Written by  2014-11-22

AUG Original Article

Here's the original AUG article the Surefire article was based on.



Steyr’s Bullpup Comes of Age

By Darryl Bolke

It has been clearly established that time has been very good to the AR-15 in terms of taking a rifle developed in the 1960’s and updating it in to the great individual weapon system for military and law enforcement use that it is today.   Well, the AR 15 is not alone in this category.  Steyr’s STG 77 AUG bullpup carbine has been reintroduced in its A3 version with modifications to its base system that is now able to take advantage of much of today’s technological advances in terms of accessories that enhance the capabilities of the modern carbine.  

A gun ahead of its time

The Steyr Armee Universal Gewehr (universal army rifle) was developed in 1977 for use by the Austrian army as a replacement for their STG 58 FAL variant that was a large and cumbersome rifle that was typical of the cold war era.   What Steyr came up with was a small bull pup carbine that was well ahead of its time.  The innovative use of a “bull pup” action in which the Steyr’s action and magazine are located at the rear of the weapon instead of the front and the oddly shaped sage green polymer stock were well ahead of its time, and highly unorthodox.  Another innovative feature of the STG 77 was its use of an integral optical sight.  The STG 77’s firing mechanism was also unique in its lack of a selector switch for switching between semi-automatic and fully automatic fire, and simply used the operators press on the trigger to determine fire rate.  The AUG’s barrel was easily removable by simply pushing a button allowing the AUG to go from carbine, to rifle, to LMG in seconds without tools.  Even the AUG’s translucent “plastic” magazines were totally innovative at the time.   While we are used to the use of high tech colored plastics and polymers in stock and magazine construction, reconfigurable barrels, and optical sights today on combat rifles, in 1977, the AUG looked like a ray gun from space.  Over the years, the AUG was adopted by several other countries and is in use with several special operations units.  I got a chance to talk to a member of one of the most elite units in the world about their rumored STG 77 use.  He said that they were favored and used specifically in very wet environments like jungles.  The AUG’s extensive use of plastics and compact size made them ideal for working in these areas.   Today’s AR buzzword of the week is “piston guns”.   The AUG ran a piston system with an adjustable gas port and they run very clean.  If one looks at the extensive use of vertical fore grips today, one only need to look at the AUG for popularizing this as well.

The AUG quest begins

My first association with the AUG’s was while working at a police equipment store during my college years.  One of our regular customers was a U.S. Customs agent named Seth Nadel.  He was one of the earliest subject matter experts on the AUG, and especially for its use in law enforcement.  He was very convincing about how well suited the AUG was for L/E work. I learned a lot about the AUG’s from Special Agent Nadel.  He has also written articles over the years on the AUG that are an excellent resource.  During the late 80’s and early 90’s I was shooting a lot of 3 Gun and combat rifle competition.  At the time, the AUG’s were becoming a very dominant gun.  Many competitions barred sighting modifications and the only gun that was able to use optics was the AUG, which utilized a 1.5 power optic that was based on the exceptional Swarovski Cobra scope.  It has a single black donut reticule.  While this is not optimal for precision work, it is a very fast system to use and works well in the field.  At a time when most of us were using the fixed carry handle sights on the AR-15, standard aperture sights on the M-1A’s and Mini-14’s, or the Heckler and Koch’s diopter sights, the AUG was a real rule beater and had a huge advantage.   During this time, I had young eyes, I was in good physical shape, and fast reflexes.   I always did real well in matches…with one exception.  There was one “old” copper (40’s seemed ancient to me back then) who shot a black AUG that had a 16” barrel and was equipped with the upgraded reticule that had a small dot inside the donut reticule.  In the circle of people I was shooting with, he was the one guy I never was able to beat at some point.  I began lusting for the elusive AUG.  Unfortunately, with the “assault rifle” ban of 1989, they commanded stupid prices and every attempt I made to legally acquire a L/E priced AUG ran into a roadblock.  I wrote it off as one of my life’s little regrets that I didn’t grab an AUG prior to the ban.  

