There are a lot of ARs on the market right now, but they are far from equal, and it is always a pleasure to find one done right. Black Dawn‘s new BDR-556-3GLW, a lightweight AR built for 3-Gun matches, certainly qualifies as a high-quality, purpose-built rifle that delivers the goods without breaking the bank.

When it comes to 3-Gun rifles, weight and reliability are two major considerations. Of course, having a rifle that allows one to move quickly, accurately engage multiple targets and avoid fatigue is of great value to any shooter, especially competitors and tactical operators.

This was the challenge Black Dawn decided to take on in building the BDR-556-3GLW rifle—to provide shooters with a lightweight, high-quality gun at a reasonable price. The company is not simply another AR assembler but rather a full-service manufacturer that produces many of its own parts. Black Dawn is known for making top-notch parts when it couldn’t find parts that met its needs.

Breaking Dawn

Black Dawn BDR-556-3GLW barrel
The 16-inch barrel is capped with an effective Lantac Dragon muzzle brake.

The BDR-556-3GLW is a semi-automatic, direct-impingement AR. The rifle’s 16-inch barrel is manufactured by Black Hole Weaponry using 416R stainless steel with a 1-in-8-inch twist rate, and it has a .223 Wylde chamber. The .223 Wylde splits the difference between .223 Remington and 5.56mm NATO dimensions to offer the reliability of the 5.56mm and the accuracy of the tighter .223 chambering. The barrel’s 1-in-8-inch twist rate is also a good compromise, allowing for a wider variety of bullet weights while keeping them properly stabilized.

The rifling on this barrel is also extremely distinct, as Black Hole Weaponry uses three-land polygonal rifling. With traditional rifling, the bullet does not make contact with the bottom of the grooves and leaves a gap as it travels down the barrel. This can allow some gas to escape unevenly ahead of the bullet and increase barrel fouling. Polygonal rifling uses a hexagonal pattern that appears very smooth. And since there are no grooves, the barrel’s thickness is more consistent all around, resulting in a stronger barrel that lasts longer. This smooth design also allows the bullet to make full contact with the barrel, improving accuracy by reducing bullet deformation and increasing bullet velocity.

The barrel is topped off with a Lantac Dragon muzzle brake with a nitride finish. This aggressive-looking brake is specially designed with a “Short Energy Pulse” system to dramatically reduce felt recoil and muzzle rise. This makes it easier to stay on target in rapid fire, an important consideration in both competition and tactical situations. The design also redirects the muzzle blast to reduce the flash signature as well.

Black Dawn BDR-556-3GLW rail
The rifle’s top rail is T-marked, making it easy to return optics to their original positions after being removed.

Another accuracy enhancement is Black Dawn’s 15-inch, free-floating MMR handguard, which is CNC-machined from 6061-T6 aluminum before being mil-spec hardcoat anodized. It features a full-length Picatinny top rail with laser-engraved T-markings, and it will also accept Magpul MOE rail sections as needed for added versatility.

The handguard’s top rail mates up perfectly with the flattop upper’s for over 20 inches of Picatinny rail space for mounting sights and optics. Interestingly, the forged aluminum upper uses a teardrop-shaped forward assist instead of the more traditional round forward assist. This shape certainly seems to make the forward assist easier to use.

Internally, the BDR-556-3GLW uses an IonBonded M16 bolt carrier group. IonBond is a surface treatment that provides the metal part with a tough, self-lubricating coating for added durability and corrosion resistance. This keeps the bolt carrier group a lot cleaner and makes it easier to clean as well. The gas key is also properly staked with sufficient metal forced into the carrier key screws. If these screws are not properly staked, they could become loose under fire.

Forged Lower

Black Dawn BDR-556-3GLW grip
With the Xtech ATG pistol grip, shooters can adjust the grip angle from 17 to 25 or 33 degrees to find the perfect fit.

