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Old 09-02-2014, 03:08 PM
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Default The AR-7 Survival Rifle - an overview...

This is a preview of a future article. Seeing the interest in this rifle in another recent post, I thought it might be appropriate to post this.

John

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Back in the mid-1950s, the U.S. Air Force sought a new small-caliber survival rifle to be part of their pilots’ emergency gear. It was to be used in case of ejection over hostile territory. Their request was for a .22 Hornet-chambered arm that would be compact, light and that could float in water. The Air Force was then using two main firearms designed for downed pilot survival. The first of these was the M4 Survival Weapon. Designed in 1949 by (then USAF Major) Burton T. Miller, it was a bolt-action rifle with a retractable wire stock, chambered for the .22 Hornet. The second was the M6 Aircrew Survival Weapon, an over-under firearm designed and produced by Ithaca in 1951. It was chambered for the .22 Hornet and the .410 shotgun round. Responding to the Air Force request, a new survival weapon was designed by Eugene Stoner of ArmaLite, then a division of Fairchild Aircraft. The AR-5 was a lightweight 4-shot bolt action in .22 Hornet. The action, magazine and detachable barrel of the AR-5 could be stowed in its removable stock. It could float either stowed or assembled. This firearm was adopted by the Air Force in 1956 as the MA-1. However, with its large inventory of previous survival weapons, the Air Force never opted to actually place the MA-1 into general issue. While Stoner was disappointed in this setback, he decided to develop a .22 semiautomatic survival rifle for the civilian market. It would be based on some of the concepts pioneered with the AR-5, using much of the research and tooling for that rifle.

Stoner, born in 1922, had an interesting history, and was destined to become one of the premier post-WWII weapons designers. He attended high school in Long Beach, California, but soon afterwards went to work for the Vega Aircraft Company, installing armament in airplanes. When America became embroiled in World War II, Stoner enlisted in the Marine Corps. Working in aviation ordnance, he served in the South Pacific and northern China. Following the end of the war and his honorable discharge from the Marines, he found work in the machine shop of Whittaker, an aircraft equipment company. He became a design engineer, and in 1954, started work as chief engineer for ArmaLite. Stoner is perhaps best known for designing lightweight combat rifles, notably the 7.62 x 51mm AR-10. Its scaled-down offspring, the AR-15, morphed into the family of M16 weapons still used by the U.S. and many other nations. His work on what became the AR-7 is a lesser known accomplishment, but still a significant firearms development.

First introduced by ArmaLite in 1959 as the “AR-7 Explorer,” it became instantly popular on the civilian market. The rifle used a lightweight 16” detachable barrel, first made of aluminum (later composite polymer) with a steel liner. When detached, it would fit into the plastic stock along with the aluminum receiver and an 8-round single-stack magazine. Capping the stock with a rubber buttplate, the disassembled and stowed rifle measured just 17.5” in length. Overall length when assembled was 35 1/4”. The action was a conventional blow-back type, with a pull-out operating handle in the bolt and a pivoting safety lever on the right side. The magazine was released with a lever located in the forward part of the trigger guard. The keyed barrel slid into the externally threaded forward part of the receiver. A multi-grooved threaded nut mounted around the barrel screwed onto the receiver threads, tightening the barrel firmly into the receiver. The rear sight was a simple aperture plate, crudely adjustable for elevation, and locked into position with a single screw. The front sight was ramped, and could be adjusted for windage by tapping it in its dovetail either right or left as necessary. The right side of the receiver featured the ArmaLite “Pegasus” flying-horse-superimposed-on-crosshairs logo. Below that, cast into the receiver, was “AR-7/EXPLORER/COSTA MESA, CALIF. U.S.A./PATENTS PENDING.” The serial number was stamped vertically into the forward portion of the trigger guard. The barrel was marked “.22 LONG RIFLE ONLY” on its right side.

The stock, buttplate, receiver, magazine and barrel had a gloss black finish, while the bolt and operating handle were not blued. Very early stocks can be found with a solid brown or marbled/swirled brown color. There was no hold-open device, and the bolt did not lock back on the last shot. The cartridge feed ramp was made part of the magazine. The stock was secured when assembled to the receiver with a long thumb-screw, the head of which was recessed into the pistol grip. On the left side of the receiver, a single screw retained a sideplate. When this was removed, it allowed access to the trigger and hammer mechanism for cleaning and lubrication. The screw could also secure a special scope mount to the receiver if desired. Extra-capacity aftermarket magazines of 10, 15, 20 and 50 rounds quickly appeared on the marketplace. These, of course, would not fit for storage into the stock. The twin recoil springs on this rifle are fairly stiff, and require high speed ammo for reliable functioning. Accuracy, while not stellar, is sufficient for use on small game up to 50 yards. The trigger pull is of only average quality.

