February 09, 2024
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“All AR-15s are the same.” A sentiment commonly followed by either a sarcastic “bro” or the unfortunate lack of knowledge found in some users. So, are all AR-15 rifles the same? That is a resounding no and this rifle is physical proof of that. This is the LaRue Tactical “Black and Tan” series of rifles from the famed LaRue Tactical of Leander Texas. Founded by Mark LaRue, LaRue Tactical began when Mark designed auto resetting targets. Being an avid shooter himself, the appeal of a resetting target was obvious, and that sentiment was not lost when it came to the U.S. Military either. With this, the legacy of LaRue Tactical began. Since then, LaRue Tactical has expanded out into numerous precision quick release optics mounts and even premium precision rifles (in both gas operated and bolt action). LaRue’s rifles quickly gained the status of a high end, very accurate and reliable system. But just how well does their new Black and Tan series live up to the OBR, PreditOBR and PreditAR pedigree? Let’s find out.
Until as recently as 2020, I wasn’t overly familiar with the entire lineup of LaRue Tactical rifles. I was of course, familiar with the OBR, as I had shot the 16-inch .308 Win carbine on a couple of occasions. I was well-pleased with the accuracy results from the OBR, especially with Black Hills Gold and Federal Gold Medal Match ammunition topped with Sierra MatchKing hollow points. It was easy to score sub-MOA groups and even made a good shooter such as myself look great. Being a huge fan of accurate 5.56mm AR carbines, I was interested to test and review one of LaRue’s Black and Tans. When the review rifle arrived at my local FFL (Stevens Firearms of Ashland, KY) the whole staff had to take a look as it’s not every day a LaRue rifle comes through the doors. I’ve only seen two companies package their rifles in the manner in which LaRue does, with the other being older Rock River Arms rifles which are shipped in a blue hard case. The Black and Tan was packaged in a black hard case, with the upper separated from the lower receiver. It was supplied with two Lancer L5AWM 10-round magazines, along with instructions, targets, “Dillo” (the famed and coveted armadillo LaRue bottle opener), “God Bless Our Troops…God Bless Our Snipers.” bumper sticker, and a copy of the Constitution of the United States.
The copy of the Constitution was a nice touch and something I believe every firearms company should supply with their product. It offers the citizen a better understanding of their rights and all of the rights in which our supposed government is breaking, disregarding and disbanding. Well done LaRue Tactical! While not standard accessories (unless ordered) for the rifle, mine was supplied with the LaRue C.A.N. cantilever quick-detachable optics mount, along with the ATLAS BT-46 bipod and corresponding LaRue LT-271 quick-detachable mounting system. The C.A.N. optics mount came with both 30mm and 34mm ring options. After putting the rifle together, running a couple of clean patches down the barrel, it was ready to shoot. For this carbine, I opted for my Nightforce SHV 3-10x42mm with the MOA Reticle, placed in the LaRue C.A.N. cantilever mount, and utilized the Atlas BT-46. This optic and rifle combination just made perfect sense, as the overall weight of the rifle would place it snuggly between a light-weight defensive carbine and a SPR-type carbine. While this could easily be outfitted and purposed for a defensive rifle, it is almost a tragedy to stunt the accuracy potential offered here with a red dot sight.
The Black and Tan series is built on LaRue’s respected Match grade receivers. The 7075-T6 billet upper receiver pairs well with their 7075-T6 billet lower, the fit is quite snug and the tolerances are exceptional (and far exceeds that of mil-spec). Pulling it all together is the hard anodized flat dark earth (FDE) finish. While the anodizing seems a bit ‘gold’ in appearance, it is likely the smoothest and (for lack of a better term) prettiest anodizing I’ve seen to date on a rifle. The rifle is absolutely gorgeous to look at. The rifle’s look comes together with an anodized black buffer tube, black LaRue furniture which includes the RAT Carbine stock and nicely finished medium contour barrel. Utilizing the M-LOK rail segment sent with the rifle, attaching the Atlas BT-46 Bipod was simple and straight forward and everything went together smoothly and effortlessly. While there is no doubt that the Black and Tan carbine has a top end pedigree, it does feature an A2 “birdcage” flash suppressor. I found this a bit strange, as most LaRue rifles come with TranQuilo suppressor mounts or Surefire muzzle devices.
