Shaolin Rifleworks says they’re making the most accurate AR-pattern rifles in the world. At SHOT Show 2015, I had a good time shooting their .223 and .308 rifles along with this .300 AAC Blackout carbine, but a gusting ~20 mph crosswind meant trying for indicative 100-yard groups was basically out of the question. Thankfully, Shaolin followed up by loaning me the .300 BLK version and I’ve been shooting it for a couple of months now. . .
First and foremost, while Shaolin (SRW) guarantees 1/2 MOA from its .223 and .308 rifles, it “only” guarantees 3/4 MOA from its .300 Blackouts. Of course, in order to guarantee that, it means that’s sort of a “worst case” scenario. Every rifle off the line is tested for function and accuracy in the great outdoors behind Shaolin’s New Hampshire shop, and every rifle must shoot five 5-shot groups within its relevant accuracy guarantee. I believe that’s typically done with Federal Gold Medal Match in the .223 and .308, and with Remington 120 grain supersonic in the .300 BLK.
The lower receiver features a bolt release on the right side. Now that I’ve owned the Lancer L15 lower for more than half a year, I’ve become quite used to releasing the bolt with my trigger finger and I like this functionality.
The upper receiver is effectively slick-sided (with some nifty sculpting for strength and aesthetics) as it goes without the protrusion of a forward assist. The most notable feature, though, is the non-reciprocating, forward charging handle. Without a doubt, the forward charging handle is easier to use and is more ergonomically-placed than the standard AR-15 charging handle at the rear of the receiver, and GIBBZ has integrated this one in a very nice, solid, and sleek manner.
Shaolin uses a Geissele G2S trigger in all of its rifles. But as excellent as that trigger is out of the box, SRW manages to improve upon it by stoning and polishing each unit for a noticeably smoother feel with a crisper, sharper break and a complete lack of creep.
In the .300 BLK carbine, trigger pull weight for the first stage is 2.5 lbs and tripping the sear requires 4.25 lbs of force. SRW tunes the .223 and .308 triggers quite a bit lighter.
Go-to handguards are carbon fiber units from Precision Reflex, Inc (PRI), in varying lengths depending on the carbine or rifle Shaolin is building for you.
Muzzle device of choice is PRI’s Quiet Control Brake, which I have yet to recoil test but is relatively similar in design to the one from Precision Firearms that appeared in Muzzle Brake Shootout #2. It certainly does a good job on the .300 here, keeping things nice and stable with less concussion than with most dedicated brakes.
SRW’s carbine stock of choice is likely my favorite AR-15 stock out there — and the one that’s gracing my CZ Scorpion Evo SBR (paperweight) — the ACE M4 SOCOM. For fans of The Walking Dead, word on the street is that one will be gracing Daryl’s AR-15 in the upcoming season (yes, I realize he’s “the crossbow guy”).
BCG is a nice Nickel Boron unit, although I’m not sure who manufactures it. I do know it looks like this after 300 rounds without cleaning, half of which I shot suppressed and about a third of which were commercial reloads.
At this point, I hope you’re thinking something along the lines of, “whelp…yet another AR-15 ‘assembler’ masquerading as a ‘manufacturer.’ I can put an AR together with various nice parts, too.” Yadda, yadda. I’m here to tell you that Shaolin does a lot more than just put parts together. To warrant their claim of “most accurate ARs on the planet,” skill, precision machining, and hand labor must come together. . .
As much as I’d love to tell you that TTAG got the all-access pass and beat the secrets of Shaolin’s accuracy out of owners Cameron and Neil — although SHOT Show leads me to believe free whiskey would do the trick even better — it’s really no secret at all. The same methods for achieving the best possible accuracy out of a bolt-action rifle are “simply” being applied by Shaolin Rifleworks to ARs.
First, Shaolin acquires the best barrel blanks available. The blanks are turned in-house and are carefully chambered with a reamer of SRW’s own, proprietary design. The barrel extension is precisely trued and matched to the barrel. Receiver and barrel extension are precisely trued and matched. The bolt face and barrel extension are precisely trued and matched to each other. Lug recesses and bolt lugs receive the same treatment along with hand lapping (which often occurs on the other parts as well). Basically, every part that can affect accuracy is trued up to every other part that can affect accuracy. Alignment is absolute, fit is as tight and as precise as possible while, obviously, still allowing reliable function.
The final step is verifying that all of the hard work paid off and, as mentioned, each and every rifle is taken out behind the shop and shot in real-world conditions. This means sandbag rest on a bench, target at 100 yards, in the deep New Hampshire snow if it’s winter, shot by a person who’s physically pulling the trigger and aligning the scope (no remote trigger release shenanigans, etc). For a rifle to ship to a customer, it has to shoot 5, 5-round groups at or better than Shaolin’s guarantee of 1/2 MOA for .223 and .308 and 3/4 MOA for .300 BLK. Again, since this is the guarantee and Shaolin isn’t in the business of throwing a bunch of rifles in the dumpster, this is pretty much considered worst case.
On The Range
Before we even get into accuracy, allow me to make it clear that this carbine is not a one-trick pony. While this obviously isn’t a lightweight build (not that 7 lbs, 2 oz is heavy, either) the balance of the fairly thick barrel profile combined with the M4 SOCOM stock out back is excellent. It’s a maneuverable, easy-to-shoot rifle. The worked-over Geissele trigger is as fast as it is precise, but the ringer is. . .
