August 21, 2023
Versatile: vur-suh-tl or, especially British, -tahyl. Adjective. Capable of or adapted for turning easily from one to another of various tasks, fields of endeavor, etc.: a versatile writer. Having or capable of many uses: a versatile tool. We gun writers live an enviable life, but also a transient one. In most instances, any given firearm we are reviewing may have been in our hands only for a few weeks. Sometimes a few months, now and then (the ones we really hate to have to be assigned) for only a few days. It isn’t often we get to spend a lot of time with one particular firearm. Well, I’ve just spent three years with a Geissele Super Duty, and I’m here to tell you, I like this job.
A lot of people think of the AR-15 as a one-trick pony. Something short, light, handy, but only capable of short-to-medium distances. “Use an AR at distance? Why? And isn’t it a bit fragile, or picky in reliability?” That is so 1985. The AR-15 has come a long way since then, and one of the exemplars of the incremental change is the Geissele Super Duty. Perhaps the exemplar. When Bill Geissele started, he made triggers. Because the original design, while tougher than an anvil, wasn’t really a marksman’s trigger. Bill, being the good engineer that he is, took the toughness that was desired, and made it marksman’s-like. So much so that all manner of shooters interested in improved performance were beating a path to his door (in some instances, literally, and in the dark of night) so they could have the Geissele goodness in their firearms.
One thing led to another “Say, Bill, can you make this better, too? The original is kind of rough. Or weak.” And the next thing you knew, Bill was making pretty much all the important extras that the AR-15 benefitted from. At that point it was “Do we, or don’t we?” And Bill decided he would. Make a complete rifle, that is. Which is how I came to have a Super Duty on extended loan, while I wrung it out.
OK, Super Duty detail one: everything on a Super Duty (and I have to find a contraction that works) is mil-spec compatible. That is, if I were to take any part off of this Super Duty (oh gosh, the horror) and install it onto a mil-spec AR-15/M16/M4, etc. it would fit. I’d be putting on a part that was far superior to the original, mil-spec part I had taken off, but it would fit. So, check that box on your ”it has to be good” list. Detail Two: nothing on a Geissele is cut-rate or “just good enough.” So, with those two important things to keep in mind, let’s look over the Super Duty that has been sitting in my rifle rack, traveling to ranges, and consuming ammo for the last three years. (That long? Sorry Bill, time flies when you are having fun.)
The upper and lower are machined from 7075-T6 forgings, held to tight tolerances, and checked regularly to ensure every one of them will be a snug fit to every other. The lower is fitted with an ambidextrous selector, which I didn’t notice until I handed it to a left-handed shooter who said “Oh, cool.” I’ve never gotten into the habit of using an ambi on an AR, so the only time I notice them is when they are too big and get in the way. This one doesn’t get in the way. The magazine release is also standard, but the bolt catch is not. This is the Geissele dual-lever bolt catch. It is big enough, top and bottom, that you cannot fail to hit it when you need to. However, it is fitted flush enough to the receiver that it isn’t a goiter, hanging in the way and catching on gear and brush. Underneath those, is the Geissele Ultra Precision trigger guard. It is large enough to accommodate gloves, but again, not obtrusive, and a lot sturdier than the plastic tab or aluminum strip that is USGI.
The carrier is made from the current best steel for that, 8620, while the bolt is made from an improved Carpenter 158, called 158+. Yes, Virginia, it is possible to make a better steel but still call it Carpenter 158, if you go directly to Carpenter and ask them. Which is what Bill did. (I can only shudder at what the minimum order is for a specialty steel. How many tons?) He also opted for a better steel for the cam pin, and then he decided that cold hammer-forging barrels was the only way to go, so he acquired the equipment and as a result makes his own. The bolt is, of course, magnetic particle inspected, shot-peened, and proof-tested. The gas key is properly staked.
