- By Pete Moore
- 17 Comments
- Last updated: 22/11/2017
Since 1988, probably one of the most radical firearms to rise and challenge the law is the hybrid, straightpull rifle. I say hybrid, as and unlike the Blaser R93/ R8 and Strasser etc, which are true sporters; this later group are based on UK legal, military-style battle rifles.
The primary design was the AR15, which lent itself well to this form of production, only really requiring a new un-ported barrel fitted at the factory to make it manually-operated. When compared to other rifles in this class, like the old Saiga M3/4 an AK47 derivative and the ill-fated Ruger Mini 14, the AR is by far the most shootable and accurate. So much so that even though the laymen see them primarily as firearms for Practical and Service Rifle competition, many are sold purely for the ability to shoot tiny little bug-hole groups, be it on paper or vermin.
Though a number of companies were offering this sort of kit, mainly from Olympic Arms in the USA, one name stands out and that’s Southern Gun Co (SGC). Owner Bob Clark decided that he could build a better mouse trap and so his Speedmaster was born! With a flat-topped, widebodied upper receiver that offered ambidextrous cocking handles and a 1-inch diameter, 20-inch fluted barrel, they could really shoot. Plus, the ambi operating (side-cocking) system made them far easier to use and superior at coping with hard extraction (breaking the case from the chamber) with over pressure ammo.
The Speedmaster went through many evolutions and by this time Bob was building his rifles in-house. He then told me he was working on a second generation design that to a degree would address the lack of semi-auto rifles. Called the Lever Release (LR) it challenged what a self-loading rifle is and does! By definition, a selfloading/ semi-auto mechanism fires, extracts, ejects and reloads with just one pull of the trigger; which is cannon! However, if you could stop it at a logical point, then you break the cycle and therefore the legal definition.
First using a blow-back, pistol calibre AR carbine chambered in either 9x19mm or 45ACP, the LR had a newly designed and unique sear system that after each shot, and once the bolt had opened and ejected, was held to the rear; then a separate press of the LR paddle was required, to release it to go forward, feed and chamber. So, for each shot you had to pull and release the trigger, then operate the LR; so, not Section 5. Plus, no parts of the LR could be interchanged with standard straight-pull ARs!
The LR9 (9mm) and later LR45 (45ACP) proved popular and the next logical step was a proper fullbore. At the time, I asked Bob when a 223 Rem version would be appearing and he said never! However, a bit later the LR223 (223 Rem) appeared, using the locking breech of the AR15 and a gas/piston operating system. I asked why he did not go with the original, gas-impingement system of the M16 and he said gas/ piston operation proved better for the LR. It was an awesome design and once you got into the cadence of operation it sped up operation, due to the fact you did not have to hand-cycle the bolt, which also improved shootability!
The rifle, though quite heavy, was short with its 16-inch H-Bar barrel and appeared a normal Speedmaster with a left-hand charger in a slide and a T-handle at the back but no R/H lever. The controls were reversed, with the safety, by necessity, being moved to the right side and the LR paddle being positioned on the left. Being a gas/piston system, the rifle has a dedicated Q/D forend, as it needed to be removed to strip down the operating system for cleaning. It also featured an ejection port cover and case deflector too. When I first tested one, it was a whole different ball game compared to my man-op Speedmaster of the same calibre. It took a bit of getting used to, as you had to remember to press the LR lever after each shot, as there’s a clunk as the action locks open. In pure speed of firing trails, my Speedmaster was a tad faster, but with more disturbance to the shooting position!
Following on from the 223, we now have the LR-308. It’s identical in build, apart from the re-designed Q/D forend and a telescopic, 6-position Magpul butt, as opposed to their PRS butt (Precision Rifle Stock); though like all of SGC’s rifles, the build spec is down to you. It weighs a not inconsiderable 9lbs 10oz (un-scoped). This one came with an Ase Utra QD moderator and muzzle brake, but a standard rifle would just have an AR brake! Feed is from a steel, 10-round mag. The trigger is the standard, AR, which has been smoothed a little and does feel a tad better, but is no Match job!
It sits easily in the shoulder and gives a nose-heavy feel, which is all to the good with a 308; for the test, I used a Rudolph 6-24x50 tactical scope in Warne QD rings. Ammunition went to PPU 168-grain BTHP match, Hornady 178-grain Precision Hunter and some 149-grain, S&B FMJ to represent the more standard fodder. Operation is as follows: slap in the mag and retract the bolt, either by the T-handle or L/H cocker. In this position, it locks to the rear and can only be released by pressing down on the LR lever (left and above the pistol grip). It shuts with a meaty clunk and you can feel the rifle lurch forward!
Of the three ammo types, it was not that keen on the S&B and I stopped using it, however, I think this was down to the build and not the bullet weight! Saying that, it cycled the PPU and Hornady reliably. Accuracy favoured the PPU, which was shooting sub-1-inch @ 100-metres, the Hornady shot 1-inch+, which I thought a bit unusual, especially as the LR-308 has a 1-10- inch twist rate. My ideal load would be a Hornady 168-grain A-MAX, which combined with a better trigger, which it needs, would I reckon be printing around the ½ - ¾-inch mark!
I thought the 16-inch barrel a bit short for a 308 Win, but Bob told me he was thinking of beefing it up a bit and offering other lengths. Something like 20- or 22-inches would be better but then again, for Practical or Service use, the extra weight would be noticeable on unsupported stages. It can also be offered in other 308-based calibres, like 260 Rem, 6.5 Creedmoor etc. On that point some people have bought the 308 gun for boar shooting, where it’s attributes would seem to be of use!
One aspect of this larger calibre LR was the amount of gas coming out of the forend, which was exacerbated with the moderator fitted. Once it has operated the piston, the excess blows through the slots, and a round (enclosed), Hogue-type forend would make it better to shoot. I also tried a polymer Magpul PMAG 10 Gen 3, which did not feed at all. I mentioned this and Bob said that this could be sorted, as it might have something to do with the height of the mag catch shelf. But I have had problems with Magpul’s 10- and 20-rounders in my 223 Speedmaster too. Once the 308 had run in, it proved a very different experience, as initially I’d forgotten to press the LR paddle, my hand going instinctively to the non-existent RH cocking lever. But I soon got my head around that.
For me, the position of the LR lever was not a problem to place my thumb on! However, my colleague found that he was reaching for it all the time, chances are a Magpul M1AD type grip, with infill back strap, would be give a better hand position for lever manipulation. The standard lever is flat but a rolling wave pattern is also available that is more shaped to the thumb.