There are no secrets when it comes to what makes an AR-pattern rifle tick. The design has been around for almost 60 years, and there are somewhere between 5 million and 10 million of them in homes scattered around the United States. The only real question is how efficiently can a manufacturer make and distribute the rifle.
Based off its performance and features offered for the money, Del-Ton, a North Carolina-based company, makes AR-pattern rifles very efficiently. The Echo 316M team tested and checked all of the boxes for what to look for in an AR-type rifle at a very reasonable price.
The Echo 316M is a no-frills AR made from quality components. And after G&A's testing, it appears that Del-Ton didn't take any of the usual shortcuts to save a few bucks. Common
shortcuts include: 1:9-inch twist barrels (the most common and least expensive), bolts and bolt carrier groups of dubious provenance, and not including a forward assist or dustcover.
The 316M has a chrome moly vanadium (CMV) barrel. It's a couple of steps above the cheap 4140 barrels found on rifles that normally compete in this price category. Vanadium is a good fit for chrome moly barrels because it gives the steel a tight and irregular grain that resists throat erosion.
The barrel is 16 inches, has a carbine-length gas system and a straight medium profile that makes a lot more sense than the M4 contours that are popular on most inexpensive rifles. The medium contour adds some additional weight to the rifle, but it also helps the barrel resist the accuracy-destroying effects of heat.
The 316M comes with a 1:8-inch twist rate and a 5.56x45mm chamber. Most inexpensive rifles have a 1:9 twist rate that does well with bullets weighing 62 grains or less, but sometimes struggle with projectiles 69 grains and heavier. Del-Ton's selection of the 1:8-inch
twist rate lets the rifle shoot any weight bullet with equal accuracy, as range testing demonstrated.
G&A's test rifle had a fixed front sight post and a Samson backup rear sight. The front sight post is "F" marked, so the rear sight lines up correctly to allow zero. The rear backup sight has two apertures. The larger aperture is for use at closer ranges or in low light, and the smaller aperture is for shots at longer distances.
The polymer M4-style handguards are low profile and have aluminum heat shields inside that do a great job keeping heat off the shooter's support hand. Heat shields are one of those things that you don't really think about until the day you shoot a couple of magazines quickly through the rifle. These handguards have heat shields, a feature frequently overlooked on rifles at this price point.
The handguard on the 316M is much preferred to the traditional Colt offering because the slender profile is more comfortable in the support hand. The Del-Ton handguard doesn't feel like the fat end of a baseball bat. The smaller handguard is something shooters appreciate after spending a few hours holding the rifle. The smaller diameter is also convenient if you like to wrap the support hand's thumb around the handguard.
The bolt and bolt carrier are made from the materials originally specified by Eugene Stoner, the father of the AR-15. The bolt carrier is made from 8620, and the bolt is made from Carpenter 158. Bolt material is important because it is the first thing to break when a rifle starts consuming a steady diet of thousands of rounds. The lugs on either side of the extractor (where they're only supported on one side) can snap off.
Manufacturing these bolts using Carpenter 158 helps the lugs resist breaking because the alloy contains very limited amounts of sulfur and phosphorus, tramp elements that give irregular fatigue cycles. In addition to making the bolt from the correct material, Del-Ton high-pressure tests and magnetic-particle inspects (MPI) them to ensure that only the highest quality bolts make it into its rifles. It's a lot of legwork and inspection time, but the effort ensures reliable operation.
The castle nut that holds the buffer tube and stock onto the rifle is properly staked. This often-overlooked step is why we occasionally see buttstock assemblies that spin freely on some AR-15s. Should the castle nut come loose, the whole tube and everything attached to it can unscrew from the lower receiver. Proper staking is a small step, but one that is often forgotten. Del-Ton got it right.
The pistol grip and buttstock are the usual inexpensive fare. The pistol grip is the A2-style, and the buttstock looks exactly like the M4 stocks issued to soldiers. The stock has a sling loop at the toe to allow shooters options.
Time at the range with the new Echo 316M demonstrated stronger performance than expected from a non-free-floating barrel. Quality free-floating barrels will usually average around 1.2 to 1.3 MOA for five shots at 100 yards. The types of handguards that allow the barrel to free float are why these rifles usually cost $200 to $300 more than one with a non-free-floated barrel.
This Del-Ton averaged 1.55 MOA but did it with the handguards attached to the barrel. This is not optimal from the accuracy standpoint because resting the barrel across a sandbag will affect the round's point of impact (POI). Variations in pressure on the support will move the POI. Attaching the handguards directly to the barrel is much more economical, which is why we see it so often.
The excellent accuracy from this 316M came from its heavy-contour barrel that is less influenced by the handguards than a skinnier barrel. While it didn't do quite as well as a free-floated barrel, a rifle with a free-floating barrel is going to be at least a couple hundred dollars more expensive. For the price of this Del-Ton rifle, a 1.55 MOA average is excellent accuracy.
The other potential concern was over gassing. AR manufacturers love to do this because it minimizes some malfunctions but at the expense of long-term parts' lives. Since the barrel on the 316M is unique to Del-Ton, it was prudent to pay attention to how it was gassed.
It's gassed just right. G&A tested three loads through the rifle with bullet weights of 55, 60 and 69 grains and saw consistent ejection for all three. All fired brass landed directly to the right of the rifle with no ejector swipes or extractor marks on the case rim. Over-gassed ARs will chew up the case heads because the bolt is trying to extract the brass while there is still significant chamber pressure. This rifle had an H-buffer used in conjunction with the carbine-length gas system. The combination proved ideal for the diverse group of loads tested.
The 316M retails for $821.92 and can probably be found at the gun shop in the low $700s. That's a great price for the amount of rifle that comes with it. This rifle has a properly configured and appropriately gassed barrel, quality bolt and bolt carrier and above average furniture for this price point. It even comes with a forward assist and a dustcover.