Those Colt fans out there, read this!
I was right in the middle of the great M16 controversy just as the Vietnam War heated up. We had just begun to arm our infantry with the exotic new rifle when I returned to the U.S. and Camp Pendleton.
My outfit was charged with the job of giving the last bit of training to thousands of replacement Marines headed west. We were the only stateside training unit which taught the M16. In Vietnam the new rifle had been hastily issued with incorrect cleaning gear and almost zero instruction, and the early M16s (and their ammunition) tended to be finicky in the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia.
In short order, the rifle began to acquire a bad reputation; letters home complained bitterly about its deficiencies, and we had to learn to work with network expose cameras shoved in our faces. It was not a happy time, particularly for a Marine used to rifles properly made of walnut and steel chambered for proper .30-caliber cartridges and whose marksmanship training began—properly—on the known distance extended ranges of Quantico and Pendleton.
To this traditionalist’s eye, the M16 didn’t look like a rifle, and it sure didn’t feel like one. I have had very little to do with it since I left the Marine Corps.
Fast forward 30 years. Military service and a career in law enforcement are behind me, having fallen into a neat job with Shooting Times and HandGunning as a writer of magazine articles on guns and ammunition.
The editors at Shooting Times dropped a hot potato in my lap with an assignment to get one of Colt’s latest models of the AR15, now called the Match Target Rifle (the civilian-legal version of the M16) and shoot it for a Shooting Times story. Shoot it 10,000 times, that is.
I have to concede at the time that I believed the gun would not take the beating and that the project would fail. But, as you shall see, that thinking was erred.
Match Target HBAR Improvements
Colt, the grand old company, makes several civilian-legal semiautomatic versions of the original GI gun. My sample gun was the Match Target HBAR, intended for serious competition. It’s actually a far cry from the M16s and AR15s of three decades back.
While the basic shape and operating system are the same, more than a few of the rifle’s features have been updated and improved. In the 30-plus years since its introduction, the details of the original system have been worked out and improved to the point where the AR15 is a staple of Service Rifle competition and civilian varminting. And while this article is not primarily concerned with military rifles, the current versions of the M16 are far superior to the Vietnam-era guns. Many military arms authorities rate the M16 as the superior service rifle in the world.
The Colt HBAR ripped through 10,000 rounds of PMC’s .223 Remington 55-grain FMJ ammo, with a rated muzzle velocity of 3195 fps, without a single malfunction.
The first enormous improvement that I see is the sights. Instead of the crude originals, the rifle now sports a fixed front sight and a precise click-adjustable micrometer rear. On the HBAR Colt, the rear sight is integral with a removable carrying handle. The carrying handle has the familiar shape, but it can be removed and replaced by means of a Weaver rail system. The Weaver rail system also makes it easy to install a scope at the proper height above the receiver for normal use.
The composite buttstock seems to be a little longer and more solid than the original’s. It also has a traditional military butt trap to house a cleaning rod. The forend is a smaller diameter and is round in cross section, not triangular like the original’s.
But for our purposes, the HBAR’s major improvements are internal. The specimen rifle has a really good production trigger—a little heavy but very crisp. Its barrel is considerably heavier for greater stability when a sling is used and more rigid for increased accuracy. Colt makes current production AR15s with either 1:7- or 1:9-inch twists. The 1:7 twist works pretty well with the long, heavy .223 bullets (a faster twist is needed to stabilize those heavier, longer bullets), but the 1:9 is the best all-around rate of twist because lighter bullet weights (50 to 55 grains for example) are more accurate with the slower twist rate and the heavier bullets, while not as accurate as in the 1:7-inch rate, can be accurate enough for sport shooting. The PMC ammo used in my marathon shootout has a 55-grain bullet, so the 1:9-inch twist rate of the sample HBAR was perfect.
This project was moved forward when the media relations director at PMC, located just outside Las Vegas, came to the rescue. He arranged for a shipment of 10 1000-round cases of ammo to be delivered to my office.
The load was PMC’s 55-grain FMJ which bore the marking of “Target” on each 20-round carton. The load is rated at 3195 fps muzzle velocity and 1246 foot-pounds (ft-lbs) of muzzle energy. Actual muzzle velocity recorded during my test averaged 3144 fps. It’s not unusual for catalog velocity ratings to be higher than what is actually obtained in real guns in the real world. Ammo manufacturing companies measure velocity in test barrels with tighter chamber dimensions than those in production guns; hence, actual velocities are generally less than published figures. I was very pleased to find that the actual velocity averaged only 50 fps less than what the load is rated.
