A NEW WORLD
Spending most of my life carrying a firearm for a living, my world has always revolved around practicality, usefulness, and the budgetary constraints of police departments. Collecting firearms or purchases based on intrinsic value has always been a secondary concern for me. I enjoy shooting firearms but they remain tools, something much of my generation still believes. Fortunately, my ability to spend time with new and young shooters lets me appreciate the new world and its perspective. Many new buyers are neither preparing for war or the zombie apocalypse. Home defense or personal protection may be secondary if even a consideration. It’s all about enjoying themselves. Much of this current generation enjoys a standard of living us “old timers” just never had. It means they can buy firearms because they like them, not because they need them. Camouflage is replaced with stylish design, radical lines and bright colors. To be honest, it’s refreshing and a few companies are targeting this market well. Erathr3 is one of them.
Erathr3 is not some large corporate manufacturer building firearms in the thousands. Sheri Johnson and Sterling Becklin started Erathr3 in 2013, and it remains a lean operation. Having worked for Noveske since 2004, Sheri no newcomer to the firearms community. Teaming with former Noveske president, Sterling Becklin, they are looking to reach a market less interested in a tactical edge yet still in need of high-quality products. These are not cheap (with prices starting in the upper $2,000 range), but they are high-quality firearms. Spending three days with EraThr3’s Sheri, Sterling and Ken Hutchinson, it was my pleasure to get a real feel for their products, ideas, and company.
Along with Proof Research and Leupold Optics, Erathr3 put together a media event held at Buck Doyle’s Follow Through Consulting range in Teasdale Utah. Buck’s Scoped Carbine Class is focused on engaging steel targets out to 1,000 meters, most of them small. His experience as a combat-proven Force Recon Marine keeps him focused on simplicity, accuracy and getting hits on target without complicated math or knob turning. His long relationship with Todd Hodnett from Applied Ballistics means he relies on either the Horus Vision T2 or T3 reticle. In order to meet the demands of this class, Erathr3 built rifles specifically for this task. It provides insight into their mindset. These rifles were designed a month or so prior to the class, machined the week before, and completed the night before they left. While based on an earlier rifle, the “Grunt” included features never used prior. It was all about being different, and they accomplished that task very well.
Arriving prior to class to help with setup, I rolled up on Buck zeroing rifles that were Cerakoted in bright orange, green, blue and pink. Each was housed in a custom made wood ammo crate with each writer’s name engraved on it. A custom bag included a dog tag with your name, assorted clothing and even some goodies. Meeting Sheri and Sterling it was a beginning to some of the most fun I have had on the range in a long time. Both are engaging, friendly, enthusiastic and great to be around. When asked why the colors, Sheri simply told me it’s fun, and she wanted to do something different. And that may sum up the whole event.
The .223 Wylde (a hybrid .223/5.56 chamber dimension) rifle started with the company’s EL3L lower receiver, designed to be minimalist yet strong. CNC machined in house, it removes as much metal as possible without compromising strength. There are cutaways in the magazine well. An integral trigger guard housed an American Trigger AR Gold trigger. An AXTS Titanium ambidextrous safety was used along with their Raptor Charging handle. Neatly fitting the bolt release keeps lines clean and the release tight to the receiver. Retention pins, magazine release and trigger pins are titanium to save weight. Primary Weapons Systems provided Gen 2 enhanced buffer tubes while Magpul added a pistol grip and CTR stock.
- Chambering: .223 Wylde
- Barrel: 16.1 inches
- OA Length: 32 inches (collapsed)
- Weight: 4.7 pounds (bare rifle)
- Sights: Optics rail
- Stock: Magpul CTR stock
- Action: Semi-auto
- Finish: Cerakote (Lime Green in this case)
- Capacity: 30+1
- MSRP: N/A
Sterling explained how he designed the upper receiver to match both the front and back of the lower receiver perfectly, all with the same dimensions of the hand guard. It presents a clean line from front to back. Each was fit by hand. Recessing the dust cover rod provides a clean and smooth look. He tapered the back of the receiver rail to match the height of the charging handle. It houses a titanium bolt carrier using a JP Enterprisesenhanced bolt. Using M-Lok on the hand guard provides strong and trouble-free accessory mounts. Proof Research provided a Carbon Fiber Wrapped 16-inch barrel using a mid-length gas system and 1:7 twist rate. Barry Dueck added his RTS (Rapid Transition Sight) along with a Surefire Warcomp flash hider.
Leupold provided Mark 6 3-18 power scopes with lighted T3 reticles mounted in Leupold Mark 6 single IMS 34mm mounts. Each was provided in a nylon case along with three 20 round Magpul Gen 3 magazines. These rifles are going to be sold by Erathr3 at a reduced price for a few Veterans charities, another reason for the bright colors. Each will be equipped as tested.
