As I said in my write-up of the Bridgeville High Power match, the ArmaLite National Match M-15 I was using malfunctioned. A lot. And the malfunctions looked EXACTLY like the one you see above. This picture, however, was taken on the 21st, well after the match ended. Even after throughly cleaning the rifle, it’s still having issues. We took it to the range aboard MCB Quantico to try and figure out what was going on, and I think I have it about figured . . .
We decided to start videotaping the malfunctions about 80 rounds into the day. By the time the first shots on this tape were fired, the gun was in a less than pristine state of cleanliness. The dirtier the bolt got, the worse it malfunctioned. It got to a point where I couldn’t even cycle the bolt using the charging handle anymore.
Why was this happening? We passed the rifle around, and the consensus was that the bolt was meeting resistance (more than the normal buffer spring) in the buffer tube. This slowed it down and caused it to fail to reliably cycle.
This issue was caused by a combination of a more abrasive than normal bolt carrier and possibly a malformation or other issue in the buffer tube itself. These issues slowed down the cycling of the bolt and in some cases even held the bolt to the rear for a split second before sending it home, which reduced the bolt’s energy and caused the failure to feed issues.
We confirmed part of our hypothesis by replacing the lower with a spare we had laying around, namely Ben’s exceedingly filthy 9mm lower. We removed the 9mm magazine plug and retested the gun with the same ammunition, and this time the gun cycled without an issue. The bolt did fail to lock to the rear after each magazine, but I’m more willing to chalk that up to Ben’s filthy (did I mention that already? Because it really was) lower.
So what’s the fix? As far as we can figure, a new stock, buffer tube and chromed bolt carrier should do the trick. It’s really a shame too; with the exception of this mechanical issue the ArmaLite National Match M-15 is an excellent rifle. Great trigger. Excellent accuracy. Terrific ergonomics. Hopefully, I can get it running in time for the Remembering the Brave match next weekend.
BEFORE YOU EVEN SAY IT, I do in fact know how to properly maintain an AR-15. I’ve used one in competition for years without any malfunctions (except those caused by some light loads I cooked up by accident). If I can maintain a high-end competition AR-15 and a service rifle AR-15 for a few years the probability of me cocking-up an identical rifle within a few months is practically nonexistent.