Miranda on the range with Black Rain Ordnance SBR.

I count myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to T&E one of Black Rain Ordnance’s (BRO) rifles. After speaking with BRO President Justin Harvel about doing an article on his rifles, I went straight to BRO’s website to see what was available.

I was pleased that not only does BRO do conventional rifles of the 16-inch barreled variety, they also do NFA items that vary in barrel lengths and configurations. I promptly requested one with a 10.5″ barrel.


I like it when a company turns production into an art form. For example, look at the “Barrels” section on BRO’s website and you will see that they produce barrels made of 416R Stainless and feature polygonal 3 rifling, available in 7.5- to 24-inch lengths, and in .223, 6.5mm, 6.8mm and .308 Win.

BRO also does different contours and finishes to complement your barrel choice. From spiral fluting to bead blasting, BRO can build you a customized rifle that is a cross between a race gun and a battle rifle. They also do innovative color applications and water transfer immersion applied camo patterns to further stand out from the crowd.

My particular rifle was a variation on the BRO-PG2-Digital Tan. I requested that my gas block be tucked inside the handguard for a trimmer and more functional appearance. This also reduces how much barrel is exposed, thus minimizing the chances of losing skin on a hot barrel.

I requested that mine be chambered in .223/5.56—the delivered gun was chambered in .223 Wylde. The Wylde chambering allows for better functionality when bouncing back and forth between the two chamberings, which I tend to do. While there are other cartridge choices in which to chamber AR variants, I have found ample proof that .223 can be used as a manstopper.

When you have your own range, shooting is something you do on a regular basis. In the couple of months I’ve had this rifle, I’ve put it in the hands of friends and family alike. Not only does it draw positive comments, it also delivers lead on target quite well. I mentioned to Justin how the rifle has really smoothed out since that first shot, but what it hasn’t done is work itself loose. It’s just become more pleasant to shoot and work with.


Before I go any further, I want to list the rifle’s specs:

  • Flash suppressor: BRO 416R stainless, bead blasted.
  • Barrel: BRO 10.5″ 416R stainless, bead blasted, 1:8 polygonal 3 rifling, knurled front fluting, carbine gas system, micro gas block, M4 feed ramps, .223 Wylde chambering.
  • BRO 9″ free-float quad rail with proprietary mounting collar, color coated in dyna-coat FDE with 28% ceramic base.
  • BRO milled upper receiver, M4 feed ramps, manufacturer logo marked, T-marks under coating.
  • BRO milled lower receiver, battle grooves on front, flared mag well, winter trigger guard, ambidextrous fire controls, full auto pictograms, multi-caliber marked lower, with built-in tension set screw.
  • Digital Tan: aqua transfer with 28% ceramic clear-coat finish baked on.
  • BRO laser engraved dust cover “LET IT RAIN!!”
  • BRO milled charging handle 7075 T6 billet aircraft grade aluminum.
  • BRO milled tac latch 7075 T6 billet aircraft grade aluminum.
  • KNS anti-rotate pins in FDE.
  • KNS pivot & take-down pins.
  • Milspec ambidextrous safety.
  • Magpul FDE MBUS sights.
  • Magpul FDE MIAD grip.
  • Magpul FDE UBR stock.
  • BRO nickel boron M16 BCG.


Upon receiving this rifle, I was pleased with how my specs request had been brought to life. The number of details in this weapon are clearly money- and time-consuming. More than being meant as “gilt,” these details show a sense of craftsmanship on BRO’s part.

While meant for CQB, this rifle is capable of solid hits well out to 400 yards. Use of Aimpoint 3X Magnifier turned EOTech into a semi-precision tool that easily made head shots at 100 yards.
End of barrel is rolled to give it a knurled end for no reason other than aesthetics. Effort has clearly been taken to make this rifle stand out in the crowd.
Black Rain Ordnance tactical charging handle shows that details don’t have to be gaudy. Upper is also cleanly badged with BRO logo.

For example, every bit of branding on this weapon is machined in, not lasered on. You will find such details atop the (pineapple from hell) flash hider, at the knurled end of the barrel, on all four sides of the rail, and along all surfaces of the upper and lower. You even find these details on, in, and under the charging handle and tac latch. Again, this is not a normal level of detail work; it’s all of the machined-in type. While detail work is essentially “eye candy,” there is one bit of detail in this rifle that is all business.

