Brownells BRN-180S – The Pistol Configuration Performance (Part 2 of 3)

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Brownells BRN-180S - The Pistol Configuration Performance
Brownells BRN-180S – The Pistol Configuration Performance

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- In Part 1 of the BRN-180 article I made the comparison between chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and this new product from Brownells was offered up to you.  Well, the cookies have been baked now, are out of the oven, and have cooled on the rack.  It’s time to grab a glass of milk and hit the range.

The first thing I did was take the flash hider that came stock on the 10.5” BRN-180 upper and toss it over my shoulder.  I replaced it with the ASR mount from SilencerCo so I could employ the Omega 36M can I’d wanted to get my hands on for months now.  The beauty of this can is the flexibility in such a conservatively sized package.  While I could configure this as a “K” style short can, I left it in the full-length configuration and opted to run it as is in “QD” mode.  The Quick Detach flash hider allowed me to spin the 36M on quickly and consistently.

When running test ammo through a .223/5.56 rig, I try to offer it cheaper fodder as well as full power ammo.  I can’t expect this to work for the masses if I don’t push the boundaries a bit with all kinds of ammunition.  A safe assumption could be made in most cases, but every time I skip that step it seems to bite me in the posterior.  I tested everything from Wolf Polyformance steel-cased 55gr, to American Eagle 62gr, to both M855 and M193.  I had some 45gr varmint loads in a box I tried as well as some 69gr Federal Gold Medal Match.  I’m pleased to tell you that from the Lancer L5AWM 30rd smoke mags, the BRN-180 upper ate them all.

Brownells BRN-180S - The Pistol Configuration Build Up
Brownells BRN-180S – The Pistol Configuration

I get particular about the magazines I use.  Very particular.  Too few realize the magazine is an absolutely vital part of the weapon.  More than a handful of weapons that have come into my shop for repair over the years had nothing wrong with them beyond a poor magazine.  Whether the quality was low, the spring had weakened, or the feed lip was bent or damaged, they can easily lead to failures.  Many a first-rate weapon has been reduced to a paperweight by virtue of an inoperable or otherwise junk magazine.  Don’t skimp on magazine quality.  Additionally, magazines have a service life in many cases.  When they have lived a long life and seen a lot of use, cycle them out of your rotation.

This BNR-180 was specified in the 10.5” configuration, but Brownells sells 16” and 18.5” uppers also.  If you’re not interested in the pistol build route, or the SBR, grab one of the other two uppers, and place it atop your AR-15 lower receiver, and you’re in business.  Brilliant idea by the way.  I love that Brownells designed this to run on AR-15 lowers…  This opens up huge possibilities when you have a short-stroke piston upper that is self-contained.

In full disclosure, I’m not horrible on equipment the way some of my customers are, but I’m also what many would consider ‘unkind’ by comparison to ‘normal’ people.  I simply looked this upper over with a microscope, lubed it, and haven’t cleaned it since I began testing.  The bolt looks a bit rough at this point, and I’m about 2600rds into the testing.  Honestly, I’m not sure how far I’ll go.  I haven’t experienced a stoppage or failure of any kind yet.  I have routinely used the weapon with and without the can attached.  I like doing this so that I may ascertain whether or not gas system pressures in short barrels become problematic.  Thus, far no problems.  Frankly, there shouldn’t be.

I’m getting pretty routine “real world” accuracy from the BRN-180.  Some ammo offers better performance than others, but anywhere from 50 to 100 yards, you can put all your rounds through a grapefruit with non-magnified sights – I’m using a Sig Romeo 5 I had snagged from Primary Arms.  Some of you might squawk about that not being accurate enough.  If I placed a 15x scope on this, laid it out across sandbags, and used my concrete shooting benches, of course, the accuracy would improve.  But I’m not the kind of shooter, gunsmith, or writer that shoots for an afternoon and takes a picture of the best 3 shot group of the day and offers it.  I’d rather relay to you what you can expect day in and day out and offer a truly fair representation of the performance.  I have noticed the bolt looks a bit nasty, but that is to be expected after 2600 rounds and no cleaning.  I’ve shot less on prairie dog trip out west with a suppressed AR and seen far worse.

I have noticed the bolt looks a bit nasty, but that is to be expected after 2600 rounds and no cleaning.
I have noticed the BRN-180S bolt looks a bit nasty, but that is to be expected after 2600 rounds and no cleaning.

I can’t discern between the 36M suppressor being on or off other than nose weight.  Noise too of course…  This upper cycles without flaw whether the can is attached or not.  It doesn’t seem to require a ton of lube either.  I kept having dreams of how this would cycle if I modified it to run in auto, but that’ll have to wait for another day.  Just like any piston-driven upper, especially with the can attached, you’ll notice some smoke lingering after a full magazine has been expended. That’s pretty normal.

Just like any piston-driven upper, especially with the can attached, you’ll notice some smoke lingering after a full magazine has been expended.
Just like any piston-driven upper, especially with the can attached, you’ll notice some smoke lingering after a full magazine has been expended.

I had high hopes for the Brownells BRN-180 upper, and there haven’t been any disappointments.  There was one thing I needed to get used to however.  The bolt handle is eerily similar to that of an AK or Galil.  It pretty much mirrors the original AR-18.  It took me a long time to stop automatically reaching for a charging handle at the aft of the upper receiver.  There are two schools of thought I’ve been lectured on here – one says I should be reaching under the weapon while rotating the magazine inboard using my off hand and cycling the bolt, the other is tilting the weapon magazine outboard and reaching over the top.  Frankly, I found it quicker and easier for me to reach over the top to cycle the bolt.  However, I’m not prepared to make that a blanket statement.  There could be tried and true reasons to do this differently depending on configuration, intended use, etc.

So far these are the best chocolate chip oatmeal cookies I’ve had in a long time.  Darned yummy and quite welcome!  I covered the build-up and parts in the first part of this 3-part series, and we’ve now covered range application, function, performance, and some ergonomics.  The final installment will cover overall impressions and the real-world application as a truck gun.  Could this fill the role of side folding 5.56 AR pistol I’ve wanted for years now in a configuration that is easy on the wallet and light in weight?  I’ll lend you my thoughts in the final article in this 3-part series.  Thus far, it looks promising.

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About Michael Ware:Michael Ware

Michael is a Christian husband and father to two children. He owns and operates Controlled Chaos Arms, a premier custom weapons shop in the Midwest. He serves as Chairman of the board of Directors at the Iowa Firearms Coalition. The pursuit of truth drives him in research and his writing.

Michael enjoys shooting, hunting, and fishing throughout the Midwest and Rockies. An avid outdoorsman and tireless supporter of all Second Amendment virtues, he can be found in his gun shop, in a tree stand with his kids, or on Capitol Hill lobbying in support of Freedom and Liberty at any given time.

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Brian (Rev) Norris
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Thanks for the article Sir.