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[REVIEW] Stag Arms 3-Gun AR-15: Best Factory Competition AR?



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Photos by Cory Fechtelkotter and Clint Metheney

Coming into this article, Stag Arms was something of a mystery for me. Though I’ve been shooting ARs for years as a police officer, and have trained new officers on ARs as an academy firearms instructor, my personal experience with Stag was minimal. 

Sure, I knew Stag existed, but they were never at the forefront of my mind. Up until recently, the extent of my exposure was limited to a left-handed colleague once telling me how much he liked the idea of their lefty uppers. 

So, as much as I was looking forward to trying out something new, I also had no idea what to expect. Would this be something special, or yet another “also ran” in a market full of indistinct, cookie cutter ARs?

In the weeks following the CANCON Arizona event, I was given the opportunity to review the Stag 3 Gun, a rifle designed specifically for competition. 

A Stag representative boldly claimed, “It's easily the flattest shooting gun in our lineup, just an epic rifle” — that grabbed my attention, but not necessarily in a good way. My optimistic side thought, “okay, this is going to be a really great time.” However, 15 years of law enforcement experience has made me a little cynical about claims like these. 

I worried this could be nothing more than the sort of oversold hype everyone trying to move product says. Despite these concerns, I vowed to keep an open mind.

First Look

While anyone serious about shooting can try to take a purely utilitarian approach, appearances still play a tremendous role in first impressions, and the Stag 3 Gun is no exception. In the aesthetics department, the Stag strikes a tasteful balance. 

A cursory glance reveals a well-finished, but otherwise ordinary rifle. With just a little extra attention, however, the contrast of the matte bead blasted finish of the .223 Wylde Ballistic Advantage stainless steel barrel peeking out from underneath the handguard suggests there is something more going on. 

It's a nice touch that reminded me of the LTT Elite 92, another gun that uses a stainless barrel to give just a hint the weapon offers something beyond the ordinary. In a market where loud colors, tacky patterns, and questionably useful gimmicks seem increasingly popular, I’m grateful for a more subtle approach. 

Ostentatious branding and coatings, while certainly appealing to hypebeast social media attention seekers, have always come across as tacky cash grabs to my subdued Midwestern sensibilities. 

Just because the Stag 3 Gun forgoes fashionable cosmetic vulgarity, however, doesn’t automatically make it a good product. Luckily, the Stag 3 Gun has proven that appearances aren’t always deceiving, and that a positive characterization from a manufacturer employee isn’t always hype. Looking even closer, there were all the tell-tale signs of careful assembly, like the exceptionally clean staking of the castle nut. 

The Stag was well-appointed with all the functional accessories and furniture any serious shooter would choose. Oftentimes things like hanguards, charging handles, grips, and stocks are the first things that need to be swapped out on lesser rifles, but Stag didn’t cut corners there, so it isn’t necessary. The Magpul K2 grip, Magpul SL-S stock, Breach Ambi charging handle, and 15-inch M Lok handguard are all terrific. 

Providing a 40-round PMAG instead of the more common 30-rounder was also a thoughtful inclusion for a gun that’s designed with competition in mind. The only things I felt I needed to add were my Emissary Development Handstop, and of course an optic, both of which I was glad Stag left to the consumer to decide.

Shooting Experience

While the first impressions were all positive, and the factory configuration was smart, I wasn’t prepared for how the Stag 3 gun would actually shoot. My cautious, ever-doubtful sense of skepticism took a slap to the face. 

The Stag 3 Gun was exactly what I was told it would be, an epic rifle that was exceptionally flat shooting. The midlength gas system combined with the VG6 Gamma SL muzzle device really did yield results far more impressive than I ever would have predicted. I've shot plenty of .223 guns with compensators, but this really was something special, especially when considering the price point.

Not only were the recoil impulse gentle and the sight picture nearly motionless during rapid strings of fire — both practical failure drills and gratuitous mag dumps — there was something notably missing: concussion. So many muzzle devices help the shooter but make life absolutely miserable for everyone else around. Not so with the VG6. While some extra noise and concussion was present compared to a standard flash hider, it wasn’t even the slightest bit bothersome to others on the line. 

