I have long felt that, correctly utilized, a semiautomatic rifle can provide a useful advantage for a sniper. Prior to the global war on terrorism, such a view was scorned by most, and I received my share of hate mail. In the last eight years or so, though, most have become less dogmatic and more open-minded toward precision "gas gun" rifles.
Today, many shooters with practical real-world experience prefer a semiautomatic over a bolt gun for use out to 800 meters. The reasons are relatively straightforward. A semiautomatic provides a faster follow-up shot; allows multiple targets to be engaged in a much shorter time frame; allows the rifle to be more effectively utilized in a fire-support role; is a more effective fighting rifle if push comes to shove; and the detachable magazine makes for quicker reloads.
Is the semiautomatic system perfect? No, but rifles have been steadily improving. In the old days here in the western world, you had three basic types of modified infantry rifles to choose from. Now there are more options than ever.
The latest entry into this growing market is Les Baer’s new .308 Ultimate Match Rifle. This is a handsome AR-10 type rifle sure to carve a name for itself due to one simple reason: its shocking accuracy.
I am admittedly more than a bit jaded when it comes to new rifle designs. But my jaw dropped, hit the floor and rolled under my reloading bench when I peered at the 10-shot test target included with my review rifle. While I was trying to compose myself, I noted my Sako TRG-22 sweating nervously as it hid in the corner. A 10-shot group measuring a scant 0.3 inch will have that effect.
While Les Baer Custom is best known for its high-quality 1911 pistols, the company has also been stirring things up a bit with its ARs, which come with a 1/2 m.o.a. accuracy guarantee. Stop and ponder that for a moment–an autoloader that’s guaranteed to shoot half-minute right out of the box. The firm backs up that claim by including a test target with each rifle sporting two five-shot groups fired by Les Baer himself.
I am a bit more familiar with Les Baer ARs than most writers as I used one of his .223 Remington Ultimate National Matches in NRA Highpower. This particular rifle would consistently post half-minute five-shot groups with factory ammunition at 200 yards prone with sling and iron sights. If that is not impressive enough, Shawn McKenna recently set the Camp Perry civilian Service Rifle record using a Les Baer Service Rifle.
Over the years, I’ve found Les Baer’s ARs to be not only extremely accurate but also monotonously reliable. One season, as a test, I shot thousands of rounds through a Les Baer in practice and competition without cleaning the rifle. It never failed.
I attribute the quality and performance of his rifles directly to the man behind the name and the quality of the people he has working for him. Les is a straightforward, no-nonsense kind of man with a very competitive personality.
In years past he raced a Pro 5.0 Mustang. Powershifting 2,200 horsepower of supercharged Ford Windsor at 9,600 rpm, he pushed his ‘Stang down the quarter-mile in the low seven-second range, reaching speeds of 198 mph. Lots of people race, but he did it successfully.
Why do I mention this? It requires extreme attention to detail to build a car and engine that run consistently and competitively at these speeds. It also requires extraordinary attention to detail to build semiautomatic rifles, day in and day out, that shoot to this level, and without a doubt Les also has an excellent crew operating behind the scenes–carefully putting these rifles together.
But what about this new piece? In addition to his .223 Remington rifles, Les offers .204 Ruger, 6×45 and his .264 LBC. All of these are built on an AR-15 size platform. To offer a .308 Winchester required moving to a larger AR-10 style upper and lower receiver.
"Frankly, it was a lot of work," Les told me. "We spent a year and a half working on this new design, getting it right before we released it."
Both upper and lower are machined from 7075-T6-51 billet aluminum and then fitted by hand. The upper receiver is a heavy-wall piece that provides extra strength and rigidity for supporting the medium-weight match barrel.
Machined into the top is a Mil Std 1913 rail for mounting optics or iron sights. A proper dust cover is fitted along with a brass deflector, but there is no forward assist. The end result is a beefy upper receiver with handsome good looks.
Mated to the front of the upper receiver is one of Les Baer Custom’s 24-inch benchrest-grade 416R stainless steel match barrels. It sports cut rifling and a 1:10 twist that stabilizes a diverse range of projectile weights and lengths.
