Steyr AUG
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Steyr AUG: One Of the Ugliest, Yet Most Successful Firearms Ever Made

The Steyr AUG may be weird, but it is one of the most successful rifles of all time.

In the long, strange history of firearms, designers have experimented with plenty of weird ideas over the years. There are literally hundreds of unusual firearms that never got much further than a few prototypes or the designer's drawing table.

Then there are guns like the futuristic-looking, Austria-designed Steyr Arms Universal Army Rifle (armee universal gewehr), better known as the Steyr Aug A1. This gun is weird, even for a bullpup design. Thanks mostly to the mostly polymer construction, odd placement of the pistol grip, folding foregrip, and a low power scope that is already integrated into the design.

This gun looks like something out of a bad science fiction movie. It is hard to believe how successful this firearm became, first with the Austrian Army, and then with other militaries and law enforcement all over the world. This is the story of the AUG, a very unusual weapon that ended up being one of the most successful of all time.

The unusual design of the Steyr AUG

One of the more amazing stats of this rifle is the fact that a 20-inch barrel length is standard. Yet the gun has an overall length of just 31 inches! We know bullpups are designed with the action behind the trigger specifically to create a compact package, but that is an amazing spec on paper. Talk about an efficient use of space! That barrel has rifling with a 1:9 rate of twist. Some variants of the barrel also allowed for the attachment of a bipod or bayonet.

The barrel is fascinating and extremely clever. The manufacturers built in a quick-change system. Push one button, rotate the barrel, and remove in seconds. It also helps make cleaning the AUG a breeze, something no doubt appreciated by every soldier ever issued one. The 20-inch barrel was standard, but there are also shorter 18-inch submachine gun style barrels, and a longer 24-inch barrel for what is known as the light machine gun variant.

The AUG fires from a closed bolt and cycles off a gas piston system. Although the machine gun variants was slightly modified to be fired open bolt. Most of the gun's internals are hidden away in the highly unusual polymer stock, which also holds the cleaning kit. The buttplate pops off the back of the stock, which is what allows access to the gun's fire control group. We should mention that fire control group is also made entirely of polymer except for some springs and pins. No doubt it helps with the weight of the gun, which is 7.9 pounds for the standard and 7.3 for the carbine. Oddly, that assembly is held in place via the back sling swivel! As if that was not weird enough, the recoil springs are hidden in the back of the buttstock and are not removable. The strangeness of the AUG's design extends even into the inner workings of the firearm.

The receiver is held in place on the stock with a large plastic lug. The bolt carrier assembly slides into the receiver via two guide rods. The one on the left side of the gun locks into the charging handle behind the handguard while the one on the right serves as the gas piston system. The bolt also features a series of locking radial lugs which help prevent malfunctions. The unusual design of the bolt means the gun is not as easily ambidextrous as other similar rifles. One must swap out the bolt assembly for a left-handed one and move the cover for the ejection port in the stock to the other side.

While there are semi-automatic versions out there, the original AUGs use a progressive trigger system with a select firing trigger rather than a fire select lever. A longer pull of the trigger will result in full-auto fire, while a short pull results in semi-auto. Most people either love or hate the AUG's unusual trigger after using it. Fortunately, there are aftermarket options available for those in the latter group.

Another unusual feature of the gun is the placement of the magazines. The AUG is fed through detachable 30 and 42-round magazines. While they may look like AR mags, they are not interchangeable. They also feed into the gun behind the trigger and pistol grip area close to the shooter's shoulder. It makes reloading slightly awkward at first until one gets the hang of it.

Lastly, we need to talk about the 1.5x power optic that is integrated into the firearm. Newer designs of the rifle allow the removal of it, but the first versions of the AUG had it completely integrated into the receiver. Rather than a crosshair, the gun has a small black circle that soldiers quickly coined "the donut of death." The idea behind it is that it serves as a form of rangefinder. At approximately 330 yards, a target the size of a typical adult male should fill the ring. This system may sound a little crude, but the AUGs optic has proven incredibly reliable. Most people are surprised by how accurate it is. Just to be on the safe side, the designers built in a set of iron sights into the top part of the optic in case something goes wrong with the scope.

Is the Steyr AUG legal in the U.S.?

Steyr Aug

In the late 70s and early 80s, AUG started gaining traction with many armies around the world. The armed forces in places like Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand started using the AUG as their standard issue service rifle soon after its release. Some of them, like the Australian army, are still using them.

When militaries and law enforcement take notice, so do civilian gun enthusiasts and collectors. Steyr AUG would have been dumb not to take advantage and began importing them to the U.S. and they sold briskly. It was a short-lived flurry of sales though. Because in 1989, President George H.W. Bush signed the assault weapons import ban that promptly put a stop to new AUGs entering the country. It was unfortunate timing for the manufacturer because the gun had just gained a new legion of fans after being prominently featured in the 1988 classic Bruce Willis action film "Die Hard."

According to the Steyr Arms website, no new guns were imported for a very long time. They tried to import new ones by removing features like the threaded barrel to prevent suppressor use but kept hitting a brick wall and mountains of red tape on importing them. Eventually, they decided to just start making civilian variants here in the U.S. through collaborations with other firearms manufacturers. This resulted in the Steyr AUG A2 and the Steyr AUG A3 M1 made by Steyr Mannlicher.

These new versions of the AUG included new features like picatinny rails or red dot sights to give more optics options to shooters. Many of these guns also have a shorter 16-inch barrel which drops of the overall length of the gun down to around 28 inches. While some versions of the AUG are legal in the U.S., you might run into some issues in some states that might classify the gun as a "bullpup assault rifle." And if you want one of the original automatic rifles, expect to pay and fill out a lot of paperwork first. Do your homework on your local laws and regulations before you buy.

How much does the Steyr AUG cost and is it worth it?

Steyr Aug

Wikimedia Commons: Steyr Mannlicher

Your best bet for owning one of these rifles is likely one of the Steyr Aug A3 M1 models manufactured by Steyr Arms. These guns offer the most options and color choices standard. However, you can expect to pay a pretty penny. The MSRP on these firearms starts at just over $2,000. Even the used ones are not cheap. In fact, scanning the web for current prices, we saw very few listed on auction sites for under that price.

For shooters wanting a pre-ban Steyr AUG A1, the costs are even greater. Expect to pay anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000 at a minimum for one of those. It really does not matter which AUG you target, expect your wallet to be a bit lighter if you end up purchasing one of these iconic rifles.

While they may be expensive, for most shooters, the AUG is worth the price of admission. It is simply a joy to take to the range and burn through ammo with one these. In fact, there is a dedicated subset of AUG die hard fans out there on the Internet. Most of these users would rather use an AUG than the latest in AR technology any day. The accuracy and reliability of the Steyr is that good. Most AUG owners also hold onto their guns for the long haul. We have read more than one story of regret from users who sold theirs in the past. In short, for a gun to stick around this long, it has to be a great design, and the Steyr AUG shows no signs of slowing in popularity any time soon.

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