Colt Match Target HBAR PMC 55-Gr. FMJ
Round Count Accuracy (Inches)
* Fired with Hornady 55-grain
SP ammo after the barrel
NOTES: Accuracy is the average of two or more five-shot groups fired from a Ransom Rifle Bench Rest at 100 yards. Velocity averaged 3144 fps.
The .223 Target ammo came with military-type crimped-in primers and worked very well in the HBAR. And yes, I now have several large drums of brass that will need to be cleaned and sized before I set to work with my Dillon 650 and suitable components. Another day...
On the appointed day, I was at the range with a bunch of enthusiastic volunteers from the local (Douglas County, Nevada) Sheriff’s department. I had rigged the HBAR with Leupold’s Vari-X III 1.75-6X scope (see sidebar on the next page for more about this excellent riflescope), and I had assembled the ammunition and related equipment, including a Ransom Rifle Bench Rest, for the test.
Geoff Keogh, an Air Force Pararescue veteran, avid shooter, and thoroughly trained armorer on this type of rifle, was one of the shooters. He asked to do the maintaining of the rifle and had it all lubed and ready to go. I also brought a spare parts kit which included all parts I had been led to believe might possibly have to be replaced in the course of a couple of long, hard days of shooting.
At this point, I needed to explain what we were going to do, how we intended to do it, and, most of all, why. Shooting Times readers are certainly aware of the several 10,000-round shoots other writers and myself have conducted and reported on in the past few years, but this is the first one with a rifle; there couldn’t be a better candidate than the Colt HBAR for our first 10,000-round rifle report.
Much-maligned as an “assault” rifle, the HBAR is a sporting firearm in every sense of the word. We wanted to find out if the expenditure of money $1199 that goes into the purchase of an HBAR is justified by its performance. We wanted to tell the readers if this really is the accurate and reliable firearm Colt claims it to be.
That’s the why of it, how about the what and how? The what of it was to fire 10,000 rounds in a concentrated shooting session. While we wanted to stress the gun somewhat, I did not intend to deliberately abuse it. For this reason, we took the clean gun at the beginning of the shoot, and we fired a group or two for accuracy; then we proceeded to fire 1000 rounds at a steady, regular cadence.
The Colt HBAR/PMC ammo combo had 1.5-inch accuracy potential at 100 yards right out of the box; it sustained that level until the last 1000 rounds.
With 1000 rounds downrange, we stopped shooting and thoroughly cleaned the rifle. This was followed by another two or three five-round groups for accuracy, then another 1000 rounds. This sequence was followed for the length of the shoot, which went on for 2 1/2 days. And that is the how of this project. This procedure compressed a lifetime of use of the HBAR for most shooters into a few concentrated days of shooting. Beyond a doubt, we found out how the gun performs, both in terms of accuracy and durability.
To keep everybody’s interest up, I came up with a different kind of target for the rounds fired between the accuracy groups and the next cleaning. I picked up an 18x22-inch section of pine log about two feet in diameter, painted a white line on it, then aimed and fired every shot at the white line. My real intent was to keep the shooting at a steady rate, with every shot an aimed one, but I have a positive aversion to blazing away at distant hillsides, even under the special circumstances of a shoot like this one. As you’ll find out soon, the log kept everyone’s interest aroused.
The HBAR comes with a pair of eight-round magazines, and we also had several pre-ban 20- and 30-rounders on hand. In a shooting session like this one, magazines are critical; we discovered early on that one of the 20-rounders wasn’t feeding with complete reliability, so we quit using it. Unlike the pistol magazines I have used in earlier marathon shoots, the AR15’s are much easier to load because of the two-position feed system. We found that two guys loading magazines could easily keep the shooter in business.
At the outset, it became obvious that the gun and ammo combination had 1.0- to 1.5-inch accuracy potential at 100 yards. Shooting from a steady bench, we fired a number of four-shot groups well under an inch, with called flyers increasing the overall group sizes to approximately 1.25 to 1.5 inches. Much of this was simple shooter error, but there’s also the problem of scope magnification. The Leupold scope used in this shoot is a fine piece of optical gear, but its maximum magnification is only 6X. The targets were 3.5-inch orange dots and a trifle more magnification might have helped in determining pure accuracy.
Rather than blazing away
at paper targets between the 1000-round accuracy checks,
the author and his crew fired
at 22-inch-thich logs; it took
4000 rounds to shoot the logs into two halves.
Everything proceeded as planned. The rifle got very hot in as little as a few hundred rounds, but we were able to continue smoothly by taking short pauses to allow it to cool off. After the first 1000 rounds, we gathered around to watch Keogh open the gun, remove the bolt and carrier, and begin to swab out the barrel. One thousand rounds of ammo produces a lot of greasy fowling, and it took plenty of patches and many passes through the bore to get it clean.
