Pat’s Product Reviews: The PTR91 Rifle

In 1987 at a Colorado gun shop’s “Going Out of Business” sale, I purchased a brand-new HK (Heckler & Koch) Model 91 .308 battle rifle. I got the rifle, along with 10 brand new spare magazines, 1,000 rounds of ammo, a bipod and carrying case for the gun – for the combined price of just $600. Oh, for the good ol’ days! Today, you’ll likely spend $2,500 just for an original H&K Model 91 – and they are now hard to come by. A wave of stupidity overcame me one day, and I sold my HK91 to my friend, and he then he later sold it at a gun show. I always regretted letting that gun get away – it was deadly accurate and never malfunctioned, no matter what kind of ammo I fed it. Since that time, I longed to get another H&K Model 91, but with prices being what they are today, it was beyond my reach.  

A company called PTR91 purchased some genuine H&K equipment from overseas, and brought it to the USA. Using a mix of surplus parts (from HK G3 rifles) are now manufacturing H&K Model 91 clones, that they call the PTR91 – and they have several variants to choose from. I saved up my pennies and had my local gun shop order-up a 16″ barrel PTR91. I was delighted when the gun came, it was much nicer than any H&K I had ever handled. The gun was better finished and tighter in all respects. But I didn’t much care for the newly-made polymer stock that came on the gun – it was “cheap” looking. Of course, that could have been replaced…  

When I took my new toy home, I started reading through the instructions manual and other material that was enclosed in the nice plastic carrying case my PTR91 came in. I ran across a separate piece of paper that listed several types of ammo you should not use in a PTR91. matter of fact, the list was rather lengthy. Some gun companies will recommend certain types of ammo or brands to be used in their firearms. However, this is the first time I ran across such a lengthy list of ammo that was not recommended in a firearm. I thought that PTR was being overly cautious, as is the case with many gun companies these days.   I purchased a 500 round case of Russian-made Brown Bear .308 ammo to test in my new PTR91. The gun functioned perfectly, and believe it or not, the Brown Bear ammo actually shot very well through this gun, with groups in the neighborhood of 1-1/2 to 2 inches at 100 yards. What’s not to like here? I also purchased a 500 round case of Wolf .308 ammo to use in my PTR91, and again, like the Brown Bear ammo, it shot really great, no malfunctions or problems of any time. Of course, as many of you know, most Russian-made ammo leaves very dirty powder fouling — so more time needs to be spent cleaning and maintaining your firearms if you use Russian-made ammo.  

The PTR91, is operated with a roller locking system, which is identical to the H&K91 system. Matter of fact, some of the parts in some PTR91s are surplus or brand-new H&K parts. The PTR91 also comes with a match-grade barrel, and I thought that was an added extra – and it did perform very well – with certain types of ammo. The PTR91 also comes with the Navy-type polymer trigger assembly – another plus in my book – it feels better than the old H&K pistol grip. There is also a tactical handguard that is machined out of aluminum, and you can add lasers and other toys if you so desire, but you need to purchase the rails to put on this handguard. My sample PTR91 weighed in at 9-lbs, which is about right for a battle rifle shooting the .308 or 7.62 NATO round. (And be advised that they are not the same round, be advised. The 7.62 NATO round is loaded at slightly lower pressures than the commercial .308 Winchester round.) I contacted my two favorite ammo makers for some of their .308 Win. ammo to test in my new PTR91. Black Hills Ammunition and Buffalo Bore and both sent me their 175-gr HP match-grade ammo to test in my rifle. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed with either maker’s ammo – both shot consistently under an inch, with open sights, at 100-yards. The PTR91 also functioned perfectly. Then again, I didn’t expect anything less from the gun or the superb ammo from Black Hills and Buffalo Bore. Their ammo is a step above if you ask me. Again, we are talking quality ammo – not bargain basement ammo from the local big box stores. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with the less expensive ammo, however, if you want sniper-grade accuracy you need to put the best ammo you can through your guns. I’ve been shooting Black Hills ammo for almost 20 years now, and have never had a bad round, and we’re talking tens of thousands of rounds of ammo. I’ve been shooting Buffalo Bore ammo for about eight months now, and I’ve yet to encounter any problems with their ammo, either.  

