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Mr. Fox finds a gopher.

I am a hunter. It’s in my DNA. While my big game endeavors are almost over for the year, there is a different type of hunting I participate in almost daily. And there is no season or bag limit. I hunt for firearms that have either piqued my interest, to replace one I stupidly sold, or have a historical interest for me. My latest acquisition is from the latter category . . .

I’ve been looking for an original AR-7 for quite some time. I’ve looked at the modern ones from Henry, but they just don’t ‘sing’ to me. That, and after reading TTAG’s review, I knew I didn’t want a modern one. So while a Charter Arms version would have been OK, after much searching I finally found the one true AR-7. A genuine, pre-1973 model made in Costa Mesa, California, an ArmaLite AR-7 Explorer.

A short history of the rifle may be in order. ArmaLite, being the little brother of Fairchild Aircraft, was more interested in developing firearms and then selling the designs off. In 1958, the first gen AR-7 was made. In 1959, ArmaLite moved from Hollywood to Costa Mesa, CA. In 1973, Charter Arms bought the rights and kept up production. In 1990 Survival Arms in Florida was the producer until 1997 when Henry Repeating Arms obtained the rights and continues production to this day.

The AR-7 was one of Eugene Stoner’s ideas. Call me blasphemous, but I’d put Eugene Stoner just below or along side of John Browning in the gun designer pantheon.

The rifle I found was on a local gun forum/buy-sell-trade web site. And as I like my firearms like Obama likes his voters — undocumented — the price was very reasonable at 200 bucks, no dealer involved. No fingerprints, no form 4473. Just a guy who wanted to sell something and a guy who wanted to buy it. My kind of deal.

I’ve probably called 20+ people who had these for sale, and while a Costa Mesa AR-7 isn’t too rare a cat, most of the time it ends up being a Henry. The really old Costa Mesa versions usually are sold by dealers. While I have bought plenty of firearms through dealers, I like “garage sale deals”. It’s that freedom, exercising ones rights that appeals to me.

After calling the gent who placed the ad, it only took a few questions before I knew I had to meet up with him.
A nice public parking lot with a coffee shop is to my liking. After meeting up with the seller and exchanging pleasantries, he pulled this beauty out of a bag.


While there are minor micro scratches on the plastic butt stock, it is pristine considering its age. It must have taken me a couple of minutes to get the end cap off, it was tighter than a bull’s ass at fly time. After getting it off though, there was treasure within.


You can plainly see the steel liner inside the aluminum barrel. The guy who sold it to me said he had owned it for a good many years and never fired it. I believed him. The inside of the barrel is mint. As is the receiver.


The threads on the receiver show just a tiny bit of wear from the locking ring being screwed onto it. The magazine has no brass, lead or copper discoloration from being loaded or unloaded.

The fully assembled rifle is pretty neat looking.


I’m excited to take it out and shoot it. I’m not expecting extreme accuracy from it, but I have a dozen different brands of .22 to try and see what works best. I believe it’s accuracy was described as “minute of squirrel”. For a hunter, that’s not bad.

So if the game hunting season is over you, and you’ve got that one gat you’ve been hankering for, give a different kind of hunting a try. Get out and exercise that Second Amendment. Aim small, miss small.

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  1. A dozen different brands of .22! Hoarder!! Profiteer!!! 🙂

    Hopefully it’s a shooter. I want a combo gun. .22 over .410 or 20ga. Not the new savage 42. Feels like junk.

  2. Nice find. Big problem with the design though, if its the same as the henry then the feed ramp is built into the magazine. It causes problems if you use a magwell grip, which is habit for a gun with no handguard…

  3. “I’d put Eugene Stoner just below or along side of John Browning in the gun designer pantheon.”

    This is blasphemy. JMB created the template for multiple different classes of firearms, from the semiauto pistol to the heavy machinegun. Stoner designed a rifle that everyone copies.

      • Sure, but nearly every semiauto pistol that rolls off any line anywhere in the world, whether it carries the brand of SIG, Glock, Ruger, Walther, etc. uses Browning’s locked and tilting barrel to hold the action together for a short distance before releasing to eject the spent case, etc. Look at the designs that preceded it: the Luger, the Broomhandle Mauser. They’re completely unrecognizable as semiauto pistols compared to the now-ubiquitous Browning design.

