Wednesday, June 05, 2013

FN FAL L1A1 SLR LTR...THE BETTER MOUSETRAP


 B&T Enterprises LTR (Light Tatical Rail) Mount...it really is a better mousetrap.



Well, you know the post is going to be about gun/military stuff when you can't even read the title otherwise. It is indeed.

I've been blessed to  live in the high wide country where views and ranges are long. I hunt big game with a rifle the government ninnies accuse of having "no legitimate sporting purpose", mostly out of contrariness but also because it's a damn fine rifle. For these reasons, and because these days not even my "good" eye is very good, all of my rifles wear a scope nowadays.

This includes the FALs. While not as inherently accurate as the M1/M14 platform, a  good FAL can still reach way out there with enough accuracy to wring out added benefits from a telescopic sight. Militarily, not really that many of the 90 nations that adopted the FAL scoped them. A very few, such as Argentina, Belgium, Canada, and the Dutch, made honest-to-God sniper rifle FALs designed to reach out there to 1,000 meters. That's really pushing it for a FAL. The majority of the other glass-wearing military FALs, however, might more appropriately fall into the role we today call the Designated Marksman Rifle. Scopes like the British/Israeli SUIT and the German Hensoldt ZF24 were designed to give the FAL-schlepping infantryman (if he could shoot) the capability to knock down bad guys with the first shot out to 600 meters, which is most certainly do-able with the FAL.

But while you can have good glass and a good rifle, bringing the two together can sometimes be problematic. The L2A2 SUIT really was a good idea and is a neat little scope, but the original British Army top cover mount, that vital link between rifle and scope, was a designed-by-committee Mickey Mouse piece of crap guaranteed to rattle right out of its aluminum rivets sooner or later (usually sooner) under recoil. The standard Belgian or Argentine FAL dust cover mount designed for putting STANAG optics on the FAL is a solid but high-rise type of deal, with a hollow tube through the mount itself running beneath the scope so you can also use your iron sights even with the scope mounted. Its a tough mount and the theory about still being able to use open sights sounds cool but the result is that the scope is now mounted so high above the rifle's bore that you cannot get any kind of "cheek weld" with the buttstock when you put your eye to the glass. In fact, with a FAL humpback X stock you may be lucky to get a "chin graze" with the stock. The STANAG claw mount to put a Hensoldt on a G3/HK91 is even worse.

To cash in on an obvious market, a great many companies now produce a wide variety of scope mounts which attach to your FAL and allow you to add any kind of exotic optic or sighting system or laser or tactical espresso maker or whatever to your FAL or SLR. I could name at least half a dozen companies off-hand who are make a FAL dust cover mount including DSA, A.R.M.S., Leapers/UTG, Tapco, Sun Optics, etc. Most of these are roughly based on the old South African R1 FAL mount and work the same, replacing your rifle's standard dust cover by sliding into its receiver rails. Exterior screws which run through the cover's body tighten up plates on the interior of the receiver to hold the mounts firmly in place.

When installed, a Weaver or Picatinny rail now runs down the top of your FAL receiver, and all the mounts I've tried were pretty damn solid. These days, you can mount about anything on an FAL. If you're Mr. Tacti-Cool Accessories, with a DSA Extreme Duty Extended scope mount, Quad Rail, and gas block Picatinny you can now have 21 continuous inches of Picatinny rail just on the topside of your FAL. And there's still three more rails to hang crap off the sides and bottom.

The biggest problem with any or all of these mounts is weight. Just a top cover scope mount by itself weighs from 8 to 12 ounces, depending on brand and model. If you really need that 21 inches of Picatinny on top, you're now turning a 10-pound FAL into a 12-13 pound FAL. Plus you still have to add in the weight of the optics, the gangsta grip with little bipod inside, the lights and laser show, GPS tracker, Tactical Electric Toothbrush and whatever the hell else they're hanging off rifle these days. Then some of that lightweight 7.62x51mm ammo, maybe another ten plus pounds worth in one of those 100-round C-MAG drums on the gun.


