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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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Western Wednesday — Collectible 1973 Ruger Super Bearcat Shooting Review


Ruger Super Bearcat with box, manual, warranty card

It’s time for a Western Wednesday firearm review, and today’s shooting review is on a gun that Ruger made for less than three years (June 1971-January 1974)! I’ve already discussed Ruger’s alloy framed 1st edition Bearcat (see: Interesting Collectables: “Old” 1st issue Ruger Bearcats), in which I presented a rare ‘Alpha Cat’ Bearcat and one of the very first Bearcats (624th off the line) produced with oiled walnut grips rather than the previous rosen-impregnated rosewood grips. Here is an image of those early Bearcats:

Rare 1960 “Alpha Cat” (top); very early (1964) Bearcat with oiled walnut grips

‘Unmodified’ means that both of those Bearcats were never sent back to Ruger for the transfer bar modification that would make safe the loading all six cylinders. That is why I’m referring to these pistols as Old West-style firearms, as they adhere closely to the design of the Colt 1873 Single-Action Army ‘Peacemaker. Below shows a comparison of a copy of the original Colt 1873 design along with an old issue three-screw Ruger Single Six (also unmodified) and an old issue Bearcat, all of which are only safe when the hammer rest over an unloaded cylinder chamber (more on that below):

USFA Single-Action Army; unmodified 3-screw Ruger Single Six; 1960 Ruger Bearcat

These classics may have been called ‘Six-shooters’, but disregard what you saw on television and in the movies. Nobody in their right mind would holster one of these guns with all six chambers loaded.

1973 Ruger Super Bearcat with Super Bearcat box

That means, unless you are physically at the range, on the firing line, and preparing to fire the weapon, the cylinder should be loaded so that the hammer rests upon an empty chamber. How do you do that? Here’s a recap from my previous article on the original (1958-1970) Ruger Bearcat:

Proper (safe) loading sequence for any Single-Action Army-type pistol or unmodified (no transfer bar) Ruger single-action revolver:

  1. Count out and place five (for a six-round weapon) bullets before you
  2. Five rounds only!
  3. Put the rest of the ammunition out of reach
  4. Thumb back the hammer two clicks, to the half-cock position; this frees the cylinder for rotation by hand
  5. Open the loading gate
  6. Visually inspect all cylinder chambers, making certain no bullets are loaded, by rotating the cylinder while peering down through the open loading gate
  7. After verifying all chambers are empty, place one round in the chamber exposed through the open loading gate (we’ll call this “Chamber 5”)
  8. Rotate the cylinder, bypassing the next empty chamber (Chamber 6) and proceeding to the second empty chamber (Chamber 1—why the skip will become evident in a moment); load one bullet into Chamber 1
  9. Continue loading the next three chambers in order (Chambers 2, 3, and 4)
  10. Close the loading gate
  11. Loaded Chamber 5 is next in line for the barrel, a.k.a., firing position
  12. Thumb back the hammer to the fully cocked position; doing this rotates loaded Chamber 5 away from the barrel
  13. Empty Chamber 6 is now in the firing position
  14. Holding the hammer back with your thumb, squeeze the trigger until the hammer releases
  15. Keeping the trigger pulled, gently lowering the hammer all the way to the frame with your thumb; failure to keep pulling the trigger will result in the hammer stopping at the half-cock loading position, which is not safe

You’re done. Your “six shooter” is now properly loaded with five bullets, and if you followed these directions the hammer is safely resting over an empty chamber and the weapon is safe to carry.

1973 Ruger Super Bearcat

Production of Ruger’s alloy-framed Bearcat was terminated in 1970 as the company retooled production in favor of an all-steel frame, and in June of 1971 the Super Bearcat was introduced. Initially, the Super Bearcat retained the anodized aluminum trigger guard, but even this was converted to steel after old stock was exhausted. Here you can see the Super Bearcat with steel frame and trigger guard beneath two previous Bearcats with alloy frames and anodized trigger guards:

Ruger “Alpha” Bearcat (top); Bearcat (middle); SuperBearcat (bottom)

During Ruger’s two-year seven-month run of the Super Bearcat, approximately 64,000 were produced. Of that number, the first 37,000 used the previous anodized trigger guard. Thus, beginning in early 1972, only the last 27,000 Super Bearcats produced had trigger guards of blued steel.

