LWRC M6SL Report
Day one – 7/11/11 – Sunny and 90 F.
I was contacted a few weeks ago by Matt from North West Tactical and asked if I would like to complete a T&E on one of the new 16 inch barreled M6SL 5.56mm rifles being offered by LWRCI. Of course, I said yes. He wanted the rifle to be put through its paces, which I took to mean run it hard, but don’t destroy it. I was curious how the lighter profile barrel and plastic hand guards would hold up to the “run and gun” drills I like to practice.
Day one I picked up the rifle from my local FFL, a cursory visual inspection found no flaws and the fit and finish was excellent. The rifle is noticeably lighter than my M6A1’s and M6A3’s, something smaller framed persons might appreciate. According to LWRCI’s web site, this 16” barreled rifle weighs in at 6.44 pounds while the M6A3 with 16” barrel weighs 7.3 pounds. I don’t have a scale designed to weigh the rifle, but it felt a little lighter than a Colt M4. The mid length gas system and MOE hand guards are a very nice touch and weight makes shouldering and acquiring targets very fast and effortless.
The rifle is designated the M6SL, M6 stands for LWRCI’s line of 5.56mm and 6.8mm rifles, the S stands for Stretch indicating it has a mid length gas system, and Light stands for the light contour barrel. This is LWRCI’s entry level rifle; the least expensive of their lineup, and is equipped with a Magpul MOE mid-length hand guard, MOE pistol grip, and MOE stock. Aside from the furniture, the rest of the rifle is standard with cold hammer forged barrel (light contour) and nitro carburized surface conversion, piston system, Enhanced Fire Control Group with Nickel-Teflon finish, Nickel-Boron finished bolt carrier assembly with Advanced Combat Bolt, and an LWRCI polymer Trigger Guard. Everything that makes LWRCI rifles great is in this rifle.
The rifle came with one 30 round pmag, an owner’s manual, and a bottle of Slip2000 EWL. I field stripped the rifle, wiped the parts down, punched the bore with two patches wet with the Slip2000 EWL, and two dry patches. I also lubricated the rifle with a modest amount of Slip2000 EWL like I would for one of my LWRC duty rifles. I reassembled the rifle, conducted a function check, and headed to the range. I did not clean or lubricate the rifle again until testing was complete. I decided the only piece of equipment I would add to this rifle would be a simple two point M16 sling. I attached it to the rifle by the front sight sling swivel and to the MOE stock. I wanted to run it equipped as a novice shooter might. I used a combination of GI aluminum 20 and 30 round magazines and Magpul 30 round pmags. I tested several older and newer 30 round pmags in this SL and they all dropped free.
It took two, five round groups to sight in the rifle with the iron sights, ammunition used was Federal Tactical TRU, which uses the Nosler 55 grain Ballistic Tip bullet. I sight all my rifles with iron sights and Aimpoints at 50 yards and was able to keep five rounds to less than two inches. I know the rifle is more accurate than that, but for now I was just interested in a solid BZO using the supplied iron sights. I didn’t think I would care for the Daniel Defense rear sight but turns out I really like it. It’s tough, solid, and easy to adjust. Simply use the tip of a round (FMJ preferred) to adjust for windage. Like all AR15 rifles and iron sights, elevation is adjusted from the front sight for BZO.
Recoil impulse is smooth, felt like an LWRCI to me, and there were no surprises for me in its handling. I had two fellow officers at the range with me and had them fire several magazines through the rifle to get their input. They both liked the M6SL; one’s only rifle experience is with a Colt M4, he said he really liked how smooth the recoil impulse was and enjoyed shooting the rifle. The other officer has experience with multiple rifles and sub machine guns and he liked the M6SL, as well. He said it was similar to his issued Colt Commando, only different. For him, the amount of recoil was about the same, but sharper than a direct impingement rifle. He said it was no harder to control than his Colt. Both of them commented that they liked the Daniel Defense rear sight.
