Brownells BRN-180 Rifle
Josh Wayner for TTAG
Brownells BRN-180 Rifle
Josh Wayner for TTAG

I’ve been working with the Brownells BRN-180 in various forms for quite a while now. I remember when it was first introduced at SHOT Show and the first versions seemed to handle pretty nicely. I’ve now had a long time with the platform and these are my results at the 5,000 round mark.

The major element that makes the BRN-180 a wonderful thing is that it allows a folding stock with no fuss or BS solutions like some of the harebrained fixes I’ve seen for the AR-15. You can, of course, use this upper on any standard AR-15 lower receiver, but it makes the most sense to do as I did and get the Brownells lower with a Picatinny interface on what could be called the buffer tube region.

See Jeremy’s full review of the BRN-180 Upper and Lower HERE.

The version I have put hard use on is the older generation BRN-180 model. I don’t have a Gen 2, but I have put lots of rounds down range using both the 16” rifle upper here and the shorty BRN-180S 10.5” variant. I’ve got about 7,000 combined rounds fired between the two uppers and I have yet to have a single failure to feed or fire.

Brownells BRN-180 Rifle
Cloud Defensive lights offer great utility and don’t add much weight. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

That’s a pretty amazing thing when it is almost expected to have AR-15s jam at some point in its service life. I credit this to the way the interior of the receiver is designed. There is lots of space in there allowing the brass plenty of room to exit the receiver. Ejection is healthy, and brass launches at about 2 o’clock.

The longest stretch I went without cleaning the BRN-180 was about 4,000 rounds. Compared to an AR-15, cleaning the BRN-180 is so easy you’ll probably want to make the switch on that merit alone. The guts pull out the back and all you really have to do is wipe the carrier down. It stays very, very clean.

Brownells BRN-180 Rifle
A SIG folding stock is perfect and minimalist enough to not get in the way. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

The gas system is a piston type and it runs along the top end of the barrel. As a rule these systems are generally not as accurate as a direct gas version, and I’ve gotten some varied results depending on the ammo I have used, but more on that later.

Brownells BRN-180 Rifle
Josh Wayner for TTAG

My general impression when I first put hands to the BRN-180 was that it was slightly forward-heavy, but very slender (and even svelte) by comparison to what I was used to with the AR. It’s wasn’t bulky at all and it really demanded some sort of textured panels or a forward grip. When I got to firing it I really saw this to be true as the barrel and gas system are packed in very close to the handguard and it gets extremely hot after only a single magazine on a summer day.

Virtually all the heat buildup occurs where the support hand wants to rest. Because of the density of metal in the handguard, gas system, and barrel, it can retain this heat for a considerable amount of time, which is something to be aware of if you plan on shooting it in a match. Most AR handguards have a wider gap around the barrel, allowing better air circulation.

Brownells BRN-180 Rifle
A reflex sight is the best kind for the BRN-180 (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

Heat buildup is something that is a challenge for this rifle and can rob accuracy quite quickly, although the receiver itself stays clean and cool. This makes reliability exceptional in that the operating parts never get clogged or caked in carbon.

The AR, by comparison, gets hot and dirty all at once and heat bleeds through the entire rifle, which can lead to all sorts of jams, slowed bolt travel, grit in the trigger, and other problems. I’d love to see a BRN-180 handguard for future generations that allows for more airflow.

Brownells BRN-180 Rifle
Josh Wayner for TTAG

Another minor issue with the handguard is that it’s MLOK compatible, but due to how close the gas system is to the upper part, it’s difficult or impossible to mount accessories. Care must also be taken to not use mounting screws that are too long as it’s easy to accidentally tension them against the barrel itself, which is of course not good.

Brownells BRN-180 Rifle
The stock folded (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

For this reason, I strongly recommend a good reflex sight, irons, or something like an ACOG. The accuracy is excellent with 55 and 62 grain loads, with the 62gr Hornady Frontier and Hornady Frontier 5.56mm M193 each producing groups while cool of 1” at 100 meters for five shots.

After the gun heats up, those groups open up to about 3”, but overall there is no zero shift. Even while literally smoking hot, the rifle is able to keep those 3” groups. Making hits at carbine ranges is not difficult, even on silhouettes out to 400 meters. I never really got great accuracy with 77gr loads in the 16” length, so I stick to 62gr as a rule.

Brownells BRN-180 Rifle
Disassembly is easy and there are only a few moving parts. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

I don’t want to sound overly critical. These issues aren’t that big a deal, just something to be aware of. Reliability and accuracy are perfectly fine here and are well within and even better than the specs for any rugged-use carbine.

The reliability and soft-shooting action are worth it and the rifle cycles like a nice sewing machine. The action is slick and easy to rack, and recoil is about half that of a standard AR-15. With a muzzle brake installed there is almost no felt recoil into the shoulder.

