One of my most anticipated events each year is the Athlon Outdoors Rendezvous. As a writer, I get to spend quality time both on the range and in more relaxed settings with a number of great companies. It is a priceless opportunity to really get to know people. Beyond personal time, I get hands-on time with some fantastic products across the spectrum. Even with this vast variety of items, a few jumped out at me and really caught my interest. The apple of my eye this year was rifles. Allow me the pleasure of sharing with you some of the best tactical rifles I saw at Rendezvous.
3 Multi-Role Tactical Rifles
First up are a couple of rifles from the gun Jedi at ZEV Technologies. New this year is the large-frame billet .308. As many know, ZEV Billet rifles are descended from the legendary Mega Arms. They share the same designers but with a ZEV spin on aesthetics. The uppers and lowers are precision machined from 7075-T6 aluminum for strength and light weight, finished in true black type III class 2 hard coat anodizing.
It comes with a ZEV match-grade 416R stainless steel 16-inch barrel with bronze PVD coating. It is chambered in .308 Winchester with a 1:10 twist and mid-length gas system. ZEV shared with me that the gun is capable of consistent sub-MOA accuracy with high-quality factory ammunition. While shooting the gun I noticed a distinct lack of recoil. ZEV shared with me that the rifle has an H3 carbine buffer, which increases dwell time and reduces port pressure to ensure reliable extraction and a smooth recoil impulse. Running the gun was very comfortable and ergonomically friendly. The flat face AR Gold trigger from ATC features a 2.5-pound pull with a short reset and clean break that is second to none. The gun also has ambidextrous operating controls for the safety selector, bolt release, and magazine release.
ZEV Core Elite
The next rifle from ZEV is the popular 16-inch CORE Elite. The CORE Elite rifle out of the blocks is simply a sexy gun. While we pretend to be above that as serious gun owners, it does matter. It has a ZEV custom 416R 16-inch fluted match barrel with bronze PVD coating. The bronze finish peeking out from under the handguard gives it a very nice look without overkill. With a 1:7 twist and mid-length gas system, the gun is a sub-MOA shooter. The fit and finish on the gun are exceptional as I expected.
Mega Arms had developed a strong reputation for precision manufacturing, and it obviously has carried over after the ZEV acquisition. There was no play between the forged upper and lower and the entire build seemed to fit very well together. They are precision machined from 7075-T6 aluminum for strength and light weight, finished in true black type III class 2 hard coat anodizing.
On some rifle builds you can tell that components were simply assembled to produce a rifle. This is not the case with the CORE Elite. Everything on the gun flows well together and makes for a very comfortable gun. This is especially evident with the handguard. The ZEV Wedge Lock handguard provides a full-length continuous top rail with M-LOK mounting system. The integrated anti-rotation pin ensures a consistently aligned and continuous top rail with the upper receiver. There are a ton of ARs on the market, but the CORE Elite is one of my favorites.
Dark Storm Industries
The next stop in the rundown of the best ARs at Rendezvous is Dark Storm Industries. They are always a favorite stop at this event and this year did not disappoint. New this year is the DS-25 Typhoon SUR (Sport Utility Rifle) in .308 Win. The first noteworthy item on this gun is weight. Dark Storm utilized a number of traditional AR-15 parts to help shed ounces. In the end, it is one of the lightest and most compact .308 semi-automatic rifles on the market today at 6.7 pounds.
Dark Storm DS-25 Typhoon
The DS-25 Typhoon shares its feature set with the popular DS-15 Typhoon. Based on a billet 7075 aluminum upper and lower receiver set with a nitride 4150 barrel, the Typhoon also includes a free-float M-Lok handguard, as well as an ambidextrous charging handle and safety selector. The barrel and handguard length, grip, and stock/brace vary by configuration.
“The .308’s range and stopping power when combined with the compact size and weight of the DS-25 make it the perfect solution for both sporting uses such as a day at the range, as well as utility needs like hunting and defense,” said Ed Newman, co-owner of DSI. “The mid-length gas system, paired with the reduced reciprocated weight of the AR-15 sized BCG and buffer, really reduce the recoil to near 5.56 levels.” DSI plans to make configurations of this gun for all 50 states.
Dark Storm DS-15 Lightning
Another rifle they had on the range was the Dark Storm DS-15 Lightning 5.56. Like the SUR, DSI has a model that is compliant in every state. The rifle is feature-rich with an ambidextrous charging handle, a 4-pound drop-in trigger, and a DSI stainless steel 16-inch 5.56 SOCOM barrel with a 1:7 twist. The gun also comes standard with the DSI stainless steel competition compensator. The gun is a pleasure to shoot and with the comp, and has very little muzzle rise, making it perfect for competition. While this may be one of the focused applications of the rifle, it would also make a great multi-purpose shooter as well.
Primary Weapon Systems
My next stop was to see my friends at Primary Weapon Systems. They have built a reputation on building fantastic weapons. My time with them at Rendezvous showed that that was still true. Of the rifles they had, the one that really caught my eye was the PWS MK111 LE SBR .223. The rifle has a very nice long-stroke piston system. The gun also has the patent-pending PicLok technology on the free-float handguard, allowing users to mount either Picatinny or M-LOK accessories on the front of their firearm. Looking at the fully forged upper and lower receivers, the craftsmanship of this rifle can be easily recognized. They have eliminated the forward assist and added a flared mag well and built-in trigger guard. With an 11.5-inch barrel, it is a perfect size for a utilitarian SBR.
One other item that caught my eye while I was visiting that morning was the Primary Weapon Systems MK116 MOD 2-M upper chambered in 7.62×39. Once again, PWS has eliminated the antiquated forward assist. The upper includes an M-LOK handguard with integrated Picatinny rail sections, Triad compensator, 41V50 barrel, PWS long-stroke piston system, adjustable gas block, and Radian Raptor LT charging handle. As a utilitarian-minded shooter, having the ability to put a quality 7.62×39 upper on my AR platform is a huge win. We talk about how versatile the AR is and Primary Weapon Systems took it to heart.
I think you can see why the Athlon Outdoors Rendezvous is one of my favorite events. A mix of good people, fantastic products, and beautiful scenery is certainly a trifecta of ballistic happiness.
This content was originally posted by Ballistic magazine in March 2022.