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Old 09-07-2014, 07:06 AM   #1
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What is All This Hoopla About Mil-Spec?

A few years ago I bought a Rock River LAR15. Came with an ACE stock, A2 upper and a "free float" aluminum fore stock and 16" HBAR. It was during the "Assault" weapon scare, and pickings were slim...and expensive. It looked to me to be the best quality weapon my LGS had on the wall, although admittedly the choices were very limited.

Now I don't shoot competition and sure as hell ain't in combat, but the damn thing has been flawless and given me no problems, has a GREAT trigger (their 2-stage with a superbly clean break) and is freakishly accurate compared to my military experiences.

My favorite LGS just changed locations and hugely expanded their inventory. They had several RRA Operator 2's for a really great price. It is basically the same rifle as mine, but has a 5 position collapsible stock, flat top receiver, BUIS sites, an aluminum free float fore stock, but with rails, Ergo Grip and a weird looking "compensator" type thingy on it that is very loud, but damned if it doesn't reduce what little muzzle lift their is an on AR.
I traded my old rifle in on a new one. Fickle is what I am.

But, golly-oh-jeekers, it ain't MilSpec! Doesn't have a chrome lined barrel, it's chrome-moly, The trigger group is RRA's, the bolt isn't magnetic particle imaged (I think they do spot checks). The grip and forearm and stock aren't mil-spec.

I realize that something mil-spec are great, they're done for reasons of longevity and such. But a lot of mil-spec requirements aren't necessarily the best of the best...they're just standard.

I doubt that in my lifetime I would EVER shoot out the barrel on this rifle. Don't think I will ever have a bolt failure, but even if I do, it's not exactly expensive or hard to replace. Heck, I have a drawer full of spare parts I stocked up on from Brownell's when I bought my first RRA, not becuase I thought they would break, but because I was in kind of a prepper mode back then.

Guess my point in this rant (forgive me) is that it seems there is a whole lotta people out in cyberspace that think if an AR isn't totally mil-spec, it's crap. Personally I think they are couple of tacos shy of a combo plate myself...not trying to get personal or anything. I mean, I spent nearly 20 years in the military and had plenty of experience with mil-spec equipment that wasn't cream of the crop stuff.

Last edited by IrishCop; 09-07-2014 at 07:08 AM.
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Old 09-07-2014, 07:29 AM   #2
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I remember watching 60 Minutes 20 or more years ago, doing a story about Pentagon costs and the infamous $700 airplane toilet seat (or was it an ashtray?). Anyway, the guy being interviewed said something like, "Does it need to cost this much? Yes it does. It's built to the contracted specs, and it would probably survive a crash of the airplane itself. I'm surprised they can actually build it for $700 and make a little profit. But the real question should be, 'Does it really need to be built to such rigorous specs in the first place?' "

Also: I suspect that in many cases today, "mil-spec" means exactly the same thing as "tactical," i.e., it has been so over-used and misused that it now now means nothing at all (in many cases), it just sounds cool.
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Old 09-07-2014, 08:09 AM   #3
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IMHO:

Mil spec is a set of standards to which (in this case) are the minimum the AR-15/M-16/M-4 has to be constructed to make the military procurement people happy.
It doesn't necessarily mean best.
Some aspects are just not within the average citizens' ability to acquire. In this catagory I primarily mean the trigger design. Mil-Spec means a full-auto or burst fire capability (depending upon model) and that isn't going to happen when you're buying the AR-15 from the rack at Wal-Mart or your other sporting goods place.
Some things I think are questionable. One milspec is parkerized under the front sight base on the barrel. OK, it's nice. IF you're going to tinker around with the front sight, you won't be exposing bare metal. But if you never do anything with the front sight, it really doesn't matter.
The front sight height on some civie models is different than the "mil spec" sight. The mil spec is "F" marked and has a specific front sight post height. A non "F" marked is different. This becomes important if you remove the carry handle and put on a BUIS on along with the Eotech or Aimpoint holo sight you're mounting. In that case you need to also replace that front sight post with one that compensates for the different height the non "F" mark FSB has.
Also, the exact metal the barrel is made of is something manufacturers differ on. I have forgotten how the nomenclature works here but basically the Mil Spec metal lasts longer.
How much longer? Either way the barrel is going to last a long time.
Also, the twist of the rifling. 1:7 is "Mil spec" and it handles the heavier grain weight bullets better (actually I should say longer length, but most people discuss this in terms of the weight of the bullet). Many manufacturers use 1:9 twist which is good for 55 gr. pills. THis isn't to say that either twist rate won't handle the "other" weight bullet; in fact how accurate a rifle is often depends upon the "finicky-ness" of the specific rifle, powder type, and weight, and whether you're shooting on a Saturday or Tuesday than just the rifling twist.
MPI and shot peening on the bolt; this is always a good thing because it means THAT PARTICULAR BOLT has been inspected and is of the right metal. Not having that mark ....here is where I say Mil Spec IS important. These particular innard parts are important because this is where the work gets done and where the high pressures live and breath.
Non marked bolts may be part of a manufactured batch that saw a select handful be tested. The fact that they're not marked does not mean that they WILL break, but it's possible the bolt is made of a weaker metal.
Fortunatly BCGs can be changed - out pretty easily. If I were worried about mine I would get a BCG from Bravo Company Manufacturing (BCM) as they make mil spec stuff and have it in my parts kit. I think BCM sells 'em for maybe $180 dollars + or - a little.

