Brownells shook up the retro scene when they introduced a modern clone of the original AR-10, called the BRN-10. It hearkened back to the very rare original Armalite but made it affordable and accessible to the average man. Sadly, it was discontinued, but it is still a unique rifle that deserves a deeper look.
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There are not any terms to this review that need to be disclosed. I wanted one of these so I bought one, and thought it was worth sharing with you all. This review would not have been possible without the one and only Keith Ford of Brownells, who found this rifle for me and made it possible for me to buy it.
Everyone knows Armalite for their successful AR-15 design, but fewer people know that it derived from the earlier AR-10 design. It is hard to overstate how forward-thinking the AR-10 was when it was introduced in 1956. This lightweight, aluminum rifle arrived at the same time that Elvis first entered the music charts and NBC unveiled their Peacock logo. Guns were made of wood and steel and looked more or less the same as their predecessors but with small changes. The AR-10 was a wild departure from the norm. Its straight-line recoil path reduced muzzle flip by putting the barrel directly in line with the shooter’s shoulder. The iron sights were raised well above the barrel, with the rear sight integrated into a carry handle.
Various countries did adopt the AR-10 in small numbers, and its most well-known use was by the Portuguese in their Guerra do Ultramar, or “Overseas War” in their colonial possessions in Africa. Reportedly, the AR-10 was extremely popular with the troops who carried it, though it was ultimately replaced by G3-pattern rifles.
Brownells made two versions, the BRN-10A with brown furniture and a fluted barrel, and the BRN-10B with black furniture and a pencil barrel. I opted for the B-model, which is described as closer to the Portuguese spec because it is lighter than the A-model. Brownells lists the weight difference between the models as about one pound. The muzzle has standard 5/8×24 threads, with a birdcage-style flash hider. The A-model had a flash hider with open tines.
One nonstandard feature of the BRN-10 is the magazine fitment. “It’s an AR-10, what do you mean the magazines are weird?” Well, dear reader, the world of .308 AR-10/SR-25 magazines is complicated. Common Magpul LR/SR magazines do not fit because they are shaped for a shorter, slanted magazine well. Lancer mags do not fit either.
That leaves metal SR-25 style magazines as the only option. Brownells included an aluminum 20-round mag that looks like an overgrown Okay Surefeed 20 rounder, but it does not run 100%. Both Duramag and E-Lander steel magazines work and drop free. I also purchased an ASC mag, and it would not even latch into place. So stick to Duramag and E-Lander if you are lucky enough to own a BRN-10.
On The Range
Shooting the BRN-10 is simultaneously familiar yet very strange. The handling is very similar to an M-16A1 thanks to the 20-inch pencil barrel, fixed A1 stock, and carry handle but the manual of arms is different because of the trigger-style charging handle. Moving the charging handle to the modern location was a good design decision for functionality, but there is a certain charm to the old one.
Recoil is more pronounced with the BRN-10 than with a 5.56 model. This is a light rifle, and .308 is a real rifle caliber. It is not abusive though, and it can be fired quickly while still maintaining control. Accuracy is good as well, hovering around 2 MOA with most loads. This is not a match rifle and I have not attempted to make a special hand load for it, but it may be capable of better with custom ammunition.
The BRN-10 is an iron sights only gun; there is no way to mount optics without some kind of major modification to the rifle, which would ruin its classic character. Thankfully, the iron sights are good. They are a strange blend of A1 and A2 sights, with an A2-style elevation wheel but a windage adjustment that requires tools. The front sight is fixed and cannot be moved as is common on other ARs.
Though it is not what would traditionally be considered a hunting rifle, I did take the BRN-10 along on an elk hunt last year as a camp rifle. It is light, quick handling, and could be used for elk, coyotes, or wendigos encountered on the way to the latrine. After some heated debate, it also was used for a brief shooting bet, which it won by hitting a certain rock at little more than 300 yards.
Unfortunately, the discontinuation of the BRN-10 means they are only available on the secondhand market. They do remain far and away the most affordable way to experience the original AR-10. If you want a piece of history that you won’t feel bad shooting, the BRN-10 may be a good fit for you.