Authors Note: This review is a combination of historical facts regarding the AR-10 in general and the Windham Weaponry R20FFTM-308 specifically. Because this is my first time within the MSR of .308 caliber, I thought that it would be interesting to include both. I hope that you agree. Also, I refer to MSR firearms as much as possible in the article. It is my belief, as with many others, that MSRs are Modern Sporting Rifles and not ‘Assault Rifles’ as some would want you to believe, and I try to do my part in dispelling that ‘AR’ stands for “Assault Rifle” to the novice or persons otherwise uneducated regarding the term. The term ‘AR’ is only used with reference to Armalite, wherever possible.
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Did you know that the 1872 Colt Single-Action Army revolver and the AR-10 have something in common? Well, if you don’t, here’s the abbreviated story. That commonality was that both were rejected by the U.S. Army during trials.
“In 1872 the Colt Manufacturing Company developed the 1872 Colt for military trials, as the military wanted to replace the cap busters they were using with a new revolver that fired the new cartridges. Colt had modified the 1871 Colt Single-Action Army to fire the 44 Henry Rimfire cartridge when Rollin White’s request of extension for his breech-loading revolvers patent was rejected by the American Government in January 1870.
William Mason, the engineer working on the design of the Open Top, chose the more powerful .44 Henry cartridge. The trigger and revolving mechanism were based on the same design as previous Colt revolvers, the well-improved cap & ball percussion guns that made the Colt’s company prestige status. Mason brought some innovations to his gun: apart of the breech-loading cylinder, he designed unique frame, cylinder and barrel for the first Colt revolver with non-interchangeable parts with the older percussion pistols and moved the rear sight to the rear of the barrel as opposed to the hammer or the breechblock of the earlier efforts. Chambered in .44 caliber, the gun was submitted to the US Army for testing in 1872. The Army rejected the pistol and asked for a more powerful caliber with a stronger frame. Mason redesigned the frame to incorporate a top strap, similar to the Remington revolvers, and placed the rear sight on the rear of the frame; he consulted with Richards on some other improvements. The first prototype of the new gun was still chambered in .44 rimfire, but this new gun was chambered for the newest caliber known as the .45 Colt. This new design started production in 1873, giving birth to a new model, the Colt Single Action Army, and a new serial numbering.” – Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colt_Model_1871-72_Open_Top (citations removed for clarity in reading).
The AR-10, designed by Eugene Stoner suffered a similar fate in regard to rejection by the U.S. Army.
“The first prototypes of the 7.62 mm AR-10 emerged during 1955 and early 1956. At the time, the United States Army was in the midst of testing several rifles to replace the obsolete M1 Garand. Springfield Armory’s T44E4 and heavier T44E5 were essentially updated versions of the Garand chambered for the new 7.62 mm round, while Fabrique Nationale submitted their FN FAL as the T48.
ArmaLite’s AR-10 entered the competition late, hurriedly submitting two hand-built ‘production’ AR-10 rifles based on the fourth prototype in the fall of 1956 to the United States Army’s Springfield Armory for testing. The AR-10 prototypes (four in all) featured a straight-line stock design, rugged elevated sights, an oversized aluminum flash suppressor and recoil compensator, and an adjustable gas system. In the fourth and final prototype, the upper and lower receiver were hinged with the now-familiar hinge and takedown pins, and the charging handle did not reciprocate and was not attached to the bolt carrier. For a 7.62mm NATO rifle, the AR-10 prototype was incredibly lightweight at only 6.85 lbs. empty. Initial comments by Springfield Armory test staff were favorable, and some testers commented that the AR-10 was the best lightweight automatic rifle ever tested by the Armory.”
Also from Wikipedia, I gleaned the following information about the AR-10:
“The AR-10 is a lightweight, air-cooled, magazine-fed, gas-operated rifle that uses a piston within the bolt carrier with a rotary bolt locking mechanism. The rifle has a conventional layout; it features an in-line stock, an aluminum alloy receiver and a reinforced fiberglass pistol grip, hand guard, and buttstock. While mostly an original design, the AR-10 built upon previously proven concepts. From the FAL it took the hinged receiver system allowing the rifle to be opened for cleaning much like a break-action shotgun. The ejection port cover is similar to that found on the German World War II-era StG44. The bolt locking mechanism is similar to the M1941 Johnson rifle (itself an adaptation of the Browning-designed Remington Model 8 bolt). From the German FG 42 and M1941 Johnson machine gun came the idea of straight-line stocks to reduce muzzle climb in fully automatic fire. The AR-10’s method of rotary bolt locking, straight-line recoil, and gas operation enhanced its inherent accuracy.”
As a side note, a little known variant of the AR-10 was introduced in 1958; a special 7.62×39mm caliber variant of the Sudanese AR-10, which was produced in very small numbers for evaluation by Finland and Germany.
“Unfortunately for ArmaLite, the rifle’s aluminum/steel composite barrel (an untried prototype design specified for the tests by ArmaLite’s president, George Sullivan, over Stoner’s vehement objections) burst in a torture test conducted by Springfield Armory in early 1957. ArmaLite quickly replaced it with a conventional steel barrel, but the damage had been done. The final Springfield Armory report advised against adoption of the rifle, stating that it would take “five years or more to take it through tests to adoption”. While ArmaLite objected, it was clear that the AR-10, a brand-new rifle still in the prototype stage, was at a disadvantage compared to competing designs with longer development cycles, and by 1957, U.S. Army infantry forces urgently required a modern, magazine-fed infantry rifle to replace the M1.” – Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ArmaLite_AR-10 (citations removed for clarity in reading).