The barrel is not lightweight, but a medium-weight profile designed to handle hard use and heat which has a 1/7 twist and is chrome-lined. The gas block is Bill’s own Super Compact Block, and the installation is, in the words of Geissele, “bomb-proof.” As in, the gas block is pressed onto the barrel, with both the barrel exterior and gas block interior closely matching in size. It is then locked in place by means of not one but two setscrews, each nestling into recesses dimpled into the barrel. Then it gets a cross pin, through the block, and nicking the bottom edge of the barrel itself. I pity anyone who thinks they will simply snatch the gas block off of a shot-out Geissele barrel (who knows how much ammo that would take) to install it on another barrel. Good luck with that. It then gets a gas tube and is ready for its handguard. The gas system is “Geissele length” a mid-length system that softens recoil and smoothes out the gas impulse hitting the gas key and starting the cycle.
Before they are all assembled, all the internals and the barrel, as well as the Surefire flash hider/muzzle/brake/suppressor mount, are all given the Geissele Nanoweapon coating. This is a solid lubricant coating that is available only from Geissele. It is a matte finish black coating that you cannot rub off short of going to power equipment, and aggressive equipment at that. It has a surface hardness in the same league as synthetic diamonds. You aren’t going to wear it off cleaning, shooting or tossing it into your ultrasonic cleaner. It makes parts rust-resistant, easy to clean, and slick in use. I first saw it at the SHOT show a few years ago, and Bill demonstrated it by attacking it with various steel implements. All he managed to do was rub steel off of the tools, and the Nanoweapons parts wiped clean.
The barrel gets a Super Modular Mk16 handguard, with M-LOK slots. Geissele only makes their handguards in M-LOK, so make sure you have M-LOK accessories to bolt on. The Mk16, like all SuperMod handguards, use a proprietary barrel nut. This does not have the flanges of a regular barrel nut, and thus there is no problem with the gas tube touching the barrel nut. To hold the handguard on, and to keep the barrel nut in place, Geissele uses a pair of hefty bolts crossways through the bottom rear of the Mk16. These pass-through grooves on the barrel nut, and keep the whole package tight and properly aligned. And the attention to detail that is Geissele is right here to be seen. Notice that the Mk16 clamping bolts pass through the aluminum handguard, but they are threaded to a steel plate inset on the far side. The tensile strength of aluminum is half that (at best) of steel. It is entirely possible to strip the threads of an aluminum handguard, by over-tightening the steel bolt. Geissele won’t let that happen, hence the anchor plates.
The lower gets a Geissele SSA-E X with Lightning Bow, a first-class two-stage trigger that has a straight bow for consistency in trigger pull. There’s a Geissele pistol grip behind that, and again Geissele gets it right. Perhaps the one detail that I find not to my liking on modern ARs is that I’m not a fan of pistol grips that fill the upper back end of the lower receiver, but Geissele installs an A2 here, kudos Bill. And, as an interesting attention to detail, the takedown pin heads are checkered. Does it matter? Not much, although I was trying to take my Super Duty down when wet, cold, tired and with hands slick from whatever, the checkering could help, What it does do is let you know “People who care made this product.”
On the back of the lower receiver there is an VLtor B5 systems buffer tube and Sopmod stock. The B5 System assembly has a longer buffer stroke than a carbine system has, and this makes for a softer and less-bouncy felt recoil. Inside it is the Geissele Super-42 spring, and an H2 buffer, to ensure reliable function and aid smooth recoil. To charge the rifle, you grab ahold of the Airborne Charging handle, an ambidextrous version of the Super Charging handle, but with a bit lower profile, so it is less likely to get hung up on your gear.
Remember I mentioned optics? Well, there has been for some time now a Geissele scope, the Super Precision, a 1-6X scope with a DMRR-1 reticle,
allowing for quick range estimation and hold-over. It also has an illuminated center dot, with the intensity controlled by a dial on the left side of the turret. The Super Precision in a second focal plane design, so the reticle stays the same size throughout the 1-6X zoom range. The Super Precision is one of the few things here not made by Geissele. However, they told an experienced Japanese (not China, that would be egregious, and Geissele doesn’t do egregious) optics company what they wanted, and the standards they would test the optics to, and knowing Bill, the penalties for failure on the part of the optics maker would be epic. If you have a particular optics preference, Geissele can mount something else on your Super Duty. In looking over the web page, I counted no fewer than 24 other optics you can have them mount on top of your Super Duty when you order. Installed in a Geissele Super Precision mount, of course. And, as always, the Super Precision mount has the top rings numbered and lettered, so you can get them back on correctly after you’ve taken them off to install some other optic.
