The new Model 8T from Stag Arms is a version—dare I say an improved version?—of its Model 8 semiauto gas piston-powered AR-15. Stag Arms became well-known for making two things: left-handed ARs and consistently good-quality, mil-spec grade rifles. It then jumped into the piston market with the Model 8, an AR featuring a short-stroke gas piston system. You can actually find all of those features—and more—in the Model 8T. I received a right-handed rifle to test.
The base gun is a standard Stag Model 8. It has a 16-inch chrome-lined barrel chambered in 5.56 NATO with a 1:7 twist.
The rifle has a six-position collapsible stock, standard A2 pistol grip and all the traditional AR controls just about everyone by now knows how to work. One added bonus is the ambidextrous sling mount at the rear of the receiver.
What sets the Model 8T apart is the unusual fore-end. The Diamondhead VRS-T aluminum handguard free-floats the barrel and has a unique look. From the front, the handguard has a triangular shape; its belly is nearly flat, but the outside edges are deeply scalloped with finger grooves.
The handguard itself is not beefy but rather slender and feels nice in the hand. There are no sharp edges, but the finger grooves ensure your hand stays locked in place. The handguard has a full-length top rail and numerous attachment points on the sides and bottom for additional rail sections.
A set of flip-up Diamondhead iron sights is provided with the rifle, and I can think of no higher praise for them than what I heard from a veteran 3 Gun shooter when he raised the rifle to his shoulder: “Wow, these are nice. And they work.”
Instead of a traditional round aperture, the rear Diamondhead sight has a (surprise!) diamond-shaped aperture. The protective wings of the front sight are diamond-shaped as well, although open at the top. The combination is very effective. When looking through the rear sight, the front sight wings form a “diamond within a diamond” that is very quick and instinctive to use. If you’re used to the traditional GI rear aperture you might not like it, and different isn’t necessarily better, but these work as designed.
For those not up to speed on the modern AR, here’s a quick rundown on the differences between a gas piston gun and the original design. In the original, gases bled off from the barrel travel down a gas tube to shove back the bolt carrier, filling the chamber area with hot, dirty exhaust gases. With a gas piston system, the gas strikes a piston, and it is the piston that pushes back on the bolt carrier. Gas-piston ARs will run cooler and cleaner in the chamber area than direct gas guns, but the additional parts add more complexity, weight and cost to the rifle.
The 8T is supplied with two aluminum GI-type 30-round magazines. They had Stag Arms-marked floorplates but unmarked gray followers of a type I’d not seen before. One of the magazines worked flawlessly, the other had feeding issues—likely because the follower angled downward at the front. In the past, Stag has used Magpul followers, but I’m guessing the company had to find another source as it—like everybody else—was scrambling to find parts during the recent AR buying craze. With every other magazine I used, the gun was completely reliable.
Shooting off sandbags can sometimes be as much of a test of the rifle’s trigger as it is the accuracy of the barrel, and I have no doubt that if I’d dropped in a match trigger with a three-pound pull, my groups with the 8T would have shrunk. Don’t get me wrong: A trigger that’s 5.75 pounds and crisp isn’t bad at all when you’re talking about GI triggers. That said, when I’m trying to shoot groups I’ve found my patterns start expanding with anything over four pounds.
Do I have any complaints about the rifle other than the GI-spec trigger and the weird follower in that one magazine? Well, I’m actually getting a little sick of the M4-cutout profile barrels. I know they are all the rage, and using them saves AR manufacturers money, but I’d love to see a barrel on this rifle that is just as interesting to look at as the handguard and sights—say a medium-weight barrel with fluting, which would look sharp.
But aside from that, with the 8T you get a reliable gun from a company that consistently makes top-quality rifles, one that features a proven gas piston system and a handguard and sights that set it apart from the crowd.
<h2></h2>The Diamondhead VRS-T handguard is triangular in shape, and the two-position (on/off) gas piston can be disassembled with the tip of a bullet for cleaning.