        Pump actions, lever actions, machineguns (from man-portable to light to heavy), gas-operated semiautos, etc., etc., etc. The man was a giant among giants, a king among men.

        Stoner made one useful rifle. Has it revolutionized rifle design? Hardly. People are still arguing about whether DI is better than piston operation–for his AR-15!

        I hand second place to Sam’l Colt for the practical revolver.

  4. A very cool article, my friend. I hope your AR-7 works. The ones I shot jammed more than Led Zeppelin. There’s always the 10/22 takedown. One of the best damn guns in the world.

    • The 10/22 is a great rifle. The Marlin papoose is a great take-down rifle. The Ar7 is really a cool design concept, I hope someday they work the bugs out of it.

    • Charter Arms had serious quality control issues when they were making this gun and the pistol variant they came up with. Seems that out of every ten guns they built, one would work right. I’m betting the original Armalite production run was probably a bit better on the QC side.

    • “The ones I shot jammed more than Led Zeppelin.”

      Yeah, I had a Charter Arms version about 15 years back. I had the exact same experience as you had…

      Ended up swapping it to a guy for a Winchester bolt action 22lr.

      Thought about getting another one. I think I’d much rather have that takedown Ruger10/22.

      *Especially* as it comes in stainless with the barrel already threaded for a suppressor.

      • Funny thing is, my dad had the pistol version from Charter Arms – the one with the worst reputation of them all – and it worked flawlessly for more than 20 years ’till it was stolen. It didn’t like unjacketed ammo, but other than that…

        I miss that gun.

    • “I hope your AR-7 works. The ones I shot jammed more than Led Zeppelin.”

      I’ve owned a brown AR-7 (marked “Costa Mesa, Patents Pending”) for over 20 years. It has never failed to function properly.

      A friend bought a much later version that, out of the box, was fairly reliable single shot. A close comparison of our extractors showed a significant difference in profiles. Fortunately, his extractor was larger than mine so I was able to file his down to match my original. Since then, his AR-7 has functioned flawlessly – even with aftermarket increased capacity mag’s.

  5. i love these little guns, i want one for the bug out bag so bad, but they really jumped up in price the last year or so.

  6. Nice writeup, Tom. Enjoyed hearing about the history.

    I’m on the same wavelength regarding people legally having weapons with no paper.

    Just another kind of insurance…

  7. There are a bunch of originals I would like to hunt down, but since they mostly date from the mid to late 19th century, those in pristine condition are far beyond my meager means, and even the well-aged attic finds are two grand and up.

    • A “different” kind of hunting…
      I snuck up on him in a field across the street from my house and got that picture of him while he was hunting.

    • One of life’s object lessons. If that gopher hadn’t been an anti gunner planning on the .gov to protect him he might well be alive today. Carry a gun, people.

  8. I notice that the Henry version has an orange front sight. Don’t tell the nannies, they’ll say orange is only for pretend guns.

    • It wasn’t till the last few years that Henry did the orange front post. I found that I prefer them and changed mine over to that. They track fast when snap shooting. They are definitely a fun gun to shoot and would be a great one to teach younger first time shooters on. I am jealous that Tom found an original Armalite though.

  9. Well you had your legal garage sale deal, then posted it online so the NSA could add it to the list of stuff they know about you. I know nothing about these sales especially since that boating accident…

  10. Darned new-fangled semis. We have to stick to bolts, levers, and pumps.

    And .22 is not really cost effective. While availability is very good, my last bricks ended up costing about 15 cents per round. I can reload a budget .223 for about 20 cents each.

  11. NIce writeup and a beautiful example. I have a Henry (yawn) awkward, hard too shoot and poor build quality. I’ll take your example any day plus it’s a lot better looking! Technology has moved along I’m sure there are now more practical firearms but I can see why you like it. Read, shoot, enjoy. Thx

  12. Nothing says “late ’60s/early ’70s” like that swirly “faux wood grain” plastic.

    She’s a beauty (well, as beautiful as an AR-7 can be), damn near “like-new” condition considering it’s age. Nice find; for $200, I would have bought it, too.

  13. ArmaLite is in COSTA MESA! As a person in Costa Mesa this discovery is going to lighten my wallet… which is already empty : (


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