Spirit of ’76: American Spirit Arms/Defensive Edge Rifle

Almost a year ago I received a special edition lower receiver from Defensive Edge/SLR15 Rifles. It was special enough that I waited until I found just the right upper to complete the rifle. That moment has arrived.

American Spirit Arms/SLR15 carbine shown with optics used during the evaluation: Millett 4-16X50 Tactical scope, Aimpoint T-1 and Magpul MBUS (mounted on rail).


THE LOWER

All SLR15 lowers are built to milspec standards and include extra features not found on some other brands. (For a full report, see IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE: SLR15 Lower AR Receivers, December 2008 S.W.A.T.) What made this one so special, however, was the serial number and markings on the right side of the magazine well.

To commemorate the year the United States declared independence from England, Defensive Edge/SLR15 Rifles made a limited run of 100 lower receivers prefaced with 1776—my sample is 1776 001.

The markings on the right side of the mag well are a Minuteman, and include the end of the Second Amendment, which confirms that firearms ownership is an individual right: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The markings are laser engraved, giving a silver appearance to the Minuteman and the letters. (These markings are available as a special option when ordering a Defensive Edge/SLR15 Rifle.)

Unique serial number on left side of SLR15 lower receiver.


THE UPPER

Several months ago I was invited to tour the factory of an up-and-coming manufacturer in Scottsdale, Arizona—American Spirit Arms (ASA).

I have been in some factories that more closely resembled a plant from the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution than they did a modern factory. This was definitely not the case at American Spirit Arms, and I was impressed with the cleanliness and brightness of the manufacturing area.

American Spirit Arms manufactures all major components from for AR-15 type rifles in-house, including upper and lower receivers and even their barrels, on state-of-the-art CNC machines. Chambers on the barrels are a true 5.56mm, and twist rates are available in 1:7, 1:8 and 1:9. Rather than marking the twist rate with a roll mark, the twist rate on ASA barrels is laser engraved under the barrel.

Laser engraving on right side of SLR15.


Although ASA manufactures complete rifles, I was interested in obtaining one of their new Side Charger Receivers to top off my Spirit of ‘76 lower.

Instead of a traditional charging handle, the Side Charger Receiver relocates the charging handle to the right side—as opposed to the rear—of the receiver. Whereas the charging handle on the common design retracts the bolt by pulling back on the carrier key, the handle on the Side Charger draws back the bolt by engaging a notch milled into the bolt carrier. Like the standard charging handle, the handle does not reciprocate when firing.

Machined from 7075 aluminum, the Side Charger upper I received featured a mil-std, “T” marked rail, 16-inch chrome-moly barrel with a 1:9 twist. While gas blocks are an option from ASA, I chose to go with the standard front sight tower. My test sample had the correct—for a carbine—“F” marked front sight base.

Side Charger is located on left side of ASA upper.


What it did not have, however, was a forward assist. While the debate on whether or not a forward assist is a good thing approaches the proportions of the “.45 vs. 9mm” argument, for my money it is a useless appendage. While I have never personally witnessed a forward assist solve a problem, I have seen them exacerbate a situation. It will not be missed on this carbine.

On the downside, the screws that hold the carrier key to the bolt carrier were not staked—at all. The extractor spring was the four-coil type and the insert was blue—both correct for a 20” rifle, but not for a carbine. Both were easily rectified through the use of Ned Christiansen’s excellent MOACKS tool for the staking, and Bravo Company’s Extractor Spring Upgrade Kit with a five-coil spring, black insert and “O” ring.

Right side of ASA upper. Note lack of forward assist.


FIELD TEST

I evaluated the ASA/SLR15 carbine with a Magpul MBUS rear sight, an Aimpoint T-1 red dot on a LaRue (LT660) mount and a Millett Sights 4-16X50 Tactical scope with illuminated reticle mounted in Warne Maxima Tactical series steel rings.

During the evaluation, I found the Side Charger to be extremely intuitive—at least for a right-handed shooter. It was a godsend when the Millett scope was mounted, as operating a normal charging handle would have been next to impossible due to the length of the scope.

