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The allegiance of people to certain brands has always interested me. We’ve all seen it, a person decides a particular brand (it could be cars, crackers or guns) is “the best” and forever after, no matter what happens or how low it sinks in quality, they stand by their favorite brand as though it could never do wrong. Recently I was riding in a car with a good friend who just happens to work at a large gun distributor. During a conversation about AR-15 carbines, my friend made the comment that only the high-end, expensive AR’s (he named a few) were worth buying. Low-end guns, he said, were “worthless.” He went on to say that many less-expensive guns come back for repair or are returned to the manufacturer as defective, again naming brands. I just smiled: it was obvious to me that he was displaying his bias for a certain brand.

The truth is, every gun, regardless of who builds it, will malfunction, just as everything human designed and engineered will at some point and in some respect fail. I accept this, looking not for absolute perfection in my ARs, but for “total” performance combined with excellent value.

As I understand it, the difference between one AR and another is the quality of the components used. While AR platforms abound, there are very few who actually make the parts that go into the platform, with many of the “high-end” manufacturers acquiring their parts from just a few suppliers. One of the oldest manufacturers of AR parts is Stag Arms. They were making AR parts decades before deciding to make entire rifles, and in my experience theirs are some of the best guns currently on the market—and because Stag uses self-made parts, their rifles are sold at reasonable prices.

Gun Details

While the AR was designed originally as a gas-driven gun, more and more people are switching to gas-piston-driven ARs, as they run cleaner and more reliably in poor environments. They also eliminate the need to scrub the bolt assembly—which is for me a major plus, though, admittedly, I’m lazy when it comes to gun cleaning. Happily, Stag is adding two new, sleek-looking, piston-driven AR carbines to its product line, the Model 8T and 8TL. Both rifles are variations of the Model 8, Stag’s first entry into the gas-piston-driven-AR market. The “T” stands for tactical and the “L” for left-handed.

Why tactical? Well, one reason is the rifle’s VRS-T triangular free-floating handguard. Newly manufactured by Diamondhead Advanced Combat Solutions, the trim VRS-T fits neatly over the Model 8’s 16-inch, chrome-lined, 1-in-9-inch-twisted M4 barrel. The VRS-T features a full-length flattop rail and is relieved for ventilation and lighter weight. The handguard’s triangular shape and front-to-back finger indents feel good in the hand, and as a top-quality tactical forend, it accepts Diamondhead rail sections for mounting accessories at the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions.

Accompanying the handguard is a set of Diamondhead flip-up sights, which are some of the best AR sights I have ever used. I have Diamondhead diamond-shaped sights on one of my ARs and have used them in several other gun reviews—they are truly the “best of breed.” Diamondhead sights are indeed diamond-shaped and take advantage of the way the eye works. In a nutshell, your eye can easily place one shape inside another, whether a diamond or a square, but straight edges align more easily to the eye than do round objects. Your eyes match patterns immediately; consequently, they can place a diamond in a diamond more fluidly than they can a slim front-sight post in the middle of a round-peep rear sight. The speed and precision of the Diamondhead sights must be experienced to be truly appreciated.

The short-stroke piston system is low profile and can be seen from the front edge of the handguard, as the VRS-T has an angled front that just barely clears the piston’s self-regulating gas system. The low-profile design of the piston block eliminates the possibility of its coming into contact with the handguard, increasing accuracy. Like all gas-piston systems, the 8T’s runs cooler and cleaner than would a direct-impingement setup, and with the 8T there is no need to worry about bolt-carrier tilt, as the rifle utilizes a modified bolt carrier with extended pads to prevent additional wear on the receiver and buffer tube.

The rifle’s remaining features are like those found on other Stag carbines. The 8T uses forged 7075-T6 aluminum receivers with a mil-spec hardcoat anodized finish. The Model 8T is certainly set up for the street, having all the features necessary for waging battle. But not all warriors are right-handed, though it was with the “righty” population in mind that Eugene Stoner designed the original AR-15 platform. For the sake of our left-handed friends, Stag has introduced the Model 8TL.

According to statistics, 18 to 20 percent of the population have their hands on backwards, or is “wrong”-handed as it were. Those friends of mine afflicted with this condition don’t find it to be a handicap, however, as it relates to combative skills. From what I can tell, left-handed people are more adaptable, or at least more ambidextrous, having had to work all of their lives with right-hand implements. This isn’t to say that left-handed operators don’t appreciate tools built specifically for the wrong hand—they do—and I expect they’ll appreciate most of all Stag’s left-handed Model 8TL. I am right-handed, and I thought it would be quite interesting to test a left-handed model, just to see what “wrong”-handed people go through adapting to a “right”-handed world.

Shooting Impressions

The Stag 8TL’s ejection port is located on the left side, while the single-sided safety lever is located on the right, an arrangement I happen to like. For years I have been adding ambidextrous safety levers to my ARs, as I find it easier to flip off the safety with my thumb, but re-engage it with my index finger (to reengage with my thumb required shifting my shooting grip). It took me very little time to learn how to flip the safety off with my index finger, though there’s always cause for concern when you’re using your trigger finger for something other than operating a trigger. You really need to pay attention to what you are doing.

Another concern was whether it would be distracting having the brass ejected in front of my face. Truth be told, I never noticed! The test gun ejected the brass high and over my head, so it’s possible they never really entered my field of vision—though it is a necessity in any case to wear eye protection while shooting a left-ejecting firearm from the right shoulder.

I began testing by shooting several groups at 50 yards to get the gun on paper. That finished, I moved to 100 yards. On the 8TL I attached a Leupold 3x HAMR combat sight, which offers wonderful clarity and an easy-to-use circle reticle. I use the HAMR with several of my AR platforms, and I continue to be impressed by not only its robust design but also its simplicity. Using a stack of Wilderness Giles bags, I methodically shot five five-shot groups, trying to achieve the best group possible. I charted the velocity of each shot fired with a Shooting Chrony chronograph placed 10 feet in front of the muzzle. Since the 8TL has a barrel with a 1-in-9-inch rate of twist, I stuck to medium-weight bullets.

The Stag Model 8TL is not a sniper rifle, but it is entirely combat accurate. Given the distances from which most law enforcement officers operate, misses are far more likely to be attributable to poor marksmanship than to some deficiency on the part of the rifle. I completed my testing by shooting 250 rounds of various ammunition via several practice drills. I experienced not a single stoppage or failure to feed.

Final Notes

The Stag 8TL’s features are certainly a step up from those found on most of Stag’s guns, but they don’t add much to the sticker price. The sights and Diamondhead handguard alone would cost you around $400, yet the 8TL’s total cost is just $1,295 ($1,275 for the right-handed 8T)—certainly a bargain for an AR with so much to offer. Like all of Stag Arms’ carbines, the 8T and 8TL come with lifetime warranties. If you are looking for a well-appointed, piston-driven AR, you’d be hard-pressed to find a production rifle as well done as the T-series guns from Stag Arms. To find out more call 860-229-9994 or visit stagarms.com.

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