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AR-15 Rifles Tactical

Salient Arms International Tier 1 AR-15 Review

by Tom Beckstrand   |  February 24th, 2014 22

A large part of the AR industry is building rifles from parts made by three primary manufacturers. Most of the time it’d be hard to tell who built an AR without looking at the rollmark on the lower receiver. This level of commonality isn’t a bad thing. Assembly of those parts, even if they are common across competing brands, is an art all by itself, and so is the customer service that should support any product sold. So while it’s hard to visually distinguish one AR from another, not all ARs are created equal.

Salient Arms does not fall into that category. The Tier 1 rifle I tested is easily the most unique and custom AR I’ve ever handled. I’ve never seen an AR where so many surfaces and components have been touched or massaged to improve the classic Stoner design. The only stock parts I found on the rifle were the forward assist, receiver extension assembly and takedown pins. They appear identical to those components found on other ARs in my possession. Everything else has been manufactured, stippled, machined, coated and/or treated by Salient Arms.

The goal of Salient with its Tier 1 model is to build the ultimate combat AR that offers the owner the utmost reliability, shootability and flexibility with his rifle. They are so passionate about attaining this goal that they invested considerable time and effort in creating the rifle they sent me to test — serial number 000001. In the short time I had the rifle, I found that Salient is a manufacturer of the highest quality and that their products do perform as good as they look.

Salient machines its own upper receivers, lower receivers and forends out of billet aluminum. Both the upper and lower are beautifully machined and covered in a Salient Arms proprietary brown Cerakote. The lower has an integral triggerguard that is bowed to accommodate a gloved finger and a flared magazine well to help expedite magazine changes. The lower receiver also comes standard with a Seekins Precision magazine release and bolt catch. While the magazine release is machined from billet aluminum and mostly cosmetic, the bolt catch is machined from tool steel and much less likely to break should someone decide to repeatedly dry-fire the lower without an upper attached. In my opinion, the Seekins bolt catch is the best one on the market today.

The Tier 1 model also comes with a Battle Arms Developments Ambidextrous Selector Switch, aka “BAD ASS,” a component that is also the best in its class. My rifle came set up the way I prefer, with the standard-length lever on the left of the receiver and the short lever on the right. The two are interchangeable, and there are other levers available, so the shooter can set up his rifle however he prefers.

The upper is also machined from billet and is the perfect counterpart to the lower. Both upper and lower are formed in the same angular style and fit together very well. The upper comes with a standard forward assist. Of note, the brass deflector is smaller and at a shallower angle to prevent damaging the brass on extraction.

The forend is manufactured by Salient and machined from solid billet. It is 16 inches long and extends past the barrel to the end of the compensator. Some argue that long forends are for game guns and not for duty-bound tactical rifles. Nonsense.

Long forends are essential on tactical rifles because they allow the shooter more positional flexibility when using cover. Long forends that protect the barrel can be laid over cover or on their side, and the barrel will always be free floating, guaranteeing no shift in point of impact. The longer forend also lets us move our support hand closer to or away from the muzzle, ensuring that we can get either very close to our cover or use it as a support while firing.

Salient Arms has taken the free-floating forend one step further in not only using it to protect the barrel, but also using the end of the forend as a shroud for the compensator. This novel approach means that the flash generated from a compensator can be contained and kept from giving away the shooter’s firing position. It also requires that the shooter understand that if he gets too aggressive with his support-hand placement, he can get his hand in front of the muzzle. This would require simian-like arms and intellect, but I guess it’s still possible.

The forend is beautifully executed and threaded to accept Picatinny-rail sections at the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions. Just to show how much Salient Arms is in the known and is willing to add the extra detail, the Pic-rail sections are countersunk to ride lower on the rail when attached. This time-intensive detail removes fractions of an inch in the forend’s girth but makes the rifle more comfortable to hold in the hand. It is one of many little things found on the rifle that showcase Salient’s precision machining ability and forward thinking.

This Salient Tier 1 example has a standard Mil-Spec bolt-carrier group, complete with Carpenter 158 bolt. The company is looking into other materials for the bolt and might go to 9310 or AerMet in the future, but they haven’t finished testing either of those materials yet. In the meantime, Carpenter 158 will keep those who worship at the Mil-Spec altar happy.

They kept the standard bolt-carrier group (BCG) because lightening the mass of this component would make it more sensitive to fouling. Once mass gets moving, it wants to stay moving. Lightening the BCG makes it less able to plow through carbon and debris that collects in the receiver during those high-round-count sessions.

The entire bolt carrier and gas key are coated in titanium nitride (TiN), giving them that golden color. TiN has awesome abrasion resistance, disperses heat well and has some natural lubricity properties. It is an excellent choice for bolt-carrier treatments. Unlike nickel boron (NiB), TiN goes on in a much thinner coat, so parts won’t bind.

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