After the BZO, we loaded two 30 magazines with three types of ammunition: Federal XM193 (Lake City 5.56 powered ammo), Federal TRU 55 grain Ballistic Tips, and Federal TRU 55 grain BTHP’s. I made sure to mix the rounds together and staggered them through the magazines. I had one of my officers shoot the first magazine, shooting four round “standard response” groups at ten yards. The rounds were fired as fast as possible while remaining on a seven by five inch head target. The rifle functioned without an issue, but I could tell the difference in ammunition by how the brass ejected. The 5.56 powered rounds ejected at 2 and 3 o’clock and the .223 Federal TRU ammunition ejected to the 4 o’clock, the difference in pressure. I fired the next magazine of mixed rounds and couldn’t tell the difference between them. After 60 rapid fired rounds the plastic hand guards started to heat up but we were still able to hold it with bare hands. The ammunition used for the rest of day one was XM193 ball.
We loaded three, 30 round magazines and fired them in rapid fire, multiple target drills. The rifle was easy to point and fast to acquire targets on this drill. After these three magazines the hand guard was too hot to touch with bare hands. For the last magazine I had to hold the magazine well to complete the drill, and that was starting to get toasty. We let the rifle sit; bolt locked to the rear in the shade, and reloaded the three magazines, allowing the rifle to completely cool off for the next hour while another range event was completed.
After the hour cool down, one of the other officers and I took turns off the bench shooting 50 yard bulls eye targets, just having some fun. The goal was to shoot a round as quickly as we could fire, follow through, breath, and reset the trigger, and fire again, about one round every second or two. It was easy to get all 30 rounds of a magazine into about three inches. I would fire 30 rounds then the other shooter would fire 30 rounds. We did this for 90 rounds, reloaded the three magazines, and fired another 90 rounds. The rifle was hot, but by this time I was wearing nomex gloves which helped with the heat. Since the bench was in the shade it seemed to help a little with the heat buildup, but it was still uncomfortable to hold by the hand guard. We locked the bolt to the rear and allowed the rifle to cool down until the hand guard was just warm to the touch.
We had 170 rounds of ammunition left so we loaded our three magazines and conducted the multiple target drills again. We would fire 90 rounds and allow the rifle to cool while we loaded the magazines, and then fired again. Even with the gloves on, the heat would still build so that holding the hand guard anywhere near the front sight was a no go. I had one malfunction in which an expended casing failed to eject, locking the bolt to the rear. I didn’t stop to inspect it but it may have gotten hung up on the magazine. This happened on the last magazine of the day, about five rounds from the last. A quick immediate action (tap the magazine and rack the charging handle) cleared the FTE and I finished the rest of the magazine. We inspected the FTE casing and the extractor rim was chewed up on one side, but I don’t know if that was from the factory or from the extractor. I see these sorts of malfunctions with other rifles (direct impingement rifles like Colt and Bushmaster) and am not concerned. If you go through enough ammunition you will eventually have malfunctions and I am not totally convinced this wasn’t caused by the magazine or the round.
After completing the 500 round test for the day, I field stripped the rifle back at the bench while the barrel was still piping hot. The bolt carrier assembly was warm to the touch, and there was carbon fouling, but it was minimal and not baked on like in a DI rifle. We heated the rifle up several times and towards the end of the drills the heat from the barrel would begin to transfer to the upper and lower receivers. I think this is why there was a modest amount of carbon and heat on the bolt carrier. Just in handling the carrier with my bare hands, I accidentally rubbed some of the carbon off where I touched it, nothing baked on there. While the bolt carrier was warm, it was easily held with bare hands.
I would call day one a success for the M6SL. Yes, it did heat up more so than other LWRCI models with rails. I believe this was from the lighter barrel and also from the plastic hand guards. We also fired 500 rounds through this rifle in about two to three hours of range time, not a full day like in a carbine course. In the shooting schools I’ve been too, we would fire two, sometimes three magazines during a drill then allow enough time for the barrel to cool. We pushed the M6SL harder than this. Also, it was a sunny day and over 90 degrees and most of the shooting was done in direct sunlight. I believe this rifle could easily handle your standard rifle/carbine tactical course.
