Steyr AUG Z SP
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- Last updated: 13/12/2016
I first saw and shot the Steyr Mannlicher AUG (Armee-Universal-Gewehr or StG 77) rifle back in the early 1980s and though not the first production bull pup, it was the first time I had ever used this back to front set up. The layout is generally a military requirement that offers a more compact weapon. The idea is simple; there’s no separate butt, instead the receiver does the job and the trigger/grip is moved forward to suit. So your head sits over the action and you can have a long barrel in a far shorter overall package. For example comparing the AUG to a comparable AR15 shows that though both guns have 20” barrels the former is only 30” long whereas the latter is 39”. But the design also has minus points. Operation is not ambidextrous due to the positioning of the ejection port right next to the head and the trigger connects to the firing mechanism (trigger pak) through a remote mechanical linkage. This generally gives a long and mushy pull that doesn’t do a lot for precision.
The AUG’s name comes from the fact that it was designed from the outset as a universal weapons system. The basic chassis remains the same, but barrels of various lengths/weights can be fitted, as they offer a quick change ability. So you can go from a 16” carbine, through the standard 20” rifle right up to a heavy LMG format complete with bipod. You can even turn the gun into a 9mm SMG. Likewise the ejection can be set up for a right or left handed shooter and you have the option of the integral X1.5 compact sight (with irons) or a Picatinny rail for more normal scope use. Feed is from 10, 30 and 42-round magazines and the rifle features a folding vertical fore grip and a 95% polymer trigger group, which is totally detachable.
For many years Steyr have made a civilian version of the AUG, which has sold well across the world. Gary Lamborn, owner of the Sportsman Gun Centre and UK Steyr distributor told me about two years ago there was a possibility that a manually-operated AUG might be on the cards and now it’s a fact.
Called the AUG Z SP (SP indicating its straight-pull, manual action) the rifle is radical looking to say the least. The black stock is all polymer and includes the large, all-in-one trigger guard. The action uses a rotary bolt, similar in concept to the M16, though the rock & rollers use a gas/piston operating system. The 20” barrel shows a medium/heavy profile that passes through an alloy outer body that supports and positions it in the stock and also offers a base for the optics. Unusually the barrel cannot be removed from this as it can on the military gun. Sensibly Sportsman is bringing in the version with the Picatinny mount, though if you want to be authentic you can get the battle optic, but for what we do it’s of little value…
Controls are simple, the safety catch is a cross bolt at the top of the pistol grip, the magazine release is a push-up catch at the rear of the mag well. Cocking is by a sliding handle positioned front left of the outer body that also doubles as the manual hold open and the stripping catch is in front of the ejection port. There’s an ambidextrous swivel up front and the one at the rear (which also keeps the butt plate on) can be positioned left or right as you wish. As such there is no forend, just a fold-down grip.
On that point the bore and chamber are chrome-lined and the tube shows a right hand 1-9” rifling twist, so very accommodating to the majority of .224” bullet weights and something that should offer an extended life too. Steyr, doubtless at Gary’s request, have cut the muzzle 1/2X20” UNF, so no problems fitting a moddy… For the test Sporty supplied a Hensoldt ZF 3-12 X56 tactical scope and 10, 30 and 42-round magazines; as standard the AUG comes with a 10. Semi-opaque the mags show a distinctive ‘waffle pattern’ and allow you to see the ammo state at a glance. Having shot all current examples of hybrid straight pulls and also owning a Speedmaster AR15 and Saiga M4 (Kalashnikov) I was keen to see what the AUG had to offer.
First impression was of weight, as it’s deceptively heavy for its size at 8.15 lbs (less scope). My two initial concerns were how it handled primary extraction (un-sticking the fired case from the chamber) and the trigger pull. The former can make or break a hybrid straight-pull, as if there’s not enough to get hold of to break the empty free you end up wrestling with the gun. That is why most successful rifles of this type have larger/extended cocking controls; both my AR15 and AK have them and they make a real difference…
Running a gauge over the trigger showed a long and mushy 10-12 lb pull, but this is also how the real AUGs are, which was a military requirement. The pull goes like this – there’s a bit of slack then about ½” of movement that leads to the break and that my friends takes some getting used to!
Cocking required some muscle too, as you have a small handle, set at an odd, upwards angle that was never designed for continuous, manual operation, which is up against two big return springs. Plus, as I discovered, the hammer spring is no lightweight, which contributes to the resistance and effort required to beat it down. So with all these mechanical factors to overcome, I was not relishing wrestling with a stuck case, as often happens with hybrids.
Ammo consisted of a broad selection of 223 Rem - 50-grain Norma V-MAX, 55-grain Winchester BST and 64-grain Winchester SP. For reloads I used my tried and tested recipe of the Sierra 69-grain Match King (SMK) using 24-grains of VihtaVuori N 140, I had both standard copper and molly-coated types, which proved most enlightening.
