April 23, 2013
By David Fortier
ArmaLite is best known for AR-10 and AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, especially the latter, which the company revived in the 1990s. But the Geneseo, Ill., company has also produced bolt-action rifles. Over the years the distinctive AR-30 has been offered in .308 Win., .300 Win. Mag. and the long reaching .338 Lapua Mag.
If you needed even more bang then you could step up to the monstrous AR-50, chambered for the attention-getting .50 Browning Machine Gun cartridge. ArmaLite's designs stood out from the bolt gun crowd. The AR-30, with its huge muzzle brake, aluminum chassis and skeleton stock, bears little resemblance to your run of the mill deer gun-turned precision rifle. Some loved the Fritz Lang Metropolis look, others could give it a pass.
But now's an especially interesting time for the AR-30. Panic buying of AR-15s and other black guns isn't about to subside any time soon. You may find ArmaLite AR-10 or AR-15s difficult to find. Bolt-actions should be more readily available, so I decided to look at their new AR-30A1.
As its name implies the AR-30A1 is an evolution of the earlier AR-30. While the AR-50 gets the glory, the AR-30A1 is a bit more practical for most of us.
There's nothing like a .50 BMG for getting attention at the range, but they are also cumbersome and sport horrendous muzzle blast. Accuracy with readily available military surplus ammunition is usually less than many expect. Also many ranges are not .50 BMG friendly and the large rounds come with an equally large price tag.
For the occasional romp at the range with friends or shooting hard targets? Well, in those cases the big .50 is hard to beat, but I find the smaller AR-30A1 series a bit more practical.
Currently ArmaLite offers the AR-30A1 in two calibers, .300 Win. Mag. and .338 Lapua Mag. Of the two, the big Finnish Magnum is obviously the head-turner. A truly fantastic cartridge, the .338 Lapua is capable of reaching out to astonishing distances. In the right hands with the right loads this cartridge will groove at 2000 yards and beyond.
Penetration on steel plate, even using regular Lapua FMJ-BTs, is thought-provoking at 600 meters. The chief drawback to this cartridge is simply cost. Loaded ammunition is shockingly expensive. Neither are cartridge cases cheap if you desire to reload. Such big cartridges also empty a powder canister in short order. Still, if you need the horsepower and can pay the price, the .338 Lapua Mag. is quite the ride.
Me? I'm an old fashioned meat and potatoes kinda guy. Sure the Lapua has more zip and sex appeal than an Italian super car. But the cost to cool factor is off the charts. For many shooters the well-respected Win. Mag. simply makes more sense.
On the one hand it offers a noticeable step-up in brute horsepower over the mundane .308 Win. Yet it does it without the wallet-melting expenses of the snooty European round. Plus with the most modern projectiles, such as Hornady's 208-grain A-MAX, and modern powders, the .300 Win. Mag.'s reach is surprising. So, when I decided to review an AR-30A1 this is the caliber I chose.
Unpacking the ArmaLite I proceeded to paw over the new AR-30A1. Without a doubt it's a very distinctive looking rifle. Some will love it while others hate it. That's life. Me? I'm a bit fussy when it comes to bolt guns. I don't care if it's ugly, but it better be fast. My first thought examining the AR-30A1 was the bolt resembled, and cycled like, a last-ditch weapon of World War II. It's certainly no Lee Enfield.
It's hard not to note the sheer mass of its steel receiver. A modified octagonal design, it measures approximately 7.5 inches long. To allow easy mounting of optical sights a 20 moa incline steel MIL STD 1913 base is bolted to the top of the receiver. The added 20 moa are greatly appreciated when shooting at extended distances, especially with scopes that lack enough elevation adjustment.
To stiffen the action, the receiver is enclosed, with a long, oval ejection port machined into its right side. Riding inside the receiver is a 7.75-inch long bolt with dual opposed locking lugs. It utilizes a separate bolt head that features a simple plunger type ejector.
Like most modern turnbolt designs, the AR-30A1 cocks on opening. The bolt handle is a low profile design and the manual safety is located at the rear of the bolt. The safety is a bit crude looking. Rotate it to the left to fire and to the right to place the rifle on safe.