The mil-spec forged aluminum lower receiver features all of the traditional controls for a right-handed shooter. On the right side of the safety selector, there is a raised notch as well as the selector markings so the status of the rifle is easy to see and feel. Black Dawn has also added its enhanced triggerguard with a large, oversized circular design for shooting with gloves. CNC-machined from 6061-T6 aluminum, this component can easily be added to other lower receivers, and it eliminates the annoying rear triggerguard gap found on standard units.

The lower is fitted with an XTech ATG (Adjustable Tactical Grip), which is made from polymer with a comfortable and ergonomic design featuring slight finger grooves at the front and grip-enhancing texturing at the rear. It also features a large beavertail design for comfort and to better keep the index finger aligned with the trigger. Most interestingly, however, is the fact that the user can easily adjust the grip angle from 17 to 25 or 33 degrees. You just loosen the grip screw and make the desired adjustment.

Triggers are probably the single most important upgrades for any AR, and the BDR-556-3GLW sports a single-stage CMC trigger with a flat face and an outstandingly crisp 3.5-pound pull weight, which made accurate shooting a breeze.

Black Dawn BDR-556-3GLW stock
Mission First Tactical’s tough polymer Battlelink Minimalist stock weighs only 5.8 ounces.

At the rear of the lower receiver, Black Dawn has added a receiver plate with single-point sling-attachment points on both sides. In keeping with the principle of building a lightweight rifle, Black Dawn also opted for the Mission First Tactical (MFT) Battlelink Minimalist stock, which is the lightest six-position stock you can buy at only 5.8 ounces. This tough polymer stock has a simple L-shape, but users can also add a tactical 550 cord adapter that keeps the stock from snagging on anything and provides emergency paracord when needed. A rubber buttpad keeps the rifle on your shoulder, and the single QD sling-attachment point is fully ambidextrous. The MFT stock is very snug on the BDR-556-3GLW’s mil-spec buffer tube, exhibiting no wobble or play at all.

All told, Black Dawn’s BDR-556-3GLW comes in at 6.2 pounds unloaded, and less than 6 pounds if you install one of Black Dawn’s shorter handguards. Of course, there is always the problem of feature creep with multiple accessories pushing the weight of your rifle back up quickly, but at least you are starting out with a truly lightweight gun.

Match Ready

BDR-556-3GLW rifles

On the range, the BDR-556-3GLW handled beautifully, with its light weight and short length making the rifle easy to use during extended shooting sessions. The Lantac muzzle brake did indeed reduce recoil (making it almost negligible) and helped keep the rifle on target. I also experienced zero failures with this gun right out of the box with no maintenance or cleaning. The fit and finish were also above par.

This rifle normally ships without sights, but Black Dawn included a Burris Fullfield TAC30 1-4x24mm scope with my test rifle. This optic is ideal for 3-Gun and tactical uses with a large, 10-position, illuminated center-dot reticle. The reticle’s holdover dots allow the user to adjust for bullet drop at distances out to 600 yards, and the waterproof, nitrogen-purged tube keeps the scope from fogging up in inclement weather. At 1X magnification, it is easy to quickly engage targets with both eyes open, and 4X is suitable for longer distances.

To measure the rifle’s accuracy, I used three different types and weights of ammunition at 100 yards, shooting from a stable benchrest. The gun’s accuracy was impressive, and I believe it could have been better with a more powerful optic. Still, my best five-shot group was only 0.76 inches wide—well below 1 MOA and impressive on its own. The rifle certainly seemed to have a preference for lighter-weight bullets.

According to Black Dawn CEO Tim Padgett, his company is committed to building each rifle one at a time and thoroughly function and accuracy testing it before it goes to a customer. The company is committed to providing ARs with the absolute best reliability and accuracy, and if the BDR-556-3GLW is any indication, Black Dawn certainly seems to have succeeded. Black Dawn also stands behind its products with a lifetime warranty as well. This is truly an impressive rifle that includes many advanced features seldom seen on competing rifles, all delivered at well below a custom race gun price.

For more information, visit or call 660-851-0907.

This article was originally published in ‘Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement’ February/March 2017. To subscribe, visit

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