It’s reliable. And not even in an asterisk, caveat kind of a way. I put a few hundred rounds through this thing, about half suppressed and half not, about half subsonic and half supersonic, and it ran and ran. This is no small achievement not only considering the precise fit of the moving and locking parts, but really for any .300 BLK at all. To reliably eject both subsonic and supersonic ammo without even having to switch gas settings is awesome. The Syrac gas block is fully tunable, but SRW takes care of the adjustment before its rifles leave the shop. Apparently they do it right, too.
As such, this — or particularly a .223 version — would make an excellent competition rifle for 3-Gun or the like. Fast, accurate, reliable, and well-balanced with just a skosh more weight than the average AR.
It’s the Accuracy, Stupid
Okay, okay. So even though I’ve tasked Shaolin with building me a .223 upper, I remain relatively convinced that there’s some sort of wind curse on me when I pick up one of their rifles. I do most of my shooting in the woods. It’s usually dead calm. While I didn’t again experience the howling winds of the Las Vegas desert, my first outing with the SRW .300 was plagued with an inconsistent, blustery tailwind.
Groups of subsonic ammo — due to how long it takes for the bullet to make it 100 yards downrange; an amount of time easily heard thanks to the delay between gunshot sound and bullet impact sound — strung vertically depending on the level of wind-provided assistance. Zero movement left or right, but repeatedly about 2″ up and down.
Supersonic ammo faired better, of course, as it made it to the target a lot faster. This was typical on that annoyingly gusty day.
In slightly calmer conditions — it was actually dead still right up to the moment I took this carbine out of its case, when instantly some leaf-rustling gusts began to harass me! — in a different area on a different day around an inch was typical for subsonic loads:
Eventually, on yet another outing in the hopes of shooting this thing in still conditions, I realized that I could come up with a straight shot through about 60 yards of dense tree cover that provided a truly wind-free range. So to get a legit, honest representation of what this little carbine was capable of I set up at precisely 50 yards (which also smooths out some of my caffeine-induced shakes), and proceeded to immediately shoot this 5-shot group from a sandbag rest. Yes, five shots truly went through this hole:
So, yeah, the accuracy is there. And this isn’t some sort of ringer rifle or anything, as far as I understand it. This one was built just like every other one out of the shop and it’s been a demo gun for over a year now, traveling around the country going to shooting events and shipping FedEx Ground to the likes of me for T&E. Shaolin says they’ve put about 2,000 rounds through it — including some with this upper on a full-auto lower — and I had a good time adding a few hundred to that count myself.
Although it’s looking like I’m cursed with wind whenever I touch an SRW rifle, I’m tasking them with building me a .223 upper anyway. Sometimes you just want to hunt bees at 100 yards, and I think this is the ticket.
While accuracy is the headliner on a Shaolin Rifleworks gun, the opening act of reliable function is still a great show. At $2,500, I think “the most accurate ARs on the planet” are underpriced compared to the competition. Does anybody else guarantee 1/2 MOA accuracy from any semi-auto rifle at any price? This ain’t a cheap AR, but you can certainly get a heck of a lot less for a heck of a lot more money.
Specifications: Shaolin Rifleworks SRW-300BC
Caliber: .300 AAC Blackout
Action: Semi-auto, direct impingement with adjustable Syrac Gen II gas block
Barrel: 16″ SRW custom
Weight: 7 lbs, 2 oz
Finish: fully Cerakoted in various primary + accent color options
MSRP: $2,500 for complete carbine, $1,700 for upper only, $3,415 fully decked out with all SHTF accessories
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy: * * * * *
It’s completely possible that SRW’s rifles actually are the most accurate ARs in the world.
Ergonomics: * * * * *
While it’s an AR-15 and so much of it is just as you’d expect, the forward charging handle, ambi bolt release, ACE M4 SOCOM stock, PRI forearm, and superbly-tuned trigger take the ergos up a couple notches. And, of course, this is SRW’s “default” build, but it’s all configurable if you’d prefer different furniture.
Reliability: * * * *
When I shot it at SHOT Show, this carbine was bone dry and it wasn’t fully cycling. Tolerances are close. When I received it for testing a couple months ago, the bolt had a slick film of FrogLube on it (judging from the minty smell). I proceeded to shoot 300 rounds of mixed sub- and supersonic ammo through it, suppressed at least half the time, without cleaning or lubing at all, and it’s still running smoothly and strongly despite being quite dirty.
Customization: * * * * *
Shaolin’s primary goal seems to be selling complete SRW spec builds, but they’re still a custom shop and happy enough to mix and match furniture and even receivers and other parts. Stick with the SRW barrel for sure, but you can likely specify everything else. And then, of course, it’s an AR so future customization capability is boundless.
Overall: * * * * *
It ain’t cheap, but there are many ARs from other manufacturers touting ultimate accuracy and charging a much higher price, while still not guaranteeing anything even close to SRW’s accuracy claims. As word gets out and orders come in, I’m sure SRW’s price will creep up, but for the time being I’m fairly convinced that they actually are the most accurate ARs in the world at any price…they just aren’t cashing in on it yet.
As I have some AR parts cluttering up my basement, I’m going to be providing almost all of the components to SRW for my .223 upper build, starting with a Lilja barrel blank. It should all come together for a review late this summer, but at this point I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have turn and chamber the barrel and custom match it to extension, receiver, and bolt.