Torturing the AR-15: Oh Yes He Did!

Author Pat Sweeney tested a few rifles for volume four of "Gun Digest Book of the AR-15."

Bury them in dirt and sand? Drop them from the second story of a building? Run them over with a heavy-duty diesel truck? Blast them with a shotgun? No one would do this to an AR-15 and then shoot it, would they? Oh yes, he did. And more.

In Gun Digest Book of the AR-15 Volume IV, author Patrick Sweeney goes to great lengths to find the breaking point of many of today's popular AR models. Here's an excerpt from the book:

Let’s be clear about something right from the start: what I’m doing, you should not do. It is/was hazardous, abusive, potentially very expensive, and more than just a bit crazy. I took thousands of dollars worth of fine machinery and worked very hard to see just how far I could push it before something gave up. If you think to try the same, you at the very least risk breaking some expensive or difficult-to-replace firearms part. If things go a lot more wrong, you could damage something even more difficult to repair or replace, such as a finger, hand, arm or eye. I don’t know what the current generation might have as a touchstone, but for my generation it was something all our mothers said: “It’s all fun and games until someone puts an eye out.” If, even after I recount what I did and tell you to not do the same, you go and do it, don’t blame me. Don’t blame me for the cost, hassle, replacement parts or medical intervention. I told ya not to do it.

With that in mind, pop some popcorn, pour yourself a cold one (non-alcoholic, although you may feel the need for one before we’re done) and watch in horror as events unfold.

After hits from a shotgun it really shows the marks, but it works. The magazine is ready to quit, but I can’t really blame it.

At any gun show, many gun shops, ranges across the country, and on internet forums galore, you will hear that the AR is no good, and anyone with any sense will either move up in caliber to something .308-ish, or transfer laterally to an AK, a reliable rifle. Well, I’m not the kind of guy who just takes people’s word for something. Oh, in a lot of instances I’ll accept what someone says, but that’s generally after they have proven themselves. But in a lot of cases, I’ll have to try it myself, testing as I go, and keeping track of what happens.

I didn’t know what the results would be when I started this. I figured I’d ease on in and see what happened, as it was happening. When I started testing, I had people make cracks about the test. “Oh, you want to see what will make an AR stop? Just pack the bore with sand. That’ll do it.” Gee, thanks. Yes, it would, but that is like telling us if you drop a car off a 100-foot cliff, it won’t run once it has stopped moving. I wanted to sneak up on the line of malfunction. I wanted to see if I could get just close to it and then dance, tippy-toe as it were, back and forth, to see if I could define it. Well, if you’ve skipped ahead, you know I failed. I had to escalate to ever-more heinous tortures, and finally just had to jump right up to outright abuse, torture and medieval levels of “I can’t believe he just did that” to finally get some results.

At one point, halfway through the tests, I was merrily abusing a $2,000 rifle when I turned around to see one of the club members watching me in horror. (The water and sand test, if you must know.) After watching me go through a few cycles of abuse, he finally said, “After watching this, I have to go to confession, and you should seek therapy.”

My initial test was to explore the limits of what piston-driven rifles could withstand. I fancied myself the “destroyer of ARs, the ender of usefulness.” Little did I know I was to fail almost to the end.

Why test for cold and snow? Because there are cold places, they have snow, and you may fall down in it.

That said, it was fun, even if more than a few times I cringed as I was pressing the trigger, wondering if I was going to break something expensive, or more importantly, break something on me. I did finally break rifles, but not me, which is good. So, here you go.

I asked a few AR makers for loaner rifles, and I was up-front about what I was going to do to their products. They were more than willing to send a rifle, and even commented, “Might make an interesting display rifle, if it survives.”

Stag sent me one of their M8 piston-driven carbines, in utterly normal and original factory trim, with normal M4 handguards. I expected the handguards to create problems, but found out that the handguards would actually help the rifle.

PWS sent a rifle with a purpose-built piston upper and the PWS railed handguard, exactly as they build and ship them. I also used a very early version of the PWS conversion, built on an existing carbine of mine, with Daniel Defense Omega handguard. I slapped the new PWS upper onto a spare lower I had on hand.

I had an Ares GXR-35 conversion installed on a custom-built Rock River carbine on hand, so I figured I’d give it a try. The Ares conversion is so compact you can hardly believe it will get the job done, but it does.

CMMG sent me a factory-built M4gery, utterly box-stock, and again with M4 handguards. The handguards worked well to protect the piston area from the dirt to follow.

In the rack, I had an Adams Arms conversion built on a carbine with Vltor handguard, so that got added to the pile of guns to be heinously abused.

And to address a personal pet peeve of mine, it is all too common in government work to “test” a new weapons system but not to include the old one in the testing. In any good engineering school such a “test” will get you flunked from any course in the catalog. So, I hauled a Colt 6940 along as a direct-impingement gas system sample, to make sure I was learning what I thought I was learning. Colt sent it to me for an article, I asked them if I could, and they had no problems with my burying it for the test. People love to hate Colt (and I’ve given them my share of abuse), but they had no qualms about their rifle being able to stand up to the testing to come.

Find out how the guns – and Pat – fared. Preorder your copy of Gun Digest Book of the AR-15 Volume IV from the Gun Digest Store today.

And, as a thank-you for reading the “Inside Gun Digest Books” blog, get free U.S standard shipping when you preorder by April 15! Just use Promo Code ARV4 and order by 4/15/2012. (Your books will ship between 4/15 and 4/30.)


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