Standing alongside my shooting partner to get photos wasn’t the shell-shock-inducing experience it is with so many similarly equipped rifles.

The Stag makes sure to take full advantage of these characteristics with the inclusion of the Hiperfire Hipertouch Competition trigger. It is light and crisp with virtually no play or slop, but with just enough feeling of resistance going rearward and a solid, assertive reset so that there is no concern about inadvertent doubles. 

I’ve seen some strange, unacceptable things happen with excessively light AR triggers, but I don’t see that happening in this case. While the Hiperfire isn’t something I would want in a work gun, it is perfect for this application.

Combined with the light weight of the build which allowed for quick handling and easy target transitions, there wasn’t much I’d want to change about the Stag 3 Gun.

Wishlist

Nothing in life is perfect, and there were some characteristics of the Stag I didn’t care for, but they were far from deal-breakers. Years of shooting bone stock Colts and similar 6920 clones for work have made me used to things feeling a very particular way, with some strong preferences and expectations. So, one quirk which threw me off a bit about the Stag 3 Gun was the safety. 

Most AR rifles I’ve shot had stiff safeties with an authoritative snap at the end. Out of the box, the Stag safety had a bit of a mushy feel, with none of the distinct ending click I’ve grown accustomed to. While swapping an AR safety is no gargantuan feat–accomplished with simple hand tools while sitting on the couch–this particular selector switch was not my favorite. 

The only other change I’d have liked to see, again one of personal preference, has to do with the handguard. Some shooters love to have Picatinny all along the top rail on every AR they see for maximum versatility, but on a gun like this I don’t see the value. 

Perhaps there are competitions out that incorporate more complex accessories that necessitate all that rail space, but that isn’t something I see myself getting any real use out of. A smooth top handguard would allow for greater comfort when using a C-clamp grip, a small reduction in weight, and a cleaner look. 

The top rail texture can be addressed adequately by something as simple as a wrap or just making sure to remember your gloves at longer shooting sessions.

The Optic

For testing a gun meant for competition, the sight system needed to be a style popular in competition, so an LPVO was the logical choice. The optic used was the Primary Arms SLx 1-6×24 Gen 3 Single Focal Place LPVO with ACSS Aurora reticle, in a Primary Arms mount. 

As with the Stag, the SLx performed above expectations, especially when considering the price. For someone on the fence about trying out an LPVO, the SLx may be the perfect introductory choice. The reasoning for this is simple — it does everything a good LPVO is supposed to do well enough that you can get used to competing with an LPVO. 

The eye box is forgiving enough to use like a red dot at 1x, and the glass is clear enough to really appreciate the magnification, especially if you’re coming off of red dots.

The reticle illumination was probably the biggest box I’d like to see checked a little better, with even the maximum setting being borderline invisible on a cloudless day in the mountains. Despite that, it was still a perfectly solid optic. 

There may be options out there with slightly clearer glass, or better reticle illumination. But optic shopping quickly escalates into a battle of diminishing returns, and that decision-making process is highly subjective for each user. It is hard to notice any real difference in performance with optics that cost only a few hundred more, and top-of-the-line-optics with notable improvements can cost more than six times as much. 

The SLx LPVO is a really good meat-and-potatoes option that provides appealing performance at an accessible price point. It paired nicely with the Stag and I’m in no hurry to replace it.

Closing Thoughts

All told, the Stag 3 Gun was a pleasant surprise that exceeded my skeptical expectations. Going into the process without knowing much about the brand’s history or current state of affairs allowed me to keep an open mind, so by and large, I was impressed. 

Many manufacturers claim to make something shooters want that is “ready to go, right out of the box.” Too often, they fall short, either cutting corners by shipping rifles with parts no one wants (I’m looking at you, A2 grip), or they make something so expensive normal people just can’t afford it. With this rifle, however, Stag found a sweet spot. 

In the contest to make a cost-effective competition rifle with everything you need and nothing you don’t, Stag has a winner with the 3 Gun.

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