Brownells BRN-180 Rifle
Josh Wayner for TTAG

My time with the BRN-180 isn’t over and I’m happy to have it as a general-use item in my work rotation. You’ll be seeing more of it as time goes on here, so keep an eye out. In the mean time, go and see the new variations at Brownells. Like so many guns now, they’re hot sellers so you’ll want to jump on it when it’s in stock.

As an AR alternative, the BRN-180 rocks. As a standalone rifle, it rocks even harder. If you want something reliable and rugged, look no further.

 

44 COMMENTS

  1. Well that’s nice. As for reliable and rugged I have AK’s for that, something with almost the power of a 30-30, the cartridge that the old timers killed moose and bears with.

      • that depends on the ammo, sir. as an ffl 07, sot 02, one of my many offerings is my high performance match accuracy ammo line. my 7.62 x 39 125 grain Hornady xtp projectile ammo chronies at over 2600 fps, and has destroyed many a deer in the 250-325 yard range leaving exit holes in excess of 4“. I do not make a 30-30 cartridge, but I have used just about all the main “premium” factory loads, and none have come close to the extensive damage done to a 200lb on the hoof animal that my 7.62 x 39 does. trajectory, velocity, down range impact energy delivery into the animal, and accuracy of any 30-30 round I have used pales very much in every area of comparison.

        I do not doubt that cheap mass produced 7.62 x 39 is comparable to mass produced 30-30 performance, but you cannot make such a broad statement about such a topic with limited knowledge (present it as fact) and assume you are 100% correct. data and comparative kill results on deer size game trumps rumor and opinion.

        apologies for disagreeing with you. it is not personal, I just wanted to interject data into an opinion statement.

        • “…one of my many offerings is my high performance match accuracy ammo line….”

          Ok, what and where so I can add to my mega list of ‘gun stuff’ I keep on hand.
          Not sure I’m allowed to ask…?

          Dan Z. will be along to correct me if I’m out of line.

      • I said “almost” no matter how you cut it a .223 is still a varmint cartridge. And I’ve shot deer with a .223 too, as with everything sometimes you have to do a little tracking, but my drt’s have been less with .223.

        • CR:

          No. Show me

          Only experience I have is with 5.56 NATO and tracers, among bigger calibers, but I’m all for learning “smaller” rounds too 😉

        • Its always about killing somebody ain’t it. And we wonder why the gunm control groups want gunm control. Let’s bring back the fun of shooting and hunting instead of my gunm kills people better then your gunm. Oh and I guess I’m a Fudd now.

        • In all fairness, the AR-18 was originally designed to kill people. The semi-automatic variant, the AR-180, was used to great effectiveness by the Provisional IRA during The Troubles. But lots of weapons that were originally designed to kill people can also be used for punching paper or taking game, including this rifle.

          Ironically enough, the AR-18 was designed to be a low cost alternative to the AR-15. I don’t think this particular rifle stands out as a low cost alternative, given that the upper receiver alone is almost a grand.

        • @IdahoBoy

          At the time, the original AR-18 was made to compete with Stoner’s/Sullivan’s earlier AR-15 design, which they had sold the patent to Colt. Stamped and welded steel was far more economical back then vs. forged & machined aluminum.

          Now, materially, there probably isn’t much of a different in base component or machine-time costs between the two, but AR15s wind up so much more cheaper now due to economics of scale: the sheer volumes and competition within the market keep the prices much lower than a one-off clone of the AR18 (which, don’t get me wrong, is wicked cool).

          Maybe if/when more companies start offering a re-born AR-18 in one shape or another, we’ll start to see their pricing hit parity of the flooded AR15 market.

        • It’s not about cost with the 180s. It’s about application. No buffer needed. Cleaner, and more efficient. Also, easier and simpler “BCG”. It’s been redesigned for those reasons, not cost. Also, when they were released, they were not a grand, they were roughly the same price as a “quality” PSA upper… and better. $700-1,000 for an upper is medium. Especially now… that might actually be low cost now lol. I haven’t looked in a while or cared to. But BCM uppers are the same cost and they are widely known for their quality. You either pay that mid range or high range price for quality, or you get PSA and off brand junk that is not MPT, gassey as fuck, improperly drilled and falls apart. Check out “gun thots”. They are one of the few people who actually put those low budget AR’s to the test on YT and highly underrated. I have seen many people bring their low budget builds and expect the same grouping as better builds, or they just don’t care because it hits the target eventually anyways. Most those same people cannot move and shot to save their life, so no wonder they buy low end crap. Sadly, they also have no intention of improving either their skills, or their gear.

          Also, before I get too far off track, something those low end uppers do not offer are adjustable gas blocks, not to mention in .223 wylde (you won’t find one under $700 – even a crappy PSA). Especially in 10.5″.

  2. Interesting…but when you say “half the recoil of an AR15” my eyes glaze over. Who besides Gersh Kuntzman thinks AR recoil is a big deal? I was shocked when I first shot my rifle a few years ago. And I’m old & beat up. I do follow Brownells a bit & this variant does look OK.