M-4 feed ramps in the barrel. Mil Spec ones will be cut at a deeper anglke and will actually continue into the receiver extension below the actual barrel. These help assure more reliable feeding with "longer" bullets.

A properly staked gas key is something that is important. I would guess RRA would stake the key. IF they've done a light job it isn't too hard to fix it, or to get a good gunsmith to fix it.

There are also mil spec items concerning the buffer, the buffer tube and how it's made...and of what, and its exact dimensions. Picky picky stuff. But if you want to change the shoulder stock sometime, it helps to know which buffer tube you have.

One my two M-4orgeries is a Colt M-4, the other is a Bushmaster. The Bushie has non mil spec parts and the Colt is as purebred as is possible in civieland --- except for one thing.
It isn't REALLY mil spec.
It doesn't have the "happy switch" that as I pointed out, is part of the REAL DEAL MIL SPEC that won't be had by us peons, atleast until those idiot NFA laws are repealed.

There's a whole cottage industry in AR-ownerville that caters to MIL-SPEC and those snotty types who poo poo anyone who doesn't have "the best" most toughest AR around.
The best advice I can give is to shoot yours and see how they work. "If it ain't broke don't fix it." -- That motto works pretty well. Just get it lubed up right and have fun.
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Old 09-07-2014, 01:09 PM   #4
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IrishCop et. al.,

The ONLY thing about buying "mil spec" is that there is some REALLY TRASHY "AR parts" coming in from abroad, some of which don't fit a standard rifle upper/lower & if the parts are "mil spec" at least they should fit..

yours, sw
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Old 09-07-2014, 01:26 PM   #5
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The Rock River's I have owned have been mil-spec in all the areas that really matter, excepting maybe* the MPI of the bolt. The upper and lower specs are top-notch, and the few "upgrades" I did on my first one were all parts bought from Brownell's for AR-15's - pins, springs, etc.

*The bolt and BCG? I might replace it with a more quality controlled part at some point. Then again, I might not. I put about 2000 rounds of Federal XM193 through my first one in the four years I had it. No issues. I realize that is not exactly heavy use, but...

Maybe I'll buy one and just have it hanging around in case it's needed.

I did put a Wolff extra power extractor spring in after I shot it today. Oh, it extracted fine with the OEM spring, I guess I just wanted to play around with it. I didn't replace the extractor with the Les Baer extractor I have in my parts box. Probably me being stubborn more than anything else.

Guess I was just tired of reading what I considered unjustified bias of everything not (gasp) mil-spec. Like Tommy said, who's really is?
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Old 09-07-2014, 02:19 PM   #6
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A few years ago I was attending the NRA convention, and stopped by the Rock River booth to check out their latest models. Almost every one featured a military profile barrel with the turned-down groove for mounting a grenade launcher.

"What's the deal with the grooved barrels?" I asked. "What good are they on a civilian AR?"

The guy just looked at me with one of those "Whaddya gonna do?" looks and shrugged.

"That's what the customers all want, so that's what we give 'em. I don't get it either."
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Old 09-07-2014, 05:59 PM   #7
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To me "mil spec" is often a synonym for cheap.

I do have an honest to goodness mil-spec Colt HBAR that I should have sold when they were so high
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Old 09-07-2014, 06:49 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CaptainGyro View Post
A few years ago I was attending the NRA convention, and stopped by the Rock River booth to check out their latest models. Almost every one featured a military profile barrel with the turned-down groove for mounting a grenade launcher.
"What's the deal with the grooved barrels?" I asked. "What good are they on a civilian AR?"

