December 09, 2014
Stag is an AR-15 maker that is often overlooked by the mil-spec crowd for reasons I really don't get. The company has been at this for more than 10 years, and it's the real deal: an OEM manufacturer that does the metal cutting and finishing on all the major AR parts that go into its own rifles as well as those from other makers.
Stag is also not bashful about offering value-for-money models of its own, AR-15s that have the features you want at a price you can afford. The latest of those is the 3T-M.
The heart of the 3T-M is a flattop upper and a mil-spec lower, both made by Stag. On this platform the company has built a carbine that would be very useful for a starting 3-Gun competitor or someone who wants a handy hunting or defense rifle.
The stock is a Magpul ACS, with a six-position adjustable buffer tube. The ACS has both a comfortable triangular shape to the cheekpiece and three storage compartments for those who want a choice of places to store stuff. You can put batteries in the two tubular stashes and cleaning supplies or a broken-case extractor in the hinged compartment. (The really switched-on 3-Gun competitor will look at the compartments and think, "Hmm, I can put weight in there and adjust the balance just the way I like it.")
The pistol grip is also from Magpul. It's the MOE, with a spacer that fills the web of your hand. Inside, Stag installs a set of mil-spec fire-control parts, so you have a completely standard single-stage trigger pull. Stag gives you a trigger that is plenty good enough to start with and leaves the next step up to you. Again, a 3-Gunner who has a few seasons under his or her belt — or anyone who has loftier trigger expectations — can pull those out and install an aftermarket trigger. The hammer and trigger pins are the normal, small-pin diameter, so you don't have to go searching for parts built for the extremely irritating large-diameter pins.
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The Diamondhead VRS-T free-float handguard is 13.5 inches long and specially machined for Stag. The handguard is triangular in shape — a shape that allows you to get a good, firm grasp — and has a full-length top rail, contiguous with the height of the upper receiver rail. The Diamondhead VRS-T also has a pair of locating tabs on its rear face. These tabs rest on either side of the upper receiver to align the handguard and resist torque from your support hand.
What about rails you ask? The handguard has three rows of tapped holes. Take a section of rail and bolt it to the handguard where you want it to be. If you want rails the full length on all three axes, you can do it, but you'd be giving up the trim, fast-handling shape of the Diamondhead.
The handguard goes out just short of the flash hider, so those who are learning the long-reach arm position currently in vogue have a place for the support hand. I have long arms, and while I don't reach as far as some do these days, I really appreciate being able to reach past the usual stopping point on carbine-length handguards.
If you're going to take up 3-Gun competition, you will need sights of some kind. Stag ships the 3T-M with Diamondhead low-profile folding sights, front and rear.
The Diamondhead sights use a diamond-shaped rear aperture, and when I first ran into them a few years ago, I put them on a test rifle and showed them to a friend of mine — one of the few people who can consistently beat me with a rifle. A short while later, those very sights were on his rifle, and when I asked how soon I might get them back, the answer was "Never." Sights that are good enough to steal from a friend are good sights indeed.
Those who prefer to run their guns exclusively with scopes or other optics can take the sights off; they are easy to remove with a screwdriver. But you can keep them on because they fold down low enough that you can easily park a scope over them while still having the correct height for your sighting axis.
Internally, the 3T-M has a mil-spec, Parkerized-enhanced carrier and bolt for the direct-gas-impingement system. The carrier has a shrouded firing pin shoulder.
The barrel is a Government-profile, chrome-lined, 1:9 twist tube made of 4140 steel and given a 5.56 throat. Yes, Virginia, it will shoot .223 — and well, too. The outside is coated with manganese phosphate, so it will stand up to the heat and cold of a match or the snow, rain and blowing dust of a hunt or hardcore shoot.
On the end is a standard A2 flash hider. Again, those who compete or hunt will have their own ideas of what is "proper" on the muzzle, and if it really matters to them, they'd remove anything Stag put there. So Stag puts a flash hider that is perfectly good, knowing most will toss it in a parts drawer.
All of this comes at a suggested retail of only $1,160 — and in a rifle that weighs a listed 7.5 pounds. Now, there will be those who will grumble at this detail or that detail. No problem. If you want, Stag can custom-build a 3T-M to your specs.
Live in a state with restrictions on AR-15s? Stag can build one that will meet your requirements. Not happy with 4140, and your life will be miserable without a barrel made of 4150? Stag can do that, too.
The list is almost overwhelming: rail segments; light- and laser-specific mounting plates; standard or Norgon ambidextrous mag catch; chromed bolts; muzzle brake and trigger upgrades; and more. Heck, you can even have the Second Amendment laser-engraved on the magazine well. In a nutshell, you can take a base model 3T-M and turn it into whatever you want.
