May 08, 2023
Things used to be fairly simple. If an AR-type rifle was chambered in 5.56x45mm, it was an AR-15, and if it was chambered in 7.62mm NATO/.308 Win, it was an AR-10. Everyone knew this. While they looked alike, they were very different animals. The .308 Win AR-10 is much larger and heavier than the AR-15 to handle the substantially bigger cartridge. The AR-10’s receivers are noticeably longer and beefier while its bolt carrier dwarfs an AR-15’s carrier assembly. While similar operating systems, very different animals when placed side-by-side, right? Yes. Except now, the engineers at Ruger have forever thrown a wrench into the AR-10 vs AR-15 debate with their new SFAR (Small Frame AR) .308 Win rifle. The new Ruger SFAR is an honest to God AR-15-size rifle chambered in .308 Winchester which Ruger has the audacity to offer at a price a blue collar working man can actually afford.
There will be some that will foam at the mouth that an AR in .308 Win cannot be an AR-15 and has to be an AR-10. My simple reply is, “You are wrong.” To be blunt, times change, materials improve and technology marches on. The engineers at Ruger have indeed fit the .308 Win cartridge into an AR-15-sized platform. The result is a compact and lightweight 6.8-pound self-loading rifle measuring just 34 inches in length which is easy to carry, fast to the shoulder, and packing the punch of an old school .30-caliber battle rifle. Could it be the grail many long quested for yet, never found?
Eugene Stoner’s AR-10 (ArmaLite Rifle-10) was a brilliant and very futuristic design when he was developing it with other engineers at ArmaLite in 1955 and 1956. In comparison to the US Army’s Springfield Armory’s 7.62x51mm T-44 prototype, the AR-10 may as well have been from Mars. In a land of oiled walnut and laboriously machined carbon steel, Stoner dared to use plastic, aluminum, stainless steel and even titanium. Not only were his materials a complete departure from the norm, but so was the layout of his rifle compared to previous US Army designs. Its straight-line stock and elevated sights gave it a distinctive Atomic Age look while its light weight and layout made it very user friendly. Sitting next to it the T-44, which was eventually adopted as the M14, looked like a relic from the horse cavalry.
While the original ArmaLite AR-10 prototype began life as a surprisingly light and very handy 6.85 pound rifle, it continually gained weight over its short life to increase durability and reliability. The Portuguese model eventually tipped the scales at 8.9 pounds. Ultimately, ArmaLite’s AR-10 was a failure, and it disappeared. When the AR-10 design was eventually resurrected decades after the demise of the original ArmaLite company, it was envisioned as a sniper/DMR type rifle. Then, as time went by and various other companies began producing AR-10-type rifles, models eventually began to appear on the US commercial market which were lighter, and geared towards hunting. Even so, one common complaint about current production AR-10s is they are larger, bulkier and heavier than most shooters and hunters desire.
On the flip side, you have the much smaller and lighter AR-15. As the darling of American riflemen, it is available in a host of configurations and calibers. Over the years, new cartridges have been developed specifically to fit into the AR-15 to both improve the exterior ballistics and terminal performance over the .223 Remington. But, new cartridge designs have always been hampered by the internal dimensions of the STANAG magazine well (the 6.5 Grendel is a great example of this with its magazine issues). The result is a host of interesting intermediate cartridges, which offer good performance, but take a back-seat to traditional full-length rifle cartridges, like the .308 Win, 6.5mm Creedmoor and 6mm Creedmoor.
But, what about if you could have your cake and eat it too? What if you could have a 6.8 pound .308 Win self-loading rifle like Eugene Stoner envisioned, but in the footprint of a smaller and more compact AR-15? This is exactly what Ruger is offering with their new SFAR. Now, let’s be clear, Ruger is not the first company on the market to come out with a .308 Win chambered AR-15-size rifle. POF-USA introduced their Revolution series a few years back and then added their lighter and less expensive Rogue series. Available in .308 Win, 6.5mm Creedmoor and 6mm Creedmoor the Revolution DI model with 16.5-inch barrel weighs 6.8 pounds while the 16.5 inch Rogue weighs just 5.9 pounds. I will be blunt, I was very impressed when I tested POF-USA’s Revolution DI gun. Unfortunately it has an MSRP of $2,699 while the Rogue is $1,899. Ruger’s SFAR with 16.1-inch barrel as seen here? Just $1,229 MSRP!
