This is the first time I’ve wanted a Bushmaster AR-15 since I was a kid.
Bushmaster has been synonymous with the AR-15 for decades.Tens of thousands of them, if not more, are in use by law enforcement entities throughout the US, including the Texas Department of Public Safety. Even more have been sold to non-law enforcement civilians throughout our country.
In the past, Bushmaster has always been a decent enough product at a low price point. During the last several years of the race to the bottom of price, for a lot of companies, Bushmaster was the price point to beat.
But a strange little thing has happened. On the competition’s way down — in both price and quality — Bushmaster didn’t lower their price. And they upped the quality. The XM-15 Quick Response Carbine (QRC) is one of the lowest, if not the lowest-priced Bushmaster AR-15 in their line-up. It’s also one of the better budget ARs I’ve shot.
Out of the box it looks a little weird. It shouldn’t. Not too many years ago, a carbine-length handguard and a 16” barrel length would have been what all the cool kids wanted. But in this new day of full-length rails (and they are good days) all that naked pencil-thin barrel looks strange. So does the lack of sights.
The XM-15 QRC model is a flat top with a receiver-length Picatinny rail on the upper receiver and no front sight. Instead, Bushmaster includes a Chinese-made miniature red dot optic. As far as quality, it functions well and I had no issues with it during the review. I didn’t fully test the battery life, but I left it on overnight without issue. The field of view is fairly small, there is a bluish tint to the image, and there is no night vision capability. It’s a cheap, workable optic.
If you would like to add irons, you have a wide variety of rear sight options available to you. There are fewer options to add a front sight, like replacing the gas block with an A2 style front sight, or going with something like the exceptional Ultradyne Sights.
It’s been a while since I shot an AR with this short a handguard. Even my SBR’s have handguards all the way out to the muzzle, so getting out of the habit of reaching forward took some getting used to.
Of course, the result in a carbine-length hand guard ending well shy of the end of a lightweight muzzle is that you can start and stop that muzzle with a quickness. That’s great for moving to your target, or transitioning between targets. Of course, that also means it’s easy to move that muzzle during shot strings, making precise controlled pairs and follow-up shots more difficult.
In the old days, when you bought a Bushmaster AR the guy behind the gun counter, (who knew everything ever because he almost went to Vietnam), told you to throw away the non-MIL-STD Bushmaster bolt and buy one made by Colt.
In the old days, for shooters who really wanted to do a lot of shooting, there may have been some truth in that. Those days are gone. I popped the pins on the Bushmaster and pulled out the BCG and compared it to ones I pulled from my Colt ARs. Then I called the Bushmaster representative to confirm what I was looking at.
Yup, the XM-15 QRC’s carrier is chrome-lined 8620 steel and the bolt is Carpenter 158. They are almost identical. I say almost, because the gas key staking on the Colt bolt is a little bit deeper, but the staking on the Bushmaster bolt has been done well and would certainly pass inspection. Staying with the MIL-STD theme, the budget Bushmaster XM-15 rifle’s upper and lower receiver are forged 7075 aluminum alloy.
The barrel is the familiar Melonite-coated 4150 Chrome-Moly steel, with a 1:8” twist and topped with an A2 birdcage flash hider. The 16” barrel contour is defined by the Bushmaster website as “Superlight”, and it certainly is.
I’m not a fan of pencil barrel at all. I know a lot of folks are, and it’s appropriate on this “Mil-Spec” themed rifle. I find a thin barrel heats up fast, whips too much for precise shooting, and I’ll sacrifice a few ounces of weight to keep the muzzle down in fast fire any day.
Obviously, because of the traditional hand guard set-up, the barrel isn’t free-floating. You’ll see the effect that the thin barrel profile and traditional handguard/gas tube set up has on accuracy.
Using the supplied red dot optic, my groups at 100 yards never got below 4 inches. In this case, it’s the arrow, not the Indian. The red dot is quite large, I’d guess close to 4 MOA, That’s suitable for CQB work, but not ideal at 100 yards or farther.
As advertised, it came bore sighted right out of the box. Using the supplied quick-detach mount, I found it shot center for elevation and 2 inches right at 25 yards with the first round fired. That made adjustments quick and easy, which was much appreciated. If you wanted to pound targets right out of the box, you’d be pretty close just picking up the gun, loading it, and having fun at the range.
Replacing the red dot optic with a custom US Optics 10X scope, the rifle was capable of much more precise shooting. Placing the rifle in a Caldwell Stinger shooting rest and shooting five-round groups at 100 yards, the best shooting round was IWI’s M193 55gr FMJ printing an average of 2” groups for four-shot strings.
Not all 55gr FMJ surplus shot quite that well, but surplus M855 and Winchester’s 64gr Super X shot not even ¼” larger groups. Black Hills 77gr OTM actually produced the worst groups, which was a first for me, at 2 ½”.
For those of you who cringe at anything more than Minute of Angle precision, I’ll remind you that is better than what any service rifle, M16A2 or M4-type, I was deployed with achieved. My deployment guns just happened to be Colts, and the standard there was closer to 3 or 4 inches. It was a rare day that I could get to 2 MOA with any of the guns I was issued, even with a telescopic sight.
As it is, a competent shooter with the XM-15 is capable of striking a 19” silhouette reliably up to 600 yards, the same distance the maximum effective range our drill sergeant at Ft. Benning told us our M16A2 service rifle was capable of. Folks, he was being generous to us Privates and those worn-out guns, both.
