The attack on the city of Mumbai, India, was a wake-up call for law enforcement worldwide—but it wasn’t the first. In the U.S., the North Hollywood shootout made it very clear that pistols and shotguns alone would no longer get the job done. A precision-grade rifle that is compact, maneuverable, light in weight and mission-adaptable is essential for American cops in the new century. While the military may be voicing dissatisfaction with the 5.56mm cartridge, it is close to perfect for street cops, as the engagement distance for law enforcement applications will likely be within 100 yards. Take into account the urban/suburban environment many American cops patrol and the 5.56mm seems to be ready for the task.

The AR-15 meets all of the requirements for SWAT and patrol, provided it is equipped for the environment it will be used in. While some may want to equip their carbine one step at a time, other officers might want to purchase a gun that is already equipped to their personal specifications. And Black Dawn can provide that to them.

Black Dawn is owned by Tim Padgett, a shooting enthusiast in Sedalia, Missouri. They wanted to create a company that would offer customers a wide range of products and services. “We’re trying
to make accessories that work across the board to make them more convenient for our customers, so people can customize rifles,” Padgett says. Obviously, this is something that will appeal to many in the law enforcement community. Black Dawn also offers custom spray-on coatings and personalized logos for their weapons, which might interest agencies who are buying guns for department-wide issuance.

Much of the manufacturing work on a Black Dawn rifle is done in Sedalia in varied locations around town. Although some of the products they carry do have origins in other parts of the country, many items are either produced or distributed from sites in Missouri, which is very important to them. “We do as much stuff in Missouri as we can,” Padgett said.

Black Dawn works to stay competitive, citing the internet as a gauge for keeping their prices in check. “By the time a customer pays for shipping when buying on the internet, it comes out about the same as what we offer.” Since many officers buy their own carbines, knowing they are getting a competitive price is important. Black Dawn strives for service along with the sale, which they believe sets them apart. “We offer a lifetime guarantee with everything we manufacture. If any of our rifles fail, I want to know why. I want to figure out how to keep that from happening again,” Padgett said.

Gun Details

If the rifle I received was any indication, Black Dawn’s commitment to customer service is the real deal. The Black Dawn Bravo Model comes in a number of configurations. The carbine I received for testing and evaluation was well appointed, possessing any and all accessories one would want on a combative applications carbine. Everything from a high-quality optic to a free-floating barrel was included on my test gun, and I have to admit up front, I was not disappointed.

Black Dawn does not believe in “going halfway” in either the quality of manufacture or the accessories they include on one of their guns. The first thing I noticed as I removed the Bravo from its hard case was the quad-rail forend and free-floating barrel. The 16-inch tube has an M4 profile and is made from 4140 chrome-vanadium chambered in 5.56mm with a 1-in-9-inch twist rate. It is free-floated inside an MFR free-float rail designed by Black Dawn and manufactured to their specifications. It also carries their logo. A low-profile gas block is contained inside the forend, keeping all of the gas works safely contained inside the rail assembly. Of course, any and all needed accessories can be attached to the forend, and Black Dawn included an Insight white light and ATPIAL IR laser sighting unit.

The six-position Magpul rear stock with rubber buttpad is my favorite rear stock configuration, as it gives enough surface for a proper cheekweld while remaining low profile for fast CQB-style work. The rubber pad is more important than many give credit, as it helps hold the gun in the shooting shoulder, keeping it from “walking” during rapid fire. Two Magpul PMAGs were also included in the kit, which was fine by me. PMAGs might very well be the most reliable AR magazine available. An Ergo Grip was supplied, with its tacky construction, which offers a superior grip surface as compared to other AR pistol grips. An enlarged triggerguard, which also fills the irritating void just to the rear of the trigger on the lower receiver, permits the use of heavy gloves. An ambidextrous safety lever, enlarged charging handle and reduced-length Magpul MOE vertical foregrip rounded out the package.


