When you consider guns that bridge the gaps between military, defense and predator hunting, the obvious ones that come to mind are the AR-15 and compact shotguns. But there’s a sleeper out there that offers predator hunters several advantages — Steyr’s AUG A3 M1. Advantages include great accuracy, boring reliability, quick take-down, ambidextrous set-up options, and an overall length that’s so short you almost feel guilty for not having to pay the $200 tax stamp like you would for a short-barreled rifle.
The AUG was nothing short of futuristic when it was introduced in 1977. Even now, almost four decades later, it has a cool factor that turns heads on the range. That look comes from its bullpup design, where the action is located behind the trigger. While it was hardly the first bullpup, the AUG remains the most recognizable if not iconic. Moving everything back in bullpup fashion provides a balance that belies the gun’s actual weight, a platform that points like your finger, and full-length barrel ballistics from a gun that’s around 8 inches shorter overall than the same-length-barrel AR-15.
With the exception of its bullpup configuration, the AUG is a basic, short-stroke, piston-driven semi-auto. It stays very clean even after extensive shooting, and the piston has two easily changed settings so you can tune it to different loads and conditions or for a suppressor. Because of the bullpup design, controls are in very different positions from what most shooters are used to, but, like with any gun, a little training and trigger time quickly make their use familiar. “[Some people] complain about mag changes being slower than with an AR, but that’s just a matter of practice,” says Steyr Arms’ CEO, Scott O’Brien. “I can definitely change my AUG mags faster than an AR because the magazine well is closer to my body, and the mechanism that holds the magazine has very positive engagement and it doesn’t require the user to smack the bottom of the magazine to seat it,” he explains.
What few complaints I’ve seen about the AUG have been largely addressed and resolved. One complaint was that it takes proprietary magazines, so Steyr introduced an A3 M1 NATO version that takes standard AR-15 magazines. There are some trade-offs, though. According to O’Brien, you “lose the ability to go lefty, and you lose the bolt release.” Plus, AR mags have traditionally been one of the weakest links in the AR platform, so unless you’re already heavily invested in AR mags, it’s worth considering going with the non-NATO variant that uses standard AUG mags. New ones go for about $20. They’re synthetic so they won’t bend, they’re darn-near indestructible, and they’re available in 10-, 30- or 42-round capacity.
Another overcome complaint regards scope mounting. The original AUG came with an integral low-power scope, so you were limited to that when it came to sighting options. Instead, the new A3 M1 is available with three sight set-up options. One is an optics rail with integral scope in either 1.5X or 3X magnification for fast, close-range and accurate mid-range shooting. The second option is a short rail for mounting a conventional red-dot-type sight for fast, close-range shooting, while the third option is a high rail for a conventional riflescope for accurate mid- to long-range shooting. Since I was setting up the AUG for predator hunting, I chose the high rail and found it positions the scope low enough for a solid cheekweld, but high enough that it doesn’t get in the way of operating the charging handle. One note on the charging handle: Steyr cautions to operate it palm up so you don’t cheese-grater your knuckles on the gun, rail or optics — and they mean it.
Another criticism was the lack of accessory rails or even places to add any. The A3 M1 I received has a 3-inch removable accessory rail at 2 o’clock on the forend. That might not satisfy those who want to attach a bunch of “tacticool” accessories, but for predator hunters, it will suffice for a light. Likewise for the aftermarket-gadget folks — this isn’t a gun where you can change forends, pistol grips or buttstocks, though you can choose between black, OD green and mud color stocks.
The last complaint I’ve heard has to do with the AUG’s trigger. It’s a sliding design as opposed to a pivoting one and has been described as one that “fights back.” On the sample gun, the trigger fought back to the tune of 12 pounds pull, but it broke cleanly. “The AUG trigger was designed to be heavy to prevent any sort of accidental discharge in a high-stress situation,” explains O’Brien. Many of the reviews I’ve seen on AUGs report trigger pull weights around 8 pounds, and while that is still on the heavy side, it is in the range of what I’ve experienced on rack-grade AR-15-type rifles.
The pull weight on the sample gun was probably an anomaly, but for those who want a lighter pull, I’ve heard from AUG users who reduce trigger pull by removing one of the hammer springs. None have reported