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Return of the Steyr Aug

Monday, February 01, 2010 - Holt Bodinson

Guns Magazine: Surplus Locker, Feburary 2010

Short, compact, odd-looking but distinctive, Steyr’s 5.56mm AUG (Armee Universal Gewehr) has been the most successfully received of all the military bullpup designs. Adopted in 1978 by Austria, the AUG is the official arm of a number of countries, most notably Australia and New Zealand. The original semi-automatic model of the AUG was never imported in great quantity and was relatively pricey at the time when compared to Colt AR-15s selling for less than $800.

Frankly, the AUG has been sorely missed in the milsurp stream for many years, and collector prices for existing examples have been approaching the stratosphere. Well, Steyr’s fixing that problem with the introduction of their new, semi-auto AUG/A3 SA USA, manufactured and assembled under contract by Sabre Defense Industries of Nashville, Tenn.

  Picking up the new AUG reminds you just how ergonomic the overall design is. With an overall length of just 28" and weighing 7.8 pounds, the AUG has a handling dynamic all of its own. Your hands naturally cradle the stock. All the essential controls are at your finger tips, except for the magazine and magazine release. Once you’ve handled and shot an AUG, you realize just how much sense the bullpup design makes.

Simplicity And Common Sense

By virtually eliminating the buttstock and replacing it with the receiver itself, the design immediately shrinks the overall length of a rifle or carbine by at least 7" to 10". When you’re loaded down with body armor, a backpack and munitions and probably cramped up inside a Humvee or chopper, a compact weapon is a distinct advantage. It’s no accident the telescoping-stocked M4 has emerged as the hands down favorite of American troops.

Designed in the 1970s at Steyr Mannlicher GmbH & Co., the AUG was conceived as a modular and ambidextrous 5.56mm rifle, carbine or light machinegun. Composed of six main components—the barrel, receiver group, bolt group, stock group, trigger group and magazine—the AUG can be disassembled into those modular components without tools in a minute.

The key component in switching from let’s say, a rifle into a carbine, is the AUG quick-change barrel assembly. In seconds, you can pull a 20" rifle barrel and install a 16" carbine barrel. Similarly, to configure the AUG for a right- or left-handed shooter, you can change from right- or left-hand ejection by simply swapping out the bolt and the ejection port lids.

The AUG is powered by a short-stroke, gas piston system which is adjustable to compensate for cold weather or severely fouled conditions. The 7-lug rotary bolt is carried and cammed into battery by a bolt carrier that reciprocates within the receiver on two hollow steel rods containing the return springs.

Synthetics

In the construction of the AUG, Steyr has made maximum use of synthetics and composites. The stock is molded from a fiberglass-reinforced polymer. The receiver is made from a steel-reinforced aluminum extrusion, and the modular fire control system, housed under the buttplate, consisting of the hammer and sear, is composed entirely of plastics with the exception the mainsprings and pivot pins. I have a hunch Gaston Glock learned a few things from Steyr Mannlicher!

The new semi-automatic AUG/ A3 SA USA model with its 16" barrel can be classified as a carbine within the AUG family. Gone is the earlier model’s distinctive, integral carrying handle incorporating a 1.5X scope sight made by Swarovski. Instead the “A3” model incorporates two universal (MIL-STD-1913) Picatinny ribs. One rib forms a conventional “flattop” on the top of the receiver for sighting devices. The other is a short rib on the right side of the receiver for auxiliary accessories.

Sighting

For testing purposes, I mounted Burris latest FF30 TACT scope in their tactical high rings. The Burris FF30 TACT scope features a 30mm tube, 3-9x40mm optics and repeatable target adjustment knobs. With the straight, high comb of the AUG, high rings are almost a necessity.

The new AUG proved to be very tight. Tolerances are obviously being held to a minimum. As I used the AUG, the non-reciprocating charging handle, called a “cocking slide”, became easier to work because the bolt carrier was obviously wearing in a bit. So, too, the polymer trigger seemed to smooth out over time.

Trigger

Speaking of triggers, the challenge in any bullpup design is the trigger. How do you mechanically link a forward mounted trigger to a rear mounted sear and achieve an acceptable trigger pull? In the AUG, the designers used a double- ended, U-shaped rod running from the trigger along both sides of the frame and around the magazine well to connect to the front arms of the sear at two points.

The distance from the trigger to the sear is approximately 9-1/2". The result, a long, mushy, trigger pull, breaks very cleanly but at a weight-of-pull of 10-3/4 pounds. The consistency of the break point makes the heavy trigger of the AUG manageable, but it takes some getting used to.

There is no forearm to the AUG bullpup design. In its place is a foldable, vertical, barrel grip. With the short 16" barrel, actually 18" with the flash hider, it’s important to keep your hand on the grip and not forward of it. With your hand on the vertical grip, your flesh is only 1" away from the gas regulator exhaust port and 4" away from the rear vent of the flash hider/muzzlebrake.

At the range, I used a rear bag under the butt and a folded towel between the heel of my forward gripping hand and the bench. It proved to be a very stable position.

The chrome-lined barrel is hammer forged with a 1:9" twist and so marked. A sensible compromise of a twist, it can handle either 55-grain M193 ammunition or 62-grain SS109 rounds, however, the AUG seemed to favor sporting over military ammunition.

Ammo Shortage

Unfortunately, at the time of the test, no SS109 ammunition was available, but there was plenty of M193 around. Shooting 3-shot groups at 100 yards, the AUG grouped both IMI M193 and CorBon 55-grain FMJ into 3-1/2". I thought it could do better than that, and it did.

Hornady 55-grain Varmint Express and Winchester 55-grain Ballistic Silvertip averaged 2", and then it got even better. Federal 55-grain Hi-Shok averaged 1-1/2" while the absolute best groups were turned in by Hornady 40-grain Varmint Express averaged 3/4" to 1".

That gave me an idea. A pair of local coyotes had been living off Coues white-tail fawns all summer and needed to be sorted out. Disassembling and blocking the 30-round, translucent AUG magazine to a 5-round capacity, I loaded it up with Federal 55-grain Hi- Shok and took the AUG hunting. As I discovered, the neat quality of the AUG as a varmint calling rifle is its compact size. You can hunker down and hide in very heavy brush and still be able to quickly manipulate and fire the carbine in any direction.

Taking a stand, I turned up the volume on my Hunter Specialties’ Johnny Stewart varmint caller and lowered the boom on the male of the pair as he came charging in.

Sweet success! It may be the first coyote taken with the new AUG, but it won’t be the last.

If you’re getting a bit jaded with the endless variations of the AR-15 platform being offered, you will find the AUG bullpup a breath of fresh air. Retaining all the elements of its military antecedents, it has also proved to be a handy hunting rifle and a lot of fun to shoot.