One of the fastest growing segments of competitive shooting is 3-gun. The rifles that dominate this high-speed, dynamic, obviously enjoyable and potentially lucrative game are all based on the AR-15 platform. For many years, if you wanted a rifle with any chance at winning, you had to buy and modify one or build it from scratch. My, how times have changed—and for the better!
There's little doubt the popularity of 3-gun is spreading, especially when you consider one of America's oldest firearm manufacturers now has a hand in creating guns specifically tailored to the game. By that I mean Colt.
Colt has always had some presence in the shooting sports. Like many other shooters, my first AR was a Colt, and it made a fine competition rifle for both service-rifle matches and 3-gun events. But now Colt, in association with the Canby, OR, company Bold Ideas, is making an even stronger commitment to competitors by producing a first-rate, purpose-built rifle for 3-gun. Bold Ideas, part of Warne Scope Mounts and headed by 3-gun pro Dave Wilcox, has secured a licensing agreement from Colt to build two models under the Colt Competition Rifle brand.
At the core of the top-end Colt Pro CRP-18 and the less-expensive Colt Expert CRE-18 are precision-fit, forged upper and lower receivers that yield very little movement between the two halves. Several game-ready upgrades on the Pro set the two rifles apart and contribute to the $430 difference in MSRPs.
Contained within the Pro's lower is the Geissele Super 3 Gun (S3G) trigger. The S3G combines a pull weight of about 3.5 pounds with a short travel distance and reset. Designed for delivering multiple, precise shots at close targets, it has become widely accepted in the 3-gun community.
The furniture attached to the lower comes from Magpul. While the grip and trigger guard are from the MOE line, the buttstock is a CTR unit with six positions and a friction lock. Although the CTR buttstock has hosts of fans, it is not my first choice. As a man who sports facial hair, I get annoyed at having it plucked when caught between the exposed buffer tube and the sliding stock. The clean-shaven should have no problems.
The Colt Pro's flattop upper sports more high-quality-part goodness. Its match-grade barrel is 18 inches long with a 1:8-inch twist. With the popular .223 Wylde chamber, it has the versatility to shoot accurately with both 5.56 NATO and .223 Rem. ammunition. Bold Ideas would only tell me the light-contour, stainless steel barrel was proprietary when I asked about its origin. Perhaps proprietary is a code word for super accurate, because the tube certainly did not disappoint me during testing.
A bit of "bling" dresses up the muzzle end of the barrel in the form of polishing and pocket fluting before ending at a SureFire brake. The company's MB556K is a well-known muzzle-control device used by many top-ranked 3-gunners. Not only does it work to reduce muzzle rise and recoil, but it also readily accepts SureFire sound suppressors.
The rifle-length gas system is directed into action by an innovative, adjustable gas block created by Bold Ideas. Adjustable gas blocks on ARs are not new, but this one can be incrementally adjusted externally without the use of tools. Not only are adjustments simple to make, they are also repeatable. The system makes tuning the gas flow to match your loads a breeze, not to mention how well it dovetails with the use of a suppressor.
Keeping the gas block and most of the barrel under cover, and giving you something to wrap your hand around, are 15 inches of free-floating handguard. While the handguard is labeled "Colt Competition," it is plain to see this is one of the exceptional Evolution models from Samson Manufacturing.
Gas impinges on the standard-weight bolt carrier though a properly staked gas key, and the bolt has been proofed and magnetic-particle tested. A charging handle fitted with an oversize tactical latch from Badger Ordnance helps the shooter manually draw the bolt carrier group rearward. The extra finger room provided by the extended latch is particularly appreciated when having to manipulate the charging handle with a scope aboard the upper receiver.
I expected a lightweight bolt carrier as part of the racing nature of this rifle, especially since the gas flow can be adjusted to make it run well. Perhaps the thinking behind running a standard-weight component was reliability first, because you have to finish the race to win.
Although the Colt Pro is designed for 3-gun competition, if it were pressed into service as a varminter, the rifle would surely make short work of your choice of pests. The 18-inch barrel provides plenty of velocity to maintain the dramatic terminal ballistics of most varmint bullets, and it will group them well inside 1 MOA. The 1:8-inch-twist barrel will also stabilize heavy, hunting-type bullets for medium-size game like deer.
But let's say you have those applications covered with other rifles. Would not this medium-weight, suppressor-ready semi-automatic complete with collapsible buttstock and room for lights and lasers make a nice home-defense unit? As a top-ranked 3-gun competitor, I have some experience with fast-handling carbines, and the Colt Pro certainly qualifies. In any ballistic endeavor, it is important to match the load to the task. Several manufacturers offer ammunition appropriate for home defense, and the Colt Pro handles it effectively. The rifle's features excel in competition, but they do not preclude it from being versatile for other tasks.
No doubt Colt and Bold Ideas have assembled a great set of parts, but how does the finished product shoot? Very well. So well, in fact, that each rifle, including the lower-priced Expert, comes with bragging rights in the form of a test target proving it can deliver a three-shot group of less than an inch at 100 yards. They say it ain't bragging if you can do it.
Before heading to the range for accuracy testing, I affixed the best optic and mount I had on hand in hopes of not embarrassing myself against the test target. That tall order fell to IOR Valdada's Eliminator LTS set in one of the company's one-piece, AR-specific mounts. To further improve my chances of duplicating the test target's accuracy, I waited for the best weather window, and employed front and rear sandbags.
Those steps, along with a substantial amount of good luck and patience, paid off. The Colt Pro proved it could shoot sub-MOA groups with all but one brand of ammo I tried. Keep in mind I gauged the rifle's accuracy through five-shot groups, not just three shots like the provided test target. The best single-group performance was with a handload using Sierra's 69-grain MatchKing bullet, which punched a nice cluster that measured only.560 inch. The same load turned in a five-group average of .858 inch, but Hornady's Steel Match load with its 55-grain hollow-point bullet wasn't far behind.
Beyond the static benchmark of accuracy, I put the Colt Pro through various drills to get a feel for how it might perform under match conditions. I punished plate racks and poppers, dueling trees and paper. In almost every instance, the rifle had me smiling. In all, I sent more than 350 rounds downrange without a malfunction of any kind. To the rifle's credit, just about every shot went exactly where I wanted it. When one didn't, I only had to look in the mirror for the problem. That is my kind of tool.
From top to bottom and front to back, the Colt Pro rifle has been built using some of the finest parts available, each hand-picked to perform as a cohesive unit in pursuit of excellence. It's exciting to see the historic icon that is Colt teaming up with the new crew at Bold Ideas to create this special series of competition rifles. Although it has been awhile since the old-line gunmaker used this phrase, it fits now more than ever: Quality makes it a Colt.