The Black Dawn Bravo came equipped with one of the finest, and most expensive, optics available. Raytheon’s Elcan Optics Division manufactures the Specter family of sights that are in high demand with Tier One military units around the globe. The DR (dual role) series offers dual fields of view depending on the operator’s needs. Whether utilizing the red dot in 1x or 1.5x magnification or the ranging reticle in 4x or 6x mode, the Specter DR sight provides wide viewing angles for optimal situational awareness and unparalleled low-light performance. The sight also allows the operator to safely and effectively transition in and out for close-quarter or extended range use without changing sights. The 1x or 1.5x magnification provides a wide viewing angle and an extremely fast both-eyes-open target acquisition capability while the 4x or 6x magnified sight offers a range-compensating reticle, long-range target identification and precision marksmanship capability. The two unique fields of view are easily and quickly interchanged by means of the patented locking lever mechanism on the side of the optical housing. Merely flip from one to another with ease.

The unit attached to my gun for testing was the 1-4x power, which was selected by USSOCOM for elite spec-ops missions involving varied Special Mission Units—this is the sight for “the best of the best.” Reliable, amazingly bright and extremely accurate, the Elcan Specter DR is the sight one uses when the field of battle is anything but assured. Why risk a mission with red dot or fixed telescopic sights that do only half the job when you can carry a combat sight that switches between CQB and precision ranged fire modes in the blink of an eye?

The Insight Technology ATPIAL (Advanced Target Pointer/Illuminator/Aiming Light) is designed for use with or without night-vision devices to engage opposition in reduced-light environments. As the next generation of AN/PEQ-2A, the ATPIAL offers increased functionality in a package half the size of comparable units. The integration of visible and IR aiming lasers combined with an adjustable IR illuminator makes the ATPIAL a favorite of both military SMUs and police SWAT teams. As good as the ATPIAL is, it does not replace a simple white light, which aids in identification and navigation. To cover this very important need, Black Dawn included an Insight VBL III weapon light, which offers multiple modes including white light and infrared illumination. The VBL III attaches to any Picatinny rail system via the 180-degree rotational Rail-Grabber System and offers 200 lumens of LED illumination.

Range Time

No doubt about it, the Black Dawn Bravo has all the right accessories, but gadgets mean nothing if the gun won’t run. Accuracy is important with any firearm, regardless of its intended use, but a gun intended for combative use is especially so. I used several brands, weights and ammo styles, shooting five 5-round groups with each style at 100 yards. The best groups are reported. I also shot five rounds across the screens of my Shooting Chrony chronograph placed 10 feet from the muzzle and reported the average velocity as well. Knowledgeable shooters and trainers consider a 2-inch group at 100 yards to be the desired performance standard for a 16-inch AR carbine, and the Black Dawn Bravo proved to be better than average in this regard.

With other 1-in-9-inch twist rate carbines, I have found the heavier bullets are just as accurate as the lighter bullets at 100 yards (though they probably are not as range increases), but this was not the case with the Bravo. Keeping the bullet under 70 grains is a good idea, at least with this gun, and the new HPR 55-grain bullet proved to be the most accurate overall in my test gun. However, the single best group was fired with Remington’s 69-grain bullet at 0.75 inches, with four of the five rounds grouping in a single cluster.

The remainder of the test involved firing the Bravo through a series of drills just to get a handle on all of the available features and to see if the gun would choke. There were a few failures to feed within the first 25 rounds, but this is not unusual for any new gun. Once these were corrected with a quick tap, rack, target (the large charging handle made clearing these a breeze!), the gun ran for an additional 400 rounds without a problem. The rail forend, ATPIAL and flashlight made the gun a bit nose-heavy, but not terribly so, while the Elcan optic proved to be a real asset. Having the ability to quickly go from 1 to 4x magnification and from black to a lighter reticle depending on the lighting conditions was very nice indeed. I can see why this optic is a favorite of Special Mission Units worldwide.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the Black Dawn Bravo can “walk its talk” in regards to high-quality and reliability. Where Black Dawn may differ from other manufacturers is the ability to place any number of high-quality, high-demand accessories on the rifle before it ships to the customer. While some end-users prefer to set up their personal carbine a bit at a time, others know what they want and being able to have it “their way” from the box is quite appealing. Black Dawn has some interesting ideas and it will be interesting watching to see where they go from here.

For More Information, please visit or call 660-851-0907.

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