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The Classic Bushmaster XM15: American-Made

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In the wake of Wyndham Weaponry closing up shop, I’ve been walking through the story of Bushmaster. If you’re not familiar with the guys behind Wyndham Weaponry, you might be surprised to know that they used to be the Bushmaster crew. After Bushmaster sold to Freedom Group and moved the jobs outside of Maine. Before the purchase by Freedom Group, Bushmaster was well respected for their XM15 series of rifles. It made me break out the only Bushmaster rifle I’ve ever owned, an XM15E2S. 

This is an American classic. It lacks any form of rails and utilizes the classic A2 carry handle. It’s deliciously old school. Bushmaster was part of the early effort that made the AR series such a mainstream platform. There are seemingly dozens, if not hundreds, of AR manufacturers out there these days. This is rather new to the market, and there was a time when the AR market was basically Colt and Bushmaster.

Breaking Down the Classic XM15 

If you’ve never shot with AR iron sights beyond the MBUS variety, you might be a little confused when you look at the carry handle sights on these old-school rifles. The A2 rear sights are a bit more complex than most. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is for you to decide. 

I always thought they were a bit complicated for an infantry rifle. That’s what happens when the USMC gets to design your sights. I was trained at the Parris Island School for Wayward Boys on A2 iron sights but used an ACOG for the rest of my career. 

From there, we get an M4-style carbine for the era. The stock standard M4 series stock, plastic handguards, and birdcage flash suppressor. It’s high-tech for 1995. In the modern era, it’s a reminder of the classic design of the AR. If you feel a sudden need to argue that it is not a ‘retro’ rifle, I hear you, but I bet at this age, your knees hurt too. 

The Bushmaster XM15 series came in numerous variants, including various ‘shorty’ models, target models, and Dissipators. This particular weapon is a pretty standard XM15 E2S with an M4-A3 barrel. In Bushmaster terminology, the M4-A3 is a heavy 16-inch barrel. There are no cuts for an M203 or that silly government profile barrel. 

The XM15 series gave Bushmaster a real winner. The rifle was adopted by a wide variety of police forces before flat-top uppers became the norm. They were used with Patrol cars and SWAT teams. The rifle went on to arm the Brazillian Federal Police, branches of the New Zealand Police, and even the Polish GROM. 

At the Range With the XM15

I’ve shot a lot of ARs and a lot of M16s and M4s, but I don’t think I’ve ever shot a heavy-barreled carbine. Heavy barreled rifles with 20 to 24-inch barrels? Sure, but a 16-inch heavy barrel was new to me. As you’d imagine, the heavy barrel makes the gun front heavy, and it loses a bit of the balance the AR series is known for. It’s not like the weapon becomes unmanageable, and if it is, do some push-ups pull-ups. 

Heavy benefits have some accuracy benefits we’ll discuss later, but one of the benefits that barely ever gets mentioned is increased control. That heavy barrel helps keep the muzzle rise low and easy to control. It was most noticeable when I did a VTAC 1-5 drill. When I got to those four to five-round strings, I was pleasantly impressed by how little the rifle resisted rising out of the A-zone. 

The 5.56 isn’t tough to control. Every little bit helps, especially when that little bit helps with the human errors caused by shooters. 

Ringing Steel 

One thing you’ll learn quickly if you haven’t been behind iron sights in a while is that you should practice with iron sights more often. I quickly found myself growing a little frustrated at my lack of aptitude with the A2 style irons. With the manual for A2 sights downloaded to my phone as a refresher and did get the gun zeroed relatively easily. I also didn’t have to make many adjustments. 

When shooting for groups, I produced what is likely excellent groups for an inexperienced iron sight shooter. After a day of practice, of course. I was thinking I should have probably taken a  day and found an old snap-in barrel and did some dry fire.

From a prone position with a backpack acting as a rest, I was able to create groups that hovered around 3.5 inches at 100 yards. I was using Lake City M855. The XM15 can likely shoot better groups with a more supportive rest, premium ammo, and, of course, a better shooter. 

It’s worth mentioning this old-school AR doesn’t feature free-floated handguards or a lot of the modern niceties we get with rifles these days. It is what it is, and it’s most certainly minute of bad guy’s chest accurate. Shooting for groups is kind of boring. What’s not boring is doing some run and gun on various steel targets. 

Go, Go, Go 

That heavy barrel came into play when trying to hit a series of 4 gongs from fifty yards. The resistance to muzzle rise made it easy to jump between targets quickly at the sound of steel getting pinged. Back at the 100-yard line, I practiced shooting a steel IPSC target from a multi-position drill. I would fire two rounds in the standing, two in the kneeling, and two in the prone as fast as possible. That poor IPSC target delivered satisfactory dings as I dived from position to position. 

As I mentioned, I got a little closer, used the larger aperture, tried my hand at a VTAC 1-5 drill. I walked away, impressed with what iron sights are capable of at close range. You kind of forget that red dots do provide an advantage, but maybe that advantage isn’t as massive as you think. Iron sights can certainly still get it done. (Although I’d still prefer a red dot.) 

The rifle pumped through some of the famed Winchester M855 rounds. I also shot some old Hornady steel-cased training ammo and some Wolf brass stuff I’ve always been impressed by. The XM15 hammered through it all without complaint. The same goes for various magazines, from Lancers and PMAGs to old-school aluminum and beyond. 

The Rise of the Rifle 

The XM15 might not be an M-LOK coated, optic-wearing, Sub-MOA blaster, but it’s easy to see how Bushmaster helped usher in the age of the AR. The little blaster is a ton of fun to shoot and a welcome change from the modern rifles we are all so used to. It takes you back to your roots, or at least your rifle’s roots. 

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