Damn it, Gunkid! That's an FAL not an AR!
 

Me, I like to keep things KISS and lightweight. So when I first stumbled across the LTR Light Tactical Rail mount for the FAL/SLR on-line, I kind of skimmed past it. It just sounded too good to be true. I mean really, a 1.2 ounce scope mount?!?! Come on. Plus it was attached to a standard dust cover via some kind of super-strength industrial adhesive. In the past I have attempted to attach various accessories to weapons using high-speed low-drag super adhesives like JB Weld and Brownell's Accra-Glass and MSM Innuendo and had determined it couldn't be done, not on a .308, not for any length of time. Nope, drill and tap and screw or forget it. Can't be done. Well, it couldn't by me anyway.


But that magical number "1.2 ounces" stayed stuck in my head like a bad TV commercial jingle, singing a siren's song, and my mind kept going back to the LTR. I checked it out some more, looked around for reviews and comments, and finally started to believe these guys in Idaho really had built a better mousetrap. Then those same guys at B&T Enterprises had a sale. They had farmed out their first run of aluminum Picatinny rails and they hadn't come back made to 100% 1913 Picatinny Mil-Spec dimensions. If you could deal with such an imperfection, they could mount one of these factory seconds on your dust cover and send it back for something like $60 total.

What the hell? It's not like most of the accessories I would be using on the rail would be 100% Mil-Spec themselves. I sent in an old Metric FAL steel dust cover and a new DSA FAL Para dust cover and had them put LTR's on them. The business is still small, so the on-line ordering system is not some glossy 3-mouse-click deal, and in this particular case both they and I prefer to avoid using the anti-gun Paypal system whenever humanly possible. Snail mail and personal checks still work in this part of the country and we got 'er done. Service was fast and friendly and turn-around time great.

When I got the first rails, I sat down on the porch and unwrapped them. If you looked really, really close you could maybe see a couple of tiny imperfections in the adhesive where the rails and the covers came together, but they were only superficial and after all it had been honestly advertised as a factory second. No matter what, they were cool. The rail certainly seemed bulletproof in its mating to the dust cover. I later carried a 9-pound FAL around supported entirely by that little rail, walking around and shaking and jerking the rifle, with no ill effects whatsoever. So far, so good. And only 1.2 ounces!

The rifle which was to be given the honor of modeling with the first LTR was Queenie. She's a ban-era Century Franken-FAL on an IMBEL receiver with a standard Argentine FMAP 21-inch barrel crowned with a legal muzzle device, a permanently attached Entreprise Zero-Climb muzzle brake. This may not sound like a rifle you'd name Queenie, but ever since I bought her new in 2002 she has performed flawlessly and has been my most accurate FAL right out of the box. I had done a very good, if I do say so myself, trigger job on her and installed an Enterprise Free Float Barrel Tube forearm, but she was already accurate before that.

Queenie has long been my hunting FAL (no legitimate sporting purpose my ass!) and we've shed lots of blood together over the years, some of it mine. I purchased a German Hensoldt ZF24 scope some years back. This 4x24mm scope was the optic the Germans used on the G1 FAL before they went to the H&K G3 and they used it on that rifle as well; Argentina and Brazil continue to use it on their FALs to this day. My scope came with the cool accessory box o' stuff, including a Picatinny-to-STANAG mount. I went over this thing with a fine tooth comb and never did find a brand name or markings of any kind on it. It is basically a short aluminum Picatinny-ish rail with two threaded holes for the STANAG screws atop a cheaply constructed standard QD throw-lever mount which in turn fits onto a Weaver/Picatinny scope rail. The design and the thickness of the throw-lever assembly put the bottom of the scope tube almost exactly one inch above the top of the rail.

