SHOT Show: Hands On With The Brownells BRN-180

I must admit that I was very happy to be present when the new Brownells BRN-180 was introduced yesterday. There isn’t much out there as far as info, but luckily, you have your friend Josh to tell you all about it.

Author’s Note: The BRN-180 is sold as an upper receiver only. My observations here describe how it feels on various lowers with different types of stocks. My originally published article erroneously described the BRN-180 as a complete rifle or series of rifles. The new Retro line rifle is a complete gun. This article was lightly edited to reflect this to avoid confusion. 

As far as my initial impressions go, I’m quite taken with the concept. The first and most critical thing to me was the weight distribution and general handling characteristics of the BRN-180. Despite the fact that it was tethered to the wall, I was able to manipulate it easily and all variants present shouldered nicely.

The most obvious visual difference over an AR-15 is that it has a dramatic, upwards-facing side charging handle. While it may appear a bit clumsy and narrow, it’s just the opposite. The charging handle is extremely easy to use and the bolt is slick as an anthropomorphic Krag action that sells used cars.

Many companies have delivered on the self-contained upper receiver concept, but virtually all the ones I’ve seen and handled are overbuilt and heavy as a result. The BRN-180 is very svelte and handy. The lower mass of the internal moving parts aid in keeping the overall weight down.

The BRN-180 should be available soon. The upper receiver is able to fit on a standard AR-15 lower, which is a great capability. The self-contained action parts and bolt allow the use of folding stock mechanisms, which is a huge plus. The receiver features twin guide rods, a polymer dust cover, is chambered in .223 Wylde, and has a 1:8″ twist.

My first impressions of this upper are overwhelmingly positive. As far as this reporter can tell, Brownells executed this the right way. At the time of this writing, I am working on receiving either an upper for evaluation. I will be sure to keep you posted when that happens.


  1. avatar CZ Rider says:

    I hope they offer that hinge for sale separately. It’d be nice to have a quality option outside of the sylvan and law ones that isn’t several hundred dollars.

    1. avatar JD says:

      Quality isn’t cheap. Save another week and get a law tactical..

      1. avatar CZ Rider says:

        Okay, let me go get one that costs 2/3 as much as the firearm it’s going on because it offers a functionality that I will never need on that firearm. Good plan.

    2. avatar Chris Heuss says:

      Black collar Arms (me) is releasing a folding stock for the BRN 180 and Sig rifles this month. The Sig ones are ok but they are a bit expensive and have no cheek piece adjustment. They mount to pic rail such as on the Sig rifles, BRN 180 and Black Collar Arms Pork Sword

  2. avatar Michael says:

    AR 180 was my first semi-auto rifle. I’m gonna try one of these out. Wish they’d make the dedicated scope w/push button release. Brownell’s making a Colt scope, maybe they’ll double down for the Armalite. -30-

  3. avatar Jeremy D. says:

    I’m not sure I understand what this is…is it an AR upper that doesn’t need a buffer?

    1. avatar SkorpionFan says:

      Jeremy, I guess Josh should have mentioned this is retro tribute (updated copy) of the ArmaLite AR-180 (semi-auto AR-18), which uses a short-stroke gas piston above the barrel. The bolt carrier rides on two metal guide rods (each with its own return spring) inside the receiver. No buffer tube in the stock.

      Google the AR-18 for more info. The AR-18 system has been widely copied/adapted in various military 5.56mm assault rifles.

      1. avatar Jeremy D. says:

        Sounds neat for the less-free states. Thanks for the info!

        1. avatar Jeremy D. says:

          Figured out where I know the AR-18 from…the original Terminator movie

  4. avatar Mark N. says:

    That upper retails for $799.

    1. avatar Nanashi says:

      So at most 730 if you wait for the 10% off they do every few months.

    2. avatar doesky2 says:

      Left side charging (non-reciprocating) T91 piston upper = $450

      1. avatar Evey259 says:

        T91 still requires a buffer tube. This is a completely self contained system where the lower mainly just accepts the mags and houses the fire control group. You can put a folding stock on it and fire with the stock folded.

    3. avatar raptor jesus says:

      That’s gonna be a no from me dog.

  5. avatar CHS says:

    This. THIS is how you do a gas-piston based AR15 properly.

  6. avatar Mike H in WA says:

    Does it use AR15 barrels? Or are they proprietary to the BRN-180?

  7. avatar Greg says:

    Many a Brit got sent to hell due to the Widowmaker. As the AR180 was known as.

    Free Ireland!


    1. avatar Surculus says:

      Many an Irishman got killed by other Irishmen due to the Troubles. Gangster terrorists under camoflage veil of “reunification.” Eire was beautiful, but the last time I was there you had to bring your own condoms, ’cause they couldn’t be sold there. And you wonder why N. Ireland didn’t want to be forcibly reunited?

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