Text & Photos by Jeff W. Zimba
If there has ever been a group of people who were truly disadvantaged on the shooting range, it has been the southpaws. From bolt-action rifles to belt-fed machine guns, firearms have historically been designed around the framework of the right-handed end user. Given the typical ejection path of most semiautomatic and fully automatic firearms, many people who shoot left-handed are quite “gun-shy” when handling these guns for the first time with brass ejecting through (or extremely close to) their line of sight. Thanks to Stag Arms of New Britain Connecticut, left-handed fans of the Black Rifle can consider this problem a thing of the past.
Stag Arms, LLC was founded in May of 2003, but their experience in manufacturing AR-15 and M16 type rifles and parts goes back more than 30 years. An offshoot of their sister company, Continental Manufacturing, all the major components of the Stag Arms line of rifles are manufactured “in house.” None of the components utilized in the Stag Arms rifles are imported or manufactured outside the United States.
The original concept of the left-handed AR-15 type rifle actually started even before the formation of the company- in fact there have been some attempts at this in the past. The Stag Arms left handed AR-15 story starts in 1998, when some of the initial manufacturing parts were ordered in anticipation of the project. 5 years later when Stag Arms was founded by Mark Malkowski, the project was restarted and the rest of the necessary development continued. Since the original concept rifle, the STAG-15L has become a completely new upper receiver system, compatible with any original lower receiver.
There is much more work necessary than reversing a few off the shelf parts in order to manufacture and assemble the STAG-15L. The bolt and bolt carrier needed to be completely redesigned and all of the coinciding features of the upper receiver itself had to be redesigned to match these new internal changes. In order to eject from the left side of the rifle the ejection port must be relocated from the right side to the left. This would involve a complete redesign of the upper receiver including the relocation of the dust cover, brass deflector and forward assist assembly. Due to the location of the bolt-hold-open feature on the lower receiver, the dust cover must now open up towards the carry handle instead of opening down towards the magazine well. This way the bolt-hold-open lever operates as intended and is unobstructed.
As soon as the bolt carrier is removed from the rifle many of the internal changes become apparent. The most obvious change is the addition of the notches on the left side of the bolt to be used in conjunction with the newly designed forward assist assembly. The right side of the bolt is smooth and is not notched. At the front of the bolt carrier, the gas relief ports are on the left side to coincide with the location of the new ejection port. In addition, the slot the bolt cam-pin rides in is also reversed and the cam pin must be removed to the right of the carrier key during disassembly. The firing pin retaining pin must also be removed from the right side of the carrier to disassemble the carrier and remove the firing pin and bolt. The carrier key is no different than the key in a standard bolt carrier.
Removing the bolt will reveal a few more major changes. The bolt cam pinhole in an AR-15/M16 bolt is undersized on one side so that the bolt may only be able to be installed in the bolt carrier in one position. On a standard bolt carrier when the bolt is installed and fully extended to the ejection position, looking at the face of the bolt, the extractor is in the 10 o’clock position. On the STAG-15L bolt, during the same function, the extractor is in the 2 o’clock position. The undersized side of the bolt cam pinhole in the STAG-15L is reversed to accommodate this change. The user should be cautioned to be extremely careful not to mix up right handed and left handed bolts during assembly as it is possible for these two parts to be interchanged even though they will not function properly and cause serious problems. A quick check as to the position of the extractor will allow the user to be certain the correct bolt is in place. The bolt carrier is clearly marked “Left-Handed” on the right rear side and a similar marking on these special bolts could be a worthy upgrade in the future to help avoid potential confusion with new AR-15 style rifle owners.
The firing pin, bolt cam pin, firing pin retaining pin, ejector, extractor, and bolt gas rings are standard factory parts.
The STAG-15L sent to SAR for evaluation was their Model 1L. In this configuration the rifle has a 16-inch, M4 contoured barrel and 6-position collapsible stock. The upper receiver, though left handed, was of an A3 configuration employing the use of a detachable carry handle with a fixed front sight. All the STAG-15 guns have a 1/9 twist rate and are chrome lined. Also available are the following models:
• Model 2L – 16-inch, M4 contoured barrel and 6-position collapsible stock. No carry handle and utilized an A.R.M.S. #40 rear flip-up sight along with the A2 front post.