Unfortunately, little is listed on their web page in terms of technical specifications. Luckily, Mark and the LaRue team are easily contacted and forthcoming with product specs. The lower parts (excluding the trigger) are produced by Schmid Tool, using AISI-8620 Investment Castings and proper heat treating. The receiver extension (buffer tube) is produced to Mil-Spec, meaning 7075-T6 aluminum that is produced from an impact extrusion process. This is by far the superior receiver extension (buffer tube) over commercial 6061 aluminum offerings. While not “Mil-Spec,” the trigger used is the famed LaRue MBT-2S. Produced from S7 tool steel plates, the MBT-2S is a highly regarded trigger, breaking at a 4.5-pound pull. The trigger is crisp, clean and has a short reset. Their triggers offer great value for the price and can easily fill a multitude of roles.
One noteworthy aspect is the fact LaRue manufactures their barrels, in-house. This means they have complete control over all their processes and quality control. They rate their barrels for having a “10,000 round” advertised service life, which is quite acceptable for a precision oriented rifle. Most precision barrels, especially manufactured from 4140 Chrome Moly steel or 416R stainless have an expected barrel life of roughly 8,000 rounds, which could decrease exponentially with the introduction of high heat and sustained rates of fire. The upper receiver is what I would consider a “receiver system” or “chassis,” as the manner in which the free-floating fore-end attaches is quite unique, well designed and proprietary. The flanged style attachment system introduces absolutely no stresses to the barrel, unlike other free-floating rail systems that attach to the barrel nut. The handguard has zero contact with the barrel, which in my opinion improves barrel harmonics and accuracy. Once attached, the handguard practically becomes part of the upper receiver, as the upper is precisely machined to match and interface.
Due to this design, accuracy is not comprised when using laser aiming devices mounted on the handguard and “bridging” optics from rail to upper should not suffer any diminished accuracy. This is all matched with LaRue’s standard 7075-T6 billet receiver. While billet is technically not as “strong” as forged, the yield, baring and tensile strength from forged to billet is always within one to four KSI (kilopounds per square inch, or 1,000 pounds per square inch) of one another. I consider this minimal differences, as both billet and forged both exceed 40 KSI. That said, LaRue designed their receivers to be reinforced in what could be considered “critical areas,” so both their upper and lower are quite robust.
As with all new precision rifles, I do a “barrel break-in” process. While some may not believe in barrel break-in and may even scoff at this process, I follow the guidelines explained by not only Craddock Precision, but also White Oak Armament and Criterion. Before firing, I run a clean and dry patch down the barrel, checking for any abnormal media. As expected, it came out clean. My typical barrel break-in ammunition for match barrels include: Hornady 75-grain BTHP (Boat Tail Hollow Point, sometimes known as “OTM” or Open Tip Match), Black Hills 77-grain BTHP, Black Hills 69-grain BTHP or some quality ammunition that uses a thin, precise copper jacket. With this, two rounds are fired and another clean patch is run. If no foreign media or abnormalities are present, another five rounds and repeat. If nothing more than slight carbon is found on the patch, the rifle is good to shoot. While some shooters are ritualistic on barrel break-in, I took the advice of precision barrel makers and let the barrel and barrel performance do all the explaining.
The LaRue has seen range trips on several occasions at this point and has had 1,000 rounds of mixed ammunition and bullet types. I’ve used the LaRue Black and Tan as both a defensive carbine and a target rifle during testing. While a bit on the heavy end of the scales for defensive use for me personally, it fits quite well into a precision, match, target or varmint rifle. For the average person however, the added weight will likely not be an issue.
Magazines and Ammunition
I did experience two malfunctions during the 1,000 round testing period, one magazine related (verified with two other rifles) and one ammunition related. While not a direct result of the rifle, I felt that they should be mentioned. The magazine types used were: Okay Industries Surefeed, D&H Mil-Spec, Magpul P-Mag Generation 2, P-Mag Generation 3, Lancer L5AWM, original Vietnam War-era Colt, Mission First Tactical polymer, new manufacture Colt (which are Okay Industries), C Products Defense (CPD), and a ‘no name’ Thermold style magazine that was found in a parts box. All functioned well and interacted great with the rifle, with the exception of one Magpul P-Mag Generation 2 (which turned out to have a cracked magazine spine near the feed lips). This is a prime example of why a person should always check their magazines for function before relying on them for self-defense.
