For Want of a Good Rifle
For years I’ve considered buying a rifle or carbine for defensive use. It never rated high on the priority list since I always considered myself a shotgun guy when it came to personal or home defense. I’ve spent a few years looking at various rifles and carbines from a noncommittal standpoint and became pretty well versed with what was on the market. I knew all the specs and read all the reviews online and in magazines. I’ve even handled and shot a few varieties. It was safe to say that I was unbiased toward any particular design. The AK has its strengths and weakness, as did the AR platform. I knew I wasn’t interested in guns chambered in larger calibers like .308 or 7.62x54R. These serve a purpose, but not the one I wanted to fill. I knew my desires landed in the intermediate cartridges like .556 or 7.62×39. Ammo availability and price are always a concern when I’m looking at a gun.
I let a friend know that I was getting serious about figuring out what kind of rifle I wanted, he invited me to stop by the defensive training range he works at. He arranged for there to be several rifles there so I could look, feel, and shoot each one to get more familiar with the features I wanted. This was a blessing since purchasing a defensive rifle can be a pretty big investment. After some basic instruction on the designs, we hit the range. I quickly decided that I favored the AR platform. Luckily there were five variations available to test out. They ranged from polymer lower guns to a custom competition gun put together by a very competent armorer.
Now that I knew what I wanted, it was time to start the shopping process. I was back to the internet and magazines to read reviews with a very critical eye. My budget put me somewhere in the middle of the AR world. I wasn’t going to be buying a LaRue or Daniel Defense, but I wasn’t stuck looking in the bargain bins either. With the research done, it was time to get some hands on at every gun store I could get to. Luckily we have several great tactical weapons suppliers in the greater D/FW area. Bushmaster, SIG, DPMS… I handled them all. After a couple of weeks I ended up at the local Cabela’s retail store. Their selection is pretty good and prices are competitive. What was even better was ending up with an employee that was not only knowledgeable, he was willing to spend as much time as needed with me. I had already handled most of their offerings at other stores, so he handed me a rifle I hadn’t touched before. Like most people, I’d never heard of Windham Weaponry. I was leery of a rifle that I hadn’t seen in the gun magazines.
The Initial Impression
As soon as he handed me the gun, I went to town with my initial review. Pop the pins, open it up and see what it looks like on the inside. Most ARs sport the same features externally, so I wanted to see how well the manufacturer treated areas that usually aren’t seen. Attention to detail is important. If a company cuts corners where no one can see, where else will they try to save a few bucks?
Internally, the Windham looked good. No rough machine marks could be found in the upper or lower receivers. The bolt looked very good and I was pleased to see that not only was the gas key staked, it was staked well. Research had told me that Windham performs pressure tests and MPI tests. Even though there is no way to visually verify that, it means that they are serious about the quality of their components.
Externally, the Windham looks like most other ARs. All of the pieces fit together tightly and the finish on both aluminum and steel are even. It has all the features expected such as a dust cover, forward assist, and collapsible stock. It is a very straightforward offering. As the cliche in the AR world says, “All the features you need, and none you don’t”. This was perfect for me since I already had ideas about customizing it to suit me.
So after being impressed with the quality and the very few reviews available, I decided to take the Windham home with me. What made the deal sweeter was a sale price on the gun. Those that have been reading my site for a while know how much I love good deals on guns!
To be completely honest, the range review will be a little skewed. From my previous range date, I knew that I wanted to add some goodies to the gun right off the bat. Let’s face it, ARs are Barbie dolls for grown men and offer countless accessories. Before heading to the range, I added a couple of goodies from Magpul. I opted to install the MOE handgaurd and the ACS buttstock. The buttstock changes the way the rifle shoulders and improves cheekweld. I also picked up a handful of 30 round PMags.
For the initial testing, I brought a few different rounds: .223 55gr FMJ from Remington, 5.56 62gr FMJ from Lake City, and .223 55gr FMJ steel case ammo from Tula. The reason the steel case ammo was tested was because of the cheaper price. Some gun enthusiasts might never consider steel case in an AR, but I believe if it works, take advantage of the cheaper practice!
The Windham digested 2 boxes of each of the brass ammo and I was on my third box of Wolf when I experienced a failure to eject (FTE). After looking everything over, I found a bit of crud under the extractor. A quick flick of the wrist with a dental pick and we were back in business. Since that initial FTE, I have experienced no other issues. So far I have put about 2000 rounds through it. If I shoot a few hundred rounds of steel case ammo, I’ll check under the extractor any make sure there is no buildup that might lead to another FTE.
Even shooting as much as I have, I haven’t taken the time to do a true accuracy test. The range I shoot at is geared to defensive training, so the longest range they offer is around 35 yards. The most thorough testing I’ve done is shooting some military BZO targets. These targets offer a small target designed to be shot from 30 yards. At this distance, the size of the target is the same as a man sized target at 300 yards. Even with my poor eyesight and using irons, I am able to keep them on target. The trigger lends to accuracy right out of the box. There is very little takeup, and the release is about as crisp as I’ve found. I would compare it to a lot of better bolt guns.
So far, I’ve used this gun for one carbine class. Even with some rapid fire exercises to heat everything up, the gun ran as well as any other participants’ gun in the class and better that most.
The most telling review I’ve received is from other shooters at the range. Several law enforcement officers and prior service military personnel have shot my Windham and have been impressed. The consensus is that it is a well crafted gun and Windham will be able to raise their prices once they develop their customer base. The gun compares in quality to guns that cost hundreds more.
In closing I’d like to say that I feel comfortable recommending this gun to anyone looking for a solid AR. I’d also like to thank the guys over at Proactive Defense for putting up with me while I was researching, asking questions, and learning more about the AR platform. If you need any defensive training in the north Texas area, you can’t find a more knowledgeable, experienced, or friendlier group of guys.