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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 - Also by this author

Simple is Best


The Tippie National Match rear sight has a fine aperture for detail work and a coarse one for close-in fighting.

Risking cliché, the "Keep It Simple, Stupid" philosophy reigns supreme when it comes to reliability in the field. The more widgets and decorations you bolt onto a piece of equipment, the higher the likelihood it will fail when you need it most. Keeping it simple, yet guaranteeing .5-inch MOA and 100-percent reliability, is what makes the Thunder Ranch Rifle unique. Often, you can have one (amazing accuracy) or reliability, but rarely both. And, in its intended role, unless the rifle is 100-percent reliable, it's useless and may as well be a rusty bolt.

However, simplicity doesn't necessarily mean "without features." For instance, this rifle's innovative front sight is an example of simplified engineering combined with a new performance window. The tritium front sight folds down and locks with a detent to accommodate the installation of optics on the flat-top receiver. It will also fold and spring back if knocked against a hard surface. If the sight is needed, with the simple press of a stud it pops back up.

The rear sight is a Tippie National Match unit with quarter-inch MOA adjustments and a .198-inch ghost-ring along with a .1-inch precision aperture. This entire assembly comes off to mount optics and other goodies if you simply must have them. A Jewell two-stage trigger is standard (the same as that offered on Baer's National Match rifle) and is tuned to a 4.5-pound pull since it's a duty rifle. The barrel is made in house at Baer and is rifled with a 1-in-8 twist and likes heavier bullets. As you can see, this is not a bare bones military rifle.

Shooting

When Clint Smith received the first Thunder Ranch Rifle from Les Baer, he immediately took it out on the range at the Ranch and fired about 700 rounds through it in 25 minutes. It got so hot the Baer Coat lifted from the gas block. But according to Smith, it ran like clockwork.

Our test rifle was a very early model that I had the opportunity to examine on a recent trip to Thunder Ranch. And I can personally report that Smith was very proud of the finished product and the job Les Baer did in taking their concepts and turning them into a real, shooting rifle.

Anyone familiar with the operation of an AR will be right at home with the Les Baer Thunder Ranch Rifle. The only thing you have to get used to is the incredible smoothness and almost effortless operation of the rifle.

Shooting this rifle is a pleasure. The crisp trigger helps to keep things on target, and half-inch to three-quarter-inch groups are possible with the iron sights, if you know what you're doing. With heavier bullets, like Black Hills 77-grain HPBT, not only do you have a serious rifle capable of penetrating deeply enough to make it through many barriers, but you also have tack-driving accuracy.

With quality optics, this rifle really can deliver sub-half-inch groups. Baer says, "I routinely shoot these rifles at .25 inches at a hundred, and that's no kidding." I would never accuse Les Baer of kidding about the accuracy of his guns. This rifle is scarily accurate, to the point that it's hard to believe, but we saw it with our own eyes.

Final Thoughts

Just as the Les Baer Custom Super-Tac II 1911 is a wonderful pleasure to shoot and a delight to behold, so is the Thunder Ranch Rifle. Baer's no-compromise quality control, design, and engineering coupled with Clint Smith's "learned it in the dirt" experience with rifles, has created a symphony of parts that pleases the eye as well as the hands.

Unfortunately, like anything in this league, quality doesn't come cheap. At about $2,488, the price of the Les Baer Custom Thunder Ranch Rifle might make a city administrator's heart stop. However, one missed shot from a cop's rifle, or an officer who doesn't make it home due to mediocre equipment, may cost millions-not counting the heartbreak.

What price do you or your agency place on peace of mind? If necessary, forgo the next personal watercraft or motorcycle accessory and invest in your future instead.

Les Baer Custom
Thunder Ranch Rifle

Caliber: .223
Barrel Length: 16 inches
Overall Length: 34.75 inches
Weight: 7 pounds, 6 ounces
Twist: 1x8 inch
Length of Pull: 13.5 inches
Sights: Iron, adjustable, front-folding (tritium)
Magazines: Any AR-type
Trigger: Jewell two-stage (4.5 pounds)
Finish: Baer Coat
Price: $2,488 (full retail)
www.lesbaer.com

Roy Huntington is editor of American Handgunner and a member of the POLICE Advisory Board.

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Tags: Tactical Rifles, AR-Type Rifles, Firearms Reviews

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