A little over a year ago, I wrote an article for this publication about a PCC build that I was researching. About six months later, I purchased a Palmetto State Armory Upper and an Endo Mag to convert a little-used AR into a 9mm range favorite.
I was looking for something easy to shoot, fun to shoot, and reliable. The lower in question is a Spikes Tactical Calico Jack Lower (one of their novelty lowers I purchased years ago) with a standard LPK and VLTOR EMOD stock. The upper I had on the gun also had some PRI flip-up front and rear sights, that I repurposed for the new upper. I wanted a 9mm AR to give me something my 9-year-old daughter could shoot. She wants to get involved but is a bit skittish when it comes to something with more recoil than a .22. While I had my daughter in mind, I must admit, I have a blast with it too. Everyone who gets a chance to pull the trigger wholeheartedly agrees. Part of this build included getting a good red dot. My daughter is right-handed but left eye dominant, so teaching her how to use a scope or iron sights has proven challenging. The red dot I chose has no parallax, which means you don't have to be perfectly behind the sight to see the dot on the target. For a kid that has to either use the wrong hand or lean over to use the correct eye, this is a must. All said and done; this AR is clean, accurate, and reliable; an absolute joy to shoot.
I purchased the PSA GEN4 16" 9mm upper that comes with a 13.5" M-LOK handguard and complete BCG plus charging handle. Everything I need to pop a couple of pins and have a complete rifle. The barrel and BCG are Nitride treated for reliability and longevity. My initial thoughts when receiving the upper was that it looked amazing. While I'm a bit of a gear head, I also appreciate a simplistic design, and that's what I got with this upper. It was clean and capable with quality manufacturing. It comes with a standard A2 style flash hider; I may replace later down the road, which is all I need and works just fine. The upper matched my lower without any issue whatsoever. I was already running a heavier buffer on this lower, which worked perfectly and made me range ready. For a price of $329.99 (at the time), I was thrilled with my purchase and felt like I got a lot of bang for my buck, pun intended.
The EndoMag by Mean Arms is a perfect choice for me. A lot of 9mm ARs use the Glock or Colt mags, which, if you own either of these it makes sense. However, I don't own either. While researching this build, I also noticed a lot of complaints about the gap in the magwell a standard lower with the stick mags makes. The EndoMag uses a Gen 2 or 3 P-Mag (something I had several of). This means the mag fit is what you expect out of your AR, and the mechanics of reloading are the same. There were a couple of issues at first with this setup; however, after reading the instructions and contacting Mean Arms (a very easy process), I was able to get it running with minimal effort. The first issue is that these only work with a Gen 2 or 3 P-Mag.
I did some research and realized determining which generation P-Mag I had wasn't simple. The first mag I tried didn't fit the EndoMag at all. I found myself struggling to get the insert to fit. I grabbed another P-Mag that was a bit newer, and it went in extremely easy. While it is hard to look at your P-Mag to determine the generation, the fit is easy to determine. Either it does, or it doesn't. Once that was figured out, I read in the instructions that some modifications would be required on the piece used as the ejector. I followed the instructions but was overly cautious with the material I removed. After all, once it is gone, it is gone. My first range session was less than successful, and I had issues with the action jamming. I contacted Mean Arms about either a refund or some advice on how to fix the issues; they carry a lifetime warranty on their parts. They responded within 24 hours and were happy to accommodate either option I chose. They clarified to me what the modification requires, and, being a man that would rather tinker, I made short work of the mods needed with a file and Dremel tool. Every other subsequent range session was a success, and no further issues have arisen. EndoMags run $29.99 for 1 and $79.99 for 3. If you have the means, I'd suggest getting the three-pack. It's a better deal, and you won't be disappointed.
The last purchase was a quality red dot that wouldn't cost more than the upper. I've been a huge fan of Vortex Optics for years, and they are my go-to for optics that won't break the bank. Since my daughter would also be using this rifle, I didn't want something overly big or heavy but also wasn't looking for a red dot meant for a pistol. Enter the Sparc AR. Designed for the AR platform, this red dot is lightweight, midsize, and comes with two different height risers to mount directly to an AR rail allowing it to co-witness with iron sights. It has a long battery life (5,000 hours at the lowest setting) and comes with a Vortex lifetime warranty. It is clear glass with a 2 MOA dot that is easy to use and lightweight. A perfect fit for my needs. It runs for $259.99 and is well worth it.
As I stated before, my initial range session had issues. I had to do some fitting with the EndoMag, which was expected. With any part that requires a fit, I highly suggest taking your time and being methodic with what you remove. Parts like this take work on your behalf but, once done, are set for the life of the gun. I imagine this is why they carry a "Lifetime Warranty."
After the fitting was done, this gun ran like a dream. I've run several different types of ammo, which includes two different manufacturers aluminum case ammo. The most common ammo is 115 grain 9mm, so that is what I sighted it in with. Everything I ran in this gun functioned flawlessly. I sighted it in at 75 yards. With a 2 MOA dot on my SPARC AR that translates to the dot being approximately the same size of a 9" paper plate target at 75 yards. It was never meant to make clover leaves, but keeping it within a 6" group means it can be used as a defensive gun, and if I so choose, a close-range hunting rifle. For some people, this may not sound accurate, but you have to keep things in perspective. Having realistic expectations is key to a new build. I'm certain the gun's accuracy could be better with a scope, but that's not what I set it up for.
