By Roy Huntington, GUNS Magazine
I know the people who make Black Rain Ordnance rifles. They live and work near me, just south of Joplin, Mo. I’ve visited their facility, shook their hands, chatted with the people building the rifles, seen their machines and watched them pack and ship guns. I’ve also watched their faces while they talked about their work, their dreams and their rifles. I don’t review this company, these people—or their rifles—lightly. As a matter of fact, it comes after an almost two-year journey getting to know them and their guns.
Justin Harvel, the young president of Black Rain Ordnance, Inc., lives and breathes the brand. He and his staff are shameless, self-proclaimed “gun-guys” as he says. They shoot, compete and constantly strive to deliver the best possible rifles to the market. Rifles, as Justin says, “We use ourselves.”
“We make all our products with the same integrity—across the board,” he explained to me. “They are all American-made and handcrafted, one at a time. Our rifles are accurate, dependable, well-balanced—and good looking. We sometimes get slandered in chat rooms for being “too showy” or “too extreme.” We’re proud of that. They are showy—and they are extreme. The rifles we make are intended to be family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation. Why not build them the very best we can?
“We make not only practical functioning rifles, but care enough about them to make them look good too! Can’t a girl be smart—and pretty?” said Justin, laughing.
I happen to know Black Rain’s rifles have been called the Lamborghinis of the AR world. To me, it means high performance, over-the-top looks and design and a gut-level appeal you don’t normally get from a conglomeration of steel, alloys and plastic. And frankly, it’s a compliment—to Lamborghini.
Lamborghini, take note.
Deciding On Quality
“The quality will remain, long after the price is forgotten.”—Sir Henry Royce
With the flood of AR platforms hitting the market over the past 10 years or so, what do you need to know in order to select one meeting your needs—or wishes? It’s actually easy.
First off: Target shooting and/or hunting or self-defense? Second: Are you price-point shopping, or do you want something of the highest quality?
And now it gets interesting. Some makers and guns can do both—adequately.
But some makers and guns can do both—excellently.
Now it’s time to refer to Sir Henry Royce’s quote, and to hear what Justin has to say about quality.
“The whole backbone and thought behind our business is to produce the best quality products in the marketplace by using the best materials combined with the best craftsmen in the business. We strive above and beyond, to back-breaking effort to accomplish this,” he explained to me. “I think sometimes people just assume it happens, like we just snap our fingers and miraculously rifles appear. We must be doing something right if it seems that easy—because I promise you it’s not! The dedication, the blood, sweat and yes, there’ve been tears, is the key.”
But I asked him, what about growth? Black Rain’s footprint has grown over the past few years. The market has exploded, and experienced buyers have learned quality is where it’s at. What happens to the small-shop mentality when the need to produce looms large? How has Black Rain kept their high standards?
“The bigger we get, the harder it becomes,” Justin told me seriously. “At some point then, soon, you may have neither. It’s a struggle of quality versus quantity, and we have weekly meetings to address this. Everyone in our shop is sensitive to it. But we have an edge over most ‘factory’ makers. A lot of the men and women who work here, who build the rifles, who make the parts, who inspect, label and ship our guns—are part owners in Black Rain Ordnance. They have an extra dog in the fight when it comes to our quest for consistent quality. It’s not just a paycheck for them, it’s their name on the gun too,” said Justin quietly.
Why Do We Care?
I’ve built this story to this point for a reason. I’m in my early-middles, and while I seem to still be learning so much, one thing I know for a fact is the people behind a product are what makes it all work. The people behind a product tell you everything you need to know about what they produce. And this is the case with Black Rain.
If you met Justin, or anyone at Black Rain, I know you’d come away from them thinking: “Whatever this person does, I would trust it.” If they made bricks, or automobile brakes, or shaped wood to finished dimensions, or did the final inspection on the airplane you were about to board, you could trust the work.
Which leads us neatly to the rifles in question.
Black Rain Ordnance, Inc. makes many models. Indeed, you can easily match your chore to a rifle in their inventory. But I like to think about the crossover effect. How do you do many jobs with one tool, yet do each job well?
The plainly named, but remarkable, “BRO-PG9” 5.56 answers that question. Are you a cop on a beat? Do you need an uncompromising fighting rifle? Here it is. Do you have a family and are concerned about the state of affairs in the country today and want a rifle you could call upon to defend your family? Stop here.
