Scot’s Product Review: DRD Tactical CDR-15-556

AR-15s are pretty common these days. I like them a lot, though they aren’t perfect by any means. We can quibble about the caliber and gas systems all day, but they have good ergonomics and are widespread and popular. Good ones are reliable. I hadn’t really planned on reviewing factory-made AR-15’s, as they such a generic, well-known commodity, but when DRD Tactical offered one, they put a word in the subject header that made me interested. The word was “takedown”. Takedowns are something that I have always found fascinating, and DRD builds a takedown version of the AR.

The idea of being able to make something smaller for storage and travel appeals to me a lot. Long arm cases are bulky and attract attention. Being able to travel with a smaller case has real advantages. Portability and stealth are the obvious ones, but another thought that crossed my mind is that this system makes it easy and less expensive to have a multi-purpose, multi-cartridge AR. You could have a long, heavy barrel for precision and a short, light one for close, fast work. All you need to do is add a barrel as opposed to a whole new upper receiver. There are several interesting cartridges, such as .300 AAC based on the .223 case, and all you need for them is another barrel. There are some other cartridges, such as 6.5mm Grendel or 6.8mm SPC, that do require another bolt and more magazines, but even so, that’s less money than a whole upper. These calibers are often more effective on larger game, and I believe some states still ban the use of any .22 caliber weapon on deer, so it expands the use of your AR. This could also be very helpful for shooters in states with restrictive laws. They could have one gun (the lower receiver) and many variants.

Besides carbines, DRD has a very nice case. The carbine I tested arrived in one, and although I knew it was going to be compact, I was still impressed by how small it seemed. It is only 13.5×18.5×7 inches on the outside. The inside, of course, is smaller, but it is long enough on the diagonal to hold the longest component– the 16 inch barrel, which with flash suppressor and barrel extension is about 18 inches. The case is made of a heavy duty polymer and lined with shock absorbing foam. It is very unlikely anyone would guess it could hold a rifle.

There are three levels in the case with custom cutouts. The lid holds a barrel and hand guard, and a space that could hold magazines came filled with a pair of safety glasses and ear plugs. The top level in the bottom of the case holds the lower receiver with attached stock. There is also room for a sight and another magazine. The bottom level holds another barrel that can be a different caliber and two more magazines for a total of four. The case also has room for a suppressor, if one has that sort of thing, and some other odds and ends. The spare barrel insert can be replaced with one that holds a pistol with seven magazines and other accessories. The foam inserts for the case are backed with a thick piece of plastic sheeting that has been cut on a bevel to prevent sharp edges. That’s a nice detail for all products and one often missed. My 1911, though, felt snubbed by the pistol insert which clearly shows the outline of a Glock, but I reassured it that about 30 seconds with an X-ACTO knife would make it very 1911 friendly.

The whole setup would make a wonderful prop for a spy movie, and you can get a Walter Mitty rush as you open the case and start assembling the rifle. Walter Mitty aside, it is easy to appreciate how nice this would be for low profile travel at any time and especially during a bug out situation. The case looks like something that should carry camera or computer equipment rather than an AR-15. It provides excellent protection for the rifle and gear to boot. These features also appeal to DRD’s law enforcement customers, who find them advantageous in today’s downsized cruisers as well as for motor officers.

The carbine I got is the CRD-15-556. I am also going to be able to test the .300 AAC Blackout version but will write that as an update at another time, as I have been having trouble laying in a sufficient supply of ammunition in that caliber.

My first response after popping open the case was to start putting things together. It is very obvious how to do it. You need to make sure the bolt is locked back so the barrel can seat, then line up the gas tube with the hole in the upper receiver, and slip the barrel on. There is a knurled barrel nut that you tighten. It was pretty stiff and hard to turn the first few times I tried. It was actually hard enough that I double checked the instructions just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything, but it was just the fact that it was new. After a few dozen assemblies, it goes together easily.

After securing the barrel with the nut, you slip the hand guard on over the barrel. It seats against the upper receiver, and there is a dovetail on it that lines up with a matching cut on the receiver. This assures that the hand guard is properly lined up and also keeps the hand guard from rotating the barrel nut, which could be a bad thing. There is a cross pin that snaps through the hand guard and engages in a slot on the barrel nut. Finally, you close a lever clamp on the hand guard that tightly secures everything together. It is adjustable, so should there be any wear down the road, you can make up for it. DRD says you can assemble the carbine in a minute or less, and I found that to be easily doable.

They warn not to let the bolt slam forward without a barrel installed, which seems pretty obvious to me, but it might not to some. The bolt seats in the barrel extension; when that isn’t mounted, you are slamming hardened steel into the aluminum charging handle and receiver. I decided to leave a short five-round magazine in the carbine just to be sure the bolt stayed back.

I was impressed with how solidly the carbine came together. The quality of finish is very high. The pistol grip and collapsible stock came from Magpul and show the expected Magpul quality. The pistol grip has a storage compartment, which is something I really appreciate. I like to stuff a few spare parts in it. The carbine I received to test included three Magpul magazines and two additional rails for the hand guard.

