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Expensive AR-style rifles abound on the commercial market. They represent some of the finest rifles ever conceived in terms of quality, reliability and rugged good looks.

New, very durable finishes are available in some excellent camo patterns and jaw-dropping colors. The are also an infinite number of accessories and options for these high-end ARs, which come chambered for a wide range of cartridges on the standard-sized AR frame, from the original 5.56mm and more recent 6.8 SPC, all the way up to the .450 Bushmaster and the .50 Beowulf. Enlarge the frame and cartridges like .308 Winchester and .338 Federal can be added to the list. The availability of piston-driven operating systems ups the ante even more.

With all of these options, today’s ARs are capable of being configured for any mission or shooting activity. No other firearm ever made has shown this level of adaptability and versatility, John Moses Browning’s lifetime of firearms design notwithstanding. It is easy to spend $2,000 to $3,000 or more on a quality, semi-custom or custom AR. The problem is that not everyone can afford—or really needs—all the bells and whistles. This includes cash-strapped law enforcement agencies and individual officers who must purchase their own AR-15s for patrol or SWAT use.

In our current economy, more agencies and individual officers may be left on their own when it comes to obtaining patrol and special-operations rifles. I can tell you with certainty that, although there are many officers (typically ones without standard family expenses) who can afford a Cadillac rifle for patrol, entry or sniping, many more must opt for the Chevrolet—and there isn’t a darn thing wrong with that.

While DPMS, one of the largest manufacturers in the AR business, does offer a full line of high-end rifles, it also builds one of the greatest basic ARs around. DPMS has always been one of my favorite riflemakers. Its ARs tend to be at least $100 less than others on the market. And that still holds true. Most of the company’s well-equipped guns have MSRPs right around $1,200 or less, which is very affordable considering what you get.

One way DPMS has made its firearms cost effective is by sticking with Eugene Stoner’s original direct gas impingement system. The company hasn’t ventured into piston territory and in my opinion is unlikely to do so (unless the U.S. military makes the even-less-likely move of adopting a standard piston design for all its rifles). And that is just fine with me, as I personally believe very few stateside law enforcement or civilian shooters truly need a piston-driven gun—direct gas impingement has worked for 50-plus years and continues to soldier on.

DPMS markets a wide variety of basic M4-configuration weapons, some for as low as $769. I opted to test the DPMS AP4 carbine, which goes for $959. The AP4 is the quintessential M4-pattern gun. While very basic, it allows for easy upgrades while still being a rock-solid, “throw it in the truck and don’t worry” sort of rifle. If anything is going to break, it’s going to be something the shooter’s added or changed.

Gun Details

The AP4 features extremely tough construction and weighs 7.15 pounds unloaded. Both upper and lower receivers are forged from 7075-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum. The AP4 is ready out of the box for patrol duty and is similar in weight to the original M16A1, which is great if you have to lug it around for long periods of time, such as during searches of large areas or while standing by on perimeter for security. If your AR is loaded with lots of extra goodies, you may soon begin to dislike them, as your once-svelte AR will start taking a toll on you.

The AP4 has an M203-stepped, 16-inch, chrome-lined barrel made of 4150 steel with a 1-in-9-inch twist rate. The barrel also has a bayonet lug and a birdcage-style flash suppressor. The carbine comes standard with a mil-spec, A2-style front sight and a carbine-length gas port.

Mounted on top of the flattop upper receiver is a removable carry handle/rear sight. If you’d like to add an optic of your preference, the carry handle can be removed, exposing the Picatinny rail located underneath. Or you can just stick with the iron sights and use the carry handle for what it was designed for: carry. The carry handle allows you to alternate carry methods if you tire of a single-point or the standard military-style carry sling.

The AP4’s controls are also mil-spec, with everything in standard AR locations, including the forward assist and case deflector. The carbine’s furniture consists of the standard M4 six-position collapsible buttstock and a round polymer handguard that DPMS calls the “Glacier Guard.” Two blued-steel, 30-round magazines are included with the plastic carrying case, as well as a military carry sling—a welcome touch.

Range Time

A trip to the range revealed no surprises, at least in terms of the rifle. I pulled the AP4 straight from the box, checked the bore for obstructions and went to work. As expected from a time-proven manufacturer like DPMS, there were no malfunctions. Even though I could have mounted a number of different optics on the rifle, both magnified and plain red-dot types, I did all the test-firing with the open sights as issued. After all, this is how an M4 would be used if it were a department-issued weapon. Locked in a cruiser gun rack for use by multiple officers, it would be ready to go in a split second by doing nothing more than working the charging handle. Testing the rifle this way mirrored what an officer might actually do with it on the street when attempting to steady it for a long-distance shot.

I tested three different loads, which allowed me to verify the versatility of the barrel’s 1-in-9-inch twist rate with a variety of bullet weights. Because of its compact size and CQB purpose, the AP4 was apparently factory sighted in at 25 yards, which put all the test rounds 4 to 6 inches above my point of aim at 100 yards. I did not readjust the sights.

I was very satisfied with the AP4’s accuracy with open sights and would be interested in working up some tighter groups when I am not limited to position or location. The DPMS AP4 provides more than enough accuracy for a patrol rifle at a price that a cash-strapped agency or patrol officer can afford. With its removable carry handle and sturdy construction, it can be upgraded for other applications such as SWAT entry or perimeter security. Look into DPMS when searching for the AR that’s right for you! For more information, please visit dpmsinc.com or call 800-578-3767.

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