My first AUG

One of the most influential instructors that I have ever been blessed to have trained with, and mentored by, is Bill Jeans from Morrigan Consulting.  Bill is a former Gunsite operations manager, and well-known carbine instructor.  Bill carried an AUG while serving as a SWAT officer with the Yavapai county sheriff’s, and did very well shooting his AUG in several Gunsite rifle classes.  The AUG’s were very popular with L/E agencies in Arizona.  Fellow Gunsite Instructor Giles Stock was instrumental in popularizing the AUG’s as well at the Phoenix police department. The AUG was blessed with a good to go status from the legendary shooting school in Paulden, AZ., and was accepted as a very viable alternative to both the popular AR-15 and the HK MP-5’s that were the mainstays of law enforcement long guns at the time.  When Bill found out how bad I yearned for an AUG, he sold me his beaten up, high round count gun.  I began shooting it a lot and fell in love.  I also learned about the pitfalls of AUG ownership at the time.  I broke a firing pin, and found out that this was not like owning an AR-15.  Out of necessity, I became a regular customer with PJ’s Steyr AUG (www.pjs-steyraug.com).   I instantly found out how convenient owning an AR was when it came to logistical support.   With that said, PJ’s can usually help with any AUG parts or repairs.   I ended up spending a ton of quality time with my first AUG.  I used it extensively while working in the private sector.  It was easy to hide in a backpack, worked great out of a car.  At the time I was doing a lot of very high-risk witness and executive protection and the AUG was my primary long gun.  It also made sense as my best friend and work partner is missing an arm and uses an AUG with a left hand bolt extensively as the AUG is very one hand friendly as far as balance and ergonomics.  We spent many days running convoys with a pair of AUG’s with 42 round magazines on each side of the center consul of our Suburban.   I finally got to use this gun in a true L/E environment on 9/11/2001.  On 9/11, I was teaching a L/E AR-15 Carbine class.  That evening I returned to my primary assignment as a tactical flight officer in a police helicopter.  I received special permission from our chief of police to begin carrying a rifle in our helicopter.  Our pilots were concerned about brass should a shooting occur (shell casings and jet turbine engines don’t mix well).  I happened to have my AUG equipped with the worlds most over engineered brass catcher that was a very rare factory accessory at the time.  Instead of carrying an AR in our helicopter, our chief blessed me with a special exemption and allowed me to use my AUG as my “helo gun”.  That night I flew a SWAT mission with the AUG in my flight bag, flying in one of the very few aircraft allowed to operate in the United States during some very frightening times.  It says a lot about my confidence in the Steyr AUG as my first choice in this role for the duration of my time assigned to our Air Support Unit.

A better AUG

During this period, great strides were taking place in regards to really taking maximum advantage of both red dot optics and small, powerful, Surefire white light systems for use in both the law enforcement and military arenas.  New efficient rail systems and flat top AR carbines were becoming the norm rather than the exception.  As my AR’s were becoming much more sophisticated and more efficient fighting guns, my old “A1” AUG was no longer “ahead of its time”.   I then acquired my black 16” barrel A2 AUG.  I set this gun up with a forward barrel mounted rail system from Sidearmor, and mounted a Surefire 6P light and set the receiver up with the optional rail and mounted an E/O Tech sight.  Being there were no back up sights, the battery life issue and automatic shut off feature of the E/O Tech made it a poor choice for this particular gun, and I switched to a Aimpoint Comp M3 in the lowest mount made.  This turned out to be a phenomenal close quarters carbine, and is my favorite gun for working in the urban environment.  I took this gun to a weeklong NRA Patrol Rifle Instructor class.  I had previously taken numerous instructor level classes with AR-15 based guns.  I felt it would be a waste of the school and its premise to run an AR in it.  I decided to take my A2 AUG, knowing that it would be a tough week because the NRA L/E instructor schools require you to be able to both teach and be fully able to demonstrate competence with both right and left hands.  I learned how to run a right hand bolt AUG with both hands through trial and error, and tied for top shooter in the class.  I was now really dialed in with this gun, and over the years I have kept up with the newest technology to keep this gun as efficient and reliable as possible.  It currently has the newest US ARMY Aimpoint Comp M4S sight in Aimpoints new quick release mount, and Surefire’s newest 3 Volt Scout light.  I figured that I was all set.  Unfortunately for my credit card, I was wrong.