Looking for an ArmaLite, but have the panic buying blues? You may want to consider one of their well-proven bolt-action guns, like the AR-30A1 seen here.
As its name suggests, the AR-30A1 is an improved and refined version of the older AR-30, a gun ArmaLite has made for years, but has been in short supply.
The .300 Win. Mag. is an excellent long-range cartridge capable of outstanding accuracy. Performance can be improved through the use of heavy bullets.
The AR-30A1 is built on a beefy enclosed receiver. Feed is from detachable five-round single-column steel magazines. Reliability was flawless.
The AR-30A1 utilizes a conventional looking bolt with dual opposed locking lugs and a plunger type ejector. Finish is rough and ready, Fortier says.
Fortier says opening the bolt takes a good bit of force and the throw is long, but the action is smooth, feeding is reliable and ejection is energetic.
The five-shot single-column magazines loaded and inserted easily into the rifle. With rounds like the .300 Win. Mag. and .300 Lapua, five is plenty.
The buttstock is simple and incorporates a cheek rest and soft rubber recoil pad. It can be removed easily for more compact carrying and storage.
The barrel profile is relatively thin, especially as it tapers towards the muzzle. This reduces weight but the light barrel heats fairly quickly.
The muzzle brake is impressively large, but it is very effective. It copies the one used on the AR-50. Muzzle blast to the sides can be unpleasant.
An IOR Valdada 6-24x50mm scope was mounted for testing. This performed extremely well with an impressive image and reliable mechanical adjustments.
This IOR scope model sports quarter-minute adjustments with 25 moa change per full turret revolution, and an moa reticle with digital illumination.
The IOR scope performed very well during testing and the MOA reticle provided quick hits at 800 yards. It's a big scope that well matches a big rifle.
Mated to the front of the receiver is a 24-inch chrome-moly barrel. This has six-groove rifling with a 1:10 right-hand twist to enable it to stabilize a wide range of bullet weights. Barrel profile is rather light. Mounted onto the muzzle is a scaled down version of the huge brake fitted onto the AR-50A1. Its large size gives it the flavor of something you'd see fitted to a Great Patriotic War-era Soviet anti-tank rifle. It features dual baffles and a 30-degree blast zone to the sides. If you don't like the brake, the barrel features standard 5/8x24 inch threads for installing a flash suppressor or other accessory.
The barreled action is dropped into an unconventional looking aluminum stock chassis. Rather than old school bedding, the action is mated to the chassis via a simple 'V' block bedding system. To further enhance accuracy, the barrel is fully free-floated. To ensure a good repeatable cheek weld, a simple cheek rest is fitted.
To further reduce recoil, the butt is fitted with a soft rubber pad. The pistol grip is standard AR-15. If required, the buttstock can easily be removed (using an Allen wrench) to reduce overall length for transportation or storage.
The AR-30A1 feeds from rugged detachable five-round magazines. The single-column magazines are fabricated from heavy gauge steel and fitted with a metal follower. Magazines lock into place with a push straight up. A simple push of the magazine release lever, located on either side of the front of the trigger guard, releases the magazine, allowing it to drop free.
To the rear of the magazine is a single-stage trigger. Overall length is a bit long at 46 inches, but the AR-30 tips the scales at just 12.8 pounds. Aluminum parts are hard anodized, while the steel is finished in a durable manganese phosphate.
To put the AR-30 to work I mounted an IOR Valdada 6-24x50mm scope, using 35mm Valdada Tactical rings. Built in Romania, this model is part of IOR's tactical scope line. It's built on a robust 35mm tube and has a 50mm objective lens.
Magnification range runs from 6X all the way up to 24X. Field of view is 6 feet on the high end (24X) and 31 feet on the low end (6X) at 100 yards. A knob is mounted on the left side of the mechanism block to adjust parallax and a fast focus eyepiece is fitted.
The model I received was fitted with a Valdada's MP-8 Xtreme-X1 MOA reticle located in the rear focal plane. This is delineated in moa and sports digital illumination. The 'Christmas tree' style reticle provides 25 moa of compensation for drop and aids with compensating for wind/lead. The large elevation turret provides audible and tactical 1/4 moa adjustments with 25 moa per full turret rotation. Total adjustment available is 70 moa. Eye relief is 3.75 inches, overall length is 16 inches and it weighs 35 ounces. Finish is an eye pleasing satin black hard anodizing and it comes with a 4-inch sun shade. A good looking optic, it's manufactured by a distinguished Old World optics company.