Super Bearcat with blued steel trigger guard

Ruger’s roll marks between the Bearcat and the Super Bearcat differed slightly, with addition to the latter of the weapon’s caliber and an ® indicating a registered trademark:

Ruger Super Bearcat roll mark

The Super Bearcat retained the lightly stamped Ruger eagle medallion and oiled grips that began with the previous Bearcat line beginning in 1964.

Super Bearcat oiled walnut grip with stamped medallion

And one touch that started with the original 1st edition Bearcats in 1958, continued through the 2nd edition Super Bearcat era ending in 1974, and carried on beginning with the reintroduction of the 3rd edition Bearcat in 1993 through today is an engraved cylinder:

Engraved cylinder common to all three Bearcat editions

So, how does this weapon shoot? The trigger is incredibly light, and initially the breaking of the trigger took me by surprise, but I soon got past that. I set at 10 yards/9.1 meters a target printed onto 8.5×11-inch/216x279mm standard letter-sized paper. I then loaded up and fired three full cylinders’ worth of Remington 36-grain .22 LR Plated Hollow Points, for a total of eighteen total shots. Here are the results:

Eighteen rounds at 10 yards/9.1 meters

For additional reading on both the 1st edition Ruger  Bearcat and 2nd edition Super Bearcat, I highly recommend the following great articles:

Unmodified 1973 Ruger Super Bearcat

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Ruger (original) Police Carbine PC9 — A First Look


Ruger Police Carbine from 1996

As many readers of my firearms articles may have surmised by now, I’m an unapologetic fan of pistol-caliber carbines. Why pistol calibers in a rifle? Because it just makes sense for a whole host of reasons, unless perhaps you’re a hunter of large game. A 9mm carbine, such as the Beretta CX4 Storm, is a perfect longer-range compliment to a handgun chambered for the same round. If your carbine accepts the same magazines as your handgun, such as a CX4 paired with a Beretta 92, so much the better.

Ruger Police Carbine — 15-round P-series magazine

Back in 1996, Ruger tried to convince U.S. police departments to do just that. Ruger came out with two Police Carbines based on a scaled-up, beefed-up version of the blowback design used in their bestselling .22 LR 10/22 rifle line. The Ruger PC9 Police Carbine was chambered in 9mm, and accepted magazines from their Ruger P89, P93, P94, and P95 semiautomatic handguns. The .40 SW PC4 used magazines compatible with Ruger’s P91 and P944D handguns. The idea was that an officer would have a Ruger P-Series pistol strapped to his hip, and have in the trunk of the patrol car a fully compatible carbine using both the same ammunition and magazines as did the sidearm. The advantage of the Police Carbine being a longer effective range (100+ yards/90+ meters), greater accuracy, and marginally more power because of the longer barrel.

Ruger Police Carbine

That was not a new concept back in 1996, by the way. The American cowboy realized the advantages of owning a rifle chambered for the same round as his pistol shortly after the Civil War. The famous Winchester Models 1866, 1873, and 1892 were all chambered in popular handgun cartridges of the era. The most famous of these pairings would be a Winchester Model 1873 (“The Rifle that Won the West) and an 1873 Colt Peacemaker/Single Action Army (“The Gun that Won the West”) both chambered in .44-40 WCF (Winchester Center Fire).

Ruger Police Carbine — Controls

Alas, the Ruger Police Carbine came out about the same time that police departments started fielding AR-style rifles, and the Ruger P-Series was by then fighting obsolescence from lighter, cheaper, polymer-framed handguns with similar, or in some cases even greater, capacity magazines. The Police Carbine was also weighty, coming in at around seven pounds; and had a heavy trigger that, in the hands of someone who didn’t train a lot, tended to negate the accuracy benefits normally associated with a rifle. The PC9 and PC4 designs were also hamstrung by what some considered a tactically inferior traditional rifle stock rather than the more modern pistol-style grip of the AR.

