Much has been written about the M16/M4, much less about employing Steyr’s AUG (Armee Universal Gewehr, or Army Universal Rifle). With two new domestic manufacturers and the announcement that Steyr will resume production of the AUG in the U.S., the time is right for a review of techniques to employ the AUG.
I have been running various AUGs for almost 30 years. The layout of the rifle calls for some different operations to maximize its usefulness.
When U.S. Customs adopted the AUG, I was the lead firearms instructor at the Tucson Customs Academy and introduced several thousand officers to the gun. Its compact size (about four inches shorter than an M4) made it particularly attractive, as the vast majority of our work was in or around cars. After supervising the firing of many thousands of rounds at the Academy, I returned to the field, where I carried an AUG on operations.
As Ed Lawrence noted in the April 2009 issue of S.W.A.T. (“AMERICAN AUGs: Domestic Manufacturers, Iconic Austrian Design”), the fire selector is built into the trigger. An easy pull produces a single shot, while a hard pull produces full auto or a three-shot burst. Customs adopted the three-shot burst model AUG. The concept is that if you have time for an aimed shot, you will fire one aimed round. If it’s an “oh shucks” moment, you will involuntarily pull hard, obtaining multiple rounds. This was probably the hardest thing to teach students who were used to delivering accurate fire with semi-auto pistols.
The hammer-forged barrel on the AUG is unique for its strength. My standard demonstration was to fire 42 rounds in three-shot bursts as fast as I could, then lock the charging handle back, pop the barrel out and drop the breech end into a bucket of cold water. Steam would spurt from the muzzle and gas release port. I would then slam it back into the gun and resume firing.
If you try that with a M16, you can bend the barrel! The factory demo included driving a bullet partway up the barrel and then shooting it out with a live round—I never tried that one! We fired over 14,000 (yes, 14,000) rounds through one particular AUG, and it never failed. In fact, after this torture test, while showing some wear, it still was within factory specifications. This rifle is tough!
The sight on the AUG is exceptional, as the ring sight is also a bullet drop compensator. Set for a 5’7” person, out to 300 yards, you just set the center of the ring onto the center of mass, squeeze the trigger and look for another target. Beyond 300 yards, place the feet of a standing target on the bottom of the ring and squeeze the trigger.
When I learned this, I did not believe it, so off I went to a range with an AUG and some State Department “Izzy” targets. These have the top half of an armed man on one side, and the bottom half on the other. Put one above the other, and you have the 5’7” male, armed with an AK-47. The AUG sight worked exactly as advertised out to 600 yards—the farthest range available that I could fire it.
There is an optional circle with dot reticle, but the dot is so fine it can only be seen on light-colored targets or at extreme range. There was also a circle with crosshairs, which I have never personally seen on a rifle. The Steyr “Special Receiver” came without sights, so a high powered sight (or a red dot) could be mounted. We found the plain circle to be satisfactory for general issue. The new generation AUGs will accept all kinds of sights, as rails were just being developed in the mid 1980s.
While the AUG can be issued with a left-handed bolt for left eye dominant shooters, generally you do not want to shoot the rifle from the opposite (weak/support) shoulder. Due to the bullpup configuration, it will eject empties directly into your mouth. For a limited number of rounds in training, or for real need on the street, you can fire from that side—if you keep your mouth shut.
Do not fire an AUG like this, or pain is in your future!
One thing you must always remember with the AUG is to fire the rifle with your support hand on the forward grip, with the grip folded down. If you fire a shot with your hand wrapped around the grip when it is folded up, your priorities will instantly change to seeking medical aid for yourself. You see, the gas escape holes lie right next to the folded grip and the gas exits with enough velocity to rip the fingers off a welder’s glove. Take my word for it, as soon as you start to deploy an AUG, fold the grip down!
The other caution with the forward grip is not to “choke up” on the grip. If your hand gets too high, it will contact the bottom of the gas block, which quickly gets exceedingly hot. In fact, everyone will know which rifle you fired, as that is also the location of the serial number, which will be burned into your hand—an experience you definitely want to skip.
Proper hand position on forward grip
Loading the AUG is different than the methods used with the M16 series. For starters, you can fully load the translucent magazines—no downloading to make sure they will seat. For your initial mag, insert it into the well and push up, then pull down. If it does not come out, the mag is locked in.
If you were trained to slap the bottom of the mag on an M16 (not a good idea with the M16 either), and you do that with an AUG with the bolt locked open, you will produce an OIDFM, or Operator Induced Dual Feed Malfunction. The top round in the mag will hop out and try to enter the chamber with the first round from the mag. As you can guess, two rounds trying to go into one chamber does not work. Don’t use force, just push and pull.
Speed/tactical reloading (as opposed to administrative reloading) is very different than with the M16 family. With the AUG, retrieve a loaded magazine with the support hand first. Use the spine of the magazine to press the magazine release bar. If you are using the 30-round magazines, the empty will drop free (for some reason the 42-round mags do not). Insert the fresh magazine, pull and release the charging handle, and get on with business. With practice, you can put the next round downrange before the empty magazine has hit the deck.
Speed reload, using spine of fresh mag to drop empty one.
Two more points about loading:
On top of the charging handle there is a small button that can be used as a forward assist. DON’T USE IT! Forcing a round that does not fit into the chamber is a bad idea. Eject it and try another. If the second round does not go, change magazines. If the second magazine does the same thing, transition to the handgun.
The other point is, do not “ride” the charging handle. Just pull it to the rear and let it fly home. If you have locked it open, just flip the handle down out of the notch and let it go. If you ride it, you can induce an OIDFM by reflexively pulling the bolt back so it picks up another round.
Even the sling has some special points. If you adjust the sling so it holds the rifle level at your belt line, you will find you can easily snap it up into shooting position. Rotate it in front if you need to do something with both hands, like drive a car. Or rotate it to the rear, where it is slung out of the way if you need to climb a ladder or handle a prisoner. This same technique, of course, works with the M4 or any rifle where the sling swivels are on the top or side.
Length difference between AUG and M4—about four inches with the M4 stock collapsed—yet AUG has same barrel length.
By the way, the AUG can successfully be fired in all modes one-handed, even when held like a pistol. Long bursts will tend to climb significantly, but short bursts and single shots are no problem. Your hit probability goes way up when you can shoulder it and use the sight, so this is more of an emergency drill. If circumstances have one hand occupied, just use your AUG like a large 5.56mm pistol.
Over the years that Customs used the AUG, it saved a number of lives—including those of the bad guys. Most of the time the mere appearance of the rifle in the hands of an obviously trained and determined officer caused the violators to throw up their hands in surrender. The first known shooting resulted in the rescue of two officers pinned down under fire and the elimination of three outlaws who made the mistake of trying to shoot it out with officers.
In extreme cases, AUG can be fired with one hand and the sight still used.
Although the M16/M4 system dominates the market due to its long history with the military, I find the AUG to be a superior weapons system for the law enforcement professional. If you get a chance, try one—you will be pleasantly surprised.
[Seth R. Nadel retired after serving 27 years as a Senior Special Agent with U.S. Customs. He was a firearms instructor for 25 years, including nine years as the lead firearms instructor at the Tucson Customs Academy.]