Now, to be a complete systems provider, Bill would have to offer ammunition and magazines with his rifles. When I suggested that, with a big grin, he just laughed. We agreed that maybe two decades ago it might have made sense. But now, with so many good magazines, and plentiful ammo choices to be had, there is no point. Granted, ammo is expensive, but even Bill can’t make ammo less expensive, so that’s that.
In testing, I ran pretty much everything I could lay hands on, in a quest to see if there was something it didn’t like. Well, it liked some ammo better than others, but it shot it all excellently. And some it shot superbly. As the barrel has a 1/7 twist, I didn’t try any varmint-type loads, because I know the likely result; a trail of smoking lead as the bullet disintegrates, and no hole in the target. I also tried some Norma frangible ammo. A lot of “frange” I’ve shot in the past was at best casually accurate. In fact, if it stayed in the “A” zone of a target across the room, in an indoor simulator, I was happy. The Norma shoots like real ammo. So, I gave it a try. It isn’t sub-MOA, but boy does it come close out of the Super Duty. Everything else that was not just vanilla-plain “commodity” ammo shot sub-MOA. The Super Duty posed the same problem I’ve had with superbly accurate rifles in the past: see the group. Even with a spotting scope, some of the groups looked like there was just one hole, and “Where are the rest going?” is a mental problem when trying to shoot small groups. I guess those who do benchrest are accustomed to it, but for the rest of us, when we are expecting to see clusters of holes a single ragged hole is a not always easy to deal with. On the day I was planning to do the accuracy work and photos, I laid off (well, I dialed back, anyway) on the coffee, and man, was I on that day. Sub-MOA groups pretty much all morning.
In the course of wringing out the Super Duty, I had several opportunities to take it to a private range nearby (well, kinda-sorta nearby) where the owner has steel set up at 688 yards. If we were willing to go back into the tree line, we could get back to an even 700 yards. I took one look at the potentially tick-infested summer underbrush, and allowed as 688 yards was “far enough.” Now, I’m a handgun and shotgun shooter of long standing. I shoot rifles really quickly, as long as I’m close enough to be fast. I can reach out to 300 meters and readily tag little green computer targets at the National Guard base. But my idea of “reading the wind” is to position myself so it cools me off the fastest on a hot summer day. Reading the wind to calculate how much to hold isn’t something I’ve had practice at, so I was happy to have the owner, an old hand at PRS competition, tell me the holds. Once we had a good zero, and then figured the come-ups, I was hitting the steel at 688 yards with regularity. It didn’t hurt that I was using Black Hills MK 262 Mod1C ammunition that day, which is held to sub-MOA accuracy standards in testing. (And every lot gets tested.) The Geissele scope, and the beautiful trigger, made tagging steel at any distance a cinch, provided someone else did the voodoo of wind deciphering. (I could learn, but who has the time?)
Just for kicks, on a subsequent trip to the range, we managed (not easily, tall grass and rolling terrain made it difficult) to set up targets at 100-yard intervals, to check for groups. Well, I was on that day (or the wind was off), or the caffeine was low-octane) because I shot a 500 yard group of two inches. Can I do that every time? Probably not. Can a real, practiced long-range shooter do it? Maybe. Will I brag on it for a long time? You betcha.
In-between those long-range trips, and since then, I also hauled the Super Duty up to Central Lake, Michigan, twice now for The Pin Shoot, with a third trip coming up. There, I used it on the LRPF, the Light Rifle Pop and Flop, which isn’t really long range, at 90 yards, but certainly is warp-speed shooting on falling plates. Again, the Geissele scope, which I could dial down to just the right magnification, and the exquisite trigger, made it easy. Well, easy the first year, once I got over my trigger-slapping habits of the shotgun event I had just come from. It took a few runs, but I was soon in the groove, and got on the prize table. I then loaned it to Kim Chudwin, who spent less time getting used to the trigger, and got herself on the prize table as well.
