The 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.Competition For the Love of Competition Semi Auto Shotguns|1
To most guys of a certain age, any pump or autoloading shotgun not designed for skeet, trap, waterfowl, upland birds or deer was pretty much classed as a “riot gun.” Particularly if it was “plug optional.” Then, a decade or three ago, the term “tactical shotgun” came into vogue.
Now, with the popularity of 3-Gun or Practical competition, the basic platform — a handy, (relatively) short-barrel, high-capacity pump or auto has morphed into what can best be described as a game gun. Not “game” as in the classic sense of an elegantly understated British side-by-side, but something resembling what a Civil War-era press agent — in describing the Spencer Carbine — referred to as a “horizontal shot tower.” In other words, a delivery system for quickly putting as much birdshot, buckshot or slugs downrange to allow you to smack stuff down faster than the other guys.
Now we have the Beretta 1301 Competition. And make no mistake about it, in terms of dealing with plates or steel silhouette targets — or even aerial ones — this competition/tactical smoothbore might be the optimum tool for the job. It’s fast indeed, featuring a rotating bolt and revamped — and simplified — gas operation comprising the Blink system (which premiered on the A400 a couple of years back). Beretta claims that you can fire four shots in a second with it (I came kinda close to that but didn’t have a timer to verify).
The specimen we got in featured a 21-inch barrel with a full-length extended magazine tube. A 24-inch-barrel version is available for those who prefer, but if we had our druthers, we’d stick with the shorter one.
The most noticeable aspects of the 1301 are the oversize controls — bolt handle, bolt release and crossbolt safety button (reversible for lefties). The bolt release consists of a large, serrated tab right below the ejection port. It’s very quick to access from under the receiver with your support hand (assuming you’re right-handed). One caveat: If you’re carrying the gun with the bolt locked back, do not grasp the receiver over the top. You may get a nasty surprise if an errant finger trips that oversize release (yes, I did discover that the hard way).
The “oversize theme” of the 1301 is continued in the large ejection and loading ports. In competition, reloading speed is as important as “hitting the target” speed. And anything that helps out there, and saves your thumb from abuse in the process, is a good thing, as anyone who has ever been on a dove hunt in Argentina can tell you.
The synthetic stock is short, but has an adjustable length of pull (13 to 141/2 inches). The texturing is more than aggressive enough for a nonslip grip. The 1301 does not come with ghost-ring or open, rifle-type sights, just a large, red, fiber optic front and a midbead on a wide, sporting-type rib. The receiver is drilled and tapped for a rail mount, as some 3-Gun guys may want to modify the gun for Unlimited and put an Aimpoint Micro or something similar on it.×
The 1301, incidentally, handles Beretta’s Optima Bore HP choke system, although only one tube — a flush-fit Cylinder bore — was included. We did have another Cylinder-bore tube — an extended one threaded to accept Beretta’s Breacher attachment, which adds a certain “tacti-cool” intimidation factor (and could come in handy if you inadvertently lock yourself out of the house).
The first order of business with the gun was to shoot a couple of rounds of skeet with it. So “Wildfowl” editor Skip Knowles and I took it out to the nearest clay target venue (Peoria Trap and Skeet) and were very impressed with the gun. Recoil — as to be expected with 23/4-inch target loads — was very gentle, thanks to the gas system, generous recoil pad and seven (well-distributed) pounds of weight. Our scores ran from 24 to 21. And since neither of us would be much of a threat on the local skeet circuit, we were pretty pleased.
I’d done a bit of shooting with slugs out of rifle-sighted (ghost ring and open) smoothbores and was pretty curious as to how I’d fare with that large fiber optic front bead. I put up a large Shoot-N-C target at 25 meters and settled down at the bench. Since shooting slugs from a bench can be less than pleasant, I was a bit apprehensive, as always. I had on hand some 11/8-inch Dupleks Hexolit32 slugs, along with some 11/8-ounce Winchester Razorbacks. Both were 23/4-inch loads (the rationale for a three-inch slug load is totally beyond my understanding). I used the big front bead to make a figure 8 with the target and started shooting. I was gratified by the very manageable level of felt recoil — significantly less jarring than an inertia gun and infinitely less so than any pump.
I was even more surprised by the groups. The Winchester stuff gave me a three-shot cluster just under an inch and a half and only slightly left of my point of aim. The exotic-looking Hexolit32 stuff came in at about an inch more, also shading to the left. One contributing factor may have been the 1301’s nice trigger, which broke at a crisp four pounds. I tried some Hornady NobelSport Law Enforcement 00 buck (12 pellets) at 12 yards and managed to keep all of them in a fairly well-distributed 10-inch circle. Before I’d settle on any buckshot load, though, I think I’d want to try some other choke tubes — and other buckshot sizes — for a bit of mixing and matching. Buckshot’s kind of funny that way, particularly when you start stretching the envelope range-wise.
Beretta’s 1301 Competition appears to be just what its name implies, although it would make an awesome defensive tool in less regimented circumstances. And I happen to think it’s a pretty good skeet gun as well.G&A Polls
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