Tested: Ruger’s Small Frame Autoloading Rifle

Ruger sets a high bar with the lighter, niftier AR-10-style SFAR.

Tested: Ruger’s Small Frame Autoloading Rifle

For at least the last decade, rifle manufacturers have been working to perfect a much lighter version of the AR-10-style rifle. The “Big Brother” to the popular AR-15, the AR-10-style rifles not only employed larger calibers, with .308 Win being a top choice, but were noticeably heavier than ARs chambered in .223 Rem/5.56 NATO.

It wasn’t surprising to find an AR-10 that weighed all of 9 pounds or more. Add an optic, a full magazine and a sling, and a shooter could easily be toting 11 pounds of kit. Such a rifle certainly had applications, but if you were a hunter, for example, did you really want to be lugging around that kind of weight in the field? 

So began the race to build a lighter, niftier AR-10-style platform. The latest entrant in that race is the Small Frame Autoloading Rifle or SFAR recently launched by Sturm, Ruger, and Company.

In size and weight, the SFAR looks and feels like an AR-15, even though it is chambered in the much more powerful .308 Win. The SFAR barrel and bolt are the same overall size as Ruger’s AR-15 rifle, the AR-556, with the upper and lower receivers “stretched” just a bit to accommodate the larger .308 Win. Magazines and cartridges. 

Ruger accomplished this size reduction by trimming off weight wherever possible, starting with a 7075-T6 aluminum upper receiver, which also features venting holes for gas distribution. The 15-inch aluminum M-Lok forend is very lightweight with many slots and cuts. The magazine well is larger than an AR-15’s too, with a neat-looking “V”-cut added. 

Meanwhile, Ruger designed the bolt, bolt carrier and barrel extension from a special alloy-steel that has a high nickel content, making these components stronger and lighter than those usually found on AR-10 models. Finally, the SFAR is outfitted with a lightweight Magpul MOE SL adjustable stock.

My evaluation and test SFAR sported a 16.1-inch chrome moly barrel, cold hammer forged and featuring 5R rifling. My rifle weighed in at just 6.8 pounds unloaded. The SFAR is also available with a 20-inch barrel and that model tips the scales at 7.3 pounds.

Adding Optics

The SFAR does not come with sights. I had a Texas deer hunt coming up and I wanted to use the rifle for this hunt, so it was time to mount a scope. I selected a Trijicon CREDO HX 1-8x28 scope.

One of my favorite optics for hunting, the CREDO HX 1-8 features a 34mm tube, very precise elevation and windage controls, and an MOA segmented circle reticle, with dual red/green illumination options. The lower magnifications allow for use in brushy and thickly wooded areas, while the top-end magnification makes a 300-yard shot on big game very feasible. I really appreciate the 34mm tube and the generous field of view it provides, too.     

Getting Familiar

At my outdoor range, I ran three brands of .308 Win. ammunition through my SFAR:  Federal’s Terminal Ascent loaded with a 175-grain bullet; Hornady Superformance and its 165-grain, poly-tipped SST bullet; and, Sig Sauer’s Elite Performance hunting ammunition launching a 150-grain all-copper hollow point bullet.

All three brands of ammunition easily printed three-shot hunting groups of 1.0- to 1.25-inches at 100 yards from a sandbagged bench. My best group was made using the Sig Elite Performance ammo, and those three shots clustered at an impressive .84-inches.

The experienced shooter will no doubt wonder about recoil given the caliber and weight of the SFAR. It is certainly fair to say that the SFAR’s recoil is snappier than that of a 9-pound AR-10. 

But the recoil is by no means terrible or off-putting, thanks in part to Ruger’s very effective two-port Boomer muzzle brake and its large perpendicular surfaces that redirect gases and reduce felt recoil. Remove that brake and the rifle’s 5/8"-24 muzzle threads make it compatible with other brakes, flash hiders and suppressors.