I have been pleased, very pleased with my PTR91 thusfar. And, I liked the fact, that I could find surplus, but like-new, 20-rd mags for this rifle for about a buck a magazine. What’s not to like about this kind of a deal? I purchased close to 100 spare mags to have on-hand. I know, sounds like a lot of extra magazines, and it is. However, I still remember the 1994-to-2004 ban on mags over 10 rounds and how expensive [full capacity] magazines s were and hard to come by. So better safe than sorry ’cause you know another magazine ban is gonna come down the pike soon.  

I decided to try some military surplus ammo through my PTR91 – which was now well broken-in. I tried ammo from South Africa as well as Germany, and a few other countries – none of it would reliably function in my PTR91. Then again, remembering the factory’s warnings not to use certain types of ammo, and military surplus ammo, I was getting worried. PTR also suggests that you not use the Winchester USA white box .308 ammo – the bullets are sealed with a black tar to water-proof the rounds. Well, I tried a box, and after several rounds, the gun wouldn’t function – empties wouldn’t eject and loaded rounds didn’t fully seat properly.   What was the problem with the PTR91? I started doing some research, and have found that I wasn’t alone with this problem. It seems that PTR91 is using match-grade barrels, and that’s not a bad thing – it’s good in my book. However, the chamber has flutes machined into it. The theory is, these cuts or “flutes” allow gas from the fired round to swirl around the empty brass, and allow it to more easily pull out of the chamber. Well, it appears that PTR91 didn’t cut these flutes deep enough in a lot of guns, and the rounds were sticking in the chamber. PTR91 denies there are any problems with the flutes cut in their chamber, or the fact that they cut fewer flutes in the chambers, than H&K does. I examined my own PTR91 sample, and it did appear to me that the flutes were very shallow, and I mean very shallow. You can find any number of blogs that are on the web, and many folks are complaining about this problem.  

I don’t know about you, but I demand the most accuracy and the most reliability I can get in my firearms, especially those I plan on staking my life on. While I could have just continued to use Brown Bear and Wolf ammo in my PTR91, I was looking down the road – to a time where maybe all I’ll be able to find is military surplus ammo, or some other ammo that won’t function in my PTR91. After a lot of thought, I decided to trade-off my PTR91 – as much as I liked it. I’ve heard talk that PTR91 is now producing a “GI” version of the HK91 and the chamber has the correct number of flutes and they are cut deep enough, and there are no problems with these guns. However, I’m not about to lay down my hard-earned money again, until I start hearing some positive reports on the “GI” version. The PTR91 carbine I had, retailed for $1,295 and I got it for slightly more than $1,000 through my local gun shop. It would have been a great deal, if the gun fired and functioned with a wider assortment of ammo.  

The PTR91 is finely made, almost like a Swiss watch. I could have lived with the cheaply made plastic stock. However, when I’m laying down a good chunk of change for a firearm, I expect it to work with most of the ammo I plan on using. Of course, you can find some type of ammo that won’t function in any particular firearm if you search around long enough. However, the PTR91 didn’t function 100% of the time with more ammo, than it did with some types of ammo. That’s not good enough in my book. I’ve read some blogs where many people are happy with their PTR91s – that’s great news. However, you’ll also read a lot of horror stories of folks with new PTR91s that won’t function with certain types of ammo – especially mil-spec ammo or military surplus ammo – that’s not acceptable in my book. Personally, I think PTR91 should fess-up to the problem. And, they need to produce a rifle that will function with the widest assortment of ammo possible, and stop blaming military surplus or mil-spec ammo for the functioning problems. Come on, PTR91 – you can do better than that! You are turning out a finely made firearm, and you only need to tweak it a little bit to get it to function 100% of the time, with the widest assortment of ammo on the market.

I once owned a ratty-looking Century Arms International C3 – which was a semi-auto clone of the H&K Model 91. Whoever owned it before me, spray-painted the gun in camo colors – it honestly didn’t look that bad at all. This gun functioned 100% of the time, with whatever ammo I put through it – never once missed a beat. If Century Arms could do it right, then so can PTR91 – if they want to.