By Jay Grazio, Shooting Illustrated
It seems more and more today that the “entry-level” AR-15 market is pretty well-established; there’s little room for profit in the race to the (pricing) bottom. Numerous manufacturers, including giants Ruger and Smith & Wesson, offer basic AR-15-style rifles with street pricing less than $600—at a local gun show this past September, I spotted an M&P15 Sport II Optics-Ready carbine selling, new, for $579. It appears the next big battle for your dollar is in that “upgraded” AR-15; the carbine purchased in the pursuit of something better.
Barnes Precision Machine has been providing parts to numerous (undisclosed) industry partners since George Bush was in office—George Herbert Walker Bush, that is—and made the jump to supplying AR-15-style rifles to the consumer market 10 years ago. Everything the company offers—parts, stripped lowers and complete rifles—is 100-percent “Made in America” and exceeds mil-spec. Carbines come in several flavors, from entry-level models that are well-equipped to the decidedly “next-level” CQB/MOE model received for testing. Designated-marksman-style rifles, AR-10-frame rifles, AR-style pistols and even short-barreled rifles round out Barnes Precision Machine offerings, with something for everyone in the modern-sporting-rifle family.
The CQB/MOE model received for testing comes with a hard case, 2- and 4-inch sections of M-Lok-compatible Picatinny rails, a Magpul 30-round PMag and Magpul backup sights. It offers a 12.5-inch, freefloat handguard, an upgraded mil-spec trigger, 416 match-grade stainless steel barrel, nickel-boron-coated bolt-carrier group and Magpul furniture, which turns out to be the one (small) complaint I had with the rifle: For the price point at which the CQB/MOE sits, the locking CTR stock would be a more-solid option without adding significant cost. It’s a minor point, to be sure; most probably replace the stock with a personal favorite anyway, but having the more-steady option would make a welcome difference.
It’s hard to convey how a firearm “feels” in the hand. The CQB/MOE just feels right; it’s a great balance of components, good looks and a natural heft that lends itself to smooth operation. The M-Lok-compatible handguard (which our Photography department hated for the manner in which it soaked up oil and resisted cleaning) provides plenty of space for accessories and even offers an old-school sling swivel bipod mount at the very end.
If I were to guess, it’s a way to put a bipod at the end of the handguard without running afoul of the gas block; we noticed some impingement when attempting to place the (included) Picatinny rail at the end of the handguard for photography. Or, it could simply be another carry option—while the CQB/MOE comes with integrated QD sling mounts, fans of old-school setups can still employ their preferred sling-mount method.
On the range, however, the CQB/MOE is all business. We tried to find a problem with this rifle and just plain couldn’t. The barrel has a 1:7-inch twist, which tends to favor heavier bullets—this was borne out in accuracy testing—but not to an appreciable degree. The difference between the 55-grain FMJ rounds and the open-tip, match-grade 73-grain target rounds was smaller than a quarter inch at 100 yards, and both had sub-MOA smallest groups.
Only the 62-grain offering exceeded MOA-accuracy and at that by just a tiny fraction. Given that this was general-purpose ammunition that still yielded 1.35-MOA accuracy, it’s hardly a complaint. It’s even more impressive in the context of a 16-inch barrel carbine with a single-stage, mil-spec trigger. This is a fighting rifle, but one that can shoot, too.
Function-wise, everything worked exceedingly well. All rounds fed, fired and ejected cleanly and consistently; in fact, the ejection pattern itself was remarkably consistent, dropping all spent brass in a reasonably small area. This is not a huge deal, other than to point out the consistency of the rifle—something we’ve commented on before in the pages of Shooting Illustrated. Oftentimes, these “next-level” firearms don’t just perform better than their entry-level counterparts, but give reproducible, repeatable results across the board. Sure, all things being equal, match-grade rounds will yield superior results to plinking ammo, but an upgraded pistol or rifle should be less sensitive to variations in ammunition.
Accurate, reliable and ergonomic; that’s pretty much the trifecta for a useful home-defense carbine. I’d go so far as to bestow one of my highest compliments to the Barnes Precision Machine CQB/MOE carbine: When it comes to performance, it’s downright boring. Now, often we think of “boring” as a pejorative. However, when applied to a firearm’s range time, it’s a very good thing. It means that nothing out of the ordinary happened during testing: No misfeeds, jams, double-feeds, unexpected misses, trouble zeroing or any of the other myriad little gremlins that can plague a test firearm happened. We took the CQB to the range, loaded magazines and everything worked just the way it was supposed to.
See? Boring isn’t bad. When it comes to a rifle you’re going to depend on for your personal safety, it’s downright good.