As the sea of black rifles seems to grow, so too do their prices. A $2,000 AR-platform rifle was in the minority several years ago, but today they are common. Another growing market is in bargain-basement rifles built simply to be pushed out the door in an attempt to gain access to a big market. There are some companies, however, that have worked to build a rifle at a good price while still maintaining quality. The leader of that group is Del-Ton.
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Based in Elizabethtown, North Carolina, Del-Ton originally supplied quality rifle kits, parts and accessories. Today, the company offers a wide array of American-made rifles that come with a lifetime warranty. Known for quality work, Del-Ton has continued to establish a strong reputation with its innovation and vision.
One of the newest rifles in Del-Ton’s extensive lineup is the Echo 316M rifle. And though it is an affordable rifle, it is still built to Del-Ton’s exacting standards.
Right off the bat, I should mention that the rifle I received for testing had a great fit and finish. The upper and lower receivers are forged from aircraft-grade 7075-T6 aluminum, which offers superb strength while remaining lightweight. The receivers are hardcoat anodized, then dry-film lubed for improved functioning and corrosion resistance. The bolt is made from Carpenter 158 steel before being high-pressure (HP) and magnetic-particle (MP) tested to ensure durability and conformity. The bolt carrier is made of phosphated 8620 steel with a chrome-lined interior, and the gas key is properly staked and sealed.
The upper is equipped with a 16-inch, chrome-moly-vanadium barrel with a 5.56mm NATO chamber, which provides solid accuracy while working well with a variety of 5.56mm NATO and .223 Remington bullets. The barrel’s 1-in-8-inch twist rate is enough to stabilize heavier 75-grain rounds, for example, while still allowing shooters to accurately run less expensive 55-grain ball ammunition. The barrel extension also has M4 feed ramps for exceptional feeding and reliability.
Surrounding the barrel and carbine-length gas system is a traditional polymer handguard with a single heat shield. Held in place with a delta ring, this handguard is comfortable and provides a positive grip with no harsh edges or angles.
As you would expect from a mid-level rifle, the gun comes with an F-marked A2-style front sight post that is adjustable for elevation as well as a Samson flip-up rear sight. The flattop upper is ready for optics, but iron sights are always a great idea for backup targeting.
The lower receiver features standard AR controls and furniture, including a service-grade trigger, an A2-style pistol grip and a five-position-collapsible stock, which makes it easy to adjust the rifle to fit a variety of shooters. The rifle also comes with a lock and a 30-round Magpul PMAG.
Now, while some of the nomenclature on rifles can sound like spec sheet from a spaceship, it is important. You might begin to wonder if the quantum flux capacitor in your new rifle is tuned correctly. What you can take from the materials used by Del-Ton in the Echo 316M is that the company is serious about striking a balance between function and cost. Are there “better” materials to build guns from? Well, certainly, but the downside is cost, and you’re still left with the ultimate question of just how much better those materials actually are. For the average shooter looking for an mid-level gun, Del-Ton has chosen these materials wisely. The Echo 316M is designed for a very long service life.
The only thing more enjoyable than getting a new rifle is taking it out to the range for a test drive. The Del-Ton Echo 316M is a little extra exciting because of the nature of the gun and what it means for new shooters. There is a definite turning of the tide in gun ownership in the United States, and the availability of an affordable, reliable rifle is a plus for every proponent of the Second Amendment. So, we loaded our magazines, packed our kits and headed to the range.
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We decided to stick with the theme of the rifle and run it with iron sights. Contrary to what some may believe, iron sights can be exceptionally accurate in the right hands. While they seem to be morphing into an anachronism, iron sights should be a staple on any rifle. Good optics are a definite improvement, but they always have the potential to fail due to a dead battery or technical issues.
My first impression of the rifle was that it is a lightweight and easy-to-handle shooter. Weighing less than 6.6 pounds unloaded, it would make long days on the range or in training more enjoy-able. This, com-bined with its compact size of just over 32 inches collapsed, made it a very comfortable carry rifle. An inspection of the rifle showed great build quality, with virtually no play between the upper and lower receiver. This was especially pleasing, as a well-fitted upper and lower are critical for accuracy and reliability. I have come across guns at twice the price that did not manage such a good fit. In fact, the entire gun was assembled very well.
After zeroing the rifle at 100 yards, we fired five-round groups. To make it as scientific as possible, we would wait approximately 15 minutes between groups to allow the barrel to cool down and in turn give us a more consistent comparison. One other specific thing we did was to use general off-the-shelf ammunition. While match-grade ammunition would have probably given us better groups, this rifle was design-ed with budgets in mind. The average shooter will not be searching the Internet for the latest in match-grade 5.56mm ammunition, but rather what is on sale.
The rifle ran flawlessly as we sent our groups downrange. We used a rear bag and a sand sock for stability to get every last bit of accuracy out of the rifle. A few things experienced during the group shooting are worth mentioning. The trigger on the Echo 316M is a standard mil-spec unit—no flair or special modifications. Even with that, it broke at a consistent 7 pounds with a clean feel and reset. Overall, the rifle performed very well in the group category, and I am certain it would do even better with optics and match ammo. The lightweight nature of the gun also proved to have no negative effects on our ability to shoot groups. The gun offered standard 5.56mm recoil with minimal muzzle movement.
As gun technology has evolved over the years, so has the nature of training. Courses that have students moving and shooting are much more common, so it was time to put the Echo 316M though its paces in a class. The timing was perfect, as I received the rifle just before teaching a one-day carbine refresher course.
To make sure the results were controlled, I would use the rifle as my demo gun. I ran the rifle though every drill that I asked students to run with the expectation that my accuracy and speed would be good. From shooting behind barricades to tackling multiple targets, the rifle ran very well. Its lightweight and small profile made for quick and easy maneuvering. Getting from Point A to Point B was noticeably faster with the lightweight rifle.
While not a true test of ultimate reliability, the 500 rounds I ran through the rifle that day did so without an issue or hiccup. Fed from Magpul magazines, the gun never stopped running, even with a variety of ammo run through it. At the end of a long and dusty day, the Echo 316M was filthy but unfazed by my attempts to test its limits.
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Del-Ton has succeeded in building a great rifle at a great price. In fact, the company has outdone itself in the performance this bargain gun provides. The Echo 316M has a great feel, is well balanced and runs well. Throw respectable accuracy into the mix and you have a great rifle on your hands. Whether this is your first or 50th rifle, you will not be disappointed in what you get for your money in this gem.
For more information, visit del-ton.com or call 910-645-2172.
- Caliber: 5.56mm NATO
- Barrel: 16 inches
- OA Length: 32.63-36.38 inches
- Weight: 6.6 pounds (empty)
- Stock: Collapsible
- Finish: Matte black
- Sights: A2 front, flip-up rear
- Action: Direct impingement semi-auto
- Capacity: 30+1
- MSRP: $822