The last time I counted, there were 93 companies making AR-15s in the United States. If you look closely, the only real difference from one to another is whether they are piston or gas driven. There are a few AR-like guns that are not true Stoner designs'more like AK-47s, really'but they are available and used interchangeably with the AR, which is fine.
The only real difference from one model of AR to the next is the quality of components used to manufacture the gun, which is normally why one gun costs more than another. The more precision built into the component, the better the material used, the more quality of the end product, the better the rifle and the higher the cost'it's as simple as that.
Guns that are known to be made to very high standards are tough to get, and people wait in line to get them regardless of the cost. The current climate in the U.S. with economic and political uncertainty is going to keep the demand for such guns high for the foreseeable future. Those who want an AR right now often take what they can get and are disappointed in the gun's lack of reliability.
For the defensive-minded shooter, being able to count on one's chosen rifle is critical. Without it, confidence suffers, and confidence is a big factor in overcoming the fear that naturally accompanies conflict. As with any piece of kit, it is wise to take the time to research what is available, make an informed decision and then wait to get what you really want. Never settle.
One of the newest manufacturers in the AR market is Templar Custom Arms. Founded by Bob Meszaros'a skilled machinist by trade who ran a successful shop that manufactured custom automobile and motorcycle parts'he got irritated at what he saw in the custom firearms market: long waits for custom work that was shoddy; gunsmiths who told their customers to take what they gave them as they were lucky to get it; and general lack of consistency across the board.
Bob started his gunsmith service modifying Glocks and Smith & Wesson M&P pistols and named his fledgling business Templar Custom Arms (as in Knights Templar, a military order during the Middle Ages that fought in the Crusades).
Bob has harbored a long affinity for rifles, particularly the AR-15, so he decided to start manufacturing his own. Trying to eliminate the wait for other manufacturers, Bob looked at what he could make himself and decided there was no reason to buy lowers from anyone else. He could do it himself, allowing him to place his logo on the receiver and give the customer a serial number that would mean something to them. And cutting his own lowers helps him reduce costs as well, savings he passes on to the consumer.
Bob CNCs his lower receivers from a solid billet of 7075 aluminum. The magazine well of each receiver is wire-EDM-cut versus being broached. This process is more precise and accurate, resulting in a magazine well that will take and release magazines with less effort.
Once he perfected this process, he went looking for the best components and found a wide variance in both price and quality. While parts might look alike, their quality and precision can vary greatly, and he was disappointed at what he found'particularly the parts you often find at gun shows.
Templar Custom Arms is a small shop, so Bob keeps his AR selection small. He decided on offering two stock models: a high-end gun'the Crusader'that would be appropriate for 3 Gun matches and other competitions, and a trim, basic model'the Patrol'directed at law enforcement and personal defense. While these are his stock guns, he does build to customer specifications.
The Crusader is built around a monolithic upper, a receiver and free-float handguard that are one piece and also "chromed and honed" for added reliability and durability. The handguard section is heavily vented to reduce weight and dissipate heat, and its free-floating nature typically produces better accuracy'in this case with a 1:8-twist polygonal stainless steel barrel from Black Hole Weaponry.
The upper is made by Hogan, whom Bob feels makes some of the best components available and availability is important. The Crusader's trigger assembly is also from Hogan.
The bolt assembly is nickel boron plated, the grip is from Magpul and the buttstock is from ARS. The barrel is tipped with a Battle Comp flash hider/muzzle brake that Bob feels holds the gun on target better than anything else available.
"The Battle Comp is amazing," Bob said. "Shoot guns equipped with a Battle Comp in rapid fire and you feel no muzzle rise at all."
Bob and I share an affinity for Magpul accessories due to their low cost and durability. Right now all things Magpul are in style'and therefore in demand'but that is not why the Templar crew uses them in the construction of their rifles. "I use Magpul accessories because they are well thought out, designed, reasonably priced and they work," Bob said.
Magpul is used liberally in the Patrol carbine as well. It's a slimmer, less expensive model that still incorporates many of the same features as the Crusader. To get the highest level of reliability from the gas impingement system, Bob uses a mid-length 16-inch barrel, which many feel offers a smoother shooting platform. The 1:7 twist rate is rated for 62- to 77-grain bullets and is acquired from quality vendors such as Daniel Defense and Wilson Combat.
Bob wanted to use a 1:8-twist barrel on the Patrol version (rated for bullets between 55 and 77 grains) but could not find a reliable supplier, thus he opted for the 1:7 due to its high demand by tactical shooters.
Like the Crusader, many of the smaller components (bolt covers, pins, springs and so forth) used in building the Patrol carbine are secured from Stag Arms, one of the largest suppliers of AR parts in the world. All parts are mil-spec (a term used for a standard of quality more than anything else)'including those used in the trigger, bolt and buffer tube assemblies and throughout the rest of the gun. In the end, you have a top-quality, reliable gun at a reasonable price.
I asked Bob to send me a Patrol model for testing as that is the type of firearm I am interested in. I tested the gun from a rest made from a stack of Giles Bags from Wilderness Tactical at 100 yards. I shot very slowly and deliberately giving the gun the opportunity to shine, but let's be honest, if the gun was not accurate, shooting slow would not help that much. Five five-shot groups were fired with the average and best group reported. I used an Aimpoint Micro red dot, one of the best red dot sights available, teamed with the same company's 3X magnifier.
I was pleased with the results. The normal accuracy you get with 16-inch carbines is two to 2.5 inches at 100 yards, and my results were much better than that. Considering the care that went into building the rifle, I can't say I was surprised.
Following Bob's lead, I installed my own Battle Comp flash hider on the Patrol, and I now know what Bob meant by the unit eliminating any muzzle rise. As I shot the Patrol carbine at distances from 20 feet to 25 yards as fast as possible (shoot as fast as you can but as slow as you must), I could not help but notice the "piston-like" action of the gun going back and forth against my shoulder from shot to shot instead of trying to rise. While the Battle Comp is not inexpensive, it works as advertised.
The best groups were achieved using Hornady TAP and GMX ammo which, like the Templar gun, was not all that surprising. Hornady has a well-deserved reputation for quality that translates to accuracy. Even though the 1:7 rate of twist is thought to be too fast for the 55-grain bullet, my gun shot it well out to 100 yards. As knowledgeable rifle shooters point out, however, as distance increase the lighter bullet may not shoot nearly as well.
I completed my testing by shooting an additional 400 rounds of various 5.56 and .223 ammo in varied weights and styles without a single hiccup. Using Magpul P-Mags, the gun ran through the ammo like a well-lubricated sewing machine, placing round after round into an eight-inch square.
To say I'm happy with my Templar Custom Arms Patrol carbine might be a bit of an understatement. The gun is darn near perfect in my mind. It's light, trim and simple with everything I need and nothing I don't, which is how I want all of my defense gear set up. If you are looking for a top-quality AR at a reasonable price, I would strongly encourage you to contact Bob Meszaros at Templar Custom Arms and see what he can put together for you.