The ammunition types used were all brass-cased, non-corrosive, boxer-primed and a mix of .223 Remington and 5.56x45mm NATO. Using examples from: Hornady, Federal, Winchester, PMC, Frontier (Lake City loaded on Hornady projectiles), Black Hills, Israeli Military Industries in defensive soft point, hollow point and Sierra MatchKing Open Tip Match, several NATO FMJ loads were used, ranging from PMC, Samson (1980s production), Armscor and Lake City. The single malfunction was a failure to fully cycle (short cycle of the bolt) on a Frontier 55-grain match hollow point. This cartridge chronographed almost 350 feet per second slower than other rounds from the same box. While shooting, I noted that the recoil was quite ‘soft’ and had I not received a chronograph reading, I would have pulled the bolt and double checked for a squib. Other than the damaged magazine and ammunition problem, the rifle functioned flawlessly.
While I do not “gauntlet test” rifles like many YouTube personalities, I did not clean the LaRue for 800 rounds, only using moderate lubrication with Springco “Machine Gunners Lube” on key areas. I received no sluggish bolt closure and no slow battery lockups, only smooth, consistent and reliable function. I found this highly favorable and something I did not expect for a rifle based around precision shooting. This rifle offers sub-MOA accuracy (with appropriate loads), combined with duty grade reliability. Accuracy and grouping came from 100 yards, shot from a bench and using a mix of bipod and rifle bags. While many would suggest using a static rifle rest or Caldwell “lead sled,” I find this somewhat cheating and impractical as a user will not be shooting from such a device in most practical applications. While a rifle rest would provide the mechanical accuracy, it largely lacks the human aspect and interaction with the rifle.
Numerous bullet weights, projectile types, and brands were used, both in commercial and military NATO ammunition. As expected, the rifle produced “MOA or better groups” using appropriate ammunition and lived up to manufacturers claims, but just how far under MOA was the shocker. Not only did the Black and Tan prove capable of 0.75 MOA groups, it dipped down and consistently shot groups of 0.5 inch with Black Hills 69-grain Sierra Match-King 5.56mm loads. Even with certain defensive loads, MOA or better wasn’t hard to achieve. The best group shot from the rifle was an extremely pleasant 0.423-inch cluster fired with Black Hills 69-grain match bullet. It is likely the most accurate, dual purpose factory carbine I’ve ever fired. With this, I will be breaking the ammunition fired into three categories, “Match,” “Defensive” and “Bulk FMJ/NATO.” Some loads may overlap, as the terminal effectiveness of cartridges such as Black Hills 77-grain MK 262 is hard to dismiss.
The best groups produced easily came from loads using the Sierra MatchKing. Any weight easily produced sub-MOA results, with Black Hills 69-grain OTM 5.56mm producing the best accuracy for a factory load. The LaRue carbine seemed to favor the 69-grain projectile, as both Black Hills and handloaded variants consistently out-performed the 77-grain Tipped MatchKing by a noticeable margin. Other notable performers were IMI Razor Core 77-grain 5.56mm (which is IMI’s version of the MK 262) and SIG Sauer’s 77-grain OTM 5.56mm. All of these produced easy 0.75-inch and under groups at 100 yards. The Hornady/Frontier 75-grain Match (using the Hornady Boat Tail Hollow Point Match projectile) shot decent groups, but not quite as accurately as I would have expected, with groups ranging from 0.90 inch to a bit over an inch.
Using a wide variety of Soft Point, Hollow Point and Solid Copper offerings from Black Hills and LeHigh Defense/Wilson Combat, the results here really pleased me. With Hornady 55-grain Soft Point “FBI training” ammunition, 1.25-inch groups were commonplace, with only a couple reaching 1.5-inches. Black Hills 62-grain “Dual Purpose,” loaded on LeHigh’s Controlled Chaos was another winner, achieving 0.90 inch to just a bit over one inch. The 55-grain LeHigh Defense Controlled Chaos didn’t quite print as well as the heavier 62-grain, but still produced respectful 1.25–1.5-inch five-shot groups. The star of this group had to be Federal’s Tactical Rifle Urban (TRU) using the Sierra GameKing 55-grain projectile. It produced several sub-MOA groups, ranging from 0.80–0.95 inch. A handloaded 65-grain Sierra GameKing boat tail soft point produced 0.90-inch groups. Even with cheap PMC Bronze soft point and PPU soft point 55-grain, groups never broke two inches, typically staying around 1.5–1.75 inches.