Range day with this gun is always fun. So far, I've put somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 rounds through it and only cleaned it once. I'm not the type to run a gun to the point of breaking before cleaning. I spend a ton of money on my hobby and like to keep my tools in good condition. This means torture testing my rifle was not on the agenda. However, I will make sure it's not a picky safe queen that has to be babied, so I do push it a bit.
Recently I decided to bring it out to show off a bit. I wanted to do ten-shot groups from a rest to see how well it groups with a few different types of ammo. With the way ammo has been flying off the shelves recently, I wasn't able to be very picky about the ammo I used. I was able to get Winchester white box, Federal Aluminum, and Federal Brass 115 grain 9mm 200 round boxes. I had a few 12"x12" bullseye style targets left but had to finish with my range session with the homemade 9" paper plate target, a poor man's target still does the job but cost a fraction of the price. From the bench, I had no feed or cycle issues at all with any of the ammo I used. I loaded ten rounds of each in a mag and tried to methodically squeeze the trigger from a rest. I will confess that I rushed a few shots, which explains my flyers in the group. We'll go through the results of my testing in order of Good, Better, and Best.
Federal 115 grain Aluminum case ammo is an excellent option for range ammo that saves a few bucks and still be reliable. Aluminum still is soft enough to create a reliable chamber seal but will affect accuracy a bit. This box ran for $34.99 for 200 rounds and made a grouping of 5" with 8 out of 10 shots falling within the first three rings of the bullseye. The other two shots were my fliers that hit near the top of the target paper, making a total group size of 9". I still maintain the shooter, being me, the reason for the two outside the group. I could have rerun this test until I reached a tighter group with nothing on the outside. However, that's not realistic or honest, in my opinion. We can't all be certified marksmen, and this is a real-world review. For defensive needs, a 9" group at 75 yards will eliminate the target, falling inside the critical zone of an assailant. This meets my minimum requirements for my rifle. However, tighter is better. While center mass is approximately 12" when you take into account the mistakes made by adrenaline, a smaller margin of error is needed. I would never use FMJ ammo as a defense, but seeing what the gun can do with cheaper ammo gives you a basis to determine if the gun is capable. This test says the weapon is capable, but I should look at better ammo if I want to use it for defense.
Winchester white box is a go-to for a lot of shooters as cheap range ammo. It is brass cased ammo that runs a bit dirty but also costs about $.19 per round, brings it to $38.99 for 200. Same situation and day were used for these ten rounds; however, by this time, I had to use the paper plate, which gives me a 9" target area. Out of 10 shots, they grouped 9 out of 10 in a 4" group that shot about 3" high.
As you can see in this picture, the grouping was not real tight. Some spots grouped better, but overall, it was more spread out. One of the rounds hit the top of the plate, with the last being completely off of the target. This gun is proving to be defensively capable, and with the right ammo can even be competition capable. This round also shows me why I used a 10-shot group versus the traditional 3 or 5. The more you shoot, the more complete a picture becomes. The first few rounds could've hit within a 1" or 2" group, but as the barrel heated up or the shooter speeds up in a rhythm, the group opens up more. For a build like this, I want to see the full picture of using this in a defensive style of shooting.
Federal 115 grain Brass case ammo came out the best. Personally, if I have the choice, I will go with Federal for my range ammo. It has proven over the years to be the most accurate to me, runs a bit cleaner, and is more reliable than other range ammo. It also runs the same in cost, $38.99 for 200 rounds. Out of a 10 round test, 8 out of 10 landed in 2.5" group, center of the target, with two shooter errors landing 3" to 4" outside the group. A 2.5" group is the best a 2 MOA dot can be expected to perform, and this gun and ammo combination was the key to achieving that. This grouping proves the gun is capable of anything I ask it to do and is plenty accurate. Palmetto State Armory gets some negativity from AR enthusiasts due to their price. While they may not be in the same realm of accuracy and quality as your higher-end components, for the money, they can't be beat.
The gun is sleek and simply designed. I don't have 4 pounds of gear attached to it, and I don't want it. It's a sleek design that looks good and functions flawlessly. The optic has been in the back of my truck, on the gun rack at the front of my 4-wheeler, and handled by kids and adults alike. None of this has caused the optic to lose its zero and is always clear and ready to go when it comes time to shoot. The main reasoning behind this build was to be fun. It met that requirement entirely and then some. I love taking this gun to the range. It's something that my daughter has and will shoot again, so it met that requirement as well. Many other novices and first-time shooters have even used it without any issues. That being said, experienced shooters find it a favorite to pull the trigger on as well. As far as a hunting rifle, some more testing may be required. Once this craziness has passed and ammo gets back on the shelf, I'm going to look at different hollow points, probably in a higher grain, to test for accuracy in deciding if it makes it to the deer woods.
Since I first made this purchase, my excitement for a pistol caliber carbine (PCC) has grown. I even purchased a Henry Big Boy in .44 Remington Magnum to match my Smith and Wesson 629 in .44. The capabilities of a pistol caliber in a rifle length barrel is something to behold. On my land, a shot past 100 yards is rare, most being 75 yards or less. This makes the possibility of using my PCC as a deer rifle very realistic. PCCs are easy to shoot, fun to shoot, and very capable. If you haven't had the chance to try one out, I'd highly suggest it. For me, it started an addiction. I've already made a 2nd purchase with the possibility of a .45 ACP version in the future. The ability to carry a pistol and rifle of the same caliber is something that started back in the Old West. It hasn't lost traction here in 2020; just evolved to modern platforms. Check them out, and you won't be disappointed.
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Prices accurate at time of writing