 When I got Queenie all gussied up in her new Hensoldt finery, the problem with the original no-name-brand mount was obvious. The scope was mounted too high above the bore for my tastes, calling for a chin-weld rather than a cheek-weld with the stock when sighting through it. Only two rifles have ever scoped me; a .300 Winchester Magnum in a light mountain rifle and Queenie. And FALs don't even kick that hard, especially with the gas system tuned. Eye relief on the Hensoldt is also too short and too critical, IMHO. I "fixed" my problem by cutting some shaped pieces out of an old ensolite camping sleeping pad and aesthetically blending them with the form and symmetry of the Metric humpback stock using the Handyman's Secret Weapon, duct tape. Camouflage duct tape at that. It was so redneck that Queenie started trying to bum Copenhagen off me.

This made Queenie a bit like one of my ex's; a little homely but definitely functional. I got by with this system for four hunting seasons and never missed on deer and antelope. We didn't miss on elk, either; technically you have to actually see an elk to be able to miss it. One year, shooting from the foxhole supported firing position (i.e. standing in an old, dry irrigation ditch), I was wearing multiple layers of cold weather clothing. I must not have had the butt tight enough to my should because of this and when I popped a whitetail doe at about 200 yards, that damn Hensoldt came raring back and gave me another case of half-moon disease over the eyebrow.

So, while it worked, it was ugly and uncomfortable. The hell of it is, I think I standard STANAG see-through mount might be even more uncomfortable. It would definately require a good cheek rest, too. Now, though, with the new LTR in hand, it was time for a make-over.







Queenie & the Hensoldt, before and after. I just wish I had pics taken on a scale showing the weight difference.


The A.R.M.S. Picatinny-to-STANAG adapter pretty well covers the whole LTR mount, but it's under there somewhere.

Off came the no-name-brand Picatinny-to-Stanag QD throw arm adapter...minus 5 ounces. Off came the steel no-name-brand (got "thrown in" with another rifle purchase) dust cover scope mount. Ten more ounces gone. I was having fun already. Making an FAL heavier is so easy that even certain members of the reptile and rodent families can do it; making one lighter is a whole 'nother story.

On went the LTR dust cover which, having been the original dust cover for the rifle in the first place, fit just right...4.2 ounces total. Then came the new A.R.M.S. #7 Picatinny-to-STANAG adapter. It fits very flush to the rail and doesn't stick up an entire inch before it even reaches the scope like the QD throw-lever model. Add another 5 ounces. Top it all off with the Hensoldt scope and perhaps some whipped cream and a cherry.

Here I encountered my first problem. Like I wanted, the scope tube now sat close to the top of the rifle, but so close that it didn't quite clear the top of the rear aperture arm on the open sight! Well, I could order a shorter Austrian/Belgian style rear aperture or a Brit L1A1 rear sight with the folding leaf, but if only DSA had them that could take months. I could just disassemble the rifle and remove the rear sight aperture from its ramp altogether, but I always have back-up peep sights on all scoped rifles. On the other hand, I didn't really need all that much room for clearance. Out came a flat file and the top of the rear sight aperture tombstone was flattened and lowered by something just a tad under a millimeter. No big deal.

Voila. Now the scope fit. And how. I certainly no longer needed my redneck cheek pad on the stock, so off that came as well. I didn't think to see how much it weighed when I threw it away. I'll make a SWAG of 2-3 ounces. At any rate, I could now shoulder the rifle and comfortably rest my cheek fully on the stock while sighting through the scope. It felt good, and the rifle now weighed 7.8 to 8.8 ounces less than when I had started.

But the pleasant surprises were not over for the day. Later, I went out to bore-sight the scope, just me and the dog and a cheap Caldwell rest on the picnic table. About the time I got done with all the fussing and fidgeting to get the bore juusssttt right on the 100-meter target I glanced through the scope so see how much adjustment this was going to take. Not much. The reticule was already right where it needed to be on the target. So much for bore-sighting. I wish it always went so easily.

A couple of days later, I took a couple of the FALs out on the National Forest to an old gravel pit where I shoot to zero in the scope. Early afternoon, upper 60's, wind 3-5 mph quartering (also known as dead calm around these parts), 80's Portuguese surplus ball ammo, 100 meters, 5-shot groups. The first group measures 2-1/4 inches and MPI is two inches high and about 3 inches left. Not bad, especially if you've seen me boresight. I try to convert inches to centimeters in my head, causing a smoke screen which helpfully keeps the first emerging misquotes at bay, and adjust the Hendsoldt's windage and elevation dials. Next group runs 1-3/4inch and needs "just a couple more" clicks to the right.