The guy just looked at me with one of those "Whaddya gonna do?" looks and shrugged.

"That's what the customers all want, so that's what we give 'em. I don't get it either."
Yeah ...both my Bushmaster & my Colt M4orgery have it. It looks tacticool!
It doesn't do anything. I don't have any grenade launchers for it and don't care to.
But it loooooks sooooooooooooooooooo tacticool!
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Old 09-07-2014, 06:50 PM   #9
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Back when I was a book editor, I once was working with an author who cited "MILL-TFD-41" to me.

I asked what that was, stepping neatly into his trap.

"It means 'Make It Look Like The Friggin' Drawing, For Once' " he laughed!
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Old 09-08-2014, 06:31 AM   #10
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In the case of the AR (or other small arm), what you have is a set of specs so that, if it were ever necessary, could be handed to, say, GM, along with a contract for X rifles and they'd work. However, those specs and procedures were codified over 50 years ago and there have been many process improvements since then. Due to supply chain issues, the DOD is loath to revise specs to reflect current reality [DOD refused for years to carry the different extractor spring and plug for the M4]. Also, the AR specs would have been written in the twilight of the cost plus 10% contract days. Military contracts were for production cost plus 10% for profit. Whatever drives up cost, drives up profit.

Now, in addition to some matters mentioned earlier (and as I type this, there's a Colt M4 in my lap-the front sight tower nor sight post doesn't have the markings Tommy described), there's a whole lot of BS about what "mil-spec" is supposed to be. Take the buffer tube. Since the M4 was supposed to be a light carbine, the tube has reduced diameter (to cut weight) and to have the correct strength, is 7000 series aluminum. Per the fanatics, the threaded shank is larger ("full diamter" and therefore superior), I can't recall the alleged diameter. During a thread on another forum on mil-spec vs commercial, I actually went and miked a bunch of authentic Colt buffer tubes. Exactly ONE tube miked the 'full diameter' on the threads. Didn't surprise me, but I once made a living as a machinist. The other pretty much miked same-same as a commercial tube.

In the case of the buffer tube, the commercial tube is a different material (typically 6000 series) and thicker both to improve strength and since they're not meeting contract specs to save weight. Which gets moot when one sees all the doo-dads typically hung on an Mforgery now. So the threads aren't full diameter, neither are most mil-spec tubes.

About bolts, IIRC the mil-spec is Carpenter 154 and undoubtably has a clause "or equivilent". I'm not sure what Carpenter 154 is, I looked it up once but Strength of Materials was a long time ago and the chemical composition doesn't mean a darn thing to me now. I've seen Bolts of that, 4140, 8620 and 9360. I expect all will do the job. While we've cracked quite a few bolt lugs over the years the only bolt to fail at the cam pin hole was a Colt.

CNC machining has made the inspection of individual bolts pretty much un-necessary. Improved material manufacture and testing probably makes testing of individual bolts not really necessary. Standard inspection for something like that is probably 10/100 unless issues are noticed, then the inspection rate goes up. Tommy, the individual bolt testing to reveal flawed materials, not weaker.

Buffers, the mil spec buffer is to control the cyclic rate. Not full auto? Commercial buffer not an issue.

I purposely bought Rock River for the mid length gas system. Has a better stock trigger than any of our Colts. Much better warranty too. Our S&W M&P15s run right with the Colts for way less money and also a much better warranty.

Last edited by William R. Moore; 09-08-2014 at 06:35 AM.
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Old 09-08-2014, 08:19 AM   #11
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Picky bit of info on buffer tubes found amongst my "clutter."

The "mil spec" tube has a diameter of 1.148" and the commercial has a 1.168" diameter.

That's a .02 inch difference according to my calculator.
The commercial version is shown with a "slant back" of 5 while the mil-spec is flat.
Also, the number of adjustable stops for the collapsable stock is different -- 4 on the mil-spec and 6 on the commercial.

I am not really sure how important all that stuff really is.

Quote:
Originally Posted by William R. Moore
Tommy, the individual bolt testing (is) to reveal flawed materials, not weaker.
Eeeyup.

But wouldn't a "flawed" product be weaker??


All this techie stuff does get a might bit confusin' at times ... doesn't it?
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Old 09-08-2014, 08:42 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by IrishCop View Post
A few years ago I bought a Rock River LAR15. Came with an ACE stock, A2 upper and a "free float" aluminum fore stock and 16" HBAR. It was during the "Assault" weapon scare, and pickings were slim...and expensive. It looked to me to be the best quality weapon my LGS had on the wall, although admittedly the choices were very limited.

