By Charles Cutshaw
There have been many aftermarket accessories and “improvements” introduced for the ubiquitous AR-15/M16 rifle and its derivatives over the many years since the rifle was introduced, most of which have passed away while the rifle endures. Some changes, such as those that led to the “second generation” AR-15, type classified by the US Military as the M16A2 and M4 Carbine were true steps forward. Others, such as enlarged catches for the charging handle were of limited utility. In its basic configuration, the AR-15/M16/M4 can accurately be described as “mature” in its development. While the rifle has competitors, few can claim to truly improve on its overall performance in any major aspect. This is not to say that the rifle cannot be improved upon, however. One significant shortcoming of the AR-15/M16 is the fact that it is not fully ambidextrous, while many of its competitors are.
While the cartridge deflector behind the ejection port solves the problem of ejected spent casings striking left handed shooters in the face and most of the M16/M4’s controls are ambidextrous, the magazine release remains “right hand only.” While many may consider this of little consequence, it becomes of higher concern if one happens to be among the 20 percent of the population that is left-handed. To gain an appreciation of the magnitude of the problem, all one has to do is try to eject the magazine holding the rifle or carbine as a “lefty.” Moreover, there are occasions when a right-handed shooter will find it necessary to release the magazine with his left hand. Situations that might require “weak hand” release include injury to the dominant hand or arm, a covered position where use of the dominant hand would expose the shooter to enemy fire, or injury to the dominant eye. A fully ambidextrous magazine release also provides options that expedite magazine changes, which could be life saving in combat. Not only is an ambidextrous magazine release accessible via the left hand, but offers different change options to both right and left handed shooters, by allowing use of the thumb of the non-firing hand.
There have been left-hand M16/M4 magazine releases in the past, but none has solved the problem with the success of the recently announced “Ambi-Catch™.” The Ambi-Catch™ is made of the same material and to the same quality standard as the original magazine release. It is of steel construction, heat-treated and manganese phosphate finished to military specification. The interior catch is beveled on the bottom edge to smooth magazine insertion and retains the magazine as positively as the factory original. The Ambi-Catch™ functions via a lever arrangement that replaces the original catch in less than five minutes and simply screws into the right side release button. The pivot pin and mechanism of the Ambi-Catch™ is housed within the magazine catch slot in the rifle’s receiver and thus is protected from mud and grit. Because it is housed inside the receiver and the release button protrudes only slightly, the Ambi-Catch™ is not likely to snag on equipment or foliage. The release button is serrated for positive engagement and is located on the same plane as the original right-hand magazine release. The Ambi-Catch™ is designed in such a way as to minimize the possibility of accidental release without having a “fence” surrounding it like that of the right side release. In our evaluation of the Ambi-Catch™, we found it to be almost impossible to inadvertently release the magazine.
We found the Ambi-Catch™ changeover to be straightforward and nearly impossible to erroneously accomplish. No modifications to the carbine were necessary. The fit and finish is every bit the equal of the factory original carbine finish. The Ambi-Catch™ is fully compatible with all M16/M4 accessories, including multiple magazine holders, such as the Mag-Cinch.
Although no special tools are required for installation of the Amib-Catch™, Norgon manufactures a small Delrin installation tool that makes installing several of the devices far less time – consuming. The tool is a simple disc with a plunger that mates to the magazine release button. When depressed, the tool moves the magazine catch beyond the left side of the receiver to facilitate its removal and replacement with the Ambi-Catch™. Although not necessary to the installation, the tool reduces the installation time to a matter of less than 30 seconds. Because it is made of Delrin, the installation tool will not mar the receiver or the right side release button.
The Ambi-Catch™is currently in use by some US Special Operations units, US State Department Diplomatic Security and has been authorized for individual agent purchase and use by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It has received favorable evaluation by the US Army and US Marine Corps and is being evaluated as a part of the US Special Operations Command’s SOPMOD II M4 carbine upgrade program. After evaluating the Ambi-Catch™ on Bushmaster M15E2 and Colt M16A2 Carbines, we had no problems of any sort. The Ambi-Catch™ worked with absolute reliability and was easily accessible with either hand. We therefore concluded that the device is a useful addition to the M16/M4 weapon system that not only brings the rifle/carbine to a fully ambidextrous configuration, but also adds to the flexibility of the weapon in either tactical or training conditions.
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|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N3 (December 2001)