Bulk Ball Ammunition
Using mostly Lake City, PMC, Armscor and Hanson from the 1980s, all the FMJ performed about like one would expect. Be it M193 55-grain or M855 62-grain, the LaRue Black and Tan shot it reliably and produced groups ranging from two to three inches on average, with only the PMC X-Tac M193 producing sub two-inch groups, at 1.75–1.9 inches at 100 yards. I was quite pleased with this accuracy and performance, as NATO specification “ball” ammunition is not designed for precision shooting. Quite frankly, 1.5–3 MOA is great for ammunition designed to shoot 4 MOA, per spec. The LaRue Black and Tan is most definitely a sub-MOA rifle and it is safe to say much better with the right ammunition and projectile weight. It doesn’t simply shoot match ammunition well and ammunition slated for defensive purposes mediocre, it is just a consistent shooter. One thing that is often overlooked in testing and separates the bad from the good and the good from the great rifles is heat. When heat is introduced, especially with rifles with lighter profile barrels the user will start noticing the adverse conditions and stresses of heat.
This will also show barrel concentricity (how concentric the barrel is to the bore), stress relieving and how well the barrel was finished. The less concentric, the lower quality of stress relieving, the more groups will open up and the more a barrel will start to “string” projectiles. Using PPU 75-grain OTM Match, three 20-round magazines were “mag dumped” to achieve the desired effect (and keep the copper fouling consistent in the lands and grooves, hence the OTM projectiles and not FMJ). The rifle performed excellently, producing 0.95–1.25-inch groups with 69-grain Black Hills Sierra MatchKings. This was quite pleasing, as even very hot, the medium contour barrel produced close to MOA performance.
In testing, I did run into a couple of things that the average user might consider undesirable. As touched on before, the use of an A2 flash suppressor on this level of rifle. For me, personally, it is nothing more than a functional thread protector, as I believe it would be with numerous other users. One thing that I would personally like to see and one thing that I believe would improve sales across the board for LaRue Tactical would be specification transparency. With so many people producing AR pattern rifles, it would be a near effortless way for LaRue to show how they differ (and dare I say, produce a “better” rifle) than other rifle companies on the market. I believe this is imperative for LaRue, as while they have an impeccable track record
for quality and high end equipment, they also offer rifles that surpass the $4,000 mark. For the average person, this may be a hard sale without knowing more about the rifle. Specifics are just non-existent on their web page.
On the LaRue Tactical Black and Tan, while it is advertised as an anodized flat dark earth, every user that I’ve introduced to the rifle has either initially loved or hated the finish. Those who hated it grew to like it and I believe this heavily stems from its non “painted” FDE finish. The fact that it is anodized gives it a very unique look and take on the flat dark earth (and quite frankly, no “true FDE” exists). It is beautifully finished and quite flashy, which those looking for a strict defensive rifle may frown on. I personally find it to be quite attractive, but for those who dislike this style of FDE, I believe that LaRue should produce the same rifle, simply in black. This is a multi-role rifle and has a lot of great points. I really like the flange style attachment system for the interface between the upper receiver and handguard. This offers all of the benefits of a monolithic upper receiver, with none of the negatives. It also places no stress on the barrel and has zero contact with the barrel nut. This upper type is likely what I will be building future 5.56mm rifles on, I like it that well. I also like how LaRue turns barrels in-house. Not many companies can make that claim, and I find this a nice touch in terms of quality control and accountability. All in all, LaRue Tactical’s Black and Tan is an eye-catching rifle which proved both accurate and reliable.
LaRue Tactical Black and Tan Specs
- Type: Semi-automatic, gas-impingement, rotating bolt
- Caliber: 5.56x45mm
- Barrel Length: 16.1 in.
- Barrel Weight: Medium Contour
- Rifling: 1:8-in. right-hand twist
- Trigger Pull: 4.5 lbs.
- Overall Length: 33.5 in.
- Receiver Material: 7075 Billet
- Feed: 20-, 30-rd. magazines
- Finish: FDE anodized
- Weight: 7.5 lbs.
- MSRP: $2,499.99
- Contact: LaRue Tactical
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