Left-Handed AR-15 Round-Up

posted on September 15, 2014

My first experience with left-handed rifles started with a suppressed .22 LR AR-15 that I got to try at a range. The first round I fired—from the right shoulder—rewarded me with smoke in my face and ejecta on my safety glasses. "Is this how poor left-handed shooters get treated by regular guns?" I wondered while looking for a way to clean the lenses. Since many of my friends are left-handed, I started collecting guns they can use safely and comfortably. The AR-15 platform is particularly suitable for this task because of the modularity.

Rock River Arms’ LAR-15LH was moderately priced and the most lefty-friendly of rifles tested.

I was able to compare three rifles side by side: the Rock River Arms LAR15LH Operator, the Stag Arms left-hand carbine and the Faxon Firearms ARAK21, a long-stroke piston rifle using AR-compatible lowers. Each of the three fills a slightly different niche, so I will compare them in total and then in detail.

The 8-pound Rock River LAR15LH comes ready for heavy action with iron sights already installed. The wide railed fore-end, the over-size trigger guard and the robust collapsible stock with a wide recoil pad make it comfortable to fire in heat, cold or heavy sustained fire. The buttpad can slide down to expose a storage compartment for batteries. The muzzle brake on the medium weight left-hand twist barrel is effective without being obnoxious. The trigger was noticeably better than standard for an AR-15. It even came with three forward sling loops, at the bottom and each side. Instead of a bayonet lug, it has a short Picatinny rail segment, perfect for lights, lasers or combination units like the Viridian X5L RS shown. The forward placement close to the barrel reduces aiming offset for the laser and occlusion by the barrel for the light beam. Safety lever is on the right only, while the magazine release is accessible from both sides. As configured from the factory, the rifle I tested has a folding front sight but a non-folding rear, making it suitable for red dot sights but not scopes. The rear sight is removable with tools and may be replaced with a folding type if needed. The LAR15LH barrel, barrel extension (lugs and coining to accommodate left-handed bolt rotation), dedicated lefty charging handle, bolt carrier group and bolt catch are all unique to the southpaw rifle. Rock River also uses reversible (on my rifle) or ambidextrous charging handles, safety selectors, and mag catches. The rifle is listed at $1,360 and left-hand upper is available for around $565 to about $850, depending on the selected features.

Placement of the non-reciprocating charging handle allows more flexibility in the upper configuration.

Stag 2TL is a slightly lighter carbine, dropping a half-pound with M4-style barrel and telescoping stock. Unlike the RRA gun, it retains right-hand magazine release and bolt stop, switching only the safety lever side. It comes with a fixed front sight and an excellent A.R.M.S. 40L folding rear sight. The trigger is standard Mil-Spec. The bayonet lug is standard, and both bottom and right side front sling loops are provided. At $1,155 as configured, it's the most economical option of the three. The upper alone is $730.

Faxon ARAK21 is a long stroke piston of AK-type mated to AR-15 ergonomics and parts. Unlike the RRA gun, it uses parts common to both left and right hand variants with the exception of the actual upper receiver. The main feature of the ARAK21 besides the piston operation is the quick-change barrel. Removing six bolts with a hex wrench separates the lower handguard, and the barrel comes out with its piston attached. A barrel of different length, profile or caliber (.300 AAC Blackout is available now, 7.62x39 mm is coming shortly) can be exchanged in seconds. The original barrel can also be removed for easier cleaning: zero is retained after re-installation. The gas system is adjustable, with the caveat of reading the manual first. Since the "fire", "suppressed", "adverse conditions" and "remove for cleaning" positions aren't clearly marked, I've launched a couple of gas regulators downrange so far. The controls depend on the lower, which is available separately from the upper. My sample retained right-handed safety, mag release and bolt stop, but all-left-side controls are an option. A non-reciprocating charging handle is in the fore-end and is available with standard and over-size handles. It can be moved from left to right in moments without tools or disassembly. That placement enables a completely enclosed receiver back, making ARAK21 the clear winner for suppressed use: no gas blowback that plagues conventions ARs with openings for the rear charging handle, and adjustable gas flow.

With a comparable barrel, the ARAK21 upper is 18 ounces heavier than a standard AR upper, and the Picatinny rail is .4 inches taller. With fixed-mount scopes like ACOG, it throws off the BDC accuracy slightly, but also enables the use of lower rings with other scopes. The return spring is located in the receiver, so Faxon lowers can use folding stocks and fire from transport position if necessary. Triggers are on par with RRA, a good deal better than standard AK-47-pattern triggers. The ARAK21 is the most expensive of the three at $1,899 or $1,199 for the upper, but a wide variety of extra barrels can be added for only $400 each. Most of the barrels are threaded and come with removable brakes or flash hiders of Faxon's own design. Those require no expendable washers for installation. While ARAK21 uppers fit any AR-15 lower, it feels best with Faxon's receiver, the lines of which match the upper perfectly.

In terms of overall firing comfort, ARAK21 wins with the lowest recoil and least gas blowback. The degree of superiority is even more drastic when used with sound suppressors. It also wins the easy of storage with the ability to use folding stocks. Although it has no visible shell deflector, ARAK21 was as safe for a right-handed shooter to use as the other two: it ejected forward and slightly down, missing the support arm. RRA and Faxon tie for the best trigger as shipped. Both RRA and Stag ship with sights, while ARAK21 does not. Stag is the lightest of the three, RRA isn't far behind. ARAK is noticeably heavier.

Faxon’s ARAK21 had the most modularity of the three rifles tested but also the highest price.

The accuracy comparison is difficult to make. The two direct impingement rifles were tested with red dot sights and typical defensive ammunition, 55-grain ball and 62-grain green-tip ammunition from several makers. Both consistently shot around 2 MOA in that configuration, with a slight advantage to heavier bullets and slightly thicker barrel of the RRA. The accuracy of the ARAK21 is almost entirely the function of the specific barrel, and so it's difficult to rate the system in general. With pencil thin .223 Rem. barrel and 55-grain ball, 3 MOA was typical even using 6X scope. With a medium barrel and 62-grain hunting loads, 2.5 MOA was more typical. Medium .300 AAC Blackout barrel was more accurate at just under 2 MOA. Shooters who use heavy .223 Rem. barrels with match ammunition and higher magnification scopes report 1 MOA. I have not conducted a sufficiently systematic accuracy test with multiple ammo loads to make definitive pronouncements, but it appears that all three are plenty accurate for the intended purpose. The ARAK21 is by far the most versatile, especially since the barrels may be shared between right and left handed uppers. Stag Arms also offers a matching left-hand .22 LR upper, making the combination a good training setup for those who have spotty access to rifle-rated ranges.

Maintenance is more familiar to us on the two conventional DI rifles, but ARAK21 can be taken further down to individual components, has fewer loose small parts and generally runs cleaner. When looking at the European rifles unavailable here, like Brno 805, it's good to remember that a similar but even more modular option is made right in the US.

The sum of the comparison testing is that Stag Arms 2TL is the lightweight, no-frills inexpensive choice that works well. A little more weight and slightly more money get the beefed up Rock River rifle with more left-hand controls and slightly better accuracy. At the heavier and more expensive end of the scale, Faxon ARAK21 is the premium system able to support multiple calibers and configurations, suppressed use and more rounds before cleaning. Each of them is good enough to take to a hunt or into a firefight, and each has unique advantages. Oh, and Faxon seems to win in the numbers and loudness with which the current owners of ARAK21 rifles, left or right handed, try to convince others of its virtues.


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