Imagine an M-16A4-style rifle but with an 18-inch barrel. The Anderson Manufacturing A4 Short Rifle is just that. This unique setup is a blend of old and new. Let’s see how it performs.
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Disclosures are an essential part of any review. One of my personal friends is an engineer at Anderson Manufacturing, and he set up this review. Anderson provided the rifle, and I purchased the ammo.
My experiences with Anderson have not been great in the past. I bought a pile of their lowers as cheap insurance against the scares that always seem to grip the firearm market. I have built several guns on those lowers over the years. Some went together fine but had a fit with upper receivers best described as passable. Others had slight dimensional abnormalities that made assembling them difficult or impossible to install parts of certain brands. I also used to own an Anderson 6.5 Grendel upper. It did not cycle reliably until it had a few hundred rounds through it, but it was decently accurate. I sold it long ago.
However, they have come a long way in the last couple of years. Anderson updated their lineup with new generations of guns like the AM10 .308, and has gotten into the world of Glock-compatible pistols and bolt action rifles. Among those new releases at SHOT 2023 was the A4 Short Rifle. I have a longstanding love of AR-15 rifles. My FN M-16A4 military collector is one of my favorite rifles and I shoot a similar setup in high-power competition. The Anderson A4 Short Rifle is that traditional fixed stock, rifle gas setup, but with an 18″ barrel. Obviously, that is a gun that I wanted to spend some time with.
The 18″ barrel is 4150 steel, nitride finished, and has a 1:8 twist with a 5.56 chamber. That twist rate is a great choice and adequately stabilizes a wide range of projectile weights. I fired bullets ranging from 55-grains to 77-grains during the review process and there were no signs of keyholing or other issues.
Trigger quality can make or break the shooting experience, and the stainless steel model included in this rifle is generally good. The pull is smooth and the break fairly crisp. However, it has a fairly heavy pull weight at a little over 8 pounds.
The A4 Short Rifle includes an ASC magazine, and it is one of the glaring weak points of the rifle. I had several failures to feed with different types of ammunition while using that magazine. Once I switched to magazines that I trust like Duramag and Magpul, the feeding issues disappeared.
I invited several of my friends and coworkers to try the rifle out during my review. The most common reaction among them was surprised; they did not really believe that this was an Anderson product. Little details like the way that the safety snaps firmly from safety to fire make this feel like a higher-tier gun than the price point would suggest.
Though it is much less fun than running and gunning or mag dumping into trash, I did spend some time at the local (fudd) range shooting from a rest on a concrete table at a well-lit target. This particular rifle averaged between 2-2.5 MOA with a wide range of ammo. The best groups were fired with Winchester/Lake City 55-grain 5.56 NATO at a little under 2 MOA. The worst groups were 7 MOA with CBC/Magtech 55-grain 5.56 NATO. However, that particular lot of ammo creates shotgun patterns in every gun tested so it is an ammunition problem. 77-grain and 69-grain match ammo both shot about as well as quality 55-grain FMJ.
A lighter trigger, perhaps by swapping out the trigger or hammer springs, may have helped shrink those groups a bit. Realistically though that level of accuracy is very adequate for most purposes outside of varmint hunting.
I tried a few different sighting options over the course of the review. The A4 Short Rifle includes a Magpul MBUS folding sight. That is a perfectly serviceable backup sight but it is not my favorite to shoot with. I quickly switched the MBUS out for a detachable carry handle out of my parts bin. A2-style sights are vastly superior to folding plastic sights for serious use.
The Brownells MPO 1-6×24 scope worked well for accuracy testing and for shooting outdoors at range. However, to me, iron sights are the most fun on a rifle like this. It is accurate enough for most non-competition purposes, but it does not feel like a waste of potential to run irons instead of a magnified optic.
With a retail price of $599 direct from Anderson, the A4 Short Rifle stands out among its price point peers. Rifle-length gas systems and rifle buffers make for very soft shooting guns, unlike budget carbines with their short gas tubes and cost-cutting lightweight buffers. If you are in the market for a traditional rifle but you want a slightly more nimble package, this could be the gun for you.
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