Reader Matt Magliacane writes: Being a newcomer to the world of Eugene Stoner’s rifle, I wasn’t interested in building my own. My concept of a rifle had always included parkerized steel wrapped in walnut and replete with “character.” But I was looking for a rifle that would be cheaper to shoot than a .30-06 (to relax my wallet), provide excellent accuracy and ergonomics (to work on my technique), and deliver less recoil (to go easy on my bony shoulder) . . .
After years of procrastination, I finally found myself in the market for a space-age rifle, the Barbie doll for guys.
South Texas Arms (STA) is headquartered in Kyle, Texas, just south of Austin. Brandon, the owner, has been building AR pattern rifles for years. His craft grew out of his adaptation of the AR platform for hunting done in Texas Hill Country terrain.
The cornerstone of the brand, much to dismay of our local deer and piggies, are STA’s 6.5 Grendel and 6.8 SPC offerings (The “Pigstick”). He’s built everything from exotic side-charging .308 builds (The STA-LR lineup) to 7mm-08s, .243s, and 10mms. His rifles have been used to fill many a freezer and dispatch a wide range of predators in these here south Texas hills.
I chose one of STA’s more typical Apex HD models built around the 5.56x45mm for home defense or varmint control. But while I could have chosen an off-the-shelf rifle, I wasn’t particularly excited about having to then order a variety of aftermarket parts to equip the rifle to fit my particular needs.
What I wanted was a 16-inch AR-15 in 5.56x45mm, a full-length handguard, mid-length gas system, a fixed stock, crisp trigger, all in a not-too-heavy package.
It had to be something that channels the designated marksman aesthetic, tailored for a good midrange optic and a variety of shooting positions. I wasn’t looking for another home defense solution or a hunting rifle.
I’m not an operator, so strict mil-spec and duty-readiness wasn’t a priority (though that doesn’t keep STA from stopping at mil-spec). I knew what I wanted my rifle to look like and how I wanted it to feel in my hands. I explained the outline in my head and my budget, and Brandon brought it to life.
My STA Apex HD features the STA-15 billet multi-caliber lower receiver with glove-friendly trigger guard and a Cross Machine Tool UPUR-2 billet upper without forward assist. I wanted the slick-side with brass deflector look. I can appreciate the simplicity of the setup, and this non-operator certainly won’t miss the forward assist as he non-operates non-operationally.
The barrel is a Ballistic Advantage 16-inch “Hanson” profile, featuring nitride treatment in and out and a 1:7 twist so I can spin whatever ammo is on sale.
Shrouding almost the entirety of the barrel is a 15″ Guntec USA Ultra-Lightweight M-Lok Handguard. It delivers the modern Dissipator look I like as well as the extended sight radius lent by that classic flavor of AR if I ever go irons-only.
The handguard is free-floating and featherweight. It helped keep the build under budget, and delivers exactly what this lanky-armed shooter needs. A standard A2 flash hider graces the muzzle.
Hanging out back is a Magpul MOE Fixed Rifle stock in black with the MOE+ grip below. I am not big on collapsible stocks, and this A1-length rifle stock fits me just right.
The MOE Fixed Rifle stock is also very modular, featuring QD attachment points, a sling loop, mounting points for a short rail or monopod, and a convenient trapdoor for a cleaning kit/ammo/snacks.
Standard controls grace the lower receiver. A BCM Gunfighter Mod 5 charging handle lets me pseudo-side charge the nitrided bolt carrier group well clear of the scope.
A Velocity Triggers Classic AR Trigger seals the deal on this rifle without murdering the wallet, delivering a crispy clean 3-pound single-stage break and very short reset.
We kept everything black for this build, though STA can send out your rifle for a KG GunKote in any of their available colors for those who fancy it.
I have outfitted my STA Apex HD with a set of Diamondhead USA Polymer backup sights with their Nite Brite phosphorescent treatment. Night mode is activated with a quick shine of your flashlight. An extended session of pew-pewing in a dark room confirms they work as advertised.
The sights are lightweight, sturdy, and pop up positively. I have no concerns about durability. They’re constructed of a high quality polymer rather than recycled dollar store toys. My eyes pick up the sight picture very quickly thanks to the geometry.
Tied to fore and aft is a Wilderness Rhodesian Sling to aid in marksmanship and fast, efficient rifle control. The sling is run through the Magpul MOE Fixed Rifle stock using the built-in loop and attached to the handguard via a Magpul QD M-Lok mount.
This sling allows for very fast supported fire, whether standing, kneeling, or prone, and helps steady the rifle significantly. It’s made from very tough 1.25″ nylon webbing and heavy duty tri-glides. It’s much faster to use and less obtrusive than what you have roped up on your Garand or deer rifle.
