Funny part, or one of the funny parts, is I grew up in Western Colorado. Ranch country. No one there asked if you had a gun. They asked how many. My AR-15 drew attention, even there, because it was so different. Everyone knew what it was, and many, of course, thought it was what it wasn’t… I was the first kid in town with one and, since I was a kid and there were 500 people in town, I became a celebrity of sorts. A lot of locals wondered what in the world that rifle was good for. Folks in that part of the world have a decidedly practical outlook on firearms, vehicles, and even dogs.
Oh, the funny part… I bought the rifle at Scagg’s Drug Store. Right. Only in Western Colorado, and, well, maybe Wyoming, could you purchase a rifle at a drug store. I paid $325 for it, brand new, with a Colt’s 4X scope and four magazines. That’s a little crazy too. I was 15, so just so no one thinks wild Westerners break federal laws as easily as we disdain them, my mother signed all the paperwork, so I guess it really was her rifle. (More about that later…)
Before I bought this odd thing, I had already fired countless rounds with bolt rifles, .22’s in competition and also just for fun. The only previous semi-automatic experience I’d had was with an M1, a few rounds through .22 pistols, one experience with a 1911, and my Nylon 66 (which I didn’t end up liking nearly as much as my Mauser bolt action).
The AR-15 turned out to be a hoot, but I couldn’t take it seriously. My first impressions of the rifle were that it seemed very toy-like, too light, and, since this was from the days before forward assist, a tad amount “blind” in its operation. Keep in mind that, aside from Vietnam vets, few people had ever actually seen one.
I honestly thought it broke when I first fired it. There was a tremendous “sproing” noise and no sensation of recoil. It was as if the round fired from somewhere else. Of course, that’s only from the operational mechanism in action. I loved it. I just banged away at big cans. The AR-15 was lighter and shorter than my .22 bolt action, and simply could not compete in striking small objects.
The sights were just stupid, as far as I was concerned. The rear aperture was too high above the bore, and the mechanisms for adjusting wind and elevation were afterthoughts. I liked the scope. To this day, I still think it’s one of the handiest optics I’ve used. Only problem was my head had to come up that much higher. It was not then possible for me to get a comfortable, effective head position. And the buttstock was too short.
Here is as close as I could get to the original I started with (without paying a stupidly high collector price). I got this one from Fulton Armory, their “Legacy” model, to keep my perspective. It’s built with original parts, as possible, and carries the same feel and specs as the original SP1. I appreciate it more now.
The GI triangular handguards and 3-prong M16-style flash
hider all are part of the Fulton Legacy AR-15.
There was no way to get a comfortable supporting handhold. This rifle, of course, had the pecan-shell-thin triangular handguards. I also learned quickly any amount of sling pressure (for extra support) moved shot impacts dramatically. To me, the AR-15 was strictly an offhand-only, large-target firearm. Oh, and the trigger. Well, we still don’t talk about the trigger. Now, at least, we can just replace it.
It felt so different from other rifles I’d fired, and especially those I used in competition. To me, it was a curiosity, a toy. I shot the fool out of it, though. Which also led me to discover reloading! That became necessary right-quick like and in a hurry. I wanted to put more rounds through it in short order than anything else I’d fired. I owe a whopping lot of what I developed an affinity for to that rifle.
The funny thing is there are no material differences in the competition AR-15’s I use now, and my original A1. All the enhancements have been different takes on the same parts. I mean the essential layout of the rifle, the functioning parts, have all stayed the same. The differences have become furniture, sights, barrel configurations. Really, the “technology” advancing the AR-15 into the realm of a “serious” rifle is the free-floating handguard tube, first done as an experiment at Rodman Labs (Rock Island Arsenal) back in the early 1970’s. That modification released the accuracy potential of the AR platform. Then other substantial enhancements slowly moved from the custom side to the commercial side. In one way of looking at it, we figured out what the rifle was good for, or could be good for. As with motor racing, improvements come very quickly when “they” get ahold of it. And “they” get ahold of it when it’s proving its promise. “They” is us, the competitive accuracy-oriented segment of our industry. Today, it’s hard to find someone using anything but an AR-15 for varminting or even NRA High Power Rifle competition.
Speaking again of motorsports, AR-15 evolution followed the same line as the Porsche 911. Interestingly enough, both became available at almost the same time. From the get-go, only Dr. Porsche really believed in his automobile. It was fundamentally flawed, but also had a, maybe I could call it “execution,” that made it brilliant. The essential German engineering mantra is “refinement.” That goes for many mechanical things from that part of the world.
Despite the engine being hung out back with the rear axles, air cooling and a few other seemingly insurmountable glitches, the 911 is one of the winningest cars in the history of racing, at all levels (which includes the 930 and 990 series, and a couple of other variants, which are still 911’s). As the years went, and the classes and events the 911 entered changed, the sow’s-ear glitches were continually worked around, additions and modifications were made, and, in essence, the silk purse got finer and finer.
Dr. Porsche’s cast of engineers kept refining, learning, going faster and faster. The AR-15 has kind of been like that. It’s been refined into a truly multi-purpose firearm, and excels in all its configurations, including my niche, “racing.”
I got an e-mail only a month ago from someone who was telling me he didn’t like me because I liked AR-15’s. Kind of a time warp episode since I hadn’t heard such a line since maybe 1994, but all the things he complained about were the same things I thought to myself the first time I handled my AR-15. Only difference is we’ve also been proven wrong. Sometimes things that are different are better, as long as we stick with them. I will tell anyone and everyone, though, if the AR-15 wasn’t a truly, genuinely brilliant firearm platform, it wouldn’t do everything as well as it does. It just needed some time and some refinement.
Back to my mother. I came home one cold winter evening and saw three static snowshoe hares on the front porch. Investigation ensued. My smirking mother claimed responsibility. “I really like that little AR…” Dang. I don’t know if I was more impressed with her or the rifle. She managed to take if off my wall, load a magazine, load the rifle, and snipe three large rabbit-style creatures and then return it to my wall unloaded. Hmm. Only experience she’d had with firearms was a Ruger Bearcat my father gave her for Mother’s Day. I miss Colorado. Everyone in Colorado misses it too, but that’s a whole different story.
Now she’s pushing 90 and living alone, and often tells me she’d feel safer if she had another “little AR…” A medic alert probably has to suffice for now.
Here’s what it has become, or at least one expression of it. The refinements have transformed the original into this thing. It’s a custom-built .22 PPC race gun. All the things I didn’t like were eliminated through creative refinements, and the same is said for all things I wanted and needed to make it competitive, but the base design is really no different.
The preceding is a specially adapted excerpt from The Competitive AR15: Ultimate Technical Guide, a book by Glen Zediker and Zediker Publishing. For more information, visit www.ZedikerPublishing.com or call (662) 473-6107.
By Glen Zediker
8725 Bollman Place, Suite 1
Savage, MD 20763
Custom AR Medesha Firearms
10326 E. Adobe Road, Mesa, AZ 85207
14399 Mead Street, Longmont, CO 80504