The hand guard is 13 inches long, made of aluminum and marked DRD Tactical. It free floats the barrel, which is a good thing as accessories and slings mounted on the hand guard can affect accuracy, if the barrel isn’t free floated. It takes Magpul MOE accessories, so you can festoon the carbine with all sorts of stuff or leave it slick. There is a full length rail on the top of the hand guard that has plenty of room to mount a front sight and other accessories along with a backup rear sight and scope or red dot sight. The Magpul accessories are a lightweight polymer, so they aren’t going to make it much heavier, thankfully. If you want, you can get covers for the rails to form a more conventional hand guard.

The upper and lower receivers are billet receivers. I’ve seen a lot of squabbling over which is better, billet or forged, and have concluded that, in the end, as long as they are made by competent manufacturers, you can get a great AR with either. DRD feels that since they can make a billet upper receiver thicker, it is more rigid which makes for a better carbine. One clear difference is that billet receivers usually look better and the process allows for some additional tweaks. DRD’s lower, for example, has a fixed trigger guard that is machined as an integral part of the lower receiver. Besides reduced complexity, I think it could make the receiver a bit stronger. It is probably easier to incorporate the dovetail that aligns the hand guard and upper receiver on a billet receiver. DRD makes their receivers in house on CNC equipment.

I noticed that the DRD upper uses the same threads as a standard upper, so you could use it for a conventional build if you wanted to. They sell the upper in a kit form, to allow you to build your own takedown rifle, as well as complete rifles and complete uppers.

I found that the upper and lower fit together quite well. You sometimes handle AR’s that have a lot of slop, which people correct with rubber wedges that fit in the lower. It is much nicer when that you don’t need that sort of thing, and the DRD receivers won’t.

The 5.56mm barrel is chrome lined and of the so-called “government” profile, which means it lacks the extra cuts ahead of the front sight base used for a grenade launcher. It is thinner under the hand guard than it is in front of the sight to save weight. It has a 1-7 twist, which is preferred by many, as it stabilizes the heavier bullets that have become more and more popular over the years. It is 16 inches long and fitted with what appears to be a standard A2 style flash hider. These are very effective, and when I’ve shot in night classes, seemed to work as well as some of the trendy, expensive models. The barrel is made for DRD by a major defense contractor I can’t name but one you would trust and respect.

The trigger on the DRD is pretty typical AR-15 with some creep, and it breaks at about 7.5 pounds. The various small parts all appear to be of high quality and well finished. No backup sights were provided. DRD says most of their customers prefer to select their own. The controls are for right-handed shooters.

It weighs just under seven pounds on my postal scale, which isn’t bad for a carbine with a 13-inch hand guard. My LMT M4 clone weighs in at 6.8 pounds with the lighter issue hand guards that don’t float the barrel or allow for attachment of accessories.

The bolt carrier group, a very critical component on the AR, is finished in nickel boron– a silver material that makes the parts slippery and longer lasting. It also makes them easier to clean. The extractor, ejector pins, and firing pin retainer pin are the only parts that don’t get this finish, as they are too small for the process. They are Parkerized, instead. The bolt is made of the military-specified Carpenter 158 alloy. The carrier key screws are staked, so they won’t come loose. It has the M16-style carrier, which is a good thing. The M16 carrier weighs more than the semi-auto version, which helps promote slower and more consistent cycling. The assembly is made for DRD by a major AR supplier.

I was pleased that DRD shipped the carbine with the bolt well lubricated. AR’s need lube in the action to function properly. Some argue that coatings like nickel boron don’t need lube, but I remain convinced that it is better to be safe and lube.

The carbine has a mid-length gas system. When AR’s with carbine length barrels first came out, the military wanted them to use the standard M16 bayonet. They were, therefore, fitted with the M16-style, front sight base that incorporates a bayonet lug. To use the standard M16 bayonet, the front sight base has to be rather far back from the muzzle. Since the front sight base also serves as part of the channel for the gas that operates the action, it forced the gas port to be located in what turned out not to be the optimal location. By moving the port about two inches forward with a mid-length system, the speed of operation is reduced, which improves functioning. It helps a lot in preventing the extraction issues that trouble some AR carbines. Most AR carbines on the civilian market use the carbine length gas system rather than the better mid-length one, despite the fact that very few of us even own a bayonet. Adding insult to injury, the civilian ones generally have 16-inch barrels, while the military ones have a 14.5-inch barrel. This means the bayonet doesn’t even fit properly. By relocating the sight base and adding a half inch to the barrel, there would be plenty of room for these civilian carbines to have the better mid-length gas system and properly fit a bayonet, as if that mattered one whit.

The DRD has a standard weight carbine buffer. Some argue that a heavier buffer is better, but the proof is in the function. If it works smoothly all the time and ejects cartridge cases into a relatively neat pile, then life is good and you don’t fret. The use of the mid-length system, in my view, reduces the need for a heavier buffer, which is intended to slow the operation of the action, the same thing the mid-length gas system does.

