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Operators constantly deal with the weight of their gear—with few exceptions, lighter is better. Almost regardless of the mission, operators will spend more time carrying, transporting, dragging or otherwise hanging onto their primary weapon than they will shooting it. This is certainly the case for police officers and especially true for those on tactical teams. And, as a rule, the more time an operator spends on a team, the less gear he or she carries. Deployments are often prefaced by hours of standing, kneeling and waiting, during which time all that cool tactical gear feels increasingly heavier.
After my many years of deployments, training, teaching and competition, identifying new snipers has become pretty easy. They always have a pack or drag bag full of every gadget known to man, and are prepared for three days of operation and a 10-mile hike into their final firing position (which is typically within 100 yards of the command center and 50 yards from the target). The old dog is the guy with his rifle, ammo, some water, communication and maybe a snack. Specialty kit like ropes, NV and so forth, may come along. But over the years that grizzled sniper’s barrels got shorter, optics got smaller and lighter, and gear for that 1,200-yard shot got left in the car.
The barrel generally makes up the heaviest part of the rifle and is the simplest place to shed weight. Trailer axles for barrels are great for long range, some competitions and even some teams with special deployment conditions. But for most, they just add bulk. Many get so tied up on shooting tight little groups that they forget they seldom get more than one shot, maybe two. So there’s no need for super heavy barrels to maintain 10- or 20-round 1,200-yard groups. Getting a shorter or thinner barrel can help you reduce weight, but one of the most sought after ways of doing so is by using a mix of carbon fiber and steel. The idea has been around for years, and its success has been spotty—the bad barrels won’t string three shots together. But the carbon-fiber-and-steel barrel is getting better, and Proof Research is at the forefront of this technology.
It still is not practical to create a completely carbon fiber rifle barrel, as such a barrel cannot handle the physics of a rifle projectile. So what we have is a steel barrel wrapped with carbon fiber, which provides roughly the same diameter of a mil-spec barrel as well as significant weight savings. The trick is in the mating of the two materials. Not only does the carbon have to dissipate heat at similar rates as the steel, but also the materials must not separate. Even the slightest separation can cause significant shifts in bullet impact across just a few rounds. In most cases, a standard blank is simply turned down for the carbon fiber wrapping, which is a complex and costly process. But Proof Research brought the whole process under one roof.
Along with purchasing a barrel-making operation, Proof Research acquired the carbon wrapping process and then worked to perfect it. It was in Proof’s custom-rifle shop where it was able to really test its product. While Proof maintains its focus on supplying these barrels to OEM manufacturers and custom builders, its ability to test said barrels in Proof’s own rifles really enables the company to vet its product. And since in-house development and testing is more efficient, this should, in time, lower the cost of the barrels. (With the price of precision rifles steadily climbing, saving some money on parts is of real value.) Proof’s barrels install like any other AR or bolt-gun barrel, so any competent rifle-builder can install them. After I shot a few of Proof’s rifles at a recent industry trade show, it was time to get one and put it through its paces.
When looking for a precision AR, a billet upper receiver is a good place to start. Coupled with a billet lower, you get an AR that’s about as accurate as the platform gets. Having tested several such builds, I found they were usually more consistent, especially in .308 or similar calibers. Proof is using Mega Arms products, and my test rifle was built on one of its billet receivers with a Troy Industries TRX handguard. The handguard was black with two side rails and a lower rail. While it has a continuous top rail, the sides and lower portion are smooth. (Short or long rails can be added anywhere along the rail.) The lower was a matching billet model with an ambidextrous bolt release.
The barrel is a 20-inch, carbon-wrapped barrel with a 1-in-10-inch twist and rifle gas system. The muzzle had 5/8×24 threading with a nicely matched thread protector and a taper similar to that of most heavy barrels. A Geissele two-stage trigger (my preferred trigger, especially for precision work) was installed, as were a Magpul PRS stock and a matching Magpul MOE pistol grip.
Given the configuration of this rifle, I chose to mount a Leupold Mark 8 CQBSS 1-8x scope. This particular scope has an M118LR BDC dial attached to the pinch-and-turn knobs. Mounted in a matching Mark 8 IMS 34mm base, the scope is as solid as can be. The lighted M-TMR reticle is in the first focal plane and is among some of the best glass you can get. The only other addition was a Long Range Accuracy bipod, which cradles the barrel and makes for some very consistent shooting.
On the Range
Most of the truly well-built precision AR-7.62’s I test are accurate, but few have been as accurate as Proof Research’s. While it seems that I had had a good day at the range, it was this AR-7.62 that shot everything right around 0.6 inches. The best group, which measured under a half-inch, was accomplished using some M118 LR loads. The gun also conveniently matches the BDC dial. From 300 yards, the rifle held its accuracy and produced a group that measured just a bit under 1.25 inches. As expected, when I shot steel at 200, 300, 400 and 500 yards, the BDC was right on.
But the real test was of the barrel. As previously stated, it’s unlikely that an officer will encounter the need for 20-round strings, but they test the barrel’s consistency. Twenty rounds of M118 LR were loaded up and fired as fast as possible (while maintaining accuracy) at 100 yards. The test fire was anything but rapid, but there was generally less than one second between shots. The first group measured under 1.5 inches. I repeated the string with a second magazine and got the same results. Proof’s barrel performed as well or better than those of the dozens of other rifles I’ve shot over years, regardless of their barrel materials. It’s not a torture test, but being able to place 40 rounds inside 1.5 inches as fast as you can acquire the target is about as good as it gets.
Given the amount of ammunition sent downrange, this rifle never missed a beat. It sent brass pretty much into the same spot and never failed to feed or eject. The trigger was crisp, predictable and completely reliable, lending itself to consistent accuracy. This rifle was truly a joy to shoot and hard to put down.
The rifle build is commensurate with any custom rifle—done well and works perfectly. Accuracy was as expected from a custom rifle, and the barrel performed exactly as billed. There was no loss in precision or repeatability—only weight. If there is one issue, it’s cost. A complete carbon-wrapped barrel costs a few hundred dollars more than a comparable steel one. With time, consumer interest and continued production, that cost will come down, but such a barrel isn’t for everyone. If you only carry your rifle from the trunk to the bench, then the weight savings probably isn’t a big deal. However, if you carry your rifle for any length of time, it could be worth every penny.
One thing is for sure: The Proof Research AR-7.62 works, and so does the barrel. Proof Research seems to be onto something here. The build quality of the rifle was excellent, and the barrel worked just as it was supposed to. In fact, the barrel was so impressive that I’ve ordered one for my 6.5 Creedmoor bolt rifle, which is for competition, gets limited deployment and makes the weight savings worth the cost. If my new barrel shoots anywhere near as well as the Proof AR-7.62’s did, such a barrel should prove to be a real asset—and hopefully a winner. For more information, visit proofresearch.com or call 406-756-9290.