Now get this straight: I can’t say all 15 cataloged versions of the fo M-15 will perform like the one I tested for this review. Nor that you can duplicate the marble-sized groups this one consistently drilled. But you can’t shop ARs without a close look at this one!
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Appropriately called the “Varmint Hunter,” Armalite’s M-15A4TBN in 5.56mm NATO wears a heavy, 20-inch, 416R stainless barrel, triple-lapped and finished bright. It measures 0.875 inches in diameter at the gas block, the forward end of the rifle’s direct-impingement gas system. Both the upper and lower receivers are forged from 7075-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum. The fire control group is standard AR.
I hung a Timney trigger gauge on the two-stage trigger the company hawks as match-quality. The peg reached 3.3 pounds during take-up, 4.8 pounds to break. The initial pull is about a pound heavier than Armalite specifies, but the break is spot on. The trigger moves smoothly through its travel. The magazine latch, safety and forward assist are dutifully compliant. The same goes for the takedown pin. A lightly textured rubber grip (an upgrade) sure beats the plastic on early M16s. Though my finger still falls farther into the triggerguard than I prefer, there’s no sense bellyaching about dimensions hard-wired by designers in the 1950s.
I upgraded my test M-15 with what I consider one of the best stocks money can buy. It’s a Magpul PRS (Precision Rifle/Sniper), which is quite streamlined but with deeply furrowed thumbwheels to move the grooved polymer buttpad in and out, and the generous cheekpiece up and down. Both wheels have positive detents, so they hold without creeping, and you can reset them quickly. The length of pull can be adjusted from 13.25 to 14.25 inches. This stock (another upgrade) will increase the rifle’s listed weight of 8.8 pounds unloaded.
The forend, made of smooth alloy, has a matte black finish. Two longitudinal vents on top extend nearly its full length to aid in cooling. Vents on sides and bottom were, thoughtfully, cut only on the front half, providing for a comfortable grip behind them. Picatinny rails at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock up front hold what we used to carry on belts. The rail atop the gas block is 0.293 inches lower than that on the upper, with its 5 inches of usable slots. No sights are furnished. I fitted a 2-8x32mm scope in low QD rings. As the stock’s comb has plenty of adjustment, I could have used higher rings, though I prefer to keep the sightline as close as practical to the bore line.
The fit and finish on this M-15 are excellent. But enough about its features. How does it shoot?
The bullets I chose for testing ranged in weight from 40 to 75 grains and included hollow points, polymer-tipped and full-metal-jacket (FMJ) designs. The M-15A4TBN’s 1-in-8-inch rifling twist rate is my preference for all-around shooting, as it can yield solid accuracy with bullets weighing up to 69 grains without spraying lighter missiles.
Armalite claims 1-MOA precision from its Varmint Hunter variants. With that in mind, I settled the M-15A4TBN rifle over a Caldwell shooting bag, adjusted the optic’s eyepiece and fired a group to zero at 35 yards. A few shots later, I’d walked the shots to the point of aim and drilled my first cluster at 100 yards.
Intending to fire just one 3-shot group with each load during preliminaries, I soon saw the rifle wanted to shoot. Allowing myself three “do-overs” for poor trigger control, I measured the first nine groups. The biggest group miked an even inch! The average for all nine loads: 0.73 inches! The best results came in the middle of the weight range, with Fiocchi’s 50-grain V-MAX load taking top honors with a 0.3-inch triangle. Federal’s 69-grain BTHP Match ammo nipped a 0.5-inch group, with 62-grain TSX bullets from Black Hills close at 0.6 inches. I wasn’t surprised to see the three Hornady loads average a tight 0.8 inches—but I hadn’t expected both the 40-grain V-MAX and 75-grain BTHP loads to deliver prairie-dog-decapitating accuracy. They printed 0.7- and 0.9-inch groups, respectively. If the .223 Remington is a deer cartridge, it’s well matched with Winchester’s 64-grain Power-Point, one of my favorite soft-point rounds for whitetails. Not designed for one-hole shooting, the Power-Point still met Armalite’s 1-MOA standard.
The rifle functioned perfectly with all of the test loads save one, the bolt stripping cartridges smoothly from the 10-shot box. The holdout: Hornady’s 40-grain V-MAX ammo. These rounds fed and ejected singly, but evidently didn’t bring quite enough gas pressure forward to retract the bolt and carrier far enough for sure stripping of the next cartridge. It’s a curable ill. All other loads cycled without a hitch. Empties landed in a small place, indicating consistent bolt movement and extractor/ejector action.
Armalite’s M-15A4TBN shoots tighter than I can hold with every .223 Remington load I’ve tried to date. It shows attention to fit and finish lacking on many bolt guns. The stiff barrel and adjustable stock make it easy to hold, as well as easy to fire accurately. Besides, if you’re going to own ARs, shouldn’t at least one of them be an ArmaLite?
For more information, visit armalite.com or call 800-336-0184.