Tag Archives: Fun Firearm Friday

Fun Firearms Friday — First Look: Ruger® AR-556® MPR


We’re finishing up “M” Week at the blog. Monday was Mosin. Wednesday we ran with Marlin. Today’s “M” is for Ruger’s MPR version of their AR-556.

I finally gave in to the AR-style rifle bug. But give in I did, after a lot of research. I had no desire to ever travel this road again, and I didn’t want to make a mistake, so I studied for months. Along the way I discovered a lot of information that directed me towards today’s subject — the Ruger AR-556 MPR (Multi-Purpose Rifle).

What were the other contenders, and how did I finally arrive at the AR-556 MPR? Let’s explore that for a moment, bearing in mind that my choices won’t necessarily align with your choices.

I’ll start with a brief look at the original AR-15 designed around the .223 Remington round. The .223 Remington was developed for the commercial varmint rifle market back in 1957, and by 1963 the first rifles chambered for this round became available. Eugene Stoner got involved when Remington invited him to scale down his existing ArmaLite AR-10 to handle the .223. The result was the ArmaLite AR-15, which like the AR-10 uses a unique direct gas impingement design (okay, not technically correct, but “direct impingement” is the popular name for it) that directed gas directly into the bolt carrier to cycle the weapon. Mr. Stoner set the barrel length at 20 inches/50.8 cm to make full use of the propellant in the .223 Remington, as barrels shorter than that length resulted in incomplete ignition of the propellant before the bullet exited the muzzle. That 20 inches also allowed for an optimal “rifle length” gas system, which would reduce recoil, thus lessening the stress on the bolt and buffer, and introduce less gas-fouling into the bolt carrier. Keep that in mind, as shorter barrels result in a shorter gas system, more recoil, faster bolt speeds causing more stress, and hotter gases getting introduced into the bolt carrier.

About this time the U.S. Air Force were looking for an alternative to their M1 and M2 carbines, and the Army were considering something easier to handle in full-automatic than their M14. This led Colt to purchase the rights for Mr. Stoner’s AR-15 from ArmaLite (contrary to myth the “AR” in “AR-15” stands for ” ArmaLite Rifle, not “Assault Rifle”). Colt then further developed the now “Colt” AR-15 into the M-16 chambered for the M193 cartridge. The M193 (not to be confused with the later similar NATO 5.56 mm round developed by FN in the 1970s) is basically a 55-grain/3.56 gram version of the .223 Remington. After some trial and error, Colt settled on 6-groove rifling with a 1:12/ 1:30.48 cm right-hand twist optimized for the lightweight 55-grain round.

Yeah . . . just  try to find a rifle-length gas system on an AR-style rifle today. There are some out there, but you’ll pay for it. The rage today is to go tacti-cool and get the barrel length down to the legal non-NFA minimum of 16 inches/40.6 cm barrel. That’s because the military’s current M4 version has a ridiculously short 14.5-inch/36.8 cm barrel and, hey, everybody wants that military look regardless of how the rifle performs in most civilian applications. (Again, don’t take offense; I’m describing my preferences here, not necessarily your preferences.)

Ruger AR-556 MPR comes in one 30-round magazine

But remember what you give up for the modern Battle-of-Fallujah look — that rifle-length gas system goes by the wayside. That gets you incomplete burning of propellant; which in turn results in a reduction in muzzle velocity and energy; increased muzzle flash from the still-burning propellant blasting out the muzzle; increased bolt speed with the additional wear-and-tear that entails; and more fouling in the receiver from hotter, unburnt gases. Sorry, but I’m just not seeing any real advantages here for civilian applications. It’s not as if I’ll be using a shortened AR-style rifle with a carbine-length gas system in an urban warfare environment, or even to protect the homestead. In an AR-style rifle I’d rather have the longer range, lower recoil, and all the other advantages that a full-length gas system affords.

Again, that’s my choice meeting my needs. When you go shopping for an AR-style rifle, you need to evaluate what works best for you. And if you like what I’m about to describe on the MPR version of Ruger’s AR-556 but want a shorter barrel, you’re in luck. Ruger also makes the MPR in a 16.1-inch version (Model 8542). You can also get the MPR chambered for .350 Legend (Model 8532) and .450 Bushmaster (Model 8522). Unfortunately, if you want .300 AAC Blackout, you must go with Ruger’s standard AR-556 (Model 8530) or get the “pistol” version (Model 8572) with an even sillier 10.5-inch/26.7 cm barrel.