    • Recoil is a funny thing isn’t it, off the bench the .300 Whthrby kicks like hell, but when I shoot a deer or elk with it I don’t even notice.

        • Not necessarily. On the bench your body is not setup to absorb or prepare for the recoil as much. I guess it depends on the position used to take the elk too. I personally don’t enjoy shooting from a bench or seated position for that reason though.

  3. That big fancy article and no mention of how you handled the rear sling attachment…

    That’s my only complaint with my BRN – sling mount at the rear of the rifle sucks.

  4. Nice update, thank you. Love my 180s in 300. I will shoot it a lot more if/when ammo prices go down. Otherwise I’ll be getting into hand loading. Thinking about the 16 upper next. Did you paint the grips and mag yourself? What the heck color is that? I like it

  5. “There is lots of space in there allowing the brass plenty of room to exit the receiver. “

    Omg. Mr. passive voice on steroids.

    A lot of space exists to allow…the brass to exit the receive.

    Or.

    The brass has plenty of room to exit the receiver.

  6. The one I covet most. This was great information. I plan on buying the S version 10.5″ and I am glad I waited because they released a Gen 2 somewhat recently. I wasn’t quick enough on the initial release for the 10.5″ version. They still had some 14.5’s, if I remember correctly, but I really wanted that 10.5 incher (that’s what she said) so I held out. I hope they are still producing them and I’d love to see a comparison between Gen 1 & 2, since I assume there were improvements made on the Gen 2 versions. If Gen 1’s are holding up great then I wonder what there is to improve? Always something I guess. Given the state of things though, I have held off on buying any new toys and focused on the ammo I can find locally. Early 2020 I knew what was coming so I bought a couple thousand rounds online (yes, at those prices smh). The only new toy I acquired was a P365XL because I wanted somethin easier to conceal than my P320, but if Brownells had supply of their 180S I’d most likely pull that trigger and not miss it again. Other than that though, not even looking for local stuff anymore. Sucks really. But great article and nice to see something I am so interested in making the rounds here. This would be my 3rd (and final?) .223 wylde upper.

  7. I notice there was no mention of price. I skipped past the BRN-180 on their website a few months ago when I saw the cost. Too much for my budget.

  8. I have the 300 blk 10inch gen 2. Love it. However, I’m having som trouble with last round hold. Might be the cheap plastic lower and parts kit.

    I have the retro lower backordered. SINCE JULY2020! That’s the kit to have I hear. The 180M has some negative reviews.

    Wish ammo wasn’t over a buck around. Heavy Sigh.

  9. Got a Grey Ghost Precision lower for my son for Christmas. He’s the one pictured in my avatar. He’s a 25 yo mechatronics engineer, traveling the world and doing quite well for himself. Why a $200 lower? It was the only one in stock, unless I wanted an 80% polymer piece of crap.
    Anyways, he was not aware that the lower was the serialized part and that he could order everything else to build the pistol until I told him. Since he travels so much for his job, currently stationed in Canada, he has been shipping parts to my home. After the lower parts kit, including a Gissele trigger, a 10.5″ barreled BRN 180S in 223 Wylde showed up on the door step.
    Can’t wait til he comes home to build this thing. As my CMMG upper is at the manufacturer for a handguard issue, I have been so tempted to drop that Brownell on my lower and go zero his optic for him, but alas, those insane laws since I have a fixed stock and a shoulder thing that goes up.

    • So… your son builds actual Transformers. lol. If he has the equipment, the internet is full of CAD files ripe for the taking. He can build a better lower than most stores are even carrying right now lol.

  10. I’m sure it runs well, but I still question why it exists. The only reason for anything but an AR type direct impingement platform with its common, easy-to-find replacement parts or an AK with its parts that don’t break in the first place is a retro range toy. Armalite had the right idea, mostly, with the AR-180B back around 2004, though it could have done without the polymer receiver, and a threaded barrel with an appropriate muzzle device, like the Colt 601 style pronged flash suppressor so many early Armalite rifles had, would have been a nice touch. A 1:7″ barrel would have been preferable to the 1:9″ Armalite put on it, and nitride or chrome lining for the bore and chamber would have cost little and helped reliability and eased cleaning enormously. The AR-180B needed a better, more rugged lower receiver, like maybe the stamped sheet metal original, or the aluminum drop-in replacement from Nodak Spud, and a folding stock like the original. What it did not need was OMG TACTI-KEWL RAILZ RAILZ RAILZ RAILZ everywhere, like everything else on the market for the past fifteen years. It’s a retro Cold War design. Let it be a retro Cold War rifle.

    As I said, I’m sure it works, but aesthetically it does nothing for me, and in practical terms, for an SHTF rifle, it seems to have neither the widespread spare parts availability of bog standard AR type rifles nor the indestructible anvil ruggedness of the AK. It’s not a serious rifle for hard use. It’s not a faithful emulation of the 50 year old retro Cold War original design either. It’s neither fish nor fowl, so why does it exist and what’s the point?

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