Back To The Beginning

Brownells’ Retro BRN-10 7.62mm Recreates A Revolutionary Combat Classic!

By Jeff John
Photos: R. Jones/The ImageSmith, LLC

The new Retro BRN-10A from Brownells gives today’s shooters a chance to
go back to the roots of the now ubiquitous AR-pattern rifle.

Jeff particularly liked the original-style bolt release with paddles at the top and bottom.

A Second Chance

The Brownells Retro BRN-10 comes in two models. The one we received for testing is the BRN-10A with brown furniture, a three-prong Dutch-style flash hider and is cataloged at 9 lbs., mostly from a heavier, fluted barrel. This one weighed 9 lbs., 2 oz. with an empty magazine installed. The second, the BRN-10B, has black furniture, a closed-end Portuguese-style flash hider and a thin pencil barrel paring the weight down to 8 lbs.

Both BRN-10s are heavier than the first AR that weighed in at less than 7 lbs. with its composite aluminum/stainless steel barrel. The BRN-10B at 8 lbs. comes close, and we can thank the heavier weight to an all-steel barrel and today’s proven components in the rest of the rifle. The 10B is still quite a bit lighter than any other comparable 7.62 rifle such as the FAL, G3 or M1A, all of which hover between 9 and 10 lbs. unloaded.

The barrel on the original rifle, designed by George Sullivan, had a rifled stainless steel-liner in an aluminum shroud and weighed only 1.5 lbs. The composite barrel, strongly objected to by Stoner, failed during testing, and conventional steel barrels were then used and the rifle began to succumb to weight creep, so prevalent in the military.

Brownells chose two all-steel barrels from Faxon Firearms for this project. The BRN-10A has a 20″ barrel with a diameter at the gas block of 0.75″. It is heavier and fluted under the handguard.

The BRN-10B sports a pencil-style thin 20″ barrel, still 0.75″ at the gas block, but weighs only 2.07 lbs. Both barrels have a 1:10″ twist, are magnetic particle inspected and then given a salt bath nitride finish inside and out.

Receivers are machined from billet 7075 T6 aluminum. Noticeably absent on these early AR receivers are the raised moldings around the magazine release and the clean, uncluttered look without case deflector, forward assist and T-charging handle.

The square, early-style magazine well looks odd today, and will not accept Magpul polymer magazines. Only Brownells, DPMS and SR-25 aluminum magazines will fit. All are of the current vertical-ribbed style rather than the unique waffle-style of originals. The BRN-10 comes with one magazine.

The BRN-10 also has a pleasingly flat and simple side profile, devoid of
forward assists, magazine release button “fences” and the like.

The heavier barrel of the BRN-10A received for testing was topped off
with a three-prong Dutch-style flash suppressor.

One of the most distinctive features of the early AR was its trigger-style
charging handle located inside the integral carry handle.

Just Right

The BRN-10 series isn’t a meticulous recreation of the original, just to be clear. The internals are very modern and take advantage of today’s technology but are given cosmetic touches for the era. Several components on the BRN-10 are compatible with 7.62mm AR parts from DPMS and the SR-25, and a few AR-15 parts are compatible for good measure.

Another modern touch — the bolt is made from 9310, a steel known for its core hardness and high fatigue resistance. It’s magnetic particle inspected and chrome plated. It is given a period cosmetic touch of the distinctive flat shape as seen through the ejection port.

Brownells made the front sight block in the early style with its peculiar steep angle, and it sets off the retro profile well. The integral fixed front sight is a Patridge style and protected by twin ears. The forward sling swivel is fixed on the left side of the sight block.

The rear sight is only elevation adjustable in the field. A window in the back of the carry handle quickly shows where the elevation adjustment is set. Windage is adjustable, but is done by loosening the small setscrew visible just above the elevation window and moving the aperture. Once loosened, it moves easily. A reference scale on the receiver helps keep track of it. There is but one fixed aperture rear sight, and it has a tight, target-style hole, giving a sharp, clear sight picture, well protected by the carry handle ears.

The furniture is of modern construction — polymers have come a long way since the 1950s — but done in the retro style and thankfully as snag free as the rest of the gun. The handguard drops in like a standard AR-15 handguard, and it’s given external contours to replicate the original AR’s look. Like early models, the buttstock has no trapdoor for a cleaning kit.