When it comes to reliably sending lead down range, the Bushmaster performed flawlessly. I lubed the gun with Rem-Oil prior to shooting and passed a bore snake down the barrel. At no point did I lube the gun or disassemble it in any way again until the shooting portion of the review was over.
I shot surplus M193 and M855 from multiple vendors. I shot commercial soft point hunting ammunition from two vendors. I shot 77gr OTM rounds from two different vendors. I used both the supplied 30-round Magpul magazine as well as a standard metal USGI style mag.
At no point did I ever have a failure to load, fire, or eject any round, even with mixed rounds inside the mag. I never had a magazine fail to lock or drop when the magazine release was pushed. The bolt never failed to lock back on an empty magazine, regardless of type or weight or round used. The gun ran perfectly.
It also ran hot as hell. Unusual for me, I spent most of my time shooting this gun in one drill. I have a longer range match coming up where targets will be engaged using almost entirely alternate positions. So I shot standing, kneeling, and off a bipod at a 100-yard target.
I simply shot the entire magazine at the fastest pace that would allow me to consistently strike the 12” circular plate. I’d then go back, reload the magazine, and shoot again. I never loaded more than one magazine at a time, and I did all loading by hand without the use of an assistance device like a magazine loader or Uplula. This went on for 400 rounds, the better part of a cold afternoon.
The handguard got pretty hot, but never too hot to hold. I wasn’t wearing gloves, and if my support hand inched forward, the heat from the barrel and bayonet lug let me know it. I should have been paying closer attention.
I didn’t notice anything was wrong until the next day, when I pulled the gun out for accuracy testing. The front section of the hand guard, where it butts up against the gas block, was melted. Not a lot, but definitely melted. Now, the only way to get the hand guards off is to break them. I didn’t want break them, so they were left on.
Who’s the nerd, or who just stood for their first promotion board? What is maximum sustained rate of semi-automatic fire for your M16 or M4? I hope you said 45 rounds per minute. That’s the rate of fire your rifle should be able to sustain indefinitely. Obviously, as I was loading a single magazine by hand each time, and only shooting 30 rounds of aimed fire each time, I was shooting a lot slower than 45 rounds per minute. I also wasn’t shooting an M16 or an M4.
The hand guards didn’t melt because they’re poor quality. They are fine quality for an A2/A3 rifle. They melted because a thin barrel and a carbine-length gas system heat up quickly, even at that rate of fire. Clearly faster than I was expecting.
I contacted Bushmaster and asked them what a customer should do if this happens. The answer was the right one; contact customer service and Bushmaster will fix it.
Swapping out for new factory hand guards is pretty simple. One can choose to see this as a failure to account for the heat from a carbine-length gas tube and a thin barrel and remind yourself to let up when the hand guard gets warm. Conversely you could see it as an opportunity to justify the replacement of the plastic hand guards and six-position stock with some new wood furniture for a very classy look. I know what I’d do.
So I guess now I have to say it in out loud. Remember this TTAGers. Remington Outdoor Group is getting better and making good guns.
Last year one of the employees in the organization told me they were taking the next couple of years to step back and improve quality on all of their lines, including Remington, Bushmaster, Marlin, and others. I was skeptical. Then I saw the Remington 700 5R, a new Marlin 1984 and the new Remington Model Sevens. And now this. Their rifles are definitely seeing the quality control improvements I was promised.
I’m not sure what’s going on with the $796 MSRP, but it doesn’t look like anybody is selling it for near that. A gun shop near downtown Austin notorious for high prices sells the XM-15 QRC for $672. Other shops within an hour’s drive sell it for $579 and I can quickly find it online for $509. Brownells has it for $539 ($499 without the optic) . For a complete rifle from a reputable company, with mil-spec guts and an optic, complete and ready to shoot out of the box, that’s not bad at all.
The XM15-QRC is a fine rifle for the money. It’s a light weight rifle at 5 lbs, easy to shoot, and next to nothing to carry. The fact that it comes with a workable red dot optic is just gravy.
Bushmaster XM-15 QRC (Quick Response Carbine)
SPECIFICATIONS: Bushmaster XM-15 Quick Reaction Carbine
Type: Rifle: Semi-Auto
Caliber: 5.56 NATO|223 Remington
Finish: Matte Black
Stock: 6-position collapsible stock
Barrel Length: 16-inch Superlite Contour Melonite Coated 1-8 Twist
Overall Length: 35 with Stock Extended
Mags: 1 PMAG
Receiver: Aluminum A3 Upper, Aluminum Lower
Muzzle Device: A-2 Birdcage Flash Hider
Mini Red Dot Optic, Forward Assist, Bayonet Lug
MSRP: $769 (found online easily for $509-$579)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * *
Welcome to MIL-STD, which is ok. But just ok.
Customization * * * *
You can change everything on this gun, but because of the traditional handguard set up it’s not nearly as easy as a full length rail and free-floating hand guard.
Reliability * * * *
It ran 520 round without any trouble firing any round. The front of the handguard melting is an issue, but a minor one.
Accuracy * * *
Good enough for government work, and better than most issue rifles.
Overall * * *
If the hand guard didn’t melt this would be a solid 4-star budget priced AR. But it did, so points off there. Either swap those guards out or ease up on the rate of fire and you’re left with a rifle that’s got a whole lot going for it at a great retail price.