Ruger has had a few lines of AR pattern rifles out for years now. Five years ago they released their budget minded series, the AR-556. Now Ruger’s entered the braced AR pistol market with a similar budget-minded offering, the Ruger AR-556 pistol with SB Tactical’s SBA3 brace.
This is, obviously, not a MIL-STD AR. I don’t know of any AR pistol in a unit’s MTOE. Beyond that, the guts of the Ruger AR-556 pistol are a little different.
Ruger chose the bolt carrier type found on the old Colt SP1. Essentially, the carrier has material removed from under the firing pin leaving it “un-shrouded.” In the picture above, the Colt bolt carrier group is on the left, the darker Ruger BCG on the right.
When used with a notched hammer, which the Ruger pistol also has, this carrier style was billed as a safety feature in the case of a malfunctioning, or perhaps removed trigger disconnector.
In that case, this set-up would catch the firing pin on the notched hammer, interrupting a potential slam fire. I have never actually seen this happen on an unmodified trigger, but in theory, it could.
If you want, you can swap out the BCG entirely. I threw in a Colt BCG in the Ruger pistol without issue. However, you can’t just swap out the firing pins. They’re different.
In the photo above, the smaller-collared Ruger pin is the darker pin on the bottom left, the bright Colt pin is on top. If you’re particularly worried about firing pin breakage (I’m not), buy another pin from Ruger.
The barrel is cold hammer-forged 4140 chome-moly with a five-groove 1:8″ twist rate. The feed ramps are standard M4 type. The bolt is 9310 tool steel.
There’s the infinite debate there, and it’s purely academic, but in terms of quality, I prefer 9310 over Carpenter 158. When properly heat treated, it’s tougher than Carpenter 158, but only by a small margin.
According to Ruger, the bolts are shot peened and pressure tested. The bolt carrier and gas key are both chromed and the gas key itself is well staked in.
The Ruger website states that the BCG has a “matte black oxide finish.” That likely works fine, but it’s not phosphate coated. The receivers themselves are 7075-T6 aluminum forgings and include the classic Type III anodizing. The upper receiver includes the familiar forward assist.
Instead of what has become the almost de facto grip on budget brand name AR’s, this one didn’t come with Magpul furniture. The pistol grip is Ruger branded and I don’t recognize the manufacturer, assuming Ruger isn’t molding the grips themselves.
The nylon grip is firm, without spongy give, and is hollow in the center. There is no floor plate on the grip to use the hollow space as a storage area. That’s disappointing, as I’d definitely store an extra set of earplugs in there, just in case. Firing a 10 1/2″ barreled 5.56 NATO without ear protection means instant and long-lasting damage to your hearing.
The hand guard is M-LOK compatible, and its 9-inch length extends to just short of the muzzle. The pistol doesn’t come with any additional rail pieces, but has slots at the standard 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions.
In front of that muzzle is Ruger’s own flash hider. Although this looks a lot like a traditional M4 birdcage hider, it’s not quite. Those MIL-STD hiders are solid at the bottom, providing a very small amount of a muzzle brake effect (at least that’s the theory). The Ruger brake has slats cut along its full circumference.
If you look closely, you’ll see the pistol uses a carbine-length “direct impingement” gas system, extending almost to the end of the rail. That is much appreciated, as the carbine-length gas system has always seemed easier to get right and more reliable than the pistol-length systems.
I really can’t stand a 10.5″ barrel unless it has a silencer attached to the end of it. There’s just so much noise and flash that any indoor shooting is unpleasant.
Fortunately, the Ruger AR-556 pistol’s barrel is already threaded so you can put a silencer on it to tame the flash and boom. Be careful in your silencer selection. Some silencer companies don’t rate their 5.56 cans for such a short barrel.
The key feature making this gun a pistol is the fancy new SB Tactical SBA3 adjustable brace. I’m not a big fan of pistol braces when used as a stock. Do they work well enough? Maybe, but they’re a poor make-do alternative to a real stock.
That said, the SBA3 adjustable is definitely my favorite of the pistol braces. It’s robust, adjustable, and doesn’t dig into my chest if I shoulder it.
Of course, according to the Ruger manual, when I shoulder the pistol I’m misusing the brace:
This brace is designed and intended to provide the user with additional support for better control of the pistol while firing from a singlehanded shooting position. NOTE: The pistol brace is not intended for use as a shoulder stock. The brace should only be used as outlined in this Manual. (See “Pistol Brace Adjustment & Function” section, p. 27.)