Here is the list of contenders that in the end were vying for my dollars:

  • SIG Sauer M400 Tread: SIG has discontinued anything longer than a 16-inch barrel; you pay for the SIG name.
  • FN 15 Military Collector M16: 20-inch barrel available; but lacked a lot of features for an MSRP of $1,749.
  • Colt: The original; you can’t go wrong with the Prancing Pony, but only the expensive M16A1 Retro Reissue offered a rifle-length gas system . . . at $2,499 MSRP!
  • Springfield Saint: Barrel maxes out at 16 inches.
  • Smith & Wesson M&P 15 Competition: This one comes closest yet to the MPR:
    • Pros: 18-inch barrel; rifle-length gas system; two-stage match trigger; 15-inch free-float M-LOK compatible handguard; full-length rail; adjustable buttstock.
    • Cons: Heavier than the MPR; MSRP is $700 higher than the MPR with nothing to show for the additional cost.

First, the relevant technical statistics for the Ruger® AR-556® MPR (Model 8514):

  • Caliber: 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington (other calibers available; see text)
  • Length: 35 to 38.25 inches/88.9 to 97.2 cm
  • Length of pull: 11.1 to 14.4 inches/28.2 to 36.6 cm
  • Weight: 6.8 pounds/3.1 kg
  • Gas system: Rifle length
  • Buffer: Mil-Spec (Military Specification) buffer tube
  • Barrel: 18 inches/45.7 cm
  • Barrel twist: 1:8, 5-groove, right hand
  • Barrel forging and metallurgy: Cold hammer-forged; 4041 chromium-molybdenum alloy steel; nitride lining
  • Barrel attachment thread pattern: ½”x28
  • Lower specifications: CNC-machined 7075-T6 aluminum forgings; Type III (Mil-Spec) hard coat anodization
  • Sights: None included in keeping with the free-floating barrel design
Barrel on the AR-556 in 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington comes with a 1-in-8 twist

Other included goodies:

  • Trigger: Ruger’s Elite 452® two-stage trigger (a huge plus for this rifle) with a claimed 4.5-pound/2-kilogram pull
  • Accessory Rail: Full length Picatinny M1913 rail
  • Handguard: 15-inch/38.1 cm free-floating Magpul® handguard with:
    • M-LOK® Slots at 3, 6, and 9 O’clock (eight slots per O’clock position)
    • Additional single M-LOK slots at 1:30, 4:30, 7:30, and 10:30 positions
  • Buttstock: Magpul MOE® (Magpul Original Equipment) SL® (Slim Line) collapsible buttstock
  • Pistol grip: Magpul MOE grip
  • Capacity: The MPR comes with one 30-round Magpul PMAG® Gen-2 MOE magazine (a pet peeve of mine; come on, Ruger, you can do better than just one magazine)
  • Owner’s Manual: Of course
  • Safety lock: Cable type key lock
  • Box: Cheap cardboard, of course
Ruger AR-556 MPR

Now let’s take a look at the rifle.  First off, that scope you see mounted does not come with the AR-556 MPR. Indeed, since this rifle has a free-float barrel, it does not come with a sight of any type — not even the usual combination gas block/front sight most associated with this type of rifle. As such, you’ll have to cough up some money upfront to fix that. The scope you see mounted here is a Vortex Crossfire II 1-4×24 with Vortex’s V-Brite red dot.

Barrel is free-floating

Also not included was the two-point sling you see pictured, nor the M-LOK Quick Dismount (QD) rail attachment. The MOE SL buttstock does however have a QD attachment point, in addition to a slot for your sling if you prefer.

Magpul MOE SL collapsible butt stock
Magpul MOE SL collapsible butt stock

But no matter what sight you choose to mount, there’s nearly 20 inches/51 cm of slot “rail” estate along the rail atop the MPR’s flat upper receiver. Go with iron sights, red dot, red dot with magnifier, low-power scope, high-power scope, night scope, or even optics co-witnessed with iron sights if you wish. The options are limited only by your imagination and your wallet.

Nearly 20 inches of rail for lots of customization options

Now, what about Ruger’s claimed 4.5-pound/2.04 kg Elite 452 trigger? Turns out they fudged on that one. The pull worked out closer to 4.17 pounds, but I’m not going to quibble when it’s to my advantage. The actual five-pull average came in at a mere 4 pounds 2.7 ounces/1.89 kg. Trigger reset is so miniscule I had trouble measuring it, but my best eyeball guesstimate puts it at around an eighth of an inch, or about 3 mm.

