All weight-loss programs aren’t the same. While both may weigh 110 pounds, there’s a difference between a methadone addict and an Olympic athlete. No more would we trust a meth addict to function in a life-threatening situation than we’d expect a Swiss cheese AR to stand up to the rigors of combat.
And, meth addicts always become ugly. Nobody wants to date a meth addict.
We spent three days running a pre-production Project Anorexia rifle at Thunder Ranch with one of the driving forces behind the gun’s inception, Clint Smith. Our test rifle was outfitted with a scope and bipod according to Smith’s specifications for use in his urban precision rifle class. The class turned out to be the ideal venue to highlight the advantages the skinny gun he helped design brings to the intermediate distance fight.
“I designed this gun mostly for women and myself, because I don’t want to carry heavy shit any more,” Smith said about the gun, “If I’m going to carry 2 extra pounds of something, it isn’t going to be a barrel. It’s going to be 2 pounds of ammo.”
Smith’s longtime friendship with Erathr3’s Sheri Johnson led to the collaboration. It was a great match for this project, with Erathr3’s passion for high performance tempered by Smith’s experience.
The combination meant the rifle was built with no quarter given to price point, only performance and reliability. Getting a 6.5-pound fattop AR is hardly a challenge these days, but building an accurate, reliable gun that weighs less than 6 pounds will take some talent.
“We didn’t enter thinking we were doing anything earth shattering,” said Erathr3’s Sterling Becklin. “We dig them, we use them all the time, so we wanted to make our own reliable, accurate rifle. It’s just something we wanted to do.”
Becklin says Erathr3 started with the barrel and built the gun around it. “I believe in PROOF Research’s technology,” explained Becklin, “not just the carbon fiber, but the way they’re CNC rifling and chambering.”
The 1/7-inch twist, 14.5-inch PROOF Research carbon fiber composite barrel headlines, but the ensemble cast of supporting actors steals this lightweight show. In order to shatter the 6-pound AR barrier, Erathr3 had to get into the weeds. All the small steel parts were replaced with lighter weight titanium parts. The only exception is the traditionally steel ejection port cover. Instead of titanium, it’s aluminum — lighter weight and perfectly acceptable for this unstressed part. But, the ejection port cover hinge is titanium.
The only small part left in a legacy material we could find is the bolt catch; and even that is V Seven’s lightened version made from super-duty S7 tool steel.
While some larger components got the Ti treatment, some had to remain as good old ferrous alloys. But that doesn’t mean they were left in the 1960s. JP Enterprises steel JP EnhancedBolt adds material around the cam pin hole and uses JP’s enhanced ejector, extractor, and gas ring designs. JP also uses SAE 9310 steel in place of Mil-spec Carpenter 158 steel; it’s something the company says improves the life span of the bolt. Erathr3’s proprietary steel barrel nut uses integral wrench flats that also shave a little weight.
Bolt carrier, takedown pins, trigger pins, buffer retaining pin, fire control selector, grip screw… all titanium. But one set of Ti parts offered a unique challenge. “Yeah, the first time we tried staking the titanium castle nut, the titanium end plate just chipped,” Becklin laughed, “so we tried different tools and dicked up two more before we came up with a solution.” They used an aviation industry staple, Torque Seal.
GIVE IT THE FINGER
Erathr3’s receivers are made in house, allowing them to fine tune everything, including the skeletonizing pattern and the lightening cuts. Running the “build, assess, improve” cycle in real time results in machining tolerances so fine they even account for the thickness of the gun’s gray Cerakote finish and result in parts that fit together a like a pair of scissoring college sophomores.
The lower receiver’s forced weight-loss program features skeletonizing of the flared magazine well that does a couple things. Not only does it reduce weight, it also lets a shooter grab or sweep out hung-up casings with a couple of fingers; something that should be done with care, given the amount of force that will be applied to flesh if the bolt is allowed to slam home.
The upper also goes on a gag-reflex diet, losing the forward assist and material on the left side with some strategic scalloping. A few more ounces come off with a Ti gas block and PROOF Research’s carbon fiber composite barrel. The weight savings between a 14.5-inch steel barrel and a carbon fibercomposite is minimal; the weight delta is much more obvious when comparing 18-inch steel and carbon fiber barrels. But Erath3 wasn’t trying to build on a budget. Carbon fiber is stiffer than steel, which can translate into a more accurate barrel (if you buy into that whole science thing), so adding performance while removing even a small amount of weight fits the Project Anorexia MO.