A second QD M-Lok mount is on order for the handguard to install closest to the receiver to allow for easier carry a la a tactical sling. At about $35, this sling is a great proposition, and it has found itself right at home on my Apex HD rifle.
Gracing the upper receiver is a Primary Arms 5x Prism Scope nestled in its included mount. This optic features a 5x fixed zoom, red and green illuminated, etched reticle, ample field of view and clarity, sturdy aluminum construction, and, of course, Primary Arms’ ACSS reticle.
Naturally, I went with the black option (FDE also available) to complete the murdered-out look (ca. 2003). Eventually, a Holosun 403c will be installed on the top rail section for sub-25 yard targets.
The Apex HD issues with two Magpul Gen 2 PMAGs (black to match). Initial testing was conducted with IMI Systems 5.56x45mm 55gr M193. I fired 120 rounds on the Apex HD’s maiden outing without a malfunction of any sort.
Zeroing in the Diamondhead USA backup sights for 50 yards was easy work with a few adjustments for elevation only.
On my second outing, I sighted in the newly-arrived PA 5x Prism Scope for 100 yards. With a +1-inch zero at 100 yards, the ACSS reticle provides set holdovers out to 800 yards in increments of 100 (with wind holds too). A ranging reticle flanks the right of the main reticle for quick estimation of man-sized targets.
Doing my part, I was able to squeeze out a few five shot groups and graced the all-important 1 MOA mark with American Eagle 50gt. Varmint hollow-points.
Future testing will include heavier 60gr and 77gr OTMs to wring out the best of the 1:7 Ballistic Advantage barrel. Some more M193 was run through the rifle, producing groups in the 1.5-2″ range. Initial testing has left me quite satisfied, and I know I have plenty of work to do in the technique and skill department before I can live up to this rifle.
STA treats the BCG, charging handle, and lube points with a graphite mixture for initial break-in. I would caution you against wearing a white shirt on your first range session, but you can expect a buttery smooth action after you’re done.
I’m glad to have finally jumped on the AR-15 wagon via STA. With the endless options in AR-15s, I was able to purchase the right rifle the first time without buyer’s remorse or swapping out half the manufacturer’s equipment. Everything I need and nothing I don’t.
Caliber: 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington
Action: Direct impingement, mid-length
Capacity: Comes with 2 30-round Magpul PMAGs
Barrel: 16″ Ballistic Advantage, Hanson profile, nitride, button rifled with 1:7 twist; A2 flash hider
Receiver: STA-15 billet lower, Cross Machine Tool UPUR-2 No Forward Assist
Stock: Magpul MOE Rifle, black
Sights: Diamondhead USA backup with Nite Brite
Overall Length: 35″
Weight: 6.9 lbs unloaded
MSRP: Starting at $1,300.00
Ratings (out of five stars):
Ergonomics: * * * * *
The adaptability and ergonomics of the AR-15 are legendary and need no explanation. This rifle was built for my weird, lanky build. The stock and long handguard, while not everyone’s cup of tea, fit me like a glove. The lack of overall heft makes for a very maneuverable rifle that’s comfortable to shoulder and shoot off-hand with the Rhodesian Sling.
Fit & Finish: * * * *
The rifle came out exactly as I envisioned it. Aesthetics are spot on. Machining on the STA-15 lower is excellent and free of errant marks. It’s clear that STA takes care in assembly of components. Some may prefer a tighter fit between upper and lower (a result of my choice of upper), but this hasn’t affected precision.
Reliability: * * * * *
Nary a malfunction to date. The beauty of dealing with a local builder like STA is that, should an issue arise, they’ll step up and resolve the issue and make it right.
Accuracy: * * * * *
Great out-of-the-box accuracy thus far, and I haven’t even begun to find its favorite load. Expect 1.5-2MOA with standard M193 ball, better with quality .223 factory ammo. For those who lust for still more, STA will outfit your rig to your heart’s desire, including Proof Research tack-driving barrels.
Value: * * * *
For someone without the means, experience, or confidence to build an AR-15 from the ground up, STA offers a great value proposition. You can certainly save with an off-the-rack rifle from a major manufacturer and customize as you go. But there’s value in buying the right rifle the first time.
Customization: * * * * *
With STA, your rifle is just that: yours. STA starts with their STA-15 lower. You can go just about any direction from there. You can spec out your rifle just the way you like.
Overall Rating: * * * * *
If you are looking for a made-to-order AR-15 or AR-10 (especially if you’re in the San Antonio/Austin area), an STA rifle is a no-brainer.