AT THE EVENT
The Scoped Carbine Class starts from prone getting used to the Horus reticle using the “12-inch” rule. It is a simple ranging rule effective on targets as small as 12 inches out to 600 meters. With a sweet spot of 200-500 meters, it is perfect for most situations. Using the patented scale in the scope you measure a 12-inch circle giving you a hold in mils. Hold that at the top or bottom of the plate, read the wind and press. Wind dots allow you to estimate the wind and just add dots. Day one you work out to 1,100 meters, focusing mostly on 600 meters and closer. Hornady provided their Superperformance 75 Grain BTHP match and it proved very accurate. Marked 5.56mm, it has a higher velocity than most of their .223 ammunition. Rated at 2,910 fps from a 20-inch barrel, it was flat shooting at closer to 2,800 fps through the Proof Research 16-inch barrels. Day one saw hits on steel in two shots or less out to 600 meters. Winds ranging from 10-20 mph made it tougher at 800 and 1,000 meters, but I hit at both. It was almost too easy; so long as the wind was held correctly it was a hit. Timed for right-handed shooters, the Warcomp held the muzzle in place with no rise. The Grunt was soft to shoot, staying in place even during rapid fire sessions.
Once the scope and reticle are familiar, you move to barricades and hay bales engaging targets from 50-500 meters. The idea is to get your heart rate up so you run/jog to various positions and engage ISPC-sized steel plates or Larue knockdown targets. My first run through went without a single miss on steel, knocking them all down in turn; even the steel at 508 meters. One thing’s for sure, the “Grunt” is light, a true pleasure to run with. It is easy to maneuver, carries well, stays in place for follow up shots, and made it pretty easy to get on target quickly.
There is no knob turning in this class, nor do you spend countless monotonous hours studying math or zeroing your rifle. Each rifle was zeroed to hit close to the middle on a 6-inch steel target. This rifle held dead on to my Kestrelreadings and provided for consistent hits at extended ranges. It did so with the Hornady, along with Black Hills Ammunition 69 grain TMK and Barnes 70 grain TSX on the same zero with no perceivable shift in holds. Having run near a dozen different rifles and calibers through this course, that is exceptional. It did so without cleaning the bore and only wiping down the bolt carrier group once in a while, adding oil occasionally.
BACK AT THE HOME RANGE
I decided to try a few different accessories when returning home.Bushnell’s Elite Tactical HDMRreplaced the Leupold this time using a TReMoR 2 reticle. It is mounted in an Alamo Four Star Mount. All of the testing was done using the Surefire RC-2 suppressor, and I added some of Barnes new Precision Match 85 Grain OTM to the mix. Normally 85-grain bullets in this caliber requires single-feed guns, but the Barnes was engineered from the start to fit in a standard AR magazines. Rather than shoot primarily from the ground, much of the testing was accomplished shooting from and around my FJ Cruiser.
When it came to accuracy nothing changed, the Grunt was accurate, producing groups with everything previously tested under .65 inches. Hornady’s 75-grain SuperPerformance provided the smallest group, measuring right at .50 inches. Barnes 85-grain OTM was very close behind with a similar group at .55 inches, with four of the five rounds touching.
During the class I used Barnes 70-grain TSX, Black Hills 69-grain TMK, Hornady 75-grain 5.56 NATO and a couple different 55-grain loads. They all functioned without issue. Brass timing was different, common with a super light bolt carrier, but it never failed to eject. Adding the 85-grain Barnes back home, it also functioned without issue. Brass ejection was nearly always at 3:00 or so; unsuppressed closer to 1:00 with the RC-2 Socom attached. Gas ingestion was about the norm with a suppressed AR; not excessive by any means.
Lightweight AR’s are quite popular these days and the Grunt fits that definition for sure. Set up with just the TrijiconSRS Red Dot Sight and Warcomp, it was very handy indeed. Long classes with lots of square range would be a pleasure to run with this 5.56mm. Using a Proof Research barrel only keeps it lighter. Impact shifts did not occur with this rifle when heated up after some serious strings of fire – suppressed or not. Make no mistake, dump a couple magazines suppressed and it gets hot, but there was just no appreciable impact shift out to 500 yards on 12-inch round steel.
All of the testing where possible at home was with BCM GI magazines usingCTT Solutions magazine pads. Feeding was flawless. These are quickly becoming my favorites. With the CTT pads, they hold up really well after being dropped repeatedly. Every one of them dropped free and held up to quite a bit of dust and dirt. Getting them out of tight Kydex carriers is noticeable easier and they insert more easily.
American Triggers AR Gold trigger worked flawlessly; not something often experienced with drop-in triggers. It was crisp with some take up that was tactile and not loose. There were no soft primer strikes and the trigger pins never walked. These were set up in the 3-pound range and were quite predictable.
I came away with a great appreciation for both Sheri and Sterling’s enthusiasm, focus and understanding of today’s buyer. Both take what they do seriously; each rifle is a personal creation not a slab of aluminum and other parts slapped together.
Erathr3 rifles are custom built with a custom rifle price tag using personal touches that are both useful and cosmetic. While they may not be most “tactical experts’” idea of a self-defense rifle, they would certainly do the job. If you want a really light rifle that is accurate, runs well take look, maybe even in screaming bright lime green!