If you’re in a situation where you have to reconfigure your weapon quickly, it pays to have all your optics, lights and lasers marked for placement. Ethan Johns wrote a superb article on this (ZERO SUM GAME: Setting Up Your Sights, January 2012 S.W.A.T.), from which I learned a great deal about setting up optics.

BRO makes it easy to configure your rifle by giving your upper receiver “T” markings. However, they go one step further and take those markings not only all the way down the full length of the rail, but on all four rail segments. In other words you have T, L, R, and B markings that are properly graduated for quick configuration.

From the fenced mag release to the scalloped front strap of the lower receiver, the details are plentiful. The trademark Black Rain Ordnance biohazard logo is crisply machined into not only the lower receiver, but also along the front (L&R) of the free-float billet rail. The rail has been nicely smoothed out prior to coating for snag-free operation. The lines of the upper/lower set are bold yet cleanly sculpted. And the water transfer digital camo pattern is clean and uninterrupted. The ceramic finish on the weapon is smooth but not slippery and adds a rugged surface that can take a lot of abuse before chipping.


In wanting to push this relative newcomer to the world of rifles a bit, I attached my favorite thread-on can from Gemtech. The TREK-T is Gemtech’s shortest 5.56mm titanium suppressor. Its tough construction is suitable for fullauto bursts and usage on modern shorter barrel (10.3 inch or longer) carbines.

The TREK series of suppressors is the quietest of the Gemtech threadmount units, but while this lightweight can makes no compromises on sound reduction, its short profile keeps compact carbines compact. The TREK-T is startlingly light and weighs in at only 10.3 ounces.

If you subtract the couple of ounces and inches of flash hider that are removed from the host rifle by thread mounting this can, it gives the TREK-T a net gain of only about eight ounces. In the world of sound suppression, eight ounces is a pittance to pay for OSHA safe hearing protection mounted on the weapon at all times! I have attended tactical rifle classes with this can and swear by its ruggedness and sound suppression.

In adding the TREK-T, I made the BRO rifle hearing safe, but also increased its fouling dose exponentially. Suppressors are great at doing two things. First, they effectively erase your rifle’s sound, flash and dust signature. Second, they erase your rifle’s dependability— you thought I was going to say something positive, right?

The fact is that while cans are superb at taking the bomb-like sound signature of a rifle and reducing it to a loud pop, they cause a lot of fouling in the gun. I am specifically referring to SBRs here. Rifles with 16-inch barrels can go a bit longer before needing to be broken down for cleaning. But SBRs are bad about gluing themselves shut after only 90 to 150 suppressed rounds. This is due in part to the gas ports on SBRs having to be run larger to compensate for the lack of proper back pressure from the short barrel. The larger gas port also means that more fouling gets into your gun.

EOTech EXPS3 offers quick-sighting reticle with central dot that is the best of both long-range and CQB optics.

If you think you’re exempt from this with a piston gun, you’re mistaken. While the fouling is far less in a piston gun, the abuse on the piston and op-rod is aggravated by the shortened dwell time inherent in piston guns. This equates to more abuse on your weapon and shorter service life. In other words, adding a suppressor is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Excessive fouling is problem number one in an SBR, especially if you allow the weapon to get hot then cool down (more on this later). But understand that home defense, law enforcement, and even most combat engagements where suppressors are warranted are usually over well before you even need to change your first mag.

Detail work on this rifle is plentiful. Scalloped front of lower receiver gives a solid gripping surface.


I spend my greatest amount of time with tactical rifles in the five- to 25-yard range. I find that these distances make for the most realistic training possible. I also do a lot of barricade shooting and shooting on the move.

I did all of the usual training with the BRO rifle that I do with my MK18. I kept on it until it was too hot to hold, then cleared the chamber and let it sit for a bit. As expected, when I returned to it, it had nearly glued itself shut. It required effort to get the weapon to function when it was so full of fouling. It fired for a few more mags, but started to do things like failing to go fully into battery and not locking to the rear on the last round. It bears saying that I have seen this issue in everything from bottomend rifles all the way up to $2,800 custom- built guns. Nothing can escape the Wrath of Can.