Overall then, the DRD looks like a pretty typical high-quality AR, save for that takedown lever on the right side of the hand guard, which reveals that there is, indeed, something different about it. The key question for me is “Does this takedown feature compromise the carbine in any way?” My biggest concern was how well the carbine would hold zero when the barrel is removed and reinstalled. My second was reliability and longevity, and the third was accuracy.

My first step was to simply fire a few rounds to give the parts a chance to settle in. The first 60 rounds were fired at a 15-yard indoor range, and there were no problems. I did note that the recoil seemed slightly milder and had a smoother impulse than my almost identically configured carbine with the carbine length gas system. My nine-year-old son mentioned the same thing without any prompting, so it wasn’t just me. I attribute this to the mid-length gas system.

I wanted to keep this barrel clean, since I’m evaluating accuracy and a clean barrel allows for more consistent testing. One perk of this system is that it makes cleaning easier. Since the upper becomes a much smaller part, it is easy to dunk it in solvent for cleaning. The barrel extension is hard to get spotless in a regular AR, but when you can just pop off the barrel, it is easy to get to the lugs and make sure they are perfectly clean. It also occurs to me to look for a small solvent tank that I could drop the barrel in for a good soak before cleaning.

The bolt cleaned easily, something I credit to the nickel boron coating. It is very slick, and dirt has trouble adhering to it. Since it is silver, it is easy to see if it is clean or not. Even the bolt tail came completely clean after applying some carbon solvent and doing a small bit of brushing. I did not have to resort to a scraper.

I decided to check the headspace while I had the bolt a part, as you have to remove the extractor and ejector to do it. It came out just about perfect. The Go gages for both .223 and 5.56 allowed the bolt to close, while the Field .223 and 5.56 maximum ones would not.

My next range trips were to longer facilities– one indoor and the other outdoor. I wanted to see what it could do at 100 yards. Again, there were no functioning issues. Like almost every AR with a 1-7 twist barrel, it liked Federal Gold Medal Match with the Sierra 69 grain MatchKing bullet. I got groups averaging about ¾ inches with a flier spreading each group to 1 to 1 ½ inches. I was using a Leupold 3.5-10x VXIII scope set at 10x. This was the most accurate load in this carbine, and the groups were quite good considering the shooter. Accuracy with an assortment of 55 grain soft point and full metal jacket loads ran from 2-3 inches which is typical for me shooting this style carbine. Remember that a better shooter than I am would cut these group sizes. I also think a match trigger would help.

I really wanted to see how well the rifle retained its zero when the barrel was removed and reinstalled, as there would be a real problem if you couldn’t count on it staying close. I was pleased to see that the zero didn’t change. One of the smallest groups I shot was when I was making this test. I had expected the hits to wander a bit, so I was surprised when it actually put them on top of the prior group shot without messing with the barrel.

Another concern I had about the takedown feature was the barrel nut loosening. A spokesperson for DRD says that it can loosen very slightly if you run a lot of rounds through the carbine, but the hand guard clamp keeps it from loosening enough to affect functioning. This appeared to be the case. I initially checked it between each five round group, and it stayed tight, but after sixty rounds without checking, I was able to snug it very slightly. It never seemed to get any looser than that during my shooting. I didn’t see any problems that arose from this. Something I would be tempted to do, however, is put a wrench in the kit to tighten the nut. It takes the same wrench as the castle nut, and if you wanted to be really fussy, you could include a torque wrench. DRD feels this isn’t necessary, and I have to agree with them despite my inherent fussiness.

Speaking of the castle nut, which holds on the buffer tube, it isn’t staked. DRD says they haven’t had problems with them coming loose and many of their customers prefer being able to take things apart without having to remove the stake.

Another thing I fretted over a bit (worrying is my hobby) was the gas tube on a disassembled barrel. DRD says that yes, they have had people bend them, but it sounded as if it was serious negligence on the users part. AR gas tubes are very rigid, and I decided that with reasonable care, this isn’t a problem.

DRD is going to let me keep this for a bit to do some more testing, so I plan to report back on it in both 5.56 and .300 AAC. I want to see how long it can go without cleaning (I’m hoping the bolt remains as easy to clean) and try a wider variety of ammunition in it, particularly some of the 62-64 grain bonded bullets and 77 grain match loads in .223.

I have enjoyed my experience with this carbine and am looking forward to spending more time with it. If it were mine, I would add ambidextrous controls, as my son and I are left-handed. I would also upgrade the trigger. I am not a great shooter and have found that a really good trigger helps me a lot. I am impressed enough to be looking for funds to buy one of their upper build kits. I think a .300 AAC might be the ticket for my son’s first hog hunting trip, and this would be a good way to build one.

DRD Tactical makes their rifles in Dallas, Georgia. The CDR-15-556 has an MSRP of $2091, but I noticed that you can find them on Gun Broker for around 20% less. The price may seem high, but when you compare it to similarly equipped premium AR’s (and add in the case) the price is in line. You also need to consider that it has billet receivers, which cost more to make. Add in the takedown feature, and you have a pretty good value.

DRD also has a similar line of rifles in .308 Winchester, as well as a new design takedown rifle with a folding stock that they are submitting for consideration to the U.S. Joint and Special Operations Program. – SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Erie