The AR-7 has been popular as a survival and plinking rifle since its introduction. Disassembled and stowed, it fits easily into a backpack, and weighs a scant 2.5 pounds. Contrary to its use by Sean Connery as James Bond in the 1963 movie From Russia With Love, it’s probably not the best thing for bringing down helicopters. That movie, however, did tend to boost sales! The stowed rifle does fit easily into a briefcase, giving it some utility for covert activity by secret agents who might need such things.



ArmaLite shipped some AR-7s to Israel as survival weapons. The Israelis modified them with a telescoping stock, a pistol grip, a Mauser K98k-type front sight, and shortened barrel. Some have been re-imported to the United States with a permanently mounted muzzle brake to meet our 16-inch minimum requirement. These are valued collector items now.

In 1973, ArmaLite sold the manufacturing and sales rights to the AR-7 to Charter Arms. The rifle illustrated here bears ArmaLite markings, but was sold in a Charter Arms box marked with its serial number in January of 1974. An original ArmaLite gun in a transitional box has now become a sought-after collector item. This pretty well nails the manufacturing date on this particular gun as sometime in late 1973. When Charter Arms began manufacture, there were some initial reports of spotty quality control, reliability issues and warped barrels. These things were apparently corrected in later production. Charter Arms produced a pistol version of the AR-7 called the Explorer II. Looking a bit like the Mauser C96 “broomhandle,” it had a built-in pistol grip that accepted a spare 8-round magazine. The rear sight was an open notch type adjustable for both windage and elevation. The usual barrel length was 8 inches. The barrels of the rifle and pistol are not interchangeable. Modifying a rifle receiver and a pistol barrel to make a short-barreled rifle is illegal unless proper federal registration and payment of a $200 tax is accomplished first.

An outfit known as AR-7 Industries made solid steel barrels for the AR-7, which of course were much heavier, and tended to defeat the lightweight objective of the original design.

In 1990, Charter sold the rights to the AR-7 to Henry Repeating Arms. Some of their rifles have been marked “Survival Arms.” Henry made some minor revisions to their product. ABS thermoplastic material has replaced the original plastic for the stock. This gives better impact resistance and resilience. The stock can now accommodate three magazines (1 in the receiver, 2 spares). The latest versions are billed as completely waterproof, unlike the previous types which could leak water into the stock when submerged. It would still be prudent to wrap some waterproof tape around the buttplate seam to be sure. A Picatinny-style rail is currently incorporated into the receiver for scope rings, and a Teflon coating is employed.

The AR-7 continues in its popularity to this day. With collectors, the original guns with ArmaLite markings command a premium. I think Gene Stoner would be proud of how his invention has performed in the marketplace over the years. Sadly, this prolific firearms designer died on April 24, 1997, leaving an impressive legacy of many iconic and classic firearms.

(c) 2014 JLM
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Old 09-02-2014, 03:46 PM
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The AR7 I had was made by Charter. The hollow stock was filled with Styrofoam,except for the places where the pieces went.

I have been told by other people, both owners of the Henry version and the Armalite version, that there was no Styrofoam in THEIR stocks.

Is yours hollow? Or does it have foam?

While the original gun came with one magazine, and only one slot in the stock for one (I understand the Henry is slotted for two), I found that the receiver would fit in the stock with the magazine inserted (empty chamber, of course). This allowed me to have two mags in my little "survival kit".

Just in case some one has not figured that out for themselves.
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Old 09-02-2014, 04:02 PM
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The AR7 I had was made by Charter. The hollow stock was filled with Styrofoam,except for the places where the pieces went.

I have been told by other people, both owners of the Henry version and the Armalite version, that there was no Styrofoam in THEIR stocks.

Is yours hollow? Or does it have foam?
Honestly, I dunno. Not sure if I want to cut it open to find out!

John
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Old 09-02-2014, 04:41 PM
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You could see the white foam, in mine, when you took the gun parts out of the stock.
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Old 09-02-2014, 04:52 PM
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You could see the white foam, in mine, when you took the gun parts out of the stock.
Yep. So you can. Except that the foam in mine is now yellow, as seen through the slight separations in the interior lining. I cannot insert the receiver with a magazine in the mag well all the way into the receptacle for it in the stock - the magazine must be removed for it to go in. Again, mine is of late '73 ArmaLite manufacture.

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Old 09-02-2014, 07:32 PM
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Honestly, foam always made more sense to me than a hollow stock. First, it gave the plastic stock back-support, making it less susceptible to cracking if it was hit, and then, if it did crack, it would not fill up with water and sink, like a hollow one would.

