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Steyr AUG A3: The Incomparable, Futuristic Carbine

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We Look at the Rifle — the Incomparable Steyr AUG — that Became the Bane of John McClane’s Christmas Eve

It’s hard to believe that the Steyr AUG has been around for more than 40 years. What’s more, it’s still used to this day to represent a futuristic weapon of the latest in firearms technology.

That’s the beauty of the bullpup. Its shorter overall length makes it great to keep in confined spaces. Think troops in an APC or a tank crew. And its compact size is perfect for troops use in MOUT operations for shooting from cover.

Steyr AUG History

Initially called the Stg-77 (Sturmgewehr 77) and adopted by the Austrian Army in 1988, we saw it for the first time in a James Bond movie (Octopussy). I was 12 or 13 years old at the time. I assumed it was some futuristic rifle invented by a Hollywood prop master. That was, until I saw it again five or six years later in Die Hard. Then, I thought, “Man, I really need one of those.”


The AUG’s journey as a firearm in America has been an interesting one. One might consider it an in-depth examination of the stupidity of laws designed to restrict firearms ownership being written by people who know nothing about firearms.

Importation began in the 1980s as the AUG/SA (SA denoting semi-automatic). For the most part, they were slow sellers due to the price and unique design. The initial offering (A1 model) boasted an integral 1.5x optic.

Gee-Dubya Banned ‘Em

President George H.W. Bush banned the AUG via an executive order by under the 1989 Assault Weapon Import ban.  That sent the prices of existing rifles through the roof.

Six years later, Steyr AUG fans gained a reprieve in the form of the USR. Cosmetic changes to the rifle’s design allowed importation under the 1994 Federal Assault Weapon ban, with the name being primary.

The pistol grip morphed into a “Planet of the Apes Thumbhole” stock. And the barrel was left unthreaded. So neither a flash suppressor nor a silencer could be added. Afterall, the goal of anti-gun politicians is obviously to make all shooters go blind and deaf. So much for safety!

Steyr AUG Now Legal Again

All bad things eventually come to an end. The ban sunsetted in 2004, and in 2008 Steyr Arms worked with Sabre Defense to produce enough of the parts legally in the U.S. Production slowed thanks to Saber's legal woes. Turns out, the feds frown upon smuggling weapons in the false bottoms of ISO containers. Who knew?

Steyr Arms bounced back by partnering with VLTOR in 2012 to manufacture receivers and with FN USA to make barrels.

In the same manner that Rolex sells watches, so does Steyr with regard to AUGs: They sell every model they make.

Steyr AUG Review

We didn't receive the newest M1 variant for review. But we did borrow a sample AUG A3 from a friend and fellow Steyr enthusiast.

The A3 differs from the original A1 variant by incorporating a flat top Picatinny rail on the top of the receiver. This allows you to mount any scope of your choosing without the limitations of a 1.5x optic. A bolt hold-open locks the bolt on an empty magazine.

The Steyr AUG is fielded by over 40 countries. In fact, it was even used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the United States. However, now that ICE has been absorbed by DHS (Department of Homeland Security), they’re stuck with M4s.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we have heard through the grapevine that many ICE guys lament the fact that they had to give up their AUGs.

A Barrel to Write Home About

The quick-change barrel system is one of our favorite features, allowing the AUG to use barrels anywhere from 13 to 24 inches in length. You can convert the rifle to 9mm.

Barrels are cold hammer-forged with a 1 in 9-inch twist rate (yeah, we know). Barrels lock into a steel insert within the receiver that, contrary to popular belief, isn’t considered a trunnion. The folding vertical foregrip makes pivoting and removing the barrel deceptively simple.

A Look at the Piston System

Operation is via a true piston system. That means you can regulate the flow of gas depending upon conditions.

Like many bullpup designs, the main flaw that we see is in the rifle’s trigger. The A3 we sampled has a trigger that breaks at about 8 pounds, but is remarkably smooth and has a short reset.

Steyr AUG Mags

Steyr’s magazines are simply a thing of engineering beauty. Translucent and textured, they insert straight into the rear of the stock. They can be expensive and/or hard to find. An aftermarket STANAG stock is available to accommodate standard AR-15 magazines if you’re one of those folks who either can’t give up their P-Mags or has 500 perfectly fine GI magazines left over from the last rash of panic buying.

Magpul produces 30-round mags for the AUG. You can find them for as low as $17 in some areas. We were able to run a few and, while we didn't have the time nor the stockpile of ammo to jam 20,000 rounds downrange, we were happy with the results and found them as reliable as the factory magazines.

Optics Choices for the Steyr AUG A3 Carbine

We tested the AUG-A3 with a Nightforce 1-4x scope — one of our favorites for use on a defensive carbine. The circle reticle is similar to the original one found on the integrated scopes of the AUG A1 and USR, while the variable power is definitely an upgrade.

Shooting it was a dream. We found the circular reticle to really draw our eye to the target and the soft recoil of the AUG with the scope on the 4x setting at 100 yards let us see our hits on target. The broken-in trigger had more of a Glockish feel to it, so if you're a fan of the other Austrian gun maker, you might find yourself comfortable behind the Steyr AUG.

We predict that the AUG will remain a cutting-edge design for the next 40 years as Steyr and Lithgow continue to improve upon an amazing platform.

This article originally appeared in RECOIL Issue 28

Also check out the Gun Digest gun review on the Steyr Pro THB Mcmillan.

Corey Graff contributed to this article.


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