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[CLONE RIFLES] Black Hawk Down “Hoot”: This Is My Safety



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October marked the 30th anniversary of the Operation Gothic Serpent, or as most know it, the Black Hawk Down incident. With this in mind, it felt appropriate to pay homage to the warfighters of the battle and remember it for what it was. 

Something worth looking at when we examine the past is to take a closer look at the weapons used. In the case of Black Hawk Down, that mostly means the M16A2 used by the Rangers and a pre-M4 carbine used by Delta built off the Colt 723.

As fate would have it, a local 2-Gun match near me held a Black Hawk Down-themed shoot that provided the opportunity to put the weapon through some on-the-clock shooting.

Between the M16A2 and the pre-M4 carbines, the carbine was the obvious choice to clone since it, historically, is the more interesting build. 

How did it perform? What can we learn? Let’s dive into it.

But first, big thanks to AmmunitionToGo.com for providing ammo!

SET THE STAGE

In case you’ve lived under a rock for the past 20 years, Black Hawk Down (2001) is a film based on the true events of Operation Gothic Serpent, a 15(ish)-hour operation during the U.S.-led, United Nations Intervention in Somalia in October 1993. Taking place in the capital city of Mogadishu, the operation was meant to be a 30-minute cookie-cutter snatch-and-grab of high-value targets. Instead, it devolved when two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down. 

The primary combatants were the U.S. Army’s 75th Rangers, 1st SFOD-D (Delta Force), pilots from the 160th SOAR, and the Somali National Alliance militia.

The story is complex and way too much to get into here, so read the book or at least watch the movie if you haven’t already.

REAL VS. MOVIE

A “clone” rifle normally means a 1:1 rifle. Depending on how deep into the weeds you want to get, you might end up spending years and thousands of dollars just to make sure you have the right takedown pin. I’m not that guy, and this ain’t that rifle.

First off, I’m basing much of my clone off of a movie. The movie isn’t real. The movie took liberties. 

Paradoxically, I’m also mixing in a little bit of realism simply because I can. 

For example, the movie used Colt 727 instead of 723 rifles as their base, Comp M2 red dots, and A2 carry handles (or sometimes even detachable carry handles on flattop uppers) — all of this is simply wrong for the period.

Great movie, but the Aimpoint Comp M2 didn't exist yet when this battle was fought

These were used because the props department could get their hands on a whole lot of them for the movie, but, according to multiple sources, it just ain’t right.

My rifle is based on the rifle used by the character “Hoot” played by Eric Bana, a Delta operator and one of the main characters of the movie. 

“Who's hungry?” -Hoot, Black Hawk Down

“Hoot” is primarily based on the real man Master Sergent Norm Hooten, but also incorporates other real warfighters into the movie persona. 

As far as I’ve seen, Master Sgt. Hooten hasn’t spoken publicly about what rifle he used during the battle. So, I’m basing my rifle off of what the character “Hoot” uses. But since we know that the movie took some liberties with his rifle, I’m using more “accurate” parts based on the period and information gleaned from interviews given by Sergeant Major Kyle Lamb, who fought in the battle, and Master Sergeant Larry Vickers, who was a member of Delta from the late ‘80s until retirement in 2003. 

All of that to say, my clone is my clone and isn’t technically a clone of either the movie or the battle. But it’s in the spirit of it while making some minor changes to both better fit reality and to fit my personal use case. 

PARTS

Harrington & Richardson 723 Style Carbine 

The real heart and soul of the build, I’m loving this rifle. H&R was bought by Palmetto State Armory a couple of years ago, and their retro line of ARs is pretty awesome.

Not exactly cheap, these are still affordable and a whole lot more affordable than trying to track down the real thing. Vintage A1 uppers normally cost more than this entire H&R rifle.

If we want to get really picky, this isn’t as perfect of a clone as it could be. H&R uses a 6-position buffer tube instead of the correct 2-position, and the barrel is 14.7 inches with a pin and welded A2 flash hider instead of 14.5 inches with no P&W. 

The first, can be forgiven because who cares? The second is a feature, not a bug, since 14.7 inches and a P&W muzzle means this isn’t an SBR, and no ATF paperwork is required.

The trigger is milspec but smoother than you might expect. Not as smooth as PSA’s enhanced triggers, but still smoother than those old Colt triggers ever were. To me, this is a big bonus.

The bottom line, this rifle is pretty great to use as a starting point.

One small thing that bugs me a little is that the H&R 723 doesn’t have a brass deflector. While this is accurate for early Colt 723 uppers, the later Colt 723 uppers did have them. A shell deflector would have been slightly preferred, but oh well.

The twist rate is 1:7, pencil profile barrel with chrome lining, CAR-style stock, and is marked with “safe, fire, burst” plus some tasteful property marks and H&R’s logo in place of Colt’s. 

Shekkin Gears Replica Surefire 660 Flashlight

Real Surefire 660 lights, if you can find them, run like $400 for a light that outputs about 120 lumens. This was $60. It looks right; it’s even marked right, and it is being used as a prop so being clone-perfect isn’t a big deal. It can take batteries and does work, but I’m not bothering.

