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21st Century Steyr: Can The AUG Be Saved?

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Originally founded in 1864 by Josef Wernd as “Josef & Franz Werndl & Company,” Steyr has been innovating for almost 160 years. Their first service rifle, the Werndl-Holub breech loading rifle, was adopted by the Austrian Army back in 1867. 

As the company grew, it was converted to a stock corporation (renamed to Austrian Arms-Manufacturing Company) in 1869, and in 1891 with over half a million rifles made in one year, it became the biggest weapon producer in the world. By this time, Steyr was exporting to over 20 nations. 

Finally, between 1912 and 1914, the company moved its factory to Steyr, Austria, and was rebranded again to Steyrer Werke AG in 1926. 

Steyr made weapons and vehicles, endured two World Wars, and continues today as one of Europe’s largest weapons producers.

Here, in the U.S., it seems the only people who understand the age and pedigree of Steyr are the wealthy or seasoned who may have owned a Mannlicher — but every young American who has watched an action movie over the last three decades or played a first-person shooter video game knows and recognizes the iconic AUG.


In the late ’60s, Austria searched for a new service rifle. Working together with Steyr, the Austrian military assisted in the development and eventual adoption of the AUG, which stands for “Universal Army Rifle.” 

Adopted in 1977 as the StG. 77, this futuristic, plastic-filled, quick-change-barreled bullpup replaced the StG.58, better known as the FN FAL. At the time, the AUG was considered a huge revolution in weapon design. The rifle was extremely modular for its day, with multiple barrel lengths that could be changed in seconds. 13.7-, 16-, and 20-inch standard barrels were available and a 24.4-inch barrel offered for LMG use.

The rifle and its use of plastics and polymers caused quite the stir, with many uneducated touting it as dangerous and “undetectable,” despite the large amount of steel used in its construction.

AUG 21st century (1)
A very usable rifle in a very compact package.

The rifle received two major revisions, with the original A1 introduced in 1977, the A2 updated in 1997, and finally the currently available A3 produced since 2005. Steyr also made an AUG Para chambered in 9mm. Conversion kits are still available that alter the AUG into a modern pistol caliber carbine, but these are imported in limited numbers and can be hard to find.


Having been designed in the late ’70s, the AUG leaves you with very limited options for modifications. Out of the box, there are quite a few things to tweak if you want to modernize ergonomics and maximize aftermarket accessory capabilities.

As a relatively rare foreign service rifle, the well of available parts to address these issues proves extremely shallow. 

If you’re not a fan of plastic triggers, safeties, charging handles, and mag releases, tough luck — the AUG comes with all four. Polymer not only adds flex in the feel, but also can make it seem cheap.

The handguards are another sore spot, as the combination of short overall length and the addition of the barrel change system leaves almost no space up front for lights, lasers, or other accessories. 


You can’t start looking at AUG parts very long without stumbling across the name Corvus Defensio. Corvus leads the charge for modernizing and updating the AUG, which led to the purchase of about half their catalog of AUG parts, including their charging handle, QD takedown pin, mag release, and brass deflector. 

Charging Handle

The plastic charging handle is particularly irritating; there’s something about grabbing a piece of polymer when manipulating a gun during a malfunction or a reload that doesn’t instill confidence. The Corvus charging handle is made of steel and also changes its angle. Installation is the most frustrating part, simply due to a spring that has to be placed in a certain way. It requires some patience and time with a dental pick.

QD Takedown Pin

The factory AUG uses its sling swivel as a rear takedown pin. Popping this pin allows the removal of the buttpad and access to the trigger pack for disassembly and cleaning. There’s nothing wrong with the factory part, but the Corvus replaces it with a QD sling cup. If you like QD attachments, the Corvus installs easily, cleaning up the rear end of the gun without having to use a wire-loop QD conversion.

Mag Release

The mag release on the AUG is located directly rear of the magazine, which is, in turn, behind the pistol grip, unlike the AR-15. It’s typically activated with the thumb of the support hand while removing the magazine during a reload. Corvus Defensio again came to the rescue, offering a metal machined release with a wide, extended paddle that makes it easier to operate. Installation is a breeze, only taking a couple minutes to swap out. 

Brass Deflector

The AUG is a bullpup design, so the bolt and fire controls are directly under your face as you shoulder the rifle. This includes the ejection port, which for many will be about ½ inch beneath your mouth. The OEM AUG completely lacks a brass deflector, and while some think it unnecessary, it certainly brings some comfort and insurance against hot brass ending up in awkward places.

America’s rifle is the AR-15, but aftermarket support of others continues to grow

Trigger/Safety/Fire Control Group

As is the case with most bullpups, the trigger on the AUG is terrible. Since the trigger surface is so far forward of the actual fire control unit, a long linkage is used between them. The hammer and trigger internals are also entirely plastic, adding to the spongy feel. 

Right when this build started, advertisements started popping up about a U.S.-made billet trigger from Arid Concepts. Their trigger comes complete with a billet safety selector made from 6061 aluminum bar stock. Combined with the Ratworks 20/20 precision trigger sear mod, they completely transformed the AUG trigger. While it isn’t a high-end 1911 trigger, it’s very much a usable and enjoyable trigger/safety setup, making this gun significantly easier to shoot fast, with a predictable trigger squeeze and short reset.