I don't know when mine was made, but it was a Charter, and I bought it in the early 80s - '81 or 2. Pretty sure it was used. Do remember it was 75 dollars.
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Old 09-02-2014, 08:26 PM
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I have one of the armalite models got it for free from a guy cause he said it didn't work. all it was that the firing pin was so dirty it was stuck in the foreword position after cleaning and freeing it up it has run great.neat little gun and always kind of felt like some kind of spy when I pull the parts out and put it together HA HA
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Old 09-02-2014, 09:35 PM
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Good article, but the Henry stocks will leak if submerged. They float for a short period of time. Here is a link to a video where a guy puts his AR7 in a deep puddle and shows the results http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2K3YiyfzPbk
If you are shooting for total waterproofness you would need to run a length of waterproof tape around the seam of the buttcap.

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Old 09-15-2014, 04:44 PM
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Mine's a Charter I bought new off of a discount table for $15 in 1974 in California when the department store was getting out of the firearm business.

I can confirm the quality control issues the article mentions. I had to use a pair of pliers to get the stuck action out of the stock once, and when I got tired of tying a string to it to pull it out, Charter sent me a new stock, which works fine to this day.

Unlike many who had function problems, mine has never failed to feed, fire, or eject, so in that regard I'm fortunate. Mine, however, is not blessed with the accuracy the article mentions as being capable of taking small game at 50 yards - it groups four inches at that range, which makes it a 25-yard small game rifle for me.

Nice article.
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Old 07-13-2017, 02:32 PM
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Default Charter Arms Explorer Serial Numbers

Is there a data base which will give serial numbers / years of manufacture? I have one with a serial number of 266XXX and would like to know the approximate year of manufacture. It is in like new condition, inside the plastic sleeve, in the original box with all of the original paperwork & warranty card. Many thanks.

James
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Old 07-13-2017, 03:19 PM
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I have two. One is a Charter, the other is a Survival Arms. I bought both quite inexpensively, I think the Charter cost me $20 and the Survival $15. The Charter shows somewhat more use (and abuse) than the Survival (for a time, I carried the Charter around in my car), but shoots a somewhat tighter group. The Charter has a glossy black plastic stock, while the Survival is dull black. I have never attempted to see if their barrels are interchangeable. I have never fired either at anything other than paper targets at 25 yards, but have never experienced malfunctions.
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Old 07-13-2017, 05:26 PM
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Dad has one from Charter Arms in the late 70's I think it has had three mags of ammo through it. He put behind the seat of his farm truck and only touched to move to the next trucks. I hope his wife took it out of the last truck, cause I don't think he knows what a gun is now!

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Old 07-13-2017, 05:51 PM
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The first gun I ever shot was my Dad's Charter Arms AR-7 when I was 9 years old.
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Old 07-13-2017, 06:47 PM
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I have the Henry version. It lives in my "emergency" bag. It has always worked fine and is fun to shoot.


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Old 07-13-2017, 07:01 PM
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I envy those with one of these that actually works. I've had two, an original Armalite and a Charter. Both were jam-o-matics.
(Maybe it was just me and the way I held them.....)
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Old 07-13-2017, 07:22 PM
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I've always wanted to know how well those shot. Is the consensus that they will group five shots in 2" at 25 yards and about four inches at 50 yards? I'm guessing that ammo brand matters, as with most .22's?

John, thanks for a fine article. I learned more about Stoner and about those AR-7 variations.

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Old 07-13-2017, 09:12 PM
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I haven't ever had a chance to find what dad's AR-7 likes. But all 22 have a preference, and not always for expensive. A friend's old Anschutz 2000 actually prefers Remington "Thunderbolt!", (mine prefers Eley "Club") and several other 22's like Federal "Champion" standard velocity (about $3.80/50 @ Cabela's)

People seem to forget that; Junk ammo shoots like junk!

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Old 07-14-2017, 12:02 AM
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I've always wanted to know how well those shot. Is the consensus that they will group five shots in 2" at 25 yards and about four inches at 50 yards? I'm guessing that ammo brand matters, as with most .22's?

John, thanks for a fine article. I learned more about Stoner and about those AR-7 variations.
Mine will easily do 2" over a sandbag at 25 yards. The Charter will group better than the Survival, but the Survival looks better. They shoot about as well as any other .22 rifle with open sights. No easy way to add a scope/red dot mounting base, no plans to try. You couldn't store the barrreled action in the stock with a mount, sort of defeats the purpose of having an AR-7. No malfunction problems with either of mine. I would suspect a bad magazine rather than the gun. Mine handle standard velocity OK.

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Old 07-14-2017, 10:03 AM
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I have owned several over the years, original Armalite, Charter and Survival Arms versions. Always found them to be a handy little rifle to keep around, fit easily in the storage compartment of my Jeep and reliable with at least decent small game accuracy. Down to one currently, an Armalite that my wife got me years ago.