On the lighter side, do you enjoy chasing prairie dogs, coyotes who harass the livestock, need to cull the deer in the cornfield, the pigs ripping up your crops or simply enjoy making small groups of bullet holes in targets “way out there?” Look no further.
As close to a “jack-of-all-trades” and master of them all as you can get when it comes to a 5.56 AR platform. Quality oozes from every “just-so” curve or compellingly flat surface on the PG9. I actually found myself staring at it, trying to find fault with the workmanship. I wasted my time.
Made from 7075 T6 Billet aircraft-grade aluminum, the receivers of both rifles showcase their “NorGuard” finish, a tough and durable hard coat. The bolt and full-auto carrier group is nickel boron-coated and cleans effortlessly.
The barrel is a 16″ straight-fluted machined wonder, with 1×8″ rifling and milled pineapple flash suppressor. It boasts a .223 Wylde chamber and a modified throat for improved accuracy. It also, conveniently, allows shooters to shoot both .223 and 5.56 NATO with aplomb. The direct gas-impingement system is complete with an adjustable, micro, low profile gas block. Tune the PG9 to your favorite load.
Let’s keep shooting, go to the next page please…
The 9″ mid-length quad rail covers the operating system, giving the shooter maximum availability to mount accessories. The sturdy, yet crisp 3.5 pounds single unit triggers are single stage and nonadjustable. Trust me, you won’t need to adjust it. Weighing in at 6 pounds. 7 ounces with a total length of about 32.5″, the PG9 comes complete with a soft case, sling and one 30-round, MAGPUL PMAG.
Did I mention it has a lifetime guarantee?
This rifle is eminently shootable, exudes quality, shows some of the best sheer workmanship I’ve seen in any gun, ever, and is about as turn-key as you could ask. What custom touches would I add?
I’ll admit up front, I’m no AR expert. But I’ve been around them since the first triangular forend models from Colt, shot most of them, and after 24-odd years in the field as a cop, have a good understanding of what a defensive rifle might need to be. Terms like “rugged, best-quality materials,” and “advanced engineering touches” come to mind. Like most things, if it feels right—it likely is right. The Black Rain PG9 feels right. At $2,109 MSRP, it’s a hell of a lot of rifle for the money and you simply could not build one, engineered as well as this, for that same investment.
Would I trust my life to it?
Yes. I’m buying this rifle to use as my personal, defensive rifle. There you go. Money where the mouth is, and all that.
Using a “tactical” scope like the Meopta MeoTac 1-4×22 RD on the PG14, Roy achieved about 1″ groups at 100 yards with multiple loads.
The bigger brother, for lack of a better way of thinking, to the PG9, the BRO-PG14, takes things to the next level. Workmanship, quality of construction and materials mirrors that of the PG9 (and all of Black Rain’s rifles), but stepping up to the .308/7.62 NATO raises the bar. I like to call this a “final solution” rifle. If something really needs doing, this rifle will do it.
Hunting? Virtually anything walking in North America. Target shooting? How far would you like to try? A police rifle for handling the worst society has to offer? Here’s your beat partner. It’s brawny (almost 9 pounds), brash, speaks with authority and offers guilt-edged accuracy. When it’s resting in your hands it gives you confidence you can handle the threat at hand.
Like the PG9, the PG14 in .308 has a 7075 T6 billet aircraft-grade aluminum receiver with Black Rain’s NorGuard finish. The bolt and carrier group is also nickel boron coated and runs smoothly. The .308/7.62 NATO 18″ stainless, straight-fluted machined barrel with 1×11″ rifling also has a milled pineapple flash suppressor.
Mirroring the 5.56, the PG14 offers a direct gas-impingement system with an adjustable, micro, low profile gas block. The 12″ rifle-length quad rail covers the operating system too, giving the user a wide range of options for mounting accessories. Black Rain’s 3.5 lb, single-unit trigger is installed and is non-adjustable. The total length is 37″ (a bit longer than the 5.56) and comes complete with tactical soft case, sling and one 20-round. MAGPUL PMAG. And, the lifetime Black Rain warranty applies, of course. The price for all this peace of mind is $2,699 MSRP. And keep Sir Henry Royce’s quote in mind. This rifle will pay for itself many times over during the decades your family owns it.
