I was introduced to the M-16 rifle under the broiling August sun in a little slice of heaven called Fort Benning, Georgia, almost 30 years ago. By the time I got my instruction, at the hands of a half-dozen profanity-spewing Vietnam veteran drill sergeants, the M-16 had been the standard US combat rifle for more than 15 years.
Eugene Stoner’s AR-15, known to the US military as the M16 family of weapons, continues to serve Uncle Sam, as well as many other military forces, and is rapidly approaching 50 years of service – more time in service than the M1 Garand, and more even than the venerable M1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle that served through two world wars.
The semi-auto only AR-15 was offered for sale to the general public just a few years after the M-16 was adopted as the official rifle of the US military in the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that is popularity really took off among target shooters, collectors and small game hunters. By the time the Clinton-era “assault weapons” ban sunsetted in 2004, there were industries large and small that were dedicated to making and improving the “black rifle.”
The original AR-15 and M-16 had a fixed stock and a 20” barrel, but were still small enough to be considered “carbines” (i.e. short rifles) when compared to the “full sized” rifles of their day. Nevertheless, over the years, the need for a smaller, more compact rifle for modern combat has become apparent, and thus the M-4 Carbine was born. With its collapsing stock and 14.5” barrel the M-4 is lighter, more compact, and faster to bring to bear than the full-sized M-16. (photo above is your humble author shooting an M-4 on full auto.)
As detailed here, I had been contemplating getting an M-4 type rifle for myself for some time, and finally decided to take the plunge and build one from a kit. Why build? Well, besides the considerable cost savings ($300 or more over a ‘built’ rifle) there was also the opportunity to get exactly what I wanted, and the satisfaction that comes from knowing I built it myself.
Although there are a plethora of kits from different manufacturers, I decided to go with a Del-Ton kit. Del-Ton, located in Elizabethville, NC, makes and sells complete rifle kits, minus the lower receiver (which must be transferred through an FFL like any other firearm.) Their kits are complete and they seem to offer about the best prices out there. I had also heard good things about their customer service. My lower receiver (or just “lower” in AR parlance) is also a Del-Ton, but I purchased it from JSE Surplus, again, because they offered the best price.
Above: There are many like them, but this one is mine.
Although there are a number of different upper receiver types available, I chose the “mid length.” The mid length upper, as the name implies, is shorter than the full-length AR-15/M-16 upper receiver, but longer than the very short, M-4 carbine length. There were two reasons for choosing the mid-length: First of all, the military M-4 has a 14.5” barrel. Our BATF-approved civvies models are required to have at least 16” of barrel, and most come out to about 16.5”. With the shorter, carbine-length handguards, the 16.5” barrel looks unnaturally long and ungainly, whereas on the middy, that extra length is absorbed by the handguards themselves. The second and more important reason for getting the middy receiver was that the front sight is about 3” further forward than on the carbine-length, giving more sight radius, which helps with accuracy when using iron sights.
Assembly was a breeze, much easier than I’d thought, and I was impressed by how “tight” everything felt. During most of my 23 years of service, I rarely had the opportunity to fire a brand new weapon, so it was quite nice to find that my Del-Ton did not display the sloppy upper/lower receiver fit that I sometimes experienced on my Army issue rifles.
For those who missed this earlier post, Robert and I took my newly-assembled AR to a local shooting range for some practice. Though it had been nearly 4 years since I had fired an AR-type rifle, it was a pleasure to handle. It’s easy to understand why. Stoner took all of the old assumptions, presumptions and “we’ve always done it this ways” of his predecessors and threw them out the window, and the result is a weapon that is a case study on the subject of ergonomics (at least for the right-handed shooter.) All of the controls fall readily to hand. The stock is designed so that the rifle recoils in a straight line, rather than wanting to climb up and to the right as older designed rifles did. The sights, perched on top of an odd-looking carrying handle, require no excessive bending or craning of the neck.
After firing the first shot and being gratified that the rifle neither exploded nor fell apart in my hands, I continued with a 3 round group at 25 yards, and was happy to see that all three shots hit within an inch of each other, precisely at the 6 o’clock point on the bullseye target, where I had been aiming. I fired several more 3 and 5 shot groups, and even tried my hand at some double taps. The double taps, of course, strung my shots out vertically, but most of them still remained on the paper
Recoil was mild, to say the least, and the 6 position stock allowed me to set precisely the length of pull that was comfortable to me. Although we only fired 40 rounds between us, there was nary a mishap and the weapon functioned flawlessly.
Above: Stock fully collapsed
The Black Rifle has come a long way in its nearly 5 decades of service. It’s proven itself in any number of situations that have sent lesser rifles packing. Now it’s widely available from a number of manufacturers, and the Del-Ton seems to offer a great combination of affordability, tight technical specs, and high quality. You can certainly spend a lot more on an AR than the cost of a Del-Ton, and many people do. But it’s hard to beat the Del-Ton receiver and rifle kit combo in terms of sheer “bang for the buck”, literally.
Model: AR15, Del-Ton Manufacturing, Elizabeth, NC Del-Ton .223 flat top receiver with T-marks, mid-length upper, chrome lined 1:9 twist barrel, and UTG detachable carrying handle with A2 style rear sights.
Action type: Semi automatic
Capacity: 30 rounds (standard.) Mags from 5 to 100 rounds are available
Barrel length: 16.5″
Overall length: Stock Fully extended: 36 1/8″ Fully Collapsed: 32 1/4″
Weight: 7.0 lbs (empty.)
Stock: Plastic, commercial-type, 6 position collapsible
Sights: Front: Adjustable post (adjustable for elevation only.) Rear: Adjustable aperture sight w/flip down large aperture, adjustable for both windage and elevation
Finish: Black painted
Cost: Approximately $700 without magazines
RATINGS: No stars here, I prefer subjective descriptions
Style: You either love the Evil Black Rifle or you don’t. Eugene Stoner’s classic design from the 1950’s, modified slightly for the new millenium.
Ergonomics (carry): At 7 pounds empty, it’s light to carry and at 36″ overall length it handles well.
Ergonomics (firing): First class. Stoner got this one spot on. Recoil is negligible and follow up shots are quick.
Reliability: Unknown at this time, but no reason to believe it’s any less than most AR clones. Battle proven in just about every extreme climate imaginable from the jungles of Vietnam and Panama to the burning sands of Arabia, to the frozen escarpments of Afghanistan.
Customize This: Really, do you have to ask? Whole cottage industries dedicated to nothing but customizing the AR have popped up all over the world. If they make an accessory for a firearm, they make it for the AR.
OVERALL RATING: Uncle Sam doesn’t always get it right, but this time it’s safe to say he did. For varmint shooting, competition, or Zombie defense, they don’t get much more dependable than the venerable AR, and this Del-Ton is an outstanding example of the genre.