The BRN-10 ran smoothly with no failures to feed or eject, and threw cases about 3 or 4 yards
away between 3 and 5 o’clock. Hearing protection is an Otis Ear Shield. Photos: Jeff John

SIG SAUER Elite Performance ammo topped with the Sierra 168-gr. MatchKing bullet gave the best
4-shot group. If Jeff hadn’t honked one shot, it would have been a stellar 5-shot group.


In a flashback moment reminding me of an early encounter with an AR, one wag at the range exclaimed my gun looked like a Mattel toy, which I found funny, since there were more than half dozen other ARs on the range, all festooned with a variety of modern appurtenances. I appreciated the clean, smooth lines of the BRN-10 even more.

The cocking pull effort is right at 24 lbs. once the bolt is unlocked. The RCBS Military Trigger Pull gauge only goes to 25 lbs., so where the bolt breaks loose requires a little more effort above that. The first tug to break the bolt loose was a little tough, made easier after cleaning the gun and applying G96 RFG grease on the lugs, and G96 Synthetic CLP on the bolt.

I expect the bolt will become easier to rack with more shooting. But it explains why the trigger-style charger was replaced. You can get but one finger in to rack the bolt, and as the day progressed I found it harder to do (arthritis in my hands doesn’t help). It’s far easier for me if the rifle is on my shoulder, otherwise there just isn’t a good way to apply the normal muscles used to work the bolt where needed.

The cocking lever/trigger doesn’t reciprocate and can be used as a forward assist when needed — another simple plus, and one eliminating even more extra parts on modern ARs.

The trigger pull averaged 4.5 lbs., gave a clean break and felt consistent. Anyone already used to a good, standard AR-15 trigger will feel right at home. The safety is left-side only and operates smoothly with thumb pressure. Like its kin, it sweeps up to horizontal for “safe” and presses down to vertical for “fire.”

The bolt release is in the usual place on the left side and operates the same way. It has a paddle style on both ends, and I find it easier to use than the standard AR style.

The takedown pin fits flush on the left side and presses out easily with the nose of a bullet. It is captured. The upper unhinges and the bolt is easily withdrawn from the rear. There is no slop between the halves when the pin is in place.

Brass puddles up nicely 3 or 4 yards away between 3 o’clock and 5 o’clock depending on the load. You can see the reason for a case deflector on the AR-15, since anyone standing to your right has a good chance of getting a hot shell casing in his ear.

Five loads were on hand for testing. American Eagle represented the baseline load, and the other four were match loads from Black Hills and SIG SAUER. No failures to feed occurred, and only once did the last American Eagle round fail to lock open the bolt. After sidelining that magazine, there were no other malfunctions.

I placed four Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C targets on one large piece of white paper thinking I’d shoot a group on each. Trouble arose when I discovered the rifle shot 9″ high and wide right while shooting my 5-shot groups. Bad news is the sight post is machined integrally with the base. Good news is it was only used for this early BRN-10, and current models will have corrected sights so you can achieve a 100-yard zero.

The two loads shooting best were both topped with Sierra 168-gr. BTHP MatchKings. Black Hills Match delivered a 2¼” group, and SIG SAUER Match a 23⁄8″ group. I honked one round with the SIG load or it might’ve taken the crown. Four shots were in a nice 13⁄8″ group. Black Hills Match loaded with Sierra 155-gr. tipped MatchKing delivered a nice 5-shot group of 2½”. Recoil was very manageable.

The elevation-adjustable rear sight has a window in the rear of the
carry handle that shows its adjustment setting.

The integral, fixed front sight is a Patridge style and protected by twin ears.
The forward sling swivel is fixed on the left side of the sight block.


I love early firearm technology and I think the pencil barrel will carry better than the heavy fluted one — and shoot just as well — so I’ll look forward to a B model. I might dragoon it for self-defense — in case my 5.56 AR is out for an oil change or something — and the lighter weight would be handier. It might also be fun to show up at a 3-gun match with the BRN-10, a GI 1911 .45 and a 12-gauge Winchester ’97 Trench Gun. I foresee many good times ahead!

Where It All Began

Want to read about Stoner’s original AR back when it was first released in the 1950s? Then be sure to check out the March 1957 GUNS magazine cover story, “Is This The Next GI Rifle,” on our website at Just scroll over to the 1957 Editions link and then select the March issue. You’ll get a great perspective on how the revolutionary rifle was viewed back when it first appeared.

Looking For More?

Order A Printed Issue $12.95

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