One shouldn’t take modern carbines and all of their accoutrements for granted. Since the conclusion of the Second World War, the soldier’s personal rifle had begun to evolve. It moved away from a longer barreled, low-capacity, high-powered affair into something portable, ballistically efficient, and with more capacity.

We can observe these trends up through the 1990s and the dawn of the GWOT (Global War On Terror). By this time, the 5.56x45mm NATO had become the de-facto service rifle cartridge of any modern fighting force. It was also around this time when the guns themselves weren’t evolving as much as their attachments and accessories. By the heyday of the GWOT, the result was the highest level of synergy between man, his weapon, and their lethality.

Cutting-edge optics and other accessories and the attachment surfaces needed to support them incur weight and monetary penalties, of course. There’s never such a thing as a free lunch because no matter how wonderful the LPVO or laser/IR illuminator, they cost more ounces (sometimes pounds) and more dollars. There is no way to get around this. And this is why there’s still something to be said about the elegant simplicity of a minimalistic general-purpose carbine, also known as a KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) rifle.

The minimalistic carbine is highly portable and only includes the core essentials on board: a sling, an optic, and maybe a weapon light (in that order). Though modern tactical attachments can be very useful, their omission on minimalistic carbines represent a sort of liberating freedom from the extra burden and physical cost. The result is a highly portable and handy carbine that has everything one needs and nothing they don’t.

The Colt 6520

Years ago, during the “Trump Slump,” a period in the gun industry where the market was extremely soft and prices were very low due to a supply glut from the anticipation of a Democratic 2016 presidential victory, I came across a used police trade-in Colt 6520 carbine for cheap. This Colt has a 16-inch pencil barrel, cycles off a carbine gas system, and uses a vintage Colt A2 fixed carry-handle upper receiver. Its total price was too good to pass up, and at the time, having any AR with a fixed carry handle was something of a novelty to me.

I’ll admit that I seldom shoot this Colt 6520, but in my defense, over 90% of my writing seems to involve handguns. Punching centerfire rifle primers is already something of a rarity to me these days. But every time that I think about selling that old Colt, without fail, I’ll grab it from the safe and marvel at how light and handy it is—and change my mind.

With its skinny pencil barrel and nothing more, it weighs all of six pounds, and it’s hard not to appreciate it for what it is—simple. That Colt serves as the inspiration for this entry. And dear reader, as soon as I can get away with it, I want to find a way to mount a lightweight LPVO on top of its carry handle.

The Pencil Barrel BCM

Though not officially a complete carbine, I have another (slightly more modern) minimalistic carbine that I’ve come to enjoy. This carbine is an amalgamation of random parts. However, its core is composed of a complete BCM bolt carrier group and a complete BCM upper receiver. Like that old Colt 6520, I bought this complete upper receiver set used. And like that old Colt, this carbine also dispenses lead with a 16-inch pencil barrel and fixed front sight.

It also doesn’t make use of the fanciest rails or furniture. The entire unit gets by with a complete grey Magpul MOE SL furniture set. Although basic, and maybe even a little ugly, both the MOE SL butt-stock and the handguard punch above their weight without being too expensive.

That handguard, in particular, is hideous and has terrible lines. However, it’s very comfortable to hold, it’s ergonomic, and it’s extremely well-designed. It even has some built-in M-LOK slots for minimal accessorizing. After actually shooting the carbine with this handguard, I ate crow because it’s a great piece of kit.

Likewise, the MOE SL stock might be a little ugly since it somewhat resembles an Ugg boot. In its defense, it, too, is also well-designed. It’s not too heavy, provides a nice slope for a comfortable cheekweld, and even has some integrated QD slots. Unlike the fixed-iron sight Colt, this BCM carbine has a flat top upper and I’ll either mount an LPVO or a reflex sight, depending on the mood.

Normally, this BCM carbine wears a Trijicon MRO, an older one, which I got for cheap, too. Other than the optic, it just has a sling with QD swivels.

Everything You Need, Nothing You Don’t

With its lightweight furniture and pencil barrel, it’s a pleasure to carry. It points well, too; you’re left with that feeling of having everything you need and nothing you don’t.

And man, this makes me wonder…

Did I just describe a ranch rifle?

P.E. Fitch
I am a shooter first, and a writer second. IG & Twitter: @pfitch45