How does the base model shoot? To answer that, I hauled the 3T-M, a mountain of ammo and a Hi-Lux 1-4X (with illuminated BDC reticle set up for 5.56, clamped into a LaRue mount) to the range. A front blew through, and I found myself testing the rifle on a windy day in the teens, with snow blowing sideways. The rifle worked flawlessly.
I started by plinking on mud clods on the 100-yard backstop, cranking the scope over to the point of aim until I was close enough to be on paper. Once on paper, I proceeded to shoot groups, taking occasional warm-up breaks. While the trigger is made of mil-spec parts, its pull was clean, crisp and relatively light. You'd really have to be picky to complain about this one, and it allowed me to shoot pretty well.
Now, blowing cold, a single-stage trigger and a 4X scope are not supposed to be conducive to good groups, but overall I was fairly pleased with the groups I got. And for those who are worried about the barrel twist, I've found a lot of 1:9 barrels are pretty good with the 75- and 77-grain bullets. If yours isn't, that's the luck of the draw, but I've had good luck.
A carbine-length barrel is not going to wring all the speed out of a load that a 20-inch barrel can. It's one of the small prices you pay for the ease of handling. Still, a carbine-length barrel does quite well, and this one posted velocities right in the middle of the range I've seen for carbines.
Flash Hider Phenomenon
With the boring, toe-freezing work done, I shot some drills to see how the 3T-M handled. And there I found an interesting phenomenon, one I've run into before. The A2 flash hider has some of its dimensions strictly controlled; length and outside diameter, for instance, are machined to tight tolerances. The size of the cone on the inside of the A2€¦not so much.
The cone, combined with the length of the small pre-cone shelf, creates a situation I occasionally run into with A2 flash hiders where they act as muzzle brakes — at least for the vertical recoil component. Remember, the A2 was designed for the A2 rifle and its 20-inch barrel. When it's installed on a carbine-length barrel, you sometimes get a noticeable downwards push from the muzzle blast. This one has that. Through the scope I could see the muzzle dip slightly on each shot.
This won't happen on every 3T-M because it depends on the particular A2 flash hider, and it will do it with some loads and not others. But if you get a bit lucky yours will. The dip made the 3T-M wicked fast on drills, and while it does nothing to dampen straight-back recoil, we can all agree the recoil of the .223/5.56 isn't a shoulder-buster.
The Magpul ACS stock also proved its worth, and the six positions proved useful. Sitting at the bench, I could easily click the stock to the position that gave me the best eye relief. You can do the same for prone, with the stock all the way out, and if you find yourself shooting from sitting or offhand, you can click the stock in closer. Or if you want to introduce your kids or significant other to some fun, you can easily make the stock short enough for anyone big enough to hang onto the rifle. This is the beauty of multi-position stocks and why they're standard equipment these days.
As much as I really like the Stag 3T-M, there are a few things about it that just don't fit me. My shooting grip was formed back in the dark ages of AR riflery, and I choke up on the AR pistol grip like it's a winning lottery ticket. So for me, the MOE pistol grip has to go. And as comfy as the ACS stock is to shoot, I find it just too busy to look at, and I'd probably swap it for something a bit more soothing. But that's just my sense of aesthetics and has nothing to do with the stock's utility.
The Diamondhead handguard and sights stay put. For a lot of what I do now, the configuration of the handguard just cries out "swap that A2 for a suppressor mount." Were I still racing through the 3-Gun and multi-gun stages, I'd replace it with a muzzle brake. (Well, I'd have two or three in quick succession until I found the one that worked best for me.)
On this particular rifle I would not be swapping the trigger for something "better." For me, this one is plenty good enough. Tastes and needs vary, and you may be swapping yours or custom-ordering a two-stage right from Stag. But that's the beauty of the 3T-M: It's so reasonably priced you can experiment to your heart's content. And all the while, we should be thanking Stag for making such a ready-to-go rifle at such a decent cost.
rear sight sports a diamond-shaped aperture that's fast and accurate to use, and it folds out of the way (or is easily removed) to accommodate optics.
The Diamondhead fore-end runs almost to the muzzle for those who shoot with their support hand way out on the gun. The handguard also features mounting points for rail sections.
components for both the six-position stock and grip. While the author finds the ACS
stock comfortable to shoot, he's not crazy about how it looks.
Despite lousy testing conditions, the 3T-M
, which features a 5.56 NATO chamber, showed itself quite accurate with all ammunition tested.
The rifle proved easy to handle, responsive and flat-out fun to shoot — making it a good all-around AR-15.