Magpul MOE pistol grip

I’ve yet to fire the AR-556 MPR, so I haven’t even had the opportunity to sight in the Crossfire II. But I can tell you how I perceive the handling characteristics thus far. The MPR is well balanced and easy to handle. It’s both light and comfortable to carry, and quick to get on target when the sling is properly adjusted. All controls are just where one would expect on any AR-style rifle, so there are no surprises here and they are all easy to manipulate . . . if you’re righthanded; none of the controls are ambidextrous.

No ambidextrous controls on this rifle
Controls

Fit and finish I would rate as good. The MPR certainly looks good. There was one minor flaw in the hard coat anodization on the edge of the magazine well (see below). But that’s a quibble. It’s not worth the time and effort for a trip back to the mothership for a rifle that is meant to be used.

A word of caution: make sure you disassemble your MPR and check for copious amounts of lubrication. One of the things I really appreciate about Ruger is that they way overengineer nearly everything they make, but they also love to overlubricate. In the case of this MPR, there was far too much lubricant inside the bolt carrier and on the tail of the bolt. I hate to think how much carbon would have cooked onto those surfaces if I hadn’t wiped them down. Other areas were positively dripping with lubrication as well, but that’s been remedied.

Ruger’s fit and finish almost got an A+, except for this

Overall, I’m impressed. But then I’m also a novice in the AR market, so there’s that. Perhaps I’m just easily impressed. But I don’t believe that’s the case here. For all the features Ruger threw into this AR-556 variant, the MPR is an impressive rifle at a price point hundreds less than anything comparable in a nationally known and respected brand.

Ruger AR-556 MPR

That concludes this week’s firearms series. If you’re not a fan, do not despair.

Next week this blog returns to travel the photography. That series will start in Ireland, head transatlantic with a stop in Ponta Delgada in the Azores, continue into Key West for some sunset photos, then head over to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza on the Yucatán Peninsula.

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Fun Firearm Friday — Collectible 1938 Smith & Wesson K-22 ‘Outdoorsman’


1938 Smith & Wesson K-22 “Outdoorsman”

Today I’m going to present a first look and firing review of a very special firearm. This is a highly collectible prewar Smith & Wesson K-22 ‘Outdoorsman’. So, just how rare is this target-grade .22 LR pistol? The first edition K-22 was introduced in 1931, and in 1940 the ‘Outdoorsman’ was superseded by a second generation version marketed as the K-22 ‘Masterpiece’. In 1941 production ceased altogether as Smith & Wesson geared up to support the war effort.

When I first saw this handgun I had an inkling that it was probably prewar because it lacked the ribbed barrel of every postwar K-Frame (medium frame) Smith & Wesson I’ve ever seen. That pencil-thin tapered barrel just looked so elegant compared to the later ribbed barrels. But I wasn’t sure, as the gun was merely tagged for sale as a, “Smith & Wesson .22,” with no further information. So, I went home and did some research, started getting excited when I thought I recognized what it was, called the store for a reading of the serial number, and verified that this was indeed a rare prewar K-22, probably with incorrect grips installed as they lacked the familiar diamond pattern surrounding the screw holes.

Replacement S&W grips

Once I got the K-22 home I removed the grips and verified that they were indeed not the originals. The factory-installed grips would have the gun’s serial number marked on the insides:

Period-incorrect grips — Made after 1969

Grips not serial numbered to this gun

While we have the grips off this K-22, let’s take a look at what’s beneath them on the frame:

S&W K-22 grips removed

S&W K-22 grips removed

Production of the K-22 ‘Outdoorsman’ ended December 28, 1939. The total number made was 17,117 before the launch of the improved ‘Masterpiece’ K-22 in early 1940. The prewar K-22s, both the ‘Outdoorsman’ and the second generation ‘Masterpiece’, sported a non-ribbed 6-inch/152mm round barrel, adjustable rear sights, a trigger set between three and four pounds/1.4 to 1.8 kilograms, checkered Circassian walnut grips, all in a package weighing in at about 35 ounces/990 grams. With the K-22 came a Smith & Wesson claim that the gun was capable of shooting 1.5-inch/38mm groups at an astounding 50 yards/45.7 meters. That’s a lot better than I’m capable of as you can see from the two targets presented below (but in all fairness I shot free-handed rather than bench-resting the pistol). The targets I used were ones I printed on 8.5×11-inch/216x279mm standard letter-size paper.