Just because the gun is made entirely from high-quality parts doesn’t mean the assembly process is a carefree wrench-athon. Parts are still carefully fitted. For instance, before declaring a barrel and bolt soulmates and locking them together in metallic matrimony, Erathr3 gauges the fit and selects the bolt with the best headspace for that barrel and extension assembly.
The basic Anorexia build is rounded out with the thin-diameter, M-Lokcompatible E3 Handguard; Magpul’s stock, grip, sling; MBUS Pro offset iron sights; AXTS Raptor charging handle; Inconel gas tube; a pinned SilencerCo Trifecta fash hider; and an ALG Defense ACT trigger. We’ll talk about the trigger in a minute…
THE THUNDER RANCH EXPERIENCE
The limited edition of the carbine we shot was outfitted specially by and for Clint Smith’s urban rifle course that served as our three-day, 2,000-round introduction to project Anorexia.
Smith wanted to show the lightweight, 14.5-inch, 5.56mm platform was an effective tool for precision work in an urban setting where targets are seldom more than 300 yards out. To that end, our gun was set up with a Schmidt & Bender 1.1-4×24 Zenith Short Dot LE and a BT10-LW17 V8 Atlas Bipod.
We went from zeroing optics on day one to ringing small steel as far as 400 yards from rock piles, rooftops, and truck beds at the end of day three. In the interim, we worked on precision, positional shooting, movement, shooting movers, and working 100+ yard targets from the awkward, external apertures in Smith’s signature Terminator shoothouse. Many of the drills involved stressors that helped point out how much a lightweight gun helped manage fatigue. Despite Anorexia’s svelteness, “Hold that gun up,” was still a painful Smith refrain.
While the schoolhouse experience and subsequent testing showed the gun was reliable and accurate (our best five-shot group was 0.57 MOA using Black Hills blue box 77-grain MatchKing HPBT), we’re pretty sure we couldn’t access the gun’s benchrest accuracy potential owing to the ACT trigger. Smith spec’d that trigger himself for the gun. He told us he wanted a no BS 4-pound combat trigger with solid reset and he got one. The ACT is built to improve on the 1- to 2-MOA performance of rack grade rifles, not wring the last .25 MOA out of a $3,700 custom build. That said, Anorexia isn’t a bench gun, and we could reach past 300 yards without trouble. In the end, Erathr3 understands the market’s desires and will offer Anorexia with an option for a higher-grade bang switch.
It’s a $3,700 gun. There shouldn’t be any gripes. But, aside from the trigger, we noted two issues. In the quest for the lightest lower, Erathr3 scalloped the bottom of the trigger guard all the way to the grip. The ridges, even rounded as they are, chafe the hell out of the shooters middle finger after a few magazines.
The other problem would barely be worth mentioning if this weren’t a premium rifle. The handguard has what looks like M-LOK cutouts on the four cardinal faces. Turns out, only the three, six, and nine o’clock cutouts are for M-LOK. The top readily accepts M-LOK parts, but there isn’t enough space on the backside to turn an M-LOK cam into its torqued position. So, guys that try to mount something up there, say an offset light or action cam, are going to think it’s securely mounted right up until the device falls off, as ours nearly did.
The company is aware of both issues and has already recontoured the trigger guard for the next run of lowers and changed the rail cutouts to make it more obvious that the top is not an MLOK mount point. This points back to one of Erathr3’s strengths, it can make changes like this on the fly because the company machines its own parts.
ZIPPING IT UP
Packing the rifle in its accompanying Grey Ghost Gear rifle case for its shipment from our offices, we’ve felt something rare when saying farewell to an AR. Usually, we’re thankful to get the space back in the safe when we’re done… but, we’re going to miss this one when the brown truck pulls away. Few ARs come as close to the perfect balance of performance and weight as the Anorexia. It was a fun gun to shoot and never once did we get the feeling that there was some hinky, lightweight part used to shave an ounce.
We can’t be too sad, though. This one, Anorexia 16, is going to AmericanSnipers.org to be raffled off as a fundraiser that will begin at SHOT Show 2016. $10 will buy you a chance to win this gun, complete with optic, bipod, case, and a few PMAGs. And, your $10 goes to buy equipment that downrange snipers need, but can’t get through the normal supply chain. More info will be available at AmericanSnipers.org.