Forty years ago, it was cutting-edge. Made of space-age plastics and aerospace-grade aluminum, the AR-pattern rifle was the pinnacle of modern firearm design. Although the design may have its detractors, few can seriously argue that it was not a trendsetting design. Combining modern materials, modularity, commonality of parts and cutting-edge technology, the AR design was destined to live a long life as a military and law enforcement tool.
Fast-forward to today. The AR-style rifle has become the undisputed champion of the law-enforcement realm, with numerous variations and upgrades intended to wring every ounce of flexibility out of this exceedingly modular design. With flat-top upper receivers and fore-ends sporting Picatinny rail sections, the modern AR has become the standard for flexibility and adaptability.
A mature design: The avante garde eventually become passé. As the leader of the pack in this genre, this rifle has been employed by innumerable law enforcement agencies and practically every element of the United States military in one form or another. It has been tested and retested, wrung out and war-gamed until seemingly every strength it possesses has been realized and potential weaknesses minimized.
With a decades-old design and seemingly limitless numbers of manufacturers, custom gunshops and perhaps importers churning out their own variants, where else could the AR design be taken? The answer comes from a surprising source. Stag Arms, an upstart company on the market, has taken the AR design in a radically new direction with its Stag-15L series of left-hand AR rifles. These offer law enforcement teams and operators a new tactical approach in the employment of their firearms, in ways that even Stag Arms had not fully foreseen during the rifles’ development.
Fixing the Funnel: To be frank, Stag Arms president Mark Malkowski did not fully appreciate the potential effect that his southpaw AR rifle would have on the tactical community. However, an affiliate of Stag Arms would soon key him and the company in on this impact. “We found out that tactical teams were using left- and right-handed rifles to enter houses,” Mark said. “We always knew the left-handed AR had potential, but it wasn’t until Heath Fleener told us that “when I was the left flank entering a house, a left-handed rifle made it safer for the whole team,” that we began to fully understand.
Heath Fleener, product developer and trainer for Select Fire Tactical Outfitters (sftactical.com), had recognized the inherent strengths of the left-hand Stag Arms rifles—ones that extended beyond the simple use of the rifles by a southpaw. “I do training for the law enforcement community and augment the training that is being done, by introducing tactics that are possible by using different types of equipment such as the Stag Arms rifles,” Heath points out.
According to Heath, the Stag-15L series offers some distinct and unique advantages for tactical teams. “During an entry, with all of the ejection ports going the same direction, brass would be hitting everyone on the right side of the team. By splitting the stack and using a Stag-15L series left-handed rifle for the left element and a Stag-15 series right-handed rifle for the right element, no one gets brass. It also allows us to pull the stacks even closer together if the situation calls for it.”
No distractions wanted: Some might say that under the duress presented by an actual firefight, few would even notice the brass coming their way. However, Heath counters that one must train how they will fight because those are the skills that are fallen back on under stress. “Some might say that flying brass really does not matter because you will not get distracted when it is the real deal. I do not agree,” Heath stated. “I have been taught my entire career to train how you will fight. When I train, I train for real. I get distracted when I get hot brass in the collar. If I am distracted on the range, I am not going to take the chance that I will be distracted during a live operation.”
In addition to its use in a tactical team, Heath also points out that there are some unique strengths of the Stag-15L series for even the lone right-handed user. “The tactical advantages of these rifles for a right-handed shooter are very simple.” “In regards to malfunction drills, the fact that an L series rifle has both the bolt forward assist and the charging handle lock located on the left side is great. In clearing class one and class two malfunctions, the ‘slap, rack, bang’ procedure can be performed while never losing grip on the rifle. Also, the forward assist can be manipulated by the firer’s right-hand thumb.” And all this is in addition to the obvious benefits the rifles offer to left-handed shooters.
Does Heath think that he has pretty much wrung out all the potential advantages of the Stag-15L series of rifles? Not quite yet. This is still very much the early stages of a work in progress for him, but he feels that Stag Arms has really provided him and the tactical community a unique tool for their important work. “I am still developing tactics. I have worked with some teams that are working on funding for this purpose to train with it. A majority of the operators that have been introduced to the tactics have expressed interest in embracing the concept and tactics.”
The Toolmaker: The ironic element of this story is the fact that the Stag-15L series of rifles were initially developed by Stag Arms primarily as an answer to the needs of just southpaw shooters.