The barrel is 0.86 inch in diameter at the muzzle and finished with a carefully cut target crown. It sports a satin black Dupont S coating. The barrel features a Les Baer steel gas blocks, which is locked in place with two lock screws and features a 1913 rail on top.
Surrounding the barrel is one of Les Baer’s machined aluminum free-float handguards. This is bead blasted prior to being anodized, which gives it a bit of texture. A chromed Les Baer bolt carrier assembly rides inside the upper.
The hand-fitting of upper to lower was excellent, and I could easily push out the takedown pin. Usually Les Baer ARs are so tight I need a tool to push the take
down pin through, which I dislike.
The integral trigger guard is nicely contoured and provides additional room for use with gloves, and the receiver is designed to allow easy access to the magazine release.
Inside the lower you’ll find a Geissele two-stage match trigger and some other high-end features.
"We worked with Wolff regarding the action spring to enhance reliability," Les said. "After extensive testing we also decided to go with a high-grade nylon buffer instead of a traditional type. This reduces felt recoil yet lasts just as long."
The lower is finished off with a Les Baer Duck Bill pistol grip and A2 buttstock.
One important choice Les had to make when developing this rifle was how to feed it. In my opinion he made the right choice by selecting SR-25/M110/DPMS pattern magazines. This design is based upon the original 1950s-vintage ArmaLite AR-10 magazine dimensions. Current military-issue KAC SR-25/M110 sniper rifles use this magazine type, as do many commercial models such as DPMS–which ensures ready availability of magazines.
One of the latest introductions was a polymer magazine from Magpul, and Les selected Magpul’s PMAG 20LR for use with the new .308 and includes two with each rifle. Each rifle also comes with a soft case, Harris bipod and test target.
I selected one of Leupold’s new Mark 4 8.5-25x50mm ER/T scopes to use while testing the rifle. The scope, built on a 30mm tube, sports a front focal plane reticle and the new M5 turrets. Although saddled with an old school three-fold magnification increase, it does have some useful features–including a reticle choice of Horus’ H37 or H58, Leupold’s Tactical Milling or traditional mil dot.
I chose the Tactical Milling Reticle, which is now located in the front focal plane and allows the shooter to use it for ballistic compensation or rangefinding at any magnification. The new M5 turrets are in 0.1 mil increments, and adjustments are distinct, audible and tactile with five mils per full turret revolution. Total adjustment is 85 m.o.a.
Other features include the Xtended Twilight Lens System and side parallax adjustment knob. The scope is 141⁄2 inches long and weighs 221⁄2 ounces.
I mounted the scope using a set of Les Baer Custom 30mm rings and got to work. I began by zeroing at 100 yards and then fired four five-shot groups with three different loads. Results are shown in the accompanying table.
I wasn’t able to consistently shoot at the level of accuracy evident on the supplied test target, but I was easily able to achieve the company’s half-minute accuracy guarantee with match ammo.
Next I ran the rifle through some sniper drills–engaging multiple targets of various sizes at various distances from 200 to 600 yards as fast as I could without touching the scope turrets. The Les Baer excelled. Using the TMR reticle with the Leupold’s magnification cranked down, the rifle provided surgical accuracy at a speed a bolt gun simply cannot match.
Next I moved to the 800-yard lane, firing from my shooting tower. Even at this longer distance the Les Baer had no trouble making rapid hits on a 111⁄2×20-inch LaRue Sniper Target.
My final thoughts? Frankly I was a bit surprised to see Les Baer Custom come out with a .308. But the company has done an excellent job. The rifle looks good, although a bit plain, and shoots exceedingly well.
Les wouldn’t tell me how he is cutting the chamber, but obviously whatever he is doing works well. My only concern is carrier bounce. All AR-10 type rifles are saddled with an extremely heavy bolt carrier assembly. I just wonder if his nylon buffer will ensure the flawless reliability his AR-15 type rifles are known for.
My only complaint involves the included Harris bipod. A rifle in this price class should come with the swivel rather than fixed model. Although not inexpensive at $2,980, Les Baer Custom’s new .308 Ultimate Match Rifle does provide custom-built bolt gun accuracy in a semiautomatic package.