The SFAR is designed with a mid-length gas system featuring a 0.750-inch 4-position rotary-regulator gas block to achieve ideal function across the wide range of ammunition available today. The included 3/16-inch ball-end wrench makes for easy regulatory adjustment and the wrench is conveniently stored inside the  Magpul MOE grip.  

The SFAR comes standard with Ruger’s Elite 452 two-stage trigger. The trigger snapped off cleanly, and my Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge put the pull weight at an average of 2 pounds, 9 ounces.

The SFAR’s bolt carrier assembly features a chrome-lined 8620 steel bolt carrier and nitride-processed gas key staked in place. The titanium spring pin has been DLC-coated for long service life. The bolt includes dual ejectors and an optimized extractor to ensure positive extraction and ejection of the spent case through the rifle’s enlarged ejection port. As noted, I took the SFAR on a deer hunt in the rocky and wide-open spaces of the Trans-Pecos region of Texas. Outfitted with a nice two-point sling made by Blue August, the SFAR was easy to carry even when distances afoot were long and the terrain was uneven.

The SFAR’s nimble size was also an advantage when moving through thick brush and getting in and out of pickup trucks and side-by-sides. And when it came time to shoot, the SFAR swung up nicely onto my shooting sticks.

Selling the SFAR

So, how to sell this nifty rifle to your customer base? You may well have to start by letting them know this small size comes in a very substantial caliber, as many customers will look at the SFAR and simply assume it’s an AR-15 in .223 Rem.

Consider, for example, displaying the SFAR horizontally and above the usual rifle racks with rifles set up vertically, and with a sign reading something like, “New from Ruger: SFAR in .308 Win!”

“The SFAR is really more like an AR-15 chambered in .308 rather than an AR-10,” says Matt Willson, project manager for Ruger Rifles. “It’s lighter, slimmer, and more compact than an AR-10. And not just lighter than an AR-10 — at 6.8  pounds for the 16-inch model, it's the same weight as most 5.56 NATO AR-15s. Like an AR, it can be dressed up to meet many applications — big game hunting, home defense, and various tactical applications top the list.”

With the accessories that can be easily mounted onto the rifle, the SFAR would also be a great option for the growing number of hunters who chase wild, feral hogs at night using thermal or night vision optics. Point out that the .308 Win. payload can efficiently take down big boars, too, something the smaller AR-15s in .223 Remington often have trouble accomplishing.

For the hunter on the move, make sure to note that the lighter weight of the SFAR means an easier time carrying the rifle, especially with a good two-point sling attached.  A selection of these slings, by the way, can make for some profitable add-on sales, too.

 And many of the SFAR’s components — like the charging handles, triggers, stocks and grips, even handguards — are Mil-Spec compatible with the numerous aftermarket offerings available to AR-platform users. That ability to change out components will be a big plus for the many AR fans who love to accessorize based on their specific needs.

Don’t be surprised if customers show up at your store asking about the SFAR. Willson noted that the SFAR has already received a number of very positive reviews in print and on the web. 

Likewise, the SFAR has received a very good reception among the various established YouTube reviewers, including both Hickok45 and the Military Arms Channel, as well as the more “grass-roots” or independent youtubers.

And don’t expect the SFAR to be a one-time, one-caliber rifle. Willson admitted that Ruger was looking into developing an SFAR in 6.5 Creedmoor, and that other calibers which grew out of the .308 Win. parent cartridge were also possibilities for future chamberings. He also expected some distributor “exclusive” SFAR offerings in 2023 that will match a rifle with various combinations of color options, furniture, and/or accessories. 

“Ruger.com will always be the most current and correct information about our offerings,” Willson notes. “There is a handy email list that can keep FFL’s up to date about the SFAR and other Ruger products. List members will only receive two messages a week at most!”

Ruger sells exclusively through distributors, and supplies a full and regularly updated list of those distributors on its website.

Ruger is not the only rifle maker offering a lighter-weight AR-10-style rifle. But it has set that bar pretty high with the SFAR.


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