Salient Arms International Tier 1 AR15 Review

STS Instructor Training with Salient Arms International Tier 1 AR15 and Glock 19 Tier 1. Music: Five Finger Death Punch

Recently I had the pleasure of taking to the range one of the latest and greatest AR platform rifles on the market. “Here we go, another article on another AR-15.”, is probably what some of you are thinking. Well yeah, this IS another article on a black rifle. But not just another black rifle. This one is different. This one is special you could say. This one is the Salient Arms Tier One AR-15. So Let’s start from the basics of what we all know…

Photo by Alison Capra

What really makes a good AR rifle better? Typically this depends on personal preference, plain and simple. Many of us have shot probably close to five, even ten different brands of AR in our lifetime. Those of us that have are very fortunate, and those of us that haven’t aren’t really missing out on a whole lot. This is in part because the “average” AR that you might own, or that your friend owns and lets you shoot, is just about the same rifle as the next one you fire- and the one you fired before it! The same barrel twist, the same hand guard, trigger system, generic collapsible buttstock, I could go on and on. So in order for an AR to really stand out, one must produce a QUALITY rifle with quality parts that perform flawlessly every time you shoot it. The Salient Arms AR15 fits perfectly in the realm of well-built ARs , even sitting atop the mountain of rifle brands that we as Americans know of today.

Photo by DJ Struntz

Part of the issue with choosing an AR platform rifle is knowing what you are going to use it for and hoping you pick the one that will perform the best for your particular application(s). The purposes are aplenty: pleasure shooting, game hunting, competitions, protecting your family, contractor and/or personal protection work. Let’s not forget about our law enforcement and military brothers and sisters. After all, if it’s good enough for them then the aforementioned uses fall right into place now, don’t they? The people who are really putting these tools to good use in real world scenarios are the ones who, whether they know it or not, are letting the rest of us know that our chosen rifle is one we can depend on regardless of the reason for its use.

Photo by Alison Capra

Many of the manufacturers on the market today are trying to live up to the hype of their reputation, as well as justify the firmly set price tag. I feel that the Salient Arms Tier 1 AR-15 has set the precedence for the rest of the crowd and beyond. From end to end it is a purpose built rifle that, well, seems to cover ground for all the purposes I could think of. From a competition shooter’s standpoint I can say that if you left an SAI Tier 1 AR-15 laying on the staging table for a course of fire it would definitely stand out. The Tier 1 is available in several colors including the unique shade of gray on the rifle that Survival and Tactical Systems puts to work on a regular basis. Aside from the color and the Vortex Optics Viper PST 1-4x24 that is utilized on our STS rifle, the Tier 1  stands out as well due to the features that it is comprised of. 

Salient Arms machines their own upper and lower sections of each rifle from billet aluminum, cut with precise angles that add a level of eye appeal nobody else seems to match. The lower includes the ever-desirable integral bowed trigger guard that aids in gloved hand operation. Also on the lower is a flared magwell. Both of the previously mentioned features were extremely helpful in quick initial shots and reloads as we tested the Tier 1 at Ant Hill Range outside of Winnabow, NC. Along with the flared magwell reloads were made easier thanks to a Seekins Precision magazine release and bolt catch, both of which come standard on this model.

Photo by DJ Struntz

I brought two industry professionals to the range with me on test day. One is a USMC veteran and contracted firearms instructor for the US Coast Guard. The other is also a USMC vet as well as a veteran law enforcement officer and lead armorer for the agency where he is employed. Both men have steep knowledge in the realm of all things firearm. Both have a passion for shooting, teaching and most of all- GOOD equipment. As we loaded our mags in preparation for our first taste of the Salient rifle we noticed one of the most important traits of this rifle…balance. From high port to fully shouldered this gun is ready for every shooting position you can put it in. The first bite for the STS issued Tier 1 was a 30 round mag full of 55 grain Federal American Eagle 5.56 ammunition. We all agreed that this was an appropriate round for testing as it is one of the best selling and most widely used 5.56 rounds on the market nowadays. One thing that I love in a good all-purpose rifle is an ample and meaty safety selector switch. Whether you’re dumping your Tier One in a 3 gun stage barrel or flipping the switch getting ready for a hard day’s work, this safety selector switch is easily accessible even with poor lighting or under stressful operation.

Photo by DJ Struntz

After the first magazine was done being fired steadily and controlled, I decided to put the rifle-length gas system to work. 10 rounds rapid fire, now 20 then 30. Taking turns watching this beast chew through the 55 grain Federal ammo as we noticed very little recoil was a blast! Most noticeably was the rifle’s tendency to do one thing- push straight back. Not up, left or right but straight back into the shoulder pocket. Since each of our stances is proper and tight, saying this rifle is manageable and accurate would be an understatement. Another little perk of Salient’s design is the downsized brass deflector. This minimizes damage to and the inconsistent flight pattern of spent brass.

Photo by DJ Struntz

The late person could argue that the 16” solid billet fore end manufactured by Salient themselves is inappropriate for practical applications. I can argue this quite promptly. Very few people that I train with still use an AR style rifle that utilizes a carbine length gas system. As Salient has proven through extensive research and development, the rifle length gas system tends to lighten the recoil that is felt on most rifles. What else helps to control the gun? Stance and hold. The most widely used and modern hand position today seems to be the non-support or “weak” hand (as it is referred to in pistol training) extended along the side of the rail. Whether it is with a thumb wrapped over with finger pointed forward hand position or otherwise is up to you. My point is the longer the fore end the more capable the operator to balance the rifle utilizing an extended arm, whether the elbow is locked or not.  The cool thing about the 3-6-9 removable picatinny rail sections on the Tier 1 fore end is that the rail sections are countersunk into it. This allows for weapon lights and other attachments to remain a little closer to the weapon and less likely to interfere with hand position.

Photo by DJ Struntz

Inside of the Tier 1 lies the brain of this animal: a titanium nitride (TiN) coated bolt carrier and gas key. The TiN coating provides a smoothness that is due to the material’s natural lubricity. As would be expected of a rifle this high end, the BCG is of course mil-spec with a carpenter 158 bolt. This aids in the consistency of the rounds flying down the 1:8 twist Shilen barrel that has been cerakoated by Joint Force Operations to match the rest of the rifle.

    We had fun that day with the Tier 1 to say the least! It’s not every day that you get to shoot and test an AR-15 that actually lives up to its hype. That ACTUALLY performs as its manufacturer says it will. At a current price tag of $3,295 it sits well within the budget of those who are willing to pay for a quality AR that will live a long life and play host to thousands upon thousands of rounds for years to come. 

For more information on the Rifle check out the Guns and Ammo Article.

- Nick Dillon