The allegiance of people to certain brands has always interested me. We’ve all seen it, a person decides a particular brand (it could be cars, crackers or guns) is “the best” and forever after, no matter what happens or how low it sinks in quality, they stand by their favorite brand as though it could never do wrong. Recently I was riding in a car with a good friend who just happens to work at a large gun distributor. During a conversation about AR-15 carbines, my friend made the comment that only the high-end, expensive AR’s (he named a few) were worth buying. Low-end guns, he said, were “worthless.” He went on to say that many less-expensive guns come back for repair or are returned to the manufacturer as defective, again naming brands. I just smiled: it was obvious to me that he was displaying his bias for a certain brand.
The truth is, every gun, regardless of who builds it, will malfunction, just as everything human designed and engineered will at some point and in some respect fail. I accept this, looking not for absolute perfection in my ARs, but for “total” performance combined with excellent value.
As I understand it, the difference between one AR and another is the quality of the components used. While AR platforms abound, there are very few who actually make the parts that go into the platform, with many of the “high-end” manufacturers acquiring their parts from just a few suppliers. One of the oldest manufacturers of AR parts is Stag Arms. They were making AR parts decades before deciding to make entire rifles, and in my experience theirs are some of the best guns currently on the market—and because Stag uses self-made parts, their rifles are sold at reasonable prices.
While the AR was designed originally as a gas-driven gun, more and more people are switching to gas-piston-driven ARs, as they run cleaner and more reliably in poor environments. They also eliminate the need to scrub the bolt assembly—which is for me a major plus, though, admittedly, I’m lazy when it comes to gun cleaning. Happily, Stag is adding two new, sleek-looking, piston-driven AR carbines to its product line, the Model 8T and 8TL. Both rifles are variations of the Model 8, Stag’s first entry into the gas-piston-driven-AR market. The “T” stands for tactical and the “L” for left-handed.
Why tactical? Well, one reason is the rifle’s VRS-T triangular free-floating handguard. Newly manufactured by Diamondhead Advanced Combat Solutions, the trim VRS-T fits neatly over the Model 8’s 16-inch, chrome-lined, 1-in-9-inch-twisted M4 barrel. The VRS-T features a full-length flattop rail and is relieved for ventilation and lighter weight. The handguard’s triangular shape and front-to-back finger indents feel good in the hand, and as a top-quality tactical forend, it accepts Diamondhead rail sections for mounting accessories at the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions.
Accompanying the handguard is a set of Diamondhead flip-up sights, which are some of the best AR sights I have ever used. I have Diamondhead diamond-shaped sights on one of my ARs and have used them in several other gun reviews—they are truly the “best of breed.” Diamondhead sights are indeed diamond-shaped and take advantage of the way the eye works. In a nutshell, your eye can easily place one shape inside another, whether a diamond or a square, but straight edges align more easily to the eye than do round objects. Your eyes match patterns immediately; consequently, they can place a diamond in a diamond more fluidly than they can a slim front-sight post in the middle of a round-peep rear sight. The speed and precision of the Diamondhead sights must be experienced to be truly appreciated.
The short-stroke piston system is low profile and can be seen from the front edge of the handguard, as the VRS-T has an angled front that just barely clears the piston’s self-regulating gas system. The low-profile design of the piston block eliminates the possibility of its coming into contact with the handguard, increasing accuracy. Like all gas-piston systems, the 8T’s runs cooler and cleaner than would a direct-impingement setup, and with the 8T there is no need to worry about bolt-carrier tilt, as the rifle utilizes a modified bolt carrier with extended pads to prevent additional wear on the receiver and buffer tube.