I've always believed in getting the best quality firearms that you can afford, but in today's market there are so many choices that it's hard to sort out the wheat from the chaff, and cash is limited. The AR industry has so many manufacturers making rifles and carbines now that it's very difficult even to know who's making them, let alone what models they have and which features those models possess. How to decide what's really necessary, what's hype and what's dangerously unreliable in the long run?
The Noveske brand of ARs has many admirers among the people who really care about such subjects, so I ended up ordering the Noveske N4 Light Recce basic carbine that you see pictured here.
There were some other contenders for the best AR, notably Lewis Machine & Tool and Colt, as well as the mid-range guns by Rock River Arms, Bushmaster and our own Kentucky boys at Double Star. But I haven't forgotten that Colt's management betrayed gun owners when they stopped sales to civilians during the Clinton era, even though many in the gun owning public are willfully amnesiac on this point in their slavish allegiance to that brand and their perception of its superior qualities. And I simply don't see that the Colt, which offers virtually nothing in the way of options or modernizations in its stock form, is better than the other top brands like LMT or Sabre Defense. Of course, I did have a high dollar mark that I simply couldn't afford and that ruled out those super-fancy versions that easily exceeded $2000 in price. With even the collapsible buttstocks now ranging from $100 to over $300, it's easy to load a carbine up with options and optics and price it through the roof.
Finally, I ended up with the Noveske because it features a mid-length gas system in addition to all the primary features that I required. I knew about the Noveske guns but not their mid-length system until I read something about it written by John Hearne, another Gunsite alumnus who also builds and sells his own reactive steel target systems. If you shoot for play or for serious social reasons, you should investigate his DVC targets.
There are presently three major types of gas systems in use in ARs (we'll avoid getting into pistols and super shortys and all that) and those are the standard rifle length as found in the M16A4 with the 20 inch barrel - then the carbine or CAR short version that began with Colt's CAR and XM177E2 guns in the Vietnam war as the barrels were shortened to make the guns more handy and compact (ranging in different models from 11.5 inches to 16 inches) with the current issue M4 most often seen in the photos of our troops now in the field having a 14.5 inch barrel plus flash suppressor (seen here with the addition of the Aimpoint red dot sight, picatinny rail fore-end and a sound suppressor) - - then on to the newer mid-length system that's configured in between those two and is most typically found in AR carbines with 16 inch barrels. I'm not sure who originated it but the first manufacturer that I saw with a mid-length gas system in production was Armalite. Now there are more, though some gun builders with whom I've consulted still don't believe that it offers any advantages and don't make them.
The major problem with all direct-gas-impingement systems such as that used in the AR is that the propellant gases are vented into the receiver in order to provide the propulsive force for the bolt and mechanism. This is what leads to all the carbon fouling inside the receiver and it was this excessive fouling in the very early M16s in use in Vietnam that caused the malfunctions that were notorious at that time.
Modern ARs are substantially less prone to stoppages from carbon due to changes and improvements in the design, as well as user awareness of the need for regular cleaning and maintenance, but the reality is that the gas still goes slamming into the receiver super-hot and super-fast in the carbine-length guns. This accelerates wear on the internals and has caused the development of a different set of parts for the M4's bolt versus what's used in the M16A4 full length rifle
The mid-length carbine addresses this by moving the gas port, where gas is tapped from the barrel into the tube that ports it to the bolt carrier key, further up the barrel toward the muzzle. This in turn slightly reduces gas velocity, temperature, the recoil impulse and the wear on the internals.
My thinking on this topic is largely influenced by the fact that at one time several years ago I had what was called the "Dissipator". It was made by Bushmaster with a 16 inch barrel (which appeared to be a cut-down LMG barrel with a REALLY heavy contour!) but outfitted with full-length handguards and a sight tower at the end of the barrel for a rifle-length sight radius. It also had a longer gas system and the combination of those elements gave it a balance and feel that I liked a lot. I made the mistake of trading it in for a mock-M4 made up for me by Jesse Starnes at Double Star in order to get a flat top, since it had a fixed carry handle. Should have kept it but didn't. The only people making anything like it now are CMMG. The other companies now producing what they call "dissipators" use the long hand guards but employ the short gas system underneath them, which defeats the purpose to my mind.
I still believe that the future of the AR platform is a piston system of the sort found in virtually every other modern military firearm, going back to the FAL and AR18, carrying on today to the Heckler & Koch G36 that Germany issues.
The US Army recently evaluated a piston system prototype, the XM8 based on the G36, but dropped it for the usual arcane political reasons. Now, however, they're being forced into re-evaluating piston system guns by reality and some members of Congress, acting on end-user complaints from the field. This is in part because of the success of the H&K 416 that's been used by the Spec Ops community, and partly because the new FN SCAR rifles are piston driven, which leads some to ask why we would shouldn't go that route with all our guns in light of the known failings of the direct gas ARs?
At this time, which of the currently made and sold commercially available piston systems - POF, LWRC, CMMG, Adams Arms, et al - is the one to use, the one that will last and be available in the long run is still very much up in the air. So for now I've opted for what I believe is the best compromise. I still get a very handy carbine with a 16 inch barrel and all the good features like a flat top with rail for mounting optics and sights, combined with the mid-length gas system in a high-quality basic gun.
Later I can retro-fit a piston top end to this gun, but that's a luxury that can wait for now. It's more important to look next at which AK to get (another Romanian WASR utility type versus a semi-civilian spec Saiga SGL10 from Arsenal?) as well as which magazines to buy for both carbines, and how much ammo I can afford versus how many pistol magazines to try to work into the budget, and that's on top of continuing to pay off a certain young lady's college loans and doing maintenance on the house as winter comes creeping in. And then there's another Aimpoint with a Larue mount, and maybe even a suppressor - woohoo!
There's always something to spend the bucks on, even if you're not looking over your shoulder and worrying about the Obamanation lurching and slouching toward D.C.