Gun Review: Black Dawn’s Lightweight Complete 3-Gun Rifle (BDR-556-3GLW)

    I know, I know, yet another review of an AR-15 rifle. A few of you, I’m sure, will provide the obligatory “Yawn.” in the comments. However, running this rifle did not bore me, nor make my eyes glaze. It was actually very satisfying to shoot, and in a market flooded with ho-hum offerings, I assure you the Black Dawn was anything but.

    Simple box, rifle, mag and some lube.

    Simple box, rifle, mag and some lube.


    The rifle came with Black Dawn’s new 3G Brake. The brake follows the now current design pattern of side vents and asymmetrical top vents.

    Brake was pretty standard design with side vents and asymmetrical top ports.

    Brake was pretty standard design with side vents and asymmetrical top ports.

    Warne provided the scope mount (not technically part of the review, but it was still a nice mount; I am a big fan of Warne).


    Warne Scope Mount. Note the Black Dawn logo on the Bolt. After 750 rounds it didn’t show any signs of wear.

    The provided scope was a Vortex Strike Eagle. ([optics snoot warning]: I am not a big fan)

    The bolt carrier group installed was their IonBond BCG. I couldn’t find any information on their website giving more details about it. I assume that the ion bonding process is used to give it better lubricity and greater wear resistance.

    IonBond BCG

    IonBond BCG

    The trigger is the CMC 3.5 Single Stage Drop In (with the flat shoe).

    CMC 3.5 lb trigger.

    CMC 3.5 lb trigger.

    The grip was provided by XTech Tactical, and was their “Adjustable Tactical Grip”.

    Version 2

    XTech Grip with adjustable angle.

    The butt stock was the Mission First Minimalist that features an angled non-slip rubberized butt pad, quick detach sling mounting points, and is designed for a better cheek weld.


    Tl;dr. I loved the rifle but hated the scope. Well, maybe hated is a strong word. Let’s just say that the Vortex Strike Eagle was quite a bit busier than my Leupold Mark AR. But this review is not about the scope…

    I ran this gun pretty hard–I put somewhere around 750 rounds (of mixed 55 grain Tula and 75 grain Hornady BTHP) through it during it’s stay with me. I had it in a number of 3-Gun practices and matches, as well as “show-off” shoots and range trips.

    After zeroing it with the 75 grain Hornady I was seeing about 1 MOA in the grouping. I’m some of the variation was mine (I didn’t have it seated on a sled or anything–just on top of my pack in our 100 meter zero wind tunnel). With the 55 grain Tula it was about 1.25 MOA (same conditions).

    I only lubed it once, right after I got it, with Slip2000 and never again. So maybe there is something to that ion bonding… 🙂

    I had zero malfunctions with the rifle. She ran beautifully the entire time. I tried with a number of different magazines including some USGI and a Lancer (during matches I only ran with PMags). All of the magazines I tried worked fine.

    Manipulating the action was solid and beefy. You know when you sometimes pull the charging handle, and it is kind of like a limp handshake? Well this rifle was not that way. Very satisfying “ker-thunk” when chambering a round.

    Not that the forward assist is all that useful these days; this rifle had a nice large button if you do use it.

    Not that the forward assist is all that useful these days; this rifle had a nice large button if you do use it.

    I did not adjust the grip (even though that was an option)–it came set perfectly for me.

    Probably the best compliment I can give a gun that I am running is that I don’t notice it–it is an extension of my will. When I have to start fumbling around with it, or double checking my manipulations, it causes my concentration to lapse. I’ve only had a couple of rifles do that.

    The brake did an excellent job of keeping the muzzle down, though it was a little annoying for my buddy shooting next to me. But I think you are just going to have that with any brake that compensates well.

    The 3-Gun Lightweight Rifle, unfortunately, was not ambidextrous.  I do think with the availability of parts these days it is easy enough to make it have controls on both sides.  I suppose if you are really trying to shave off crucial ounces, though, everything adds up a little.


    I know, having had the discussion here (and other places), that competition rifles are a pretty personalized thing. Rarely are they something “off-the-shelf”. After shooting the Black Dawn, I think that it is a solid entrant into a base (to even near personalized) build. At the end of the day, what are you looking for in a competition rifle? Lightweight (7 lbs or less) – check. Adjustable stock – check.

    Nestled in among the other rifles at the match.

    Nestled in among the other rifles at the match.

    Even if you plan to customize, the Black Dawn 3GLW comes pretty optimized right out of the box, and for $1400, it is reasonably priced for a competition ready rifle.  Note that the price does not include the optic or scope mount (the demo version they sent me was complete and ready to go).

    My Primary Weapons Systems Modern Musket is a solid base platform. I would run that in nearly any situation because I trust it’s performance and reliability. If I had unlimited funds, I would outfit my armory with Cobalt Kinetics because, well, look at it!!! (though I really wish they would use RISE Armament’s 535 trigger)

    And, now, if I had to recommend a good starting 3-Gun rifle, one that would not flatline your bank account, I’d suggest the Black Dawn 3-Gun Lightweight Rifle.

    Out of the box it runs great, and over my first 750 rounds I didn’t have a single issue with it. And for that matter, as the build I was running was mostly Black Dawn’s components, you could outfit your rifle with their components and approach their “off-the-shelf” model.

    You can see the rifle on their website at:

    Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he teaches wilderness medicine and runs an on-demand medical staffing business. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.

    You can reach him at tom.r AT or at