The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Ruger SFAR Carbine: AR-15 size with an AR-10 Caliber [Hands-on Review]

WHY? BECAUSE TEXAS, THAT'S WHY

While the whole world might not need a larger-caliber whitetail deer rifle that is also a lightweight, rapid-fire hog eradicator, that's exactly the recipe for a perfect do-it-all ranch rifle in the Lone Star State.

Sturm, Ruger & Co. is a longtime major brand normally known for solid, if not a bit pedestrian, firearms that provide quality and utility at a good price.

So when they recently released something that fits this role to a Texas “T” – an AR15-sized carbine with a double-take-worthy weight of 6.8 pounds but chambered in a big-rifle cartridge (.308 Winchester), it was enough of an engineering flex to require a closer look. So naturally, we picked one up, headed to Possum Kingdom TX, and shot swine to get acquainted with it.

First things first, a super-brief history of the “Small Frame” AR-type carbine. For years, most companies' AR-10 rifles were the clunky, oversized, and heavy big brothers of the AR-15. Long receivers that were fatter than they needed to be. Sausage-sized bolts and corresponding 10-11lb weigh-ins of bare rifles were the norm.

Even though the Colt AR-10A that was the fruit of Colt's 1959 purchase of the AR design was a smaller frame rifle, it was never produced. Armalite, DPMS, and other companies plodded on, making thick .308 versions of the AR, and apparently never thought to size them down. Even 2012's Colt 901 was, at best “intermediate sized”. Perhaps metallurgy of the time limited the strength needed to scale down the thinner sidewalls of the bolt, or perhaps no one questioned the existing design much.

In 2013, the intermediate-but-smaller-yet Remington/DPMS Gen II probably would have been the rifle slated to move towards standardization. It was gaining market share, but the companies fell victim to Wall Street debt schemes and imploded before they reached that goal. Some years ago, Frank DeSomma of POF showed me his take on a smallifying the .308 AR, proudly handing over a prototype Revolution to shoot.

I have to admit that I didn't take a close enough look at it at the time (“Yeah, compact .308. Cool, Frank.”) and only later did it sink in and impress me how much careful thought he had put into the added features and the complete redesign needed to scale it all down to a 5.56mm sized carbine.

Perhaps only fashionably late to the .308 party, Ruger has now shown up with a kaizen, matured take on the small frame AR. Being Ruger, they creatively named it the “Small Frame AR” or “SFAR” for short (Hey: these are the guys that called their 5.7 pistol the “Ruger-5.7” and their silencer the “Silent-SR.” Gotta give them points for not confusing the customer, I suppose…).

Blunt names and value reputation aside, people started perking up, looking at the rifle's specs, and are coming away impressed enough that they even forget to say that faint-praise disclaimer “It's pretty good… for the price.” The SFAR is looking pretty good, period.

Adjustable gas? Ya, it has that too!

Out of the box, it's got some nice features that weren't expected. It comes with an adjustable gas block. Someone knew hog hunters run cans like it's a religion, whereas some other makers don't include it in their price. There's no corner cutting on the Magpul MOE stock, grip, and 20-round LR/SR PMAG: all solid kit included there. 

The Ruger SFAR is scaled down enough to ensure many 5.56mm AR parts can be utilized. While the SFAR upper and lower receiver, bolt carrier assembly, and barrel extension are proprietary to this firearm, most of the other parts are interchangeable.

For instance, standard-size AR triggers fit the gun, and Ruger could have skimped with a basic cruncher, but instead, it comes with their own Elite 452 model. It's a smoother, 4.5 pound, 2-stage trigger for faster lock time (the interval between pulling the trigger and the firing pin hitting the primer) and stronger primer hits.

The SFAR comes in two flavors, a 16″ and a 20″ barreled version, both MSRP'ing for $1299, with street prices showing up well under a grand. 

Along with the company's longevity and reputation for customer support, that's the part that ensures Ruger will sell a lot of them. Boutique AR10s have been unnecessarily chunky not only in weight and size for years, but also in price. It's not that different from the 5.56mm AR in machine and raw material costs, but lower production volumes and proprietary parts rang up the tab.

Bottom line here, this is a great firearm for getting some more punch and distance out of a quick-shooting varmint platform. Which makes Ruger's one mistake here particularly glaring (and it is an oversight I haven't heard anyone at Ruger explain yet). That 15″ scooped-out top rail is plain wrong for this type of gun.

Removing the 1913 pic-rail slots from the middle of the top rail lost them half an ounce that they could have taken out somewhere else. Perhaps that saved some machine time not to cut cross slots, or maybe someone thought it was better for comfortable “C-grip” fast gun handling… which probably wouldn't apply to this .308 deer-stand dominator.

But the varmint hunter who will buy this gun needs night vision – whether i2 or thermal – often perched in front of a long day scope. And he will not find the rail space required on that shaved-down 12 o'clock strip. Even with a teeny ACOG mounted, we couldn't fit a clip-on thermal to the rail.

As dusk fell, in the deer blind, we had to strip the optic and mount a dedicated iRayUSA Alpha thermal (poor us, we know: we feel your sympathy.) The $3-manufacturing-cost solution might have been to mill M-LOK slots into the scooped area of the top rail.

At worst, they're just barrel-cooling vents. At best, if the customer wants utility up there (even if it's not on the same height plane as the rear's rail) he's got the option to install a chunk of M-LOK rail, or at least an IR illuminator's pressure pad. Annoyingly, the only solution is to swap out the Ruger rail so the expected optics can fit.