A year later, I did it all over again, getting on the line, getting back proper trigger-pressing form instead of trigger-slapping, and on the prize table. And then loaned it to Kim again for her own trip to the prize table, this time besting my time. The Pin shoot requires a lot of ammo if you are going to go all-in, and practice for it. The Super Duty never failed to perform at any time in practice, testing or competition. Oh, and all this time, I would occasionally bring the Super Duty along on a range trip, not because I needed to test it more, but because it was just fun to shoot. I know someone will cue a very small violin at this point, but a day at the range, doing nothing but work, can become...work. Taking a break, to just have some fun, or work on personal drills, made it a lot easier.
I also made sure I spent a lot of time running the Super Duty with a suppressor on it, because, well, because I can. It comes with a Surefire mount, so I
had to yank the Surefire 556 off of whatever rifle it was on, to park it on the Super Duty, and go to the range. I’m looking forward to testing the B&T Rotex-X because it will come built to go onto a Surefire mount. And yes, I’ll be testing it on the Super Duty, as well as other rifles. Some of you might be thinking “Wait, Sweeney shot his Super Duty with frangibles, and he shot it a lot with a suppressor on it. Doesn’t he know you aren’t supposed to run frangible ammo through a silencer?” Yes, I do. And when I mentioned that I had a line on some really accurate frangible ammo, Suerfire sent me one of their training/drone cans. It is simply the external tube and mount of the Surefire 556, but without the insides. You can get your practice with the same weight and balance, but not risk of a baffle strike from a too-early frang-ing frangible.
How do you buy a Super Duty? You order it built to your specs. You pick rifle, SBR or pistol, barrel length, scope or no scope, and color. Color? Yes. Mine came in DDC, Desert Dirt Color, which I find to be a far better descriptor than FDE. You can also opt from Luna Black, Gray, 40mm Green, OD Green and Iridium. Place your order, and wait. Your rifle is built to your specs, not just snatched off of an inventory rack, wrapped and shipped. And one extra detail, on the colors; since they are anodized, they won’t match. Modern chemistry is a wondrous thing, but there’s something about anodized aluminum that causes batches to come out slightly different shades. So, you can order yours in a color, but each part of it won’t be an exact match in shade to the others. Geissele explains this, and if you have a problem you can (probably) send it back. But you won’t get a guarantee that they will all match exactly, because that can’t be done.
So, what have I learned, in three years of using the Geissele Super Duty? That Bill makes a most excellent rifle. That a superb trigger is a great help to wringing all the accuracy out of a firearm that it can produce. That quality costs, but then quality is worth it. Yes, you could buy two lesser AR-15s for what this setup would run you, but you can only shoot one rifle at a time, and if you are going to shoot one rifle, this is the one. That there is nothing not to like about the Super Duty, but if there was one thing I’d change, it would be to send this one back and have Bill send me an invoice for the same thing, but as an SBR. As much as I love this rifle, it is just a bit too big and heavy for what I might need, what I like, and what I can lug around all day. One thing I can count on, an SBR would be as reliable, have as nice a trigger, and probably be just as accurate as the full-sized Super duty. Because that’s the way Bill Geissele rolls.
Geissele Super Duty
- Type: Direct impingement, hammer-fired, semi-automatic
- Caliber: 5.56
- Capacity: 10, 20, 30 rds.
- Barrel: 14.5 in.
- Overall Length: 34 in. (collasped), 37 in. (extended)
- Weight: 9 lbs., 2 oz.
- Finish: Anodized aluminum
- Grips: Geissele
- Sights: N/A (supplied with Geissele 1-6X)
- Trigger: Geissele two-stage, 3.5 lbs.
- MSRP: $3,750 (tested)
- Contact: Geissele Automatics