A few months ago I noticed an ad in Shotgun News for a pre-ban Colt AR-15A2 in .222 Remington -- not the standard .223 -- for the ridiculously low price of $599. I yanked up the phone, busting with questions. The fella at the gun joint (I'd supply the name, but they ran out of these pups a long time ago, and probably wouldn't appreciate your harassing calls) confirmed my suspicion that the rifles were intended for foreign export. In case you haven't heard, several nations permit their citizens to own all sorts of firearms as long as they are not chambered for a currently-issued military caliber -- hence the rise of "cheater" rounds like the 9x23mm. At least the .222 Rem. was the cartridge that the micro-caliber portion of the AR series was originally designed for, so this minor bastardization should be less offensive to gun geek purists. In fact it served as the basis for the .223, which is actually the same case with a blown-out shoulder in order to accomodate more powder. The only re-engineering that Colt found necessary to get the lower-powered round to function properly was to replace the large standard buffer with two of the smaller collapsible-stock carbine buffers facing butt-to-butt on opposite ends of the standard recoil spring.
The rifles turned out to be pre-'89 models, which meant that they were not polluted by the post-Bush-Ban sear blocks and oversized lower-receiver pins that Colt's lawyers felt were necessary to stave off future lawsuits, as the guns thus treated were rendered less friendly to full-auto conversion. Not that it won them any favors when the "assault weapon" ban scythed through the marketplace.
I scrambled out to my favorite local dealer and ordered one tout de suite. The gun arrived in six business days, and came boxed with two pre-ban 20-rd magazines (!) and a cleaning rod. Better yet, my "new" gun turned out to be one of the nicest Colts that I'd seen in years. No sign of the labor troubles the company battled with for years (e.g., sloppy fit and random color matching) were in evidence. Heck, even the trigger pull was acceptable. The only hang-up was the front attaching point for the upper and lower receivers. I was hoping for a captive push-pin like that found at the rear, or at worst a standard-sized internally-threaded pin with matching screw for the opposite end, which can be easily switched to the push-pin arrangement. Nope. What I got was the somewhat silly-looking big bolt that fits into an oversize hole in the lower receiver, narrows down to normal diameter for the hole in the upper, and is mated with a notched nut on the left-hand side. Definitely unappealing, but hardly traumatic.
The biggest problem facing me was choosing between the several dozen replacement barrels currently available. I definitely wanted to go with a 16-incher, which helped narrow the field somewhat. Well, the most unique option that jumped out was the Bushmaster Dissipator. This neat setup utilizes twin front site bases, the forward one in the same position as used on the standard 20" barrel, onto which the standard full-size handguards are attached. The rear base, into which a shorty gas tube is pinned, is machined to remove the entire upper sight triangle section, and hides below the handguards.
I chose to blow an extra fifty bucks and went with the fluted model. The ad promised that this would take approximately half a pound off the gun compared to the standard version.
My friend Alex, proud owner of a ft-lb torque wrench -- the only tool I was missing for the work required -- kindly consented to take some time off from the brutal struggle of pappyhood in order to hold my hand. While attempting to uncork the original barrel we managed to snap a plastic chunk off his unworthy workbench, and then moved to a studly vise apparently forged from old railroad spikes. From that point, the job took about fifteen minutes. The half-pound savings up front from the fluting makes the gun balance just right. Seriously, you really have to try one of these out! I can swing mine onto target with only one hand -- and hold it -- without making the tendons on my neck jump out like coax cables (not very useful for anything other than winning beer money by potting pop cans at 20 yards, but a neat measure of handiness).
I then decided to slap on a set of tritium night sights. I ended up with an old A2-style Meprolight front and Trijicon A1-style rear. The Meprolight had only one problem in that the four-cornered post has a luminous upright bar on only one of its sides. This means that if you want your your A2-series gun to take full advantage of the markings calibrated (out to 800 meters!) for M855/SS-109 steel-core ammunition, you might end up being two quarter-rotations, or about 3" at 100 meters, off the ideal setting. Since the 16" tube yields lower velocities than the standard-issue 20-incher, the "computer" was going to be off anyway, so I set the front roughly where I wanted it and compensated by moving the rear sight until I was hitting consistently in the black of a SR-C target at 250 yards with the small aperture, and made my own mark on the elevation drum with some (borrowed, thank you) nail polish. This represents the best overall "set your sights once and then leave 'em the hell alone" compromise since it provides dead-on results for those all-important 50 yard head shots, and is only a few inches high at 100 yards.
The rear ghost ring is about perfect, with tiny luminous dots at the three and nine o'clock positions which fuzz out slightly when the gun is in the normal shooting position, directing attention to the front post. I would prefer a small aperture that was just a little bit smaller.
I replaced the standard flash hider with a Vortex model, which I covered in my article on the Bushmaster M17S bullpup. The pistol grip got tossed, and replaced with a Lone Star trapdoor model that has a stowaway compartment big enough to contain some useful stuff. This grip is also much more hand-filling and comfortable for me -- and it only cost $7.50 at a show.
I also swapped out the A2-length stock with a slightly shorter (5/8", if I remember correctly) A1 trapdoor. I find that the A2 stock just barely comes up comfortably when I'm wearing a T-shirt -- if I've got on a coat or body armor, forget it. I was happy to figure out that the flat and fully grooved A2 buttplate fits onto the A1 stock, which originally comes with rounded plate that's only notched on the trapdoor itself and thus does not provide as solid a plant on the shoulder. The new combo feels so much more natural that I put the same shebang on my match gun.
The final package feels great, and shoots like a dream.
Then all I needed to complete the system was a flashlight. I was thinking about getting a dedicated system from the folks at Sure-Fire, but hesitated because while their flashlights are probably the best of their type in the world, their dedicated mounts range from whiz-bang neat to Rube Goldberg junk.
Luckily, a few weeks later I was cleaning out my back room, dumping out and rearranging all of my boxes of gun crap. I found an old universal Insta-Mount from S&K Industries (I think that they still advertise in Shotgun News). This setup consists of two steel rings that each clamp to the barrel with four heavy duty screws. An aluminum base connects the two rings, and it is onto this that a scope can be attached with Weaver rings. I placed it into my large "To Sell" carton. Then a few days later a thought entered my beer-misted brain, and I pulled it back out again.
I cut the aluminum base in half. Now I had two tough rigs that I could stick on my AR uppers. The first one went to my Colt Lightweight shorty, which has a A1-contour 16" 1-in-7" twist barrel. I clamped a 1-inch aluminum low ring onto the base and inserted a Stream-Lite Scorpion (a lower-priced competitor of the Sure-Fire 6P) after wrapping a section of its body with a couple of loops of black electrical tape to make it fit more snugly. The result is shown below:
This arrangement is about perfect for the Colt Lightweight. Since it uses standard shorty handguards, the push-button on-off switch ends up just in front of a right-handed shooter's thumb. And it is strong. Not bad for a $60 kluge ($20 for half the mount/$5 ring/$35 light).
The longer handguards on the Dissipator required a bit more hardware. I mounted one of the 6Ps on it, and added a pressure switch with an eight-inch tail (#S08). I placed the velcro-attached switch assembly dead-center at the top rear of the upper handguard, just above where I normally grasp it. I'm getting a picture of it developed now . . . .