RECCE rifle
General

On Rifle Weight and Balance

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My lovely wife recently bought me a couple gifts. One was a new stripped upper receiver from BCM. I asked for it because I was frustrated that the ELCAN would not mount up on the old Spikes Tactical one. Once I had the new receiver in hand, she noted that I was not rushing to have the barrel remounted. I mentioned that I was waiting until I could install a new rail as well, since I wanted to commit to a lighter and handier carbine. She surprised me with a 13″ BCM KMR-A a few days later.

After my last range session out with Ascalon, the RECCE, I was frustrated that the configuration just wasn’t meeting my needs The 2.5-10×32 scope on top was simply too much magnification for the type of shooting I’ve been doing with such a light carbine.  At the same time, the excellent ELCAN SpecterOS4x that I’ve been running on the 20″ musket really is an ideal RECCE optic, since its BDC is tailored to a 16″ barrel and it is relatively lightweight.

This new configuration feels noticeably lighter and snappier than the previous iteration, and significantly more so than the Musket (which feels positively weighty in comparison). This is also my first experience with keymod, and I gotta say that I’m pretty happy with it. Mounting accessories is much easier than the Rainier/Samson Evolution rail that I was running before. This feels much more like a great general purpose carbine, which was the original intent.

The musket is now set up in my own approximation of the Marine SAM-R (Squad Advanced Marksman Rifle) with the 2.5-10 scope. Why would the scope that I was frustrated by on the lightweight 16″ upper be any better on a 20″ barrel?

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It comes down to a question of balance. A rifle with a slight forward balance will better “hang” on target by helping mitigate wobble and provide a more stable sight picture. As I noted when shooting Ascalon the last time, the rifle was lightweight enough, particularly in the front end, that any movements I made were frustratingly visible through the scope. The 20″ Musket, with its balance point sitting about a half inch forward of the delta ring, is much more front heavy than Ascalon (whose balance point now sits towards the rear of the magazine well).

My theory, which will have to get tested through range sessions, is that I will be happier with the 2.5-10×32 on the Musket rather than the lightweight 16″ RECCE. Time will tell, though. In the long term, I plan to put a Trijicon TA11 on the Musket and move the 2.5-10x to a 308.

When building up any rifle, most people get concerned primarily with overall weight, and rightly so. As I found during my combat load development exercise, overall gear weight adds up very quickly. If you can save yourself a pound or two by using a lighter weapon without giving up much capability, then it seems like a worthy trade off.

But you should also consider how your weapon balances. A more rearward balance makes the weapon feel easier to handle. The more weight in the rear, the quicker the front end of the gun feels. The IMI Tavor is pretty well known for this. However, the light front end will show more movement in the sights, as it does not settle very well. The more forward the balance, the slower the weapon feels, but the better it settles on target.

For now, this is all theoretical. I’m not sure when I will get to the range again in order to test these new configurations out, but hopefully it won’t be too long.

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11 thoughts on “On Rifle Weight and Balance”

  1. That sounds plausible to me.

    As a subjective test, you could compare timed groups shot with the Musket and the carbine. The idea being that of your rifle “settles better”, then you should be able to get successive shots off quicker.

    But then again, I know little about shooting.

    1. That sounds like a reasonable test, though I may make some modification. I plan to hit the 700 yard range this weekend. A good test might be to see how quickly I can get into a good seated position from a standing, acquire a solid NPOA, and fire five shots at the 450 yard target.

  2. I’m glad you talked about balance. Everyone says “this rifle feels well balanced”, but never elaborate and I’m starting to think they don’t know what they are saying. My lightweight rifle is kinda front-heavy, and it really made me notice something I hadn’t ever thought about before.

    1. Honestly, I think balance is a subjective thing. It seems everyone has their own preference for how their own weapon balances. I think some folks make an unintentionally front heavy weapon when they build up a lot of lightweight parts, and then load down the front end with accessories (light/VFG/PEQ/etc.). You can shift the balance rearward by using a heavier stock, or adding weight to it with batteries or lead (as high power shooters do). But then you get away from the benefits of light weight.