Best Barrel Lengths for .308 Rifles: What's the Best Length?
So, let’s take a look at Ruger’s new SFAR and see what exactly it brings to the table. Starting at the muzzle, you’ll notice Ruger’s Boomer brake. This is a large dual baffle muzzle brake. This device is pretty prominent size-wise, simple in design and intended to reduce the felt recoil and time between shots. Remember, we are talking about a 6.8 pound .308 Win. The brake is threaded onto a 16.1 inch long 4140 chrome-moly hammer forged barrel. This features 5/8x24 muzzle threads, 5R rifling and a one turn in 10 inches rifling twist. The 1-10 inch twist facilitates shooting a wide variety of bullet weights from 110 to 200 grains. The barrel features a black nitride coating to protect against corrosion. The barrel extension is CNC-machined from what Ruger refers to as a high-strength super alloy steel.
Surrounding the barrel is Ruger’s Lite 15-inch aluminum free-floating M-LOK handguard. This features a short section of MIL STD 1913 “Picatinny” rail at the front and back of the rail at 12 o’clock. Plus, it has M-LOK slots at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. So, you can easily mount an aftermarket front sight and the accessories of your choosing. QD sling swivel sockets are located at 3 and 9 o’clock at the front of the rail. The 16.1-inch barreled SFAR features a Mid-length gas system. One nice touch is Ruger installs a four-position rotary gas regulator. This allows you to tune the rifle for different loads and to run it suppressed. A 3/16-inch ball-end wrench is used to adjust the regulator and this is stored inside the pistol grip, so it’s always handy. If you misplace it, you can always use the tip of a bullet. The gas block journal is 0.750 inch and it is retained by two set screws.
The upper receiver is made from a 7075-T6 aluminum forging which is hard-coat anodized. It features your typical ejection port door, brass deflector, and forward assist. A MIL STD 1913 rail runs along its top for easy mounting of optical sights. If you look closely you’ll also notice a gas venting hole at the front of the receiver on the left and right side. These go through the barrel extension and are designed to safely vent gas away from the shooter if a cartridge fails and causes a barrel obstruction with a stuck projectile. A follow-up shot here can cause a catastrophic failure which may turn the upper receiver into a hand grenade. Catastrophic failures can also occur with double-charged cases. In addition, with the ejection port door open, you will also note seven ports in the body of the bolt carrier. Again, Ruger designed the carrier to vent excess gas safely away from the shooter.
Riding inside the upper receiver is a chrome-lined 8620 steel bolt carrier. On top of this the gas key is attached using one screw, which was properly staked in place. At the front of the carrier is a bolt machined from “high-strength super alloy steel” which Ruger claims outperforms standard Carpenter 158 bolts. The bolt head features tapered lug geometry to further strengthen the breach. The bolt head is fitted with dual ejectors and a redesigned extractor for reliable extraction and ejection of cartridge cases. Riding inside the carrier is a titanium firing pin. This receives a DLC coating to enhance service life.
The lower receiver is a 7075-T6 forging which is hard-coat anodized. What sets this apart is the magazine well sized to accept 7.62x51mm NATO SR25/AR-10 pattern magazines. It comes with one 20-round Magpul PMAG. The magazine well is noticeably flared and high cut to aid reloads. The SFAR comes with Ruger’s Elite 452 two-stage trigger. This features a lightweight hammer with a full-strength hammer spring and has a 4.5-pound trigger pull. A slightly over-size trigger guard is fitted for use with gloves. A Magpul MOE pistol grip is fitted, and the receiver end plate has a QD sling socket. Examining it, I noted the six-position receiver extension (buffer tube) measures approximately 7.75 inches in length. Inside is a 3.25-inch long CAR buffer with a 13.5-inch long action spring. Pulling out my scale I noted the buffer weighs 2.95 ounces while the bolt carrier assembly weighs 11.6 ounces. So, the buffer is a standard AR-15 CAR buffer weight and the bolt carrier weighs the same as a standard Bravo Company 5.56mm AR-15 bolt carrier assembly.