Day Two - 7/18/11 – Overcast and 90 F
The second day of testing comprised of chronographing and accuracy. I fired all groups using the iron sights supplied with the rifle, off the bench, and at 100 yards. I rested the hand guards on a carpeted wooden box and stabilized the stock with my support hand. Shooting MOA groups with iron sights is not something I can claim to do, and this was true today. The front sight covers up quite a bit of the target and trying to place the sights in the same exact spot for every shot is not easy.
The first group was with a hand load, Nosler 77 grain OTM’s, 24.8 grains TAC, CCI#41 primers, Lake City ’07 once fired brass, 2.260” overall length, and crimped with a Lee factory crimping die. I placed five rounds into 4.5 inches, with four rounds landing inside 2.25 inches.
The second group used SSA 77 grain OTM’s. I fired 11 rounds into an 8x8 inch Shoot-N-C Target that was left up by another shooter. There was only one bullet hole in the target so I taped it up and reused the target. I placed three rounds in the bull’s eye, five rounds in the 9 ring, two rounds in the 8 ring, and one round in the 7 ring, though it was touching the line. The longest distance between any of the bullets was a shade less than five inches.
Not MOA but certainly minute of felon, all rounds would have been solid body hits, this is about the limit of my capabilities with iron sights.
I ran the following rounds through my chronograph at 15 feet:
1. Nosler 77 grain OTM, 23.6 grains H4895, CCI#41, LC’07, 2.260” COAL, Lee Crimp
Average: 2630 fps
2. Nosler 77 grain OTM, 24.4 grains TAC, CCI#41, LC’07, 2.260” COAL, Lee Crimp
Average: 2702 fps
3. Nosler 77 grain OTM, 24.8 grains TAC, CCI#41, LC’07, 2.260” COAL, Lee Crimp
Average: 2709 fps
4. SSA 77 grain OTM
Average: 2628 fps
5. Federal Tactical 62 grain Bonded Soft Point – FC’10 marked cases
Average: 2635 fps
These chronographing numbers are average and what I would expect to see in a 16 inch barrel.
I thought it was interesting that between 24.4 and 24.8 grains of TAC, there was only a seven feet per second increase in velocity. Often, when you reach a max load, going over that weight will not give you that big of a bump in velocity. There were no visible signs of high pressure in either loading. Ramshot’s data shows 24.8 grains as a max load for the 77 grain bullet and accuracy was close to the same in a couple of different rifles for both loads. When I got home that night I measured the case head expansion with calipers and found the 24.8 grain loading to have expanded several cases to over .377 and .378 inches. In my experience with reloads and factory ammo the case head expansion should be around .375” so I feel 24.8 grains of TAC was too hot at least using these cases and primers. The 24.4 grain load was nearly as fast, shot about the same groups, and measured .375” average on case head expansion, I wouldn’t go over this weight. Anyone trying this should drop back to at least 24 grains and work up to make sure it’s safe in your rifle.
The last event of the day was a multiple target, moving and shooting drill. I had another officer run with the SL. He is an experienced rifle shooter, all of which is with direct impingement rifles like the Colt M4. He really liked the rifle, the weight, how it pointed, the smooth recoil, and commented he liked the Daniel Defense sight. He ran through 60 rounds in about a minute of drills. The hand guards were warm to the touch, but not uncomfortable with bare hands. He loaded another forty rounds in a couple of magazines and fired them as quickly as he could and staying on target. After the third magazine the hand guard was pretty hot and the heat was drifting back into the front portions of the upper and lower receivers. I ran these same drills with my LWRC M6A3 12.7” 5.56 carbine. After two magazines, my railed hand guards were slightly cooler than the SL’s MOE plastic guards, but not by much. The A3 handled the heat better than the SL by the third magazine. This is likely a function of the thicker barrel and the metal rails offering better heat protection and dissipation. I like to use a forward “C” crimp when shooting my rifles, but normally have a light mounted towards the front end. This keeps me from putting my thumb over the rail covering the piston cup. Today, I removed the light from the A3 and after two magazines I could certainly feel the heat. Not a big deal to me since, as mentioned, I usually have a light keeping me from putting my thumb there. The heat was close to the same in this location with both the SL and the A3. I think mounting a vertical fore grip or an angled fore grip would help with much of the heat, as would wearing gloves.