Ruger Police Carbine

At the same time, the Ruger Police Carbine was considered over-engineered for the civilian market. It’s a very robust design, for sure. The Police Carbine was nearly sturdy as a block of granite, and about as reliable as grandma in the store candy aisle. That engineering comes at a cost, and the Ruger simply could not compete with cheaper pistol caliber carbines coming to market shortly after it debuted, such as the Kel-Tec Sub-2000, or the Hi-Point 995TS at nearly one-third the cost (2002 prices: Hi-Point $199 vs. $575 for the Ruger).

Ruger Police Carbine

So, the Ruger Police Carbine died in 2006, just ten short years after its introduction. It would be greatly missed, however, and prices for used examples started shooting upwards.

Ruger Police Carbine — 9mm PC9 version

The PC9 is back as of late 2017, but in a slightly different form and at a cheaper price. Magazines are now paired to the Ruger Series-9 and SR-Series pistols, and the box includes an interchangeable magazine well that allows the new PC9 to accept Glock magazines if you prefer. It’s also a takedown design that comes with a Picatinny rail.

Ruger Police Carbine

Where does that leave the original Ruger Police Carbine? It’s still a much sought-after firearm, but prices have probably stabilized, or perhaps even fallen slightly since the reintroduction of the PC9 (there is no new PC4, as the .40 SW is dying a not-so-slow death). If you can find an original Ruger Police Carbine for under $800, that’s probably a good deal. But I would expect to pay perhaps a couple hundred more for a very nice example. Throw in the original box and owner’s manual and you’re probably north of $1,200, but I’m no expert on that.

Ruger Police Carbine

So, it was a pleasant surprise when, during a recent visit to my second favorite local gun store (Sportsman’s Elite, managed by my good friend Henry Bone), I found an excellent condition original 9mm Ruger Police Carbine which included a cheap but serviceable red dot held by Ruger scope rings mounted to the receiver, for less than half what I would consider a good deal. No box, no manual, but for $350 I’m not about to quibble. Then, when I ran the serial number, I discovered that this was a first-year production example, which pleased me even more. Assuming the serial numbers are sequential with no skips, this particular PC9 was the 2,225th carbine off the production line out of a first-year run of 4,189.

Ruger Police Carbine — First year production example

Inspection of the Ruger Police Carbine reveals that it is indeed the robust, slightly heavy design many have noted before me. With an empty magazine and the mounted red dot and rings, I measured 7.5 pounds/3.4 kilograms. But the real surprise to me was the trigger. It was not nearly as bad as I’d been led to believe reading the contemporaneous reviews. Take-up is about .2 inches/5mm with no creep afterward. I estimate the trigger weight to be less than six pounds, but not much less, with a crisp break at the end. Trigger reset is less that a sixteenth of an inch/<2mm, with both audible and positive tactile cues. I’ll know more when I hit the range with it and compare it to the Beretta CX4, but the trigger seems to me more than adequate for the intended purpose — a pistol caliber carbine that extends the range of a standard 9mm round out to 100 yards/90 meters or so with relative ease.

Ruger Police Carbine and Beretta CX4 Carbine

I’m also confident that the nearly 1 ½-pound additional heft will give the PC9 an even milder kick than that of the already mild Beretta CX4.

Red dot sight

At any rate, and without the benefit of having actually fired the Ruger Police Carbine, I rate this rifle a winner in quality. It appears to indeed be every bit as over-engineered as its civilian-market critics claim, which to me is not a bad thing at all. In firearms, I’m a believer that you truly get what you’re willing to pay for. The trigger, while not match-grade by any stretch, seems completely adequate to the intended purpose of the design. I can see this as a very good urban home-to-backwoods cabin defense weapon, as well as a fun and affordable range plinker using relatively inexpensive 9mm ammunition. But the Ruger’s almost five additional inches of length over the CX4 would, in my view, make it somewhat less maneuverable in the close quarters of a home.

Ruger Police Carbine — Front sight

My only regret? I would have preferred an original PC9GR, which substituted ghost ring rear sight for the standard Patridge open sight of the PC9/PC4.

Ruger Police Carbine — Adjustable Patridge rear sight

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