The company, started up in 2003 by Mark Malkowski, is one of the newer AR manufacturers in the industry. Mark began Stag Arms as a parts distributor that specialized in small-quantity orders, but soon his loyal customer base began requesting complete rifles. Stag Arms responded with a line of high-quality, affordable .223/5.56x45mm AR rifles.
If the story ended here, Stag Arms would probably be viewed as just simply another AR manufacturer. However, it does not. Mark brought a unique perspective to the business of manufacturing AR rifles. A southpaw himself, Mark recognized that the other manufacturers had not truly addressed the needs of the left-handed AR shooter. “The Stag-15L series rifles were a product of my own frustration,” Mark says. “I love shooting, but I hated shooting AR rifles.”
Stag Arms set about developing a rifle designed with the left-handed shooter in mind. The goal was a rifle with true left-handed operation, including not just the major controls but also the ejection of empty cases. The decision was made early on by Stag Arms that a standard lower receiver fitted out with ambidextrous controls would be used. Although designing a left-hand lower receiver was considered, the fact is that reversing it would have required specialized magazines with reversed magazine catch holes, and this was deemed by Stag to be a liability.
A whole new upper: It was in the upper receiver that the real changes were implemented. The forward assist, shell deflector, ejection port and ejection port cover—normally on the right side—were moved to the left. However, this upper receiver was not simply a mirror image of a right-hand upper. Keeping a standard lower and reversing the upper resulted in a few issues that Stag had to resolve. The most obvious issue was the bolt-release lever, which is located on the left-hand side of the lower receiver. With the ejection port moved over to the left side of the rifle, the bolt release was then located under the ejection-port cover. As a result, Stag engineers redesigned the ejection-port cover to flip upward and clear the bolt-release lever rather than flipping downward as on a standard model.
The result was the Stag-15L series of Stag Arms rifles. It is important to note that Stag Arms makes both a full line of left-handed Stag-15L series rifles and right-handed Stag-15 series rifles, with the letter “L” added to differentiate the left-hand model from the right. For example, the Model Stag-15 Model 2T is a right-hand variant and the Stag-15L Model 2TL is the left. For every right-hand variant there is a corresponding lefty model.
When asked about the developing applications of his left-handed rifles in the tactical realm, Mark stated, “When we planned on releasing these rifles we suspected that there were many more applications than we could think of. I am glad to see so much innovation happening.”
A Surgeon’s Scalpel: Malkowski makes it clear that his company listens to the LE community. The two newer offerings, the Model 2T and 2TL are a result. The “T” indicates that they are tactical models. “The law enforcement community was the main reason for us developing this paired set of left-hand and right-hand tactical rifles. We get a lot of feedback, and at the end of the day we found out law enforcement was looking for a tactical rifle that had a platform that allowed for expansion. At the same time, reliability and affordability were also paramount.”
Outfit to suit the need: Both are ready to be fitted out by individual teams for their particular needs. Recognizing that each teams’ needs are unique, Stag Arms designed the right-handed 2T and the left-handed 2TL to be the ideal base rifle for tactical units. Patrick Connors, also with Select Fire, summed it up. He said, “Stag Arms understands that we all have our own favorites in optics and peripheral equipment. It introduced a tactical-friendly rifle with a rail system that can be suited up for any application.”
The result is a mirrored-pair of .223/ 5.56x45mm rifles that feature flat-top uppers, chrome-lined 1:9-inch twist 16-inch barrels and 6-position collapsible stocks. They are purposely configured for accessories.
Both come fitted with hard-coat-anodized aluminum Samson MRFS-C Picatinny rail fore-ends. It’s free-floated, M203-compatible and forms a continuous top-rail with the flat-top upper. This provides the flexibility of being able to mount an optic at any point. The 3 other rails on the fore-end allow for the addition of mounted lights, lasers, vertical foregrips, etc. Back-up A.R.M.S. #40L flip-up rear sights round out the package. The result is a full-featured and affordable set of tactical rifles that are ready to be outfitted by the end-users.
Unintended Consequences: Ironically, it looks as though in his zeal to make the perfect rifles for left-handers, Mark Malkowski might actually have perfected ones for the law-enforcement community and its specialized needs. Who knows what innovative tool Mark and Stag Arms might come up with next?