December 07, 2015
Getting a new full-auto Colt Commando is pretty much a non-starter unless you're a police department. There is no such thing as a new Bren Ten (at least until the guys at Vltor gets off their collective rears and finishes that project). However, semi-auto versions of the Steyr AUG have been available for sale in the U.S. off and on (depending on import restrictions) for decades. Steyr has been making (or at least assembling) AUGs in the US since 2009. So why would I pass up the opportunity to test one? For this article, I obtained a sample of the Steyr AUG A3.
AUG stands for Armee Universal Gewehr, or Universal Army Rifle. The Steyr AUG was designed in the 1970s in Austria. It was adopted by their military in 1978 as the StG77 and replaced the 7.62mm StG58, a licensed-build copy of the FN-FAL.
It has seen service with militaries and LE agencies from Austria to Australia, Ireland to Malaysia. It operates using a short-stroke gas piston system that is very durable and reliable. The original Steyr AUG featured a 1.5X telescopic sight made by Swarovski. To be honest, the first time I ever looked through one of these sights, I was a bit disappointed. They have a very cool-looking silhouette, but performance was much less than what I expected.
Officially this rifle is the Steyr AUG A3 SA USA. This semi-auto variant features a MIL-STD-1913 rail running along the top of the receiver, so although it doesn't have the original AUG outline, you can top it with whatever optic you want.
The Steyr AUG looks so unique in part because it is a bullpup design, which means the trigger group is forward of the action and magazine. As a result, the overall length of the rifle is much shorter when compared to traditionally-designed rifles such as the AR-15.
With its standard 16-inch barrel, the AUG is only 27.2 inches long, approximately 6 inches shorter than a 16-inch AR with its stock fully collapsed. It is the length of an SBR, only you don't have to deal with additional federal Class 3 paperwork, and you get the ballistics of a 16-inch barrel.
Weight of an empty rifle with a 16-inch barrel is 7.3 pound. The barrels are chrome-lined and hammer-forged. Karl (Alexander Godunuv's character) in "Die Hard" sported a Steyr AUG with a 20-inch barrel. Those are also available and weigh 7.9 pounds, and are 31.1 inches long.
The original select-fire Steyr AUGs had a very unusual progressive trigger: pull it a little, and it's semi auto. Pull it farther back, and the full auto fun begins. For all you AR fans looking for some commonality, the AUG features a rotating bolt.
The rifle in its entirety has such an individual look to it that even people who have no idea what it is will recognize it from a movie or TV show. The barrel is tipped with a unique longish 3-prong flash hider that adds 2 3/8 inches to its overall length.
As the rifle is so short, a folding vertical foregrip comes standard so the user has something to grab onto with the support hand. The polymer foregrip is attached pretty much directly to the barrel by a steel rod, but it takes quite a bit of shooting before the polymer handle even begins to get warm. The foregrip does fold up, and the rifle can be fired with it folded.
There is a new variant of the A3 available from Steyr that accepts NATO-standard AR magazines (the AUG/A3 SA USA NATO), but for testing I chose the original. AUG mags are translucent polymer and very sturdy, and at least as reliable as the best AR magazines. With the rifle, I was provided one 30-round magazine (standard with the rifle), and one 42-round stick to have fun with. The 42-round magazines were originally designed for the light machine gun version of the Steyr AUG but are readily available.
The A3 variant features some upgrades from the original Steyr AUG design. The A3 features a bolt release latch on the side of the gun just behind the magazine. It is possible to lock the bolt back by flipping up the charging handle when it is at the rear of its travel.
The charging handle is small and (if the hammer is not cocked) very stiff to work. Don't buy an optic/mount to use with this rifle until you see how well you can work the charging handle with it in place; you might find yourself leaving knuckle skin on QD mount knobs.
Gear Head Works offers a charging handle for the Steyr AUG that sits at a lower, more ergonomic angle that won't interfere with any mounted optics. This seems like a very good idea, but I haven't had the opportunity to use one in person.
The magazine release is on the underside of the stock directly behind the magazine. It has to be pushed up to release the magazine. It is most easily depressed using your thumb, and while empty magazines should drop free since your hand is already there, the tendency is just to grab the mag and strip it out of the gun. Reloads are not as quick as an AR, but because the bolt does lock back and the bolt release is right there by the magazine it does reload quicker than an AK.
The safety is a square polymer crossbolt behind and just above the trigger. Push it to the right with the side of your index finger to move it from safe to fire. It looks weird, and describing its operation doesn't make it sound quick or easy, but it's both.
The provided MIL-STD-1913 rail is very long, more than enough to mount a traditional scope or a 3X magnifier behind a red dot. To me, it's not as aesthetically pleasing as the original Steyr AUG's optic, but in this case, I'll gladly sacrifice looks for performance.
The rifle has a very streamlined look and balances between the pistol grip and the magazine. If you want to carry the rifle with one hand, this is the natural place to grab it. There is a sling swivel mounted at the very front of the receiver rail, and at the left rear of the stock.
The bane of bullpup rifles has usually been heavy trigger pull. The greater the distance or number of parts between the trigger and the hammer, the heavier the trigger is likely to be. Compounding the problem with the Steyr AUG is the number of polymer pieces in the trigger system.
The trigger pull on my sample was relatively crisp and light for an AUG at 9 pounds! It felt about two pounds lighter than that, but, honestly, if I were sent an AR with a 9-pound trigger for testing, I would eviscerate the manufacturer in print. There's no such thing as a free lunch. With a bullpup gun, you get a shorter overall length at the cost of a good trigger.
