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AR-15 Rifles

Diamondback DB-15 Review

by Tom Beckstrand   |  February 21st, 2014 16

Readers who are big into airboats will probably recognize the name “Diamondback.” The company has been making airboats since 1989 and has earned a reputation as one of the premier airboat manufacturers in the industry.

A few years back, a customer of Diamondback’s was having a boat made. This customer was also an avid alligator hunter. The customer got to talking with Diamondback’s owner and mentioned that there was a shortage of high-quality, low-cost modern sporting rifles (MSRs) available. This occurred shortly after the election of our current president, and the “First Modern Gun Panic” had just begun.

Diamondback is just down the street from Kel-Tec, so the idea of getting into the gun-making business didn’t seem like too much of a stretch. It didn’t take long for Diamondback to get into the firearms business, with its first offering hitting the market later that year.

The first firearm Diamondback produced was the DB380. The small pistol hit at the height of the “little pistol” craze and helped the company work through the growing pains associated with firearms manufacturing. Its product line expanded to the DB9 pistol and has now grown to include the DB-15 rifle and pistol.

A NEW PARTNERSHIP
Diamondback’s owner quickly discovered that running multiple companies spanning two entirely different industries was going to require skillful restructuring. The marketing involving airboats and guns is significantly different, as are the customers. The prudent move was to partner with a company already in the gun industry.

Diamondback chose to enter into a joint venture with TD Distributors, a Taurus Holdings subsidiary. Diamondback Firearms is and remains its own company, which handles the design, production and warranty of its product line. It is located on the “Space Coast,” near Cape Canaveral, Florida. Due to cuts made to the space program, there are a lot of very highly skilled engineers (real rocket scientists) looking for work. Many have found employment with Diamondback, further enhancing the company’s expertise in design and production.

The finished guns are shipped to TD Distributors, which handles sales, distribution and customer service. The arrangement leverages the best of both companies. Diamondback is able to use its engineers and production folks on a tightly focused product line, and TD Distributors uses their industry infrastructure for sales and distribution.

By partnering with Taurus Holdings, Diamondback also gives Taurus Holdings a chance to reach a new shooting demographic, the MSR owner. Taurus sells a lot of pistols, but it just recently got into the rifle market with its CT9, which is definitely not an AR. MSR owners tend to be younger and are often newer shooters, coming into the sport in the last 10 years. The joint venture between Taurus and Diamondback allows the two companies to provide a solid product to this customer. Alone, neither company would have as much access to that demographic. Taurus lacks the product, and Diamondback lacks the sales, distribution and customer service network. However, the two work well together.

THE LOVECHILD
The impetus of the joint venture was the DB-15, Diamondback’s AR-pattern rifle and pistol. This series of firearms gave Taurus a turnkey product it didn’t have but wanted, and it gave Diamondback a company that could service and sell it.

The big winner in this arrangement is the customer. Many of us are familiar with the scarcity of MSRs during times of crisis. This stems from the fact that most manufacturers buy their parts from the same suppliers. When everybody orders at once, backlogs skyrocket.

Diamondback is one of the few companies that make most of their parts in-house. This helps alleviate the choke points present in much of the MSR community, but it also generates a price savings for the customer. It’s almost always cheaper to make a part in-house (provided you do so in enough quantity) than to purchase it from someone else. Making its own parts also allows Diamondback a degree of flexibility that other manufacturers don’t have. When you buy the same parts as everyone else, the products will all be very similar.

The goal of Diamondback — and Taurus — isn’t for the DB-15 to be the cheapest AR-pattern rifle on the market but for it to be the most feature-rich for the money. In the words of Mark Kresser, president and CEO of Taurus Holdings, “Most shoppers don’t want the cheapest or most expensive; they want a good deal.” The idea behind the DB-15 is that you can buy an MSR with everything you’d want to do to it done already.

THE LITTLE DB-15
I spent an afternoon with the DB-15 pistol, my first ever with an AR-style pistol. For the benefit of other first-time AR-style pistol shooters, I discovered that I had the most success shooting the pistol with my support hand on the forend and my firing hand on the pistol grip. I also tried both hands on the pistol grip, but I found that my accuracy and comfort diminished using this technique.

The DB-15 pistol comes with a short, 7½-inch barrel and a pistol-length gas system. Firing a rifle cartridge in a pistol usually generates some significant muzzle blast, and the DB-15 was no different. The blast is significant, but it’s somewhat mitigated by the muzzlebrake. Still, this is not a firearm I’d want to shoot indoors.

Extraction was vigorous, thanks to the short gas system. Port pressures in direct-impingement pistols are north of 20,000 psi, so the bolt unlocks quickly, and the bolt carrier is moving fast. AR-style pistols are a lot of fun, but if we shoot ours regularly, it’s a good idea to keep an extra bolt or, at minimum, an extractor and extractor spring handy. After a few thousand rounds, those parts will all see some accelerated wear, thanks to the higher pressures and high bolt speeds of the system.