  3. Weight and balance are two different things, and each affects handling and shooting in a different way. It takes some time working with rifles that have different characteristics of each to really appreciate this. As stated above, a light weight rifle can still have a muzzle-heavy balance, and a fairly heavy rifle can balance smack between your hands with a muzzle-quick feel, and every other combination. They will all feel different to mount, swing, hang, and recover. This is a good point to learn over time, so you can figure out how best to set up your own.
    Hey, that’s a good reason to spend more time on the range, and shoot all of your buddies’ rifles too!

  4. On a side note, I decided I’d build an AR in the coming year. Read back through your posts and saw you nixed the “piece at a time” approach. Hmm. Will have to save up a little more then.

    I was really thinking about a carbine, but with the 18″ barrel/rifle-length gas system as I hate giving up too much barrel. Your posts around Feb. made mention of finicky reliability. Have improvements in that system been made since your posts earlier this year?

    1. The 18″ barrel with rifle gas is pretty well figured out at this point, so long as you get it from a quality manufacturer. My observation is that they really only have issues in cold weather with underpowered ammo. That usually manifests itself when people take their nice expensive match barrels and shoot cheap bulk ammo through them. Are you thinking a stainless match barrel or more of a field rifle? If the latter, may I suggest the Rainier Mountain Midweight 18″?

      https://www.rainierarms.com/rainier-arms-mountain-series-cold-hammer-forged-barrel-5-56mm-nato

      Alternatively, Lothaen has really been enjoying his Criterion hybrid 18″

      http://www.brownells.com/rifle-parts/barrel-parts/rifle-barrels/ar15-m16-criterion-barrels-prod54733.aspx

      I think you’d be fine with a “piece at a time,” since you are already very familiar with rifle shooting in general. You have a good grasp of what you want the gun to accomplish. Don’t think you’re going to save much, though. The appeal is thinking that you save by doing little pieces at a time; but the cost of tools (if you don’t already have them) will negate those savings. The alternative is to buy the parts a piece at a time and then take it to a reputable shop who can assemble it- that usually runs about $45.

      1. I’m looking for a fighting 18″ carbine with collapsible stock. Chrome-lined chrome-moly-vanadium barrel steel is fine. Not a prairie-dog or target rifle, maybe occasional coyote hunting, some 3-gun matches, but primarily ” home block security” at shotgun range. Light barrel, folding irons, simple free-float handguard, only intend a light for it.
        I will probably get a decent (not top-can’t afford it) quality complete lower, as I am not finicky about that config. Looked at Daniel Defense and BCM per your recommendations but I want to top out at under $1000 for the whole iron-sighted deal then spring for a good RDS. The upper will be pieced based on barrel/handguard selections. Thanks for the links. Any second-tier brand suggestions for upper/lower?

      2. A fighting 18″ below $1000 it is, then!

        Here is where I would go

        Lower:
        PSA Complete Lower STR Edition ($199.99)
        http://palmettostatearmory.com/psa-ar-15-complete-lower-magpul-str-edition-black-no-magazine.html

        Upper:
        Aero Precision assembled upper ($79.99)
        Faxon 18″ Gunner Profile Barrel ($179)
        BCM KMR-A 13″ rail ($189.95)
        Aero BCG ($125)
        Aero Gas Block ($25)
        Rifle Gas Tube ($8)
        Standard Charging Handle ($20)
        A2 birdcage flash hider ($7.99)
        Magpul MBUS sight set ($80)

        Total cost: $934.93

        That leaves you some room to pay fees and such, and gets you a nicely spec’d rifle

    1. No problem! That build will work well, and leave you plenty of room for upgrades down the line (triggers, muzzle devices, etc). I would prefer that you had an A5 buffer kit, but that would push your budget. In the mean time, you can experiment with heavier buffer weights (H1, H2, etc.)

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