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Reviews : Arsenal

Les Baer Custom Thunder Ranch Rifle

This precision AR sets a new standard for patrol rifles.

September 01, 2003  |  by Roy Huntington

"Anyone who brings a pistol to a fight has chosen poorly."
- Clint Smith, Director, Thunder Ranch

The argument over the hypothetical "one-shot stop" continues unabated. Yet, anyone with any experience in the real world knows the closest you can ever come to ensuring an abrupt end to a gunfight is with a rifle. When a rifle caliber is introduced into the equation, things get serious and a handgun's ability to neutralize a threat is suddenly put into perspective. A solid hit with a .308 or .223 will, as Clint Smith is fond of saying, "Really change your channel."

At the risk of preaching to the choir, it might be a good idea to revisit the fact that gunfights in the police world almost invariably occur well within pistol ranges. With the typical SWAT precision rifle shot being under 100 yards (and closer to 75 or less), some people still don't understand the incredible ability of a rifle to be a cop's best friend when the chips are down-even when those chips start dropping at muzzle-contact distances.

Unless you've had personal experience, it may be hard to understand how a trained person can move, shoot, and communicate quickly, effectively, and with finality, all with a rifle in his or her hands-all at distances commonly encountered with duty handguns. If you shoulder a short rifle and stand next to someone holding a handgun at arm's length, you'll find the muzzles are within an inch or two of one another in extended length. That simple concept, joined with easy-to-learn tactics on how to maneuver the muzzle and control shot placement when in close, can turn a rifle into the answer to those "call out the cavalry" moments we've all encountered.

If we accept the idea of a rifle for police work-as thousands of agencies have-then it behooves us to take the next step and understand why quality, innovation, and performance must be at their peak when a rifle is adopted. After all, we've already decided that a good rifle may make the difference in a deadly force encounter.

Dynamic Duo

One of the world's best makers of high-end duty weapons is Les Baer Custom. The company's 1911 series pistols are well-known to savvy handgunners and it's the lucky cop who carries a Les Baer Custom 1911 in his or her duty holster. Police reviewed the Baer Super-Tac II (January 2003) and found it to be, arguably, the finest semi-production 1911 on the market.

So we were understandably intrigued with the concept of a Les Baer Custom AR-platform rifle, especially when we found out Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch (the world-class training facility in Texas) had joined hands with master gunsmith Baer to create what many feel may be the "perfect" police rifle.

Baer and Smith had already teamed up successfully on a 1911 fighting pistol, the "Thunder Ranch Special." Basically a very simple, no-fuss 1911, built to Smith's specific parameters and to Baer's quality standards, the pistol swept the industry.

With that kind of history, it was only natural for Smith and Baer to work together again on a rifle. As the originator of the concept of "Urban Rifle" and corresponding training over the years, Smith brought his past experience to the table. After two tours of duty in Vietnam where he was wounded in action, a stint as a working cop, originating the H&K training program in the late '80s, and creating Thunder Ranch in 1993, Smith's "real world" experience is sobering. Years of working with thousands of students in addition to his own combat and police experience have given Smith a unique perspective on refining rifle design. So he realized that what was needed in a patrol rifle was a simple, yet robust, design without compromise in reliability, accuracy, and ergonomics.
Baer agreed and, over the course of about a year, the two went back and forth with ideas, rough designs, sketches, and, finally, a finished product. Due to their combined efforts, Les Baer Custom now offers an astoundingly accurate and reliable rifle for a variety of applications.

The Les Baer Thunder Ranch rifle is an AR-15 platform rifle, but it's not just another AR-15 clone. It's a carefully crafted compilation of design innovation, quality in manufacturing, and specific ideas, all wrapped up into a package that is, simply put, virtually without peer.

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