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Favorite Firearms: From Fickle To Finest

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The AR-15 rifle is wildly popular for many reasons: accuracy, modularity, magazine capacity and an ergonomic design that cannot be beat. For those of a certain bent, however, the venerable 5.56 NATO cartridge has always left us cold. Fortunately, Eugene Stoner’s original AR-10 was designed for 7.62 NATO (.308 caliber), so the platform can handle considerable pressures. A flood of new chamberings over the past two decades has forever altered the AR power equation, depending upon one’s preferences and tolerance for recoil.

Being a huge fan of Mikhail Kalashnikov’s 7.62×39 mm AK-47 cartridge, I always dreamed of combining the two into my ideal AR-platform rifle. Before 2010, this proved daunting for several reasons. With comparatively less pressure than the 5.56 NATO (around 45,000 vs. 55,000 p.s.i.), cycling the 7.62×39 mm round in an AR-15 can be problematic, to say the least. Reliable 30-round magazines didn’t exist back then either, making jams common. Spoiled AK fans will also appreciate my visceral dislike for direct-impingement operation, which channels fouling straight back into the finicky AR-15 bolt carrier.

In February 2008, I finally bit the bullet, so to speak, purchasing a DPMS Arms AR-15 in 7.62×39 mm. Needless to say, the rifle suffered from all of the above shortcomings. But I already knew that going in: Far from a trustworthy defensive arm, the DPMS started out as a fickle work in progress that I proceeded to rebuild from the inside out.

First was an Adams Arms adjustable block piston and Samson handguard, eliminating my fouling problem. However, even at full throttle, brass 7.62×39 mm ammunition still would not cycle reliably. So, next came a low-friction Wolff recoil spring combined with a split buffer (two 1.5-oz. stock buffers instead of one 3 oz.), cutting resistance in half. Last, but not least, dependable magazines from DuraMag and other manufacturers became widely available around 2015 or so, lending my AR its customary 30-round firepower. Suddenly, my wildcat hobby-project DPMS was a 100-percent-reliable, hard-hitting tack-driver. I now consider it to be the finest firearm I’ve ever owned.

Moral of the story? All that fun and effort finally paid off. Come the zombie apocalypse, what started as a recreational labor of love will now be my very first tool in hand.


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