I have a few friends who are missing an arm, hand, or who, because of injury, have diminished use of their hands. The SB Tactical brace is a game-changer for them.
They worked OK until SB Tactical started making them a little more solid and made them adjustable. Now they fit extremely well and don’t wobble on the arm when canted.
Ruger has offered different triggers on its ARs in the past. This one definitely has a mil-spec feel to it. It breaks at about 8 lbs and there’s tons of grit and squishy-ness in it.
Ruger offers their 452 trigger as a drop-in replacement and it, or something like it, would be one of the first things (other than adding a silencer) I’d do to this gun.
The Ruger AR-556 pistol ran perfectly. As usual, I put 500 rounds through the gun for testing. I used the supplied Magpul polymer magazine, several of my own, a Surefire 60-round magazine and several GI style metal magazines.
I shot 55gr FMJ, green tip, 75 and 77gr OTM, as well as my own home-rolled 64gr soft point rounds I use for white tail culling. No round failed to load, fire or eject. No magazine failed to lock in, stay locked in during firing, or fail to easily release. As usual, I did not clean the firearm at all during the entire test cycle.
I spent most of my time with this gun with the Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic mounted to it. Even with a brace instead of a stock, the 5.56 NATO has so little recoil that keeping the 2 MOA dot centered on targets for multiple shots out to 100 yards wasn’t particularly challenging.
That said, it’s closer in where the short-barreled guns really shine. It’s nothing to move the muzzle for fast transitions. In fact, the challenge is stopping the muzzle fully when firing.
Where AR pistols don’t shine is the previously mentioned flash and noise, especially indoors. I have a few SBR’s, but they are all at least 12.5”. It makes a difference.
I assume the reason many folks settle on 10.5” is that this is the length of the original Colt Commando. Those are awesome, handy little guns, but it’s important to remember the originals came with a 4 1/4” “sound modulator” that helped with the blast and noise. Currently, the ATF considers those “sound modulators” in the same category as a traditional suppressor.
Of course, you could go the other way and put an aggressive muzzle brake on the AR-556 pistol. You’d effectively have a firearm that debilitates everything in front as well as to both sides of the muzzle. Success!
On the bench, the AR-556 pistol performs adequately. Mounting a US Optics 10X scope (which looks ridiculous), I shot four 5-round groups at 100 yards, all with the pistol mounted in a Caldwell Stinger Shooting rest.
Several store-bought rounds hovered at the 1.5” mark.The best-shooting round, as always it seems, was IMI’s 77gr Razor Core ammunition, which averaged right at 1.5”. Really, this is still the best stuff I can find on the market.
The worst shooting commercial round was, oddly enough IMI’s 62gr M855, at 2.1”. Everything else I shot averaged somewhere between those two extremes.
There are a lot of great things about AR pistols. First, the brace allows those with limited mobility to enjoy shooting and hunting with an AR. The rest of us get the benefit of a fairly small firearm with tons of capability out to reasonable ranges, all in a small package that’s legal to own without having to jump through the NFA hoops. They’re a win for everyone.
Ruger’s AR-556 pistol is a solid offering with good basic features. The quality SB Tactical Brace means that the gun will fit everyone, but won’t be particularly cheap. The MSRP is $899, but the pistol has a street price of around $750.
Specifications: Ruger AR-556 Pistol with SB Tactical Brace
Stock: None, SBA3 Pistol Stabilizing Brace
Handguard: Free-Float with M-LOK Attachment Slots
Barrel: Length 10.50″ 5 Groove
Finish Type: III Hard Coat Anodized
Weight: 6.2 lb.
Overall Length: 25.30 – 27.90″
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Finish * * *
Standard AR style. Good enough, but nothing to write home about.
Customization * * *
If you want to legally put a stock on it, get permission from our benevolent overlords first. Be mindful of changing BCG parts, as the BCG is not the standard MIL-STD carrier or firing pin.
Reliability * * * * *
Runs like a champ.
Accuracy * * * *
Better than any of the guns the Army ever issued to me, but right on par with commercial offerings in this price range.
Overall * * *
A decent gun at a decent price. The non-standard BCG is both a feature and a bug, so that washes out on the rating.