Way back in 1985, I had the great good fortune to be sent by my police department to a training class with John Farnam and his itinerant “Have Duelatron, Will Travel” operation. You always got (and get) excellent value for your time and money with John, and a bonus at that two-day class was Manny Kapelsohn sitting in for one of the classroom sessions. I’d never met Manny before, but I’ve never forgotten the impression he and his radically new travelling partner made on me that day. By this I don’t mean John Farnam, but the Steyr AUG Manny introduced to the class.
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Manny, by the way, is now the president of Peregrine Corporation and carries with him a long background in firearms and training consultation. He also holds degrees from Yale and Harvard and is a practicing trial attorney. In other words, he knows up from down and is very qualified to speak on everything in between.
That AUG was, 30 years ago, quite a thing in my neighborhood. Bullpup? What’s a bullpup? Where’s the rest of the gun? That’s a 5.56mm? That’s a full-length barrel in there? A built-in scope? A doughnut reticle? The action’s behind the trigger? The ejection is switchable from left to right? A forward hand grip? A see-through mag? Well, that’s something different!
As Manny took the floor with his spacy new gun and went through it point by point, it became quite obvious that he did know his stuff, and that his odd-looking duck of a pup had some serious pros on board. The AUG was undeniably intriguing. I waited and watched afterward, but the AUG ran into numerous political and manufacturing stumbling blocks as time went by, and I eventually gave up on the platform.
Then came the day when Steyr began to conspire with Vltor to manufacture in the U.S., followed by the Oct. 20, 2014, announcement of the new multi-configurable AUG A3 M1 in three versions: a Short-Rail variant, a High-Rail variant and an updated Integrated-Optic model with either a 1.5x or 3x built-in scope reminiscent of the original AUGs. And the company even gives you a choice of color on the stocks now, so you can pick between black, OD green or the fashionably popular mud shade, all to properly coordinate with either your eyes or your web gear. The AUG finally appeared to be solidified and
established (and I’ll admit it was the mud finish that tipped the scale for me), so it was time to check one out.
Bullpups in general can be hard sells for traditionalists, but they do have a very valid place, and the AUG A3 M1 is one of the best. For use in confined spaces and tight transport with full-powered rifle calibers, you can’t beat a bullpup without going the short-barreled-rifle (SBR) route, which demands more federal forms than most of us want to bother with on top of that $200 tax stamp, all while compromising terminal ballistic figures. Bullpups can also travel across state lines without having to notify the BATFE people in writing first, as you do with a Class III SBR.
The bullpup places its action and a good part of its barrel inside the stock, behind the trigger and rear handgrip area, drastically shortening the overall length without drastically shortening either the barrel or the shoulder reach. The weight shifts to the rear along with the relocated action, which obviously changes the balance substantially. The bullpup design does make it damnably difficult to perform those flashy parade drills with full-length service rifles like the M1 Garand, and, quite frankly, the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace lost a certain amount of panache in switching over to the L85A2 from the longer L1A1, but that’s another story.
By shortening the rifle to something like the AUG A3 M1’s 28.15 inches, it’s a package that maintains constant readiness without fiddling with a retractable (and less sturdy) folding or sliding stock, and it offers full-barrel-length ballistics without the necessity of dropping down to 10-inch velocities. It travels in containers and compartments where standard carbines can’t fit, and works tight angles and areas where a longer barrel is only a handicap.
The bullpup can be less in the way for on-body sling carry, and it’s a natural for working building interiors where the off-hand may be needed for mundane things like doorknobs and obstacle removal. The bullpup is usually more dynamic on the shoulder with most of its weight at the rear, and it can be quite easy to fire effectively one-handed either on or off the shoulder at CQB distances. A reliable bullpup can be an ideal setup for home defense, and it’s a great choice for a car or truck gun where inclinations dictate and legalities permit.
AUG development dates back to the 1960s, when the Austrian Army first fielded the select-fire StG 77 in 1978. Radical enough at the time in overall conception, instead of a selector switch, it also used an obscure and less-than-ideal dual-mode trigger that fired in semi-auto by pulling it back halfway, and fully automatic by pulling it back the rest of the way.
A gas-piston system drove the action, the stock was made from an early polymer, the magazine well was positioned behind the rear hand grip, the mags were translucent to show contents at a glance, the cocking handle and ejection were both reversible, a crossbolt safety was used, the front hand grip folded forward for storage, quick-detach barrels fitted with flash suppressors were easily swapped out, and the gun was equipped with a built-in 1.5-power Swarovski optic featuring a reticle that came to be known colloquially as the “doughnut of death.”
The reticle consisted of a small, plain, hollow circle in the center sized to function as a simple rangefinder by completely containing an average-sized man (5’ 11” at the time), head to toe, at 300 meters. Once zeroed, placing the doughnut in the center of a target could pull off a hit out to that distance. The AUG has since been adopted in 10 or so other countries worldwide, including by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Back In Action
Of the three newest Steyr AUG A3 M1 configurations, while the versatility of an optic rail is undeniable, the integral optic was a major element of the AUG that stuck in my mind over the last three decades, and that was the variant I had to have as my T&E sample. The 1.5-power optic on the new guns would have been a more authentic throwback, but the 3x is more effective over longer distances, so that choice was easy.