Of course, the replacement was the M14, which was a Springfield Armory product and it replaced the M1 Garand in the U.S. Army around 1961 and the U.S. Marine Corps by 1965. Funny how that worked; being that the M14 was a Springfield Armory product, as was the M1 Garand that replaced the 1903 Springfield, as did the 1903 Springfield to yet an earlier Springfield – and Springfield Armory was also testing the AR-10? Does something not seem quite right about this?
Anyway, the call came (again) for a yet a lighter firearm with a yet smaller cartridge. Further procurement of the M14 was abruptly halted in late 1963 due to the U.S. Department of Defense report which had also stated that the AR-15 (soon to be M16) was superior to the M14. “In 1957, the basic AR-10 design was rescaled and substantially modified by ArmaLite to accommodate the .223 Remington cartridge, and given the designation ArmaLite AR-15. ArmaLite licensed the AR-10 and AR-15 designs to Colt Firearms. The AR-15 eventually became the M16 rifle.” – Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ArmaLite_AR-10 (citations removed for clarity in reading).
So, there you have it. Pretty interesting, I would say?
So, it is obvious that the (ArmaLite) AR-10 just did not dissolve into the annals of history, as it was recognized for its worth and bought by countries other than the U.S. But, that also does not mean that it went away in the U.S. Quite the contrary. Because ArmaLite Inc.; however, holds a US trademark on the name “AR-10” other rifle manufacturers currently produce 7.62×51mm NATO auto-loading rifles under various names that are based generally on the AR-10 design. One of these variants, the MOE 16 .308, was manufactured by Bushmaster. The Bushmaster Company was sold in 2006, moved out of Maine in 2011, and is still in existence today under “The Freedom Group”.
At this point, I could say that the spirit of those employees from the original Bushmaster Company that were affected by the sale was lost. But I would be wrong in saying that. In 2011, and because a non-compete clause had expired, that spirit was re-kindled as a new company was formed by Mr. Richard Dyke, the former Founder of Bushmaster and now Chairman of the Board and C.E.O of Windham Weaponry; “The firearms industry and consumers welcomed this new effort warmly, old friends and contacts were re-established, and sales grew. In less than a year and a half, Windham Weaponry had brought back almost 70 employees, benchmarked impressive sales numbers, and established their name as one of the pre-eminent firearms manufacturers in the country.” – Source: https://www.windhamweaponry.com/about-us/company-history/.
Windham Weaponry is one of the premier manufacturers of MSRs today. One of Windham Weaponry’s products is the R20FFTM-308, a modern variation of the AR-10 that is the subject of this review. I found it while perusing the Windham Weaponry on-line catalog. That is not to say that I did not peruse other on-line catalogs, because I did. The R20FFTM-308; however, captured my attention.
But, before I begin the review I have a few other words.
Having a Windham Weaponry MSR in .223/5.56x45mm NATO, and most recently, a version in 7.62x39mm, my interest in owning an AR-10 variant peaked, but it had to be the right one for me. While I have several firearms for the .308 Remington (The .308 Remington was introduced in 1952, two years prior to the NATO adoption of the 7.62×51mm NATO T65), the civilian mate to the 7.62×51 NATO cartridge, the semi-automatic platform of the AR-10 platform intrigued me. But, what intrigued me more was the possibility of doing a comparison of the MSR platform, in caliber .308, to that of others (for example; a Springfield M1A, or a bolt-action Ruger Scout, or even the Remington 700). Thus, another evaluation project was born; the ‘MSR308’ project (the MSR308 project is beyond the scope of this write-up and will be presented separately and much, much later).
Anyway, the feelers went out to locate a R20FFTM-308 MSR in caliber .308. I thought it to be a simple task. I was incorrect in that thinking, however. My usual source, through his vendor network, revealed no clues as to the whereabouts of the Windham Weaponry R20FFTM-308. That led me to contact Windham Weaponry directly.
I have to point out that a MSR in caliber .308 is not inexpensive, although reasonably-priced AR-10 variants are available. The investment in an excellent MSR-10 firearm is substantial and can put a serious dent in anyone’s bank account. There had to be logic and reason behind my decision to purchase a MSR in caliber .308. However, my logic and reason was simple and more focused on barrel length than anything else. You see, Windham Weaponry offers three barrel lengths; 16-inch, 18-inch, and 20-inch in the .308 variation of this MSR. Also, each variation has its own variation of furniture. And, best of all, are in an acceptable price range (depending on your acceptance level, of course). The 20-inch version was the focus of my desire, as I believe that it is an excellent length for the cartridge. Be still, my beating heart!
I have been involved with firearms since my “real’ introduction to them by the U.S. of Army that started in late 1966. Through the years I have had very little interaction with manufactures of these firearms, and what little interaction I had was positive for the most part. In the past month or so, I have had quite an interaction with some folks at Windham Weaponry. Without people like Erik Winter (Gunsmith/Tech Support), Mark Eliason (Vice President of Sales and Marketing), Todd Coons (Vice President and Intl. Sales), Matt Hasty (Sales and Marketing Project Manager), and Warren Dyke (President), past issues with the R16M4FFT-721 (7.62x39mm SRC) would not have been resolved nor would I be writing a review on the R20FFTM-308. (I may have missed mentioning others who were involved with this project, and for that I apologize). The Windham Weaponry motto “The Quality Goes In Before the Rifle Goes Out” was well lived up to and I am sure will be well into the future.
Conversations ensured, deals were struck, electronic handshakes made, and I came into possession of the Windham Weaponry R20FFTM-308 as a T&E (Test and Evaluation) rifle. I can tell that was a first for me.
With all that said, you may think that this is going to be a biased review. I can assure that that it will not be. I am known for my judgmental nature and rest assured that this will be a fair review; if there are issues, you will know about them. Now, let’s get down to business of reviewing the Windham Weaponry R20FFTM-308.
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