Pretty confident, I set up a 300-meter target, set the BDC, and have at it. The next group is kind of sloppy, (mostly due to operator headspace and timing) just over six inches, and the 300 meter BDC setting on the Hensoldt has the Port ball hitting just about three inches low. I make my corrections, settle in more comfortably into the sandbag, and fire another group. Ahhh! That's more like it. Four and one half inches and dead bang on the nuts. Happy, happy, happy.

About a week later, I'm out shooting again, tweaking my other Century and the DSA Para. Queenie has resided behind the seat of the pickup the whole time. I grab her just to see if the zero has held, dial in the BDC (I keep it set on 250 meters in "go-to" mode) and put three rounds of Port downrange off the rest at the 300 meter target. They group right at 2-1/2 inches! And dead center on the circle. I don't know what I'm happier about...the scope mount, the zero retention, or a sub-MOA group with the gun and ammo I'm using. Queenie has given me some 1 MOA groups before, which is why I put up with the old scope mount to use the Hensoldt and it's BDC. Now I can have accuracy and comfort.



Some FALs really are worth scoping. Now, if the shooter would just work on his breathing...
 
So, for sixty bucks I have an FAL rifle which is much more comfortable to shoot, wears its scope properly mounted, and lost right around a half a pound of weight in the process. What's not to like?

I'm sold. I've already added an LTR to my 16-inch Para. It's now wearing a kind of goofy little Kruger Tac-Driver 1.5-5x32 tacti-cool scope on the LTR. It's stayed zeroed and all systems are still a go after about sixty rounds through the combination. I'll eventually get a cheek pad on the Para stock as the cheek weld with this particular set-up gets a little iffy in the prone, but that's often the case when you glass a Para and have to clear the rear sights.
Kruger 1.5-4x32 Tac Driver (the scope comes with this mount) on an LTR on a Para dust cover.

The scope is a temporary measure until I get something better, i.e. more expensive. However, I also have an old 4x NC Star pistol scope on my 6.5mm Swedish Mauser Scout Rifle that went on as a "temporary measure" over a dozen years ago now but it is still on the rifle, so you never know.  The Kruger itself is a nice little scope, but it's the quality of the glass that makes a real scope. We'll see. I have bigger fish to fry at the moment and I don't expect to be shooting the Para past 300 meters anyway, so who knows.


One warning, though. The LTR has the potential to become as addictive as the FAL itself. I already had to buy another LTR. Getting ahead of myself, but I'm getting a Burris MTAC-30 1-4x scope for my birthday last month, sometime during the next Visa billing cycle. That glass will be going on Queenie to take advantage of her accuracy, so I'll be doing a scope shuffle. The Hensoldt may be temporarily benched as I plan to keep the British SUIT scope on the other Century FAL, but with the LTR and an adapter, saying goodbye to the rather cumbersome Brit dust cover SUIT mount.


So, if you're a FALcohalic who wants glass on your rifle or perhaps you're one of us reaching that age where your eyes are telling you that maybe you should switch from irons to optics, I can heartily endorse B&T Enterprises and their Light Tactical Rail. You can either buy a new LTR-and-dust cover combo to specifically fit to your individual rifle, or you can send in your present dust cover and have them mount an LTR on it. Either way, it's a pretty reasonable price for what truly is a better mousetrap.



2 comments:

Unknown said...

Been a while since I have been by, and what a whopper. Queenie is now shooting like mad with that setup, and it does look sweet.

I have 2 of TAC-30's, and they have been great scopes so far. Joshua has replaced the Aimpoint dot with it.

You are making me jealous!! :D

-Mark

curatolo@gmail.com said...

since you're rocking the Burris MTAC 30 now any chance of selling the Hensoldt ZF24?