There were no malfunctions in the 200 rounds fired on day two, round count is 700, and the receivers and bolt carrier assembly are still clean. Like at 500 rounds, there is still a small amount of carbon on the bolt carrier assembly, but in just handling the carrier I accidentally wiped away some of the fouling.
DAY Three - 7/21/11 - Sunny and 88 F
I finished testing the M6SL with 300 rounds of Federal XM193 ball. The shooting was done at fifteen and five yards on multiple targets. I fired two magazines of 60 rounds in fast, multiple target drills, stopped to load the magazines, and fired another 60 rounds. The hand guards were warm after 60 quickly fired rounds, but comfortably held with bare hands. The hand guards were hot by the third magazine, and too hot to touch with bare hands after the fourth. I also ran 125 rounds in similar fashion through my M6A1 6.8. The thicker barrel and railed hand guards seemed to handle the heat better, but they were still fairly warm. After letting the SL cool I fired another 120 rounds, let it cool, then another 60 rounds. There were no malfunctions on day three.
I fired a total of 1000 rounds through the M6SL on three range days; most of the firing was aggressive and would almost be considered magazine dumps. After the initial wipe down and lubrication, I did not clean or lubricate the rifle during the 1000 rounds fired. Once the rifle was cool enough, I would put it back in the shipping box and leave it in the back of my truck, which does have a locking shell.
Upon my return from the range I field stripped the rifle and took pictures of the rifle’s components. I’ve been shooting LWRC rifles since 2006 so there were no surprises for me. The rifle was still pretty clean, there was some carbon fouling on the bolt, bolt carrier, back into the trigger and hammer assemblies, and on the buffer. This carbon comes from the chamber and barrel extension, and since I had the rifle piping hot on several occasions, this is not unexpected. None of the carbon was baked on and was easily removed by a rag and nylon brush. The barrel extension and bore were dirty but cleaned up easily with some Slip2000 Gun Degreaser and a few rotations of a chamber brush and 10 passes with nylon bore brush. I followed up with a little Slip2000 EWL and the rifle looked almost new. The first pictures are of the rifle after 1000 rounds fired.
The second set of pictures is after a quick clean
There have been discussions and controversy in the past about piston guns and carrier tilt, cam pin gouging, barrel extension gouging, and parts breaking. There was very little internal wear in the rifle, no carrier tilt gouging in the action tube, no cam pin gouging, and the barrel extension looked great. There were a few areas with very minor surface wear that occurs with use. I have seen Colt M4’s with fewer rounds with more wear around the cam pin area in the upper receiver and charging handle wear than with this rifle.
I took pictures of the components before and after cleaning. What was apparent to me is how little the rifle was fouled after 1000 rounds. It took me less than 30 minutes to clean the rifle, and I was taking my time, taking pictures, and trying to figure out how to switch my camera to the macro setting. By no means did this rifle even need the maintenance and I believe it would have fired at least another 1000 rounds without cleaning or adding lubrication.
My opinion of the M6SL after this test is very positive. It has all of LWRC’s quality for less money and lighter weight than their other models. It is very light, easy to shoot, exhibits minimal recoil and muzzle climb, is reliable, and very clean. I think it would make an ideal rifle for Law Enforcement patrol work. The only downside to the SL is the thinner barrel and plastic MOE hand guards heat up a little faster than LWRC’s heavier rifles. Adding a Mapgul AFG and using gloves will negate much of this.
Thanks again to Matt at Northwest Tactical for providing the rifle and making this test possible.