As the economy continues to flounder, money available for guns and other things is tight. The overall cost these days of a quality rifle certainly does not help. For many, purchasing a quality rifle is a one-time event, with possible upgrades over time. This means that versatility is key. Having the ability to purchase one rifle that suits many needs is a big bonus. And this is one of the reasons the AR platform has become popular among hunters. Several upper receivers can be fitted to one lower to meet various needs. You can adapt one 5.56mm lower with a number of uppers to tackle most small- to medium-sized game. The 5.56mm platform can be adapted for longer and more precise barrels, optics and other needs for practical hunting. For an officer or tactical operator, you can simply remove your “working” upper, install the hunting upper and enjoy the wild outdoors.
The same is certainly true for the .308 or larger-caliber weapons, but to a far lesser extent. There is certainly a variety of barrel lengths in .308, and even a few different caliber choices, but they pale in comparison to the 5.56mm options. Part of it is the simple task of making the larger calibers work. It has just proven a bit more difficult with all but a few calibers on the bigger rifles. Even barrel changes can create issues, so you are generally limited to a few choices.
What would be really nice is the ability to have at least part of both worlds. The ability to mount a 5.56mm upper on a .308 lower would be huge. It means one lower for pretty much all your needs. This is not a new concept, as the military has been clamoring for something like this for years. Several are in the works, but few have proven to operate reliably outside the lab, and even fewer have seen the light of day for a civilian. Many are restricted to military contracts and or testing. Things seem to have changed, however, with the new Colt LE901-16S.
Big Game Colt LE901
The LE designation is a bit deceiving. It simply means it is built to the law enforcement standards, but the rifle is in no way restricted to the LE community. In fact, there is a camo version in the works. The rifle is really marketed and geared towards the hunting market. It is most certainly capable of fulfilling any LE need for a big-caliber patrol rifle, but it is just as well suited in the backcountry on a hunt. Its use of the .308 caliber means it is capable of a much wider range of game, and its ability to accept 5.56mm uppers means all the smaller game is covered as well. It’s a solid choice for someone looking to start using an AR-platform rifle for hunting.
The Colt LE901 starts life as a .308 rifle built on the AR platform. It uses a monolithic upper receiver, meaning both the forend and receiver are made from the same piece of metal. This allows for a more rigid design, lending itself to accuracy. The barrel can also be free-floated without compromising strength, accuracy or ruggedness. The 16.1-inch heavy barrel is fully floated with four-groove, 1-in-12-inch rifling. It is capped with a four-prong flash suppressor as opposed to a muzzle brake. In the larger calibers, the standard A2 design is loud and sends a huge plume of dust downrange from a prone position. Muzzle brakes are really of no use on a .308—they just irritate everyone around you. The four-prong flash suppressor cuts a good amount of flash without the nasty concussion and blast of a typical brake. It is also threaded, however, for those who feel the need to change it.
The forend system accommodates rail covers and has two sling swivel cups on each side. The rifle comes with a simple nylon sling and two heavy-duty sling swivels for simple attachment. The front sight is part of the gas block and folds out of the way for use with optics. In order to fold it down, you simply press a button. The rear sight is a high-quality Troy Industries model that folds down to accommodate optics or other devices. Utilizing a gas impingement operating system, the rifle maintains accuracy and reliability.
The lower receiver is truly well-designed. The LE901 is ambidextrous, providing controls for the bolt release and magazine on both sides. My test gun did not have an ambidextrous safety, but one can be added with ease. The trigger is crisp and predictable yet reliable. A standard A2 pistol grip is fitted, but the rifle will accommodate any standard AR grip. The rear stock is a Vltor IMod with a four-position buffer tube. Included in the box were bore brushes, a chamber brush, paperwork and two 20-round PMAGs.
As nice as this rifle is as a standalone .308 AR, its real advantage is the ability to accept 5.56mm upper receivers. The conversion pieces will be sold as a kit with complete upper receiver assembly. This can be critical, as the specs of the receiver determine if the adapter block will fit. The Colt LE901 lower is not a standard .308 lower and will not accept typical .308 uppers. The front pin is lower and a bit forward to accommodate this conversion process. The adapter mounts to your 5.56mm upper receiver using a flush pushpin on the front. The adapter then slides into the Colt LE901 lower and is locked using the front pin. Simply push the rear pin in place and you are ready to rock. It is a tight fit, but it’s not hard to install at all. The upper and lower needs to mesh correctly with the adapter block in order for the magazines to feed properly. This is where things get dicey if you have an upper that is out of specification—one of the reasons Colt asks that users only use Colt uppers. One of my uppers from another manufacturer would not quite line up with the pin hole, so keep that in mind. This is critical for the conversion.