ClawGear Rail

The AUG doesn’t have many options for mounting modern accessories, and with the AUG’s barrel change system it makes the forward part of the gun an interesting problem to solve. Out of this whole build, a favorite modification ended up being the biggest pain to accomplish: the ClawGear Rail.

ClawGear is based out of Austria and makes a variety of weapons accessories for the Steyr AUG, including a rail that adds a lot of mounting real estate and changes the entire look of the rifle. 

AUG 21st century (2)
Mounting of modern accessories such as the Modlite is made substantially easier by the CLAW gear rail system. The rail still allows for the removal of the barrel, as well as accommodating a more-forward grip.

Unfortunately, there are currently no U.S. importers for ClawGear. Thus began a search for a company that would purchase and file an ATF Form 6 to import one into the country for this project. It took numerous favors and phone calls, as well as five months of coordination.

The rail itself is easy to install and clamps around the gas block and barrel right at the connection point for the factory barrel attachment system. The rail has an open slot to allow for adjustment of the gas block and venting of gases. 

ClawGear also offers a cover that wasn’t mounted after consulting with the guys in Austria about their experiences with it. The quality is top notch and was worth the wait, even with the hassle.


The optic/red-dot setup was ordained before even receiving the gun. The AUG’s compact size makes it a great gun to run a red dot and magnifier, so an Aimpoint CompM5 with a Micro 3x magnifier would be the base, having proven themselves through multiple deployments. 

AUG 21st century (1)
The Unity Tactical mount may look tall but works great here.

The one unknown on the AUG was the Unity Tactical Riser and magnifier mount, which on the AR-15 provides a more upright head position. Once mounted, the distance from the stock to the optic on the AUG was exactly the same as a Sig MCX, so it was very usable, a nice surprise. 

For a weapon-mounted light, an FDE Modlite PLHv2-18350 with a Modbutton delivered compact size and performance. It’s attached to a Pic rail on the ClawGear at about 10 o’clock via an Arisaka Defense light mount.


The AUG is known as a brutally reliable platform. It’s been through multiple service rifle trials, deployments, and re-proving its performance isn’t the focus of this article. None of the mods outlined here specifically improve reliability; rather they enhance feel and function. 

At the time of writing, the gun has digested around 1,500 rounds (primarily 55-grain FMJ). The only issue of note was with bonded 64-grain Winchester, which experienced some light primer strikes within the first 150 rounds.  

As with any project like this, you begin with a list of expectations of what you hope to accomplish and at the end you find out how close you got to checking off your boxes. The updates to the trigger and controls make the gun feel like a proper work gun. 

The ClawGear Rail up front allows for the use of modern accessories and provides space for a more-forward hold for modern techniques of control and recoil management. The AUG is said to be “combat gassed,” meaning it’s a bit heavy on recoil, but not of particular note. The forward hand position really does help handling — even though it’s only a couple inches, it’s really noticeable.

At this point there isn’t much more to change about the gun, unless it’s going to be run suppressed. The AUG can be picky, requiring a specific gas regulator, which Steyr USA imports in small numbers. The design of the ClawGear Rail slightly recesses the flash hider into the rail system, so further modification or an adapter to function with a silencer might be required. 

Another potential future modification would be the addition of a laser for use with night vision, perhaps mounting solution to place an IR laser on top of the rail itself for manual control — if any readers have any suggestions, fire away.

To the question, “If you had to pick between an AR-15 and an AUG, which would it be?” The great thing is you don’t have to. The AUG offers some advantages over the AR-15 in terms of its compact size with a longer barrel — it’s smaller than a 10.3-inch-barreled Mk18 AR but delivers the ballistics of a 16-inch barrel. 

On the other hand, the aftermarket support will always be better for the AR-15 here in the States, but as you can see running an AUG in a modern configuration is definitely possible. 

If you’re on the fence about this European war horse or are curious about them, get your hands on one — and choose your own adventure. 

Steyr AUG A3 M1 

  • Overall Length: 28.2 inches
  • Barrel Length: 16.4 inches
  • Caliber: 5.56
  • Capacity: 10, 30, 42
  • Weight: 7.7 pounds
  • MSRP: $2,199


  • ARID Concepts Trigger and Selector ($155)
  • Ratworx 20/20 Precision Sear ($100)
  • Corvus Defensio Charging Handle ($149)
  • Corvus Defensio QD pin ($67)
  • Corvus Defensio Brass Deflector ($111)
  • Corvus Defensio Mag Release ($81)
  • ClawGear M-LOK Handguard ($236)
  • Modlite PLHv2-18350 ($309)
  • Modlite Modbutton Lite ($78)
  • Arisaka Defense Scout Mount ($40)
  • Unity Tactical FAST FTC ($259)
  • Unity Tactical FAST Micro Mount ($199)
  • Aimpoint CompM5 ($887)
  • Aimpoint 3X-C Magnifier ($307)

Price as Configured: $5,177

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