You probably know of Les Baer as a 1911 guru, the guy who makes delectable 1911s in the classic mode. Super-tight and reliable, they have an enviable reputation for accuracy, reliability and durability. Well, he makes ARs, too. And he does so not just by assembling ARs from parts shipped in; he machines his own uppers and lowers, his own carriers, bolts, carrier keys and extractors.
He machines his own barrel extensions, profiles his own precision barrel blanks and then mates the two and reams the chambers to varmint/match standards. If you want a folding front sight, you can have a Les Baer-made folding front sight/gas block as well. In fact, of the critical parts that go into an AR rifle, Les makes all of them that go into his rifles. Pins, springs, things like that he doesn’t make. The rest? He sweats over them.
Where Les doesn’t make the parts, he uses the best he can find. The triggers on his top-end rifles are Geissele two-stage target triggers that allow for a very crisp, precise, repeatable let-off. Now, this is not the trigger for your M4 clone or the one you will be using for defense around the house or traveling thousands of miles in the rack in your pickup. Especially if you are planning on using a polymer-frame striker-fired pistol as backup. The trigger pull between the Les Baer and your plastic sidearm will be too great.
I have seen police officers using two-stage triggers on their ARs have ADs on the line, having transitioned from their DA-trigger handguns. Of course, if you’re using a Les Baer 1911, with an equally precise trigger pull, then the transition is not a problem. And behind that trigger is a Les Baer-made pistol grip, your choice of three types.
The rifles Les sent me are a selection of his M4-style and Super Varmints. The two Super Varmints are just the ticket for long-range, heavy-thumping varmint rifles or medium-bore hunting rifles. One is chambered in6.5 Grendel, the other in 6×45. The ammo for the 6.5 came in Black Hills boxes, and the headstamp is “.264 LBC-AR,” indicating it was made by Hornady just for Les and his rifles and custom-loaded by Black Hills. The two loads sent were topped with Hornady 123-grain A-Max and Sierra 123-grain MatchKings. Fed from CProducts magazines, the .264 LBC-AR ammo fed without fault, both in the Super Varmint and the M4-style carbine.
The rifles were all assembled on Les Baer matched upper/lower combos. Since he machines his own, Les can tend to the dimensional niceties of things like the fit of the radius between upper and lower at the rear and the distance between the takedown pins and the mating edges of the upper and lower. They are not off mil-spec; they are simply made to be perfect with each other. If you want such a set, Les would be happy to provide you with a bare upper and lower, machined to fit perfectly with each other, to build your own AR. As a final lure to using a Les Baer matched set, they are given a Bear Coat finish–a Teflon-based, baked-on finish that is more durable than plain old anodizing. And it also offers extra lubricity that mil-spec anodizing doesn’t.
On top of the rifles, Les had mounted Nightforce scopes. In keeping with the long-range varminting potential of these rifles, they were 5.5-22X power and the reticles were designed for long-range work.
The Super Varmint rifles have 20-inch heavy barrels and a Les Baer-made aluminum free-float handguard slotted at six o’clock for the bipod mount. The bipod is a Versa-Pod, with a built-in hand stop as the bipod mount. If you wish, you could slide the bipod mount to any location along the handguard, use a tight sling, lock your hand to the stop and be so tightly wedded to the rifle that you can track your heartbeat in the moving reticle (maybe an indication that I should be cutting back on the caffeine). The scope is mounted in scope rings that are Les Baer-made, cut from bar stock with an Electrical Discharge Machine for precision. Les and I have had some fun with scopes through the years. I’m more than a foot taller than he is, and when he sends a rifle, he has to position it for me. If he doesn’t, when he test-fires and zeros it, the scope, locked down for him, would be too far back for me to even shoot. The Super Varminter comes with a standard A2 stock, but if you really wanted one, you could prevail upon Les to install a five-position M4 stock on your rifle.
Les Baer makes his own barrels. A few years ago, tired of trying to get barrels of the quality he needed in the volume he needed, he simply bought the equipment to make his own. So he takes top-quality barrel stock, deep-drills, reams, hones and then single-point cuts the rifling. Single-point-cut barrels, while superbly accurate, are also slow and expensive to make. So Les also makes button-rifled barrels for his more standard ARs. Don’t think because they are buttoned, or for less expensive rifles, that Les lets them out the door as anything but brilliantly accurate. They are top-notch.