Now I don't shoot competition and sure as hell ain't in combat, but the damn thing has been flawless and given me no problems, has a GREAT trigger (their 2-stage with a superbly clean break) and is freakishly accurate compared to my military experiences.

My favorite LGS just changed locations and hugely expanded their inventory. They had several RRA Operator 2's for a really great price. It is basically the same rifle as mine, but has a 5 position collapsible stock, flat top receiver, BUIS sites, an aluminum free float fore stock, but with rails, Ergo Grip and a weird looking "compensator" type thingy on it that is very loud, but damned if it doesn't reduce what little muzzle lift their is an on AR.
I traded my old rifle in on a new one. Fickle is what I am.

But, golly-oh-jeekers, it ain't MilSpec! Doesn't have a chrome lined barrel, it's chrome-moly, The trigger group is RRA's, the bolt isn't magnetic particle imaged (I think they do spot checks). The grip and forearm and stock aren't mil-spec.

I realize that something mil-spec are great, they're done for reasons of longevity and such. But a lot of mil-spec requirements aren't necessarily the best of the best...they're just standard.

I doubt that in my lifetime I would EVER shoot out the barrel on this rifle. Don't think I will ever have a bolt failure, but even if I do, it's not exactly expensive or hard to replace. Heck, I have a drawer full of spare parts I stocked up on from Brownell's when I bought my first RRA, not becuase I thought they would break, but because I was in kind of a prepper mode back then.

Guess my point in this rant (forgive me) is that it seems there is a whole lotta people out in cyberspace that think if an AR isn't totally mil-spec, it's crap. Personally I think they are couple of tacos shy of a combo plate myself...not trying to get personal or anything. I mean, I spent nearly 20 years in the military and had plenty of experience with mil-spec equipment that wasn't cream of the crop stuff.
When people put Mil-Spec, I strongly doubt they're meeting the FULL military spec.

I recommend to anyone, read a military spec sometime. For EACH part on the rifle, the spec will be something like.

Steel will be of X grade purchase from this list of 4 approved suppliers. It will be packed XX way and shipped via X. On the steel is then cut with X type of cutting process, specifically X way. Then it is placed into X brand of milling machine, using X fixture made to mil-spec (XXXXXXXX). A X flute X type cutter from one of these 3 approved suppliers will be fitted into X collet. The milling table will be run up to X and the X-Y will be zero'd at X. The machine will be set to X speed and milling will be done at X feed rate until XYZ dimensions are achieved. Part will then be removed from machine and taken to the next machine for the next set of cutting operations.

It's that anal! Every single step of the creation, polishing, finishing, and testing of the part is detailed very specifically. I GUARANTEE you, that no one is actually making mil spec parts. There may be some whom are, and they are probably sub-contractors for the main contractors to the military; but there's no way to know for sure unless you specifically know that the company in question is making stuff for the US military.

When firearms are taken into military service, that's when you find all the flaws in the weapon. It's almost never the design, it's always the materials and manufacturing methods. The nice thing about rifles like Garands, M1 Carbines, and SKS's is you're getting the REAL thing, made to an honest to God military spec. Any semi-auto rifle version of an assault rifle may, or may not contain parts that are mil-spec.

So when someone talks about a mil-spec AR, what they're talking about are some general features, and the fact that the parts ought to interchange. They they are not "Mil-Spec".
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Old 09-08-2014, 10:02 AM   #13
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To My Way of Thinking...

...the only value of Mil-Spec is if it allows you to use military parts, in a pinch.

I'll defer to those whose knowledge is more detailed than mine but I recall that there was a time when Colt attempted to mollify F Troop by using some different diameter pins and pin locations in the receivers of the Sporter line of their AR-15's. If you had a Colt lower receiver of that vintage, you had to buy a special adapter for the forward hing pin in order to use someone else's upper.
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Old 09-08-2014, 10:57 AM   #14
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If I have the option of parts that are GI or someone elses "mil spec, or supposedly better than mil spec", I'll take the GI parts every time. Why? Because you know exactly what you're getting, and that it's made right.

AR's are like 1911's. You tend to see more problems with them at the range because everyone is messing with them to make them "better". Sealed "match" triggers do not belong in the field IMO. I just can't count how many times I've see AR's go down from a match trigger...that crap is for a range toy, not a fighting rifle. News flash, military rifles don't have great triggers; learn to deal with it...it can be done I promise.