We actually wore out about a dozen bore brushes in the course of the entire shoot. The base five-shot group fired before we started the test measured 1.52 inches; the group fired after the first 1000 rounds miked 1.48. This trend continued well into the test.
All of the shooters present were interested in the accuracy question, but everybody was also amused at what was happening to the log. After 1000 rounds, the log was liberally peppered with .223 bullet holes. After another 1000, there was a definite hole centered on the white aiming line. At 3000, we had a hole completely through the center.
Finally, as the round count approached 4000, the log broke apart and fell into two halves. Thus, I can confidently give you one of the most useless pieces of trivia imaginable—it takes 4000 rounds of .223 ammo to cut a two-foot-diameter log in half. I even verified it by putting up another log and watching it fall in two pieces after just over 4000 more.
Towards the end of the second day of shooting, we had 8000 rounds downrange. We also had the best group of the session. Dan Britton fired a group that measured 0.79 inch, well under MOA. The rifle was clearly prospering. But when we finished another 1000 rounds—9000 in all—trouble reared its head.
Keogh did his usual intense cleaning, but the accuracy check showed a two- to three-inch group—with every one of the five shots striking sideways on the paper. It was keyholing, a clear sign of a ruined barrel. Since I wanted to get the full 10,000 rounds through the gun for this report, we cleaned the barrel overnight with an Outer’s Foul-Out unit.
On the next morning, we began with accuracy shooting once again. No luck, the keyholing was still there and close examination showed a pretty badly eroded barrel throat. Before we finished up the last 1000 rounds, we also tried several other kinds of .223 ammunition. I am at a loss to completely explain why this happened, but several other kinds of ammunition still shot very well. I believe this is because the eroded roughness in the barrel began right at the point where the ogive of the PMC bullet set.
PMC 55-Grain .223 FMJ Ammo
PMC’s 55-grain offering, fired in this report, was loaded with its lead-core full metal jacket bullet. The core is enclosed in a heavy copper jacket, and this results in extremely deep penetration and little or no expansion. As indicated by the Target designation on the box, PMC recommends this type of bullet for target shooting rather than hunting.
As I stated in the article, the ammo was very consistent and reliable. For information on its complete line of factory ammunition, contact PMC Ammunition, Dept. ST, Box 62508, Boulder City, NV 89006.
A bullet with another profile still worked pretty well—Hornady’s 55-grain SP delivered a 0.60-inch four-shot group, with a fifth called flyer opening the group to almost two inches. It wasn’t a fluke, either. The same load did 1.21 after we fired the final 1000 rounds and the last cleaning of the rifle.
So what can we conclude from all of this? First, this is a rifle with high accuracy potential. With carefully tuned handloads or the best premium-quality match-grade ammunition, the gun will shoot under an inch, and it will do it for a long time. As far as I can see, the PMC ammunition is good ammo. It’s very consistent and reliable. Ten thousand rounds went bang with 10,000 presses of the trigger—no misfires, hangfires, or ammo-related malfunctions of any kind, and that’s impressive.
Colt Match Target HBAR
.223 Semiautomatic Rifle
Manufacturer ..........Colt’s Mfg. Co. Inc.
Hartford, CT 06144
Model.................... Match Target HBAR
Operation .......Gas-operated autoloader
Caliber ..........................223 Remington
Barrel length........................ 20 inches
Overall length ......................39 inches
Rifling ................................6 grooves,
1:9-inch RH twist
Weight, empty ....................8.5 pounds
Sights .......................Fixed front post;
rear aperature; removable
carry handle with integral
Weaver-type base on receiver
Magazine capacity................. 8 rounds
Finish............................... Matte black
I think we wrecked the barrel by shooting too much just a little too fast. At times the barrel was literally smoking, and that’s indicative of too much heat and friction. If we had slowed down and stretched the shoot over a longer period of time, that barrel might have lasted for the full 10,000 rounds and possibly another 10,000. Who knows? It’s a fine little rifle that fell into the wrong hands.
But there is just a little more to this story. I came to the shoot with a kit bag full of the parts that might break—springs, pins, extractors, ejectors, etc. I never opened the bag. This fine Colt rifle fired 10,000 rounds without one malfunction of any kind. Not a single part broke; not a single failure of any part of the system was experienced.