First handling the SFAR I noted the bolt carrier was a bit stiff, the controls are standard AR-15 and the rifle is short, light and quick handling. I had first seen, handled and fired, the SFAR before its official release at the 2022 Outdoor Sportsman Group Editorial Roundtable. While my initial thoughts were positive, I was interested in actually testing the new design and seeing how it performed. A short time after the official release, I received a rifle on loan from Ruger for testing and review. After a quick 100 round function check, I got ready to check the SFAR’s accuracy from the bench. For bench testing, I selected Vortex’s new 6-36x56mm Razor HD Gen III scope. I used this in a previous review and was extremely impressed by it. So, I mounted it to the Ruger using a Geissele Super Precision 34mm mount. The new Razor runs from 6x on the low end all the way up to 36x magnification on the top. The turrets are big, easy to zero and feature .1 Mil adjustments with 10 Mils per full turret rotation.
The adjustments are precise with distinct audible and tactile clicks. An external rotation indicator provides both visual and tactile reference of which rotation the turret is on. The design features locking turrets, zero stop, a smooth operating mechanism block mounted parallax adjustment and an illuminated reticle. This particular scope was fitted with the EBR-7D reticle design delineated in Mils. A First Focal Plane design, the reticle sports a very fine center dot and hold points for elevation and windage/lead.
Ruger SFAR at the Range
Test ammunition consisted of Winchester’s 120-grain PDX-1 Defender Split Core HP, SIG Sauer’s 150-grain HT Solid Copper HP, Black Hills Ammunition’s 178-grain ELD-X, and Federal’s 185-grain Juggernaut OTM Gold Medal Berger Match. I wanted to see how the Ruger handled various bullet weights from light to heavy and felt these loads would provide the answer. Of these four loads, Winchester’s 120-grain PDX-1 is my favorite to team with lightweight .308 Win carbines for personal protection. It drives a HP bullet at very respectable velocities, even from shorter barrels like the SFAR’s 16.1-inch tube. The Winchester projectile features two cores, the softer front provides quick violent expansion while the harder rear is bonded to the jacket to retain weight and provide sufficient penetration. Recoil is noticeably milder than heavier .308 Win loads making it easier to control.
SIG Sauer’s 150-grain HT load is a traditional weight .308 Win load. The solid copper HP provides reliable expansion with deep penetration and is well-suited for hunting medium game. Monolithic copper HP bullets like the HT do not have a separate jacket or a soft lead core. Due to this, they work well against common intermediate barriers, such as auto glass.
Black Hills Ammunition’s 178-grain ELD-X combines the best features of a match and hunting load. The Hornady Extremely Low Drag eXpanding bullet is designed to provide controlled expansion at all practical hunting distances. The 178-grain weight is a good weight for the .308 Win as its heavy/long enough to generate a respectable BC (G1 is .552) and sectional density (.268) while still being light enough for respectable velocity. This is a good bullet for medium and large game hunting.
Federal’s 185-grain Juggernaut OTM Gold Medal Berger Match load is on the heavier side for the .308 Win cartridge. This match load is topped with Berger Bullet’s 185-grain Juggernaut Open Tip Match bullet. This bullet design features an extended length tangent ogive and has a G1 BC of .552 and a Sectional Density of .279. I’ve had good luck with this load and was interested to see how it would do out of the short 16.1 inch barrel of the Ruger.
Getting to work from the bench, I fired four five-shot groups with each load from a rest at 100 yards. Weather was 40-degrees with no wind. Velocity was recorded using a LabRadar Doppler chronograph. The Ruger ran without issue. The magazine inserted easily, locked into place securely and rounds fed without issue. Extraction and especially ejection was very positive. The safety operated without issue and the trigger is good, fairly crisp with a short reset. No problems were encountered, and I took my time firing and recording group size and data.
During my time on the bench, I did notice group size did change as the barrel heated. As the barrel heated groups first shrank and then as the barrel continued to heat they expanded. Recoil was comfortable, but it became milder as I dropped in bullet weight. I left the gas setting as it came from the factory and had zero issues. The Vortex 6-36x56mm Razor HD Gen III scope performed very well and the Ruger proved fun to fire from the bench.
Accuracy from the bench was good for a 6.8 pound .308 Win gas gun. It certainly held its own if compared to your average rack grade FAL, G3, CETME, M14, BM59, M1A and the like. The most accurate load was Black Hills’ 178-grain ELD-X which posted a best five-shot group of 1.1 inches and averaged 1.5 inches at 2,471 fps. Federal’s 185-grain Juggernaut posted a best of five shots in .9 inch and averaged 1.7 inches at 2,399 fps. SIG Sauer’s 150-grain HT solid copper HP posted a best of five-shots in 1.2 inches and averaged 1.8 inches at 2,667 fps. Winchester’s 120-grain PDX1 Defender posted a best five-shot group of 1.6 inches and averaged 2.1 inches. As to be expected the Winchester load provided the highest velocity with an impressive 2,876 fps.