If you get one, just know these are literally shipped from China. Delivery will take a week or two at least.

Paint: Krylon Camouflage Paint, Ultra Flat, Sand and Rust-Oleum Camouflage, Earth Brown

Sand for the base layer paint for the stock, handguard, and pistol grip. Earth Brown for the stripes on the stock, handguard, and pistol grip.

This is one area where I’m not sure what is real and what is fiction. 

From pictures, we “know” spray paint on rifles among special forces isn’t entirely uncommon, at least from 2000-ish forward.

Former US Navy SEAL Harry Humphries was the Associate Producer/Military Department Head for Black Hawk Down, and it was on his advice that the rifles were painted. Presumably, he did so because that’s how it was done. 

But I can’t find a source that confirms that. Vickers doesn’t mention it, Lamb doesn’t mention it, it’s not mentioned in the book, and even after a good amount of searching, no period picture of Delta operators with painted rifles came up in research.

The rubber dummy and the blank-firing props used in Black Hawk Down for “Hoot”

Humphries isn’t just a guy in Hollywood, he fought in over 200 combat missions and served two tours in Vietnam with the SEAL teams before going on to be an instructor with the Advanced HRT and at Gunsite. He also advised on some real bangers like Tears of the Sun, Enemy of the State, The Peacemaker, Con Air, The Rock, and a lot more. 

Although to be fair, he also advised on some real stinkers like Déjà Vu, Mission: Impossible 2, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor. But we won’t hold those against him.

My point is: I don’t know if Delta painted their rifles in the early ‘90s, and if they did, how. 

What is clear is that they were painted in the movie, and that is ultimately the overall aesthetic this clone is about.

Eoocvt 1inch / 25mm Ring Flashlight Mount

Random mount found on Amazon, use whatever you want. 

According to sources I’ve read, lights on rifles at the time were really whatever the user wanted them to be and were attached however they could be. 

Vickers used a dive light hosed clamped to his handguard, Lamb used a Surefire attached to a 1913 rail that was attached to the handguard, I don’t know how. In the movie, Hoot uses a Surefire 660 attached to the barrel. I’ve looked but never found a picture of 1990s Delta using a barrel clamp for the light. But this is one concession I’ll make in favor of the movie since it’s a defining detail of the look.

What is accurate in the movie is the use of tape to hold the light’s switch to the handguard, 100 MPH tape being best.

BUILD

This is honestly one of the easiest rifles to clone if you start with a base like the H&R 723. 

Pop the handguard, pistol grip, and buttstock off, paint them with the sand spray paint as a base, then stripe them with the earth brown.

Let those dry before putting them back on the rifle.

The flashlight goes in the clamp, the clamp goes on the barrel, and 100mph tape to secure the switch to the handguard. Having a friend to hold the switch while you tape helps.

Boom. Done.

If you don’t want to start with a good base for the 723, then good luck, my friend. Depending on how authentic you want to be, this clone could run you into the $4,000-6,000 range to get the clone correct parts.

My all-in MSRP is about $1,200, with almost all of that being just the rifle. The paint is cheap, the tape is cheap, and the replica light was only $60.

ON THE RANGE

All in this rifle is barely 6 pounds unloaded. My first day on the range with it was simple and easy since it came from the factory almost perfectly zeroed at 50 yards. Maybe that was random chance, but it was nice.

The A1 iron sights are never a favorite of mine, but they work well enough. 99% of the firearms that pass through my hands have a dot or scope on them, so it was a fun change to have to work on my iron sight shooting a bit.

My local 2-Gun match ran a Black Hawk Down special event this month for the anniversary, with stages themed after the battle. Not only does this add a layer of interesting hobby enjoyment to the match, but it also gives us a chance to use period weapons and gear that we might not otherwise ever try out. 

On the clock and in the moon dust, the H&R 723 performed wonderfully well. I’m only at about 500 rounds so far through the rifle, but it has run extremely well. There was one unexplained malfunction during the match, but it was while shooting from inside a 4th gen Ford Bronco. I’m not sure what caused the failure to feed, but a tap, rack, and bang solved the problem.

Otherwise, the rifle has gone without an issue.

After it all, this is a blast to shoot. No matter what kind of rifle you’re looking to clone, the H&R 723 is a great base to start with. There is a huge range of projects you can turn this rifle into, and some of those will have to be explored soon.

LOOSE ROUNDS

PSA provided this rifle for me to use, and it will be run like a rented mule at some retro 2 gun events. This article will be updated with long-term durability.

On a more somber note, Black Hawk Down is a great movie and an even better book, and the battle drove home some major lessons in all sectors of the military. 

18 Americans lost their lives during the battle, with 73 more wounded. What is often overlooked is that among the U.N. relief and support units, one Malaysian was killed, along with 7 wounded and 2 more wounded from the Pakistani army. 

30 years later, we have the luxury of being able to make copies of their rifles. While your reasons are your own, I think it’s only fitting that we at least remember their sacrifice while we engage in our hobby.

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