A close examination of the action parts shows wear on the surface finish and a little burnishing of contact surfaces. There’s no reason at all why this rifle couldn’t continue to serve as it did through an absolutely tortuous three days. It’s a fine rifle, and the purchaser can be assured that the HBAR is of the same quality that made Colt a household word.
I guess I’m going to have to rethink my position on these rifles. True, it doesn’t look like a traditional rifle, and it still doesn’t feel like a traditional rifle to this hard-headed old Marine. But it sure shoots like one!
Fired with Hornady 55-grain
SP ammo after the barrel
10,000 rounds later, nothing more said!!!!
I have an SP-1 and while I am mad at Colt for denying me 1/2 their line, I still would never sell it.
I don't see a mention anywhere that the barrel was chrome-lined, or anything.
If it wasn't chrome-lined, I could easily see some serious throat erosion if the thing is being shot constantly, all day, in thousand round bunches with some cool-off time inbetween.
They don't state their ROF, either..was it 5 rounds every minute? 5 rounds every 10 seconds? What was it?
The article isn't exactily %100 clear on their testing methodology.
Dude I've owned several Colts. Recently I've realized its only a name.
For shootability, it is only a name, but for a gun historian like me, the triangular handguards & rampant Colt represent Vietnam.
I've got a 1981 Colt SP1 ColtGuard (white metal - not black), a Bushmaster and just got a RRA so no flame here...They all shoot well.
If it's just a name, why is the Colt worth more than the Bushmaster and the RRA put together? Value is defined as price that the market will bear. In this case, the Bushy and the RRA would both sell for about $800-$1000 each. The Colt would bring an easy $2k or more.
Colts are good? No way!
I have to admit I do have a soft spot for it. I carried the same in the M16 version while serving in the USMC. I cant accept the fact Colt screwed with sear blocks and all that small, large, push pin screw type crap.If they had kept it simple like all the rest I would have a different opinion. I will stay with my 3 digit serial # BUSHY. Living in NY I am limited to lowers. Back when it mattered, the selection was n't to great for all of us. Now we are still living Clintons curse and you guys are presently free.
Hey I guess I can move but when you consider it my Preban bushmasters are milspec and will satisfy the void.
Dude I couldn't have said it better. Hey Like I said with all their issues what was with their color issue. Man I thought it was called the black rifle. Not grey or green or what ever puke color they are. Hey I know Bushmaster s have a purpleish tint to them but its a blackish purpleish tint.[%| in the sun
That article is about 4+ years old IIRC.
Bro, You know how I feel about Colts, But until the 2nd tier AR MFGs start Proofing their Barrels/Bolts/Carriers I will stick with Colt, Just yesterday there was a guy at the range with a Bushy with a broken Cam pin, He is lucky he noticed something was wrong before he pulled the trigger or KABOOM.
And there was another guy on the board here complaining about gas key bolts snapping Broken Gas key bolt
Just another example of Poor quality control & Why all M4s & M16A4 rifles are now made by Colt
Now for another subject, DO you know an electrican I can use???
This has been beat to death, But like I said many times before I wish Bushy would properly test their rifles (Instead of committing fraud by stamping & MP on an untested part like they admittedly do), Then they would move up to top tier & be as good as or may be better than Colt.
The Broken cam pin was on a rifle with less than 1000rds through it so I doubt it was lack of maintance or a worn out part, Just poor Q/C ( ANd we have seen many examples of this stuff posted here, Like the soft triggers & Brken gas key bolts).
I can tell you this. I know a dealer who deals very close with CMT & LMT parts. They make most of colts parts now. he has had several Carriers come through his stock with a C stamped on the side. I only know of one maker that has such stamping on there parts. I never have and never will use inferior parts in any of my rifles yet I think the little C stamped on the side of a carrier or MPC on the bolt itself no way warrants the extra cost expected. When were talking full auto I can see where I might be concerned with quality control but here's some quality control for you. I have had 2 factory new colt M4 uppers in the past 2 years that had barrel nuts cranked down so hard it took a torch and a pipe wrench to pry them off. Gas tubes bent etc. I bought them from a serious colt man right here on the boards. He couldn't supply me with no explaination why these parts were fucked up and as good as trash. For that I feel Colt lost there quality and cant even control it self any more. How's that for quality control.
Bro, if you can get your hands on properly tested parts to put into your rifles for a good price great.
But don't say it does not matter, One KABOOM can cost you your life.
I feel that anything that can reduce the chance of a catastropic failure is worth the price, I just wish a company like bushy would properly test their parts & end this type of discussion once & for all.
Hate to say it but I'd have preferred it if they hadn't cleaned it between thousand round strings... I've seen this kind of test before with FALs and they don't clean them.