In the spring of 2010, the Bushmaster plant in Windham, Maine closed, and Bushmaster’s tooling moved lock, stock, and barrel to New York, where the “Freedom Group” would assemble new Bushmasters alongside Remington rifles. The move was a surprise to the Windham employees, many of whom had been building rifles together there for over a decade. Although they knew how to build high quality guns and had great connections in the firearms industry, they now faced unemployment and an uncertain future. Then some employees started getting phone calls from their old boss. Richard Dyke, the former owner of Bushmaster Firearms Inc. until 2006, was unhappy with how things had turned out for the Windham crew, and had decided to come out of retirement at age 77 and start a new AR-15 manufacturing company right there at the old Bushmaster plant. As he put together investors and former employees, the word began to spread around; “We’re putting the band back together!”
Freedom Group now owns the rights to all the Bushmaster rifle’s specifications, so Windham started with a clean slate and drew up their own specifications for three new rifles. They decided to go old school, as close to military specifications as possible on metal choice, fit, and finish, because they knew if they did their rifles would work. Windham has released three AR-15 carbine models so far, featuring little mil-spec details like an aluminum trigger guard instead of plastic, hard-coat anodizing on aluminum and manganese phosphate coating on steel, and chrome lined barrels. They designed the three initial rifles to appeal to a wide variety of civilian and law enforcement shooters. Instead of trendy “flavor of the month” guns, they are basic carbines with features that are tried and true, despite being drawn up on new specifications and having a new name attached to the guns.
The Windham “new old-school” approach shows up in the details of the guns. The Windham “SRC,” or Sight Ready Carbine, is the least expensive version and comes with no sights, just a plain A3 flattop style upper receiver and Picatinny railed gas block. The buyer saves the money that would usually go into the standard detachable carry handle, and then can spend it on whatever custom sights he prefers instead. Picatinny gas blocks are common now and several other manufacturers offer similar configurations, but look closely! The gas block is a critical part, it must line up exactly with the barrel’s gas port or the AR-15 will fail to cycle. Nearly all the Picatinny gas blocks on the market use two set screws to hold them in place, and if these set screws back out (barrel temperatures can melt Loctite by the way) the block may move around, losing its alignment and turning your semi-automatic carbine into a single shot. Even though the Sight Ready Carbine is a new design, they went old school with their gas block, using two taper pins going through the block and barrel the military way.
Windham’s two other carbines are the “HBC” Heavy Barrel Carbine, featuring a heavy barrel underneath the handguard, and the “MPC” Military Preferred Carbine, a classic M4-style featuring a “government profile” barrel with the famous M203 barrel mount cut out. One departure from military specs, in a concession to the civilian market, is that all three rifles use a 1/9 twist rate instead of the military issue 1/7 twist rate. Windham explains that despite a push by some law enforcement and commercial customers to standardize on the 1/7 twist rate, the 1/9 twist is still the most requested and the most common twist rate, so that’s what they went with for their initial offerings.
Windham doesn’t plan on standing pat with these three rifles. They have an aggressive plan to offer more variants in the near future including different barrel twist rates, ban-state compliant models including a California “bullet button” model and a dedicated varmint hunter configuration, and add more calibers next year. They will also start making runs of accessories and spare parts. One thing that Windham hopes will set them apart from the competition is their transferable Limited Lifetime Warranty, which follows the gun and not the owner. A Windham Weaponry gun bought on the used market at a gun show will still enjoy the same excellent warranty and customer service access as a new-in-box gun delivered from the factory straight to your dealer. A buyer who gifts his rifle to his brother knows that Windham still backs up their product. The fine print shows the Windham Warranty to be one of the best in the industry.
It seems like everybody is making an AR-15 these days, and with only three products and a brand new company name, the crew at Windham Weaponry have their work cut out for them. However, they are working together, doing what they do best, and they have faith that their products will speak for themselves. As Mark Eliason, Windham’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing told me, “the name is not recognized, but the experience behind the name is tremendous!”