This is not a pivoting trigger; trigger pull is straight back. I am aware there are gunsmiths who do trigger work on Steyr AUGs, and shot one a few years ago with a relatively crisp five-pound pull, so all is not lost.
There is also a cool product called the Trigger Tamer designed specifically for the Steyr AUG. It is a drop-in part that relocates the trigger spring to reduce some of the tension, lowering trigger pull weight by about a third. There are detailed installation instructions on the TT website, and the whole process shouldn't take more than 10 minutes. MSRP of the Trigger Tamer is only $59.95.
The AR is pretty much the standard against which all other centerfire magazine-fed rifles are judged when it comes to ergonomics. For as durable and reliable as the AK is, none of the professional shooters use them in competition because they are just not as quick or easy to work as an AR.
To some extent, the same thing could be said for the Steyr AUG, but really the only two things slowing down an AUG when compared to an AR are the trigger pull and the reload.
That Steyr AUG with the trigger job I had a chance to try out a few years ago was at a 2-Gun (pistol and rifle) match. Its trigger pull was better than a stock AR trigger. As far as the reload goes: No, an AUG will never be as fast to reload as an AR.
If winning a shooting competition is the most important thing to you, you'd be better served with an AR. However, when it comes to real world defensive situations, the chance of anyone outside of troops in heavy combat needing to empty an entire 30-round magazine (much less do a quick reload) is near zero. So unless you're looking for a rifle intended strictly for competition, the Steyr AUG is perfectly capable.
Accuracy testing the rifle, because of the trigger, wasn't much fun, but doing speed drills on targets was. Because the center of gravity was so far back, it was very quick to move from target to target. From the low ready, the rifle popped up speedily for me, and after a few dozen repetitions, deactivating the safety was instinctive.
My only problem was that I kept sticking the thumb of my support hand (on the foregrip) up and bracing it against the rifle. Or trying to, because right there my thumb doesn't touch stock but rather barrel, and after a few dozen rounds, the barrel gets too hot to touch. Think of it as a self-correcting problem.
Even though the design is close to 40 years old, this rifle looks and feels futuristic. It also feels good in the hands, and I found that it points very naturally.
It quickly and easily breaks down into six different groups: barrel, bolt carrier, trigger pack, receiver, stock and buttplate. The coolest thing about field-stripping the design is how easy the barrel can be removed. Lock the bolt back, and with the thumb of the hand on the vertical foregrip, pull down the steel button. Twist the foregrip clockwise, and the barrel comes right out.
To disassemble it further, once the barrel is out, let the cocking handle/bolt go forward, and push the receiver lock button (the large square button on the stock just forward of the magazine) from left to right. The receiver and bolt carrier will then slide out the front of the stock. The trigger mechanism comes out of the rear of the stock after the buttplate is removed.
Steyr barrels are accurate, and I truly believe most AUGs will provide between 1-2 MOA if you clamped them in a vise, but wringing that kind of practical accuracy out of a rifle that has a 9-pound or heavier trigger is beyond most people. It was beyond me, but I do like the rifle. Felt recoil is soft, and I suspect because you're holding the rifle at the center of balance, muzzle rise is nearly eliminated. It is more of a straight push back.
I'm surprised you don't see more AUGs in the hands of American consumers. Admittedly, the AR is America's rifle, and another design is automatically at a disadvantage. Just a few years past, the AUG was a little pricey compared to most ARs on the market. I've noticed that the price of the Steyr AUG has stayed the same for the last few years, while expensive ARs keep getting pricier.
The AUG has about the same street price as the other bullpup attracting the attention of U.S. consumers: the IWI Tavor. Both are equivalent in price to most gas piston AR designs.
As I own a Tavor, perhaps a little comparison is in order.
As a design, the Steyr AUG is about 20 years older than the Tavor, but that's not all that evident when you put the two guns side by side. They are roughly the same length and weight, but the Tavor looks and feels blockier. Both the pistol grip and foregrip on the AUG are slender, and I think this adds to its overall sleek look/feel. Even though it's an older design, the Steyr AUG looks more sci-fi. Both rifles are very reliable designs, and display equivalent accuracy.
The Tavor seems to have better controls. The magazine release is larger and easier to hit, the charging handle is properly shaped and placed. The safety is a more traditional pivoting lever similar in operation and placement to the one found on ARs. The bolt release on the Tavor is larger, and it is a little easier to field strip for cleaning and maintenance.
The Tavor has a little more rail space for optics and accessories, and comes standard with emergency flip-up iron sights. However, I have noticed a problem with the Tavor's rail that no one else seems to be talking about. If you look at an AR, the receiver rail is set about half an inch higher than the stock line. The same can be seen on the AUG. On the Tavor, however, the rail is pretty much at stock level. As a result, when mounting optics, I find some of them sit too low for comfortable use.
Both rifles have heavy miserable triggers. The Tavor's can be quickly lightened by removing an extra spring, but it is a pivoting trigger and I do not like the quality of the trigger pull as much as I do the straight pull trigger of the Steyr AUG. That said, both Timney and Geissele offer 4-pound aftermarket triggers for the Tavor, but they both retail for a not insubstantial $350.)
In sum, while the Tavor has better controls and offers more options for mounting accessories, I like the looks and the feel of the Steyr AUG better. It is sleeker and sexier, but admittedly that's a completely subjective opinion. Maybe I've just seen "Die Hard" too many times.