Had a question for Paladin though regarding his original post. As I remember Charter made the rifles up through the 80's before dropping the line in the early 90's. Survival Arms briefly made rifles, many using leftover Charter parts before the Henry company picked up the line. I would guess the 1980 sale date from Charter is a typo?
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Old 07-14-2017, 10:55 AM
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When I was in Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola in 1970, one of the two weapons that we fired was a similar looking survival rifle. My memory, which is pretty dim, tells me it was a rifle barrel on top and .410 shotgun on the bottom. I was thinking the rifle barrel was .22 mag, but it could have been a Hornet. We each fired one round thru it along with 5 rounds thru an old Victory model that suffered from severe carry up problems. So much for weapons training for Naval Aviators!
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Old 07-14-2017, 11:22 AM
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I would guess the 1980 sale date from Charter is a typo?
Your guess is correct. The transition from Charter to Henry/Survival was indeed 1990. Old fingers, fading eyesight and faulty proofreading are at fault here. I made the correction to the OP.

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Old 07-14-2017, 02:17 PM
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Quote:
They shoot about as well as any other .22 rifle with open sights.
My brother bought one of the early Charter Arms models for coon hunting. It seemed to be perfect for that job. You only need to shoot a few rounds and there is a lot of walking up and down hills and lots more near small rivers and creeks. It was like someone designed the perfect rifle for coon hunting.

But that rifle would not hit a coon in a tree except by sheer luck. It had terrible accuracy and on top of that it jammed frequently. It wasn't long before my brother bought another light rifle for coon hunting that really did work well. It wouldn't float but it would hit a coon easily. I don't remember what it was. He sat that one down to cross a fence one night and forgot to pick it up. When he went back for it the next day it was gone. I wish I remember that brand because it worked really well for several years for us.
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Old 07-14-2017, 07:15 PM
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My brother bought one of the early Charter Arms models for coon hunting. It seemed to be perfect for that job. You only need to shoot a few rounds and there is a lot of walking up and down hills and lots more near small rivers and creeks. It was like someone designed the perfect rifle for coon hunting.

But that rifle would not hit a coon in a tree except by sheer luck. It had terrible accuracy and on top of that it jammed frequently. It wasn't long before my brother bought another light rifle for coon hunting that really did work well. It wouldn't float but it would hit a coon easily. I don't remember what it was. He sat that one down to cross a fence one night and forgot to pick it up. When he went back for it the next day it was gone. I wish I remember that brand because it worked really well for several years for us.
That was my experience as well with the Charter Arms model I owned for about one year. It accuracy was somewhat more than minute-of-squirrel. In fact, I missed so many that the squirrels started laughing at me. I thought it was a very intriguing concept, but I figured a survival rifle that I could not depend on hitting a sitting squirrel or rabbit at 25 yards isn't much of a survival rifle so I traded mine off.

Very good article John, I always enjoy your writings.
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Old 07-14-2017, 09:05 PM
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I figured a survival rifle that I could not depend on hitting a sitting squirrel or rabbit at 25 yards isn't much of a survival rifle so I traded mine off.
Think about the size of a coon in a tree often not more than 25 feet up and then think about missing it with a .22 nearly every time. My brother was an exceptional shooter. I've seen him nail a squirrel on the run in the eye on several occasions. Neither of us could hit a coon with that AR-7. It ranks near the bottom of every firearm I ever picked up.

I know they got better. But the early Charter Arms models were pretty bad. We would have loved that rifle if it was even a little accurate. It was perfect for our purposes. Except it doesn't do much good if it won't hit the target especially one the size of a coon.
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Old 07-14-2017, 11:23 PM
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I had one of the original Charter Arms rifles. It, too, wasn't very acurate ad as Paladin notes, it usually required high velocity ammo. Mine wasn't very accurate either and I soon traded it off.
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Old 07-14-2017, 11:36 PM
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My experience has shown the magazines are not interchangeable between the Charter guns and the Henry's. I have also known them to be a little finicky about the ammunition used. They have been prominently used in several movies, including as mentioned, From Russia with Love, Rage, and Firestarter. Rage and Firestarter both starred George C. Scott.

Cool guns! Thanks John! I had no idea about the Stoner connection!
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Old 07-15-2017, 12:15 AM
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Originally Posted by A10 View Post
My experience has shown the magazines are not interchangeable between the Charter guns and the Henry's. I have also known them to be a little finicky about the ammunition used. They have been prominently used in several movies, including as mentioned, From Russia with Love, Rage, and Firestarter. Rage and Firestarter both starred George C. Scott.

Cool guns! Thanks John! I had no idea about the Stoner connection!


Yes I got some AR7 mags from Brownell's that would not work in my Henry. The Henry is designed to run best on high velocity ammo and I have never had a problem with it. If you need to use subsonic ammo you can run it manually like a bolt gun or remove one of the recoil springs. This actually works sometimes!


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