Given the size and angle of the cocking handle I opted for a glove, as all that bare, pink skin moving past all that metal at speed is sure to lead to a collision. To be honest cycling the action was pretty physical, but most of this with the three factory loads was not about primary extraction, as that was OK, but overcoming the return and hammer springs. Being a right hander I used what is technically my weak arm to do the job and I have to say that I feel a left handed shooter would have less trouble; simply due to the geometry of the rifle and their stronger position. Though from that side it’s still quite a reach for the arm…
Moving up to the SMK proved interesting, as firing the standard copper bullet reload did show hard primary extraction, which on a mechanism like this was not easy to overcome, without breaking my firing position. Switching to the molly-coated made things easier, due no doubt to the reduced friction they offer. Obviously moving a heavy bullet up the bore generates more back pressure and therefore more case/chamber adhesion. For Practical/Service work a larger and better designed cocking handle is a must, as if not you will simply be out-cycled by AR15s.
As we know accuracy and light triggers go together, as do inaccuracy and heavy ones. However, the AUG’s barrel looked like it could shoot, and from a solid /supported position with the molly SMKs the rifle was putting the rounds into ½” at 100 yards no problem. Though I do admit that this was with a lot of trigger understanding. But for unsupported and positional work the same performance could not be achieved, certainly not with a hi-mag scope on top for obvious reasons.
Controls such as the safety and mag catches worked very well. The forward grip is a mandatory hold and if you don’t favour that sort of layout then the AUG is not for you, as it does dictate your supporting position. I found it more comfortable with it folded up, but this is far from ideal in terms of a hot barrel and bare fingers. Likewise the inability to easily fit a bipod is also limiting, though it would not be impossible. However, the large, flat-based pistol grip area can be used as a sort of mono rest, given you don’t fit the 42-round magazine…
Nevertheless, the general feel in the shooting position is good with that big/wide stock offering a comfortable head and eye/scope position. On that point the length of the scope rail is most generous, so there would be no problem fitting an NV optic. Though far from mainstream the compact dimensions and fast handling nature of the AUG might make a good fox buster (trigger pending…). At the end of the day I found myself likening the AUG more than I thought I would, as I reckon it has potential with some modifications.
The cocking handle would need a re-think, but it would not take much to sort that, given the AR15 experience, however, the trigger was another matter entirely! The pak is all polymer, apart from the springs, so nothing to polish etc. But I found a solution on the net in the form of an American company called TriggerTamer, who specialise in AUGs. They make a replacement part that says it can drop the pull down to 6 lbs, that may not sound too impressive but when you’ve been fighting the standard 10 lbs + unit I reckon it’s a plan; especially for $59.95… A quick e-mail and I had one in a matter of days. The job is easy and takes about 5-minutes to do and it’s pretty much as described. It doesn’t alter the pull characteristics, but cut down the weight to around 6-7 lbs, which made precision and off-hand work easier to achieve…
Taking the AUG down is surprisingly easy though just a bit different. Starting with the gun empty and the mag out, cock the action. On the left side of the stock above/forward of the trigger guard is a square, push-out stripping pin. Place the butt on your thigh and pull down on the forward grip and you will feel the barrel assembly move back slightly. Keep the pressure on and push the pin out from left to right until it stops, now pull the barrel assembly out of the stock. Once clear, pull the bolt group/guide rods out to expose the bolt and carrier and that’s pretty much that for access and cleaning.
If you wish you can remove the trigger pak. Looking at the rubber butt pad you will see an indentation, press this in and at the same time pull out the sling swivel/pin and the pad can be removed. In this position, providing the hammer is cocked the pak will slide out and you can see the near all-polymer build.
Give It Time
As it comes the AUG is not without its problem areas, as the heavy action, small cocking handle and trigger weight do not compare well to its main competition – the fully tricked up AR15s. But consider this; when the ARs first appeared after the 1988 ban I would not have given you tuppence for them, as they were hard to cock, ammo sensitive and did not handle primary extraction well. The rifles we use today are a direct result of many years of improvements and a far cry from the originals.
The AUG is a good and solid design that shows excellent accuracy potential and I feel sure that the aforementioned problems are capable of being sorted. On that point, I was going to ask Steyr if I could do some work on the rifle, but quite by chance was speaking to gunsmith Mark Bradley, who told me he already has designed and fitted replacement cocking handles that do the job. He has other plans for the AUG that will include muzzle brakes, right hand conversion and who knows what else? So it looks like my words are true, as with a bit of work this rifle can be transformed.
My thanks to Gary Lamborn (Sportsman Gun Centre) and Gundaccar Wurmbrand (Steyr Mannlicher) for the loan of the rifle and the assistance they have provided. Also Bennet Langlotz for the trigger Tamer.
An interesting alternative to the generic AR15
Good accuracy potential
Practical design and layout
Heavy cocking action and trigger
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