Whenever I review an AR-15 over $1k, readers complain. “My PSA costs half that and it’s just as good.” So TTAG reached out to Palmetto State Armory for one of their lower priced model. After putting the Palmetto State Armory Freedom 16″ Carbine through my standard tests, I’m here to report . . .
It’s no Wilson Combat.
It is, however, a completely adequate rifle for what most people want an AR-15 for. And it’s a lot closer to what Uncle Sugar issues than many higher end AR owners would like to admit.
The Palmetto State Armory Freedom 16″ AR-15 Carbine’s guts couldn’t be more MIL-STD.
The rifle’s upper and lower are forged 7075-T6 A3 and hard anodized. I pulled it apart and gave the BCG a good look and some time under the pin-gauges and calipers.
You’re getting a shot peened Carpenter 158 bolt. The gas key is hardened, lined and properly staked. The carrier is 8620, chrome lined and phosphate coated. Everything falls within tolerances. If you want a Mil-Spec bolt carrier group, this is exactly it.
And that’s ok. But just ok.
Adhering to the specified Military Standard gives you a good enough product and a completely known quantity. And not a bad one either. It’s just not a great one.
For example, the Palmetto State Armory Freedom 16″ AR-15 Carbine’s phosphate coating is durable, but rough. Over time, it tends to catch tiny debris and it’s little harsher on the surrounding aluminum receiver.
Phosphate coating isn’t the best finish for durability and reliability but it ‘s good enough for the vast amount of people. Owners who will likely never put more than 6K rounds through their rifle.
The same could be said for the chrome moly steel barrel. It’s going to outlast most of the people who will buy it. Just clean your rifle before you put it away and everything will be fine.
The fast 1:7 twist is appreciated on the military profile tube, and with the barrel and hand guards as they are, of course it’s a carbine-length gas system.
The Palmetto rifle’s trigger is true to the Military Standard as well. A standard that varies in performance. This one falls in the middle.
The single stage trigger breaks at an average of 6 lbs. 10oz with three to five ounces of play on either side. There’s some slop, grit, starts and stops in the pull, and the reset is squishy.
In short, the trigger is truly Mil-Spec; unfortunately reminiscent of the guns I was issued on Sand Hill in Fort Benning, so so long ago.
Just like with my issued guns, I could shoot the Palmetto State Armory Freedom 16″ AR-15 Carbine faster and more accurately when I put my whole finger through the trigger well, and instead of using the “power crease” near the tip of my finger, used the meat of my finger closest to my palm.
We always called that “gorilla gripping” the trigger. For fast shooting with poor semi-auto triggers, it’s the best method I’ve found to date.
Want to mount a light? IR laser? Forward grip? Too bad. This model includes round hand guard halves held together by the annoying-to-disassemble ring on the front of the receiver.
This set up was always billed as “tool-less” to remove the hand guard. That was true — as long as you were born with at least three hands. You young’uns likely have no idea what I am talking about. Be grateful.
The Palmetto State Armory Freedom 16″ AR-15 Carbine’s hand guards wobble a bit in my grip — exactly the same as the original M16A2s. They’re also slick, which doesn’t do you any favors when your hands get sweaty and the gun gets hot.
Other than being wobbly and a PITA to disassemble, the set-up means there is no Key Mod, no MLock and no easy way to reliably attach accessories to the gun. You’ll need to shoot in daylight or have a friend with a flashlight. Or two if you are running iron sights.
Speaking of sights, you get one with the Palmetto State Armory Freedom 16″ AR-15 Carbine. That’s the standard front sight/gas block base. There is no rear sight, but you can mount a rear iron sight or an optic on the flat top rail.
The Palmetto State Armory Freedom 16″ AR-15 Carbine’s stock is the same horrible standard stock on so many rifles, including the currently issued M4. Some are worse than others, and this one is actually better than some of the ones I’ve seen issued to our troops.
There’s some slop and wobble to it. Those of you with beards, beware. A tax was paid by the strands of my glorious face mane. Again, this is pretty standard with this stock, and this stock has become sadly standard.
Out on the range, I put 500 rounds through the gun. I used GI style steel magazine, Surefire 60 round magazines, and the ubiquitous 30 round PMag.
I never had any issues loading, firing, or ejecting . I shot 55gr M193 and 62gr M855, both from IMI. I also ran some 69gr Winchester SMK’s. I lubed the gun with Rogue American Apparel’s Gun Oil prior to shooting and never performed any maintenance or lubrication on the gun again.
