Gun Review: Ares Defense SCR 5.56 NATO Rifle
Living “behind enemy lines” sucks. Thanks to “assault weapons bans” (AWB), shooters in New York, California, New Jersey and other so-called “slave states” can’t take advantage of their Constitutionally protected right to sample the latest in firearms technology. The only guns [legally] available are often less accurate firearms that cost more money. So the good folks at Ares Defense set out to enable even those citizens living in those awful places to have access to the very best in modern firearms.
Although it looks like the unholy union of a rifle and a shotgun, the result could well be the best AWB-compliant firearm configuration on sale today. But in addition, the Ares Defense SCR might also be a firearm that suits hunters in the rest of America.
We first got our hands on an SCR around a year ago at the NRA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. It seemed like a really cool concept, blending the best parts of an AR-15 rifle with the operating bits of a shotgun. The gun got around all those pesky “assault weapons ban” requirements- with style! While the potential was obvious, we didn’t know how the finished product would work. One year later, and we finally have one for testing.
The very first thing you notice about the rifle: its weight. Or the lack thereof. The specs put the rifle at 5.7 pounds, and my bathroom scale agreed. Most of the weight came off the barrel since Ares Defense decided to ship it with a pencil thin 5.56 barrel instead of something with a little more heft. Considering that the average AR-15 rifle clocks-in at around seven pounds, that’s damn near a pound-and-a-half of weight savings that you don’t have to lug around the field. That’s a good thing – unless that weight savings impacts accuracy.
Up front the Ares Defense SCR’s all 1950’s tech. In the rear they go a bit old(er) school. Instead of sending the bolt recoil straight back into a buffer tube, it’s directed at an angle downward and into the grip of the Monte Carlo stock. The design means that you can take any standard AR-15 upper receiver and, by swapping only the bolt carrier, you can mate it with the SCR lower receiver group. It opens-up the options for those who can’t have a pistol grip or a collapsible stock. Even a 9″ 300 BLK upper is on the table. In some states.
The stock is the linchpin of the whole operation. It’s a typical polymer Monte Carlo stock, which is to say it feels like it was made in between runs of whiffle ball bats and Ladas. The stock is serviceable but the plastic feels thin. It doesn’t inspire much confidence in the gun’s ruggedness (a.k.a., reliability). Moving inside and we get to another problem.
Taking down the rifle, I discovered that the bolt carrier is very different from a normal AR-15 bolt carrier. To allow the bolt to recoil downwards like a shotgun, the bolt carrier must also have a pivoting rat tail – just like a shotgun. And much like a shotgun, getting the thing apart is easy. Getting it back together is like trying to keep Robert from telling that story about how he went 200 MPH on the Autobahn.
To reassemble the rifle back, you need to perfectly align the rat tail’s end with the recoil assembly. The target in this case is very small. The rat tail has a tendency to catch on the rear of the receiver above that assembly, rather than sliding into place just a little lower and allowing the gun to actually function. The good news: you’ll know when you got it wrong because you won’t be able to rack the action. The bad news: it can take some time and practice to get everything all closed up again. It took me damn near 15 minutes (and a knife) to figure that one out.
The SCR’s trigger is another annoyance. It’s pretty awful, mainly because it’s so stinking heavy. I put the trigger pull at right around seven pounds, and for someone who’s favorite long range rifle’s pull is measured in ounces that’s no bueno. That wouldn’t be so bad if the trigger were replaceable. It’s not. I can accept a proprietary trigger if it’s done well but in this case I would have really preferred something more standard. That said, the design choices on the gun made a drop-in trigger pretty much impossible, so I’ll cut them some slack.
Right. Enough kvetching about the internals, let’s talk about the controls.
While the SCR is pretty much an AR-15, it picks and chooses from its various heritages. The safety is a prime example. Instead of a traditional AR-15 paddle safety, Ares went with a very retro cross-bar safety. I like it; it fits very well with the hunting-focused nature of the gun, and I like cross-bar safeties in general. There was a flip safety on my Grandfather’s M1 carbine (which is now mine, safe from the hands of my not-so-gun-friendly relatives in New York). The very first order of business was swapping that for an “old new stock” cross-bar safety. In some applications, it just makes more sense to me. Here, I like it.
The Ares Defense’s SCR trigger isn’t standard due to its placement relative to the receiver. With a rifle like the AR-15 with the pistol grip at the end of the lower receiver, the trigger needs to be more or less right behind the magazine well. As the SCR uses a traditional Monte Carlo stock, the trigger needed to be as far to the rear as possible. (That’s why a more standard trigger wouldn’t work.)
With the SCR’s trigger placement the designers could create a much more gentle slope to the magazine well, and make it slimmer as well. This 10-round magazine would normally be flush with the end of a typical AR-15 magazine well. On the SCR the result is that a 10-rounder looks like a 20-rounder.
Most of the usual controls are either present or modified (like the safety). One notable missing feature: the bolt catch. There’s no last round bolt hold-open feature on this gun. It looks like there’s a plug in the receiver for where one should be. I’m guessing that might still be a work in progress thanks to the tilting rat tail bolt carrier. Hopefully later models will have a hold-open ability, since I sorely missed it.
There’s another downside to the re-positioned trigger on the other side of the gun: I can’t reach the magazine release. Normally my trigger finger could rest on it. Here I’m a couple inches short. It makes magazine changes a lot slower, but it does still work.
All those minor annoyances are small potatoes compared to my concerns out front.
Pencil barrels look cool. Mike Pappas loves them, but Mike Pappas is a strange, strange guy. Anyway, pencil barrels have a tendency to move around a lot further – and less predictably – than their heavier counterparts (a lesson the German military is learning with their G36 woes). Pencil barrels save weight, but they lead to inaccuracy. Inaccuracy leads to missing your target. Missing your target leads to the dark side.
I took the Ares Defense SCR to our usual testing range and set it up at 100 yards with a U.S. Optics scope, some Eagle Eye Ammunition .223 Remington ammo (official ammunition sponsors of TTAG) and gave it my best shot. Shots. The results wasn’t bad.
Consider everything going against this gun. From the pencil barrel to the heavy trigger, the Ares Defense SCR should have been grouping worse than the SIG SAUER 556xi Russian, but nope. This 4-shot group was the best of the day, with a little over 1.1 MoA extreme spread. My benchmark is a minimum of 1 MoA accuracy for guns over $1,000. Since the SCR is well under that mark I’m pretty happy.
The SCR shoots very well for an $800 gun. I’d love to see some improvements, like a more solid stock and a better trigger, but this is a good first effort. I love the ingenuity of the operating system, and I love it more for thumbing its nose at legislators and providing all the same functionality of an AR-15 to freedom loving gun owners in not so gun-friendly states. I can’t wait to see Gen 2.
Specifications: Ares Defense SCR
Caliber: 5.56 NATO
Magazine: One 5-Round Magazine included (takes standard AR mags)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy: * * * *
Pretty good. It could be better with a better trigger.
Ergonomics: * * * *
The stock feels cheap, and the trigger feels heavy. But overall, a traditional stock on a modern firearm is a comfortable thing.
Reliability: * * * * *
No issues. We fired hundreds of rounds without a hiccup.
Customization: * * *
You can swap out half the rifle (the upper receiver) so I’m giving it half stars. The lower is 100% proprietary.
Overall: * * *
This is a cool little gun: slick and useful. Give me a better stock, a better trigger, and a better barrel and we’ve got a whole new ballgame. As-is, I’d keep the SCR in the safe even here in gun-loving Texas. Everyone needs a light ranch gun.