Next, I moved to shooting prone from a rest on steel targets at various distances. Ammunition used was Black Hills’ 178-grain ELD-X load. I started at 280 yards and worked my way from 450, to 500, 550 and finally 580 yards. On this day, the temperature was 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and I had a gusting wind running from right to left. Starting at 280 yards, I put four rounds onto a steel silhouette and then hit the six-inch plate next to the head. Moving on, I held 3.3 Mils high and added in some windage and made a first round hit on a six-inch popper at 450 yards. This pleased me. I then put five rounds onto an 11x20 inch LaRue steel target next to it. My first two hits were on the right side and the last three were on the left side. It wasn’t pretty but all five were on target.
There was another 11x20 inch LaRue silhouette at 500 yards, so I held 4 Mils and fired off five rounds at a fast pace. Four of these went into 5.5 inches with the fifth bringing it out to eight inches. To the left of the LaRue was a 10-inch round plate and I had no trouble hitting that five times in a row. Moving to 550 there was another LaRue. My first shot went into the dirt just in front of it. Then, I hit it twice low in the chest with the impacts very close together, tossed another one low into the dirt and then hit it on the left shoulder. Again, it wasn’t pretty. So, I slowed down and fired my last three shots at a LaRue at 580 yards. These hit a bit low but the group measured just 5.2 inches.
I enjoyed my time behind the Ruger peering through the big Vortex and shooting at distance. For a lightweight semi-auto carbine, I thought it did just fine. Plus, it was very enjoyable to shoot. The trigger is pretty good, the recoil is mild thanks to the brake and the rifle ran without issue. I will say there is very little clearance between the gas block and handguard, and I wonder if this could be having an effect on accuracy as the barrel heats.
While the big Vortex was outstanding for shooting groups, it was time to get practical. So, I popped the Vortex off and replaced it with a Trijicon 3x30mm TA-33 ACOG. Why an ACOG? Weight. The TA-33 is very light and when fitted to a LaRue QD mount it only weighs 10.9 ounces. This keeps the SFAR light and fast. With the TA-33 mounted and a sling attached the SFAR makes a very handy package. It carries great, is quick to the shoulder and so I did some snap shooting with it on steel at 100 yards. I started by firing single-shots on a silhouette, and then two shots and then moved into running drills on paper and steel targets. While the brake is a definite aid, and dropping down to 120-grain loads further reduces recoil, shot to shot recovery is not as quick as a 5.56mm AR-15. But, the visual impact on steel targets is much more impressive than with
My thoughts? I like Ruger’s SFAR. I like the size, I like the weight, I like the fact it ran without issue and I like that many AR-15 parts and accessories will fit it. Plus, I like the price, $1,229. I plan on buying one, and customizing it a bit. Currently Ruger offers 16.1-, 18-, and 20-inch models. I’ll stick with the 16.1 inch model as it best suits my needs. While I don’t have a crystal ball, it’s pretty easy to guess what Ruger will do in the future with the SFAR line. I would expect to see them expand it and offer a 6.5mm Creedmoor and probably a 6mm Creedmoor down the road. I wouldn’t be surprised if they offer a bigger bore option as well. Perhaps a .358 Winchester or something similar. I could be wrong though, but I’m interested to see what the future holds for Ruger’s new SFAR.
Ruger SFAR Specs
- Action: Rotating bolt via Direct Impingement
- Caliber: 7.62x51mm NATO/ .308 WInchester
- Barrel: 16.1 inch Hammer Forged, Nitride heat treated
- Rifling: 1:10-inch twist
- Overall Length: 34 inches with stock collapsed, 37.2 inches extended
- Trigger: Two-stage with 4.5 pound pull
- Feed: 20-rd. detachable box magazines
- Sights: None, 1913 optics rail
- Stock: Magpul MOE SL 6-position collapsible
- Length of Pull: 11 to 14.5 in.
- Weight: 6.8 lbs. w/out mag
- MSRP: $1,229
- Contact: Ruger
About the Author
David M. Fortier has been covering firearms, ammunition and optics since 1998. He is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Outdoor Writer of the Year award, and his writing has been recognized by the Civil Rights organization JPFO. In 2007 he covered the war in Iraq as an embedded journalist.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.