands of ammo performed well with the ultra-accurate AR-30A1.

The company that brought us the first AR proves it still has tricks up its sleeve with the AR-30A1 — a refined bolt-action sniper rifle.

After a dozen years in production, ArmaLite engineers decided it was time to improve upon their already popular lineup of AR-30 sniper rifles. The culmination of their work is the company’s new AR-30A1. The AR-30A1 is offered in two calibers, .338 Lapua Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum. The previous AR-30 model lineup included a .308 Winchester variant as an option.

Features of the AR-30A1

After putting a couple of hundred rounds down range with the ArmaLite AR-30B, the predecessor to the A1, it’s easy to make comparisons.

Side by side, the differences in the guns are numerous. The new model tested is a “target” model in .338 Lapua, which includes improved accessory rails and a buttstock with an adjustable cheek height and length of pull. The AR-30B rifle came with a rather plain skeleton stock with no adjustment.

Two knobs on the A1’s stock easily adjust and lock with a pronounced click throughout their range of travel. The cheek piece moves approximately 1 inch, and the length of pull adjusts approximately 2 inches.

The rifle can also be purchased from ArmaLite with a folding buttstock allowing for easier transport and storage. I like the new stock configuration, and think the folding option is the way to go for shooters seeking the widest range of versatility.

The new accessory and scope rails are no less impressive. The top scope rail is 18 inches long and supports a wide array of accessories. It has ample room for even larger night vision optics forward of the scope.

Hidden assets add convenience: Under the cheek piece is a bore guide that makes aligning a cleaning rod precisely into the chamber and barrel a real cinch.

There are four additional Picatinny rails on the rifle—three of them located on each side and bottom of the forend with one on the buttstock to accommodate a sling swivel or other accessories. Several vacant holes on the forend will allow for easy sling or accessory changes.

The newly designed safety is another noticeably different change. It’s similar in design and function to the 98 Mauser but with only a “safe” and “fire” position. This was changed to lock the firing pin directly, not just the trigger mechanism. The ArmaLite Model B safety only locks the trigger, and the safety lever is similar to Remington’s 700-style rifles. This change in design offers a higher degree of safety.

The bolt handle is sleeker and more uniquely designed than its predecessor. It turns downward sharply, making the gun narrower overall and easier to store in a hard case. These changes do not affect the range of motion when charging the weapon.

The magazine release has also been changed to allow ambidextrous use, as well as one-hand removal of the magazine. The release is now located on the front lower corner of the trigger guard, which is aesthetically pleasing and easy to manipulate with the trigger finger. The previous design was modeled after the AR-15-style magazine release and sometimes proved awkward,. It sometimes felt like I needed three hands to drop the magazine.

The A1’s weight is distributed more centrally than the previous model making operation and reloading easier, too. This also makes a difference when carrying the rifle one handed. Differences between the old and new model are seen muzzle to buttpad.

At the muzzle, the most critical component, the muzzle brake even got a face lift. The overall design and shape remains the same, but the construction couldn’t be more different. Previously, the muzzle break was made up of six individual parts held together by eight Allen head screws. The break on the new A1 is cast as one piece of steel, making it much stronger. Fewer parts allow for fewer malfunctions.

The bolt handle drops almost straight down, creating a sleeker and more narrow profile and making it less prone to snags as well as easier to store in hard rifle cases. The range of motion when charging the rifle stays the same, however.

Range Time With the AR-30A1

During testing, I noticed no difference in recoil between the new and old rifles. Both muzzle breaks do a great job reducing recoil to a manageable level for most shooters. The barrel of each is free floating, all the way to the action. This design element is critical for both weapons’ sub-MOA accuracy.

Other improvements include a bore guide built into the cheek rest, placed to guide a cleaning rod directly into the center of the chamber and barrel. These guide holes are located beneath the cheek piece, hidden from plain view and accessed by raising the cheek rest to the appropriate height.

Six hours on the range did nothing but build my confidence in the rifle. Not only did it perform seamlessly, it was impressively accurate. Once adjusted to my build, the cheek piece delivered tight shot placement with ease and allowed me to put impressive groups on paper. A Nightforce 5.5-22X Zero Stop optic mounted in high Trijicon 30mm rings provided and excellent match for the long-range rig.

The author suggests Black Hills ammo as a good choice that matches accuracy with affordability as the .338 can be a rather pricey caliber.

Four brands of ammunition were tested by firing several 5-shot groups at 100 yards. An Oehler 35P recorded velocity data. I selected Federal, Barnes, Remington and Black Hills to wring out the 100-yard accuracy from this new rifle.

The 250-grain Federal Premium Match was the most accurate; the smallest group measuring .691 of an inch. Black Hills 250-grain loads were the second best performing, with the best group measuring .838. Military-grade Barnes 300-grain OTM was the heaviest bullet tested and produced groups as small as .845 inch.

The Remington match loads groups were the largest, but not by a significant margin. The best Remington group recorded measured .878 of an inch, which is still impressive. All brands of ammunition tested performed well, but Federal was the most consistent.

The Black Hills would be a great economy option; anyone familiar with the ravenous Lapua knows you must pay to play. If tenths of an inch are not a primary concern, go the economy route.

ArmaLite inhabits a special place in firearms history as the company that first delivered the AR-style rifle to both military and civilian shooters, and with their latest offering, the re-engineered company looks to build on that legacy and keep serious shooters coming back for more.

ArmaLite AR-30A1
Caliber:    .338 Lapua Magnum (tested), .300 Win. Mag.
Action Type::    Bolt-action
Receiver:    Through hardened
Barrel:    26-in. chrome moly
with 1:10 twist, muzzle brake
Magazine:    Five-round detachable
Trigger:    Single-stage
Sights:    None, Picatinny rail for ready optics mounting
Stock:    Adjustable cheek piece (height)
& buttstock (length)
Weight:    15.3 lbs.
Overall Length:    48.1 in. to 50.1 in.
Accessories:    Detachable sight and accessory rails, hard case, sling
SRP:    $3,599

This article appeared in the July 15, 2013 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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