Tom reviews the brand new Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 Rifle model.
USA –-(Ammoland.com)- How would you like to own an original Colt AR-15 Model 601? You know, the first ones made starting back in 1959? Yeah? Me too. Well, we can’t do that. However, one of you will become the proud parent of this Brownells Retro BRN-601 AR-15 rifle. As Elvis said in 1960, It’s Now or Never. But wait! It gets better. There will be a secret accessory if you can even call it that, and we will highlight it in next month’s newsletter. Here’s a hint. It makes a big boom. OK, one more clue. They used these in Vietnam.
The original AR-15 Model 601 dates back to December 1959 when Colt began a three-year production run of about 14,500 rifles after acquiring the rifle from Armalite. Many carried stamps of “Colt Armalite” on the receiver. Most went to the United States Air Force with about 1,000 going to the U.S. Army. Even small quantities went to the SEALS and various foreign military forces.
You can spot one of these rifles from a distance thanks to the distinctive olive-green buttstock and triangular fiberglass handguard. The slab-sided receiver is also a dead giveaway with its integrated carry handle. There are lots of other small differences between the 601 and the current crop of AR-15 rifles. Let’s take a tour of this spiffy retro rifle from Brownells.
For starters, it features a 20-inch barrel. Part of the original design goal of the AR-15 / M16 rifles was to break that 3,000-fps barrier with the small and light bullets and those extra four inches make a big difference.
I set up a Shooting Chrony 15 feet ahead of the muzzle and clocked the first ten rounds out of this rifle using American Eagle AR-223 55-grain FMJ. Interestingly, the first four shots were in the high 2,900 feet per second range, but from shot five on, the velocities always beat 3,000 feet per second. I’m guessing that those first shots smoothed out any manufacturing residue from the bore. Anyway, the average worked out to 3,106 feet per second. To put that in perspective, I’ve measured the exact same ammo in the 2,750 to 2,850 range from various 16-inch barreled AR-15 rifles. That extra four inches of length makes a noticeable difference.
In a nod to modern practicality, the twist rate is 1:12. At the time, the intent was to fire lighter, and more importantly shorter, 55-grain bullets that would tumble when they hit a target, so the originals features a 1:14 rate. After a couple of years of production, the twist rate on the originals was tweaked to 1:12. Also a modern convenience, the bore is chrome-lined so maintenance will be easier and it’ll hold up over time. At the end, you’ll see a unique three-pronged flash hider. The “duckbill” shape looks like something out of old Buck Rogers films.
Like the original 601, this one comes with a 20-round steel magazine. So, it’s not as scary as a 30-round version, but it does have a bayonet lug! Notably absent is a forward assist. Mr. Stoner didn’t see a need for those in the original design, and it was only after the “gubermint” switched to a dirtier, non-spec powder that they were added to future versions.
The buttstock is fixed, and that keeps the overall length of this rifle at 40 inches, like it or not. I guess the military of the 60s was the same as always. “We’ll offer whatever size you need, as long as it’s this one.” Both buttstock and front handguard are olive green. If you appreciate the whole retro thing, as I do, it’s just cool. Love it.
Everything else should be familiar to the AR aficionado. If you’re into nit-picky details, you’ll notice that this reproduction version uses a modern safety and bolt catch lever. The charging handle looks like the original with its triangular-shaped head.
The sights are iron with a fixed front sight gas block and aperture in the rear of the carrying handle. The front adjusts for elevation and the rear moves side to side for windage adjustments.
The first thing you’ll notice when hefting this rifle is that its light. Really light. Maybe I’m just used to lugging around AR -15s with optics, slings, and other heavy things bolted onto them. Whatever the reason, this one is effortless to hold and maneuver. The official weight is 6 pounds, 11 ounces, but it sure feels lighter than that.
I did all my first range visit shooting with American Eagle’s AR 223 ammo. Among all the specialty .223 ammo I had lying around, this seemed to be the most true-to-original. I didn’t want to test this rifle with heavier match loads given the 1:12 twist rate.
I set up mini-silhouette targets at 50 yards and fired a couple of quick five-shot groups to see how the irons were adjusted. Both groups were a few inches low and left, so I made two different adjustments. On this 601, there’s a dial on the right side of the carry handle which moves the rear aperture sight left and right. It’s checked by a spring-loaded pin, so once you set it, the sight won’t drift on you. I moved about four clicks right, meaning I moved the impact point to the right. For elevation, I used a front sight tool to rotate the front sight blade clockwise. It’s also locked in place with a spring-loaded pin. The tool presses that pin down which allows you to rotate the sight blade itself, moving it up or down as required. Since my shots were hitting low, I turned the front sight down to move the group up.
Once I had the sights reasonably well adjusted, I fired a couple of quick five-shot groups from 50 yards. Considering that my eyesight on open sights stinks these days and I had a somewhat blurry iron sight picture, I still measured 1.01 and 1.67-inch groups for the first two I tried. Not too shabby at all and if you can see better than I can, I suspect you can improve on those numbers.
The Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 carries an MSRP of $1,299.99, but that won’t matter to one of you as AmmoLand News is giving this rifle away. Be sure to enter; you just might win this one. Next time we’ll have it, let’s say, somewhat reconfigured with more goodies. If you win, you’ll get those too.
Tom McHale is the author of the Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.