The M4 carbine uses the same-quality barrels as the Super Varmint, just shorter at 16 and change. Also, in addition to the gas block having a 1913 rail for a front sight, the M4 has a railed free-float handguard on which you can mount whatever you desire (or local game laws permit) without changing zero, accuracy or barrel harmonics.
The CProducts magazines are the same length as 20-round .223 magazines, but hold 14 rounds of .264 LBC-AR ammo. Once uncommon, .264/6.5 magazines can now be had in all the normal sizes and in capacities from five rounds to 25. So feeding your new Super Varmint won’t be a problem.
The second Super Varmint, in 6×45, is a wildcat of long standing. Soon after the .223 Remington appeared, benchrest shooters were popping open the cases to 6mm for heavier bullets. In the end, the 6×45 lost out on the benchrest ranges to more specialized cartridges, but it is a fine varmint/light deer round.
Les has provided Black Hills with a test barrel in 6×45 for load work-up, and by the time you read this he’ll have all the loading data he needs to provide you with the ammo you’ll need. On the light side, there’s an 85-grain varmint load that will deliver just a bit more drop than a 52-grain match bullet in .223, but with half-again the mass. For deer hunting, a 100-grain bullet will have a point-blank trajectory out to 200 yards, plenty flat enough for any wooded hunting locale. If you’re hunting in the wide open, the drop at 300 yards will be less than a foot and a half, so holding on the back-line will get the job done. And if you are going to do just one but not the other, you have a choice in barrel twist in the 6×45 1:8 and 1:91/2. The 1:8 will get you the maximum accuracy out of the 100-grain bullets, while the 1:91/2 lets you wring a bit more velocity out of the 85-grainer without causing bullet-destroying over-rotation.
The 6×45, being a necked-up .223, uses standard AR mags of all the usual capacities. So you can simply use a regular five-shot mag for hunting (where required) or load up 20- or 30-round mags for prairie dog hosing. If you want a 6×45 varminter or lightweight deer rifle, Sporting Products of Florida will be making production-grade ARs in an agreement with Les Baer.
For both the .264 LBC-AR and the 6×45, Hornady makes loading dies, and Les will have lots of empty brass on hand to load up your own ammo, as well as all the loaded ammo on hand you might want.
It didn’t take long to determine that all three of these rifles shot better than I did. The single-point, cut-rifle barrels are a joy to shoot, and the trigger makes the job easy. The Nightforce scopes are clear and sharp–at 22X, the 100-yard bull is nearly as big as a barn. Obviously, the bullets selected are top performers when it comes to precision, and the end result is a set of rifles that can shoot under an MOA all day long. How much under? I don’t know. As I said, they shoot better than I can, and when the limiting factor is technique I have to admit I’m not a competitive benchrest shooter. To make things worse, just as I was getting a handle on these rifles the weather changed from a mild fall to the first wintry blast. Fourteen-degree temperatures and a 20-mph wind switching across a quarter of the compass does not help precision shooting. Still, I managed some very nice groups indeed before the onset of glacier season.
Reloaders will be happy to know that neither rifle was hard on brass. The tightly reamed chambers kept expansion to a minimum, and the rifles did not attempt to toss the empties into the next range. They were politely deposited six to seven feet to the right, a little to the rear–evidence of a well-tuned gas system and ejection cycle.
Given the weight of these rifles, recoil was not an issue. On a lightweight M4-type AR, the recoil of a mil-spec 5.56 load can be a bit brusque. Nothing oppressive, mind you, but snappy. Despite the greater power of the .264 and the 6×45, the weight of the Les Baer rifles tames the recoil, making for a push instead of a jolt.
Now, these are not stalking rifles. You are not going to find them at their best when ghosting through the cedar swamps, looking for bedded deer. They weigh too much for that. However, from a stationary location–say, a blind–or on a ridge, they will deliver the goods.
Les Baer knows what works, and he makes “what works” to the highest level of precision he can. You want something less, there are people who will make it for you.