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AR-15 For the Love of Competition Rifles

Core-15 Tac III Rifle Review

by Patrick Sweeney   |  December 4th, 2013   |   12

Core-15 Tac IIIThe AR-15 was, to a great extent, designed to be manufactured as a precision-machined industrial product. Many of the parts in it are simple industrial fasteners, and even the big parts were designed with the idea of modern industrial processes. That is why we see firms making ARs that are not traditional firearms makers, but instead have a background of precision manufacture.

Core 15 machines uppers and lowers from forgings in-house — on its own CNC machines — and ships them off to be anodized. Anodizing is an electro-chemical process that is best done by people who do it — and nothing else — all day long. In the case of Core 15, the anodizing shop is two miles away — hardly what you could call “shipping” at all.

A New Arrival
The rifle the company sent me was a TAC III, a perfect setup to build on as a 3-Gun competition tool. While it has a number of mil-spec details, it exceeds mil-spec, which will probably make the heads of some of the “M4-gery” mavens explode. The upper and lower are forged 7075-T6 alloy and given the correct Type III Class II anodized finish.

The medium-profile, chrome-lined barrel is 4150 chrome-moly steel and features a 1:7 twist, so you’ll have no problem shooting the heavier 5.56 bullets.

The barrel is inside of a Midwest Industries Gen 2 free-float forearm, with short sections of Picatinny rail attached only in the places you’ll need them, producing a slim, well-balanced carbine with a forearm small enough to really get your hand around. The forearm goes right out to the start of the flash hider, so you can grab it as far out as you wish. The current trend is to run the off hand out as far as possible, making the left arm (for right-handed shooters) almost straight. That’s a little more reach than I’m accustomed to, but in this case more is better if you want it to be.

The carrier is 8620 steel and chromed inside, as it should be. The bolt is made of Carpenter 158 and magnetic particle inspected. The gas key on the carrier is well staked, a sign of paying attention to the details. The chamber passes the 5.56 test. In other words, it doesn’t rub on a Michiguns’ 223/556 test gauge. The upper has M4 ramps machined in; the low-profile gas block is designed to fit under the MI handguard. The TAC III features a mid-length gas system. The longer gas tube taps off gas at a lower pressure, easing stress on the bolt and carrier and softening felt recoil.

The lower is also 7075-T6, forged, Type III Class II anodized. The front of the magazine well has serrations, for those who have the opposite approach to the off hand and wish to grab the lower receiver for support. The stock, pistol grip, sights and included magazine are all Magpul and hard to argue with. Well, I can argue with one: the Magpul MOE pistol grip. My shooting style has my shooting hand as high on the grip and receiver as I can get it. The upper filler of the MOE pistol grip, behind the receiver, shoves my hand down and pushes it to an angle I don’t like. But it’s easy to change.

The single-stage trigger is better than mil-spec. Good enough, in fact, that you may just be wasting time investing in a high-zoot, expensive match trigger. I’ve easily dropped 300-meter targets using triggers that were nowhere near as good as this one.

The extra upper that came with the rifle is identical in all respects save one: It’s chambered in .22LR. Given the price of centerfire ammo, this is a very good thing. The cost of a .22LR upper — even a high-end one like the TAC III — will pay off in less than 2,000 rounds of 5.56/.223. And it comes with a Black Dog Machine .22LR magazine.

A 3-Gun Natural
The rifle as-is weighs just over seven pounds. For a defensive carbine, I’d like something that starts out lighter. But for a 3-Gun (or varmint) rifle, the weight makes it just a bit nose-heavy. Even with a scope and loaded magazine, it was responsive and held well in offhand practice.

I mounted a Burris Elite 1-6.5X scope on the 5.56 upper using LaRue mounts. The Burris Elite features a 30mm tube and an illuminated reticle, in this case a donut with stadia. Since it is a first-focal-plane scope, the donut is small at 1X and the illumination can be quite useful. At 6.5X you can use the marked stadia for holdovers. On the .22LR, I mounted a Meopta 1-4×22, also with an illuminated reticle. We associate European optics with first focal plane, but the Meopta is a second-focal-plane scope, and the dot-bar, with three chevrons below it, does not change size as you zoom.

Once I zeroed the rifles and got the chrono and accuracy tasks out of the way, it was time to play. The club’s 100-yard gongs were far too easy, as I could dump a full magazine without a single miss, even using the .22LR. So I switched to the falling plates, our prehistoric rifle pin rack. The pins are about three inches wide and eight inches tall, and they are not an easy target, offhand and against the clock. But once I had the feel of the 5.56 rifle, they were easy enough. Now, when I was shooting plates like this for loot and glory, I did so with rifles sporting muzzlebrakes on them. The Core 15 TAC III did not have a brake, just an A2 flash hider. But if someone is going to build a 3-Gun rifle, he already has a pretty good idea of just what brake he wants on it. Any other brand the Core 15 might have put on would just be unceremoniously tossed in the parts drawer. Better to let the end-user decide for himself.

The .22 upper was another matter. While it was easy to put hits on the gongs at 100 yards, the slow velocity and miserable ballistic coefficient of the .22 had them wandering right and left of the plates. This is no fault of the Core 15 upper, it’s just a fact of life with the .22LR. High hits on the plates took them down with rimfire, low hits didn’t, and the group size out there made it an uncertain thing as to where your bullet would go. I’m sure, however, that testing a pile of rimfire ammo will uncover just what load this particular rifle favors. Many rimfire rifles can be quite particular, and you could easily halve — or double — your group size at 100 yards just by changing brands.

The TAC III is a very good starting point for a 3-Gun competition rifle. While some might wish for a longer barrel to wring just a few more fps out of a given load, most of us will not need to. Inside of 300 meters, the difference in drop will be inconsequential. If you’re using an AR in 3-Gun, and the matches you go to feature a lot of shots past that, you may want to inquire about a longer barrel.

If you want something else, Core 15 can accommodate you. They make M4 clones, mid-length gas-system models and piston-driven models. And you can have all of them duplicated in a .22LR upper or a complete companion rifle. I find my rack stuffed full of ARs at the moment, but this is a very attractive package, and I will definitely consider asking Core 15 if I can have them both back for long-term testing.

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