Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 Rifle Review & Giveaway Tease

Tom reviews the brand new Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 Rifle model. Keep an eye on AmmoLand News as this rifle and a special LMT M203 ‘Grenade” Launcher will be up for grabs in our next product giveaway. <—click link here!

The Brownells BRN-601 is a reproduction of the Colt AR-15 601 model made from 1959 to 1963.
The Brownells BRN-601 is a reproduction of the Colt AR-15 601 model made from 1959 to 1963.

USA –-( 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.

Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 Rifle

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.

Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 Rifle
Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 Rifle

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.

The slab-sided receiver has an integrated carry handle with aperture sight.
The Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 Rifle slab-sided receiver has an integrated carry handle with aperture sight.

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.

Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 Rifle: Note the duckbill three-prong flash hider.
Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 Rifle: Note the duckbill three-prong flash hider.

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.

Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 Rifle. The fixed stock, pistol grip, and handguard are all olive drab.
Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 Rifle. The fixed stock, pistol grip, and handguard are all olive drab.

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 BRN-601 comes with a 20-round steel magazine like the original.
The BRN-601 comes with a 20-round steel magazine like the original.

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 tested the Brownells BRN-601 with 55-grain American Eagle FMJ ammo.
I tested the Brownells BRN-601 with 55-grain American Eagle FMJ ammo.

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.

Even with my bad eyes, it shot just fine.
Even with my bad eyes, it shot just fine.

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.

  • 167 thoughts on “Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 Rifle Review & Giveaway Tease

    1. Not a bad group for irons FMJ at 50 yards. I’m betting it can shoot that well at 100 with light projectiles. If the barrel is chrome lined, it can probably do very well out to 500 yards beyond that who knows with /12″ twist and lightweight projectiles.

    2. Former USMC & Retired Police Sgt. No need for anyone else to enter contest. i will win AR ! LOL Good luck to all…….. This is a fantastic prise Item.

    3. Had to use an M 1 to qualify in basic and until 66when I qualified at Fort Sill. I barely qualified with that pos. At Fort Sill I saw my first m 16. I missed expert by one round because I lost a complete firing order because I loaded that 16 like an M 1. Qualified as expert until I retired after that. Currently have an Armalite 15. Fires beautifully!!!

    4. Entered service in 1963, issued the M30A1 Carbine, 3 weeks in got the M14, and 3 weeks later received the Mi16 to complete Basic, then AIT at Ft.Jackson, SC, then off to Ft Benning, Ga and the ABN School and Air Assault with the 11th Air Assault.
      Great weapon, have to admit I loved the M14 as well.

    5. Lovey guns working on my collection when ever I can and let’s face it free chance to add one more to my collection I’m in who could argue with that am I right lol

      1. Thank you for your service and for helping to keep The United States of America FREE! Go, Air Force! Once a military person always a military person. When I was medically retired from the U. S. Air Force in 1971. I have looked and nowhere does it say “You are now free from your oath”. I am still bound by that oath. Along with the oaths I took for the various Law Enforcing agencies that I served and The oath I took when I became a Colorado Certified Law Enforcement officer. I still serve as a Cold Case Investigations officer.

        1. Bruce. Beautiful attitude and perspective.

          It may be routine now – still even if that is, it is a good thing. But I want to say in all seriousness and gratitude to you: thank you to you and all your brothers in arms that served (and serve) with you.
          One thankful American patriot to another.

          Scot Morrison

    6. I owned a vintage AR-15, marked Colt in 1980. It was one of the first 15s with chrome plated barrel & chamber – used but not used up. It had a rather small exterior diameter and shot groups opened up quite a bit when hot. It was stolen by an unscrupulous dealer. It was left on consignment to sell with four other weapons. He will remain nameless, but he “reported” a burglary, and never paid me the value from his insurance, then quickly declared bankruptcy. I’d love a more modern take on the platform so I entered. I hope to enjoy shooting the prized AR-15 again.

    7. Trained with some worn-out AR-15’s in basic; still, maintaing good sight picture & taking time to SQUEEZE off each round qualified EXPERT..38 out of 40. The replacement M-16A1 & A2 had solved a lot of the problems with rounds “cooking off”; although, the problems with jamming when dirty still presisted. I’m LEFT EYE dominant & have ALWAYS fired left-handed..REALLY ANNOYING to have hot brass flip past your right ear & DOWN your neck in BDU’s even AFTER the A2’s had supposedly built-in lip to “aid brass deflection issues”..
      My unscientific guess with the EXTRA 4 inches of barrel length has more to do with the rounds reaching a HIGHER muzzle velocity by keeping the gas pressures up BEFORE they reached the gas tube in the front sight blade forcing the bolt back against the buffer spring to eject the spent brass then guide the next round into the chamber via the seer lugs on the bolt carrier & possibly better metallurgy in the barrels..

    8. This rifle looks exactly like the rifle I was issued when I arrived in Vietnam for my tour of duty. It shot fantastic once I sighted it in. It was a tack driver from short distances to way out across a valley where my Platoon had a heavy fire fight that lasted for about 6 hours. I don’t think I missed even once during that fire fight. I would love to own one of these rifles.

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