By Rob Kay and RN Price
In the AR 15 world, most manufacturers pump out rifles like toasters off an assembly line. No blame. It’s an economic imperative.
The quality is usually decent but in my opinion it’s often the smaller manufacturers that produce the really desirable guns. I’m talking about the Noveskes, the LMTS and their kin. I liken them to a “boutique” operations that make limited numbers of really fine, hand crafted products.
Add Barnes Precision to the list. They are not a household name by any means. In fact if you look in the forums some people dismiss them. These people would be wrong.
The smarter, akamai people as we say in Hawaii, know better.
Take Jerry Miculek (seven time USPSA 3-Gun National Champion) and one of the most famous shooters in the world. His daughter Lena, no slouch herself, is the 2013 3-gun Nation Lady’s Champion. Lena uses a BP upper and Jerry uses the BP handguard.
There’s no caveat though. They are not sponsored by the company—as Jerry told me, the family uses BP gear because they like it.
The company was founded in 1992 by Andrew Barnes, who bought his first AR upper, a Colt SP1, when he was 14 years old from money he had saved during a summer job.
He founded BPM in 1992 with a manual mill, and a manual lathe, mostly producing small tooling/automation parts for local customers in the Research Triangle Park area. Fast forward 21 years and there are now 34 CNC Machines. The company currently produces a slew of OEM products for products for fifteen different AR15 parts companies and rifle manufacturers across the nation.
On a monthly basis the company will churn out about 6800 bolts,1900 carriers and tens of thousands of small parts such as pins detents and plungers for the AR15 platform. Andrew says that “except for a few plastic parts and ‘investment cast parts’ such as hammers, triggers, etc., our rifle is truly machined in house.”
You’d expect that kind of in-house manufacturing from a Sig Sauer or a Smith & Wesson, but not a small shop.
An inveterate tinkerer, he is particularly proud of the gear he’s developed for Special Ops Forces. In 2008 he introduced a longer barrel nut for improved hand guard rigidity. The main focus of design was to secure the hand guard, so that when guided munitions lasers were attached to the rail system, the assembly wouldn’t quaver in combat. His work did not go unnoticed—Barnes received kudos unit commanders at several combat matches at the venerable “Range 37” at Ft. Bragg, N.C. The design has since become standard with other manufacturers.
Barnes Precision provides four different rifle options in a number of barrel lengths. These include the CQB Patrolman’s Carbine, the Designated Marksman Rifle and the Tactical Match carbine. He also produces a CQB – Patrolman’s Carbine in .300 BLACKOUT. (Barnes told me his company is currently building another plant to manufacture a .308/7.62 AR platform rifles /parts).
Our review centers around the 16″ Ultralite Extreme, which features a stainless steel 1×8 twist, match barrel chambered in .223 Wylde. Also included is a mid-length gas system, an M4 Feed Ramp Barrel Extension, an A2-style flash hider breaching device, Adjustable Low Profile Gas Block, BPM’s homemade Bolt Carrier Group w/Nickel Boron Coating and charging handle and, a 12″ Ultralite “Extreme Free Float” Rail System. The upper comes with Magpul plastic BUIS.
The deep black anodized finish on the upper was superb.
To save weight, the proprietary “Ultra Light” handguard doesn’t have a rail system on the bottom quadrant but no worries. Barnes also throws in a couple of Mapul Handguard rail kits. The bottom of the handguard is tapped so if you want to attach something, all you need to do is secure the mini rail kits down with a couple of allen head screws and you’re in business. They came in handy when we added a Grip Pod and the Magpul kit worked perfectly.
The BP rifles are fitted with BCGs that have a Nickel Boron Coating. Barnes said his reason for choosing this was “Lubricity, Hardness and Corrosion Resistance”. Barnes believes from application to performance “it trumps” eveything out there and beats the heck out of the traditional manganese phosphate/hardchrome processes.
I’ll take his word for it.
All we can say is cleaning the BCG was a piece of cake. The Nickel Boron coating was akin to Teflon. Whatever buildup was present was easily removed with a rag and a nylon brush.
Shooting the upper was lots of fun. We mated the upper with my go to item of choice—a Stag arms lower with a Timney AR trigger. The upper mated perfectly with the lower. You can pop the pins out with your fingers yet with no slop at all between the seams.
During the break in there were a couple of jams but this was to be expected. After the first time out, it never happened again. We ran hundreds of rounds through the rifle—both factory and hand loads with no problems.
I’ve heard people say that BP guns shoot more softly than typical ARs. Not that you’re going to get a sore shoulder from a typical AR, but I did note the difference.
Ergonomics of the The Ultralite Extreme Rail were pleasing. It’s slimmer in profile than typical handguard and of course lighter which is nice when you’re shooting offhand. The handguard is smooth to the touch in your ungloved hand. None of this “cheese grater” aesthetic.
Balance was great too. The weight factor is noticeable shooting off hand sans scope.
What really intrigued me about the upper was Barnes’ choice of Wylde chambering. I have reviewed other uppers with this hybrid caliber and am a true believer. Barnes says the match grade barrel blanks are bored, button rifled, hand lapped and polished by Montana Rifleman. The next step is for BPM to contour and machine the barrels. The ends of the barrel are finished with threading and final crowning. They then use a match .223 Wylde reamer to cut the chamber.
The end result is that it’s incredibly accurate. The 1×8 twist barrel really likes 75 gr bullets. We did some load testing with Varget and got some sub MOA groups at 100 yards the first time out.
Barnes says his pet load is 24.5 grn R15 powder with Hornady 75 gr match hollow points. We got some great groups with the 23 gr of Varget and at the time of this writing are experimenting with XBR.
The upshot: This is a real quality product. It’s so accurate, it’s almost boring. We were able to consistently whack an 11” plate at 440 yards in the devilish, swirling winds on the Kokohead Crater.
We can’t see how you’re going to get anything better for the money. Barnes has built an upper with such good quality products, there would be no point. (OK, maybe If you’re competing in 3-Gun you’ll want to add custom charging handle from Rainier or something along those lines but even that is elective).
Our final thoughts: If BP products are good enough for Jerry Miceluk and his daughter, they are certainly good enough for us. MSRP is $895.83
Photos courtesy of On Target staff.
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