I love an AR-15 with a carry handle. This love started early, with my first gun, the Armi Jager AP-15. It is mostly forgotten today, but it was one of the most realistic .22LR copies of the AR-15 in its day. Let’s take a look at what this rifle is and whether it is worth owning today.
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I learned about the AP-15 while looking at guns on a dial-up Иnternet connection when I was in middle school. Eventually, I found one while I was at a gun show with my Dad. We made a deal where I mowed the lawn 20 times at $10 a pop to pay him back. This AP-15 came home with me and was my constant companion on range trips.
Rimfire conversions have a long history. Famous military rifles like the Lee Enfield and Swiss K-31 were converted into .22 trainers. Colt also made a conversion bolt and magazine kit to fire .22 LR in a standard AR-15 rifle. But conversion guns are expensive because they take the actual gun and add the expense of adapting it to rimfire.
Another method is building a gun that mimics the original while being designed as a rimfire. This is the approach taken by the AP-15. It is built from the ground up as a .22 but it closely resembles the original M-16. The resulting gun is much less expensive than a conversion but still similar in feel.
The charging handle and bolt take down just like the real M-16 for cleaningArmi Jager produced the AP-15 in Italy. Various models were imported, including one with wood furniture and a carbine model. Armi Jager also made rimfire and .32 ACP copies of guns like the FAMAS and Galil. Some were “Mitchell” branded as well.
The most notable feature is the visual similarity to the original M-16. The size and weight are pretty close to the real deal. From the flash hider to the furniture, this rifle feels like the gun it imitates. It has a 20-inch barrel, iron sights that are roughly equivalent to the original, and sling swivels that accept a USGI web sling.
Be sure not to lose the takedown pin, which is not captive
The charging handle latch works the same as a real one
On closer inspection, there are some obvious differences though. The safety is in the right place, but it is oriented wrong. The bolt hold open is in about the right place as well but it is a small stud that slides up and down rather than the “ping pong paddle” seen on a true AR.
The “fire” position is inverted, which is very annoying if you have fired tens of thousands of rounds with a real AR-15
The bolt catch is a small stud rather than the ubiquitous ping pong paddleThe biggest change though is the magazine. A small, 15-round magazine that looks like it belongs in a Ruger Mark II (or similar rimfire pistol) is hidden inside a false 20-round AR magazine. The fake magazine is permanently built into the gun. The magazine release is a small button disguised to look like a screw on the side of the false magazine.
The actual magazine looks like any number of rimfire pistol magazines
On The Range
The AP-15 is fun to shoot. It legitimately feels like an M-16 in the hand, with the triangle handguards and 3-prong flash hider. A mounting hole is included on the carry handle so some optics mounts can be made to fit. It is not dimensioned the same as a true carry handle, but a simple clamp-on rail usually works. Just don’t expect an ACOG to be a perfect direct fit like it is on a real carry handle.
The biggest problem with the AP-15 is the magazine. Spares are very expensive and very finicky. They only seem to function 100% when downloaded to 7-10 rounds. At full capacity, there will be malfunctions, regardless of the ammunition used.
The accuracy is pretty good but not great. The trigger is fine, but not incredible. It is well suited for shooting water bottles while engaged in We Were Soldiers LARPing. I have picked off menacing rocks, clay targets, and pieces of trash out to 200 yards or so. This is not a gun for dropping prairie dogs at extended ranges but it is accurate enough for plinking use.
One major shortcoming of the AP-15 is ammunition sensitivity. It generally works best with cheaper bulk pack .22 LR ammo. CCI Mini Mags, which are the gold standard of common .22 ammo, induce malfunctions in the AP-15. Generally, Mini Mags are the ammo to use if you want to rule out bad ammo in a semiauto .22 LR. Unfortunately, that is not the case for the AP-15.
My best guess at the cause of malfunctions with hot ammo is a weak recoil spring. The bolt seems to be traveling to the rear and rebounding back forward so quickly that it catches the empty case before it clears the action. Sometimes the case sticks above the round entering the chamber, which is a pain to clear.
Velocity numbers tend to be a little lower than advertised on ammunition boxes despite the 20-inch barrel. Winchester M22 40-grain averages 1,135 FPS, Federal Champion 36-grain averages 1,203 FPS, and CCI Mini Mag 40-grain averages 1,246 FPS.
Failure to extract, with the empty case stuck above a live round
The AP-15 has been overshadowed by newer clones like the M&P15-22. However, it does remain a fun way to experience a classic retro rifle without spending thousands of dollars. The controls are similar enough to make it a useful training tool for shooters not yet ready for a .223 rifle. It probably is not worth the prices seen on GunBroker for these, but if you happen across one in a pawn shop for a couple hundred bucks, it would be a shame to let it go.