The .300 Win. Mag. is a very well respected long range cartridge among old school competition shooters, hunters and tactical shooters. Shooters like its accuracy, flat trajectory and lack of wind deflection at extended distances. Hunters value the way it slaps big game animals, even at long range.
From a practical standpoint, when topped with the old 190-grain Sierra MatchKing, the .300 Win. Mag. provides at least 200 to 300 yards of extended reach compared to the .308 Win. Stuff modern projectiles with very high BCs into the case and drive them hard, and the .300 Win. Mag. becomes a 1500-yard cartridge.
To wring the most accuracy out of this belted cartridge requires a chamber design that headspaces off the shoulder, not the belt. The downside to the .300 Win. Mag. is a relatively short barrel life. Top accuracy only lasts for between 1,500 to 2,500 rounds.
To test ArmaLite's AR-30A1 I began by selecting a variety of suitable loads for hunting and target shooting. Ammunition included loads from Black Hills Ammunition, Federal, Hornady and Winchester. From Black Hills I picked the 178-grain A-MAX Match load. From Federal, I picked the 165-grain Fusion. From Hornady I selected the 178-grain A-MAX Match load. Lastly from Winchester I picked their 150-grain XP3. I thought these four loads would provide a good indication of what this rifle was capable of with factory hunting and match ammunition.
Moving to the bench, I proceeded to put the AR-30A1 to work. Four 5-shot groups were fired with each load off sandbags at 300 yards. Velocity readings were measured 10 feet from the muzzle using an Oehler 35P chronograph at an ambient temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit at 1,030 feet above sea level.
ArmaLite's bolt gun shot best with Hornady's 178-grain A-MAX Match load, averaging 2 inches at 2976 fps. Not far behind was Black Hills Ammunition's 178-grain A-MAX Match load, which averaged 2.2 inches at 300 yards. Velocity came in at 3057 fps. Federal's 165-grain Fusion load averaged 2.6 at 3134 fps. Winchester's 150-grain XP3 load averaged a respectable 3286 fps, while accuracy was a pleasing 2.7 inch average at 300 yards.
Next, I switched to firing off a Harris bipod onto steel. I engaged reduced size silhouettes at 300, 400, 480 and 530 yards. Then I engaged a full size silhouette at 800 yards. During drills I noted the magazine loaded easily and inserted without issue. It locked securely into place and rounds fed smoothly from it. Empty cases extracted and ejected cleanly. No problems of any kind were encountered.
However, the bolt lift was heavy, which slowed down operation. Trying to run the AR-30A1 fast is like trying to power shift from 1st to 2nd in a M35A2 6x6 truck. No guts, no glory. Manipulating the safety reminds one of running a Mauser 98.
Thanks to that beastly muzzle brake, recoil is non-existent. You can shoot this rifle all day and your shoulder will never complain. It's a very comfortable rifle to shoot. Of course the brake puts out a good bit of blast and noise, so be aware of that.
IOR's 6-24x50mm scope also performed very well during testing. Optical performance was superb with impressive resolution, color rendition and low light performance. The optic zeroed easily and adjustments (elevation and windage) were exactly as they should be. Valdada's MP-8 Xtreme-X1 MOA reticle worked very well. The center dot provided precision while the moa marks were easy to use at distance. I had zero issues going from 100 to 800 yards using only the reticle.
My thoughts? Well, first off ArmaLite's AR-30 performed well with zero problems or malfunctions experienced. The bolt lift may be wretched and the throw long, but it's reliable and fairly smooth. Ejection was also quite positive. At 12.8 pounds without optics, it's also fairly light for a rifle of this type. Add a scope, steel rings, bipod and sling, though, and she porks out. Recoil is mild and the stock was comfortable. Price? An AR-30A1 in .300 Win. Mag. will set you back a whopping $3,264. Valdada's 6-24x50mm adds $1,995.