The DB-15 pistol has a 6½-inch forend that has Picatinny rail sections and still rides comfortably in the hand. The short gas system sits up under the handguard, thanks to a low-profile gas block. The handguard free-floats the barrel, and it remains free of any user-induced stress throughout the firing sequence.

The upper and lower receivers are made from 7075 T6 forgings and (on the model I fired) finished in Flat Dark Earth (FDE). Bolt and carrier are made from 8620, and the pistol grip is the A2 style. The lower receiver extension has a foam pad that encapsulates the end of the tube for shooter comfort. It’s an attractive, fun-to-shoot combination.

For those interested in an AR pistol, the DB-15 is one of the few that are available from the factory. I enjoyed shooting the pistol and think it’s a good choice if you’re looking to have some fun at the range with your friends.

THE FLAGSHIP
The DB-15 series has a number of different models available, with most options centering around the carbine’s finish. I had three rifles available for testing, so I was able to handle two of the Diamondback FDE rifles and one of the black models.

The feature I like the most about the DB-15 is the free-float forend that comes standard on most models. The DB-15 comes with a standard carbine-length gas system that sits tucked up under the 9-inch handguard, thanks to a low-profile gas block. The gas block is held in place by two setscrews at the 6 o’clock position.

The handguard is round, with three flattened sides at the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions. There are small Pic-rail sections at those positions near the muzzle end of the handguard. Those sections are integral and cannot be moved. Each is 2 inches long and can accommodate a light, laser, bipod or sling attachment point. The handguard is an excellent length and makes a lot of sense on a general-use AR.

The upper receiver has engraved T-markings that won’t disappear should you choose to have the rifle refinished. The black DB-15 I tested has M4 feedramps cut into the upper receiver and barrel extension. The two FDE DB-15s I tested have the M4 feedramps on the barrel extension but very shallow ramps cut into the upper receiver. I did most of my testing on the FDE version and, as expected, had no malfunctions.

The black DB-15 had an M4-contour barrel, while the FDE rifles had medium-contour barrels. Both barrel types have a 1:9-twist, are made from 4140 and have chrome-lined chambers and bores. The A2 flash hiders on all of the rifles are obviously made by Diamondback, as they are extremely well made and have a nitride finish.

The bolt and bolt carrier are made from 8620, and the carrier key is properly staked on each of the rifles I evaluated. The bolt carrier is the early-pattern semiauto carrier that completely shrouds the firing pin and has some of the carrier remaining on its underside. It is not a standard semiauto carrier with a full cutout along the bottom. Of the two patterns, I prefer the one Diamondback chose, as it offers some additional mass and helps to slow down cycling.

The buffer is the standard 2.96-ounce carbine buffer found on most AR-pattern carbines. While the weight is standard, the finish is not. Diamondback buffers are finished entirely in black. While they look different, they function the same.

The castle nut that attaches the lower receiver extension (buffer tube) to the rifle is adequately torqued in place, but it is not staked in place. If you plan on shooting the DB-15 a lot, occasionally check the castle nut to ensure that it remains tight.

The lower receiver extension is a six-position commercial model that comes with an ATI collapsible Strikeforce stock from the factory. The ATI stock has a large adjustment lever on the bottom and an adjustable cheekrest up top. The cheekrest is a nice touch and offers an additional degree of comfort, but it doesn’t allow us to cycle the charging handle with the stock collapsed. Once the stock is extended, the charging handle works just fine.

AT THE RANGE
I tested the DB-15 with three loads: 52-grain Black Hills, 77-grain Federal Gold Medal Match and 77-grain Black Hills. I fired five-shot groups at 100 yards to evaluate accuracy, allowing the barrel to cool only long enough to put up fresh targets and reload my magazines.

The load the DB-15 liked the best was the 52-grain Black Hills Match. With a 1:9-inch twist rate in the barrel, this didn’t come as a surprise. The best group for this load measured 1.41 inches, with an average of 1.58 inches.

Neither of the heavier loads did very well in the rifle, and I attribute that to the twist rate more than anything else. Barrels with a twist of 1:9 work well with bullets up to 62 grains but often have problems with the heavy 77s. The DB-15 had a best group of 1.8 inches with the Federal load and an average of 2.06 inches. The 77-grain Black Hills had a best group of 1.92 inches and an average of 2.23 inches.

At the conclusion of my range time, I decided that the DB-15s have a lot to offer for the money. The forend is easily the most endearing feature, but I’m also a fan of the gas block and bolt carrier. The triggers showed some promise, as all three were heavy but crisp, indicating that someone had done some work on them. They were more user-friendly than their untouched Mil-Spec counterparts. However, one trigger had been touched too much and would occasionally slip off the disconnector when I let the trigger reset.

Both the DB-15 pistol and carbine offer an excellent balance of features for their value. I know of no other MSR manufacturer that sells a Flat Dark Earth-finished carbine with a free-floated barrel and a 9-inch forend for less than $1,000. If the goal of the joint venture between Diamondback and Taurus is to offer a lot of gun for the money, they’ve succeeded.

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