The new AUG A3

I was resigned to the fact that I should just count my lucky stars that I had a couple of AUG’s and that because of our insane “assault weapons” laws, that I would never see another AUG in my stable due to both cost and availability.  A couple of US companies began to make domestic versions, but I never really warmed up to them because owning the real thing spoiled me.  Then came the announcement that Steyr was teaming up with Sabre Arms to produce the A3 AUG in the United States for commercial sales.  I did everything I could to avoid them because I knew it would be bad for the budget.  Unfortunately, my love of the AUG was not a secret, and the editor of Combat Tactics called me to evaluate the new Steyr AUG A3.

The Steyr AUG A3 has addressed numerous issues that were often considered shortcomings.  The most obvious issue was the ability to utilize more modern optics, and to be more mission adaptable.  On the A1 models you were stuck with the factory optic unless you spent a huge amount of money for a railed “Special Receiver”.  The A2’s were an improvement by having the optic removable and an aftermarket rail section could be slid on in its place.  An improvement for sure, and it is how mine is set up, but not ideal.  The main issue is both expense and having multiple attachment points.  The AUG A3 has a solid continuous rail on the receiver that can handle a variety of optics and night vision equipment.  It is also well suited for running back up iron sights in conjunction with other optics.  The original A1’s had some small iron sights on top of the optic that were essentially worthless.  The A3 can actually use decent sights.  Another great addition is a rail mounting point above the trigger area on the stock.  This allows for easy mounting of a white light system without the use of a barrel clamped system.  Surefire’s latest 3 Volt Scout light is ideal for the AUG in any of its variants, and is my favorite light for these carbines in any variant.  It fits perfectly on the two-inch piece of side rail.  Another major improvement is the use of a bolt release paddle located on the rear of the stock near the magazine.  This allows for easier release of the bolt during speed re-loads rather than reaching forward to the left side mounted charging handle. 

As far as ergonomics and ease of use, the new AUG is better than its previous incarnations.  The use of a muzzle brake, instead of a flash hider, helps keep muzzle rise to a minimum.  This is in a gun that already had a very low recoil impulse.  The cross bolt safety is very easy to operate and is well placed.  I found that rounding the corners of the safety with a dermal tool helps if you are working long training days.  The new bolt hold-open device is a welcome addition and improves reload speed and smoothness.  For those who want to use M16 magazines, conversion stocks are available to allow for use of standardized NATO pattern magazines.  I have found the original AUG magazines in both their 30 and 42 round variants to be some of the toughest and most reliable magazines I have ever used, so this is an option that does not matter to me, but is great for those with better access to M16 magazines.  

So where does the AUG fit in the big picture.  For me, if you work out of a vehicle or in close quarter environments, the AUG is a top choice.  Many will deride the inability to “switch hit” the AUG as far as switching shoulders to shoot from either side.  I have run a long gun on in the real world a time or two, and never found this to be a major issue.  Speed loading is another non-issue for me.  Given the choice between a rifle-caliber carbine that compresses to a size smaller than a handgun for searches or deploying from a vehicle, versus the ability to perform a empty gun reload slightly faster is a no brainer for me.  This is especially true for domestic law enforcement officers and legally armed civilians, where shoot-outs using more than 30 or 40 rounds from a single shooter are pretty rare.   The only area where I believe the AUG falls behind a direct impingement AR-15 is in the precision longer-range arena.  My AUG experience has been that they generally shoot about 2 MOA.  This may have to do with optics packages that are normally used with them.  With that said, I have numerous AR’s that will easily shoot sub MOA.  This should not take away anything from the AUG, as they will hold their own with everything else out there.  Much has been made of the AUG’s trigger.  They use a system in which a plastic trigger is activating a long rod to fire.  I have found that you simply have to spend some time with it and adapt to it.  I think a good analogy would be to the Glock triggers.  They are different from a Colt 1911 trigger, but certainly workable in a field gun.  While I have never used one, there is an AUG trigger tamer on the market that all reports I have heard have been very positive for those seeking a better trigger feel.   

While I have heard criticism that the AUG A3 is expensive, I think they are actually a bargain for what you get.  You are getting a fighting carbine that is ready to go right out of the box.  No need for improved polymer magazines, no need for aftermarket rail systems or muzzle brakes, and no need to deal with NFA paperwork and jumping through hoops to get a 28” long 5.56mm carbine.  Just attach your Surefire Scout light and the optic of your choice (including an updated rail covered 1.5x factory optic from Steyr), and start shooting.  


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