October 02, 2020
By James Tarr
When I was a kid, if you wanted a gun that was an exclusive or a “special edition,” you most likely were stuck with a gold-plated M1 Thompson with John Wayne’s likeness engraved on the stock. Now “distributor’s exclusives” represent the lion’s share of the special-edition market, and not only are they guns you want to own and can afford, but also they’re ones you want to shoot.
Few gun companies have embraced distributor exclusive editions more enthusiastically than Ruger. The company’s website lists no fewer than six distributor exclusives just of its standard AR-556. For this review I secured the Ruger AR-556 Davidson’s Dark Earth (item #8503).
Ruger’s standard models are available from them in any color you want—as long as it’s black. If you yearn for more color in your life, it’s the distributor exclusives you want to check out. This Davidson’s model has its Dark Earth-colored handguard and stock and matching Cerakote finish on the upper and lower receivers. There is also a nicely etched black Ruger logo on the right side of the magazine well.
When it was introduced in 2014, Ruger’s AR-556 was exactly the AR America wanted. Both then and now, the most popular AR configuration is a direct-impingement, 16-inch-barreled flattop model with a carbine-length gas system and collapsible stock—commonly known as the M4 style, as it most closely resembles our military’s M4 carbine. Those are the best-selling of any AR type across the country, and it was the first firearm from Ruger designed, engineered and built completely in its Mayodan, North Carolina, facility.
The AR-556 features a 16.1-inch cold-hammer-forged barrel of 4140 chrome-moly steel. The barrel has a medium contour, and total weight of the rifle is 6.5 pounds, which is exactly where it should be.
The six-groove barrel features a 1:8 twist, which has been found to be best for bullets from 35 to 77 grains. The rifle has a 5.56 NATO chamber as well, so it will handle the more common .223 Rem. ammo as well as the slightly hotter 5.56 NATO round.
The barrel has M4 feed ramps for improved reliability. The flash hider on the end of the barrel has the distinctive Ruger look. The muzzle has standard 1/2x28 threads, so it will accept any standard AR muzzle device.
Ruger’s AR-556 looks like a traditional M4-style AR, but company designers changed a few things for the better. The front sight post is machined rather than forged. It is pinned in place, so you don’t have to worry about setscrews loosening up under recoil. Those pins are through the top of the barrel, unlike the military style, which has them through the bottom.
The rear of the front sight tower has been serrated to cut glare. At the bottom of the front sight tower you’ll see a bayonet lug, and on the underside there’s a QD sling swivel socket.
The polymer buttstock is an M4-style manufactured by Ruger, and it rides on a six-position mil-spec buffer tube. The round handguard on the AR-556 is the narrower original design seen on CAR-15s, which is what everyone called carbine-length ARs before the M4 was introduced in 1994.
The Ruger handguard is constructed of heat-resistant, glass-filled nylon. It fits into a standard round metal handguard cap at the front, but if you look closely at the rear, you’ll see the barrel nut and delta ring are Ruger’s proprietary design, which doesn’t require tools to remove.
To remove the handguard just unscrew the polymer delta ring toward the receiver. When it stops moving, the rear of the handguard is clear of the ring, and the upper and lower halves will pop right out. Why somebody didn’t design a delta ring like this 40 years ago I have no idea. It is simple, and it works.
The factory standard pistol grip on the AR-556 is polymer and has increased reach to the trigger. On this distributor exclusive you get a rubber pistol grip with finger grooves and a standard A2-length reach to the trigger. The black polymer trigger guard is oversize.
The charging handle, bolt release, selector and trigger components are all GI-style. That means you’ll get a relatively crisp but somewhat heavy single-stage trigger pull.
Paired with the post front sight is Ruger’s Rapid Deploy rear sight. It pops up by depressing a serrated button on the left side of the sight body.
For testing I mounted an ACSS Cyclops 1X scope by Primary Arms on the rifle’s rail. A few helpers and I put hundreds of rounds through this rifle—and got it hot enough for the oil to start smoking off the barrel—but it still ran perfectly.
With the Davidson’s Ruger AR-556 you get a reliable rifle with a few special features, including the Dark Earth color scheme. If you needed any proof of what these changes can mean, the rifle has become so popular that you’ll need to go through your local Gallery of Guns retailer to order it. You can find a list of nearby shops at GalleryOf Guns.com.
Ruger AR-556 Davidson's Dark Earth Specs
- Type: Direct-impingement AR-15
- Caliber: 5.56 NATO
- Capacity: 30-round magazine (where legal)
- Barrel: 16.1 in. 4140 chrome-moly steel, 1:8 twist, Ruger flash hider, threaded 1/2x28
- Overall Length: 32.25–35.5 in.
- Weight: 6.5 lb.
- Receiver: 7075-T6 billet aluminum
- Furniture: Heat-resistant, glass-filled nylon handguard w/proprietary barrel nut/delta ring; rubber finger-groove pistol grip
- Stock: Six-position collapsible
- Trigger: Single-stage, 7.5 lb. pull (measured)
- Sights: Post front adjustable for elevation; Ruger Rapid Deploy rear
- Price: $827
- Manufacturer: Ruger, ruger.com
- Retailer: Gallery of Guns, GalleryOfGuns.com
Ruger AR-556 Davidson's Dark Earth Accuracy Results