IME factory rifles from Bushmaster, Colt's, S&W, and Rock River tend to work just fine as they come out of the box. Don't change buffers, springs, bolt carriers, triggers, or anything else INSIDE the receivers, and you're probably going to have a happy, healthy rifle. Start messing around and you'll eventually find the combination of things that ruins your rifle.

I'll take a lousy trigger that works every time, over a great trigger that I have to baby; but that's me.
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Old 09-08-2014, 01:11 PM   #15
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If I have the option of parts that are GI or someone elses "mil spec, or supposedly better than mil spec", I'll take the GI parts every time. Why? Because you know exactly what you're getting, and that it's made right.

AR's are like 1911's. You tend to see more problems with them at the range because everyone is messing with them to make them "better". Sealed "match" triggers do not belong in the field IMO. I just can't count how many times I've see AR's go down from a match trigger...that crap is for a range toy, not a fighting rifle. News flash, military rifles don't have great triggers; learn to deal with it...it can be done I promise.

IME factory rifles from Bushmaster, Colt's, S&W, and Rock River tend to work just fine as they come out of the box. Don't change buffers, springs, bolt carriers, triggers, or anything else INSIDE the receivers, and you're probably going to have a happy, healthy rifle. Start messing around and you'll eventually find the combination of things that ruins your rifle.

I'll take a lousy trigger that works every time, over a great trigger that I have to baby; but that's me.
Understood, Kevin. And while my rifle may be called upon to serve as a fighting rifle, in all probability it certainly won't be in what I think of as a combat environment...at least not with my crippled old butt. It would be as a home defense rifle, and in that case probably a short, violent action, settled very quickly either for or against me.

I know my trigger (for instance) is probably at least somewhat more "fragile" than a military trigger...but it feels so good! And I have an SKS, M-1 Carbine and an M-1 Garand for back-up.

I'm not disputing that an M-forgery (Thanks,Tommy!) or other commercial AR probably wouldn't meet military standards, but in the scheme of things, as long as the rifle is well made, functional, reliable and accurate, I think I can live with that.

Last edited by IrishCop; 09-11-2014 at 12:10 PM. Reason: My brain wrote faster than my fingers could type
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Old 09-09-2014, 06:06 AM   #16
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Eeeyup.

But wouldn't a "flawed" product be weaker??
Possibly/probably depending upon where/what the flaw is in the individual part. This is with MPI, which is meant to reveal forging/casting flaws and cracks due to fatigue.

One great example of the fallacy of certain types of testing eliminating failures are the low number 1903 Springfields. They all passed proof testing, yet they started coming apart in the field. Bad heat treat for those youngins not aware of the issue.

ARs are like cars. Everybody buys (some) parts from suppliers and assembles them into a finished product. You have Rolls Royces, Porsches, Chevys and ......Yugos/Moskvas. Someone buys the parts the other guys won't buy and uses them. Range toys, it probably doesn't make much difference. As I've previously noted, some sales types for brands other than those I've mentioned favorably in this thread that tried to sell us ARs simply left when we described our T&E program and usage. Others got handed what was left of their products, all broken parts included-except for some gas rings that seemed to have departed into an alternative dimension of space/time.

We turned our Brand X rifles into MILES weapons after we realized they weren't intended for serious usage. I'm not using the brand becuase they just might have got their act together. The need to replace darn near everything but the upper & lower and furniture after each CQB training session launched our T&E program prior to purchase. [But purchasing got such a deal on them!]

Last edited by William R. Moore; 09-09-2014 at 06:28 AM.
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Old 09-09-2014, 08:27 AM   #17
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...but in the scheme of things, as long as the rifle is well made, functional, reliable and accurate, I think I can live with that.
That's the truth!
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Old 09-11-2014, 02:43 AM   #18
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To me "mil spec" is often a synonym for cheap.
As an example, consider triggers. Would you rather have a standard mil-spec trigger or a nice Geissele?
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Old 09-11-2014, 05:14 AM   #19
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Depends upon usage. The military has that type of trigger for good reason. You can do good work with it, you just have to work a little more.
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Old 09-11-2014, 08:53 AM   #20
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As an example, consider triggers. Would you rather have a standard mil-spec trigger or a nice Geissele?
If I'm just punching little holes on a piece of paper at the range, I'll take the match trigger. If I'm going into battle, or even if I'm going to rely on the weapon on the off chance that I may need it to defend my home, I'll stick with what's proven; I'm just funny that way.

With an AR, there's no reason you can't have both though. How long does it take to swap a match trigger in and out of a lower?
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