When the gun began slowing down, I pulled out a bottle of Slip 2000 EWL and, with the BRO upper and lower closed, did what I call “field expedient lubrication.” Here’s how it goes:

Lock the bolt to the rear and tuck the stock into your left armpit. Using your left hand to support the weapon, douse the far wall of the upper with lube and allow it to slide down onto the thin surface where the BCG rides along the upper. Next, ride the BCG forward halfway with the charging handle and drip about eight drops of lube onto the bolt, then let it go home.

Flip the rifle over and drip another eight drops into the mag well. This deposits it on the bottom of the carrier and allows it to work down on the hammer. Turn the rifle onto its left side and coat the exposed carrier through the ejection port. Rack the rifle a few times and butt stroke it on the deck a few more to work the excess lube down into the carrier around the bolt. You are then ready to get back in the fight.

This procedure may sound odd, but I’ve been working with cans for years, and this is how you do a field lube without breaking open the gun and turning your hands black with fouling. A can will take a silver/gray nickel boron BCG and turn it black in about 45 shots. And while I have seen NiB go completely without lube for several years’ worth of shooting, nothing can withstand suppressor abuse. After this initial hiccup, the lubed gun ran fine.

Mounting hardware is red thread locked, as is evident by small amounts of compound around the crews. KNS Precision Push Button Take Down Pins are a solid fit and remove any play between upper and lower.
Ejection port cover displays company motto. NiB coated and badged BCG offers a rugged piece of kit that will keep you in the fight much longer than you will likely need.


Accuracy in rifles comes down to what you need that rifle to do. Did you know that the venerable MK12 SPR is actually an MOA rifle? It’s not meant to be sub- MOA, and yet it has gotten the reputation for being “it.” That’s because it does what it was tasked to do—body shots at long range.

In an effort to test the accuracy of this BRO rifle, I added a TangoDown Advanced Combat Bipod. Along with the tan EOTech Justin had sent with the rifle, I attached an Aimpoint 3X magnifier. Not only did it work well, but with the weapon now stabilized, I was able to repeatedly pound the swinger head on my PT-HOSTAGE target from Action Targets.

I switched from Black Hills .223 Blue and Red box to just plain old Serbian 5.56mm M193. Obviously I had consistent point-of-aim accuracy out of the Black Hills ammo. But I had decent hits from the M193 as well. This goes to show that a decently built rifle with only a 10.5″ barrel can deliver the hurt at stand-off ranges.

Even after lubing the rifle when the can ran it dry, I have yet to clean this rifle since round one was fired through it, and it’s still running fine. Would I have any issues taking it into a fight? Not a one!

My only complaint about the weapon is that, due to its being so “over built,” it weighs in at 11 pounds when set up with optics and fully loaded. While this is normally not an issue for homedefense scenarios, I would definitely set it up differently for long-term carrying purposes. A lot of the weight comes from the very beefy 416R stainless bull barrel inside the rail.

All things considered, though, I believe that what Black Rain Ordnance has here is a great rifle with a lot going for it.


When you take Black Rain Ordnance rifles and compare them to comparable custom-built weapons, you’ll see you have a great rifle that is very nicely tweaked right out of the box. BRO wisely chooses not to sell direct to the public, which allows them to concentrate on their manufacturing processes. Instead they urge you to go to their website and enter your address into the dealer locator. I did so and found a dealer just a few miles from my home.

BRO rifles come complete with a nylon rifle bag, a very nice single-point sling, and color-matched 30-round PMAG where legal. In those states where 30 rounders are illegal, BRO will include a five- or ten-round metal mag. They also do California compliant weapons as well as New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts variants. All BRO firearms come with a lifetime warranty.

If you’re like many other folks who have waited to see a review of a Black Rain Ordnance rifle before committing hard-earned dollars, rest assured that this rifle is up to S.W.A.T. Magazine standards.

At S.W.A.T., we don’t do goofy things like drag rifles behind trucks or bury them at the beach. We just work with them and shoot them for a couple months so that you don’t squander your hard-earned pay on an inferior product.

Black Rain Ordnance has obviously made a serious effort to produce a good product. Justin Harvel is a shooter and businessman with a clear-cut idea of what he wants to do with his product line. I look forward to seeing what Black Rain Ordnance will come up with next.

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