The first target displays 18 rounds fired in single-action at a distance of 10 yards/9.1 meters:

8.5×11 target, 10 yards, 18 rounds, single-action

This next target shows 18 rounds fired in double-action at a the same distance:

8.5×11 target, 10 yards, 18 rounds, double-action

Oddly enough, I did better at double-action, but I’ve found over the years that the longer, heavier trigger pull in double-action forces me to maintain tighter concentration and control when I’m firing — pretty much the opposite of the rest of the shooting world, I’m sure. Plus, I’d just completed testing a single-action only 1973 Ruger Super Bearcat with a much lighter trigger, so I may have been thrown off by that as well.

As far as I can tell, the K-22 retailed for around $40 (S&W billed dealers $22.19 for them in 1935). In today’s money, that $40 works out to $624. Keeping in mind that this was in the midst of the Great Depression, it’s a wonder the K-22 found the audience that it did. Being billed as pistol suitable for both hunters and marksmen, the K-22 came equipped with an adjustable rear sight:

Adjustable rear sight and blued hammer

The K-22 initially came with a Call gold bead front sight (named after Charles Call), but that was changed to a higher-visibility ‘silver’ (actually stainless steel) bead about 500 pistols into production:

Silver bead front sight used after first year of production

Typical roll marks and stamps on the K-22 ‘Outdoorsman’ include the following:

Smith & Wesson roll mark

S&W trademark logo

S&W patent markings

K-22 caliber mark

“MADE IN U.S.A.” stamp

I already mentioned that the grips that came with this example were not original to the gun. There is one other anomaly that I saw as well. On every K-22 I’ve found pictured on the internet, both prewar and postwar, all are equipped with case hardened triggers and hammers. Not so this example. Both are blued, and I suspect they did not come this way from the factory:

Trigger blued rather than case hardened

Hammer blued rather than case hardened

The reason that I only suspect this is because I did not receive from the Smith & Wesson historian confirmation on this even though I pointed out the bluing when I sent in photographs along with a request for the gun’s history.

Most of the letter sent back from the S&W historian is boilerplate typical of other S&W history letters I’ve seen:

S&W Historical Foundation letter for this specific K-22

You have to get past the first four paragraphs to get to the specifics of this particular K-22, which I’ve cropped out below:

S&W Historical Foundation letter — Information specific to this K-22

A quick note about these Smith & Wesson Historical Foundation letters. If you have a Smith & Wesson firearm made between 1920 and 1966, obtaining a history on that firearm is something you should really consider. It’s fun researching where your gun first headed from the factory, and you may even get more history on it. I’ve seen at least one letter for a pristine, like-new K-22 with original box and manual that turned out to have been shipped to a police department for training purposes.

Now onto the subject of serial numbers for these pieces of prewar history. Any collector will tell you that the value of a collectible falls considerably if the gun is not fully ‘matching’. By matching, I mean all parts are original to the gun. On the K-22 Outdoorsman there are three places you need to check for this match. The first place to look is to turn over the gun and check out the primary serial number on the base of the frame butt:

Serial number stamp — Frame grip butt

Now it’s time to check the cylinder for a match:

Serial number stamp — Cylinder

And, finally, as we have the cylinder swung out away from the frame, let’s turn over the gun and look at the flat portion at the base of the barrel for one more match:

Serial number stamp — Under barrel

There is one more number stamped on these weapons, but it is not related in any way to the serial number. Again, with the cylinder swung out, look at the frame just below where the pinned barrel is mounted. Here you will find a number that was used internally at Smith & Wesson. The purpose of this number was to assist the craftsmen who handcrafted these works of art. This is an assembly number that assisted in keeping together until final assembly the parts meant for a particular gun:

This number was used by the factory to facilitate hand fitting of parts

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of firearm history at least half as much as I enjoyed researching it. For additional information, may I suggest the following articles:

American Rifleman article: A Look Back at the Smith & Wesson K-22 written by Dave Campbell; November 13, 2012

Gunblast article: Smith & Wesson K-22s written by Mike Cumpston; January 8, 2003

One last look at this nice example of a prewar (1938) Smith & Wesson K-22 Outdoorsman:

Prewar Smith & Wesson K-22 “Outdoorsman”

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