For both of these rifles, the list of specific engineering touches is extensive, and if you’re curious to know more specifics, I think time spent on the Black Rain website would be time well spent. Keep in mind, a $50 soft case and $50 single-point sling are part of this package. When combined with a lifetime warranty, suddenly prices become understandable.
I put a Redfield Counterstrike Red Dot sight on the PG9 and a Meopta MeoTac 1-4×22 RD illuminated optical scope on the PG14 for targeting and general shooting. Depending upon the use, either optic would work well on either the 5.56 or the .308.
Targeting actually didn’t deliver any surprises. The build quality is obvious as you run the guns, with clear, clean sounds and feels apparent as the bolt cycles and controls are manipulated. If it should go “snick,” it does, and if something should “lock”—it locks. Triggers on both rifles were sure and crisp. With several hundred assorted loads through each rifle, there were no malfunctions. We used the Magpul mags supplied and standard military issue AR mags on the 5.56. All worked reliably.
Something did crop up during initial targeting. I had some heavy-bulleted 5.56 loads on-hand from Black Hills and AYSM, from 70-grains to 77-grains, and one or two other weights in that range. The PG9 simply didn’t like the heavy bullets, and the 77-grain loads actually key-holed. That’s not unusual for any .223 caliber rifle, and even if the rifling rate of twist seems like it should stabilize them, other factors may enter into the equation. When using 55 to 65-grain bullets, the PG9 delivered laser-like accuracy at our 100-yard targets.
The 4 MOA dot of the Redfield hindered precise accuracy, but by centering the dot on the entire target I was able to get a very consistent hold. Groups hovering at the 1″ level were easily possible (ammunition-dependant), and there is no doubt in my mind if you scoped this rifle with a cross-hair optic you could easily break .75″, and with some load testing, I’d wager you could chase .5″. Considering a deer only needs about a paper plate-sized group to bring home the meat, I think you could rest easy. This rifle is a real shooter and it was a pleasure to use. Bragging rights are definitely involved.
The PG14 handled the Federal 168-grain Match load, Nosler Custom 168-grain Custom Competition and Black Hill’s 168-grain loads perfectly, delivering bolt-action-like accuracy hovering around 1″ at 100. I also tried the 150-grain Hornady GMX loaded by Black Hills with similar results. In case you’re going hunting, the Federal Premium Trophy Bonded Bear Claw 165-grain went into a tidy 1.25″ group.
The Meopta scope on the PG14 is a “tactical” scope, so at only 1-4 power, is more at home for fast work. The true 1x magnification lets you keep both eyes open when close-in and the illuminated reticle allows you to pick up the abbreviated “T” crosshair easily. With a true target scope and some care, this is a sub-1″ rifle for sure. It’s amazing—and satisfying—to feel the trigger break and see .30 caliber holes virtually touching one another on that 100-yard target. Pointing your finger and smiting at a distance can be real.
Like the PG9, the PG14 has a 7075 T6 billet aircraft-grade aluminum receiver with Black Rain’s NorGuard finish.
A Final Thought
Justin told me, “We have always—no matter what—been fair and honest with people. Customer service is something easy to beat big corporate America at—and I think it’s almost expected a smaller company does just that. It’s another reason people choose our rifles over the big guys. It’s not uncommon when someone calls with a question that I’ll answer the phone personally, or the vice president, or general manager—you’ll never be shunted off to a long wait on a customer service line.”
And that’s important, and is yet another reason for Black Rain’s success. I’m going to leave you with one more thing striking a chord with me. Regardless of how busy they are, they respond to the needs of existing customers—immediately.
Explains Justin, “We have a policy here any returned merchandise, no matter the reason, goes back out the same day. Our UPS truck drops off packages on our dock in the early morning and we have two technicians who are assigned to stop what they are doing and jump on these items. Whatever needs to be fixed, replaced, tested or whatever the need is, it’s done immediately, and we get them back out the door when UPS picks up at 5:00 the same afternoon.”
Quality, follow-up, customer service, a lifetime warranty and same-day turn-around for repairs or attention to your needs is remarkable if you ask me. And something most of the “big guys” can only dream about.
These are solidly built rifles—from exceptional people.
When you call, say hi to the Black Rain family from us, would you?
Photos: Robbie Barrkman