Maybe It's Time for an Interesting AR

Beyond black battle rifles, if you crave quick follow-ups and big-game punch from little cases listen up.

Maybe It's Time for an Interesting AR

The author found this trim 7.5-pound Brenton handled well in the field.

It came with a page of instructions on operation, break-in, cleaning and lubrication. I read none of it, having learned long ago “AR” was shorthand for ArmaLite. What could I have missed?

The rifle suffered not on the bench. But that first range session did remand me to the instructions. You will find our rifles to be stiff and tight first out of the box… . This is by design; these rifles are precision hunting platforms. So began my intro to Brenton Premium hunting rifles.

For brevity’s sake, I’ll distill the rest: Apply two drops Shooters Choice FP-10 or similar oil on the hammer spring coils and safety crossbar. Oil the front pivot pin, rear pull pin and bolt catch. Swing the upper out of the way so you can catch the hammer with your thumb as you dry fire 10 to 20 times. Oil the charge handle and bolt carrier. Then, with the rifle assembled, cycle with the charge handle 50 to 60 times. Switch magazines during this exercise to marry them to the bottom of the carrier. Run two patches soaked in Shooters Choice MC-7 or equivalent through the bore, followed a minute later by dry patches. Repeat. Fire two cartridges; clean again. Fire two more; clean again. Fire two series of five shots, cleaning after each. By this time you should have dialed in your scope.

By this time, I had fired a .7-inch group and was eager to find a coyote.

“About a third of all hunters have been afield with an AR-style rifle,” Bartt Brenton told me over the phone. He was one. He liked the AR mechanism, “but I didn’t want an infantry arm. I wanted an AR that handled like a hunting rifle and shot sub-minute groups. A nimble, accurate AR in .450 Bushmaster. We’re now allowed straight-case rifle rounds in southern Michigan.”

After 30 years as an engineer at Michigan State University’s cyclotron lab, Brenton designed his ideal AR. Reviews of the prototype prompted tweaks and more tooling. A marketable rifle resulted. I saw it afield this past fall. A few moments with it impressed me. The carbon fiber/fiberglass handguard was shaped “with the Winchester Model 70 in mind” and has similar length and feel. Short Picatinny rails fore and aft accommodate belly accessories without raking your hand as you snatch it. The threaded, mid-weight 22-inch barrel gives the rifle a slight tilt to the front, as I prefer in bolt actions. It wrings more speed from bullets than is possible from the 16- and 18-inch barrels common on ARs. The grip is a Hogue, the fixed buttstock a Magpul with a vertically hinged trap butt plate concealing a storage compartment. Stocks and receiver get a MarbleKote camo finish and NyloTex 10G texturing.

On any hunting rifle, details matter. Brenton has an eye for them. The integral trigger guard is open enough for glove use without looking odd. “HuntSize” fire controls come quickly to hand. Even the take-down pin is finger-friendly, courtesy of an elegant little extension. No tools are needed for disassembly! Brenton magazines are made of .020-inch thick 410 stainless steel, with limit blocks for five- and 10-shot capacity.

The Brenton's lines, detailing and 22-inch barrel — and its feel — reflect its billing as a hunting rifle.
The Brenton's lines, detailing and 22-inch barrel — and its feel — reflect its billing as a hunting rifle.

Brenton keeps tolerances as tight as possible without compromising function. “We manufacture our own receivers and lock the upper and lower with a ball-and-groove arrangement our tests can’t seem to wear out,” he said. “We make our triggers and nitride-coat them. They adjust from 3 to 6.5 pounds. We machine the bolt and carrier to precise dimensions and take care with lug alignment. Chambers are snug, the black-nitride-coated barrels rifled with “aggressive” twist for tight groups with long bullets that perform well at long distance. Fast spin is also what you need to stabilize heavy hunting bullets — important to us because we chamber for cartridges that also make sense for big game.” Such as the .257 Bartz. I’d asked for that chambering in the rifle Brenton loaned me for range trials.