Steyr duly shipped one standard, mud-finished, 16-inch-barreled AUG that was set up for right side ejection and left side cocking, along with three waffled mags in 20-, 30- and 42-round capacities. An easy-to-follow instruction manual was also included. The AUG was configured for a righty, which I happen to be, but it carries the modularity of the originals with a left-handed bolt and 18-, 20- and 24-inch barrels as optional buys from Steyr Arms.
Maneuvering the AUG A3 M1 around the house, and in and out of the car, before its day at the range proved the bullpup concept was much handier than any AR or shotgun I ever cleared buildings with. Tucking it under the arm left very little to grab or deflect in rounding tight corners where space didn’t allow for more distance in slicing the pie, yet it was still ready for a point-blank shot if needed.
While slightly less handy, but still short and tight, it’s also dynamic in maneuvering one-handed on the shoulder with its muzzle up or down, as indicated while opening doors and entering rooms. Having most of the weight behind the firing hand, instead of hanging out in front, makes a major difference. Exiting the car (depending on how you carry the AUG in one) involved far fewer contortions than hauling a 20-inch-barreled AR or M16 did back when I did that for a living.
Scope It Out
The AUG A3 M1’s 3x scope’s worth the utility upgrade, and it does retain the older doughnut reticle, though it now adds conventional crosshairs that meet in the center for more precise aiming on smaller or less-exposed targets. The two horizontals are thicker for most of their length, thinning down to the same size as the verticals by the time they converge inside the circle.
The entire optic tower is beefed up compared to the original AUG, which means it’s correspondingly stronger, and Steyr’s rep says it can safely be used as a carry handle, being attached to the receiver by three hefty and Loctited screws. “You could probably drive nails with that scope attached to the receiver” was the exact quote. The integral optic system is stronger than the AUG’s other rail, mount and add-on optic options, but I won’t argue it. I’ll just keep on preferring it.
For backup dots or other accessory points, the scope housing does include a full-length Picatinny rail numbered to 15 on top, a 2-inch rail section on its right side (both integral and non-removable), and another 2-inch, screwed-on rail section down on the receiver’s right side. The glass is fully adjustable for windage and elevation, and bright and clear with well-recessed, protected lenses at both ends to resist breakage or scratching. While the AUG A3 M1 has plenty of room to hang lights and lasers, you may not want to get too carried away—the downside of the package is that it’s already a heavy one at 8.15 pounds empty.
The AUG A3 M1’s takedown procedure is simple, and it starts up front with a push-button barrel release for easy off-gun cleaning or 10-second barrel-length changes. It then moves to the receiver lock just in front of the magazine, and it ends at the rear with a push-button buttplate release that opens up the aft end to pull out the trigger group and also reveal a tabbed-cover storage space for the onboard cleaning kit that Steyr sells separately.
The gas piston is easily serviced, although the gun runs so clean you won’t need to bother much, and it’s also adjustable for standard ammunition (normal position) or underpowered loads. The adjustment capability also compensates for a dirty gun, dirty ammo, extreme cold and other “gotchas” that tend to shut down other designs, and the non-reciprocating charging handle can function as a forward assist if needed.
I’m not all that fond of the crossbolt safety, and Steyr should include a small file (if not a Dremel) to remove those blood-inducing sharp corners, but it’s learnable. So is the left-side bolt release, located just above the ambidextrous mag release behind the magazine. The AUG A3 M1 demands its own operational protocols, and you should make them automatic if you plan to use one for serious applications.
Firing with the foregrip folded forward and resting on a sandbag, the AUG launched 50-, 62-, 64- and 77-grain bullets through its chromed, cold-hammer-forged, 1-in-9-inch-twist barrel at black 100-yard bullseyes with no break-in period, no malfunctions and only a couple drops of oil applied.
The optic was excellent, the trigger was not (running past my 8-pound scale), but that’s the result of the long bullpup trigger linkage, and it can be improved with aftermarket units. The AUG’s accuracy proved it to be a truly battle-ready rifle, with best five-shot groups in each load all holding under 3 inches and Black Hills’ 77-grain load consistently pulling off groups under 2 inches.
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You’ll need to adapt your shooting positions with the AUG to fit your physique; I found that using my support hand on the front of the oversized polymer triggerguard instead of the foregrip worked better while in prone, sitting and kneeling positions. After working with the AUG, I wish it had come along three decades earlier in this form. It would have spent many long, dark nights working the third shift on the West Side with me. Even out of uniform, if you’re in the market for a house gun or a compact 5.56mm to travel with around town or on the open road, the AUG A3 M1 has a lot to offer.
For more information on the AUG A3 M1, visit steyrarms.com or call 205-417-8644.
- Caliber: 5.56mm
- Barrel: 16 inches
- OA Length: 28.15 inches
- Weight: 8.15 pounds (empty)
- Sights: 3x optic
- Action: Piston-operated semi-auto
- Stock: Polymer
- Finish: Mud
- Capacity: 30+1
- MSRP: $2,599
This article was published in the 2016 Gun Buyer’s Guide. To purchase a copy of this magazine or subscribe to any other Harris Tactical magazine, please visit HarrisTacticalStore.com.