The length and weight of the Palmetto State Armory Freedom 16″ AR-15 Carbine make it easy to shoot. At over seven pounds loaded it turns fast, shoots fast, and returns to the target quickly.
I performed a series of rifle drills and transitions with the Freedom Rifle. It felt familiar and everything was right where I expected it to be. The slightly wobbly and difficult hand guard may be a pain in so many ways, but it’s wide and easy for me to hold, as long as it’s dry.
Reloads are quick and sure, even without ambidextrous anything or any kind of special magazine well. It’s a simple, easy-to-use rifle. Anyone can shoot this gun well enough.
Precision was . . . acceptable.
I shot my best five round group shot using IMI 55gr FMJ: 1.4″ at 100 yards. The average for four five-round groups was 1.7″. The worst group was IMI’s 62gr M855, printing a whopping 2.5″ group. Again, the average told a different tale, at 1.9″.
The best shooting round through the gun, on average, was the Winchester 69gr SMK, printing an average 1.5″ group at 100 yards for four five-round strings. I used the Atibal Nomad 3-12X44 scope turned to 11 for all of the accuracy testing.
All in all, there’s a lot I don’t like about this gun.
It very much reminds of me of the first time I ever shot an AR pattern rifle: my issued M16 in basic training. I was used to shooting old, exceptionally well maintained hunting rifles in .30-30Win or larger. My “assault rifle” seemed like a wobbly plastic toy compared to those guns.
And that’s what the PSA Freedom 16″ feels like as well. But read between all of that and you’ll see the value of the gun, and why a gun much like this was the mainstay of the US military for years.
It works, and it works pretty darn well.
It’s easy to control, maneuver and shoot. It’s perfectly reliable and it shoots groups tight enough to put rounds onto a human-sized target out to the reasonable maximum of the ballistic capability of its round.
In short, the Palmetto State Armory Freedom 16″ AR-15 Carbine does exactly what a service rifle is supposed to do. Even better, it does what it’s supposed to do at a price most folks can afford.
This model is current sold out on the PSA website, as well as any dealers that I can find. The last price I can find online at a major dealer was $549.
PSA did not respond to my emails for an update on price or availability. I also waited for more than 10 minutes on hold with their phone system before giving up, twice. A sales representative that spoke with Jeremy S. said that the rifle should be about $450 when on sale. Is it worth it? Yes. Yes it is.
Specifications: Palmetto State Armory Freedom 16″ AR-15 Carbine
Caliber: 5.56 NATO
Barrel Length: 16 inches
Barrel Profile: M4
Barrel Steel: Chrome Moly
Barrel Finish: Nitride
Chrome Lining: No
Muzzle Thread Pattern: 1/2″ x 28
Twist Rate: 1 in 7″
Barrel Extension: M4
Gas System Length: Carbine
Diameter at Gas Block: .750″
Gas Block Type: F-marked FSB
Muzzle Device: A2 -style
Receiver Material: Forged 7075-T6
Receiver Type: M4
Handguard Type: M4 with heat shields
Bolt Material: Carpenter 150 Steel
Bolt Carrier Profile: Full Auto
Fire Control Group: Std finish
Buffer Tube Length: Carbine
Buffer Tube Diameter: Mil-spec
Overall Length: 32 inches
Weight (as configured): 6.8 lbs
PRICE: $549 (last price found online, may not be current MSRP)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Finish * *
This is the standard finish, done well enough. The new FN M4s redefine what that standard is, and they set a high bar. The PSA Freedom 16 doesn’t quite reach the fit and finish of the new issued FN M4 service rifles, but they do a fine job meeting the actual Mil-Spec.
Customization * * * *
It’s an AR, and you can change just about everything on it. And you might, eventually. One star removed for nothing ambidextrous, which I hate anyway, and the old school rails making it very difficult to attach a light, or anything else.
Reliability * * * * *
Where it matters the most, the PSA’s got it. Zero issues across a variety of ammunition.
Accuracy * * *
Along with the basic gun, you get a basic level of precision. With a high magnification, you should expect 1.5 to 2″ five round groups. Iron sights will shoot as good as your eyes will let them.
Overall * * *
If you are looking for a basic AR15, this a good one, at a very reasonable price. Understand the limitations of a round hand guard, and don’t expect sub MOA groups from this inexpensive (but not cheap) rifle and you’ll be pleased. I was.