Five different loads from Black Hills Ammunition were used for the T&E. This included four .223 Remington loads—50-gr. V-MAX, 55-gr. FMJ, 68-gr. Match, 77-gr. Match—and Black Hills’ 77-gr. MK 262 MOD 1 (5.56x45mm NATO). To conserve “the good stuff,” I also used my own reloads for many drills and general function testing.

The MBUS and Aimpoint were zeroed at 50 yards and shot for accuracy at that distance from prone.

“T” marked, mil-std 1913 rail.


Conventional wisdom is that rifles chambered for .223/5.56 will shoot heavier bullets best with a slower twist, i.e. 1:7, and will shoot lighter bullets better with a faster twist such as the 1:9 on the American Spirit Arms upper tested. The more I’m around firearms, however, the more I find that some—just like humans—have different personalities and will like one or two loads better than others.

Defying conventional wisdom, the American Spirit Arms shot best with the two loads at either end of the spectrum: Black Hills .223, 50-gr. V-MAX and Black Hills 5.56, 77-gr. MK 262 MOD 1. Both of the loads produced groups just over an inch with the red dot and iron sights. The other three loads were not too shabby, though, with the worst being the 77-gr. Match at 1.78 inches.

At 100 yards using the Millett Tactical scope, the best group was turned in by what has long been my favorite “go to” load in a .223/5.56 rifle with a 1:9 twist—the 68-gr. Match.

Bolt carrier and parts for Side Charger. Note notch milled into front of bolt carrier for operation of charging handle.


Average ten-shot groups for the ASA upper and the Black Hills 68-gr. Match measured .89 inches. Yes, the planets were aligned, I had the right combination of caffeine and nicotine, temperature was a comfortable 81 degrees and there was absolutely no wind, but I’ll take sub-minute of angle performance from a 16-inch carbine any day. (The superb glass of the Millett scope didn’t hurt any either.)

No failures of any type were experienced in just over a total of 500 rounds fired. Magazines included Bravo Company Black Teflon finish with Magpul Enhanced Followers, standard GI, Magpul P-MAGs, and both the 30- and the new 20-round translucent Lancer Systems magazines.

Chamber/twist rate is laser engraved on bottom of barrel.


The combination of the SLR15 lower receiver and the American Spirit Arms receiver proved to be a winning combination in both function and aesthetics.

While most of my “social” long guns sport camo/painted finishes, in the Spirit of ’76, I’m going to leave this one as a “black rifle.” Molon Labe!

SOURCES:

American Spirit Arms
Dept. S.W.A.T.
15651 North 83rd Way, Suite 2
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
(480) 367-9540
www.americanspiritarms.com

Defensive Edge/SLR15 Rifles
Dept. S.W.A.T.
P.O. Box 682
Anoka, MN 55303
(763) 712-0123
www.slr15.com

Aimpoint Inc.
Dept. S.W.A.T.
14103 Mariah Court
Chantilly, VA 20151-2113
(877) 246-7646
www.aimpoint.com

Black Hills Ammunition
Dept. S.W.A.T.
P.O. Box 3090
Rapid City, SD 57709-3090
(605) 348-5150
www.black-hills.com

Bravo Company USA, Inc.
Dept. S.W.A.T.
P.O. Box 341
Hartland, WI 53029
(877) 272-8626
www.bravocompanyusa.com

Lancer Systems
Dept. S.W.A.T.
7566 Morris Court, Suite 300
Allentown, PA 18106
(610) 973-2600
www.lancer-systems.com

LaRue Tactical
Dept. S.W.A.T.
850 County Road 177
Leander, TX 78641
(512) 259-1585
www.larue.com

Magpul Industries Corp.
Dept. S.W.A.T.
400 Young Court
Erie, CO 80516-8440
(877) 462-4785
www.magpul.com

Millett Sights
Dept. S.W.A.T.
9200 Cody
Overland Park, KS 66214
(913) 752-3400
www.millettsights.com

Warne Scope Mounts
Dept. S.W.A.T.
9500 SW Tualatin Rd.
Tualatin, OR 97062
(800) 683-5590
www.warnescopemounts.com

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