Colt provided an LE6940 Conversion Kit for testing. This a 5.56mm upper with a monolithic design. It fit easily. In fact, the most time-consuming part is removing the buffer and buffer spring. An H2 buffer and spring were provided with the adapter kit. Once in place, the LE6940CK upper functioned flawlessly on the Colt LE901 lower. It looks a bit different, as a portion of the .308 magazine well is left unfilled, but it’s not even really noticeable. Once the testing begins, you forget about it. It still indexes off of the rear of the magazine well, so magazine changes are the same. All of the magazines around the shop fit and functioned without issue.
I also tested a 6.8 SPC upper receiver on the range and it worked without issue. With this setup, I used Barrett 30-round magazines. There is no reason to believe the Colt LE901 lower will not accommodate pretty much any caliber that utilizes the 5.56mm magazine and the appropriate buffer and spring.
Colt LE901 On The Range
In order to wring out the most accuracy, I used a 1.1-8x24mm Leupold Mark 8 scope. This scope is not only an great tactical scope, but it also fits into the sweet spot for use on game with this caliber. It is rock solid, reliable and has some of the clearest glass you’ll see in a scope. It has the added benefit of a BDC (Bullet Drop Compensating) dial, allowing for quick adjustments for range. The reticle also has mil lines for hold-overs and windage holds, making it perfect for field work.
Several different types of ammo were run through this rifle. Bullet weights ranged from 150 to 178 grains. They included both polymer-tipped as well as FMJ-style bullets. The Colt LE901 fed them all with no issues. Extraction and ejection was positive and consistent. Many of .308 semi-autos just dribble the brass a bit with some ammunition. That was not the case with this rifle—it was one of the best I’ve tested so far. I tested the two supplied PMAGs as well as several of my DPMS metal magazines.
By using the gas impingement system, coupled with the free-floated barrel and one-piece upper, it was easy to achieve excellent accuracy. Most test groups were around an inch with the Federal 175-grain GMM printing a nice 0.75-inch group. Even Federal’s non-match 150-grain Nosler was plenty accurate. The Colt LE901 had no issues feeding any of the ammunition, polymer-tipped or otherwise. Using the BDC on the Mark 8, hits out to 300 yards were almost boring. Center-mass hits were the norm on game-sized targets, especially with the 175-grain GMM. Having used this scope on many rifles, most of the 175-grain rounds are pretty much dead-on out to 600 yards. This includes some 178-grain A-MAX loads of mine. Out to typical hunting distances, even the 168-grain rounds are very close. The Colt LE901 is really handy and really fast—something you need for game.
For field-testing I attached a Blue Force sling to the Colt LE901 and took it on a short hike up a nearby canyon. It carries well, and the two sling positions are nice. For tactical work, the one closest to the lower is preferred. It allows me to operate more freely without hooking on tactical gear. The more forward mount is perfect for long carry. It holds the rifle closer to your body and makes it a bit more comfortable on the long hikes. The Vltor stock accommodates the use of optics well, making it pretty quick to bring to bear. Setting up a sort of walking course, it was pretty easy to drop to kneeling and get on target very quickly.
Leaving the forend bare, it fits rather nicely into the crook of a tree, on a rock or another raised area. If carrying a backpack, this system interfaces really well with pack shooting. The perfect carry venue for this rifle just may be an Eberlestock Just One pack. It would fit nicely, is available in hunting colors, and would accommodate pretty much any kind of hunt. For those who want a bipod, the rail really provides you with all kinds of choices. This is another advantage to this system for hunting. There are several types of bipods that attach to a rail, providing for a wide variety of choices to meet your needs.
True Game Stopper
Long known for its tactical rifles, Colt has come through with a rifle that crosses the bridge to the hunting world very well. The Colt LE901-16S is an excellent rifle on its own for hunting any game appropriate for the caliber. The ability to add 5.56mm uppers adds another dimension. With a retail price of $2,129, it’s an excellent rifle with a great price. Many rifles in this arena are closer to $3,000 without the capabilities of the Colt LE901. For more information, visit coltsmfg.com or call 800-962-2658.