For more than thirty years, Sturm Ruger and Co has been a big player in the modern sporting rifle (aka .223 carbines) biz. As a fan of the classic A-team series as a kid, whenever I hear the term 'ruger carbine' an image of a tricked out mini-14 with a banana clip pops into my head. Now it looks like they have added AR-based designs to their repertoire in a big way.
- Ruger has been in the .223/5.56mm biz for decades. The Mini-14 is even used by some small militaries around the world. See the above shot with a plastic stocked Mini in the hands of a Bermuda Regiment tommy of the Royal Bermuda Defense Forces.
Dubbed the SR-556, Ruger debuted the design at the 2009 NRA Show and over the past few years enough of the initial models have sold and been around the block to start and get a feel for the rifles. Taking the basic now-half century old AR-15 design and improving it, it seems like the company has become an instant competitor in the modern sporting rifle market. The SR-556 uses a short stroke piston operating system rather than the legacy direct impingement design. This, in theory at least, gives better reliability and runs cleaner but adds to the cost. One cool thing about Ruger's piston system is that it is rapidly adjustable without special tools to suit different flavors of shooters and ammunition. Lots of people like to poke holes in the fact that piston driven semi-autos are too new to judge. However, it should be remembered that all of the US semi-auto/autos before the AR were piston: the M1918 BAR, the M1 Garand, and the M14. Many still living GIs will attest to them.
- The Ruger SR-522FB with all the bells and whistles from the factory (Ruger photo)
One of the nicer things about Ruger's ARs is the amount of chrome. They have a chrome bolt carrier, gas regulator, and barrel among others, which all help with fouling and reliability, especially if using moody ammo.
Ruger uses many commercial off the shelf accessories such as Troy Industries handguards, quad rails, and flip up iron sights, Magpul magazines, and Hogue monogrips. The rest they make themselves and it all fits together very well. According to the company's literature, their SR-556 series rifles are compatible with all AR-15 lower receivers, grips, and stocks, as well as most uppers. All models come with 16.12-inch 6-groove hammer-forged mil barrel and rock the old-school A-Team flash hiders that Ruger used on the AC-556 series.
(Tons of models available)
They come in three main variants: Standard, Carbine, and Essential.
Standard versions come in with all the bells and whistles, are 32.75" - 36.00" long overall, and weigh 7.94 lbs empty. The Carbine versions are just a tad smaller at 31.00" - 34.25" overall and an unloaded weight of 7.17 lbs.
Currently the 6.8mm SPC version, once originally available only as a loaded upper that you marry up to any standard lower, is in production as a standalone rifle still under the SR-556 designation.
California-complaint models, with ten round magazines, fixed stocks (who needs an evil adjustable stock anyway) and no muzzle break are available for all of the variants. (Photo from Norcalguns)
The main problem the unwashed gun masses have with the series is the price. Ruger's MSRP on their Standard and Carbine models is a serious $1995. Their SR-556E, without a few of the extras (you just get one mag, a GI-style grip, no chrome on the bolt carrier group, and no quad rail or sights) is more affordable at about $1375 MSRP for the same basic platform. Of course, with these guns on the market for a couple years now, you are starting to see gently used Standard and Carbine models for about $1200, with E models correspondingly less. While perusing Gunbroker and other online gun sites, I found several new SR-556E's for a cool $999 plus shipping. This brings the Ruger in line with its primary competitor, the Smith and Wesson 15 series piston guns.
The SR-556 is readily customizable.
I don't personally own a SR-556, but an instructor friend of mine does. As so often happens with friends of mine, a phone call turned into a perfectly good day spent at the range. After a few boxes of green tip balanced by a few of brown bear and some de-linked Malaysian LMG ammo, I really liked it. Its accurate to point of aim, the adjustable piston pressure came in handy.
Granted, you can get 2-3 used Mini-14s and some ammo for the price of a new SR-556. Granted you can buy a frankengun non-name AR lower and put a surplus GI A1 upper on it and make it go bang for about $500. However, if you take any of those guns, add the piston system and the bells and whistles that Ruger has on the SR-556, you are going to be looking at the same price.
Half dozen of one, six of the other I guess.