• Model 3L – 16-inch, M4 contoured barrel and 6-position collapsible stock. No sights, only M1913 Picatiny Rail flat top upper receiver and M1913 Picatiny Rail front sight platform.
• Model 4L – 20-inch barrel with A2 buttstock and detachable carry handle and front sight post.
• Models 1, 2, 3 & 4 (no letter “L” suffix) are also available from Stag Arms in the same configuration as those listed above, in a traditional right-hand design.
Stag Arms offers these complete rifles and all have an ambidextrous safety selector on the lower receiver making them even more comfortable to the left-handed user. Another accessory offered through Stag Arms for their STAG-15L series of rifles is the Norgon Ambi-Catch. This accessory replaces the standard magazine release and allows the user to release the magazine on the left side of the receiver by rotating this new latch without changing the function of the magazine release button on the right side of the receiver. Upper receiver assemblies can be purchased separately for those who already have a lower receiver and full-auto compatible bolt carriers can also be purchased for owners of registered receivers and drop-in auto sears.
Shooting the STAG-15L made this right-handed shooter aware of, and appreciate the importance of, the brass deflector. The brass pile was growing to the left rear side of the shooter dropping at approximately the 8 o’clock position. One quick glance at the deflector, suddenly colored with fresh brass strikes, made me realize what a great innovation that was for the left-handed M16 shooters of days past. It was thoughtful of Stag Arms to include this feature for right-handed shooters who want to utilize their left-handed rifle.
To stay with the program, several magazines were fired from the left shoulder and practice using the left eye. With a little concentration it was actually more comfortable than I thought possible. The difference was that it was not instinctual and fast, but a slow process that actually required concentration during every step. Knowing how disadvantaged it is to be forced to fire from the opposite shoulder and eye, I can now fully understand how exciting a project the STAG-15L actually is for many members of our shooting community.
The quality of the STAG-15L is excellent. The markings on the STAG line of rifles are deep and clean and the logo is distinctive and attractive. The fit and finish is very nice and the rifle submitted for evaluation never malfunctioned under any circumstance. We even tested it in sub freezing temperatures with the new NATEC Polymer Cased Ammunition (see accompanying article in this issue of Small Arms Review) and it never skipped a beat. During most of the shooting time, we were using Wolf 62-grain FMJ and Norinco 55-grain FMJ ammunition. The 1 in 9 inch twist barrel seemed to accommodate both rounds with ease, and at distances of 50 yards and 100 yards, all met their intended marks in a series of B27 Silhouette targets.
Shooters who have had the opportunity to handle the STAG-15L has been very intrigued. Those intimately familiar with the AR-15/M16 family of weapons have especially taken interest in the redesign of the parts necessary to accomplish the proper extraction and ejection. The few southpaws who have seen it have been ecstatic. I would recommend the STAG-15L to any left-handed shooter who wants to feel like they finally have an instrument made for them. I would also recommend it to any collector of the AR-15/M16 family of firearms who is looking for an interesting “gap” to fill in their collection, even if they didn’t realize it previously existed.
Caliber: 5.56×45 NATO
Overall Length: 32 inches (812.8mm) stock collapsed
Barrel Length: 16 inches (406.4mm)
Number of Grooves: 6 – chrome lined
Rifling Twist & Pitch: Right hand, 1/9 inches (1/228mm)
Sights:Rear: Detachable carry handle w/A2 adjustable
Front: Protected post
Weight, Empty: 6.75 pounds (3.06kg)
Weight of full Magazine: 1 pound (.445kg)
Magazine Capacity: 30-round magazine
Selector / Safety: Ambidextrous
Stock: 6-position collapsible
MSRP as tested: $989.00
Stag Arms, LLC
515 John Downey Drive
New Britain, CT 06051
Ph: (860) 229-9994
Fax: (860) 229-3738
Wolf Performance Ammunition
1125 N. Lance Lane
Anaheim, CA 92806
Ph: (888) 757-WOLF
Fax: (714) 632-9232
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V9N6 (March 2006)|