It’s hard to keep track of all the companies that build AR-15-type rifles these days. At some point in the recent past, I was visiting with someone in the gun industry and we determined that the number of AR manufacturers hovered around 75 companies. My list isn’t quite that long, but it’s close. As a result, a law enforcement officer has a dizzying array of choices when it comes to selecting an AR-based tactical carbine.
With all of these companies in the AR business, it gets rather murky telling the difference between a gun made by Company X or Company Y. Since last summer, and by the time this issue goes to press, I will have tested 47 different ARs made by 27 different companies for this and other Harris magazines. From a distance, many of these rifles look basically the same. Even a close inspection of their operating systems makes distinction between guns difficult. At this point, you have to learn something about the people at each company to find the nuances in manufacturing that set one company’s product apart from another’s.
When I got the assignment to test and evaluate the gas piston AR made by Core15, I was surprised to find Israel “Izzy” Anzaldua at the helm. If you know Anzaldua by name, you’re probably familiar with Bushmaster.
He was the director of global training and technical services for that company, but aside from a title too long to fit on a business card, Anzaldua was the creator of the .450 Bushmaster and the company’s Varminter and Predator model rifles. Ironically, my introduction to ARs was when I purchased a Varminter several years ago. Prior to his 22 years at Bushmaster, Anzaldua spent 20 years in the Army as a small arms and weapons officer. “I was 14 years old and in the ROTC was the first time I picked up an M16,” Anzaldua was quick to add. Upon leaving Bushmaster, Anzaldua moved to the upstart Core15 Rifle Systems, which benefited from his new role as vice president of sales and business development.
Core15 was started as a new division of Good Times Outdoors, a leader in the airboat business. The expansion of manufacturing from their marine industry to the gun industry was helped along by adding highly experienced firearms staff with hundreds of years of cumulative experience.
“In 2009, our president and founder Norman Clifton III got interested in producing a quality AR-15-platform rifle at a competitive price,” Anzaldua says. “The market for AR-platform rifles was still in high demand due to the political climate, and rifles were months or even years from delivery.
Norman was already involved in manufacturing airboats and had at his disposal a talented pool of people who weren’t simply boat builders, but talented fabricators and firearms enthusiasts in their own right.” Having a retail gun store in their current facility was the final piece in the framework that formed Core15, a new breed of AR-15s built by shooters for shooters.
“The talent range of our employees covers the gamut of expertise,” Anzaldua explains. “We have a gentleman here who has been in the gun industry about 30 years and his specialty is long-range rifles. And he has his own proprietary processes that he brings to our builds. The hardcoat anodizing that we use is highly controlled, since our anodizing is done right down the street. Bringing skilled and highly trained individuals to the table, we feel Core15 has more to offer for various reasons. We are the working class and never forget why we love to work at this company.”
Tight tolerances are key factors in making accurate ARs. “Mil-spec is just a starting point with us,” Anzaldua says. “Our guns are built to tighter tolerances than mil-spec, and our gas piston system—it’s the best in the industry. I have hundreds of thousands of hours operating gas piston systems. We tried a pile of them, and the one that I always liked the most was the Adams Arms piston system. In this instance, the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principal pays off. On top of that, the system is enhanced by a Melonite coating that increases lubricity.”
AR enthusiasts differ in their opinions on the merits of direct gas impingement versus gas piston systems. One of the complaints read on the web is that the piston rod puts uneven striking pressure on the bolt carrier, causing the bolt to wear the upper receiver unevenly as it cycles. Core15 answers this concern by keeping tolerances tighter between the bolt carrier assembly and where it rides in the upper receiver. “Carrier tilt, if the action is sloppy, will cause the gun to wear more and unevenly. We build our guns more concentric to the bore, which
takes care of that problem. We have two settings, suppressed and unsuppressed. We know for a fact that you can take the crappiest ammo on the market and get it to cycle the gun with no problem.”
Built upon the same principles of Eugene Stoner’s original design, “We use the basic receivers as the core of our AR-15 rifles, and then expand upon that design by incorporating the many benefits of today’s accessories into our rifles,” Anzaldua says. “We hold each and every receiver to exacting tolerances using state-of-the-art machining processes. We go beyond the military standard tolerances to ensure the best fit possible.”
The best example of Core15’s attention to detail is the barrel manufacturing process. “The barrel is the caveat of any rifle system, and our standard exceeds the military standard,” Anzaldua explains. “We hold a 0.0003-inch tolerance, while the military standard is 0.0010, and we hold this in every barrel. Additionally, our polygonal barrels are held to the same tolerance. We also exceed the mil-spec on hardcoat anodizing, which is Type 3 Class 2, because we control that process at every stage. Our upper receivers, in respect to the bore area
where the bolt carrier rides, are tighter than anyone making this platform. We are holding exactly 1 inch where the bolt rides into the feed ramp and guides the round into the chamber. Yes, we still have the M4 feed ramps, but we have found in testing that a tighter bore tolerance where the carrier rides reduces failures to feed and makes the rifle very reliable. We are also making a billet receiver holding the same tolerance as we would with a forged receiver. We offer a more reliable, smoother functioning and more accurate weapon that will provide you with the peace of mind that you deserve.”
The Core15 M4 features a forged 7075-T6 lower receiver, a Type 3 Class 2 hardcoat anodized finish, a beveled magazine well for improved reload speed, machined chevrons in the frontstrap, and bullet pictogram safety markings. The M4 upper receiver incorporates M4 feed ramps, along with a Picatinny rail flattop with laser-engraved T-markings. The 16-inch stainless steel match-grade barrel has a 1-in-8-inch twist rate, and is chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO.
Additional styling is standard fare, with an A2 flash hider, M4-style thermosetmolded polymer handguards with dual heat shields, an A2 pistol grip and a sixposition retractable stock.
At the range, I used two scopes to put the Core15 M4 through its paces. To shoot precision five-shot groups at 100 yards, I chose a Bushnell Elite 3200 scope. When I swapped over to shoot steel reactive targets, I swapped to a Trijicon ACOG. At a minimum, I shot three 5-shot groups for each load. I put more than 400 rounds through the Core15 without a malfunction. Since it was 97 degrees, it didn’t take long for heat mirage to interfere with shooting groups. When I swapped optics and started running through magazines, the M4 forend did its job and allowed me to run through 10 magazines in a few minutes’ time. Velocities were measured with a Shooting Chrony Beta chronograph.
Black Hills Ammunition’s 75-grain hollow-point Match load produced a 1.48-inch group, while averaging 1.84 inches. The average velocity was measured at 2,762 fps, and the standard deviation was 30 fps. The extreme spread was 82 fps.
Summit Ammunition’s 77-grain match loads were the top performers. The first group I fired measured 0.60 inches. Encouraged by the small group, I fired five more. I didn’t better the first group, but I did fire two more that measured 0.838 and 0.875 inches. The average for all groups fired was taped at 1.05 inches. The average velocity was 2,792 fps.
Hornady’s 75-grain Superformance Match ammunition packs a punch. The average velocity was 2,826 fps. The fastest round clocked 3,059 fps, which contributed to the 409 fps extreme velocity. Its smallest group measured 1.508 inches, with the average being 1.888 inches. Final Notes I found the Core15 M4 to be well-built, accurate and powerful. There were no malfunctions of any kind—it functioned as Core15 said it would, better than mil-spec. And for the reasonable cost, it’s a lot of gun. Whether a weekend shooter heading to the range for an afternoon of fun or a professional operator preparing for work, Core15 Rifle Systems will provide a weapon to fit your needs.