Like the venerable 1911, an AR is basically the same design no matter whose name is on it. Buttstock, forend, upper and lower receivers, barrel—you get the idea. However, like 1911s, not all ARs are built alike. The design of the parts and their assembly into a completed AR is what counts. Just slapping AR parts together and having it function for a while to shoot and hit targets is not that difficult.
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In the world of self-defense and law enforcement, the critical factors for weapons are reliability and accuracy. A serious weapon must work flawlessly every time or it’s of limited use. When lives are on the line, there is no time for anything but flawless functioning.
Gun-knowledgeable LEOs I’m acquainted with want to squeeze every bit of accuracy from their carbines and rifles without sacrificing reliability—a trait shared with most non-commissioned shooters. Few AR buyers, including law enforcement officers, will accept the military’s bare minimum for accuracy (5 inches at 100 yards). Of course, when you can have a truly functional, accurate weapon that also looks good while doing it—well, that’s just icing on the cake. This brings us to the Model 57 from Yankee Hill Machine, or YHM.
Based in Florence, Massachusetts, and family owned for three generations, YHM traces its AR-15/M16 roots to the mid-1960s, when the company was contracted to work in the M16 arena. YHM slowly evolved to produce more and more AR parts, including those used in other companies’ builds (which continues today to a lesser degree) as well as suppressors—all a testament to YHM’s manufacturing quality. YHM makes it own scope rings, flash suppressors, muzzle brakes, rail pieces, foregrips, enhanced replacement parts and sights, to name a few. About three decades after creating its first military products, YHM began offering complete ARs built using an abundance of YHM parts.
Today, billet-crafted receivers are considered the zenith of AR design and construction, and YHM didn’t fall behind, introducing its own billet-receiver-based Model 57 carbines a few years ago. Now the company’s latest variant is the Model 57 Specter XL, which I recently got my hands on for testing.
The first thing you’ll notice about my test Model 57 Specter XL is the Burnt Bronze Cerakote finish on the handguard and receivers. The Burnt Bronze color is very eye-catching, and Cerakote is known for its exceptional durability. This is a great way to protect the exterior surfaces of the rifle. Of course, matte black versions are also available.
This direct-impingement rifle features upper and lower receivers that are CAD/CAM machined from a billet of 7075-T6 aluminum with a noticeably distinctive style. The angular upper and lower receivers mate perfectly and feature several lightening flutes throughout. The flattop upper has a T-marked Picatinny top rail that merges seamlessly with the full-length top rail of the free-floating, rifle-length SLR-Slant handguard. This 12.5-inch-long handguard, with its extensive fluting and lightening cuts, surrounds the barrel and carbine-length gas system, which is actually what gives the rifle its “Specter XL” moniker. “Specter” Model 57s feature shorter, 9.5-inch-long handguards. Of course, the extra 3 inches of the Specter XL setup provides even more space for a forward grip.
While the sides of the SLR-Slant handguard feature long, fluted panels, 4-inch Picatinny rails are included near the muzzle on both sides along with a longer 4.5-inch bottom rail. Quick-detach (QD) sling sockets are located just ahead of these rails.
The 16-inch, 4140 steel, 1-in-7-inch-twist barrel features ball-cut fluting, M4 feed ramps and a 5.56mm NATO chamber (300 BLK and 6.8 SPC versions are also available). The barrel is also capped with YHM’s Slant compensator/muzzle brake, so named because its forward angle matches that of the handguard.
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The mil-spec bolt carrier group is coated with Melonite for enhanced strength and lubricity. The upper also comes with YHM’s enlarged Tactical Latch charging handle and Quick Deploy Sights (QDS). These 6061-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum sights fold flat and really zing upright, locking into position, at the push of a button.
The Model 57 Specter XL’s lower receiver features standard controls, but the enlarged and flared magazine well has exterior relief cuts that reduce weight and can also serve as finger grooves if you prefer to hold an AR in this position. YHM’s large EZ Pull takedown pins hold the receivers together, and within the enlarged, integral triggerguard is an upgraded drop-in, two-stage trigger that, on my test rifle, was set at approximately 6 pounds.
For furniture, the rifle uses Magpul’s MOE+ pistol grip and six-position-adjustable CTR buttstock. YHM also ships the rifle with two 30-round Magpul PMAGs. The black accessories, parts and sights contrast nicely with the Burnt Bronze Cerakote finish.
To see what kind of accuracy I could get from the Model 57 Specter XL, I added Trijicon’s MRO (Miniature Rifle Optic) to the flattop upper receiver. This new, parallax-free sight is waterproof to 30 meters and includes three varied-height Picatinny rail mounting blocks, ensuring proper co-witnessing with the YHM QDS sights. Offering six visible brightness settings and two night-vision settings, the 4.1-ounce Trijicon MRO is only 2.6 inches long. The battery should last for five years. Essentially, the MRO offers a good field of view while being quick to acquire and exceptionally durable. What else could you want in a red-dot sight?
Slings are a necessity for any serious-duty long gun. Throwing it on a table or the ground because your hands are busy seems a little less than classy. So, I added a VTAC sling using the QD connection points on the SLR-Slant handguard and Magpul CTR stock.
My final accessories were a Streamlight ProTac HL—a little heavier than some weapon-mounted lights, but the extra lumens seem worth it—and a Harris bipod. I also used a Leupold tactical scope for shooting groups.
The bipod and some sandbags held everything rock steady while I slammed bullets through paper in nice, small groups over and over. The result of the bench work and my time on the ground proves that the YHM Model 57 Specter XL lives up to the company’s accuracy reputation. The upgraded two-stage trigger that YHM added to the Model 57 was a nice improvement over mil-spec units. I credit it with some of the accuracy.
After removing the bipod and replacing the Leupold scope with the Trijicon MRO, I proceeded to the “fun” activities—handling and functioning exercises. Although the Gen 2 PMAGs that came with the rifle functioned perfectly as expected, I tossed every magazine I had on hand into the mix and there was no change in reliability. The rifle just kept running.
Trijicon’s MRO was excellent to work with from 7 to 50 yards. It even allowed me to stretch out and ring steel at 100 yards. The 2-MOA red dot and 25mm objective made the MRO and the YHM Model 57 Specter XL a quick-handling setup.
The Model 57 Specter XL was outstanding to work with, rising to every occasion. The extended SLR-Slant handguard certainly allows the user to extend their support arm when using the thumb-over-bore grip. Shooting fast or slow, the Model 57 Specter XL made it easy to place hits right where I wanted them, shot after shot—exactly what is needed for a duty rifle.
Looks & Performance
YHM’s Model 57 Specter XL would make an excellent, versatile carbine for law enforcement work. Combined with the Trijicon MRO, it can provide ample accuracy to stretch out and take longer-range shots while remaining flexible enough for closer confrontations. In close, this carbine is handy, quick and reliable.
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The Burnt Bronze Cerakote is definitely a good-looking finish that’s also non-reflective to minimize revealing a user’s position. Indeed, the Model 57 Specter XL is a “truly functional, accurate weapon that also looks good while doing it,” as I mentioned earlier. Try as I might, I could not find a single thing I would want to change on this rifle. That certainly says something!
For more information, visit yhm.net or call 877-892-6533.
- Caliber: 5.56mm NATO
- Barrel: 16 inches
- OA Length: 33.5 inches
- Weight: 7.76 pounds (empty)
- Stock: Magpul CTR
- Sights: YHM QDS
- Action: Direct impingement semi-auto
- Finish: Burnt Bronze Cerakote
- Capacity: 30+1
- MSRP: $2,395