The name, I learned, is from the company’s early days, when it was Bartz Manufacturing. Brenton hasn’t yet added this wildcat to the roster for its flagship Ranger Carbon Hunter or the Stalker, with an 18-inch barrel. “But it’s my favorite cartridge,” he enthused. “See if you don’t agree.” He included load data and a handful of ammo with 110-grain Nosler AccuBonds atop 31.4 grains of Hodgdon CFE 223. The hulls, I noticed, were Lapua’s, head stamped 6.5 Grendel. The .257 Bartz benefits from the Grendel’s .059 rim, beefier than the .038 rim of the 5.56x45mm NATO. Bartt had seated CCI 450 Small Rifle primers.

I wasted no time attaching a Trijicon variable scope in a Wilson mount to the Brenton’s receiver-length top rail. Over sandbags, Brenton’s loads clocked 2,760 fps through Oehler screens. Groups averaged .9 inch. Back at my bench, after stripping, cleaning and oiling per instructions to ensure fault-free cycling, I sized and loaded more ammo with Redding’s three-die set and CFE 223, applying a light taper crimp: 31.0 grains with 115-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips; 32.2 grains with 100-grain Speer soft points; and    33.0 grains with 87-grain Hornady Spire Points.

None of these recipes gave even a hint of high pressure; all produced good accuracy. I could have nudged all a bit faster. Still, the Hornadys registered 2,945 fps. How fast must a bullet go to outrun a coyote?

The .257 Bartz loaded in Lapua cases clocked 2,760 fps and drilled tight groups from the Brenton AR.
The .257 Bartz loaded in Lapua cases clocked 2,760 fps and drilled tight groups from the Brenton AR.

I do like the .257 Bartz, essentially a .250 Savage in AR-friendly brass. For deer and pronghorns, sheep and caribou, as well as most predators, it’s deadly. Gentle in recoil, it delivers a measured ton of energy 300 yards from the rifle. A contemporary match might be Hornady’s new 6mm ARC, whose 103-grain ELD-X bullet leaves the gate at around 2,800 fps. For the heaviest game you might tackle with a quarter-bore, the .257 Bartz has a bullet-weight edge over any 6mm.

The Brenton Ranger Carbon Hunter is also bored for the .450 Bushmaster and the 6.5 Grendel. The Stalker Carbon Hunter offers the .350 Legend, too. Able deer cartridges all. Varminters can choose from the .204 Ruger, .22 Nosler and .224 Valkyrie, plus the .223 Rem. with Wylde chamber. Are custom chamberings available? I suspect Brenton would consider requests. While not called custom rifles, Brentons get individual attention. They’re made to please shooters who expect the best, down to the soft case provided with each.

Disciples of the Stream of Brass School of shooting will point out that a wildcat keeps you at the press for hours to deliver a few minutes of fun. I left those ivied halls long ago. Brenton’s aim was a hunting rifle, and his Brenton models hew to that objective, in performance if not in profile. The buffer tube of an AR will forever exclude it from the company of traditional sporters. Still, generations of shooters have arrived and matured since the 1960s, and “modern sporting rifle” has become common coin.

I’ll concede enduring preference for rifles predating Mr. Stoner’s infantry rifle but have come to accept as sane the majority of people who enjoy ARs. Were my hands smaller than Easter hams, I might better appreciate a vertical grip of ax-handle dimensions tight against a trigger. Had I not teethed on iron sights, glass 2.5 inches above the bore might more quickly catch my eye.

“You gotta think practically, too,” a pal pointed out. “What if instead of sending one bullet, you wanted to send a blizzard of bullets.” I must have regarded him stupidly, because he continued. “I shoot coyotes because they damage my sheep. Damaged sheep are like higher taxes. I can’t do much about the taxes, but the AR-15 has proven a big help with my coyote problem. Once I came over a rise in my truck and bounced a small pack. They jetted off across the pasture. I got three. A bolt rifle would have cut that coyote harvest to one. Remember, I sometimes miss.”

He had me there. And if you’re calling, you can certainly draw two or more carnivores at a time. A shot that kills one is probably your last effective poke if you’re working a bolt or a lever while the other animal scoots. An instant following shot — or several — can often double your take.

Concludes Bartt Brenton: “Our rifles give you fast follow-up shots with bolt-action accuracy and a trigger that lets you tap all the precision we build in. They also look and feel as if they want to hunt.” You can learn more about Brenton Premium Hunting Rifles at www.BrentonUSA.com.

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