The Handy Little AR-7 Rifle

By David Tong

Photo by David Tong.

Eugene Stoner is best remembered for his design of the U.S. service rifle M16. That design has been lauded for its innovative use of both aluminum alloys and polymers to create a breakthrough in weapon material usage.

Stoner had earlier worked for Fairchild Aircraft’s Armalite Division, which was tasked to create arms using common aircraft production materials. In the late 1950s, Stoner developed the AR-5, later designated the MA-1 Air Force survival rifle for bomber crews. This was a bolt-action, magazine-fed rifle with a plastic, foam-filled stock that allowed it to float in water. The stock also allowed for the action and barrel to be disassembled and stored within it via a removable buttplate. Chambered in .22 Hornet, it was slated to replace an existing over-under .22 Hornet rifle / .410 shotgun combination gun in the USAF inventory.

The AR-7 was developed shortly after the AR-5 and there were many similarities, particularly in the rifle’s ability to be taken down and stored within the stock, though the AR-7 was produced in .22LR caliber. It is a semi-automatic arm feeding from an eight-round magazine.


  • Type: Semi-automatic take-down survival rifle
  • Length: 35” assembled, 16 ½” stored
  • Magazine: Steel, detachable box, eight round capacity .22LR
  • Weight empty: 2 ½ pounds
  • Construction: Aluminum alloy receiver and barrel shroud. Steel barrel liner and stamped steel action parts.
  • Stock: Nylon with foam core. Originals were black, brown (rare) and marbled black/brown/green.
  • Sights: Elevation adjustable rear aperture with locking screw. Front dovetail adjustable for windage.

Take down of the rifle for cleaning is simple. Remove the magazine and clear the chamber by withdrawing the retractable charging handle from the bolt and racking to the rear. Remove the barrel by unthreading the retention collar from the front of the receiver and pull barrel to the front and off. Routine cleaning can be done, including breech cleaning of the barrel, with no further disassembly. Additional cleaning can be done by removing the left side plate via its slotted screw and using aerosol cleaner to remove powder residue and re-lubrication of sear, hammer and bolt tracks, as required.

The action is secured to the buttstock by a wing screw in the bottom of the pistol grip. The barrel is re-attached to the receiver by indexing a notch at the top of its insertion collar, much like the later M16. The original Armalite rifles have no scope mount and only one magazine can be stored in the butt with the rest of the rifle’s components. The action cannot be stored with a magazine in place.

While very light in weight and possessing a heavy trigger pull of some seven pounds, the rifle is nonetheless sufficiently accurate enough for killing small game for food. The example reviewed here somewhat ammunition sensitive, as semi-automatics tend to be. My rifle prefers to be fed either CCI Mini-Mag or Remington "Golden Bullet" .22 LR cartridges. CCI’s Stinger, despite having a more blunt ogive, also feeds perfectly in my example. Typically, rounds with a round bullet profile and fairly clean burning are critical to good function. The barrel lacks a feed ramp, so careful handling of the thin, sheet steel magazine’s feed lips is crucial to its reliability. When fed the aforementioned cartridges, I have had no malfunctions in over 2,000 rounds fired.

The rifle’s buttstock is supposedly somewhat brittle and the ears of the stock that position the action are prone to breakage if abused. I have not experienced this problem, but I tend to baby my equipment.

I’ve found that it is capable of 2.5” to 3”, 5-shot groups from a rest at 50 yards, which seems satisfactory considering the crude iron sights and heavy trigger pull. Shooting offhand, I either grasp the front of the magazine with my support hand or use both hands around the pistol grip area handgun style. Either way, the very light rifle works well for its intended purpose.

AR-7 rifles have been featured in several action films, most famously in the 1966 James Bond classic “From Russia With Love,” when Sean Connery killed the pilot of a helicopter with his scoped version.

The Armalite Company sold the design and production rights to Charter Arms in 1973 and that company produced it until 1989. The Henry Repeating Arms Company of New York has been building an updated version that includes a reinforced, leak-proof stock, an integral scope mount and the ability to store three magazines in the stock along with the action and barrel. One of those magazines can be locked into the action body during storage.

Its design has spawned a number of aftermarket accessories, including collapsing stocks, sling mounts, scope mounts, flash hiders and other nonsensical items that take away from its basic utility. Having said that, a rare variant including most of those features was actually adopted by Israel for its aircrew survival rifle, so perhaps my comment is a bit harsh.

The AR-7 fills a unique niche in the firearms world. It is so light in recoil and weight that it is completely un-intimidating, even to a beginner. It fires a very common and inexpensive cartridge. Everyone should own one for its fun factor alone. As a survival rifle, of course, it set the standard.

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Copyright 2011, 2012 by David Tong and/or All rights reserved.