by Jesse Mathewson
Bushmaster as a company has been around since 1973, though it has seen several changes in location and ownership since that time. In the United States today, Bushmaster AR15 pattern rifles hold a position as the industry leader. My views on Bushmaster are varied, and like many children of the 80s and 90s, I saw them in a relatively poor light. The Bushmaster XM-15 line is what we are reviewing today. Specifically the Bushmaster XM-15 A2 patrol version.
My experience with Bushmaster has been two-fold, I have shot duds and I have shot spectacular examples of craftsmanship from them. The specific rifle I am reviewing is a solid representation of quality when cleaned well and with good ammunition.
I will reiterate again, most minor failures and some major failures with firearms result from poor ammunition choices. Buy the best ammunition you can afford, and the best performer in your particular firearm. If you skimp on ammunition, you will regret it in overall function and reliability.
With so many variants of the AR15 on the market today, maintaining market share requires the ability to prove your variant is the best for the money being spent. Brand new Bushmaster XM-15 variants run between $690 and $900 depending on location and type. There are 6 or 7 different XM-15 variants. The one I am reviewing and owned is the XM-15 A2 patrol version.
This model has the following features,
- 16” chrome lined 4150 steel (industry standard for good barrel steel in AR15s) with an M4 profile (lightweight)
- 6+ pounds unloaded, depending on the model
- removable A2 flash hider on patrol version and fixed on others
- Chambered in 5.56 (can shoot 223 rem)
- M16 or Full Auto Bolt Carrier Group (not all of the XM-15 series have this)
- Staked castle nut (many lower end AR15 manufacturers do not do this)
- Attached Carry handle/sight for the rear and standard fixed M16 front sight post
- gas operated
- 1:7 twist rate, some of the XM-15 variants come with a 1:9 twist so check this before buying and get what you want
- The lower and upper are made of 7075 forged aluminum, the upper was made by a third party on this rifle though they may make everything in-house now
It was designed for Law Enforcement and military use and the version we can buy as civilians is literally identical to what is sold to LE (minus potential for burst/full auto which many LE agencies avoid for standard patrol people anyhow.) It allows mounting of optics easily with the standard 1913 rail on the top of the receiver. Though the handguard is standard patrol/ milspec approach, it can be swapped easily for a Magpul MOE for-end for added versatility.
Accuracy was nominal with one or two stand out sets of groups. With my combat firearms, I do run sandbagged/benched accuracy testing. 100 yards for rifles/carbines and 25 yards for handguns. Each group benched is 5 rounds beginning with a cold barrel and cleaned between each group fired.
This is standard for accuracy testing with myself and many others. This being said, the groups I will talk about or show here will generally be combat accuracy groups. For myself this means standing, seated or laying down with a sling or bare rifle/ handgun and one slow fired full regular carry magazine. So 30 rounds for AR15 pattern rifles and 8 or more for handguns depending on the model. I firmly believe that a well-built firearm should be pushed to the limit in testing.
This rifle shot its best groups with IMI 55grn, Fiocchi 62grn, and Federal Premium 55grn rounds. For many shooters, this will be interesting, simply because 55grn is not stabilized best with a 1:7 twist rate. However, as we all know, every single firearm will have loads it prefers over others. At the time I had this rifle and was testing it I was also still reloading regularly.
One loading I used that was the best accuracy of all with 3 – 5 round groups averaging 0.82 ” using a 2 moa red dot no magnification, was as follows. (please do not copy this load if you are not a reloader with experience doing so)
- Federal once fired, neck sized, cleaned, reamed, etc., brass.
- 2.350 OAL (it was not a reliable feeding round, single shots at a time)
- 62 grain Hornady HPBT with cannelure
- 24.5 grains of Varget
- CCI small rifle primer
- Not Crimped
The other factory loads were between 1.7” and 2.5” with 30 rounds fired seated with a sling wrapped tight. This was slow fired, approximately one round per second no faster and sometimes slower.
The worst groups came using MEN 56grn, Tula 55grn, Winchester white box 55grn, Lake City 62grn, IMI 69 grn loadings. Again, this is absolutely not going to tell you what will work best in your individual rifle and from what I have seen personally will almost always be different than the exact same model in someone else’s hands.
For reliability I approached it as I do with all of my new firearms, I took the rifle down completely and cleaned every piece. Than reassembled it, lubricated it and went shooting. No factory lubrication on AR15s can make up for sitting on a shelf collecting dust while waiting to be sold.
Take your gun apart and clean it well, then lubricate it per the accepted approach. I use 2-4 drops of Ballistol inside the channel where the bolt carrier group will ride, cycle the bolt several times to get the oil spread about well and add a couple drops to the side of the BCG you see through the ejection port. Cycle the bolt a few times again and go shooting.
When you take a new too you gun out shooting, I suggest following this approach. After the first two magazines or 50 rounds of initial use, remove the BCG and wipe it down, replace the BCG and put 2 drops of oil on it. Run it through the next 450 or so rounds, testing accuracy and more while doing this. I have 500 rounds loaded up using one magazine per brand and bullet weight which allows me to see if any particular ammunition will cause issues or shoot badly.
I have had people tell me this is ridiculous, however, with combat/defensive firearms if they cannot run with many different types of ammunition, they cannot be relied on. My standard initial testing is 500 rounds for reliability. This includes 3-4 magazines or 120 rounds as fast as you can pull the trigger, without a cool down in between. This stage is essential as fast, high rates of fire will raise the temperature substantially and will quickly show problems if they exist.
This particular rifle was not as reliable as I would prefer. It had 3 failures in the first 500 rounds. Two of these failures may possibly be attributed to ammunition, one, however, was not. Two were failures to extract fully leading to a jammed up case in one instance.
The other was a failure to go into battery. All were immediately fixed and the gun completes the 500 rounds fine afterward. Reliability was still over 98% which is, in my opinion, more than adequate for defensive firearms. Personally, I prefer 99% reliability, however, perfection is a myth when it comes to anything built by humans.
Shooting this rifle was atypical of AR15 firearms, the trigger was a bit gritty but not terrible. The recoil was nominal, as all are. The standard A2 muzzle device functioned well and it was relatively comfortable all things considered.
It has a 6 position collapsible stock which allows the individual shooter to easily adjust to themselves, increasing their accuracy potential and ability to shoot it well. The controls all functioned as they should. Overall, this is a solid well-built firearm. While I have moved on from Bushmaster these days, I can recommend them to anyone looking for a solid firearm for personal defensive or patrol use depending on need.
Like many similar combat/defensive AR15s this one does not allow mounting of a light. Additionally, it does not allow easy mounting of optics, this is a detriment, these days optics are being built that are tougher than standard sights. I prefer the ability to have an optic and backup sights on my combat/defensive rifles.
This is the largest issue I had with the model I owned. Another issue was the use of sub-par stock and grip, there is no reason these days for a manufacturer that sells as many as Bushmaster does to use substandard grips and stocks. Magpul MOE or Troy or even BCM all offer lower-priced, much more user-friendly grips and butt-stocks.
Regardless, this is a firearm that will last a long time if you choose to purchase one. While I no longer own this one, I can say that I would not feel unarmed/under armed with one in hand. If you have any questions or additional information I may have missed in the article feel free to comment below. I enjoy reading the comments and learn from them every time, even if I only learn what I do not want to do.
Free the mind and the body will follow…