Thankfully, most standard 5.56mm AR15 rails will easily interchange, but it's frustrating to have to immediately toss out the factory rail you just paid for to do so. (I got ten bucks that says that Ruger will standardize the 9.38-ounce, unscooped rail from the 20″ version to replace the scooped rail from the 16″ version so both guns use the same rail in the future.)

Other than the top rail faux pas, the handguard is nice enough: it's free-floated and has M-LOK slots at the 3, 6, and 9 positions, along with a couple of QD sling swivel sockets at the muzzle end. It weighs 8.84 ounces if you're looking to see how much weight difference it makes to swap it.

If you aren't, or you don't need clip-on night vision, it's going to work fine for you. A Strike Industries bipod grip mounted up nicely on the rail's underside to stabilize the gun in our hog-hide.

Under that rail is a heavier 1-10 twist barrel with a 5-groove rifling pattern (“5R”) that provides some advantages over conventional barrel designs. The lands have a gentler angle that deforms the bullet less when it jumps from the brass into the bore.

5R seals the bullet better and supposedly helps thin-jacket bullets not to spin apart. If nothing else, it's easier to clean because it has no tight internal corners, and it's black nitride finished to prevent rust. It's somewhat surprising that Ruger didn't flute or otherwise lighten the barrel profile to make their weight numbers even more impressive.

Either way, you know someone's going to put an aftermarket carbon fiber or pencil barrel on these and have an even lighter carbine to thrill their shoulder with. And we can't wait to see the race to skinny this platform down by aftermarket builders.

The barrel is topped with a muzzle brake, which I suspect Ruger is winking at us by naming it the “Boomer”. It's a two-port unit, probably loud as balls, and is said to reduce recoil considerably. But this is something we'll never be able to evaluate because we tossed it and mounted a Dead Air Nomad silencer before ever even pulling the trigger. Why abuse your eardrums if you don't have to?

Since we're veering into silencer commentary, Ruger has a feature on this gun that raised some curiosity. There are twin vent holes on the receiver and some unique Swiss-cheesing cut on the bolt carrier. This was done for safety: if you ever shoot with a plugged bore or an overcharged round, excess gas comes back at your face fast. 

The vents are overpressure escape hatches, giving gas a safer path to take out of the rifle. But would those holes vent gas out and drive the at-ear noise up? Some fast-and-dirty sound metering showed that at-ear decibel numbers stayed reasonable, and the vents don't bark like some feared they might. But (as expected on any rifle) at-ear noise progressively got louder as the gas regulator was opened further and further. Keeping the regulator at the lowest setting the gun will function in cuts down on both noise and recoil.

The 16″ barrel version has a mid-length gas system, and the 20″ has a rifle-length setup. Both have that adjustable gas block that clicks positively with the included hex key that is stored in the Magpul grip. The regulator has little cuts that also allow adjustments using a screwdriver, knife, or other field-expedient tool. Ruger suggests setting “1” with a suppressor, “2” without. “3” is if a dirty gun starts running sluggish, boosting the gas needed to cycle it.

“O” is a full gas shut-off, which turns your rifle into a single shot/bolt-action. Unless you're using blank rounds to launch rifle grenades, we don't know why you'd actually want that feature, but in the end A.) grenades are underrated and B.) Ruger apparently has got your back when the heavy stuff comes down.

On the note of “functioning”, the SFAR runs best with Gen 3 magazines. We had some initial rough feeding where using a beat up old-gen Magpul had the bolt skidding along the top of the brass, but as soon as we caveman-grunted, had someone read us the instructions (who does that, anyway?), and switched to the recommended current ones, it hummed along perfectly.

As far as calibers go, there have been a lot of hogs killed with the 5.56mm. But if you want to make pigs sit down promptly where they're shot, it's not going to hurt to triple the grain weight and toss 180 grains at them instead of 62. Not to mention you can fit bigger expanding hollowpoint designs into a 7.8mm diameter bullet than you can a 5.7mm one.

If you only want a rifle that can dispatch hogs, 5.56mm or 300BLK will do the job. But it's not optimal for the deer and larger game animals that you'd encounter not just in Texas but all over North America. The O.G. gun guru Jeff Cooper himself blessed .308 as his do-it-all caliber for anything under 1,000 lbs, to include bear, moose, and elk, for a reason.

While there may be better calibers for longer distances, recent ammo shortages may have reminded us that a rifle that shoots the widely-available cheap stuff isn't a bad idea to have in the gun safe. 7.62×51 is one of the short-list calibers you're going to be able to find after apocalypses / ammo bans / etc. It has been around since 1952, and there's still plenty of current military use around the world, which keeps prices down and availability up.

We'll probably see a 6.5 Creedmoor version of this rifle eventually, but with the short barrel and at sub-400 yard distances one might expect to hit out to with a ranch rifle, .308 has nothing to apologize for against it's longer-range competitor.

LOOSE ROUNDS

For those that were looking for a lighter, well-supported, suppressor-friendly, reasonably-priced, major-caliber semi-auto that can reach out farther and harder than the 5.56mm, Ruger just claimed a spot in your gun safe.

Enter Your E-Mail to Receieve a Free 50-Target Pack from RECOIL!

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOIL

For years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included).

Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. We'll send you weekly updates on guns, gear, industry news, and special offers from leading manufacturers - your guide to the firearms lifestyle.

You want this. Trust Us.



One response to “Ruger SFAR Carbine: AR-15 size with an AR-10 Caliber [Hands-on Review]”

  1. Bill Martin says:

    Did I miss the accuracy testing?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

View Comments

Subscribe to the Free
Newsletter