Monday, December 27, 2021

The Modern Scout Rifle: ROAM Magnesium Receivers

Back in September of this year I decided to revisit the idea of Jeff Cooper's scout rifle ("The Scout Rifle - Another Look") after seeing a Springfield M1A SOCOM rifle sporting a 16-inch barrel. I've since been reading more about the topic and most recently came across an early article from Cooper outlining his ideas.

    Cooper's idea of a scout rifle was firmly attached in the late 19th and early 20th Century idea of a military scout. In fact, he begins his early article on the subject by quoting an Army definition of scout as "a man trained in the use of ground and cover, movement from cover to cover, rifle marksmanship, map reading, observation, and accurately reporting the results of his observation." Cooper than added that the scout "acted alone, not as a member of a team," and "[b]y choice he did not fight but he had to be an expert at the hit-and-run art of single combat." Such a person--the scout--would be best served by a general purpose rifle. That is, a rifle you would choose if you could only have one rifle. Cooper acknowledged that times had changed and the military no longer made use of true scouts, but believed that a general purpose rifle might still benefit the hunter-rifleman.

    Cooper initially dismissed the semi-auto rifle because, as he put it, they are "overly long, heavy, and bulky, and the volume of fire they afford is of little consequence to a true scout." One can disagree over whether a military scout might need more firepower than afforded by a bolt-action rifle, but it is no longer true that a semi-auto rifle needs to be "overly long, heavy, and bulky." The argument today is one largely advanced by author Richard Mann that the scout rifle is a universal hunting arm that can legally be used in any part of the United States or Africa or (with a change in caliber) anywhere in Europe. Of course, even that isn't true as there are areas of the United States that prohibit the use of bottle-necked cartridges such as the .308 favored by Cooper. And I see the ability to use the rifle in Africa as rather specious since the .308 is not large enough to legally be used to hunt Africa's dangerous game, and, perhaps more importantly, anyone that can afford to go on safari in Africa is not going to be someone limited to just one rifle.

    I do see Cooper's concept has having relevance to the prepper--especially one in a rural area that might legitimately want a hunting weapon that can be pressed into double duty as a defensive rifle. And so as I set out to build a modern scout rifle, I decided on the AR-10/308 style weapon (AR 308 is generally used to refer to the DPMS pattern weapons while AR-10 is generally used for the Armalite .308 rifles, so I will be using AR 308 for the rest of this article). 

    The primary difficulty is that Cooper believed that such a rifle should be approximately 6.5 pounds with sights and sling, but unloaded. As it was clear that 6.5 pounds was probably too restrictive, this requirement became a bit mushy, with the weight limit going up to 7.5 lbs, then settling around 7 lbs.

    Even using aluminum receivers, most AR 308 rifles weigh more than 7.5 lbs., so I would still need to put the rifle on a "diet." The easiest place to shed weight is the barrel. Since Cooper insisted on a barrel less than 19-inches, and this is a weapon intended to be carried much but shot little, selecting a short, thin profile barrel was a no-brainer. I originally was going to get the Faxon 16-inch pencil profile barrel in .308, but wound up getting Faxon's "Big Gunner" 16-inch barrel. My reasoning was that the "Big Gunner" was only a few ounces more but had slightly thicker material around the base of the barrel which would help with heat dispersion. I decided the trade-off was worth it.

    But beyond the barrel, loosing weight generally involves using exotic materials and/or special machining or cuts to reduce weight. And much of it costs. 

    I decided on a couple of requirements when selecting components. First, I did not want a rifle that was excessively expensive, so I decided that I would try to stick to components that cost no more than 150% or so of "normal" or "standard" components. Second, I did not want to sacrifice strength and reliability. 

    So, after selecting and purchasing a barrel, I decided to look at what I could do in the receiver department. Unfortunately, there is not the selection of lightweight receivers for the AR 308 as there are for the AR 15 style rifles. For instance, I was not able to locate skeletonized receivers. Not that I would have chosen one because it would have bumped up against my second criteria of not wanting to sacrifice strength and reliability. I found a company selling a polymer lower, but could not find enough information on its long term durability. Another company sold receivers that had lots of lightening cuts to lighten the receiver, but the price was above my 150% of standard components (using Aero Precision as a guide) and they were out of stock. 


    Then I stumbled across ROAM Rifles which not only sells light-weight AR 308 rifles but also sells receivers for the home builder. ROAM makes their receivers out of magnesium which makes them lighter than aluminum but largely retaining the strength of aluminum. The prices were also within my 150% criteria. 

    For instance, the ROAM lower receiver (which comes in Cerakoted black, flat dark earth, or tungsten gray) retails for $299.95 and weighs in at 7.3 ounces versus $204.99 ($224.99 for flat dark earth) and 12 ounces for the Aero Precision M-5 .308 receiver.

    ROAM offers uppers in both a slick sided and one that can accept a forward assist. I decided on the slick sided one which runs $259.95 and 6.8 ounces, versus $149.99 ($164.99 in flat dark earth) and 12.7 ounces for the Aero Precision. The ROAM receiver also came with an ejection port door included, so the price difference wasn't much more than the 150% price difference when including the extra cost for an ejection port door for the Aero Precision receiver.

    So, I spent about $200 extra for the ROAM parts over the Aero Precision, but saved (24.7 - 14.1) or 10.6 ounces. 

    Obviously, I haven't finished my project, so I can't speak yet as to how the ROAM receivers work in an assembled firearm, but the quality appears to be good. The two fit together tightly, but, like the Aero Precision receivers, there is a set screw underneath where the pistol grip fits that allows you to fine tune the fit between the upper and lower. 

    I purchased an AR-10 Armaspec lower parts kit, so I should have these put together shortly.

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