Bolt Action AR-15
AR Ergonomics Precision bolt-action rifles are hot right now with the explosion of the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and the National Rifle League (NRL). One of the trends moving into the bolt-gun world is the presence of AR-15 ergonomics. With Barrett’s win as the Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) Mk 22 Advanced Sniper Rifle (ASR), SIG Sauer’s launch of the long-awaited Cross ($1,779), and The Fix by Q ($3,299), AR ergonomics on precision rifles are becoming more popular.
The reason for this trend is obvious: generations of riflemen have been trained with and are familiar with the AR-15. It makes it much easier to transition back and forth between semiautomatic and bolt-action rifles if controls such as the magazine release and safety are in the same place. The UP-15 tested here also pairs well with anyone invested in standard AR-15-pattern rifles. Not only are the ergonomics the same, but many of the parts are as well.
The UP-15 is a complete rifle that uses a standard AR-15 lower. This makes it simple for anyone looking to experiment because they can purchase just the upper receiver, designated “UPR15” ($1,088), and then drop it on their rifle. For reference, while the UPR15 pairs with any standard AR-15 lower and magazine, the company’s UPR10 ($1,875) functions with any DPMS-pattern AR-10 lower and magazine. Quality magazines are plentiful and low-cost for both types of rifles. When purchased as a complete rifle, the UP-15 uses almost all of the same small parts as would be found in a generic AR-15 lower parts kit. The only caution here is that some aftermarket triggers will work, and some won’t.
One of the first things I noticed about the UP-15 is the bolt. Removing the bolt is a simple process of sliding the takedown pin out of the way, lifting the upper receiver away from the lower receiver, and then pulling the bolt out the back.
There are a total of 10 parts to the bolt (that’s counting every pin, detent and spring), and anyone with a hammer and a pin punch can completely disassemble it in about two minutes. The easy maintenance of the UP-15’s bolt is a refreshing feature in the increasingly complex world. Most bolt-action rifles will have twice that number of parts in the bolt, and you’ll need a toolbox and customer support on speed dial for complete disassembly and reassembly assistance. The older I get, the less I like having to find help to work on my rifles. I’d prefer to fix the problem myself and not deal with the inconvenience of tracking down a gunsmith, and then waiting to get my rifle back. The UP-15 will appeal to anyone who shares this sentiment.
When I spoke to Jason Baker, Uintah Precision’s rifle program manager, he revealed that the bolt is made from one piece of 4140 steel that only sees a machine fixture one time. In one fell swoop, 22 tools make all the cuts to produce a finished bolt. This is some manufacturing wizardry that results in highly consistent bolts. Baker said, “Each of our bolts stays within a .001-inch tolerance. You can pull one bolt out of our 6.5 Creedmoor rifle and stick it in a .308 Winchester rifle and fire it without concern.”
Tight tolerances are the key to the Uintah Precision bolts, and the company’s ability to hold consistent tolerances also allows customers the option of ordering a spare bolt through the mail without worrying whether or not it will fit or change the rifle’s headspace. It won’t.
The UP-15 has a three-lug bolt with 60 degrees of lift, which places the bottom lug at the 6-o’clock position when the action is open. That lug location means the bottom lug is what engages rounds feeding from the double-stack magazine. This design gives lots of lug-to-cartridge engagement, meaning the odds of the bolt ever slipping up and over a round during feeding are almost zero. No two-lug action, and very few three-lug actions, can make the same claim.
The UP-15 bolt has no firing-pin spring since it uses an AR-15 lower receiver and an AR-15 trigger. Guns & Ammo’s test rifle featured a 3-pound curved unit from Velocity Precision Engineering ($150, velocitytriggers.com). This means there is no resistance when lifting the bolt after firing the rifle. There is, however, some resistance when pulling the bolt rearward since that motion cocks the hammer. Having no resistance when opening the bolt makes it possible to work the bolt quickly without disturbing the shooting position.
The best way to think of the UP-15 is as a custom-grade barreled action attached to an AR-15 lower receiver. However, it has the added benefit of being easy to maintain and utilizes easily sourced parts from a robust aftermarket built around the AR-15.
That Barrel, Though
The barrel Uintah Precision puts on the UP-15 comes from Preferred Barrel Blanks (preferredbarrelblanks.com), also a Utah manufacturer. These are button-rifled barrels made from 416R stainless steel, and they can be chambered for any cartridge that fires out of an AR-15 and uses a standard bolt face. Preferred Barrel Blanks is one of a handful of barrel manufacturers that source their steel only from the United States. Additionally, the company is very aggressive in its quality control procedures. They test not only for the straightness of the steel, but also its metallurgy and purity. Once Preferred Barrel Blanks find steel they like, they buy large quantities of it and match the tooling to the steel. Each barrel is also stress relieved after the rifling has been applied, a process that more persnickety manufacturers swear by.
Once Uintah Precision gets the barrel blanks from Preferred Barrel Blanks, they cut the contour, chamber and crown. The standard contour Uintah puts on their barrel is a .810-inch straight contour that holds diameter all the way to the muzzle. The accuracy achieved by G&A’s sample rifle was very good, proving the.810-inch straight contour offers an ideal blend of light weight and consistent precision. The best five-shot groups for two loads measured right around the .6-inch mark with the average best group across three loads measuring near .7 inch. Considering factory ammunition and a brand-new barrel, I think that’s excellent. I’d expect the group sizes to shrink .1- to .2-inch after a couple hundred rounds pass through the bore.
For those who prefer a change from the standard, Uintah Precision does custom barrels for only a slight increase in cost. If, for example, a customer wanted a 6mm ARC with a 26-inch barrel, a faster twist rate and a heavy .9-inch straight contour, they would only be charged an extra $107 for the changes. Uintah Precision can do any barrel length from 27 inches on down to as short as a person wants, and it can do .75-, .81- and .9-inch straight contours. This is a great way to experiment with new cartridges and twist rates without going broke. All barrels are finished with an 11-degree target crown at the muzzle, too.
A Sensible Selection When …
Bolt-action AR-pattern rifles are becoming increasingly numerous. One reason is the familiarity most newer shooters already have with the AR-15. Another is the easy maintenance a bolt-action AR offers. Spend five minutes on YouTube and a guy can swap out an AR trigger, an important consideration since the trigger is the first component on any rifle to fail. The UP-15 has the precision of a high-quality traditional bolt-action rifle, but pairs it with the simplicity of an AR-15.
The final reason the UP-15 appeals to me is its modularity. My dream UP-15 would be this 6mm ARC rifle with a LAW Tactical folding stock adapter. This combination would offer supreme portability thanks to the folding stock, in addition to all of the benefits listed above. Since the rifle only weighs 71/2 pounds, it would pack and travel well.
Should the owner want a different handguard, any forend that attaches to an AR-15 upper receiver would fit this rifle. Configurations that would prove popular would be a 9-inch barreled bolt-action AR pistol chambered in .300 Blackout. Once outfitted with a suppressor, there would be no more quiet way to deliver subsonic rounds on target. A large part of the noise an AR generates from firing comes from the ejection port when the bolt cycles. The UP-15 stays closed until pressure exits the muzzle and suppressor. Add a folding stock and the whole package would fit inside a backpack.
The UP-15 is unique, but it has a number of features. It is not a traditionalist’s rifle, but it makes a fine choice for anyone that really likes AR-15s and want bolt-action precision. This is the only rifle that I’ve found that blends the best of both platforms, and does so at a competitive price.